This is the second story. The first one, the whimsical one, is here.
It was the middle of the night, and I was asleep. Nestled in the top bunk, feeling on top of the world (it’s amazing how high five feet feels to a tiny, runty child). I was woken suddenly when something struck me on the butt. I rolled over and saw the offending object was mum’s purse. Then I became aware of the screaming. Mum was standing in the doorway, yelling my name, while Dale lurched and crashed behind her in a drunken rage, trying to pull her away. She had slung the purse at me (she has the aim of a sniper, that one) to wake me up quickly, because I was a shockingly heavy sleeper, and had been known to not wake up until physically lifted out of bed and into a standing position.
“CHRISTOPHER,” she was almost shrieking. “Run to the phone box and call the police! Tell them the address, tell them what’s happening!” Dale continued to try to pull mum away from the doorway, stopping only to punch the wall, stumble about the place and wail some more in his violent stupor.
Because nothing stops me from following the rules and being obedient at all times, I immediately opened mum’s purse to find the correct change—thirty cents if I remember correctly—because you never just take a lady’s purse. “NO, just take the whole thing!” mum yelled. (I have always possessed the unique ability to be simultaneously useless AND adorable.)
As I leapt down off the bed and ran for the door, mum braced herself and took three big steps backwards, crashing into Dale to keep him distracted, and distanced from me. I ran down the hall and out the front door, noting on the way that the house had been trashed.
As I sprinted for the front gate, Dale reached the door. “Christopher! Come back here!” he roared. I can’t adequately convey exactly how much of an obedient child I was, to explain why, when he yelled, I stopped. Dale was an authority figure, and he had given me an instruction. I was so conflicted. My insides tore apart between doing the right thing and doing what I was told. I slowed down and turned around…
…and then he called me ‘Chrissy’.
“Come on, Chrissy. Chrissy? Chrissy! Please?”
He had no way of knowing that (to this very day) there is nothing I hate more than being called “Chrissy”. Any impact he had on me as an authority figure evaporated. I turned and ran down the street.
Two in the morning, holding mum’s purse, wearing my pyjamas, running for the phone box. I was terrified but I was determined to save our family. I got to the phone box, dialled the number, and babbled incoherently at the man who answered. I said that my stepdad was yelling and crazy and he’s wrecked the house and mum is crying and she needs the police and then I gave my address and hung up and ran back to the house.
By the time I’d returned from the phone box, Dale was nowhere to be found. I would find out later he was simply hiding in the backyard, but at this point all I knew was he wasn’t there. Mum was trying, in that half-vacant way people in shock do, to tidy. She did manage to plug the phone back in to an unripped plug, and it immediately started ringing. She answered it, meekly.
“Are you Jenny?” said a male voice.
“Yes. What? Who is this?”
“I’m Greg. I work night switch at the mines. Sorry, your son called me,” the male voice replied.
“I don’t understand, he called the police?” Panic started to rise in mum’s voice.
“No love, he didn’t.”
“What do you mean!?”
“He called me by mistake. He hung up before I could tell him he called the wrong number. Not his fault, our number’s only one number off, love.”
Mum started to cry before the man could continue. “No hang on, I got everything he said. I called the police, they’re on their way. I looked you up in the phone book so I could check on you and make sure they arrived.”
As if on cue, the police showed up.
Greg didn’t give any further details other than his name, because he “didn’t want to make a fuss”. Probably also because he didn’t want to get involved in someone else’s family drama (wise move, Greg). Nevertheless; one of the nicest things ever done for me or my family was done by a man none of us ever met.
What Greg did for us was certainly nicer than what the police did for us: They gave Dale several cups of coffee to “sober him up”, congratulated him on his former football career, and sent him straight back to our house. He was back before the sun even came up: punching more walls and trying to grab Tommy (who was still a tiny fragile sultana) out of his washing basket.
When he finally passed out, mum, Lauren, Tommy (and his washing basket) and I fled the house and spent a few days in women’s refuge.
Soon we would flee Mount Isa altogether, and move across the state to the Sunshine Coast. Dale would find us, but at least we would be getting terrorised in a nicer climate.