Elizabeth Counihan – Deakin University
First pillow on ground.
Second pillow on ground.
Third pillow on ground.
Anna stared aggressively into the darkness at the three pillows remaining on the triple-king-sized bed beside her. She wanted to rage and roar and foam, but the best she could do was grind her teeth and bombard the floor with pillows. As though somehow, by throwing half the pillow population on to the ground, the bed would suddenly soak her body into its embrace and rock her gently to sleep. As likely to happen as Sabrina walking in. Anna groaned and rolled over onto her back. Again.
“Why is this bed so horrible?” she grumbled into the mattress. She thought of her bed at home, merely a double, yet four times more comfy than this monstrosity. Her hand was rubbing the sheets underneath her restlessly, trying to pick at the phantom threads that were abundant in her sheets at home. She hated excess and hated waste. It reminded Anna of what she lacked. Her adolescence was full of lacking. Lack of new clothes; lack of privacy; lack of new schoolbooks. How obnoxious were these people? They had to double or even triple-king size everything they owned, when the rest of the world were barely getting enough food and shelter to live. Anna couldn’t understand how people could sleep like this, anyway. If she reached her arms out to either side of her, she still wouldn’t be able to touch the edge. The thought of no edge made her shiver. She rolled towards the right until her hand could reach over the side and touch the underside of the first mattress.
Her hand touched something.
“AHHHH!” The sudden realisation that she always knew she was going to die here hit her as hard and fast as a hooning car. Of course, she was going to die here.
In a spare room of a country mansion.
Owned by two incredibly rich business moguls.
Who happened to be the parents of her girlfriend.
Anna’s racehorse heart started pacing out. She was being crazy. Again. Her fight with Sabrina earlier had really taken a toll on Anna’s mind. And her ability to sleep, apparently. Before her brain or heart had time to catch up, Anna’s hand pulled out the item that had attempted to ‘murder’ her from between the mattress and the bedframe.
An envelope. With a wad of cash inside?
Anna sat up.
She turned on the bed side lamp. Squinting her eyes at the sudden change in light, Anna pulled out the notes and spread them like a geisha’s fan. There had to be thousands of dollars there. Maybe ten thousand. God, that would cover her parents’ nursing home bills for months. And her sister could afford childcare. For a bit, anyway. Anna half-rolled and half-jumped off the bed and lifted up what she could of the mattress. Nothing else underneath.
“What is going on?” She asked the murderous envelope, the pillows on the floor, the whole room.
Sabrina doesn’t need this. She doesn’t need her parents. They are sitting either side of her, and like brown tree snakes, they first injected her with the poisonous knowledge of her lover’s betrayal, and now are constricting her with words and company and arms tight around her. She is dying.
“Honey, it will all work out. This just wasn’t … meant to be.”
“You will find someone else. Maybe when you’re older? Someone who is more grounded, anyway.”
The emptiness of the dining room is suffocating. It is always too big, this summerhouse. The four bay windows looking out onto the garden are sparkling. Outside, the gardeners are tending the roses, pruning the runaway branches and yanking out the thorns. Display cabinets line the walls of the dining room, full of trinkets and mementos, reminding Sabrina of everything her parents have earned in their lives, and everything she has not. The lacquered, wood-worked table looks almost empty despite the breakfast enough for six spread on top. Croissants, pastries, organic yoghurt, seasonal fruit, all-natural muesli, pancakes … Oh, and the traditional Swedish pea soup that Sabrina’s parents had the cook specially prepare, even after Sabrina told them that Anna hates peas.
Sabrina can hear footsteps coming closer, echoing through the great hallway. The doorknob turns. And there she is, all showered and primed and teasing Sabrina with glimpses of thigh from a dress almost too short.
“Hey sweets,” Anna says, walking towards the table. Sabrina’s parents stand up and walk across the room, hovering in front of one of the side doors. Anna hesitates a second before kissing the top of Sabrina’s head. “Everything cool?” Anna sits down on the newly vacated chair next to Sabrina.
