‘Mothers and Daughters’ (Book Excerpt) by Kylie Ladd

kylie ladd

Kylie Ladd is a novelist and freelance writer. Kylie’s first novel, After the Fall, was published in Australia, the US and Turkey, while her second, Last Summer, was highly commended in the 2011 Federation of Australian Writers Christina Stead Award for fiction.

Kylie’s third novel, Into My Arms, has been selected as one of Get Reading’s Fifty Books You Can’t Put Down for 2013. She holds a PhD in neuropsychology, and lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and two children. Read her interview hereBelow you can read an excerpt from her book, Mothers and Daughters. Courtesy: Kylie Ladd.


‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Morag!’

Fiona winced and pushed Morag’s case off her big toe, then bent to study it. Thirty bucks she’d paid for her pedicure, and she’d kill Morag if it was chipped before they even left Tullamarine.

‘Sorry, sorry,’ said Morag, yanking her Samsonite away so abruptly that it almost hit the legs of the man queuing in front of them.

‘Christ, that thing weighs a ton,’ said Fiona, rubbing her foot.  ‘What the hell have you got in there—an iron?’ Her dark red nail polish was intact, she was pleased to see, but the inspection had revealed that her feet were already swelling in her new sandals, even though it was cool in Melbourne, and nothing like the heat they’d experience up north. Fuck. Fiona sighed. She should have gone with the size ten. Who was she kidding? She hadn’t been a nine since before she had Dominic; since then everything had spread. Her feet were the least of it. She stood back up, surreptitiously hoicking her cargo pants from where they’d snagged between her buttocks.

‘Weights, actually,’ Morag said.

‘Weights?’ asked Caro, as the line snaked forward a metre.  Everyone picked up their bags and shuffled forward obediently.

‘For running,’ Morag said. ‘Hand weights. I take them with me so my upper body gets a workout too. I don’t have time to go to the gym for that.

‘Very efficient.’ Caro nodded.

‘You’re nuts,’ said Fiona. ‘You already look like a praying mantis with anorexia—you need to eat, not lift weights.’

‘I eat!’ Morag protested. ‘And they’re not that heavy, only five kilos. Keeps the tuckshop arms at bay.’

Fiona was glad she hadn’t worn a singlet like the other two. ‘Whatever, but this is meant to be a holiday. Jeez—you’re the only one of us who’s completely footloose and fancy-free. You’ve got a week in the tropics, the boys are with Andrew . . . you should be sipping cocktails, not racing around pumping your skinny arms in the air.’

Caro giggled, then glanced apologetically at Morag, but she was laughing too.

‘As if I’d do that. That went out years ago. God forbid you should know anything about exercise, Fiona, other than jumping to conclusions.’

Caro snorted. Fiona smiled too, to show she wasn’t bothered. Yeah, yeah, she thought. Mantis arse.

‘Plus I like running,’ Morag went on. ‘It’s not a chore. It relaxes me. Maybe Janey would like to come with me, Caro? She jogs, doesn’t she, as part of her training?’

Caro looked across at her daughter, blonde head bent over her phone, as it had been ever since they’d arrived at the airport, and shrugged. ‘Maybe.’

‘Well, anything involving sweat isn’t my idea of relaxation,’ Fiona said, prodding her bag forward as the queue moved up again. ‘Unless it’s the sweat I’m going to work up sitting on the beach, under an umbrella, waiting for someone to bring me a drink.’ She paused for effect. ‘Ideally a black man.’

‘Fiona!’ Caro protested, right on cue. ‘You’re a shocker.’

‘Why? There should be plenty where we’re going, shouldn’t there? I bet Amira’s surrounded by them, lucky bitch. That’s probably why she went.’

Morag shook her head. ‘You know it isn’t, you stirrer. She lowered her voice. ‘Keep it down. Bronte’s right behind you.’

‘Oh, she’s off in her own little world as usual,’ Fiona scoffed. ‘Probably just as well. If she did hear me she’d blush so much she’d lose circulation in the rest of her body.’ Fiona’s daughter was a mystery to her at times. OK, all the time. Who knew what the hell went on behind those cat-like eyes of hers?

‘I can’t wait to see Amira again,’ Caro said, riffling through her handbag as the check-in counter came into view. ‘It’s been way too long. Nine months. And Tess too. I wonder if she’s enjoyed it? I can’t imagine Janey and April living on a mission.’

Fiona was tempted to say that she couldn’t imagine Janey doing anything Janey didn’t want to do, but Morag spoke first.

‘Community,’ Morag said. ‘It hasn’t been a mission for years and years. I looked it up on the net. It’s called a community now. Nothing religious. There’s still a church there—I saw it on the website—but I don’t think it’s compulsory.’

Fiona made a show of looking at her watch. ‘Damn,’ she said, ‘and here I was spewing that we’d missed Mass.’

