Ren is a first year student at USQ, and she’s just nineteen. Which are only two of the reasons she’s amazing. There’s also this story she wrote! When asked to write a little bio, Ren came up with the following:
Ren Patzwald is a nineteen year old from Queensland who likes reading and writing so much that she’s working on getting a degree in it . Her other interests include coffee and sleep, but unfortunately the two do not mix.
This story was written for a first year course: I can’t wait to read what she comes up with next!
“You’re late,” her mother said, without greetings or pleasantries, as she opened the door. Olivia offered the woman a smile in an attempt to dissuade further comment on the matter. It didn’t work. “Honestly, darling, it’s past seven! That’s bad, even for you,” she continued as she stepped out of the frame of the door to let Olivia into the house. Afraid of what might slip out if she opened her mouth to reply, Olivia bit her tongue and set her handbag down on the floor by the door. “Shoes off!” her mother said. It would have been so easy to argue, to point out that she’d known the house rules for twenty-one years and she wasn’t likely to forget them all of a sudden. She didn’t. She slid off her shoes without comment and walked down the hall and away from her mother into the dining room. It looked the same as it did last week, and twenty-one years ago, and every day in between. Her father was sitting in his chair at the head of the table, as he had a week ago, twenty-one years ago, and every day in between.
“The prodigal daughter returns to us at last!” he said, beaming up at his daughter. She smiled back and didn’t point out that a week didn’t count as ‘at last’ and that it wasn’t a funny joke the third time. She sat down in the chair that she always chose and took the bowl of peas as her father handed them to her.
“Did you remember biscuits?” her mother asked as she took her own seat. Olivia’s hands stilled at that, abandoning their task of putting peas onto her plate.
I forgot the damn biscuits Olivia said to herself, changing lanes as quickly as she could, the horn from the car behind her blasting as she did so. She wished, not for the first time, that she could explain herself to other drivers. But even if it were a possibility, she wouldn’t have the time. She was, predictably, running late for dinner. She could already hear her mother’s lecture about how no sensible member of society was late with such consistency, and how she wasn’t entirely sure that Olivia was a person and not just a bundle of character flaws. They were just words, words her mother had said in jest, of course. But it was hard to forget them once they’d been heard. They rang on repeat through her mind as she pulled into the service station. She had told her mother that six-thirty didn’t work, because she only finished work at six. Her mother had been insistent, however, that half an hour was more than enough time for her to get to their house from the library. It wasn’t at the best of times, if you took into account the fact that Olivia never actually finished at exactly six, but the biscuit situation had just made the timing more impossible. It was already twenty past six.
“No, I didn’t have time to get any after work,” she said, resuming her task with shaking hands. She shoved the bowl at her mother, not bothering to meet her no-doubt disappointed expression, and took the bowl of carrots in her other hand.
“You didn’t think to grab some when you did your groceries this week?” her mother said in disbelief.
Olivia could sense her frown.
“I mean it’s not at all like we do this every single week and you should know by now.”
Olivia sighed and still refrained from taking the bait. She was used to her mother’s pressing for arguments by now. It may have taken roughly twenty-one years to get used to it, but she had. She took her first mouthful of dinner to keep her mouth occupied and avoid replying.
“And if that isn’t enough, how could you not have time, what were you doing with the hour between when you finished and when you got here?”
Olivia had been expecting that one, but it still made it that little bit harder to swallow her food.
Olivia wasn’t paying attention to what she was doing when she entered the service station. She was embarrassed by her terrible lane change and embarrassed by how crooked her park was and pre-emptively embarrassed about the things her mother was going to say to her when she got to her parents’ house. The consequence of her distraction was colliding with something in front of her with a dull thud. A person, a tall one in a black shirt. This only caused her more embarrassment. She refused to look up at the person at all, unable to make eye contact with yet another item of proof of her own incompetence. She instead mumbled an apology and fled to the second aisle from the back of the store to find biscuits.
“Could we talk about anything but all the ways that I fall short as a daughter and human being?” Olivia was disappointed when her voice came out far weaker and quieter than she’d planned.
“Glad to see you still have a working voice box,” said her father.
Olivia flinched. He wasn’t being cruel. Her father never intended to be cruel. But, right now, she felt like little more than a collection of raw nerve endings. Her father gave her a concerned, apologetic look that only made everything worse, before finally asking, “How was your day then, love? Did anything interesting happen?”
Olivia was debating Mint Slice versus Tim Tams.
A gunshot rang out through the store.
Her head snapped up to look at the counter. A person was pointing a gun towards the clerk. A tall one, in a black shirt.
