Wednesday, June 12, 2013
'Don't talk about him in the past tense!' I pipe up from the couch where I pretended to watch TV. Even now, the
sound of my own voice startles me and I have to work hard to fight back the tears. I'd save that for later.
'Aw hun, I didn't mean...I, uh...', Dad fumbles to say the right thing, and starts walking from where he stood at the worktop towards me. I curl up tighter. 'Don't come near me', I think, but manage to stop myself. I know they have my best interest at heart. So everyone says.
'Whatever', I roll my eyes. I reach for the remote and turn up the volume. Dad takes the hint and retreats to where he was.
From the corner of my eye, I see Linda pat his shoulder. Such understanding, such empathy! She continues chopping peppers, and hands the salad bowl to Dad, just to give him something to do. Colourful images are flashing noisily before me on the screen but I can't tune in. I want to go to my room, where I can lie in darkness in peace, but I can't get up to go.
Dad and Linda continue to discuss something but I can't hear with the noise of the TV. I want to know what they're
saying but I don't want to appear interested. I wriggle out of the couch and skulk past them to the bathroom.
'Hey, Jules, dinner's nearly ready. Don't go too far!' Linda says, brightly.
'...the bathroom', I mumble, closing the door behind me louder than I actually meant, leaving an angry echo in my wake.
The house feels too small these last few weeks and time seems to have expanded. I look at myself in the mirror and see death staring back at me. I slump back toward the kitchen where Linda is plating up the spaghetti and pull out the table to get in to my spot against the wall. I refuse to sit in his place.
'Thanks', I manage when Linda passes me my plate.
'Hungry?' asks Dad, tentatively.
I sort of nod, and focus on eating, though know they are watching me. We eat in silence, the scraping of forks on
plates depressingly loud. Dad picks up the bottle on the table, drawing it in to examine the label, as if he knew about wine. He only started drinking wine a few years ago, when he met Linda, and now wine at the weekend has become their little ritual. I feel my teeth clench at their indifference. They're carrying on as if everything is fine.
'A good vintage, is it?' I say scathingly. 'Meet your approval, does it?'
'Ah, come on now, Jules', Linda says, 'we have to get on with our lives. We all do'.
She holds her fork down, and looks me square in the face, eyes all big and imploring. I look down. More scraping and cutting.
'Well, actually...', dad says after a while, 'it's not as nice as the South African version. Must remember that for again'.
Suddenly I'm crying. Tears streaming down my face. I brush them away with my sleeve, but cannot stop them.
'Sorry Jules, that was my stupid attempt at humour! I'm sorry'. Dad's big hand is on my arm and now I'm sobbing. Big loud sobs, shaking my whole body.
Dad awkwardly scrapes his chair back, and stands up. He leans over me, drawing me against him in a hug. I can feel him quietly sobbing too.
'I'm sorry, I'm sorry', I manage between sobs.
'Sh, sh', says Dad.
Linda sits across from us, hands in a prayer over her mouth, head down. It's not her place to intervene just now. She knows that and respects it. And this is the first time I've felt as though I want her to.
'Why did he have to go, Dad?'
Dad just rocks me in his big arms. I feel his body heaving with sobs, but he holds me tight, not wanting me to see. But I know. It's the first time I've ever known him to cry.
Later in my room, I hold the origami bird he made for me. He was always good with his hands. 'Not good at much else', he'd joke, 'but books and learning isn't for everyone'.
He had a reputation, my brother, as the toughie, always in trouble. But holding the feather light paper bird, letting it sit gently on my palm, it's top-heavy head bobbing down, I knew he was soft inside.
I remember him, only days before he left, sitting with me, patiently showing me how to fold the bits of paper. It took me several attempts to get it, and even then it looked more like a rocket than a bird.
'It's stupid', I said.
'It's beautiful, eh?' he said. 'Good job, kid'.
I gave it shyly to him, saying nothing, just placing it into his hand. I expected him to reject it.
'Thanks, Babyface! And in that case...' he trailied off as he handed his one to me. '...for you'
Gazing at the bird now, I imagine him swimming in blue beaches in the Far East, I picture him wandering about in a thick forest in South America, I see him sitting around a campfire in Africa. He's smiling broadly, his body is relaxed. He's abandoned all the stuff he hated, all the stuff that kept him down, and he's free now, free as a bird.