Caro and Morag laughed. Janey looked up from her phone to make sure she hadn’t missed anything, then went back to texting.

The Qantas girl who served them was young and bright-eyed. Too bloody bright-eyed, Fiona thought. Was she on drugs? It couldn’t be that exciting, waving everyone else off to exotic locations while you sat behind a desk in the outer suburbs and heard the millionth upgrade request of your career.

‘And where are you ladies flying to today?’ she chirped, holding out a manicured hand for their documents.

‘Broome,’ Caro replied excitedly. ‘We’re going to see a friend. She’s been working there since the start of the year, and our daughters—’ she indicated Janey and Bronte—‘are friendly with her daughter, so we thought we could all catch up, have a bit of a girls’ trip.’

‘Oh, I hear Broome’s lovely,’ the check-in girl trilled mechanically, tapping at her keyboard.

‘Well, it’s not actually Broome,’ Caro went on. ‘It’s about two hours north. Amira—our friend—is teaching at an Aboriginal school out in the bush there. It used to be a mission. She’s always wanted to do that sort of work.’

Shut up, just shut up, Fiona muttered to herself. Didn’t Caro know that the girl didn’t care? She had only asked them where they were going so she put them on the right plane, for goodness’ sake. Now she’d probably seat them by the toilets just for boring her. Fiona looked away in exasperation and caught the eye of Janey, who raised one sarcastic eyebrow.

‘God, Mum, you go on,’ she said.

Fuck, thought Fiona. You should have been mine.

Bronte hesitated in the aisle, clutching her backpack to her chest. Should she put it in the overhead locker so that she had more leg room? She could always do with that, and the flight from Melbourne to Broome was over five hours—she didn’t want to be any more cramped than was necessary. Then again, it was a long flight, and she might need her stuff. She put the bag down on the seat and began to go through it. Magazine, yes, plus her sketchbook and pens. They could all fit in the pocket in front of her. The apple she’d packed in case she got hungry; ditto the rice crackers. To Kill a Mockingbird? She had an essay on it due at the start of the term and she was only halfway through, but she hated trying to read anywhere other than in her bedroom at home. There might be a good movie on, anyway, in which case . . .

‘Shit, Bronte, you’re holding up half the plane,’ said Janey, pushing past her to claim the window seat. Bronte turned around and was horrified to discover seven or eight passengers banked up behind her, shifting their own hand luggage from arm to arm. She hurriedly stuffed everything back into her bag and slid into her seat, face burning.

‘Idiots,’ Janey said as they filed past. ‘I wonder how long they would have waited.’

Bronte bent over and wedged the backpack under the seat in front. It fitted, but as she’d suspected there was very little room left over for her feet. Janey watched with interest as she endeavoured to fold it in half.

‘Why’d you bring something so big, anyway?’ she asked, then sighed. ‘Give it to me. I can shove it between my seat and the wall.’

‘Thanks,’ Bronte said, surprised.

‘I guess you need all the space you can get, huh?’ Janey remarked as she took the backpack. ‘How tall are you? Six foot? I reckon you’ve grown another inch since our game last Saturday.’

‘Five eleven,’ Bronte said. Not quite six foot, but way too close for her liking. One hundred and eighty-one centimetres, to be precise. Bronte knew the figure because she had begun measuring herself every week before the netball game, horri- fied at the way her skirt was creeping up her thighs. She was only fourteen, yet she’d already gone past her brother, who’d be eighteen at Christmas; had left her mum in her shadow months ago. Only her father was still taller than her, and she prayed every day that she wouldn’t end up six foot four, like him. Bronte sighed. She’d need a new uniform soon, but hated the idea of asking for one, reluctant to draw any more attention to herself.

‘You’re a freak,’ said Janey mildly, placing a tab of bubble gum in her mouth. She offered Bronte the packet. ‘D’you want some? My ears always hurt at take-off and landing if I’m not chewing on something.’

‘No, thanks,’ Bronte said. She had no idea if her ears would hurt. This was only the second flight of her life. The first, seven years ago, was when her parents had taken them to Sydney one Easter. Dom had got some sort of tummy bug and vomited all over their hotel room; when he was finally well enough to do a tour of the Opera House, their father had been so appalled at the cost of the tickets that he’d stormed out of the building, claiming they could look at it for free from the harbour. Since then any family holidays had taken place at her grandmother’s house in Rosebud, with its splintery decking and seagrass matting. It was different for Janey, Bronte thought as the plane began to vibrate, then started rolling slowly along the tarmac. She flew all the time—most term breaks, it seemed, with her parents and sister to Noosa or Port Douglas; with her swimming team to their various meets around the country. She was fiddling with her phone again now, not even listening as the flight attendant carefully lifted a banana-yellow lifejacket over her hairdo, then gestured, arms stiff, towards the exits. This was all old hat for Janey, as boring as a maths class, or a cafe with no wi-fi.