She was frozen, staring at the gun, for what felt like a year but could only have been a second, because no-one else had spoken or acted yet. She just stood, staring, until she felt a pull towards the ground on her right arm. She was forced to double over, and the shock of it woke her foggy, terrified brain. She looked down to the source of the pulling, and saw another girl, her hand in Olivia’s, pulling her and gesturing with her other hand for her to get down. Olivia obeyed without any further resistance, but when the girl tried to remove her hand, Olivia held it tighter. The girl offered her a sympathetic, terrified smile, before closing her eyes and leaning back against the shelf of potato chips. Olivia settled cross-legged on the floor and attempted to process what was happening. She told herself that she was in a store that was being held up, and that there was a gun, a gun that was almost definitely loaded, three metres away. But no matter how many times she repeated the words to herself it wasn’t working. She couldn’t make herself believe that this was happening, no matter how tight the girl’s grip on her hand, or how cold the floor touching her calves. All she could believe was that Smiths Chips had changed their logo and she liked this one less. She looked at the ceiling, finding the bullet-hole from the shot she’d heard earlier. It was near where the gunman stood at that moment, shouting about money and God knows what else. But the world was fuzzy and sideways, and Olivia couldn’t make out a single word of what was being said. She looked over at the girl’s face; her eyes were still jammed shut, and her mouth was set in a determined line. But even amongst the stress, she was pretty, with dark hair, dark skin, and pleasing, unsymmetrical features. It was a ridiculous time to be paying any attention to what this girl looked like. But the girl felt far more real than the gun, and it was the only thing that her brain was willing to fixate on. Olivia squeezed her hand, and she squeezed back, her lips quirking the tiniest amount as she did so. Olivia thought out silent, elaborate prayers of thanks that she wasn’t alone in this.
“Well, there was a woman who’d had her books for eighteen years,” she told her parents, when words finally came. What else was she supposed to do? Certain things don’t just slide into polite conversation, and being a bystander in a service station hold-up was one of them. “She came in and returned them, and I couldn’t actually believe what the computer screen was telling me. Eighteen years! The fine was only $32, which really doesn’t seem like enough.”
“So what did you do, then?” Her father asked. She couldn’t be entirely certain if his interest was genuine or if he was just humouring her. Whichever it was, it was an improvement from her mother’s reaction, who had rolled her eyes and taken sudden interest in her chicken.
“Well, I… I had to wipe her record. It’s policy. She’d paid the fine, so … and then she just went and borrowed them again. It was the most frustrating thing,” Olivia said.
Her father chuckled as he took a sip of his wine. “I get it, love. If I had a dollar for every time company policy messed with common sense, I’d be a rich man.”
Her mother put down her cutlery with an intentional ruckus. Olivia made a point to follow her mother’s example and take a sudden interest in her own chicken. “Honestly, Olivia, if I had a dollar for every time I wished you’d stand up for yourself, I’d be a rich woman.”
“Mum, it was polic-”
“I highly doubt that this woman who hadn’t made it to the library in eighteen years would have known the library’s policies. It’s just like I’ve always said, you’ve always been far too condemning with your thoughts and forgiving with your actions. Honestly would it kill you to be … forceful? About something, anything.”
Olivia could have laughed at the irony of being lectured for that on this day of all days. Actually, she may well have been laughing. The hysterical noises she could hear weren’t coming from her mother, and they certainly weren’t coming from her father, who was looking at her with his look of apologies and concern again. She found herself short of breath, and decided it had to be her.
“Ex-excuse me, I’m- bathroom.” She got up from the table, and fled the room.
Another shot rang out through the store. Olivia clamped her eyes shut, not wanting to see what could have happened that time. The girl’s hand clamped tighter reflexively, and then, Olivia felt an elbow in her side. She opened her eyes, and found the girl looking to the carpark. She followed the girl’s line of site, and saw the gunman climbing into a dark car. She jumped upwards, looking towards the clerk. He looked alive, maybe, but there was blood. There was a lot of blood.
Olivia ran. She bolted, straight out the doors into the carpark, desperately searching her handbag with one hand for her keys. A voice was yelling behind her, but she didn’t understand a word of it. She couldn’t even tell who might be speaking; she didn’t care. Before she had even made the conscious decision to leave, she was already speeding off down the main street. When she realised she was crying and going in the wrong direction, she pulled over and slammed on her hazard lights, before sinking down into her seat. God, why had she left? It wouldn’t look good for her. She would be on security cameras, the plates of her car would be on even more cameras from the carpark. The police would find her, and they’d think she was somehow involved. Because she’d run away, like a guilty person.
What would have happened if she’d looked up when she ran into the gunman? Would she have been shot then and there? Or would she have something useful to tell the police about their description? Would she have known then, and left the store, never to be involved in the whole mess?
She told herself to stop crying. This mascara cost $20 and she could not show up to her parents house looking like she’d been crying. She’d never hear the end of it from her mother. Oh, God, she was so late.
Her mother was tapping against the bathroom door.
“Olivia, darling, what’s going on?” Her mother’s voice was softer than it had been when addressing her in years.
Olivia laughed again. It sounded horrible and twisted and wrong. “I forgot the fucking biscuits, Mum. I forgot the biscuits.”