Ella’s brother Ken has bought a Lambretta, which is a kind of motorbike. It’s standing in their backyard when we go down on Saturday, because Ken’s going to teach Sandra how to ride it. First of all he gives us a ride.
He’s wearing a creaky black jacket that smells like the inside of an old truck. The arms are a bit too long for him so he has to keep waving his arms up in the air to make the sleeves go back. You sit behind him on a long black seat and put your arms round his middle, halfway round his middle anyway because they don’t reach all the way round him. Mum says Ken needs to lose some of that blubber. I can’t see very much when I’m on the bike because my face is up against Ken’s black jacket. All I can see is the fences along Anderson St whizzing past, and feel the road bumping under the wheels and the bike tipping over sideways when Ken goes round a corner. My hands are slipping on the shiny black jacket and I’m worried we might both fall off, because Ken’s showing off.
When we go back, Sandra’s waiting in the backyard. Her face looks very orange and she has a black scarf tied round her eyebrows and her ears so her hair sticks out at the top and the sides. She’s wearing tight white pants that show her bottom and stop halfway down her legs, and white shoes with very high heels. Ken whistles and says,
“Hello, Miss World!”
and Sandra puts her hands up and pulls her hair out a bit more. She gets on to the bike and sits there with one leg on each side of it, trying to stop it from tipping over while Ken tells her how to ride it. You turn the key and then you turn the handle to make the engine roar, then you lift your legs up onto the runners and the bike starts to move.
“You’ll soon get the hang of it,” says Ken.
So Sandra turns the key and turns the handle, but the bike starts to move before she’s had time to lift her feet up, so she screams and twists the handlebars and the bike falls over so Sandra lands on the grass with the bike on top of her leg.
“Are you okay, darling?” says Ken, but he’s laughing a bit, and we are too.
“It’s these shoes,” says Sandra. But she doesn’t take them off.
The next time she manages to get her feet up on the runners and the bike charges forward towards Auntie Al’s bungalow. Ken runs along behind with one hand on the seat shouting, “Slow! Slow!” and Sandra’s shouting, “How?” and they end up on the grass again. Auntie Al comes out and stands on the bungalow steps blinking at them, holding her rosary beads. She’s still wearing her dressing gown and has a stocking pulled over her hair.
“It’s all right,” Sandra says to her, “I’m just having a lesson on the bike.”
“A bit tricky, is it?” says Auntie Al, looking at her geranium pots beside the steps.
Sandra’s starting to look cross, and she has a big black mark along the side of her pants. Ken takes off his black jacket and rolls up his sleeves.
“Like this,” he says, and turns the handle very slowly so the engine roars only quietly.
“That’s what I was trying to do!” says Sandra in a snappy voice.
And they stand the bike up, Ken holds onto the seat and puts the other hand on Sandra’s hand on the handle, and they practise just turning the handle very slowly without going anywhere.
“All right?” he says, and they have another go. This time Sandra turns the handle so slowly that the bike just grumbles forward a bit and tips over again. Sandra’s headband is falling down over her eyes and when she pushes it back up again she leaves a black mark on her face.
“What are you laughing at?” she says to us. Ella is laughing so much she has to lie down on the grass. We’re trying to be polite because we don’t know Sandra very well, but we have to keep putting our hands over our mouths and turning our backs to her. Sometimes a snort comes out.
“You’re getting it,” says Ken, “come on, you’re getting it,” but she isn’t. So she tries again. This time she gets her feet up and she keeps the bike going in a sort of straight line, even though it’s waving from side to side. It looks as if she’ll fall off, but she goes all the way down the yard to the back fence and Ken runs behind her saying, “Turn! Turn!” and she says, “I’m trying to bloody turn!” and he says, “Slow down, slow down!” and the engine stops suddenly just before she crashes into the fence. Jenny and Ella and I have to run around behind the bungalow so we can laugh without them seeing us. Auntie Al says,
“Are you all right, dear?” and Mrs O’Neill comes to the back door and says,
“Ken, are you trying to kill Sandra?”
Sandra gets up and glares at Ken.
“You ride the stupid thing,” she says and she goes walking up the path into the house, brushing her bottom where she has mud and grass, and lifting up her shoes to look at the high white heels.
“Do you think Sandra’ll break off her engagement to Ken again?” Jenny asks Ella.
“Probably,” says Ella.
She’s already broken the engagement off six times.
“Do you think Ken’s heart will be broken if Sandra really does break off the engagement?” Jenny says on the way home.
“Yes, and what if he goes off and becomes a priest?” I say. Then she’ll be sorry.”
This is another excerpt from Gert’s unreliable memoir 32 Park St.