Not for her mother, though. Bronte leaned forward, peering between the seats for a glimpse of the three women in the row in front of her. Morag’s fair head was buried in either a magazine or the safety guide; Caro was watching the attendant and absently playing with the strand of pearls around her neck. Bronte watched as her hand lifted automatically to smooth her silvery-blonde bob, then, satisfied that everything was in place, returned to her throat. Pearls to Broome. Coals to Newcastle. Bronte smiled to herself, but she knew Caro couldn’t help it.

She was wedded to those pearls, to always looking immaculate. In contrast, her own mother’s dark hair stuck out from her head. She had her eyes tightly closed, hands clenched in her lap. She probably wanted the others to think she was napping, but Bronte knew the truth. For all her bravado, her mother was ridiculously afraid of flying. Bronte had watched her growing steadily more tense as their bags were weighed and check-in was completed; had stood with her in the public toilet next to the boarding gate and held her purse while her mum took a swig of water straight from the tap and washed down a sleeping tablet, then two Valium. She’d offered Bronte one, but Bronte had refused. Maybe she shouldn’t have, she thought. She probably could have sold it to Janey.

The engines roared and the plane shot forward. Behind them, in the galley, bottles burst into tinkling conversation, as if exclaiming over the sudden movement; Caro’s carefully coiffed hair defied its coating of lacquer and swung momentarily free around her face. Bronte grabbed the armrest and felt her stomach contract. Up, up . . . the brown Tullamarine paddocks tilted outside her window and fell away, replaced by blue. The plane lurched, shuddered, and hauled itself into the air. Beside her, Janey blew a large purple bubble and then popped it with her tongue.

‘Are your ears OK?’ Bronte asked.

‘Fine,’ said Janey, licking shards of gum from her lips. She stared despondently at the silenced phone in her lap. ‘But it’s such a drag to have to turn my mobile off. I wanted to text Caitlin. She gave me a card to give Tess, but I left it at home.’ ‘Do you miss Tess since she left?’

Janey looked surprised, as if this was the first time the idea had occurred to her.

‘I guess so, but it’s not as if she’s my BFF or anything.’

‘But you were, weren’t you?’ Bronte persisted. ‘All through primary school, and in year seven too, I thought.’ She’d spent every one of those primary school years in the same class as Janey and Tess—it was how their mothers had met. Morag too, though she had twin boys, Callum and Finn, who liked to pull Bronte’s ponytail when she was looking at the board, then blame the other when she turned around. Bronte had often been jealous of Janey and Tess’s friendship, their contrasting blonde and black heads always bent together over the desk or whispering furiously in a corner. It wasn’t that she liked Janey, especially—being with Janey was like sleeping with an echidna, her mum had once said: no matter how careful you were, you were bound to get hurt—but what she did envy was their closeness. Bronte had friends, but not ones that called her every night to talk for two hours about nothing, or who nagged their mothers into buying the much-coveted heart-shaped charms sold at Bevilles in the city. Gold and shiny, the charms split down the middle into two matching halves, to be worn ostentatiously by besties wanting to flaunt their allegiance.

Tess and Janey, of course, had taken it even further than that. One day in grade four they had gone into the toilets at lunchtime and swapped underwear, proudly lifting their dresses in the playground to show the rest of the girls what they’d done.

‘You’ll get germs,’ Bronte had ventured, to which Tess had replied, ‘No we won’t, because we’re best friends.’ The underwear swapping had continued daily, a ritual of devotion and exclusion, till almost the end of grade five, when Janey had suddenly declared it ‘gay’ and the whole thing had stopped. Six months later, when Bronte won a scholarship to a private school, her main emotion was one of relief. Tess and Janey would be going to the local secondary school. She wouldn’t have to endure another six years of watching them together. Bronte pulled at a cuticle. But a week would be OK, she told herself. She could manage a week.

Janey yawned, and pulled her gum out of her mouth with two fingers. Daintily, she rolled it into a ball, then stuck the wad to the side of her seat, dangerously close to Bronte’s bag.

‘It’s different at high school,’ she said. ‘Everyone’s replace- able.’ She looked restlessly out the window, then pulled some earbuds out of jeans so tight Bronte didn’t know how she could even get her fingers in the pocket. ‘How’s St Anne’s?’ she asked grudgingly.

‘Great,’ Bronte replied. ‘I’ve got this fabulous art teacher, Ms Drummond.’ She blushed and stared at her lap. Would Janey understand about Ms Drummond? ‘She thinks my drawings are really good. I mean, she probably says that to everyone, but still . . .’ Bronte took a deep breath and rushed on. ‘She wants me to take her fashion design class next year. We have all these electives for art in year nine—fashion’s one, but there’s also ceramics and woodcraft . . . and I really want to, but I’m not sure what Mum will say. I think she wants me to stick with French. What would you do?’

She turned to Janey, but Janey wasn’t listening. She had her earbuds in and was mouthing the words of a Rhianna song.

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