The Wyvern

a story of marital conflict

by Graham Pockett
© copyright 1994

All characters in this story are fictitious; and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


The child hid behind the safety of his mother's faded print dress, blue eyes peering through a shock of tight curly hair. The tension between his parents made him cringe, bury his face into the doughy thighs beside him. His saucer-wide eyes flooded with unwanted tears. He was now six. Six year old boys did not cry.

* * * *

"But we can't afford a new car," his mother was whining. It seems she was always whining. "It's hard enough now to pay the bills."

"Bulldust! I need this car for business. The Olympics are only two years away. If I'm going to make good money gotta present the right image.1956 is gunna be my year!" He tucked arrogant thumbs into the waistcoat of the £50 suit they were paying off on the never-never – another cause of annoyance, another extravagance – and sneered at the grey lifeless woman before him. It was hard to believe this hag was the vital happy 22 year old girl he'd married.

"It'll be a damn long time before the Olympics come back to Melbourne," he continued, "and damned if I'm gunna wait that long before making a killing. This is our opportunity to get into our own house, into Easy Street. Don't stuff this one up on me woman."

"Don't swear in front of the child," was all she could say, and even that retort lacked the fire of conviction. Ten years after the war there was little left of Sheila Horesby but the slovenly shell of a once attractive girl who had gaily danced the Pride of Erin in the Caulfield Town Hall with those wonderful brave khaki soldiers. But in the cold light of day she'd found out that all khaki soldiers were not the same…

The boy's father, still youthful at 36, stood proudly beside the shiny black Vauxhall Wyvern he'd just purchased. He casually polished the chrome bonnet strip with the sleeve of his expensive blue pin-stripe suit, smiling his best salesman smile.

"It's a '48 model and it's been looked after a treat," he said to his frugal wife. "Same age as the kid! Got a few quid trade-in on the old girl, lot more'n she's worth. Least the Vauxhall's post war and won't cost too much to run. It's a four cylinder job y'see… " but Sheila's eyes were glazing over in boredom. Even a potential saving in running costs couldn't break her reserve.

"How are we going to pay for this new car?" she whined. "There's little enough for food, much less for things we don't really need."

"Don't you listen, you stupid woman. It was only a couple of hundred quid – and we can pay it off at just a few bob a day."

"A few shillings a day adds up to a few pounds a month. We don't have a few pounds spare a month." She wrung her hands in frustration.

The child cringed even further. It was the angry words which made him cower. Aware of the tiny body clutching her leg, Sheila put a protective arm around the boy, drawing him into the illusionary web of her security.

She looked down at the child from a puffy grey face that had seldom seen lipstick or rouge since her courting days. It was a waste to wear makeup just around the house. She abhorred waste – and to her that car was waste.

"You're still not listening", he said. "That car will pay for itself in no time with the extra orders I'll get. If you look good, they think you're wealthy. If you're wealthy, then you're successful. Everybody wants to be associated with a successful man. Simple, eh? You just don't like the car because you don't drive. How many times have I offered to teach you? How many?"

"Please don't start again, Tom. I told you before that cars frighten me. And you scare me the way you drive. I get around alright on the tram. Besides, the only place I ever go now is to Mum's."

"Just think. If you could drive yourself you could go in the Vauxhall. It's even got a radio – see." Tom Horesby put a well polished shoe on the running board, reached in through the open driver's window, and fiddled with a knob.

A few moments later, when the valves had warmed up, the radio serial Hop Harrington could be heard through the tinny speaker hanging under the radio.

"Gosh, that the time?" Sheila was shocked into action. "Must be well after six for the serials to be on. Tea'll be burnt to a frazzle."

Their evening meal was always ready at six. It was a ritual, all she had left. He was normally not home until half past, after the pubs closed, and his meal was kept for him under the lid of a steaming saucepan. Though usually too drunk to take notice of the dried reheated meal placed in front of him, to Sheila the victory was hers.

He followed her and the boy into the tatty weatherboard house.

Yes, he thought. Be pleased to get shot of this place and buy my own home. Oakleigh or Clayton might be nice. There's some lovely houses being built there now. I could get a cream brick veneer with those new steel window frames. Really modern. Not like this old dump. If only I wasn't lumbered with a stupid woman and a snotty-nosed brat I could really go places. Make a good quid out of the '56 Olympics, and have some real fun.

