Killing Two Birds by Ann Lax
Killing Two Birds
“Down from thar hills, Sarah Mae.”
My name is Sarah. Irene adds the Mae so she’s sure we all get the point. That’s the third time she’s called me a hill-billy. I tuck my scuffed shoes under the seat.
There’s a circle of us Year 10 girls under the wattle tree in the playground of our High School. It’s home time. Irene is the leader of the group and the others all edge towards her. I blink my eyes to hide the tears. My hopes of being one of the group scuttled.
“Cry-baby.” jeers Jillian.
I stand up and tug hard at my uniform to straighten it over my knees as I move off. My hand clasps the patch on the side. It reminds me of Irene’s taunt. I hear footsteps pounding along the pavement after me. It’s Irene.
“I’ll race you up the street, Sarah Mae.”
I decline. If you beat Irene Irene at anything it puts her in a foul mood. I know because I’ve beaten her heaps of times. When I scored a higher mark today in Maths she turned and looked at me. Her eyes struck me like the chill of frost on bare feet.
She fixes me with those cold grey eyes now. I feel trapped as if under guard and my instinct is to give her the slip.
“Want to do me a favour?” she asks. “Then I’ll owe you one.”
“Depends.” I hedge, weighing up what the benefits might be, if any. Did I really want to be part of the inner sanctum.
“Ok.” I mutter.
“I’m going to old Lady Muck’s house to do some cleaning. You can help.”
Mrs Jones, that’s her proper name, lives alone in a cul-de-sac a short walk from school. Irene had made a rude gesture when Mrs Jones reprimanded her at the shopping centre for smoking. I am surprised that she has agreed to help her.
We pass a garden ablaze with colour. Irene calmly rips the heads off several agapanthus, trampling along the pansy border and laughs.
“What did you do that for?” I ask hot with embarrassment. I decide Irene is an idiot and turn to walk away.
“Give me your wallet,” she says.
“What are you going to do now?” I ask half fascinated, half repelled under the spell of those chill grey eyes.
“Watch me,” she says and drags my silver coin along the side of a parked car. The screech of the coin on metal sets my teeth on edge.
She races off up the road like a shot when I tell her there’s someone coming. There isn’t. But I can’t resist trying to take the mickey out of her. I move along so I won’t be held responsible.
There’s no sign of anybody at Mrs Jones’. I walk up the path with its trellis of climbing roses and tap at the open door. Irene yanks me in.
“She’s shopping. The key was under the mat. I saw her put it there.”
I look around. “It’s a beautiful house.”
Irene licks her lips. It reminds me of a dog savouring a succulent bone.
There’s a sound of running water down the hall. “Turn off the tap, Irene. You’ll have a flood.”
“Can’t find the key.” She disappears humming down the hall. I hear the sound of drawers being turned out and I follow her in.
“You’ve really done it,” I say with awe. She slits the down pillows with a flourish worthy of the local butcher. Clouds of feathers flutter as silent as snowflakes and settle on her hair and shoulders. Irene shrieks and leaps around intoxicated with a primitive war dance of rage and release.
I pad back over the flooded carpet. Singing and laughing Irene dances behind me into the lounge. She heads for the sideboard. Her arm swoops across the surface like the wing of a giant bird and sends the china crashing and tinkling to the floor.
I leave the house too stunned to talk.
“I still owe you one,” shouts Irene.
The wind whips my hair as I step into the sun. I don’t notice at first the group passing by. They are Irene’s friends. There is nothing friendly in their faces.
At seven that night I sit at my desk doing homework. I can’t believe what Irene had done. There is no question of being her friend. Or the friend of any of her friends. I become aware of my mother shouting up the stairs. It makes me uneasy. Mum never disturbs my homework. Clutching the banister I pad down the wooden treads. My mother is twisting her hands anxiously at the front door. Two policemen loom in the door frame.
“We want a word with you young lady. There was an incident this afternoon at 28 Gregory Place. Your wallet was found on the premises and you were seen leaving. You’d better come down to the station.”