Biographical Non-Fiction posted October 11, 2017


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Non Fiction writing

My Brother's Books

by Cass Carlton


The books on the shelves in the dining room were out of bounds for me.
They belonged to my eldest brother who bought them second hand, mainly for their beautiful leather covers and gilt-edged pages. They also looked good on the shelves and made him feel as though he was a real scholar and great reader.

I went to them frequently, having discovered my love of poetry and a latent gift of writing that I secretly nurtured.

No-one else knew I read them, and I'd have been in awful trouble if he'd found out, but the pull of Longfellow's Hiawatha and Wordsworth's immortal songs of nature was too great to resist.

So, I'd choose a book to take to school to read during lunch or recess, or if it was school holidays I'd sneak off to my little nest hidden up the almond tree and drift away on a cloud of magical words.

There were other books hidden in another part of the dining room cupboards.

Down low near the floor, there was a cupboard filled with empty wine flagons and discarded surgical boots and it was in this malodorous hiding place my brother kept his pornographic magazines.

He would flick through the magazines before going out on a Saturday evening. Then, he'd slam the cupboard door shut and stride off into the night.

My mother knew the magazines were there, and professed herself outraged at his presumption in bringing such filth into the house.

"How dare he", she would rage, safely out of earshot of the offender.
"In my day anyone caught reading that kind of stuff would have been given a good thrashing."

The question was, who would administer such retribution to tall, muscular Phil? Not his alcoholic father, or his sycophant younger brother Jobe.
Then there was the question of his board. On a previous occasion, Phil had been upset over some matter or another and had withheld his board from my mother for several weeks before finally relenting and leaving it under his pillow.
So Mum was wary of upsetting him again as the hole in the family budget had been substantial and not easy to manage.
My elder sisters, Bess and Dolly, made haste to agree with her, not telling her that they had perused the"filth" at length on more than one occasion when she had been absent.

One night Mum went out to visit an old friend, leaving Bess and Dolly in charge. There had been some additions to the ragged pile in the cupboard and they decided to investigate.

They were soon giggling and gasping at the lewd images when my young brother, Bobbie suddenly burst in on them.

He too knew about the "rude books" and that they were definitely off limits to everyone, and being Mum's pet, thought he could get himself in high favour by telling on them.

The two girls were horrified! If this transgression came out, who knew what else the little cockroach might decide to tell next?

They shoved the dog-eared pages back in the cupboard, explaining to him that they had just fallen out and were being replaced when he came in. Then they took him out to the kitchen and made him a cup of Milo.
He wangled a couple of jam biscuits out of them, but finally went back to bed.

Alone at last, they made plans for what would inevitably be said to Mum the next morning.
From my bed, in the room across the hall, I heard them creating a story to hide behind, and fell asleep before they had finished.

The next morning, my two sisters were out of bed bright and early and had made the breakfast porridge before Mum had arisen.

Bobbie came to the table still in his night shirt and was halfway through his breakfast before he remembered what had happened the night before.
"Oh yes," he exclaimed, "What were you doing with the rude books last night?"

Bess, the eldest girl fixed him with a puzzled look, just as Mum came in the door.
Bobbie smiled his cherubic, dimpled smile at her and went on.
"Last night. In the dining room. You and Dolly were reading those rude books of Phil's. Weren't you?"
Bess looked from him to Dolly and then to Mum and shook her head, smiling.
Dolly smiled back at Bess and said in a very kind, understanding voice,
"No dear, we found you at the cupboard. Don't you remember?"

She turned to Mum and said,
"He was sleepwalking. We didn't want to wake him but he woke up himself and so we made him a warm drink and settled him down in bed again. He's just remembered it all wrong, that's all."

Mum smiled and sat down as Bess poured her a cup of tea and propped a slice of bread to toast by the embers glowing in the morning fire.
She found the story of Bobbie's sleepwalking was quite feasible as he had been wandering around at night ever since he could climb out of his cot.
It didn't occur to her to question why her usually sluggard daughters were so bright and busy on a Sunday morning, instead of lying in bed until nearly midday.

She ate her toast and drank her tea, while Bobbie sulkily pushed the remainder of his porridge around the bowl.
He knew he'd been outfoxed and was peeved because he'd lost his advantage.

Mum looked at me questioningly, but I made my usual "Saw nothing. Know nothing" response
which invariably got me off the hook and the girls and I got on with our weekend chores.
Mine was to wash out the socks and knickers I had worn the day before and hang them on the line.
Then I fished all the handkerchiefs out of the laundry, put them in a large tin bucket with a good shaving of Velvet soap and boiled them up.
When they had cooled down enough to touch I tipped them into an old wash up bowl and rinsed them out.
Then Bobbie and I would hang them out on the line.
That morning Bobbie wasn't inclined to put on his painting apron from school and do his bit.
Instead, he was fixed at the girls' bedroom door, safely locked against him, while he kicked viciously at it, shouting accusations.
Finally, Bobbie's kicking and shouting began to wear on Mum's patience, so she called him away from his harassing and told him to "Go and help with the hankies".

