My eyes were like black beads. I lay where Paul had discarded me a few moments after his room had turned to darkness last night. My arm was broken at the elbow and puffs of cotton wool had bled from it onto the floor beside me. The usual pleasant odour of baby-powder filled the room. During the night, I must have rolled because there was a soft pile of cotton wool behind my head. My smile was fixed on, giving me the impression I was happy.
I looked up to see Paul on his big-boy bed. I could see his face and his eyes, too, were part-open, just waking up to greet the morning. Another couple of seconds, now, I knew, and the world would spring into frenetic activity.
Sure enough, as I watched from my safe spot near the far wall, Paul suddenly pushed the doona aside, sprang up on to his mattress, jumped half-a-dozen times, really too fast for me to count, jumped down, scooped me up in one hand and ran through the open door into the kitchen.
Paul stopped near the marble-topped kitchen bench. ‘Mummy,’ he called, then I could see he realised something was wrong, and ‘Mummy,’ he called again with a rising note of panic. For a moment, I couldn’t see what was upsetting him, but as he swung me around the corner of the bench, I saw Mummy lying in complete stillness on the beige floor-tiles. She smelled of blood and other human bodily fluids.
Filled with horror Paul squeezed my body tight. I was appalled. I tried to think of anything that would help him in this moment. ‘Your Daddy,’ I thought and tried to communicate that thought back through Paul’s hand into his mind.
Mingled with the blood on the floor by Mummy’s side were shards of glass from a wine-glass. I noticed too the blood from a deep cut in her head.
As Paul’s forever favourite toy I can follow his feelings as they come and go across the day: the joy when he is bouncing on his trampoline; his sense of accomplishment when he runs flat out down the paved footpath near his house; his concentration when he marshals into an army his Paw Patrol Pup, his Lego people and me; his happiness when his Mummy picks him up, usually squeezing me in the process, and hugs him, and his sadness when he waits for his Daddy to come home in the hours after dinner. Lately there have been more of those sad times, but his Daddy is still his Daddy, and I thought that’s who he needed now.
I heard a crash from the master-bedroom followed by ‘Oh, shit!’ Then another boom as the bedroom door crashed shut behind him. I could hear soft bumps as Daddy lurched into the wall. He appeared at the far door of the kitchen in a haze of stale wine. Paul gripped me harder and hugged me to his chest.
Like a lion, Daddy bellowed, ‘Get out of here!’ Like a lamb before the lion’s roar, I could feel Paul’s body shrink into itself and slowly, uncertainly, Paul headed back towards his bedroom. The tears that dropped onto the wool of my head were weeping fear and incomprehension.
‘No, you orta see this, come back here,’ Daddy snarled at us. I felt we were pulled in two directions, back to Daddy or the safety of Paul’s bed. Paul reluctantly turned, looked at his Mummy lying on the vinyl tiles, and gazed up towards his Daddy.
Through his miasma of alcohol, I noted Daddy’s unshaven chin, the crumpled shirt buttoned up wrongly, the pyjama pants and thongs. His eyes averted Paul’s, but he stumbled towards Mummy.
‘Get up, stupid woman!’ he yelled, but Mummy’s eyes didn’t even flicker. I saw her chest move up and down steadily. She was breathing. Paul’s wide tear-filled eyes moved from her to his Daddy and back again.
Daddy fished in his pocket for his phone and dialled.
‘Ambulance,’ he grunted to the operator’s question. ‘4 Paperbark Rise, Lawson.’ To the next words of the operator, Daddy growled, ‘Of course W.A. Whaddya think? England? Chile?’
‘She’s on the ground. She’s out to it. She’s alive.’ Three rounds like machine-gun fire described Mummy’s condition.
The operator spoke again.
‘Cos I’m sick too.’
Paul looked up at his Daddy in greater alarm.
‘Can’t be buggered trying to wake her.’
Another beseeching glance to Daddy.
