A Day in a Life – a short story by Kate Whiteoak


“Now just relax dear”.The doctor was very old and pale.  His huge cranium was completely bald.  He reminded her of a a giant termite or maggot that has lived all its life in the dark.”Open wide please.  That’s it.”She was having her ritual pap smear done.  Every year religiously, she submitted herself to this indignity so she wouldn’t succomb to the evils of cancer.  Sometimes she wondered whether cancer could be much worse than the examination itself.He was peering inside her now with a strange light held in his hand.  He seemed to be in a trance or state of suspended animation.  She suppressed an urge to ask him if he was searching for the secret of the universe.”You can get dressed now.  If there’s anything wrong I”ll let you know when the results come back from pathology.”

“Thank you doctor.”

She dressed quickly, paid the bill and headed for the butcher shop.  They were always smiling and cheerful there, full of quips and pleasantries.

“How are the children Mrs. Ross?”

“Fine thanks Fred.  Rachel’s in High School now.”

“Really?  How time flies.  And the little nipper?”

“He’ll be starting Primary next year.”

“Well I never!  Do you want the usual?’

“Yes thanks Fred.”

He was out the back now, chopping and hacking at the meat.  Why were butchers always so cheerful, she wondered?  Was it because they dealt in dead flesh and so had to compensate for the horror of their business?  They were like modern day Nazis living off the sufferings of others.  How many carcasses had passed through their hands and been split asunder on their huge chopping blocks?

“That’ll be $15.00.”

She wrenched herself back to the present and paid the smiling butcher.  Arms laden with food she started back home.  She was nearly there when she contemplated dropping in to Jane’s for a chat.  Jane was a lovely person.  Warm and bubbly she was an ex-‘exotic dancer’ and lived with her current boyfriend Tom, a truckie with a bad temper.  They used to have cups of tea together and chat about their children, but lately Tom had taken to coming home early, dropping in unannounced to see who was visiting Jane.  He wasn’t over-friendly and Jane always became nervous, so lately she had stopped the visits.  Tom was incessantly jealous and resented Jane having any friends, even women.  Perhaps he suspected her of having half a dozen men hidden in the house.  Maybe he thought they discussed his sexual habits and shortcomings, and laughed behind his back.    She had offered to babysit in the beginning but they never went out.  Sometimes he lashed out at Jane and she ran away back to her parents until he begged her to come back, promising he’d never hit her again.

As she passed Jane’s she glanced in the driveway and saw Tom’s car.  Better keep going she thought.  Sighing, she turned the key in the lock and entered her house.  The usual mess greeted her – unmade beds, overflowing ashtrays, toys and clothes scattered about the place.  Another day to be wasted tidying up after everyone else.  Her husband was particularly messy.  He carelessly left papers and magazines all over the floor, and she had become used to picking up magazine after magazine filled with photos of large-breasted women with no clothes on and their legs wide open (not potential pap smear victims she thought bitterly).  His main interests were girlie magazines, beer and sport, especially the kind which involved shooting anything that moved.

Mechanically, she moved about the house tidying up.  First the kids’ rooms, then the lounge room and finally into the bathroom.  She had already made the double bed and picked up her husband’s dirty clothes which were strewn about the bedroom floor as usual.  Somehow she couldn’t bear any evidence of their nocturnal activities to remain for long.

She switched the radio on in the kitchen and listened to a little of the talkback show.  As usual it was mostly women ringing up with problems and a patronising man, pretending to care, was giving them advice.  She switched to another station and let the soothing strains of Debussy’s symphony wash over her.

The washing had been done, the kitchen tidied, and she was making a cake when the children arrived.  They burst in the door with the relentless force of a dammed river breaking free.  They besieged her with demands for food and then left to fight in the lounge room over which TV programme to watch.

Dinner was in the oven when her husband arrived home.  He greeted her perfunctorily with the usual “What’s for dinner?”, took a beer out of the fridge and went to oust the children from the lounge room.  After dinner, during which the children picked at each other and her husband yelled at them, she washed up and he went out to the garage to fiddle around with his rifle.  He was going shooting tomorrow with some of his mates and he wanted to be sure everything was ready.

The children were now safely esconsed in their rooms.    Rachel was listening to a CD and John was reading his new comic book.  She settled down in front of the television and had just become immersed in the new travel series when he came in with another beer in his hand.

“What’s this bloody rubbish!”  he said, and before she could protest he switched to another channel and was settling back to watch the football.  She said nothing and after a while went to check on the children.  They were both sleeping peacefully, although Luke had kicked his quilt off again.  She covered him up, straightened his pillow and went to the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  Her eyes fell on the rifle leaning against the wall.  He had oiled and polished it in preparation for tomorrow.  A box of cartridges lay on the floor next to it.

Lifting the rifle she caressed the smooth wood and ran her fingers along the cool barrel.  Stooping she picked up the box of cartridges, and as in a trance removed one.  She inserted it with care and raising the rifle looked along the barrel.  Her husband would never let her touch his gun, but she had learnt to shoot in the country when she was growing up,  and she knew how to aim and sight at an object.

Slowly she walked back up the hallway.  The lounge room door was ajar and she could see her husband asleep on the lounge, the empty beer can on the table beside him.  A long piece of spittle hung from his lips and his chest rose rhythmically with his snores.  The television announcer was extolling the virtues of one of the players who had just scored a goal.

She lifted the rifle and aimed at the beer can.   Gradually she lifted it higher and further to the left until she found her target.  She squeezed the trigger.

When the police arrived they found her sitting in the chair watching the end of the travel programme.

She was smiling.

I wrote this story back in the 80s and entered it into a short story competition.  Unfortunately it was too short apparently.  It is loosely based on my observations of women I have known who have been stifled and abused by violent, insecure men and their inability to escape from the cycle of domestic violence because of threats to them and their children.  I would appreciate any feedback.

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