The following story is by guest author Melissa Goode. Melissa is an Australian writer living in the Blue Mountains just outside of Sydney. She has had stories published in Best Australian Short Stories and by The Fiction Desk, Crannog and Word Hut. A short film has been made of one of her short stories by the production company Jungleboys. She is currently working on my first novel.
“What happened to Mikey?” she says.
He watches her. “Michael.”
She shrugs. “He’s only three, isn’t he? He can be Mikey for now.”
“His name is Michael. After my Dad.”
The notion of his Dad once being a Mikey is laughable.
“Okay. Michael. What happened?”
And he is tempted to say, what do you mean? Because he would like to hear her struggle to articulate it, but he knows she would just call it the way she sees it, maybe even do a hand motion to demonstrate that he isn’t quite right.
“He has special needs,” he says, hating that term.
“Dave. I can see that.”
“Hasn’t Violet told you?”
“Oh man, why is it like pulling teeth?”
“A lack of oxygen at birth,” he says. “The umbilical cord was tied around his neck. He almost died.”
He wants to yell at her, what do you mean poor Violet? What about me?
She sighs. “Poor you,” she says.
“Thank you very fucking much.”
She narrows her eyes at him. “What’s that for?”
He is shaking his head like he cannot stop. “Fuck. Hannah. Nothing. Fucking nothing at all.”
“I was waiting for it,” she says. “You being pissed off. I guess you didn’t miss me when I was away, did you? You were just pissed off with me.”
He takes a very deep breath.
He wants to say, ‘away’? Is that what you call it? None of them knew that she would ever come back. So here he is, a married man. Married to her friend, Violet, as it turns out, and living in the suburbs of Little Rock with a child who breaks his heart every minute and a mortgage that is very nearly unbearable.
And here she is, with her nose changed in some slight but very crucial way, and a terrible US/UK blended accent. Transatlantic, he thinks that’s what it’s called. Anyway, it’s appalling. That’s what seven years ‘away’ does to a person, it changes their face, their voice and who knows what else?
She sent postcards from London for a time. Postcards of things she knew meant nothing to him: the royal family, Buckingham Palace, or a seagull sitting on a statue of Winston Churchill. And she barely wrote on the cards, just a word or two, like “Still here!!!” She would have thought it ironic sending him those postcards. It just felt cruel to him.
But she is smiling at him now, in that same way, that has him remembering. Her teeth very slightly caved into her mouth. That smile. When she was with him, she was like a weight in his chest, at once exhilarating and suffocating, because he knew she would leave him. And she did.
Violet will soon call him from the kitchen, because Michael will be driving her spare as she throws together their dinner from whatever is in the pantry and the freezer, as Hannah arrived unexpectedly and at dinner time too. Violet, pregnant again, heavily, and breathing through her mouth. Her feet and hands swollen beyond recognition.
At some point during dinner Violet will say, “to hell with it” and throw a glass of wine down her throat. It is how most of her decisions are made now: to hell with it. She probably thinks that if she drinks it quickly it won’t absorb into the bloodstream, into the umbilical cord. For they have had quite enough of umbilical cords, actually, but here they go again.