A Thousand Miles (extract)
The last thing you hear is the plane taking off.
You wish you had found a way to stay grounded. Coming home means girls in short shorts, dirty white tanks, with Southern Cross tattoos etched into their ankles. Commodores going fifty, forty, slowing to a stop on side streets, turning at roundabouts just as you think they’re about to accelerate. It’s tracing circles, knowing straight lines will only lead back to the desert. It’s nights spilling out of pubs, broken dreams and a stained shirt, and you thought she liked you, but really she liked your friend, and you had to leave because his hand was reaching up her thigh and you thought you were going to be sick.
It means a long walk up the gravel driveway with your wife Hannah, your childhood echoing around you until you’re deafened by the memories. Your mother leaving messages on Dad’s answering machine, at first soft and forgiving, then stretching out into cries and curse words until long after the beeps close out the call. Postal packets signed by your father, happy birthday, Merry Christmas, and the gifts are great, the presents are positively spectacular but your Dad’s not there.
It means you get two Christmases, Mother Christmas and Father Christmas, and it sucks, but who are you to make the rules?
Who are you to tell them how to live their lives?
Your mother looks older; fine hairs sprout from her chin. Her video feed freezes from time to time and you’re left with a talking picture.
She says it’s been nice to have Jack so close, but him and Abby, they’re going through a rough patch. She goes on and on about Ella, her granddaughter, your niece, and she’s just so special, you should really come see her. ‘Jack misses you,’ says your mum, ‘and Ella just had her fifth birthday. Hang on,’ she says. ‘I’ll put her on.’
The image freezes. It skips, catches up and freezes again on Ella. A talking picture. She’s loud and funny. You talk for a while about today’s lunch, Mummy, Daddy, and the Wiggles, and then she goes quiet.
‘When are you coming to play?’
‘I’m in Sydney,’ you say.
‘I have an uncle,’ she says, giggling. ‘You look like Daddy, but with muscles. Bye!’ she says, running off.
Your Mum sits back down in front of you. ‘She’s having a hard time.’
‘You guys alright?’
‘Well, you know.’
‘You want me to come back?’
‘That depends,’ she says. ‘You’re a part of this family.’
‘Up to you,’ she says. ‘It’s always been up to you.’
You remember the day they grounded the planes, seeing lines of irate passengers queued out the doors, heading through the service building and out onto the tarmac. It was so familiar, that feeling; knowing something was wrong but unable to get a straight answer.
The full story appears in Review of Australian Fiction, Volume four, issue number 2.