© 2002 by Alessandra Azzaroni aazzaroni@hotmail.com http://au.geocities.com/vcastairwaytoheaven/index.htm

STORY LAST UPDATED ON 17/04/2002

AUTHOR'S NOTE

Written in Australia.

CHAPTER ONE

It was needless to say that family life was slightly chaotic. Not necessarily bad, though. Somehow, my parents and I managed to keep things under control. Must've been hard for them, though, to have five kids.
I was born and raised in Stratton, a suburb in the eastern region of Victoria. I liked it there, and I always had. And I loved living in Australia. Sure, it did seem as though we were a bit separated from the rest of the world, but that wasn't particularly a bad thing. It just meant that we had different ways of living and speaking. Especially the speaking - the tourists would come to Melbourne and be a bit flabbergasted by our language. Some article in the newspaper once said that they didn't quite understand what we were on about. Sometimes it was vice versa. But Australians of this generation grew up in front of the television, with American and British programming - as well as good old Aussie home-grown talent - which meant that we already knew of their ways.
Our house was noisy at times, without a doubt. I was the oldest, at fifteen years. After me came Isabella at thirteen, Kate at twelve, Tricia at seven and Shane at one. I tried to help Mum and Dad with the others as much as I could. Isabella was a bit of a drama queen, Kate was quiet, Tricia had extreme mood swings and Shane was just a baby. But he didn't really cry at all. He usually had a smile for everyone, though I didn't understand why. There were a lot of times when I certainly didn't feel like smiling. Young children were usually quite up-front with their feelings, and darn anyone who disagreed with them.
My siblings were usually easy to figure out. My parents, however, were not. Tricia quite obviously took after my mother, who was often moody and unpredictable, and not just when she was pregnant. She spent her days, and sometimes nights, in the Stratton Hotel. Sometimes she worked in the pub area, but mostly she dealt with the accommodation.
I never really understood my father. He was a bit of a loner, although he had stacks of mates. Once a month, they'd come over for a night of playing cards. There were four or five of them in total, and each Friday night was spent at someone's house having their card nights. But when it was just the family and he, he wasn't big on talking to us. He was just a bit quiet, as if speaking up too often would disturb someone.
I think it's safe to say that everyone in our family - at one time or another - were a little afraid of Mum. Even before I saw what I saw.
My mother was tall and blond. Whether the colour was natural or not, I didn't know, and quite frankly, I wasn't interested. It was the colour of straw, but was incredibly smooth. She spent a lot of time and effort on her hair. Also, a lot of money - at one stage, her brand of the month shampoo was costing eleven dollars a bottle! And she never shared it, either. I could sympathise with her, though. I probably wouldn't have shared.
She had large blue eyes that were really quite clear. The people at the hotel called her Bluey. I found Mum intimidating, mainly because of our personality clashes. She was bright and bold, while I was edgy and sceptical. When I had done particularly well in school, it just made me wonder when it was time for me to take a fall. I didn't believe in wishing and praying and hoping - come to think of it, I didn't really believe in anything.
Isabella and her were too much alike at times, and they didn't get on well because of it. After working late nights, Mum would come in, sit on a couch in the lounge and call out for someone to rub her feet. This was often long after the younger ones had gone to bed, and her making such noise would wake up Shane, and sometimes he'd start crying. In the meantime, Mum would drop full-on asleep on the couch, almost impossible to wake, so Isabella and I would rotate between helping Shane get back to sleep, and helping Mum wake up and go to her bedroom.
Isabella was also a little bit jealous of Mum. She was a star at karaoke at the hotel. Sometimes we would come to the hotel for dinner, and Mum would be up the front singing, when she really should've been working. Her boss didn't mind, though - he claimed she brought in more customers. And Isabella would get frustrated because she wanted to be an actress/singer/dancer when she was older - a performer of any sort. She loved being the centre of attention, and was terribly jealous when someone else was. Particularly when that someone else was Mum.