‘Now, put the baby toy down and clean up that blood,’ Daddy boomed. Paul cringed. I bristled in his hand. Paul needs me.
Paul stood still. I could feel his mind freezing.
‘Do. Your. Job.’ Daddy demanded again.
Trembling, Paul stared up. I could see redness rising in Daddy’s face and his hand rising to strike his son.
‘Pick up a cloth,’ I thought fiercely, trying to push the thought through Paul’s little hand into his mind.
Paul clutched me tighter and with the other hand reached into the cupboard for a cloth.
‘And a bowl,’ Daddy said, ‘Do the job properly.’ His hand subsided.
Paul knelt in front of Daddy, next door to Mummy. I could feel his whole body shaking. He put me down on a clean part of the floor and began dabbing at the blood near Mummy’s elbow. Daddy sloshed a little warm water into a bowl and plonked it down next to us. Paul shook as he squeezed blood into the bowl. He dabbed and wiped again. Squeezed again. Wiped again. As he worked away, I watched the little shards of glass scratch and lacerate his soft skin.
Daddy stood at Mummy’s head, watching, making sure Paul blotted up every drop of sticky blood.
When he had returned the floor near Mummy’s elbow to its original beige, Paul picked me up. A couple of sharp shards pierced my woollen skin and blotches of red appeared on me too.
Daddy snatched up the bowl and drained the reddish water and the cloth into the sink. Paul looked up at his Daddy and held open his palms.
‘Oh, little Paul,’ Daddy said, ‘Come to Daddy. That looks so hurtie.’ He gathered up Paul with me in his hand and hugged tight. I caught odours of stale wine on one side and the sweet smell of the toddler on the other. He carried us over to the sink, put us down carefully on the drainer and took another dishcloth to wash off Paul’s blood, taking care to remove all the shards from his tiny hand.
‘From Clowno, too,’ Paul insisted, and Daddy instantly tweaked out all the pointed pieces of glass from my woollen skin. Paul picked me up again.
‘Love you, my Daddy,’ said Paul.
‘Love you too, matie,’ said Daddy. I thought, Yes, he’s your Daddy, and he means it now, but in another five minutes he’ll growl again and force this little three-year-old toddler into danger again.
When the doorbell rang, Paul jumped off the bench with me in hand. The paramedics came through the front door, down the corridor and into the kitchen. Paul flattened his body against the wall of his room, watching but hiding. He did not want to be seen.
A stocky lady, the first of two paramedics, knelt on the floor. ‘What is your wife’s name?’
‘Sue,’ Daddy said. It was strange to hear Mummy’s grown-up name.
The paramedic called ‘Sue! Sue!’ and gently slapped her jaw.
She then took Mummy’s hand in hers and called ‘Sue! Sue, can you hear me? My name is Rosa. Squeeze my hand if you can hear me.’ Nothing happened. I could feel Paul’s tight muscles as he watched from his hiding place. ‘You try,’ she said to her partner.
They swapped and the big man tried.
‘Sue! Can you hear me?’ Suddenly Mummy moved and opened her eyes.
She tried to sit up, but groaned and let her head lie on the floor again.
‘So sore,’ she said, ‘What’s happened? Why are you here, Jamie?’
‘We’ll get you something for the pain soon, Sue. But you’ve been hit by something hard. That’s what’s happened.’
Daddy’s face reddened again and his eyes looked round for a weapon.
‘Jamie, behind you,’ Rosa warned. Jamie stood. He was taller and bigger than Daddy and he looked fitter.
‘You hit this woman again,’ the vehemence of Jamie’s voice hung in the air, ‘and I’ll knock you from here into a police cell. We’ll press charges today. You’ll be put away for some time.’
He turned away from Daddy. I could see Daddy’s fists curl tight, but he stood where he was.
Paul chose that moment to rush to Daddy, dropping me on the way, and wrap his arms around his legs. ‘I don’t want Daddy to go away,’ he said.
