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  • from Swallow the Air
  • Tara June Winch (bio)


Aunty never used to reckon she was lucky. She always just figured she was passed a raw deal, dealt a bad hand. I supposed she'd surrendered to being that kid, and then to being that woman in the same rotting suburb, born into a lifetime of ill fate. Her sister, the only stronghold out of loss, would follow suit in the sequence of lucklessness, and die. Everything, through Aunty's tired eyes, was bad luck. Bad luck until she won the Tip Top Bread Grocery Grab. After the win, everything seemed to be a game, a gamble.

It started when Aunty would take the entry forms from the bread stand at Woolies. They never said you had to buy the bread, and the checkout ladies never seemed to mind. Every pension day she set aside five dollars for stamps, and then she'd trace her name in thick memorised letters across the forms that still smelt of cooked flour. I don't think she really believed she would actually win anything; maybe it had been her time to at least try.

I wasn't there when she went to Woolies that pension day. Aunty told us that when she saw her name up on the big poster, she had to pinch her arm to make sure she wasn't just dreaming. She came home and told us how great Christmas was going to be. We're gunna have a bloody Christmas tur- key this year, my loves.

Billy and me stood behind the barricades of streamers with Tip Top Bread balloons strung from our hands. A crowd of the other contestants' families engulfed us at the front of the supermarket. Aunty had three minutes to fill her trolleys with anything from the aisles of labels. Her fingers wrapped tight over the trolley handle, light-brown knuckles pushed over from the grip. The timer began to count down: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, go! She flung her wobbling hips down the first aisle whilst Billy and me chorused the names of all the chips and lollies that we had scabbed from the other kids at school, stopping mid-scream to piss ourselves laughing.

Aunty was piling in arm-sized cans of beetroot and pineapple slices. The one-minute timer was counting: 5, 4, 3…We saw her start to panic and skip a bunch of aisles, targeting the trolley towards the frozen-food section. You could see on her face the dread, thinking any second all time would be [End Page 106] [Begin Page 108] up. She got caught there in the frozen aisle, throwing in white plastic-wrapped turkeys and frozen chickens and pastry pies. The trolleys filled faster and faster, their hospital castors wobbling under each load. The presenter ran up to the far end of the supermarket where Aunty was and began flinging empty trolleys up the aisle with one hand, a microphone attached to a long black cord in the other. The trolleys sat stray and bloated, swollen like fresh driftwood. By the time the fire-engine lights flashed and the shrill siren shrieked through the supermarket, she had three full trolleys, two of frozen food. Exhausted, she wheeled the last trolley, slower now, back to the checkouts for a quick interview, puffing and laughing.

Aunty leant over the barricades to Billy and me to give us a big hug, clapping her hands together and laughing. We don't even own a bloody freezer! She half whispered it at us, and we looked at each other laughing. Aunty asked Billy to count how much was in her purse: fifty dollars. We each took a trolley and craned their heavy baskets to the taxi rank outside.

"Can you take us to the hockshop, please, driver? Take us to the best one, and there's a turkey with your name on it."

He looked back at Aunty with night-shift eyes and a toothless, thin-lipped grin, as though a Stanley knife had just slit open the skin between his fat nose and the end of his chin. He sped the station wagon to a second-hand-goods...