The first time Kelpie heard the radio was at Old Man O’Reilly’s house. It was a woman singing. O’Reilly had passed out face down on the settee in the library where the radio was. Passed out so cold that no matter how loud the woman was singing—and it was really loud—he didn’t stir.
Miss Lee had to explain what it was and why music and talk came out of it. It was almost as magical as the pictures. Which Kelpie had never seen, only heard about. She’d tried to sneak into the Crown Street picture house but had been caught. She didn’t risk trying it again. Wasn’t worth it if being taken by Welfare was the cost.
Miss Lee held radio to be vastly superior to the cinema. It lets you use your imagination, my dear. Brings you news and fine music from all around the world and not cheap tawdry thrills about cowboys and men with overly large and dark moustaches and men and women dancing far too close to each other. Not that Miss Lee hadn’t enjoyed dancing in her day. It was a different kind of dancing. The kind without feathers.
Kelpie had never seen any dancing with feathers. The only kind she’d ever seen was the kind men did when they were drunk and weaving down the street. Or men and women swinging each other around, glimpsed through windows in their homes. It was part of the world Kelpie was on the other side from.
She’d heard lots of people singing though. But not like this lady. Her voice was clear as a bell and long and swooping. Kelpie’s eyes prickled with tears from the way this radio lady was singing. It was the oddest thing. Kelpie had no idea what to do with how she was feeling.
It’s because it’s beautiful, Miss Lee explained.
Kelpie figured that must have been it. She hadn’t seen much beauty in her life. Must have been the surprise of the thing that made her eyes turn to water.
Father O’Brian was more of a father to Neal Darcy than his own had ever been. Father O’Brian had taught him how to box, introduced him to Jonathan Swift, the stories of Oscar Wilde, and the poetry of W. B. Yeats. The Father had found him the job at the brewery when Neal was just back from shearing and his ma was broke and frightened and before that a thousand and one odd jobs all over the Hills.
Father O’Brian had done everything he could to keep Neal Darcy and his mother afloat the first time his old man had disappeared.
Neal had been only eight years old. Father O’Brian took him aside to talk to him about his new responsibilities. How he’d have to look after his mother now that they’d be dependent on her dressmaking skills to keep them afloat. They were luckier than most; they owned their own home but everyone in the Hills had see how swiftly a body could slide from homeowner to out on the streets and that was even before the worst of the unemployment had hit. So Father O’Brian had found them a lodger and found Neal odd jobs to make a few bob here and there. Mowing the church’s lawn, walking old Mrs Wentworth’s ailing dog and reading to her.
The Father had treated him as if he was a man already and Neal had grown into Father O’Brian’s regard as fast as he could. He’d done his valiant best to put away childhood things while still a child. He’d worked hard at school and after school. His mother had been proud and Father O’Brian too.
While Neal had chafed he’d also done his valiant best to confine his mischief to places out of their sight and ear shot. For the most part he’d succeeded until he’d run off shearing with his father’s youngest brother. But his father had been back in the city working at Paddy’s markets for years by then, being a provider, procreating.
In those days the Hills were positively infested with communists, socialists, Trotskyites, Wobblies, Fabians, unionists, atheists, agitators, pamphleteers and gazetteers. You could barely take a step from your home without being accosted by some well-meaning sod all set to save the world. Or in the case of the less ambitious, Frog Hollow. Save the slums! Protect the poor! Stop the big men from profiting from our suffering!
Most of the Hills was unconcerned by the rabble-rousers. They meant well what with all their fighting for the poor, and the working man, and the poor working man, and all of that. They might have a tendency to bang on about it all a bit too much. There were many in the Hills who liked to have a quiet beer without listening to loud fellas promulgating civil disobedience and class war. But all in all the reds weren’t too bad.
It was those fascist types that stuck in their craws. The New Guard and their ilk. With their uniforms and military training camps and ugly songs and contempt for anyone who wasn’t a member of their faux-military club.
There weren’t many of them in the Hills and when they were stupid enough to open their mouths against the true premier of that fine state, violence swiftly ensued, which they never got the best of. The Big Fella was a hero to the people of the Hills. He was a hero before he was elected and an even bigger hero after his ugly sacking. Those fascist bully boys would never understand.
In fact, about the only thing that would unite the communists, socialists, Trotskyites, Wobblies, Fabians, unionists, atheists and agitators was for a member of the New Guard to raise his voice.
Sadly for all those proselytising radicals, of the left and the right, it was the Catholic Church that held the biggest sway in the Hills, even amongst the unbelievers. They had the best soup kitchens.
For Dymphna the best thing about money was security, was knowing that if she needed to run, she could. She had long thought of going to another country. She had French from her North Shore private school, taught to her by an actual French woman. She’d been top of her class; Dymphna had a gift for languages.
Paris, France. She liked the sound of that. She would go there one day.
The second best thing about money was what she could buy with it: the finest clothes, the most beautiful shoes, elegant little hats, divinely soft gloves.
Dymphna always shopped at David Jones. On the sixth floor where the clothes were imported from Paris, where the models came out wearing them for you, turning and twirling, and always Dymphna knew the clothes would be better on her.
She’d try them, they’d adjust, find hats and gloves and bags to match. They would treat her as if she were a princess. She was one of their best customers. She knew they knew. She had seen society women whispering. After that Dymphna’s appointments were private.
David Jones didn’t care where the money was coming from. They shouldn’t. She paid well. She slipped money to the saleswomen, to the models. She did everything she ought and more. She was always polite. Kept her vowels round. She had more class than the society women’s daughters. She could have been one of them. She would have been one of them. If her father had not . . . If the world had not . . .
Blood. Blood had undone everything.
Dymphna was glad. That was her real world. The sixth floor of David Jones was a brief respite, a much beloved oasis. But her world was the streets of Razorhurst.
Blood was not there every single day but the possibility of it was. She was born into it. It felt right. The way things should be.
Except for her men. One after another. Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.
Though she hadn’t loved a single one; she missed them. Every one of her men. Even the one’s who lied. Even the ones who took her money without asking. The ones who drank too much, took a swing at her, spoke disrespectfully of her to their mates. Because having her wasn’t enough for those them, they had to prove it didn’t mean anything to them, that they were not enthralled.
She was more grateful for the ones who didn’t.
Before too long, though, no matter how well or badly they treated her, they were all of them dead.
We all die.
When Dymphna died she would wear her finest suit from David Jones, complete with matching hat, gloves, bag and a simple bouquet of sweet peas placed in her hands.