Both Rosa and Jamie looked taken aback by Paul’s appearance.
Rosa said to Jamie, ‘This boy can’t stay here if we take Sue to hospital.’
Sue tugged at Jamie’s trouser leg. ‘This boy,’ she crackled, ‘is yours, not his.’
Daddy’s face went red again. I could see his mind turning over, calculating. ‘Four years ago, you were sniffing around my wife. I knew I couldn’t trust you.’ He lunged for Jamie, but the bigger man was ready and rebuffed the attack, pushing Daddy back against the kitchen wall. Paul scuttled to pick me up.
Daddy’s anger boiled over. His forearm pushed a pile of dishes off the kitchen bench. His hands wrenched the sink tap and pulled it out causing a spray of water over the floor and over Mummy.
‘Sue,’ cried Jamie, and pulled her away from the wet. There was an easy chair on the far kitchen wall, and he helped Sue up and into the chair.
‘But Jamie,’ objected Rosa, ‘we shouldn’t move her!’
‘Done now,’ said Jamie. ‘I’ll tie this one up while you attend to Sue.’ Before Daddy could damage anything further, Jamie pulled out string from his case, making to tie Daddy’s hands. Daddy kicked out at Jamie, his thong flying off his foot towards us. Jamie was quicker. He grabbed Daddy’s right hand, turned him round, placed him in a half-Nelson hold and wrapped the cord around Daddy’s wrist. s
Paul then put a strangle-hold round my wool-and-stuffing neck, and wailed. My eyes were wide open. Maybe I would be happier if Jamie was Paul’s Dad?
The [North American] Religious Education Association took for the theme of its 2013 Conference, “Coming Out Religiously”: Religion, the Public Sphere, and Religious Identity Formation. As a member, I received my invitation, but the cost of travel from Australia, both financial and physical, was too great. So I am grateful to read some of the papers from the Conference in the current issue of the Association’s journal.
There was evidently a rich exchange between Diane Moore and Charles Foster; Diane Moore from the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School is acutely conscious of the need for citizens to become religiously literate. She takes as an aspirational point the American Academy of Religion’s definition:
… a religiously literate person will possess 1) a basic understanding of the history, central texts (where applicable), beliefs,
practices and contemporary manifestations of several of the world’s religious traditions as they arose out of and continue to be shaped by particular social, historical and cultural contexts; and 2) the ability to discern and explore the religious dimensions of political, social and cultural expressions across time and place.
The more global citizens who can understand the cultural context of the world’s religions, she argues, the more violence – direct, structural and cultural – can be reduced.
- Quoted in Diane L. Moore, ‘Overcoming Religious Illiteracy’, Religious Education, 109(4) July-September 2014, 380
Charles Foster was keen to add to Dr Moore’s analysis. Not only do we need to learn from religions, we also need to be changed by our encounter with the sacred. As participants in religious traditions, we can live at greater depth, and we can be informed by the wisdom of our own and others’ religious traditions.
The ability to identify and compare religious traditions in other words, is not the same thing as recognizing in depth – or being confronted by – the sacred dimension of the mystery embedded in their practices. …
Religious education in this instance emphasizes the learning integral “to becoming” practicing participants in a religion’s traditions. Others among us are engaged in what might be called a religious education to draw on the wisdom and practices of their own religious traditions to participate competently in the mutuality of dialogue and critique with those of another religious education tradition. Still others among us join Diane Moore in a religious education in the public square to cultivate in persons capacities for discerning and analysing the role and place of religion in society.
- Charles R. Foster, ‘An Abbreviated Response to Diane Moore,’ Religious Education, 109(4) July- September 2014, 391 and 392.
Both Professor Foster and Dr Moore encourage me in my vocation as a religious educator. Just because I am technically retired does not give me a leave pass to stop teaching, or to cease writing. These issues are too important to leave alone.