“No, I’m fine. Maybe I’ll head into town myself later. It looks like it’s going to be a nice day.”
And I’d laughed a little.
She met my gaze and I saw in her eyes that something was different. As if she saw, for the first time, that I doubted she would ever leave the house.
I don’t know if she was shocked or sad. It was more as if she froze, unable, for an instant, to take in what it was that had just happened.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh. It just kinda came out.”
“It’s okay. Can you close the curtains a little bit? The sun’s getting in my eyes.”
She had already turned over and from behind it looked as if she was comforting herself.
So I didn’t kiss her goodbye. Just walked out the door and left her there.
“She need anything?”
“Good. Let’s get going then.”
“What? What is it?”
“I dunno. Something was different.”
“Different? What do you mean?”
“Just different. I dunno. She just seemed different.”
“Yeah, and? ….”
“I dunno, okay?”
“Damn it Danny, if you think there’s something wrong with her just say it. If not, then get a move on and let’s get out of here okay?”
“Yeah, let’s go. It’s nothing. She’s just tired is all.”
“Tell me something new.”
Sally had no patience with mum any more. In the beginning, she was the one that used to look in on her in the mornings. Brought her coffee, checked if she needed anything, made sure she was okay. But now she never bothered.
“Why should I be looking after her?”
I always argued with her when she said that.
“She’s just sad is all it is, Sal. You shouldn’t be so cruel, so harsh on her.”
“Danny, just shut it okay? I’ve tried to help her. And now you’re trying to help her. But nothing works. She doesn’t want anyone’s help. She’s beyond help. She just wants to lie there all day. You think I wouldn’t help her if I could?”
“No….no, I know you would. It’s just … she’s depressed, Sal. She needs help. She still needs us.”
“Yeah, well on you go. It’s not my turn any more, but you go ahead. Anyway, you’re just a kid, what the hell do you know about depression? She can just bloody well stop lying around all day. That’s what would really help her. Why can’t she just get up?”
“I’m fifteen, Sal. I know enough, okay? Just give her a break. She needs to get over this. And anyway, it’s not that easy. You know that. She misses him.”
“Yeah, well dad’s not coming back, is he? So she might as well get used to the idea, same as we’ve had to.
Damn it! We’re the kids, Danny. Us. We’re the ones she should be looking after…..”
In the beginning, in the first few months after dad took off, we’d had that conversation nearly every day, me and Sal. About how mum should be looking after us.
But lately she’d given up arguing with me about it. She just wanted to get on with things. Which I guess is the right way to deal with things sometimes.
So now, come Saturday, she’d let me hang around with her and her friends in town. When dad was still around, I was the annoying kid sister, and she kept me well away. But now she was determined to keep me out of the house, away from “all the crap in there that just gets you down.”
“Just don’t get in the way, okay?”
That was her only rule.
Which was fine by me. I would sit there and watch her goofing around. Talking about boys, music, the usual stupid gossip. It seemed exciting somehow. A nice distraction.
Because when I was alone, I’d think about him too much. Why it was he left.
I’d started to think that maybe it wasn’t really about love after all. That it was just the way he was. He was just one of those people that didn’t really need anyone. He had that distance about him, that way of disengaging himself from all the people, all the things, around him. Like the way he would sit in the living room, staring at nothing. Just thinking about things. And you could move around in the room without him ever noticing you were there. And talking to him was pointless, because whatever it was that was in his head, it distracted him too much.
I think he tried to stay. Tried as long as he could. But in the end, he just couldn’t do it.
Being with us made him sad. It really did. But I don’t know what to think about that. Whether that makes what he did a good thing or not.
Sal though, she never talks about him. It’s the one subject of conversation that’s off limits. I think she just wants to pretend that he isn’t really gone.
She loves him too much, that’s the problem. Even when he left, she never got angry with him. Never blamed him for leaving.
“I just wish he’d taken us with him. Why didn’t he take us with him?”
Sometimes I’d want to tell her what I thought. Tell her that there was nothing we could ever have done to get him to stay with us. That he didn’t need us enough, love us enough, to want to stay.
“I dunno” was all I could muster as a reply.
“ And anyway, Sal, does it really matter? I mean, we’re here now and there’s nothing much we can do about it.”
“What! Don’t be stupid. Of course it matters. Why does things have to be like this? I don’t want things to be like this….”
“You really think being with him would be better?”
“Could it get any worse?”
“Gee, thanks a lot…”
“Ah come on Danny, you know I don’t mean it like that. I just mean…I dunno. I just wish we were all together still, you know?”
“You dunno. What, you mean you like this then? This tip-toeing around trying not to upset her? Dad abandoning us like that. This…this whole load of bullshit misery that we have to put up with. You like this?”
“But it’s not all her fault, Sal. It’s really not all her fault. You have to admit that one day. Really, one day you’re going to have to think about that. He left us, remember? He did this to us. To her. Why do you have to go blaming her for it all the time? ….”
“I’m not blaming her Danny. It’s just .. we’re in a mess. Right now. Everything is just a mess and she has to help us now. Why can’t you see that?”
And she was right of course. There were some mornings when I’d go in to her room and she’d be sitting in the chair by the window, just gazing down at the street. All rumpled and exhausted looking from having sat there all night. And she would barely acknowledge me. Would look at me for the briefest of seconds, then turn her gaze to the widow again, as if my being there didn’t matter.
And that’s when I would long to throw the cup across the room and simply scream at her. Scream at her to get up, get out, get moving, just do something. Just realise that we all knew it wasn’t her fault. That it was okay to feel hurt by it all, but that, at some point, it had to be gone. That something like life would have to get started again.
Then she’d look at me, frail and disoriented, and I’d feel ashamed that there was so much anger in me.
“Everything okay, mum?”
“Yeah. I’m okay.”
“You look a little tired. Maybe you should get some sleep? Why don’t you go back to bed?”
And I’d help her in. Tuck her up like a small child. Pull the sheets up around her, like she used to do for me when I was a tiny kid and needed comforting.
Sometimes this was enough to make her smile, and that’s when I would start to think that perhaps sadness was something that had a limit to it after all. Even for her.
“What you worrying about, sis?”
“Sorry, didn’t mean to give you a fright.”
“Nah, it’s okay. I was just sitting here keeping myself out of the way is all.”
“Yeah, yeah, very funny. Honest though, you look worried.”
“Yeah. Is it mum?”
“What did you mean this morning? When you said she was different?”
“Ah, nothing. It was just something I said to her is all.”
“She said she would maybe go out today. And I laughed at her.”
“Shit, really? She said that?”
“Yeah, and I just laughed. Shit Sal, what did I have to go and laugh at her for?”
“Come on, she knows you’d never mean anything cruel by it.”
“But it is cruel. I mean, ever since dad left we’ve been waiting for her to shake herself out of it. And then today she goes and says something like that and I just laugh. As if the very idea of her even thinking about recovering is just pathetic or unbelievable or something.”
“Shall we go home then? Check she’s all right?”
“Yeah, maybe. You stay here though. I can do it myself.”
“Hey, we’re in this together, okay?”
“Yeah. Come on, let’s go.”
We walked back in silence. Both of us imagining something terrible. Slowing down as we got closer to home, suddenly unsure if we wanted to get there. Neither of us saying anything in case the very saying of it would make our fears real.
When we turned onto our street, that was when we saw her.
She was standing on the front lawn, barefoot and wearing her nightdress. Her face turned upwards towards the sun.
She was smiling.
It was Sal who went up to her. Put a hand on her shoulder.
“Sal, Danny. It really is a beautiful day, eh?”