Little Tommy was at just the right age where he was old enough to understand that something wasn’t right but young enough to not fully appreciate what it was exactly. The new baby had arrived safe and sound and afterwards Papa had sat Tommy and his sister Daisy down and told them they needed to be good and helpful to Mamma. She was not well. She was drained. The baby was taking a lot out of her and she needed rest. They both agreed heartily and Daisy looked after the house while Mamma rested.
Tommy thought he was doing well. He made sure to be quiet and helped Daisy whenever he could. Then Mamma started to disappear. She’d be gone for ages. Papa was out working a lot of the time and he’d eventually return only to find Daisy and Tommy all alone in the house with the baby. The first time he was mad as thunder. He hopped straight back on his horse and tore off to the town. He always knew that Mamma was there. He always found her. He always brought her back.
At first Mamma was terribly sorry. She didn’t know what she was doing. She didn’t know what was wrong with her. She cried a lot and she kissed Tommy and Daisy and hugged them and told them she was sorry she left them for so long. She picked up the little baby (they were calling her Kitty), cradled her in her arms and kissed the top of her head. Papa forgave her; he always did.
She was good for a little while. But then she changed again. One day she’d disappear and the next she’d be brought back. She wasn’t terribly sorry or upset anymore. Mamma didn’t seem to care. She was angry and annoyed that Papa kept bringing her back. Once she even glared at little Tommy and Daisy when she walked through the door! Tommy didn’t like that. It made him sad…and scared.
Papa didn’t know what to do. Mamma wasn’t getting any better and all she wanted to do was run away.
One gloomy winter’s day, however, Papa sat Tommy and Daisy down next to him. With the help of Uncle Alfred, he’d come up with an answer: they had to move homes. He explained everything to them patiently. Where they were; there were too many people. People were talking and gossiping. People wanted to complain to the police about Mamma’s behaviour. They hadn’t done so for Papa’s sake. For her (and their) own good, he’d decided that they needed to move somewhere quiet and calm. Somewhere in the bush where Mamma could rest and get better without the townsfolk watching her every move. Somewhere that would make running away difficult.
Tommy and Daisy listened to the words spoken by the man they idolised. Tommy looked up at his father’s kindly face. There were crinkles around his eyes and strands of grey in his beard. Had they always been there?
It didn’t take long for Papa and Uncle Abe to pack up the small house. Papa borrowed the cart from Grandpa Hurst and loaded it up with all their worldly possessions. Tommy clamoured aboard and sat at the front next to Papa while Daisy sat with Kitty behind them in the back. Mamma was making the journey with Uncle Abe; her brother. Tommy felt so very important high up at the front as he watched the horse down below. Every now and then its tail would twitch and move. He smiled broadly and instinctively looked left; his smile vanished in an instant. Mamma was staring in his direction. Like the horse’s tail her lips were also twitching. It looked as if she was speaking to a voice only she could hear. Tommy stared back. He wasn’t even sure if Mamma could see him through that blank gaze but it frightened him all the same.
The sky darkened and it grew cold. Tommy was no longer sure he wanted to move to this strange, new place.
The journey was long, muddy and bumpy. Tommy had fallen asleep twice and to prevent him from falling, was moved to the back to sit with his sisters. When they finally arrived it was evening and they made their way along a rough bush track. Tommy could make out a small humpy in the distance with a man standing outside. The man waved in acknowledgement. They stopped outside the humpy and were introduced to the man but Tommy soon forgot who he was. Papa was going to be working for him though and their new home was on the stranger’s land.
Papa and Uncle Abe started unpacking the cart but Tommy didn’t have the energy to watch. It had been a long day and he was exhausted. He found a quiet spot out of the way and fell asleep on the floor inside.
Tommy liked his new home. The bush was everywhere he looked and there was a small creek nearby which he loved to explore. Mamma seemed a little better but he thought she was just playing a game of pretend. When she was alone (or thought she was) he often heard her talking to herself. He couldn’t make out the words and wondered who she was talking to. Most of the time though she was just quiet. She just stared.
One night, several months later, everything went bad. Papa was sitting and writing in his journal. Mamma was sitting too except she was just staring at the corner opposite her, her face blank and devoid of any emotion. Little Tommy thought he could remember when Mamma used to smile and laugh. That seemed a long time ago though. As he watched her, she suddenly spoke:
“There’s something in the house.”
Papa and Daisy stopped what they were doing and looked at her. Kitty continued sleeping in her cradle; far away from where Mamma was sitting.
“What is it?” Papa replied nonchalantly.
Mamma made no answer. After a while Papa frowned and went back to his writing.
Little Tommy felt a growing uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. He continued staring at Mamma. Her mouth was twitching again. Her face was contorted in an odd expression. She didn’t look like Mamma anymore.
“Don’t believe me!” She suddenly spat.
Tommy’s eyes widened in shock. He whimpered.
“It’ll get you!” She yelled. “It’s waiting for you all. It tells me all the time.”
Tommy started crying. He walked over to Papa and clutched at his leg.
“Stop it, Tilly. You’re frightening the children.”
Tommy looked over at Daisy. She was edging closer to Kitty and Papa. Her eyes were as big as saucers and she’d gone deathly pale. Mamma clutched her arms and started rocking. She was muttering under her breath. Her hair had come loose and strands of it were everywhere.
“Stop it, Tilly!” Papa repeated forcefully. “Why are you saying these horrible things? Why are you acting like this?!”
Mamma laughed. No. Not laughed. Cackled.
“Just fun is all. Sometimes…I do…straaaange things.” She flashed her teeth in a maniacal grin.
Papa picked little Tommy up and put him on his lap. He put one arm around Tommy and the other around Daisy.
“Time for bed, children. You need your rest.”
Mamma turned her head towards the fire and chuckled. Tommy gulped. He was glad it was bedtime.
The next day Tommy woke up early. He was up even before the sun. He walked out of the house and looked at the horizon where the sky was beginning to lighten. The bush looked pretty in the dawn. He spied a kangaroo and as he took a step towards it, it bounced away. There was dew on all the leaves and everything smelt fresh and clean. He felt light-hearted as he looked at the beauty around him. He turned towards the house where his family was still sleeping. The light-hearted feeling was instantly replaced with dread as he remembered the night before. The house looked much darker than everything else. The bush surrounding it looked ugly and twisted. The windows were mean and pinched. Tommy didn’t want to go back inside.
A curtain twitched and Tommy gasped. Was it Mamma? He quickly jumped behind a small tree. He peered out carefully but all was quiet. Tommy turned around and sat down facing the bush. He cried quietly as he watched the world transform under the light of the sun.
With quiet resolve he wiped his tears away. He didn’t want to want to go back inside. He was scared. Little Tommy looked out at the bush before him. It was immense. It was also mysterious and comforting all at the same time. It beckoned to him. He thought of the house behind him and Mamma somewhere within it. He shivered. Mamma had always told him never to go wandering but now, he realised, Mamma wasn’t there anymore. As quiet as possible, he carefully stood up. He looked towards the rising sun and started walking.
As the title indicates, this story is a work of fiction. If you would like to read Little Tommy’s story (the facts) please click on the following link:
Newspaper article source: 1894 ‘PROVINCIAL TELEGRAMS.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 21 September, p. 3, viewed 4 July, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article76468179