“So what? You’re just going to pretend like nothing happened?” Sabrina says. The taste of bitterness spreads in the room. Anna’s arm is halfway to the bloated breakfast spread across the table. She turns her face to look at Sabrina’s.
“God, are we still on this, Sabrina? Really?” Anna sighs and brings her arm back and folds it into her lap.
“Yeah, we are,” Sabrina snips back, confused at Anna’s response but not wanting to lose the fire from the fight. “How could you?” Ferocity and fragility fight a furious battle for supremacy within Sabrina’s voice.
“Should we really be talking about this in front of your parents?” Anna whispers, glancing at Sabrina’s parents’ turned backs. Sabrina sits with her arms crossed, fuming.
“Yeah, we should. Unlike you, they support me.”
“Fine,” Anna hisses across the table. “I’m sorry I didn’t get along with your mum last night, okay? We’re just … different. Maybe too different. But I’m trying, all right? I’ll try to forget all her accusations of me and my family. I’ll put on an enormous smile, say ‘Hi Mrs Periam and how do you do today?’ and we’ll be the absolute best of friends. How’s that?”
Sabrina’s mother turns around to stare at Anna, eyes narrowed and conceited and looking down upon her. “Oh, and by the way,” Anna continues, loudly now and standing up to reach into her handbag, “I don’t know if you guys are just, like, so rich that you forget where you put wads of money, or if your maids or servants or slaves or whatever are stealing from you, but I found this under my mattress last night.” She carelessly throws an envelope onto the table. It lands on top of the stack of pancakes next to the pea soup. Sabrina’s parents, both of whom are now watching this spectacle of their daughter’s life, eye off the envelope.
“Typical,” Sabrina says as she scrapes her chair back fiercely and stands up. The intake of air from Sabrina’s mother at the damage made to the floor is audible. “Typical Anna. Pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about and then try to worm your way out of trouble. Why can’t you just be honest with me?” Anna raises her eyebrows and wrinkles up her nose. “You know you could have just asked. I would have given you the money,” Sabrina finishes glumly, still standing, but looking down at her tiny Cinderella-sized feet.
“What? Who says I need money? Wait; is this about the missing money from the store? You think I’m guilty, that I’m the one that was pilfering money?” Anna steps back from Sabrina, as though she is emitting a noxious gas that might infect her at any moment.
“It may as well have been,” Sabrina’s mother snaps. “We all know you are soaking up Sabrina’s money, my money, and giving it all to that … sister of yours.” Sabrina’s father watches but stays silent.
Anna ignores them both.
“Sabrina?” Anna asks, her voice as quiet and unsettled as a child at a wake.
“Maybe. I don’t know! But we never found out, did we? So it could have been. You have been telling me these past months how badly your family needs money! Even if it was you, I understand, and I forgive you for that. But I can’t forgive you for taking that money from under the mattress, even if you gave it back once you were caught. You only want me for my money, just like everyone else.” Sabrina stares straight into Anna’s eyes, the illusion of their relationship finally shattering. Anna is quiet for one second.
“Was this a test?” Anna asks, finally, quietly. “You hid money under my bed to see if I would steal from you?” Anna shakes her head. She looks at the envelope, Sabrina’s mother, father, the house. And finally at Sabrina. “I love you. But I just don’t love money as much as you do.” Anna turns to face Sabrina’s parents. “Thank you for having me, Mrs and Mr Periam. It was a pleasure.” Gracefully, serenely, like a girl whose dreams and life and love have not just been shattered, Anna walks away from Sabrina.
Sabrina stands perfectly still.
Sabrina stares at the envelope on the cold, limp pancakes and hears the enormous wooden door ease shut.
“But,” Sabrina says quietly, “she didn’t take the money.”
Elizabeth Counihan is a 23-year-old student studying Professional and Creative Writing at Deakin University. Having spent a few years traveling and working, she is about to complete her first year at Deakin. She has a love of cats and fairytales that are perhaps a little over the top.