Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: The Lion’s Maw

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak

Yvonne’s heavy shopping bags bit into her hands. Not far now. She noticed the change in the scungy white dog up front. It appeared to be shivering. Its once-erect tail was lowered as it slunk by the cars pulled in at the kerb. She squinted, she needed new glasses. As she grew nearer she felt it, the radiating menace.

Two shiny FJ Holdens with their brilliant chrome leering mudguards were directly in her path. She stood stock still looking up and down the street. Not a soul in sight. She closed her eyes and gathered herself. She could do it, just one more block to go.

Feeling a little like the downtrodden dog, she warily approached the crouching lions, their badges glinting in the sun. She felt their shuttered eyes upon her as she waddled past. No drivers. That’s a relief. She almost expected a door to slowly open with a hand held out to the young Vonnie of the Fifties. She halted. The second one was pale green. Its gleaming wide grill the echo of Ted’s seductive smile on that day long ago.

Feeling a little like the downtrodden dog, she warily approached the crouching lions, their badges glinting in the sun.

Oh, why had she accepted that lift after work? It had been raining and her bus was late. Her new shoes were going to be ruined and she needed them for the Saturday dance. She’d seen him before  when strolling by the forbidden milk bar. He would smile lazily at her, a cigarette hanging off his lower lip, leaning on the hood of his FJ Holden. Her sisters would grab her arm, muttering dire warnings about telling dad. He was a lot older and wore a leather jacket. She fancied he looked like Steve McQueen. She would look back with a toss of her glorious auburn hair.

She got him to drop her off at the corner. Engine idling, he asked her to the drive-in. His hooded brown eyes held her captive. Why did the image of Pan pop into her mind? It should have been a warning. She hesitated. None of her girlfriends had been to the drive-in as they were barely eighteen.  They went on the bus to the dances and pictures. Her boyfriend Andrew was saving up for a car and it could be months, if not years, before she had another chance.

“I’ll pick you up at 7.30 Saturday,” he said.

“Better make it around the corner at the library,” she heard herself say. Well away from prying eyes.

He pulled out with a screech of tyres sending spray over her full skirt. She shook out her umbrella. This would be tricky, as her sisters watched her every move. She would ask her best friend Maureen to cover for her. Saturday night she left home as usual heading for Maureen’s. Once out of sight, she walked to the library where Ted’s Holden was parked at the kerb with the lights off.  A cold shiver ran down her spine. It looked sinister somehow. She shook herself: this was her chance to ride in the famous Holden that had been in the Redex Car Trial. Dad, ears glued to the radio, raved about Australia’s own car and its reliability for days. She smiled at Ted and slipped onto the leather seat.

At the drive-in her excitement and fear of discovery made her slide down further in the bench seat. She couldn’t remember what was showing that night. When the lights went down, Ted put his arm around her. He poured something from a small flask into her coke.

“Tastes a bit funny, ”she said.

“Live a little, darlin’.The night is still young. ”

He sounded just like Paul Newman in The Sting. She giggled and snuggled up to him. The rest of the evening was a blur.

Did she put up much resistance? She remembered at one stage his hot mouth on hers and, later, falling asleep. He must have dropped her off at home. All she could recollect was that her Capri pants were back to front when she fumbled in her bag for her keys. Thank heaven Mum had fallen asleep on the couch.

Six weeks later Vonnie, standing on tiptoe, pulled her shirt up. The reflection from the speckled mirror over her messy dressing table, cluttered with bobby-pins and makeup, revealed a slender midriff but her breasts were tender. She decided to confide in her aunt, her mother’s younger sister. She of the scarlet nails and a rotating collection of boyfriends. She would know what to do.

Platinum-haired Barbara, blowing a perfect smoke-ring from her elegant cigarette holder, considered. 

“Don’t tell. That’s my advice. Aren’t you engaged to Andrew?”

Vonnie, twisting the ring nervously around her finger, nodded. 

“Well then, bring the wedding forward.” She smiled complicitly. “Our secret.”

Things moved fast from then on. A red-faced Andrew, holding tightly to her hand, fronted her dad the next day. Mum swiftly arranged the church and the reception was at the local hall. Wearing a borrowed dress, and with Maureen as her bridesmaid, she became Mrs Andrew Harrington two weeks later.

The mangy dog had streaked away around the corner. They’d had three children and a happy marriage of over forty years. Lucky her Andy was a Ford man until his dying day. Bless him. Yvonne gripped her bags and walked bravely on. She was a keen Stephen King fan and she could have sworn the last Holden side mirror gave her a wink at as she passed.