Jane has a face the colour and consistency of a peeled potato, and she is crying because she has just witnessed the man in the car next door to her hit his wife across the face. She has turned the radio on full blast, some talkback DJs nattering away about Len Brown, to block out the grunted curses. Her head is inclined into the back of the seat in front of her as she attempts to stay out of viewing sight. The seat cushions her snotty nose, and when she pulls away she leaves shiny streaks on the leather. Her mum will go nuts if it crusts.
Her mum lately doesn’t seem to need many reasons to go nuts. Like this morning, with the toaster breaking, and then Jane forgetting to sign the camp form, and the awkward silent car ride with her mother’s eyes flashing through the rear-view mirror at Jane firmly looking out the window. Her mum goes silent when she’s angry, speaking real slow with her mouth pursed and wrinkled. Not like the man outside.
A burst of swearing manages to rise above the meaningless static of the radio, and Jane hunches herself further down into her seat, trying to cry quietly. Her mum promised to be back in twenty minutes, when Jane said she wanted to stay in the car and read the book that now lies discarded in the footwell next to her. The man and his wife had appeared about ten minutes ago, and he’d started hitting her five minutes ago, the veins in his neck swollen and red. His wife seemed to be quiet. If Jane snuck a look at her now, all she’d be able to see is a hive of blond hair and hoop earrings. The smudges of mascara across her cheeks are covered by shaking hands with long red nails.
Jane doesn’t know what to do. This isn’t a new feeling for her. Being all of nine years old comes with blatant confusion and puzzling situations at the best of times, but she feels like she’s meant to know what to do in this situation. The man outside though looks like all of the grimacing figures on the front of the DVDs in the Horror section of the movie store combined, and Jane is just a small and scared little girl. Her own hands are trembling as she holds them in her lap, flattened against her blue jeans with the hole in the knee. Her feet are cramping with the itch to move but she can’t. The image of the man peering through her window with his fists bloodied flashes before her eyes, and she clamps them shut.