Volcano Child - A YA Novel in Progress by Candy Gourlay


Chapter Two

On the morning Mother left, the earth shrugged. A slight up and down, once, twice, three times. The thin wooden walls of our house trembled uneasily and Mother and Father's wedding picture tumbled off its hook, shattering on the kitchen floor.

“Old Maria's in a temper,” I said, grabbing a broom.

Father smiled. “Oh come on, Isabel,” he said. “Old Maria's just a mountain.”

Old Maria loomed outside the kitchen window, her perfect cone blue and gorgeous in the morning haze, a thread of cloud draped around her neck like a shawl.

“She's a mountain with fire inside her,” I said.

“She's a dead mountain,” Father replied, carefully extracting the photograph from the smashed glass and wood on the floor. “There's no fire in an extinct volcano.”

This morning, as I woke to a rooster's crow, it happened again. Ever so gently the ground wobbled beneath my sleeping mat. I crept out from under my mosquito net and pushed open the shutters. The volcano looked quite green this morning against the bright emerald of the paddy fields at her feet. Green on green. Framed in the window, Old Maria was like a painting that was always changing. Magic.

Under my feet, the ground twitched again. “Did you feel that, Mouse?” I whispered. I looked over my shoulder at the sleeping mat in the corner but there was no movement under the mosquito net. “Mouse?”

My brother did not stir. Next to Mouse, Father's mat, neatly rolled, was still leaning against the wall. Father had not slept in his bed again last night.

The rooster crowed once more, prompting a shrill chorale from the roosters in other back yards. The tops of the banana trees gleamed golden as the sun speeded its ascent. You could tell it was going to be another hot day. But I shivered.

Father once told me that animals knew when calamity was imminent. Dogs barked, roosters crowed, water buffalo abandoned their mud holes.

I glanced at Bowow, who lay flat on his back at the foot of Mouse's mat, snoring, mouth open, paws limp in sleep. Ridiculous dog. No sign of calamity there.

When Father was a small boy, the volcano spat out some yellow clouds of smoke and ash and all of Santa Rosa had to move miles away to another town. For weeks, they lived in tents and church halls, the farmers frantic to return and stop their fields going to seed and the mothers despairing as water supplies dwindled and their children ran wild. After a few tiny puffs, the volcano returned to its slumber and the people of Santa Rosa returned to their homes, angry and annoyed.

Old Maria had made fools of them.

So now, when the monsoon blew too hard and wet and the paddy fields vanished under flood waters, they blamed Old Maria. When the sun burned too hot and the rice browned on their stalks, the farmers all sighed, ay, Maria . When the skies refused to let go of the rain and the paddy mud dried into a barren crust, it was the volcano's fault.

I shrugged and quietly made my way to the kitchen to boil rice for breakfast. It had been a nothing tremor really. Certainly nothing strong enough to throw a picture off the wall.

Not that there was anything there to throw off. Mother and Father's wedding picture had not returned to its place on the kitchen wall.

I hesitated by the scratched chest of drawers where Father kept the rescued photograph, glancing out the window. No sign of Father. I tugged open the drawer and pulled the picture out, gently smoothing it on the kitchen table. Father looked like a small boy, shoulders uneven as if the fine embroidery of his wedding shirt itched. Mother's smile was shy, the gown heavy on her slight frame. She couldn't have been more than seventeen, barely a year older than me. At the bottom of the picture, the photographer had printed in gold: Benjamin and Cecilia.

I smiled at the girl in the picture. I could almost hear her voice. “Best to get the better of the day before the day gets the better of us,” she'd be saying now that the sun was just wide of Old Maria's peak. Of course, on the other side of the world, our day was her night and our night was her day.

There was a clatter on the wooden steps outside. Father was back. I stuffed the picture quickly into the drawer, pushed it shut and held my breath. But Father didn't enter. Instead I heard the stumble of feet down to the standpipe in the yard and a soft curse at the tap's reluctant gurgle. I peeked out the window. Father held his head under the tap's stream, his body twisted into a question mark.

I returned to the stove and measured out some rice. The sun was now just wide of Old Maria's peak. “Best to get the better of the day before the day gets the better of us,” Mother used to wake me with those words a hundred years ago. Now she was on the other side of the world and her day was our night and our night was her day.

I lit the stove and measured out some rice. Perhaps I should iron a few of Father's shirts while the rice steamed. Mother should be ironing too, she always ironed at bedtime. Or maybe she was already tucked up in bed, reading, with blankets, coats and sweaters piled high on top – it was that cold in London , she said.

The pot began to rumble as it came to the boil, its lid dancing about as the rice bubbled up, threatening to spill over. I turned the flame down and hushed the pot.

For a heartbeat, I looked longingly at the chest of drawers. But I made myself get on with making breakfast.

One look a day, that was all. It was a rule I made up several months ago. One look and then no more. Looking at Mother's picture made me stop waiting. I couldn't help waiting but I knew there was no point.

How could Mother come home when Father still had no work?



Next chapter: The Legend of Old Maria

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