A lot of the time, life is simultaneously overwhelming and banal. The ordinariness of Maya Hillet’s life often meant that any day was just the like day before. Today, she was standing at the kitchen sink; her gloved hands in the soapy dishwater, shoulders slumped forward in defeat as she watched her three children fighting. “Stop it” she said firmly. Useless waste of words, they never listened to her. Within seconds, she felt the familiar bubbling up of anger. Take a breath, Maya. She looked down at her hands in the foamy water and paused for thought before she responded. She thought about her life. What led her to this point?
* * * *
Twelve years earlier, Maya had been blissfully ignorant of the turns her life would take. Her soul had been chock-full like sausage-meat in its skin. Those closest to her knew that she had planned her life already, at just sixteen. Maya would finish school, head to university to study law. No back-up plan for poor grades, no allowance made for a boyfriend. Certainly, there had been no plan for stitching together the pieces of a shattered dream.
Gasping for air, she had dropped out of school. The night she had told her parents was seared in her brain; she could still see her father’s purply-raged-up face, her mother’s tightly-pursed lips – the cat’s-bum-face, Maya liked to call it.
“What do you mean you’ve left school?” her dad had shouted.
Maya’s dad had frightened her. She had only ever seen kindness from him; never had a reason to feel fear from his presence before. Her mother, however, had sat in her favoured chair; hand on her chin, with her cat’s-bum-face so very tight, as though she might eat her own mouth.
“I’ve finished school, Dad.” Maya had answered, avoided looking at them. “It’s too much; I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Does this have anything to do with that boy?” said her dad, noticed that Maya had been looking past him, through the front window, watching a young girl riding a pink scooter.
Ewan Bottrick had immediately caught Maya’s eye, right after she’d stubbed her toe getting off her bike. Shit! she’d muttered under her breath. The sun had sapped her strength, burned her feet through the soles of her rubber thongs, she’d been glad to walk into the gust of air-conditioning blasting through the supermarket doors. She had not been prepared for the flush of heat she felt on her cheeks when she glimpsed him, all long-legs-and-arms, wearing a tank top, shorts and thongs. He’d smiled. Maya’s cheeks had flushed even more. He’d grinned. She had shrivelled. The best-looking boy she’d ever seen: dark brown hair that flopped lazily into one of his deep chocolate-brown eyes, ruby lips and so tall. Maya had wondered what it would be like to kiss him. She’d have to stand on tippy-toes. She’d sneaked another peek at him; now standing at the dairy cabinet with a woman she guessed to be his mum. To Maya’s horror, he was still watching her, grinning as if he’d known what she’d just thought.
Maya’s first day back at school for her final year, she had seen him again. Maya had burned; her line of sight darted downward as he strode right up to her.
“Hey, maname’s Ewan. I saw ya coupla weeks back. D’yamember?”
Ohmygodohmygodhe’sspeakingtoME. “Oh yes, I remember you.” Maya had gushed. “Are you coming here now?” Stupid Maya, of course he’s coming here. Maya wished she’d learn to take a breath, to think before she spoke. She might not look so stupid.
“Yer…” His voice had trailed off as he smiled with sparkling eyes. She had felt goose bumps prickle her entire body. Maya, desperate to fill the pause in conversation, had opened her mouth to blurt out something inane, saved by the bell. Her mouth left in a perfect O as he had rushed off, shouting over his shoulder something about needing to be at the Front Office. Maya had walked to class with a spinning head.
Ewan had left Maya in no doubt that he wanted her. He’d lost his virginity, at fifteen, to his twenty-four year old neighbour from his old town, and they’d carried on a secret affair for nearly two years. Ewan’s father had caught them fucking one afternoon, he himself visiting for the same purpose: she was the local bike. Shortly after, Ewan and his family had moved to Maya’s town, the reason behind the move never uttered again.
Maya had quickly fallen for Ewan. There had been no other boy like him at her school. Before him, there had been no one who could take her eyes off her future. Ewan had sized her up as an easy target and he’d been right – a smile, a look and he had her in the palm of his hand.
Maya and Ewan had been together for three months, her focus shifted from her schoolwork to him, only him. At first, Maya hadn’t even noticed she had missed her period. Then, the realisation had thudded into her daily musings over him.
Ewan had dumped her as soon as the words were out of her mouth. He looked as though he’d bitten into a half-mouldy lemon, and quick-as-you-like, had run off, again shouting over his shoulder. Maya had seen him the next day with his arm around the shoulders of Leanne Maxfield. Maya and her friend, Charli, had called her Maxishield, behind her back of course. They had always hated her; Maya now more so, enraged even.
She started shouting, “His name’s Ewan, Dad.” Maya had not realised the time it took to answer him, fascinated by his purple face. She’d continued, “We’ve broken up now. He dumped me last week.”
