Mars made a second attempt to leave the house, but didn’t even get the door closed behind her before she started to panic. She grabbed her keys from her handbag, realised the door was still open and ran inside, dropping the keys on the ground outside. She slammed the door and fell to the floor, her heart pumping.
She lay there until her pulse slowed and the sweat in her fringe had gone tacky. Pulling herself into a sitting position, she knocked her bag over and the letter, the reason for her attempt to leave, fell out. She stared at it. It had to be in the mail today, but she did not see how that would be possible. Mum wasn’t coming part until after dinner, and so it would miss the mail.
Mars cursed her mother’s drink driving charge. If she still had her licence, she’d be coming over alone and Mars would be able to convince her to drive and hand deliver it to the gym and the membership would be cancelled and everything would be fixed. She was so frustrated – it was her mother who had convinced her to join, telling her that it would force her to get out of the house. That was before things got this bad. Now she was stuck with a membership that, if she didn’t get this letter in the mail today, would cost her another month’s charges.
Since her mum had lost her licence, she was driven everywhere by the new boyfriend, James. James had a new model BMW, James had retired at 28 and was now spending his time between the home in Double Bay, the home in Toorak and the shack in Lorne. James was ten years younger than her mother, James didn’t believe Mars had a problem, and James would not drive the ten minutes to the gym to help Mars out, even if they did get there in time.
Mars stuffed the letter into her back pocket and stood. Tea was what she needed. She put the chain on the front door and went to the kitchen. As she made the tea, she made a plan. Whilst she was unable to go out the front door, she had no problem with hanging out the upstairs window. She decided that she’d go upstairs and hang out the window until someone came past. She was sure she’d read a study that a normal person would post a letter if they found it, stamped and addressed, on the footpath, but she wouldn’t take that big a risk. Instead, she decided she’d hang out until she saw someone that looked trustworthy, and then ask them to help. And if they asked why… well, they’d only see her from the waist down, she’d say she broke her leg.
As she climbed the stairs, she tried to think about what she’d say if they asked her how she got upstairs. One of those old people lifts? Carried by her very strong husband who would be back any minute? (That would ward off perverts, although it did leave them wondering why she didn’t leave the letter for her husband to deliver… because it was to her lover. No, not that would bring the perverts back in flocks. Because… he would be too busy ravishing her. Don’t be ridiculous. I mean the post box was just across the road. It makes no sense at all that he wouldn’t run across the road before ravishing her. If he even existed. Which he doesn’t.) Perhaps she could just tell them to bugger off. Provided they didn’t already have the letter. And if they did… she could just giggle like a bimbo. Would that work? That works for some girls. It probably wouldn’t work for her.
She struggled to push the window open, then pulled a chair over and balanced the mug of tea on the inside of the sill. She pulled out the letter and settled in to watch for passers by. From her position, she could see people on this side of the street as they approached, but she would have to talk them into crossing the road for her. She saw a couple of teenage boys walk up, no chance. Too chummy, too likely to throw it down the drain or rip it up or something. Several sips followed by a moment of panic at the thought that no other contender would come past and her plan would be thwarted. Then an older lady appeared. Perhaps in her eighties. She wore a nylon frock with a cardigan over the top and ankle-high ugg boots. Pushing one of those shopping trolley carts. She’d wait until she came closer, just in case she was hard of hearing. The lady walked along, slowly. Mars leaned down to put her mug on the floor so that she didn’t accidently drop it over the edge and kill her. Then she’d never get her letter posted. When she looked back, the trolley was standing on its own, but the woman was gone. Mars gasped a little, then leaned out the woman. The woman was at her door. She was on her knees, at her door, grabbing something. What was it? Now she was standing again. Then Mars heard her keys in the front door. Her keys!
He took a second to think back to her earlier panic attack – yes, she had left her keys outside. How ridiculous! She couldn’t believe it – she was usually so careful, especially in this area, and with the pub three doors down and the door going straight out onto the footpath. She heard the door open and catch on the chain. She felt some relief, and called down to the woman.
“Hello! Can you hear me?”
The woman looked up and shaded her eyes to spot Mars. “Is this your house?”
“Yes! I must have left my keys outside. Could you please throw them in the door and pull it shut?”
“Which car is yours?”
“There is a car key on here. Which one is yours?”
Mars was surprised at the question, but responded honestly.
“I don’t have a car. Not anymore. It got pinched.”
“Shit.” The old woman looked around, looked at the keys, then looked back at Mars. “Give me fifty bucks.”
“Give me fifty bucks or I take these keys and come back with bolt cutters.”
Mars looked up and down the street in desperation. She saw the teenagers round the corner again with Big Ms. She got ready to shout at them.
“Look, lady, I don’t have fifty bucks. Oi! Oi, you!” The teenagers looked over. “That lady’s got my keys. She’s trying to break in!”
They looked at her, then at the old lady, then spotted the trolley stand on its own. One muttered to the other, they sculled their drinks, threw the cartons into the gutter and ran to it. The old lady saw what they were doing and tried to beat them to the trolley. One kid pushed the lady who fell, dropping the keys. She screamed out with pain. The first kid grabbed the trolley and ran off down the street. The second kid, the one who’d pushed her, ran back, ripped the gold necklace from her and ran off. The woman screamed again. Mars looked stunned. She grabbed her mobile, called the ambulance with an anonymous request for assistance. She ran down to the front door, which was still opened as far as the chain would let it. She paused a moment, listening to the old woman calling for help then slammed the door shut and ran back upstairs.
“I’ve called the ambulance.”
“Come down and help me, you stupid bitch!”
“Well, that’s no way to talk to me, and anyhow, I can’t, I have a broken leg.”
“Argh!” the woman shrieked with pain again. “Bullshit.”
“Language, please!” Mars smiled, her pleasure over having the upper hand on this woman overtaking the panic that the woman knew she was lying about her leg. “I do have a broken leg, as it happens.”
“How did you shut the front door, then, smartarse?”
Mars stopped for a second. “Wind. It was the wind.”
“Sure. Wind. And I’m Mother Theresa.”
“Well, clearly you’re not, because Mother Theresa wouldn’t have been trying to break into anyone’s house or steal anyone’s car.”
“I wasn’t trying to… I was returning your keys. Please help me!”
“What about the fifty bucks?”
“What? Did you… I wasn’t serious! Come on, you’ve got no sense of humour.”
Mars heard a siren approaching. “Look, they’re almost here. Just relax.”
“You relax, you stupid…” the old lady’s abuse was drowned out by the siren echoing through the buildings. Mars watched as the ambulance men got out, talked to the old woman, rolled her onto a gurney and lifted the gurney to its full height. She had spotted her keys close to the gutter, and her eyes flitted between the keys and the action. Just as the gurney reached the back of the ambulance, the old lady stopped them and pointed out the keys. One of the men grabbed them and gave them to her. She looked up at Mars and stuck her middle finger up at her. Mars was shocked. She watched the ambulance drive away. She went downstairs and picked up her mobile.
“Mum? I want to move.”