Kate was a little hard to decipher. I never could quite understand her. She mostly spent her time holed up in the bedroom she shared with Isabella. She was a heavy sleeper, like Mum, so she never got up during the night to help us. I never really saw her. She was still in primary school, so Isabella and I were on our way to school before she'd even got up. After school, she'd have a little something to eat and would go into her bedroom until dinnertime. Then she'd have her bath and be off to bed. She was a solitude, that was for sure, but it didn't seem to bother her. She was a dreamer, and seemed to enjoy being off in her own world.
Tricia, even at the age of seven, was a bit uncontrollable. She had a problem with authority, in the way that she just plain didn't like them. She behaved normally in her classroom, but during recess and lunchtime, she'd get into mischief. And she was only in Year 1! Already she'd got into more than enough trouble. There was the time that she had taken a glue stick from the classroom, and had spent the entire lunchtime sniffing it, until a teacher had caught her and taken her to see the principal. Then was the time she had sneaked into the older girls' bathroom, and had stolen all the toilet paper. I could only predict that she'd get herself into more trouble when she was older.
But at times, she really wasn't a bad person. Especially around Dad. After the principal called him after one incident or another, he'd come home and sit down with her. She'd sit on his lap in the lounge, while he spoke very seriously to her. "Now, Tricia, why did you do something like that?"
Even though he was being very calm and gentle, Tricia would work herself into a right tizzy. "I… I don't…" she'd try to explain, trying to stop herself from crying. "I don't know!" she'd answer, and burst into tears. She'd then apologise profusely, saying that she didn't know what made her do it. She'd say that she wouldn't do it again. She wasn't lying, or putting on an act. She really would hate herself for doing what she had done, and she despised getting into trouble. She'd tell herself that she'd try to be a better person, but something always made her cave in. And none of us knew what it was.
I have to say I was a little disappointed in Mum for the way that she treated Shane. Until he was one year old, she did the normal motherly things that she had done with the rest of us. But when Shane turned one, she took up the job at the hotel, and never looked back. Shane was crawling, and slowly starting to walk, and he could say quite a few words, and Mum was missing it all. She had a "been there, done that" attitude that made her seem to ignore him. In order to make up for it, the rest of us would try to spend as much time with him as we could. But I think that we all knew that Shane knew that while we were all there for him, even Kate, Mum wasn't.
I wished that I had known my father better. Since Mum was out at her job so often, he would have to do a lot of the parenting. When Isabella was getting bad marks in class, he'd visit her teachers and talk to my sister, trying to get her to see what she was doing wrong, and that she should try to motivate herself to put in more of an effort. And, of course, when Tricia was in trouble for one thing or another, Dad would talk to her and the staff members.
And I wished that I knew where I fitted in. I honestly didn't know. While my siblings seemed to have distinctive personalities, I did not. I was a sceptic, first and foremost. When I could sense trouble coming ahead, I didn't bother trying to stop it, as I believed that there was nothing I could do to change things. But I was also a pretender, as I found out when I was older. I pretended that I could ignore things, and deal with them in my own way, which was by doing nothing. Some may have thought that I was a thinker, but I knew that I wasn't.

Shane was crying. I could tell that when I woke up. The clock next to my bed told me that two a.m. had just passed. Dad was working the night shift at his security job, so I knew that either Isabella or I would have to get up.
As it turned out, both of us got up at the same time. We exited our side-by-side bedrooms simultaneously, both of us wearing our pyjamas. "Mum's home," Isabella said, rubbing her messy hair. "She knocked on the door for a little while, but then she stopped. That's when Shane started."
I sighed. "Who do you want to take care of?" I asked. "Mum or Shane?"
"You're really going to let me choose?" she asked incredulously. Usually we just judged by whoever's turn it was. It was her turn with Shane, and I knew that both of us preferred him over Mum.
"What'll it be?"
"I'll take Shane." She rubbed her eyes, blinking until she was fully awake, and then ducked over to open Shane's door.
I walked around the house until I got to the front door. I unlocked and opened it, and Mum fell backwards, as she had been leaning against the door. "Forgot your key?" I asked.
"I swear it was in my bag," she murmured, scratching her head.
With her other hand, that was closed, I opened it and revealed her home key on a key ring. "Is that it?" I asked.
