I open the front gate. It moans. Daddy puts oil on it sometimes and the noise changes, but it doesn’t go away.
The gate clangs as I shut it and start to climb the steep part of the driveway. It’s easier if I pretend I’m a crab and go up sideways.
I look up as I reach the top. Daddy’s home! He’s at the bottom of the yard, in front of the garage. It’s the first time he’s home before I arrive from kindergarten!
Mummy’s down there, too. Is something wrong?
They turn to face me as I walk towards them. No smiles. Something’s wrong.
I stand in front of them and wait. Mummy steps back slightly, with lowered eyes. Daddy clears his throat.
“Did you throw milk over Owen Jessep?”
Did I what?… Oops! So I did… That was ages ago! It was morning recreation! I’d forgotten all about it! And it served him right, too!
I raise my chin and answer proudly,
I wait for the next question, but Daddy goes into one of his long speeches: It isn’t nice for little girls to throw milk on little boys… and how lucky I am to have milk to drink when other little girls haven’t got any… and how wasteful I am… and it goes on… and on…
The longer he talks, the angrier I get. The muscles in my face tighten. Don’t listen!
I keep my head up, but my eyes look at the ground between Mummy and Daddy. A blade of grass is growing in a concrete crack… Something’s running towards it. An ant? Or a spider? I think it’s an ant… I’m thirsty…
Daddy pauses for breath and Mummy jumps in.
“Marilyn, what did Owen do to you?”
Well it’s about time!
“He spat in my face!”
Nasty little boy!
Mummy turns to Daddy. Daddy’s just about to launch back into his lecture and his mouth’s open. He shuts it, changes gear, and goes off in another direction.
This time it’s all about how I’m not punishing Owen; I’m punishing his mother, who has to wash his coat and pants, and how Daddy thinks that I should apologize to her for throwing milk over her precious little boy who spits in people’s faces!
How did he find out about it, anyway?
“Did Teacher ‘phone?”
Mummy, bright red, blurts out,
“No! Owen couldn’t wait to rush here to tell me! He must have run all the way!”
Daddy’s not pleased with this outburst. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell. So can Mummy.
We go back to Mrs Jessep, Owen’s clothes and my apology.
I have doubts about it. I ask hopefully,
“Is Mrs Jessep going to punish Owen for spitting in my face?”
I sense hesitation.
Daddy is certain that Mrs Jessep will take the appropriate action.
I look at Mummy. Her eyebrows are raised and her lips are firmly pressed together. She’s looking at the ground. Mummy has doubts too.
Daddy’s back on Mrs Jessep’s washing and my apology.
It’s true it wasn’t her fault. I suppose I’ll have to apologize. Daddy’s going to nag until I do. Bad luck he picked today to come home early!
Does he hear the lack of enthusiasm? He starts off again about coats, washing and “poor Mrs Jessep”.
Mummy steers me back along the driveway to the six-foot paling fence near the laundry. Daddy follows.
Mummy calls Mrs Jessep, who is in her laundry on the other side of the fence.
Mrs Jessep climbs onto an upturned wooden box and her head appears at the top of the fence.
Mummy tells her that I have something to say to her. Daddy nudges me. I take a deep breath.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs Jessep, that you have to wash Owen’s clothes because I threw milk on him when he spat in my face.”
There you are! Perfect apology! I didn’t say I was sorry for throwing the milk. And I’ve told her he spat in my face.
Mummy’s proud of me, I can tell.
Daddy’s squirming a bit.
Well, I apologized, didn’t I? That’s all he asked me to do!