Diana Micairan – Deakin University
Erlinda rummaged through the fridge, managing to dredge up some left overs: a foggy plastic box which contained cold Mongolian cuisine, with white particles of lard floated on the beef. It was an accessible snack for Erlinda because she didn’t need to cook – simply place in microwave, heat for three to five minutes and serve. She placed the tawdry meal – still in its plastic container – on the dining table, and let out a thick sigh while she rested her hefty buttocks on the wooden chair and stabbed her fork into the salty beef. There was no time for nibbles. Erlinda hacked the meat with her teeth – the household chores had goaded her appetite. All morning, Erlinda had disinfected the kitchen, assembled the living room, and emptied the laundry baskets. Only places that could be seen got tidied. Otherwise, the drawers filled with junk were left untouched and unseen. The house was still and Erlinda was alone for the moment. She thought she would embrace this before her husband and children returned. Once the last of her lunch was chugged into her stomach, she slumped on the couch and watched the latest news on ABS-CBN (a Filipino television program). The kids were still at school and Rip was working and didn’t knock off until ten PM. Rip had covered late shifts at the milk factory while Erlinda took on morning shifts at Coles – they hardly saw each other in daylight. She anticipated the arrival of her three kids.
Three in the afternoon was the time when Debbie, John and Diana returned home from Catholic primary school to watch Cheese TV. Their entrance was always rampant, the house flooded with chaotic childish yelps. One by one, the kids crashed through the screen door and cackled, “Hello, Mum”. They knew a short greeting was better than no greeting at all because Erlinda would snap: Don’t even greet your mother?! What kind of kids are you?!
The restless trio would whip out of their manure coloured socks and gum boots like it were footwear made of hot coal, and flung their school bags off their shoulders to land anywhere. They wore green shirts and brown trousers (their school uniform about which Debbie once complained, “We look like trees!”), which they enjoyed wearing during after-school hours and never bothered to change out of. Debbie, John and Diana sometimes stayed in their school uniform until midnight; occasionally they even forgot to have it washed for the next day. Diana liked to think that by wearing school attire (bare feet or thongs as footwear because the gumboots made you look stupid) when hanging around the local area, you were – in some way – like an escaped convict.
John usually tossed his bag across the living room space as if he were a stocky competitor in a game of hammer throw. He carried a new deck of Pokémon cards and a bag of marbles which Erlinda had no memory of buying for him. She interrogated him about his findings to which John answered, “They’re my friend’s”. But Debbie and Diana knew the real story consisted of John persuading a boy, in the second grade, to exchange his holographic ‘Tauros’ card for John’s ‘rare’ ‘Weedle’ card. For as long as anyone could remember, John had a talent for purging the pockets of the disadvantaged – and this he did without laying a finger on anyone. As for the marbles, John was followed by an entourage of grade three boys who ranked top place in the playground tournament of Marbles. Their gang played for ‘keepsies’. The pocket of John’s trousers bulged from the bag of ‘cat’s eye’ and ‘bomber’ marbles. Erlinda eventually gave in to John’s wide smile and flappy ears and released him (every argument between John and Erlinda ended this way). John sprinted to the bedroom, the pattering of his monkey-like feet echoing down the hallway after him.
Soon after, bespectacled Debbie walked inside to report the news of her eventful day to anyone who’d listen. “Hello, Mum”, Debbie sung, kissing Erlinda on the cheek.
“Mum, look! My teacher really liked my writing and she printed it in the newsletter!”
Debbie waved a paper booklet in Erlinda’s face. Her written narrative had been described as ‘a wonderful example of fifth-grade level’ by the sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Joyce, and was featured in the school’s newsletter. At this, Erlinda grinned and nodded, “Good”. Debbie had also sold her drawings of Dragon Ball Z characters to her classmates for three dollars each. Another striking aspect of Debbie was her body image. Most of the curious boys in year five and six were astounded by Debbie’s plump figure. During P.E, they ogled at her prematurely developed chest when she played the jump rope. They all seemed so deeply fascinated by the up-and-down, bouncing motion of her boobs – it seemed to be Debbie’s main attraction. She was seldom teased or praised for her unique breasts. But despite all this fame, Debbie was troubled by the fact that Shane Frew (some popular, sporty, older kid) did not like-like her. He liked the Barbie girls in his class, he liked plain chocolate bars – Debbie was a coconut sprinkled rum ball.
Diana was still outside when she heard the thud of empty lunch boxes and backpacks, and boots. She wore a tired frown, all she wanted was to eat, lie in bed and watch Sailor Moon and Pokémon. As expected, Diana found her older brother’s boots which sat crookedly on the floor, so she too threw off her shoes in the same manner. Erlinda noticed the youngest one enter and smiled, “Hello, nak.”
“Hello, Mum”, Diana managed to force out of herself. She kissed Erlinda to avoid getting nagged. Erlinda saw the wrinkled collar of Diana’s school uniform, chewed and torn at the corner, “Diana! What did you do to your collar?! It’s disgusting, don’t do that”.
Both Linda and Rip suspected that Diana needed some kind of conditioning for her gritty habits. They began the discipline by having her hair cut in a bob, which Diana hated the most about herself. She wanted to look like the pale-skin girls in her class with large, swirly ponytails. Instead, she had an ebony fountain that sprinkled from her head. Having long hair was out of the question for Diana for she cared not for the brushing out of knots. Diana was in grade three then. At times, her parents forgot about her mainly because she had nothing interesting to show. No stolen goods or drama, only a scuffed collar shrivelled from her saliva. Diana was always shy and skittish, and yet, she tried her best to be as exciting as her brother and sister. She learned the dance routines to Britney Spears’ ‘Oops, I did it again’ and NSYNC’s ‘Tearin’ Up My Heart’ with Debbie in the hope of impressing her. She even volunteered to participate in John’s crazy stunts and pranks just so that he would talk to her. Once, Diana jumped off the old boat in the backyard, using a plastic bag as a parachute – this was all John’s idea. But everyone knew that because Diana was the youngest and most vulnerable in the family, she would be babied and bullied.
Debbie, John and Diana dashed to the television in their bedroom. The television, a black box made of static, was an opening to an extraordinary world. It was no larger than the microwave and it was the centrepiece of the children’s room (a single bedroom, two single beds, and a tall shelf where the TV sat). It was the television which provided after-school entertainment. Although they admired their parents, it was television they also glorified. It was only a year later that Erlinda and Rip Van cut the cable for wellbeing of their money and children.
Diana Micairan is from Darwin, Northern Territory, and is 19 years old. She is currently living in Melbourne, and undertaking a Bachelor of Creative Arts, double majoring in Dance and Creative Writing at Deakin University Burwood.