Chapter 13.    Free Work

Juan was not able to take Sean with him when visiting Diane. But that was just as well, because Sean was the main topic of conversation during their visits. Diane wanted to be sure that everything possible was being done to ensure that he would not be taken away from her.

"Are you sure they can't use my imprisonment as an excuse to take him?" she asked during their first visit at Mulawa, on Saturday.

"Technically, you're not in prison yet," said Juan.

"Oh, isn't that nice!" Diane replied good naturedly. "And what do you call this place?"

"What I mean is that you're in the remand facility. That means you're just being held here while they make up their mind about how guilty you are, or even about whether you are guilty at all. You could be completely innocent, in which case they would have no reason at all for taking Sean, would they?" "I am completely innocent, if they would just use a bit of common sense," argued Diane.

"You don't have to convince me. It's the court you need to convince. How did it go with the psychiatrist yesterday?"

"Sinclair? Not bad. He could see that I wasn't crazy, and that I hadn't done anything wrong; but he wants me to go along with the system and say that I'm sorry."

"Were you nice to him?"

"I didn't let him think that I would go along with his suggestion, if that's what you mean. I gave him a serve about following his conscience, and not giving in to Buy-Rite, but other than that I was co-operative."

"Do you think you got through to him?"

"I got through to him enough that he knows I'm right. And he did say he would think about it. We'll see how it goes next week."

Juan explained to Di that he would be distributing in Parramatta on Monday and Tuesday, in order to be closer to the prison when it came time for a visit each afternoon. He also said that he and Diane had been granted a day away on Wednesday, when she was due to return from the court… providing everything went smoothly during her next appearance.

*    *    *

While Juan was visiting Diane, on Saturday, there was a free work job to be completed back in Redfern. Dave had mail to catch up on. So it was left to Cherry, Anna, Greg and Sean to do the job.

Sean had hardly noticed Diane's absence. Being part of an extended family had accustomed him to rotating parent figures. At times he even responded to other members of the community better than he did to Diane or Juan. He especially liked free work jobs, because the employers so often spoiled him with special treats in return for his efforts.

Today, however, was definitely not going to be one of those days. They were helping old Becky McClatchy, who lived just two blocks away from them in Redfern. Becky McClatchy wasn't likely to spoil Sean, or anyone else for that matter. She was not one of their favorite employers, but she was one of the more genuinely needy people for whom they worked.

Becky was in her eighties, and lived in a house that her parents had lived in before her. The house was too big for her to look after herself; but then a bed sitter would have been too much for her to look after in her present state. Her clothes were always covered with food stains, and her hair was always in need of combing.

Cherry, who was an immaculate housekeeper herself, took a special interest in getting as much housework done as possible on her visits to Becky's. She had often tried to clean up the woman herself, but Becky would have no part of it. It had been two months since they were last there, and the floors were covered with old newspapers and garbage. The sink was full of dirty dishes, and the old fridge was long overdue for a defrost.

It was Sean's job to gather up the papers on the floor and put them all in the rubbish bin at the back of the house. He set eagerly to work while Anna got stuck into the dishes. Cherry decided to tackle the windows, which they had not been able to do on previous visits. The glass was so dirty that you could hardly see through it.

Cherry's arthritic hands had swellings on almost all of the joints. It was painful for her to do most chores, but her ideal of a Christian was summed up in one word: service. The more humble the task, the greater was her glory in being able to do it. Housework done cheerfully and conscientiously would, she believed, bring her greater eternal rewards than any amount of preaching.

But Becky McClatchy was not handing out any rewards today. "Don't tear the curtains!" she shouted, as Cherry mounted a chair to tackle the first window. It wouldn't take much to tear the curtains either, as they appeared to be ready to fall apart. The workers had discussed washing them on the last visit, but concluded that they would just disintegrate under the trauma of washing.

"Don't take that one. It's today's," she screeched at Sean in her high, piercing voice, when he was gathering up some newspapers in the crowded kitchen. Sean looked up at Anna for direction. "Here, I'll take this one," said Anna. "You go ahead and collect up the rest." She folded the paper and placed it on the filthy kitchen table before returning to the sink.

"That man took my marmalade," Becky continued. "Was in the fridge last time you come, and when you left, it was gone. I want another one. You've no right to take a poor woman's marmalade." "He probably threw it out because it had gone off," said Anna patiently.

"Nonsense! Just had a bit of mould on it. He should've scraped it off and saved the rest. I want a new jar of marmalade, or I'll complain! I will, you know?"

"Okay, we'll get another jar for you when we finish," said Anna, wondering who Becky thought she was going to complain to.

About then Greg started hammering at the back of the house.

"Strike me pink! What's that racket?" shouted the old woman. "Someone's ripping up the house." "It's only Greg," said Anna.

"We'll just see about that," said the woman, as she picked herself up and marched out the kitchen door.

"And what do you think you're doing, young man?" she asked, as she came around the back corner of the house.

"You have some loose boards. I'm nailing them back in place," Greg replied.

"I never said to do that. I said to clean up the yard, and that's all. I can take care of me own loose boards, thank you."

"Okay, whatever you say," said Greg with his customary smile and a slight bow of his head in Becky's direction. "We aim to please," he finished, with a flourish.

"Such impertinence!" Becky mumbled under her breath as Greg put down the hammer and started picking up some of the rubbish from the yard. "Don't throw none of those bricks out neither," she warned. "I may need them."

About then, Sean came out with another load of newspapers for the rubbish bin. "All finished!" he said as he placed them in the bin and dusted off his hands.

"Excellent," said Greg. "Do you want to help me now?"


"How about you go 'round the yard and find all the loose bricks you can, and put them in a nice neat pile back there by the fence. Then I can cut the grass without hitting them."

"Okay," Sean said again, and he immediately set to work. Instead of making a pile of bricks, he made a "train" from them. Sean was obsessed with trains, and he would line up almost any objects to make one. Then he would move up and down the length of his creation, imagining that he was a conductor or a passenger or any number of other people associated with the train.

By the time the group left Becky McClatchy's at 4pm that day, the kitchen was spotless, as were all of the windows in both the kitchen and the lounge room. Anna had scrubbed the dishes and pans, including those that had been in the cupboards when they arrived. This was necessary because Becky would put dishes away with layers of dried food still on them. Anna had scrubbed the walls, stove, fridge, table, and floor too. Cherry had done the windows, and Greg had done the yard.

There was little grass to speak of in the yard, but at least Greg had cut back the weeds sufficiently to make the ground visible once again. Discarded rubbish was piled up neatly at the kerb, for the council to come and collect.

Becky was an obsessive collector. Because of that, much of the rubbish would be returned to the backyard soon after they had left. And by the time they returned in a couple of months, she would have collected other bits and pieces from her walks around the neighbourhood as well. Her instructions were always for Greg to mow the lawn; but he always had to remove her treasures before he could do it. It was a never-ending battle.

"Don't forget the marmalade," Becky said as they were packing up. This was the time when most employers would be complimenting and thanking the volunteers.

"I'll be back with some in half an hour," said Anna. They had some unopened, out-of-date strawberry jam at home, but Becky would not settle for anything except marmalade; so they would have to spend some of their meager supply of cash on her.

"It's good we have a rest day coming up," Cherry said, as they walked toward their flat. "I think I've overdone it a bit today."

"You could always take an extra day off on Monday," said Greg.

"Oh no you don't," Cherry laughed. "We've got Nanna Cuthbert on Monday. After a day with Becky McClatchy, I need a day with Nanna to get over it."

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