“Well, why have you dropped out of school? I think this can be the start of you picking up your grades and re-focusing on your future,” responded Eggplant-dad, still shouting.
Maya looked across at her mum, her hand still resting on her chin, her mouth still so tight no wonder she hadn’t yet spoken.
“Um, well…..it’s kinda hard to say…” Maya’s voice trailed off.
“What is it, Maya-love? You know you can tell us anything.” Finally, her mother had spoken, but Maya doubted the words instantly.
“Whhhhhhhaaaaaaaat?” Eggplant-dad had been about to burst a vein. “Get out of this house now. Right this minute, pack a bag and go.” Maya had looked at her mother for support, but she’d turned the colour of wet cement, closed her eyes and her lips had moved as if in some kind of chant.
Maya had walked with slumped shoulders into her room, packed a few of her belongings, and left the house of her parents; she had walked straight to Charli’s home, known that she’d be welcomed there.
After two Christmases cocooned in the warmth and acceptance of Charli’s family, even Maya had known she could not stay there forever. She had left her town far behind her, found herself a job in Melbourne, and a place to live for her and her one-year-old boy, Jake.
By the time she had turned nineteen, Maya’s life resembled a seaside village, post-tsunami. She had no contact with her family, no chance of attaining her dream for her future. Trapped with a toddler in a one-bedroom box, she had learnt not to dwell on her plans for her future, before Ewan. She had not yet learnt to hold back her tears, nor her anger.
Maya’s job had been bone-chillingly boring but had some perks. Since Ewan had taken her virginity, she had learnt that sex was the most powerful method at her disposal. One of Maya’s favourite, eye-wandering customers, Steve, had looked like the path to her longed-for escape. Once or twice a week for many months, she’d left Jake sleeping in his cot, locked the front door of her flat, while they saw a movie, or sometimes had dinner at his house. The dates had always ended with disappointing jackrabbit sex. Despite the unpleasant sex, Maya had known that he was her way out. She’d lie beneath a sweaty, bouncy Steve and stare, glassy-eyed at the ceiling fan swirling around. He can take me out of this life. We can build a better life together. Nine years and two children later, Steve and Maya had settled. The sex had only mildly improved.
At twenty-eight years of age, Maya had been just as ill prepared for a sighting of Ewan as she had at sixteen. Standing with her eyes closed at the South Melbourne Markets while Steve went with Jake, Ruby and Nellie to “surprise” her with flowers, Maya had jumped with fright at the sound of him breathily whispering in her ear.
“Well, lookie’ere. Haven’t the yeerz bin kind to ya?” Ewan had purred. She had known his voice instantly. Her eyes had shot open, darted around to check the whereabouts of her family. “Yer, they’re alright, truz me. Off buyin’ some fruit….the flowers’re for you?” he had sneered, narrowed his eyes. Maya had felt suddenly chilled, as if melting ice had oozed from her head down. Why had he known so much about her family?
“Ewan, hi. How are you?” Maya had chosen to ignore the tangible creepiness.
“Yer, great. How’s me kid? Whaz iz name?…..James, John, Ja…?”
“Jake.” Maya had snapped. Quickly, too easily the sudden chill had turned to white-hot rage. Fuck it. Fuck him! What does he want with Jake now? She had felt herself turn red. “What the fuck are you playing at Ewan? What do you want?” she had growled through gritted teeth.
“Nothin’ at all. Juz messin’ with yer head,” Ewan had mumbled through an empty grin.
“Right. Good. Then I’ll be off.” Maya had erratically scuttled in search of her family, desperate to get away from Ewan. She had hated herself for thinking he was still good looking. No one had ever understood what she felt for Ewan, not even her.
A week later, Maya had not stopped thinking about Ewan. Sitting in her local cafe, had been enjoying a latte while reading the newspaper. She’d noticed the headline in the Herald Sun newspaper: “Car inferno claims driver and passenger.” She had glanced through the article with little interest. It seemed another drunken idiot had crashed while driving too fast. Her eyes had widened with disbelief when she read the name Ewan Bottrick, identified as the driver of the vehicle. She had immediately burst into tears, all her broken dreams, all her repression burst like a broken fire hydrant gushing water onto the street. She had not been concerned that all eyes in the cafe had turned her way, wondering what had caused such a scene.
* * * *
Back at the kitchen sink, her children still fighting, Maya shook herself out of her reverie. She knew she needed help over this. She thought about how her life went wrong. It all started with meeting Ewan Bottrick and now he’s dead. She knew she never worked through any of her problems, her parents throwing her out like garbage on bin night, her relationship with Steve. Her rush to anger, to speak, to fuck, screwed up her plans for her life. It was time to start pressing pause.