When we visited Aunty Judy, which was too often, Dad would shove me across the veranda and make me ring the Big Ben doorbell. Then he, Mum and Sam stood back on the steps, watching as Aunty Judy’s two terror terriers snapped at me, their razor teeth slicing through the flywire door.
We heard Aunty Judy before we saw her, her thumping footsteps making the veranda shake. ‘Oh, it’s you lot.’ She unsnibbed the lock and pushed the door open. Dixie and Trixie flew straight at me, sinking their ginormous fangs into my ankles.
‘Come ‘ere, Trixie-darling,’ crooned Aunty Judy. ‘Come ‘ere, Dixie-darling.’
Dixie and Trixie ignored her and kept on nipping at my ankles. Behind me, Mum, Dad and Sam were laughing so hard, they barely had enough breath to say hello to Aunty Judy.
Aunty Judy’s house smelled like unwashed dog. Walking inside was like having dirty socks shoved up your nostrils and I had to block my nose like I did in the swimming pool. I’m not sure why the house smelt so bad because every single time we visited, Aunty Judy made a point of telling us that she gave Dixie and Trixie a bubble bath and blow wave every Sunday.
Aunty Judy wasn’t my real aunty. She belonged to Mum which made her my great aunty, but the only thing that was great about Aunty Judy was her stomach which stretched from one side of the couch to the other like the Great Wall of China. Mum said that in the olden days Aunty Judy was skinny as a model and very beautiful. She showed me a photo once, a grainy black and white of a woman in a sundress, head cocked to the side, lips pouted. The model was draped across the bonnet of a car and you could see right down the front of her sundress.
‘See how beautiful Aunty Judy was when she was young,’ Mum sighed. I didn’t believe for a second that the woman in the photo was Aunty Judy. For one thing, the woman was slender as an icy pole stick and, for another thing, the woman in the photo was smiling and Aunty Judy never smiled except at her dogs, and there were no dogs in the photo.
Dixie and Trixie gave a few little yaps and jumped onto the couch, crawling onto Aunty Judy’s lap and burying themselves under a ledge of fat. All I could see was a terrier tail jutting out on either side of her stomach. Aunty Judy smiled and ran a hand along the length of each tail. ‘There’s a plate of cream buns in the fridge,’ she said to Mum. ‘Go grab ‘em, would ya.’
Aunty Judy always served the most delicious cream buns. They were twice the size of normal cream buns; golden mountains capped with icing sugar, with drifts of cream fluffing out the sides. Cream buns were the only good thing about visiting Aunty Judy.
Mum put the cream buns on the coffee table and Aunty Judy bent forward to snatch the plumpest one. I went to grab a bun too but a snout of gnashing teeth appeared from under a curve of Aunty Judy’s fat. I gnashed back and added a growl. ‘No, Trixie.’
‘That’s Dixie,’ growled Aunty Judy, plucking another cream bun. She’d already had three. The corners of her mouth were splattered with icing sugar and there was a glob of cream sitting under her nose like a pimple.
I crept around to the other side of the coffee table but when I went to take a bun that snapping snout came out again. ‘Leave me alone, Dixie,’ I snapped.
‘That’s Trixie.’ Aunty Judy snatched up another bun, the cream oozing out between her fingers. She shoved the bun into her mouth and swallowed it whole like a snake swallowing a rat. Then she splayed her fingers and two fat tongues zipped out from under her bulges and lapped at the cream. It was so gross I had to look away.
Mum, Dad and Sam were squashed together on the couch on the other side of the room, all three of them munching on cream buns. Those cream buns sure looked yum. I reached out to grab one but Trixie-Dixie or Dixie-Trixie lunged forward to snap at me. I bared my teeth and snapped back.
‘Behave yourself,’ snapped Mum, her words jumbled up with half-chewed cream bun. ‘I’ve got my wooden spoon in my bag.’ She did too, I could see the long handle poking out the side of the zipper, ready to be yanked out and whipped into action. My mum carried her wooden spoon around the way other mums carried Kleenex and Butter-Menthols.
Aunty Judy shook her head at me, then glanced over at Mum. ‘That Samantha’s a greedy, piggy little girl. No wonder she’s so tubby.’
‘I’m Sarah,’ I muttered. ‘That’s Sam.’ I pointed at my sister who was now smirking into her second cream bun.
Dixie and Trixie were from the same litter, both golden-haired, floppy eared and snarly, so it was no wonder I mixed them up. No one except Aunty Judy could tell them apart. But Sam and I weren’t from the same litter: she had brown hair, while mine was red, plus she was half a ruler taller than me. Mum said we had to forgive Aunty Judy for mixing up our names because she was old and had bad eyesight. I said, ‘If her eyesight’s so bad, how come she can tell the difference between Dixie and Trixie who’re probably identical twins?’ but Mum told me to shut up and behave myself for once.
While Aunty Judy gabbled on about the no-good wife of Uncle Ray’s brother’s daughter, I gazed at the cream buns. Half the buns had disappeared already and I was getting really hungry. I sidled towards the plate but, before I could even get my hands around one, a row of teeth came gnashing out from the middle of Aunty Judy’s belly. I kung-fu kicked hard and high but the dog ducked underneath a blob of fat and my foot slammed into Aunty Judy’s stomach. ‘Oooff,’ yelped Aunty Judy.
Mum’s hands flew to her head like she had a headache. ‘Would you behave yourself! Go outside and play.’