He thought too of an 18 year-old girl in the next street and, again, hoped she wasn't pregnant. It seems he was always worried about her getting pregnant. A pregnancy would really muck up his cosy arrangement. Nice kid, shame about the teeth. Might sneak over to her place after tea, he thought, on the pretext of going to the club.

He smiled at his own cleverness, and thought of her firm young flesh. Even though she had buckteeth, at least she didn't take them out at night and put them in a glass. Yuk! How could you make love to someone while their teeth smiled at you from the bottom of a glass? Damn, if he went around to her place he'd have to leave the car at home. Trust a nosy neighbour to report seeing the new car parked outside her place. Tom was nothing if not thorough.

Sheila's thoughts were locked behind doors of subservience and fear. She realised that Tom didn't love her, probably didn't love anything or anybody except himself, himself and … and doing that. She shuddered. At least the boy was hers. Tom couldn't take him from her, ever.

She reached down and tousled his soft curly hair, but for her trouble the boy shot her a look of annoyance. She suddenly realised that he would grow up like Tom, grow up to be the same unless she could teach him there was another way, a softer way. If only he'd been a girl…

She ached for a daughter. He was a good boy, most of the time, but so expensive to keep. Sheila did what she could with what little housekeeping she had, but if his grandmother didn't help by buying the boy clothes… Everything was stretched to breaking point, and often beyond.

After tea Tom casually told her that he was walking down to the RSL club for a few beers. "Just a couple," he'd told her, but Sheila knew better.

She knew about the girl he was seeing, but naively believed that while his sexual interests lay elsewhere, he wouldn't bother her too much. A trade off. She just couldn't understand why he didn't take the new car, the Wyvern. What a funny name for a car, calling it a dragon. Surely he'd want to show it off, specially if he went from her bungalow down to the RSL so he could 'prove' he'd been there by soaking up a few beers. Did he really think her so dense? Maybe he left the car there to annoy her. She could see it clearly through the lounge room window as it sat in the driveway. It really annoyed her.

How could they pay for it? Simple. They couldn't. She had made a tentative decision about two years ago, but had never had the courage, or the motivation, to act on it. Now she did. Sheila started to pack a battered suitcase with the meagre possessions of a lifetime. As each item was picked up she reflected: so many unfulfilled dreams, so much pain.

There were precious few belongings to pack. Even the boy's clothes and toys took up little room in the tatty pram that had carried him around as a baby but was now just used for shopping. She flitted from room to room, picking up, discarding. There was really so little she wanted to take, so few happy memories in that house.

However, she had a practical side and went carefully from hiding place to hiding place, taking the few coins that had been secreted here and there in little metal Commonwealth Bank money boxes to pay for rent, electricity, gas, telephone, etc. Shillings in tins, it seemed to reflect her meagre life.

An hour later, mother and son were waddling forlornly down the street towards the Town Hall and the number 64 tram that would take them to freedom. Leading their flight was the old cane pram, the battered suitcase balanced precariously across its top. Both mother and son clutched its rusty chromed handle as they manoeuvred the ancient vehicle over the undulating concrete of the footpath.

Up ahead the frantic clanging of a bell heralded the approach of a fire engine. The magnificent red truck hurtled towards them and, with complete disregard, rushed past. Both mother and son stopped their reluctant trek to watch its progress, craning their necks as it disappeared into the side street from whence they'd so recently emerged.

The child watched with open mouth as the gleaming machine raced towards a spiral of black smoke.

Sheila clutched the box of matches. She resisted the temptation to throw them over the hedge beside her, and pulled out a packet of cork-tipped cigarettes. Her hand shook as she lit one, thinking that the Wyvern too was belching fire and smoke. Well, dragons did breathe fire, didn't they?

* * * *

The child dragged a dirty forearm over his snotty nose. He jutted his immature jaw, determined to become a fireman when he grew up. He wanted to ring that shiny bell.

This story is copyright and may not be used without my written permission.

Author’s Notes:

This story was written as part of a short story writing course I was doing in 1993 & 1994. We had a post war (1948?) Vauxhaul Wyvern in the early 1950s so that part, at least, is true... My mother would have loved this story, for all the obvious reasons.

For motoring aficionados:

General Motors-Holden's produced a Vauxhall Wyvern model in Australia ... in 1938, ten years prior to the use of the Wyvern name in England. Based on the British Vauxhall H Series ... the Wyvern had a 94-inch wheelbase and used a 10 hp engine. Production ceased in 1941 but was resumed in 1946, using pre-war tooling. [Source Wikipedia.]

Graham Pockett



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    Last Updated: Friday, May 19, 2017