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They Gave her a Rise

Frank Sargeson

When the explosion happened I couldn't go and see where it was. I'd been working on the wharves, and a case had dropped on my foot. It put me on crutches for a fortnight.

I was boarding with Mrs. Bowman down by the waterfront at the time. She was quite a good sort though a bit keen on the main chance. But I didn't blame her because her husband had cleared out, and to make ends meet she took on cleaning jobs several days a week.

Explosions are like fires, you can't tell how far off they are. But it was some explosion. Mrs. Bowman and I were in the kitchen and the crockery rattled, and the dust came down off the light shade. Sally Bowman was working out at the ammunition factory, and Mrs Bowman never said anything but you could see she thought that's where it might have happened. Of course people were talking out in the street and the news came pretty quick.

It was out at the ammunition factory. And they said some of the hands had been blown to smithereens.

Mrs. Bowman broke down.

She's dead, she said, I know she's dead.

Well, we couldn't do anything. I went over next door on my crutches and asked the people if they'd find out about Sally and whistle me. Then I'd break the news to Mrs. Bowman.

I went back and Mrs. Bowman was worse than ever. She'd been getting dinner at the time and she sat with her head down on the table among the potato peelings. Her hair'd come all unput too, and she looked awful. But she wasn't crying, and you sort of wished she had've been.

She's dead, she said, I know she's dead.

She's not dead, I said.

I know she's dead.

Bull's wool, I said, she's not dead.

Oh God, she said, why did I make her go and work in that factory?

I'll guarantee she's been lucky.

She's all I've got. And now she's dead.

If you don't look out you'll start believing it, I said.

It was no good. She went on a treat. I asked her if she'd like me to get one of the neighbours in but she said no.

I don't want to see nobody no more, she said. Sally's all I was living for, and now she's dead. She was a good girl, she said, she was good to her mother.

Sure, I said. Of course she was good to her mother. So she always will be.

She won't. She's dead.

I couldn't do anything. The worst of it was I had a sort of sick feeling that Sally had been blown up. She was only seventeen and a nice kid too. And Mrs. Bowman as good as a widow. It was tough all right.

Then Mrs. Bowman started to pray.

Lord God Jesus, she said, give me back my baby. You know she's all I've got. Do please Jesus Christ Almighty give me back my baby. Please Jesus just this once. Darling Jesus I know I done wrong. I shouldn't ought to have made my Sally go and work in that factory. It was because of the money. I had to make her go, you know I did. But oh sweet Jesus if you'll only give me back my baby just this once I won't never do another wrong thing in my life. Without a word of lie I won't, so help me God.

She went on like that. It sounded pretty awful to me, that sort of praying. Because I'm a Doolan myself, and Mrs. Bowman was always down on the churches. You wouldn't have thought she had a spark of religion in her at all. Still, it was tough. And I felt like nothing on earth.

The next thing was Sally was brought home in a car, one of those big limousines too. The joker driving had been going home from golf and he'd volunteered. He had to help Sally out of the car and up the steps because she was just a jelly. Her hat was on crooked and she couldn't stop crying. Of course the neighbours all came round but I told them to shove off and come back later on.

Well, Mrs. Bowman had kidded herself into believing that Sally had been blown to smithereens. So when Sally walked in she went properly dippy and carried on about her having come back from the dead. So I slung off at her a bit for being dippy and banged about cheerful-like getting them a cup of tea. Sally wasn't hurt at all, but some of the girls had been killed so naturally she was upset. Anyhow I slapped her on the back just to show her mother it wasn't a ghost that had walked in, then Mrs. Bowman began crying and you could see she felt better. So both of them sat there and cried until the tea was ready.

I can't believe my eyes, Mrs. Bowman said, I thought you was dead.

Well, I'm not dead, Sally said.

I thought you was.

I thought I was too. There's Peg Watson, she's dead.

What a shame, Mrs. Bowman said.

And Marge Andrews, she's dead too.

Poor Mrs. Andrews.

Mum it was awful. It was just like the noise of something being torn. Something big. A wind sort of tore at you too. And then there was a funny smell.

Anyhow you're not dead. You've been spared.

The wind knocked me over. I thought I was dead then.

You've been spared.

Yes I know. But what about Peg Watson and Marge Andrews?

Poor Mrs. Andrews, Mrs. Bowman said.

Then Mrs. Bowman roused on to me for putting too much sugar in her tea.

I thought I'd. never taste tea again, Sally said, not when I was knocked over I didn't.

Have another cup? I said.

Mr. Doran, Mrs. Bowman said, how ever much tea did you put in the teapot?

I made it strong, I said. I thought you'd like it strong.

Anyone would think we was millionaires, Mrs. Bowman said.

Sally said she wasn't ever going back to work in the ammunition factory again.

Why not? Mrs. Bowman asked. You could see she was feeling a lot better and she spoke quite sharp.

Well I'm not. You never got knocked over by that wind.

I've had things to put up with in my life. Yes, I have.

I know you have, mum. But you never got knocked over by a wind like that.

You can't avoid accidents.

I know you can't. But what about Peg and Marge?

Isn't it a shame? Poor Mrs. Andrews. Marge was getting more money than you, wasn't she?

Anyhow I'm not going back. So there.

Oh, indeed, young lady, Mrs. Bowman said. So that's the way you're going to talk. Not going back! Will you tell me where our money's coming from if you're not? Huh! You'd sooner see your mother scrubbing floors, wouldn't you?

Listen mum, Sally said. Listen...

Well, I left them to it. I went over next door to talk to the people, and you could hear Sally and her mother squabbling from there.

Of course Sally wasn't off for long. And they gave her a rise.

Questions and tasks after the story__ They Have Her a Rise

1. Consider the forms of presentation within the short story. See if the choice of forms of presentation is connected with that of techniques of characterisation.

2. Is it important that the I-narrator functions as a character? What technique of characterisation does this fact allow to employ?

3. Does the author resort to the direct portrayal of the characters?

4. Analyse the main character's speech and manner of behaviour on hearing the crucial news. What sort of parent does she make?

5. Can you account for the change in the main character's decision by the end of the story?

Date: 2015-04-20; view: 13537

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