[Last week safety in South Australia was threatened by that all too familiar nemesis Co-vid, and again restrictions were put in place. Many activities were “verboten”, including singing. Having weathered the latest threat, I recalled forty years ago in the remote centre of Australia where trespassing on the “verboten” could spell disaster…]
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
The Consequences of Changing One’s Mind
Back at in Hermannsburg, Mrs. R presided over the kitchen bench.
‘How did the ice-cream-making go?’ I asked.
She flitted to the fridge and opened the freezer section. ‘C1 and that nice girl, J have both gone, but not together.’ She sounded far-away in the land of the fairies.
As if I wanted to know what my older cousin, C1 was up to. ‘Did it work out,’ I asked.
‘Hmm, maybe.’ She remained distant, still in fantasy land. ‘Possibly, give it time.’
‘I mean, the ice-cream, are we going to have fried ice-cream for dessert?’ I rose, walked over to the fridge and peered over her shoulder. ‘Is there fried ice-cream in there?’
‘Oh, no,’ she spoke with a dead-pan expression. ‘We ate all that. Just ice-cream for you folks, I’m afraid.’
I believed her and assumed we’d have plain old ice-cream for dessert. J returned unannounced. ‘Oh!’ She put her hand to her mouth. ‘Just stay there, don’t go away.’ She vanished out the door.
Lamenting the loss of the fried ice-cream experience, I comforted myself with a cup of tea. Dad buzzed around the kitchen, chopping vegetables, boiling rice, deep frying shrimp crackers and splattering oil all over the walls. I knew I should help but I just sat, sipping tea and wishing I had stayed behind. Now I’ll never have fried ice-cream. Anyway, Indonesian fried rice is Dad’s domain, his glory, and heaven help anyone who offers to help. Our job was to taste its wonders and compliment him. I could do that.
J reappeared with a small postcard-sized paper in hand. ‘It’s a photo of you.’ She handed me the image of me looking shocked by the camera flash at the sing-sing. ‘I think it’s a rather nice one of you. Don’t you think?’
Not particularly. I accepted the picture of me appearing ghost-like on a bad-hair day. Never did like pictures of me. The camera picks out all my faults. ‘Yes, thank you.’ I rose and then headed for the room holding my luggage. ‘I’ll put it in my diary straight away.’
While Mrs. R departed for business with J, and Dad slaved over a hot stove of many fry pans and saucepans creating his Indonesian meal, I wrote my diary and then retreated into the world of Wuthering Heights.
‘Dinner is ready!’ Dad rang the brass hand-held bell. ‘Come and get it.’
I left my Heathcliff to brood on the moors, and drifted into the kitchen-dining area for the auspicious Indonesian meal. Seven o’clock and three young ladies, two pretty blondes and a stunning brunette, accompanied C1 and C2 to the round white table decorated with knives, forks and plates. The atmosphere bubbled with excited chatter and introductions. In one corner, the fellers, my brother, C2 and C1 fidgeted and grinned, and the girls giggled and squealed as they stood in the other corner and checked out the talent. I sat in the middle like the referee at the table. I clutched my knife and fork upright in each hand and glared at Dad bustling at the sink.
‘Okay, I’m here.’ I glanced from one corner to the other. ‘Where’s the dinner?’
‘Don’t be so impatient.’ Mrs. R hurried past me carrying a tray of glasses. ‘Go and talk to the girls.’
I pointed from the boy group to the girl group. ‘You couldn’t find a partner for me, could you?’
‘Lee-Anne!’ Mrs. R said. ‘This is Hermannsburg, not Alice Springs!’
‘No stockman or lonely explorer, then?’
‘No, this is as good as it gets.’ She placed the glasses on the table. Besides, the blokes up here, I don’t think they’d be your type.’
Then I’m destined to be an old maid then. I sighed.
The young people gathered and selected seats at the table. Dad presented his massive bowl of Indonesian fried rice to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. The girls’ eyes widened at the sheer enormity of the rice project. The boys licked their lips and breathed in the aroma of cumin, cardamom, turmeric and chilli. Dad had excelled himself. He puffed up his chest, and strutted around the kitchen.
C1 charmed the ladies with his dry humour and subtle flirting. Stuck in their own shyness, MB and C2 remained spectators, while C1 did all the entertaining with the girls. I sat back in my chair observing the interactions, piling my plate full of rice, and shovelling the stuff down like I hadn’t eaten in weeks. The ladies opposite me, picked at miniscule portions of the fair. So what! I can make a pig of myself! No one for me to impress. Not like I had to diet. Someone’s got to show Dad his food is good, not just tell him with platitudes. Besides, got to make the most of it, only boring old ice-cream for dessert. The young lassies each passed up offerings of seconds while I was on my thirds. I bet they were full from eating all the fried ice-cream. Well, serves them right. Polishing off the plate, I felt full and bloated. There was a lull in the conversation. C1 had run out of things to joke about.
Mrs. R moved to the fridge. ‘Dessert, anyone?’
All at the table put up their hands except me.
‘Lee-Anne?’ Mrs. R pulled the ice-cream container from the freezer. ‘Sure you don’t want any?’
‘Nup, I’m full.’ Boy, they are a sad lot wanting plain boring vanilla ice-cream.
‘You’re quite sure?’
‘Yep.’ Why is she making such a big deal about it?
Mrs. R opened the lid and spooned out frittered balls of ice-cream into bowls.
Hey, just wait a minute. I raised my hand. I’ve changed my mind.
‘Changing your mind is verboten,’ Mrs. R announced.
‘Oh, but—she, Mrs. R lied.’
‘Now, Lee-Anne, stop grizzling,’ Dad hammered his index finger at me, ‘you said you didn’t want dessert, those are the rules.’
Everyone at the table looked at me. Heat, burning more than curry rose to my face. ‘Mrs. R said there was none.’
The boys joined Dad in dumping brick-tonnes of scalding and jesting at my expense. C1 played the condescending parent and elicited a laugh from the girls. ‘Now, there’s no need to make a drama out of it.’
‘You should see her when she plays games like ‘Chook-Chook’, almost breaks down the house with door-slamming,’ my brother chuckled, followed by more roars of laughter.
‘She did nothing the whole trip, just eats all the food in the camp,’ C2 snorted. More roars of mirth. As if on a roll, he added, ‘And she’s always changing her mind.’
‘A woman’s prerogative,’ I muttered.
‘Not in this household,’ Mrs. R pointed at me. ‘My three-year-old behaves better than her.’
As they all scored points at my expense, I went off in my mind to Austria and The Sound of Music and the trouble with Maria. Perhaps one day I’ll go off into the Alps with my Count von Trapp. For the moment I was trapped, demonised by the perpetuation of false perception of my image. I felt like no one knew who I really was. Glad there weren’t any eligible males for me to witness my humiliation. I held my tongue and my position at the table. Anything I said would be held and used against me.
Mrs. R served up the fried ice-cream. A bowl appeared before me.
‘Thank you,’ I whispered. I kept my head down and eyes fixed on the ball of fritter. I waited for further remarks and comments about how undeserving I was of this peace-offering, but they had moved on.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; updated 2021
Photo: Mt. Hermannsburg © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013