‘Papa, I’d like to have a party for my birthday,’ I said as we sat on our beige vinyl couch one night watching Matlock Police.
‘That’s fine, you had one last year,’ he said not looking away from the screen.
‘No, I mean I want a party at night, like other kids in my class have had.’
‘I’m sure we can come to an arrangement.’
‘Can we Papa? I don’t want to be rude, but it wouldn’t feel the same if you were here.’
‘Well, I can stay in my bedroom.’
‘Can’t you just go out for a while? ‘
Our conversation went back and forth for quite a while until he finally relented He was going to go to a pub in St Kilda and he’d walk home after it closed. We agreed that he’d come home by about eleven.
I was over the moon. Finally, I’d have the house to myself and we could have a party with alcohol and no parental supervision. I invited all my friends, many of whom would not be able to come because their parents wouldn’t let them. Nonetheless, about fifteen turned up, including my friend Stephen who also had Hungarian parents to contend with. He was a tall, heavy set boy with impossibly curly hair, interested in Science and Maths, a bit of a geek before that word was invented. He didn’t dance but stood around happily drinking and bobbing his head to the music. Someone had brought a small stash of marijuana and passed a joint around. I became giggly and happily high and, I must admit, pretty pleased with my party.
When I heard a knock on the door, I hoped it wouldn’t be cops. Someone went to the door and the next thing I knew, about 8 boys I didn’t know were walking through the house. They may have been a year or so older and they thought they’d have a little fun at my expense. They only stayed about 10 minutes but in that time they trashed the place.
‘Look what we’ve got here?’ One of them crooned. ‘A painting. Now isn’t that the sweetest thing?’
He took the cigarette from his lips and squashed it on the painting above our couch, leaving a nasty black burn mark in the middle of the pastoral scene.
‘Don’t!’ I cried, but they laughed and made their way to the bathroom where they filled the bathtub and let it run over. A waterfall cascaded down the tiles and soaked everything in its path but worse was yet to come. On their way to the kitchen, they had to walk through my father’s workshop where he kept various rolls of leather, rivets, sewing machine spools with different coloured threads, thick glue and leather working tools. They opened the neatly stacked jars, emptied rivets, hooks and buckles on the floor and stomped on anything they could to ensure maximum destruction. Then, when the leader of the group got bored, he simply said, ’Let’s go,’ and the others followed him out.
Stephen stood sentry at my bedroom door, right next to the entrance. His body filled the doorframe. As the gatecrashers were filing past, one of them took a swing at Stephen, punching him right under the chin. He fell back making a sickening thud as he landed. I raced in to see how he was but I couldn’t stir him. As we didn’t have a telephone in the house, I made the decision to leave my friends in charge to make a phone call for an ambulance. I took five cents for the call and walked out into the darkness on my own, crying.
I had made a right mess of things. I should never have asked my father to leave the house and now I was paying the price. What would he say when he returned?
I made the phone call and walked back to the house. The ambulance arrived and my father walked in just as they were bending over Stephen on the floor.
‘I’m so sorry, Papa,’ I stammered between tears.
A paramedic turned to my father and said, ‘he’ll be right mate, but I wouldn’t move him tonight. Let him sleep it off ’til the morning.’
‘What are they saying?’ My father asked.
‘They said he should stay the night. But, but what about his parents?’
‘I’ll go and phone them,’ my father said and he walked back out into the night.
One by one my friends left, heads down, avoiding my eyes. I dragged my mattress onto the floor and Stephen crawled onto it. I lifted his head and put a pillow under his head and a blanket over him. And then I waited for my father to return.