Aunty Judy had an enormous backyard that tumbled all the way down the hill to the creek. But even though it was a big yard, there wasn’t much in it. No cream buns, that’s for sure. There were just a few droopy willow trees, some purple-flowered thistles and about ten dead cars. There were also lots of dog poo landmines and I had to walk on tiptoe to avoid detonating them.
I tiptoed over to a rusty ute, its back tyres missing so it pointed to the sky like a spaceship about to launch into the stratosphere. The doors were missing too, so I slid into the pilot’s seat. Five, four, three, two, one, LIFT OFF!
Uncle Ray poked his ahead around the side of the house. He was as thin as Aunty Judy was fat, sticking straight up like a thistle. He stomped across the yard to my spaceship, not at all worried about the landmines.
‘G’day,’ he called with a gummy grin. I once heard Mum tell Dad that Uncle Ray used to have teeth but a bloke punched them out and the dirty old bastard probably deserved it. That’s what Mum said, but when I told Sam, Mum overheard and told me off for swearing. Threatened to wash my mouth out with soap and water. She kept a bar of soap in her handbag, right next to the wooden spoon.
Uncle Ray belonged to Mum too but he was even less great than Aunty Judy. Aunty Judy didn’t think he was much chop either because she never let him in the house. Whenever we visited, Uncle Ray was prowling around in the backyard. He was probably hunting for cream buns but I bet he never got any, otherwise he wouldn’t have been so skinny.
‘Ya’re gettin’ big now, ain’t ya?’ he wheezed, leaning through the door of my spaceship.
‘Yup.’ I steered my spaceship around a planet on the right.
‘All grown up.’
‘Yup.’ I steered my spaceship around a star on the left.
Uncle Ray held a black box against his chest. ‘I’ve gotta new camera. What’s say I take some piccies of ya?’
‘Like a fashion model?’
Uncle Ray grinned pink gums. ‘Just like that.’
Uncle Ray had never taken pictures of me before. Usually he only pointed his lens at Sam and I knew she’d be real jealous when she found out, so I did my very best to pose like the girls in Dolly, puffing out my lips and chest and tilting my head to the side.
Uncle Ray raised his camera and stepped back and snapped. He kneeled in the dirt and pointed his camera up and snapped. He stood on tiptoe and pointed his camera down and snapped.
‘Lovely, lovely,’ he said. ‘Now lean down over the wheel.’ Snap.
He lay across the bonnet, pushing his camera through the gap where the windscreen used to be. ‘Lovely, lovely. Now cross ya legs.’ Snap.
He pointed his camera through the hole where the spaceship door used to be. ‘Now pull ya dress up a bit … that’s right … a bit higher … up a bit more so I can see ya knickers.’ Snap, snap, snap. He was standing so close I could smell him, a sharp smell like nail-polish remover that made my nostrils burn.
‘What’s say I hop in the passenger seat and we go for a little drive together,’ said Uncle Ray, most of his oblong face taken up by a grin.
‘We’re flying, not driving.’
‘Oh yeah, that’s right.’ He walked around to the other side of the car and slid in beside me.
Yap, yap, yap. Dixie and Trixie flew out the back door, followed by Mum. ‘Sarah! Sarah?’
‘I’m over here in the spaceship.’ I flicked my hair back over my right shoulder. ‘I’m being a fashion model.’ I flicked my hair back over my left shoulder and turned to the passenger seat but Uncle Ray and his camera had vanished—must’ve dashed off to start developing my fashion model pictures already.
‘You shouldn’t be playing out here.’ Mum came zigzagging towards me, dodging the landmines.
‘But you told me to …’ Mum reached through the spaceship door and yanked me out by the scruff of my neck like I was a kitten. Perhaps Dixie and Trixie thought I was a kitten too ‘cos they twirled circles around Mum’s feet, yapping encouragement.
‘Get inside now!’
After all that flying and posing I was dead hungry but all the cream buns were gone. Dixie, or maybe it was Trixie, was standing on the coffee table, straddling the empty plate, tail up, nose down, lick, lick, licking with a pink sausage tongue. Aunty Judy was still rabbiting on about some no-good no hoper on Uncle Ray’s side of the family.
‘I was being a fashion model,’ I told Aunty Judy. ‘From outer space.’ Aunty Judy stroked the tail that curled out from the right side of her stomach and carried on with her story. Maybe she had bad hearing as well as bad eyesight.
‘I was being a model,’ I said again, louder.
Aunty Judy kept on stroking that tail.
My empty stomach made a gurgling sound and a growling snout appeared from under a fold of Aunty Judy’s flab.
‘It’s just my tummy rumbling, Trixie, you dumb dog.’
‘That’s Dixie.’ Aunty Judy rolled her eyes. ‘You dumb girl.’
The big vein down the side of Mum’s neck stuck out all red and ropey. ‘I’ve had enough of your nonsense,’ she said. ‘We’re going home.’
Aunty Judy heaved herself off the couch and shuffled towards the door, the floor boards groaning under each step. Her stomach was extra wobbly now, filled with at least ten cream buns. Meanwhile, my stomach was shrivelled up like a walnut.
As I walked to the front door, Dixie and Trixie snapped at my socks. ‘Leave me alone.’ I kicked at their heads.
‘Leave my dogs alone,’ snarled Aunty Judy. ‘Ya’ve got a lot of growing up ta do, young Samantha.’
Aunty Judy held the flywire door open to let us out. Mum, Dad and Sam all marched outside and stood in a line, snickering as one of those terror terriers gave my ankles a few parting snaps. ‘Stop that, Dixie,’ I snapped.
‘That’s Trixie,’ snapped Aunty Judy. ‘Stupid girl, don’t ya ever learn?’