She stared at it, then blinked slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, it is. Where did you find it?"
"In your hand." I didn't think she was drunk. Seriously, I didn't think that she was. I knew she wasn't drunk. You can usually tell when someone is. There were no signs of drugs, either. And it really made me wonder what was wrong with her. "Shane's woken up now," I told her. "You should see him."
She groaned, trying to tuck a lock of blond hair back into her clip. "Can't you or Isa deal with him?"
"She's got him now, but Isa's not his mother." I glared pointedly at her, hoping she'd get the message.
"Now, I need sleep. Where's Stephen?"
"He's at work. You know that. But more to the point, where were you?" I asked her. "Reception work doesn't make you go crazy."
"Crazy? I'm not crazy," she defended herself, sitting up straight, before bringing herself to her feet slowly. "I just forgot I had my key in my hand, that's all."
"That's all? Mum, you always seem to be 'working late' lately. Now I know an excuse when I hear one - so what's going on?"
She pushed past me into the lounge. "What, I'm not allowed to work these days? Do you know how bloody hard it is to get enough money to raise five children? It's a bloody nightmare, Hail. Not that you'd know."
"Of course I wouldn't know, Mum! I'm only fifteen, for Christ's sake. If I had five kids, I'd be the one in trouble, not you!"
"And you can stop with your smart-arse comments, too. My feet are aching, and they need a rub." She plonked herself down on the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. "Hop to it."
"No."
"What? For Christ's sake, Hail, I spend my days - and nights - working my arse off so you can have food on the table. You have to repay me!"
"I'll repay you in some other way," I retorted. "I'm not doing your dirty work."
"Well I don't think you really know what dirty work is. Dirty work involves a lot more than just rubbing someone's feet, Hail, and I don't think you understand that."
I dropped down into the armchair opposite her. "Tell me, then, what kind of dirty work do you do for people? It must mean a lot to you, this dirty work stuff. Because it sure does mean a lot more to you than your family does!"
In the background, Shane's wailing was heard. Mum bared her teeth. "Now look what you've done! I couldn't even hear him before, and now you've riled him up. Good one, Hail, good one!"
"It's your fault, Mum. He's your child - go deal with him!"
"No. You do it!"
"Isa and I both aren't his mother. Miranda Beckwith, you have five children, and I think it's about time you realised that!"
She narrowed her eyes, shooting laser beams across at me in the dark. She was huffing with the exertion of the argument, and so was I. "One day you'll understand me, Hailey," she said in a very low voice, with a hint of menace. "Of course, you don't understand me now, but you will, one day, you will. Then you'll be sorry you weren't nicer to me. You'll be sorry that you were mean to me because you didn't understand the sacrifices I made for you. One day you'll take the time to think that I gave up part of my life for you. And one day you'll know why I do the things I do. One day you'll even understand why. One day you'll try it yourself-"
"Mum, are you doing something illegal?" My voice had been rising into hysterics for quite some time now, and it was only elevating.
She didn't answer me, and I actually wondered if she seriously was doing something illegal. "I'm going to bed now, Hailey. Shane seems to have quieted down now." She was speaking in a smooth, even tone. She was keeping control. But she wasn't in control - I could tell that. On her way out of the room, she turned back to face me. "Go back to sleep, Hail. There's nothing you can do. There's nothing anyone can do."
I watched her walk carefully away to her and Dad's bedroom. I hated what she was doing. I'd always despised secrecy, especially when I wasn't in on the secret. And I knew she had a secret. And it was about time that something was done about it. If I didn't do it, someone else would have to. And I didn't know if anyone actually would do anything.
I went into the kitchen, opened a cupboard door and reached up on tiptoe to grab a glass. I put it on the kitchen table and opened the fridge to pull out the jug of cold water. I filled the glass and sat down on a chair, leaning against the table on my elbow with my hand wrapped around my forehead. I sipped from the glass and tried to get calm. I was always wired up after a late-night/early-morning discussion with Mum. I think it was mainly because we didn't understand each other. She thought that I wouldn't understand what she was up to, and I didn't think she could understand the effect her behaviour was having on the family. I knew that if things didn't clear up sooner or later, there'd be a major problem emerging from the shadows. We were only on the edge of sanity now, and more often than not it looked as if one of us was just going to make the jump and join the dark side.