When he sought to enlist my help in telling on the girls, I assured him I knew nothing of the night before and set him to putting pegs on the corners of the hankies.
He wasn't happy about that at all, and soon turned his bad temper on me.
When the handkerchiefs were finally all pegged out along the line, he slouched off down the yard and made the chickens' lives miserable for a while calling them with a food call and then driving them away when they came racing up to him.
By then it was lunch time and we all adjourned to the table where we had our usual Sunday roast, midday meal.
The girls shooed me out from helping with the dishes, a sure sign they had "private matters" to discuss, and Mum went out onto the veranda for her rest on the day bed.

All was quiet. Bobbie had gone down to his friend's house to play and the coast was clear.

I took a copy of Longfellow's "Evangeline" from under my bed and slipped away to a lair up on the shed roof.
It was a new hiding place for me as I had only just lately discovered I could manage the jump from garden wall to the slanting iron roof.

I had settled down and was in the midst of Longfellow's wonderful story when I heard Bobbie's voice from the branches of the almond tree close by.

"What are you doing over there?" he called, his face dark with envy.

He was still too small to get to the shed roof and was furious that I had done something he couldn't.

Then he spotted the slender, red -covered book in my hands and his big, brown eyes fairly glowed with triumph.

"You're reading one of Phil's books," he yelled. "I'm telling Mum." and was down the tree and running for the kitchen door before I could move.
I heard his excited voice raised as he spoke first to my sisters and then the distant slam of the veranda door as he ran to Mum.

I didn't know what to do. Whether to take a flying leap to the back fence and clamber over it through the bamboos to the next street, or perhaps pretend I'd found the book up there in a little tent someone else had propped up in times before I had gained access to the shed roof.

Whatever, it was too late to escape as the back door was flung open and my mother came striding down the yard with the pot stick from the laundry in her grasp.

Hard on her heels came my two sisters, Dolly looking anxious, Bess with a smirk of pleasure spoiling her mouth.

At Mum's elbow was Bobbie, eager to have his story proven right this time.

He clambered up the almond tree and looked across at me, grinning.
"See, she's still got it. It's one of Phil's books isn't it?"

Mum looked up at me, peering miserably down at their faces and the large, brutal pot stick held in her large, capable hand and said one word.

"Down!"

I came down obediently and stood before her with the offending book stuffed down my sweater. She held her hand out and I gave the book to her, my eyes on the pot stick.
Mum took the book and turned the pages, Longfellow's glorious passages flowing to her stunned realization.
Bobbie smiled up at her, all dimples and shining brown eyes and said,
"She's got one of Phil's books Mum. Will she get into trouble for it?"

Mum looked at him with a puzzled expression and then did something totally unexpected.
She turned on him and administered a sharp smack on the ear.
"No" she snapped "She won't be getting into trouble, at all."
Somehow I knew the smack had been for nearly putting her in the wrong.

Bobbie gave her as poisonous look as he dared and fled to the back door, howling. There was a distant slam as the door to the room he slept in shut loudly.
Mum looked at me kindly and asked
"Do you like poetry?"
"Yes," I answered "Especially Longfellow. He wrote Hiawatha. That's wonderful."
Her eyes twinkled in amusement.
"You've read that too, have you?"
"Yes, and most of his other works in the grey covered book with the gold edged pages."
"Well, you are a surprise to be sure. I like poetry too. "
'
She glanced at her elder daughters and frowned at them.

"It wouldn't hurt you two to try to improve your minds the way she has. Don't you say a word to your brother about this. There's no reason why he can't share his books."

She reached an arm towards me and wrapped me in a warm, encompassing embrace.
I immediately began to cry while Dolly's brown eyes filled with tears in sympathy.
Bess's full mouth twisted in a sneer. I knew she was put out because I had not only escaped
punishment, but had gained Mum's approval. No fun in that!

Mum turned towards the house, handing the pot stick to Bess as she passed.
We walked up the yard together, my heart leaping with joy at feeling my mother's arm around me. At the door she let me go and smiled down into my face with her blue, blue eyes.
"Don't let him catch you," she said.
"I won't," I answered.
And, he didn't.


































Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry

Recognized


This was how my love of Poetry and all things Literary began. I still love Longfellow's Hiawatha, and used to quote lines from it to my younger brothers and sisters like a story at bed time. My teachers could never fathom where my knowledge of the poets came from as the conditions in which I lived were not really conducive to higher learning. It remained a secret for as long as we lived there. Phil never knew just how much his books meant to me.
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