After I had calmed down and finished my water, I reluctantly got up from my half-meditation session. My way of escaping things was to just drift away from it all. To travel on a boat to unforbidden territory where I could ease my mind freely. Where I wouldn't have to worry about Mum.
And I was frightened for Tricia's sake. I knew there was something wrong with her. I just couldn't quite explain it. She did things that got her into trouble for a reason, yet she was sorry for doing them. She claimed that she didn't know why.
Maybe it was all just a ploy to get Mum's attention. Tricia was seven, and was the second youngest. When you're in that position, you probably get jealous when the baby is born, and all the fuss is over the new child. But Tricia never seemed to have a problem with that. She liked Shane, and played with him regularly. Yet, we all hovered over Shane. Maybe it was because we thought he needed us more than he needed anyone else. Because Mum wasn't there to look after him properly, we thought it as our job to mother him.
It was hard not to want to look after Shane. He'd keep quiet for most of the time. He was one, so he could talk. We had taught him some words, and he'd say them proudly. He couldn't say "Hailey", so he called me "Haiya". "Tricia" became "Tish", "Kate" became "Kay" and "Isabella" was "Isa". But we all called her that.
But Shane was yet to say "Mum", or anything relating to his mother.
I thought I could tell that Dad knew what was going on with Mum. I think he thought she was having an affair. I had to agree that it was a likely possibility. But what could we do about it? I don't think any of us liked being around Mum, though we should've. But it was only really in the past year when she'd started acting out, like she had that night.
Getting a job in the hotel must've filled her with confidence, and gave her the motivation to spend more time away from the family. Which is fine, of course. Everyone should try to have a life outside the family. But I couldn't help but remember what life was like before all this, when we actually liked being in her company.
She kept her hair blond, as always. Sometimes I thought I could see dark roots, but before I ever really noticed, they'd be gone. Mum was really into us all looking after our hair, so I once thought that she would become a hairdresser.
Isabella was a bona-fide blond. She usually kept it in a low plait, or twisted up elegantly. For a thirteen-year-old, she seemed so much more mature. And she was difficult to read. Maybe it was all part of an act. After all, working in the entertainment business was what she wanted to do. I could easily picture her on stage, rather than screen. She'd do well with modern plays, as opposed to the decades-old Shakespeare and the like.
Mum and Isabella would often make up little plays. Sometimes Isa wrote her own monologues. And her ideas were fascinating. In one she pretended she was in an insane asylum, and was terrified of everything. In another she was a happy-go-lucky woman who was hiding the fact that she had murdered her husband. That was the scary thing about Isa's plays: they were often dark like that. There was a cloud over every sun. Mum loved that she could write things like that. She was so proud. "My Isa's gonna grow up to be a writer," she'd say.
Isabella would just smile slightly, unconvincing, and say, "I'd rather be an actress."
I imagined that Kate was the real writer of the family. Honestly, that had to be what she did in her room all the time: writing. Either that, or she was a secret artist. I never asked her about it, though. I decided that everyone was entitled to their own privacy, and privacy they would have.
But I really wanted to know what Mum was keeping private.
Tricia used to spend all her time at home following Mum around, helping out with everything. She was her role model, and Mum was very happy with her youngest daughter. And back then Tricia was such a good girl. But not so anymore. I feared that she had taken a turn for the worse.
I never really saw much of Dad. When he was around, he was around. I didn't have a close connection with anyone in my family, really. Maybe Isa, because we were the ones in charge when Mum and Dad were out. It was hard to tell. It didn't bother me if I didn't have a strong bond in particular with anyone. I decided that I could survive on my own.
But what a joke that turned out to be. I should've known that I couldn't survive on my own. I should've known that I would need support to back me up when I need it. There were a lot of things that I should've known, but didn't. And in the end, that turned out to be my downfall. Ignorance is bliss… at the time, maybe, but it causes terrible trouble later on. And I can't stress that enough.