This story is by Lisa Yew and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
When I return from school drop off, my morning monologue is still reverberating in the deathly quiet: ‘Who wants Vegemite? …Jam? Everyone have hats? Where are your shoes?’
I pick up stray socks on the way to the kitchen, and flip on the kettle. Though I have my back turned to the bench, it calls me to clear it; liberally scattered with four milky bowls, cups and a decent handful of Crunchy Flakes.
I’m so tired. If I were working- how could I work? The cheapest place to live, a studio? For five of us? I pull out a mug and pick a teabag. Still need a job. I pour the water and take a sip. I could stay. Ouch. No! What does that teach them? Can’t leave, can’t provide. He’ll get custody, he’ll find someone else, he doesn’t care. Someone good, I’ll give him that. He’ll do it to her too. No. She’ll know how to handle him. Yes, she’ll know. I don’t play with them anymore. She’ll take them to the park. And I’ll be in paradise. They’re better off witho-
Shouldn’t have gone this far. I grab the phone and careen into the bathroom. Twice I try to dial, but fail. I slide onto the floor.
The tiles are cold. What does it matter? Silent tears cascade over my frozen face.
‘Lord God, I can’t do it anymore. I’m coming.’
My thoughts relax into forbidden places.
Power swells, and I know he is there. Jesus. He doesn’t want me to die.
Can’t die. Can’t live.
How? Help me.
Unbidden, an image of a child finding my body flashes in my mind.
‘Do what it takes to stay alive,’ he tells me.
Jeremy comes home and I tell him I want to die and I don’t want to. He sees my haggard face, and says, ‘That’s your problem.’
I go to a new church, separate from him, where I meet Audrey. We hit it off. I haven’t been on many coffee dates, but Audrey’s already taken me on four.
One day she invites me into her home. Sunlight caresses white and wooden furnishings; I keep expecting photographers from Home Beautiful to burst in.
I could tell her. How though? Everything is a nothing. But each nothing, a mere drop of water, combined make a waterfall. Will she listen long enough to see a waterfall? An invisible waterfall? Me, drowning?
I catch Audrey looking at me as she hands me my tea, so I smile.
‘These look good,’
‘Lentil crackers, I’ve just discovered them. Try one.’
I pop one in my mouth. ‘Mmmm.’
Audrey’s smile wanes. ‘Everything ok?’
‘Jeremy- It’s nothing, really.’
‘That time I came to pick you up, when Jeremy walks in and says “Oh!” and I thought “These guys aren’t communicating.”‘
‘Yeah, well…’ He knew we were going out. That’s why he was late back. To avoid kid duty.
‘I like what you’ve done- you must be happy with the renovations,’ I look up at the carved wooden molding that frames the archway. She follows my gaze, ‘That was actually from eBay.’
‘We don’t think of it as our house though; it’s God’s, and we use it to help others.’
She swallows some tea.
‘Those front rooms? If you ever need to, you can stay here with the kids. We’ll put up some beds. You and the kids can stay for as long as you like.’
‘I don’t think it’s as bad as that, but thank you.’
We chat about nothing in particular until the afternoon melts away, and the kids start trickling in scratching mosquito bites.
‘Look at the time. I should get going.’ We locating stray jackets and headbands and shoes, and say our goodbyes.
The kids are running down the driveway, but I wheel around and stride back to Audrey mouthing the words, ‘I can’t go home.’
Audrey gives a small nod and sweeps past me.
‘Hey guys, I have some hokey-pokey ice cream in the freezer, what do you say we pop on a movie and crack it open?’
Movie on and kids settled, Audrey and I sit at the kitchen table.
‘We don’t have toothbrushes or anything.’
‘It’s alright, we’ll figure something out. What’s happening?’
‘Jeremy, everything, even the nice things, he always brings me down.’
‘He buys me lilies- I’ve told him I don’t care for flowers, but he keeps buying flowers, and I keep saying thanks. Then, I told him my favorites are tulips. He bought me lilies, but a friend’s dad died and he bought her tulips. I can’t complain, because he’s being nice, he’s buying me flowers.’
‘I’m not much fun anymore, and I’m not keeping up with the housework, but he can’t run off with someone else. How would that look for a pastor. I told him I wanted to die, and he didn’t care. Problem’s solved if I snuff it.’
Audrey gives her head a tiny shake.
‘But I’ve been getting better. He never says I can’t go out, he just pouts when I do, so normally I stay home, but these last four months I’ve been going anyway.’
‘But I don’t know… I’ll pay for it’
‘What do you mean?’
‘There’s this overseas wedding, one of his cousins or something. He’s been going to the travel agent to plan-it’s this big month long affair. But he’s been to the “travel agent” around fifteen times now, and each time he spends three or four hours there. I can’t see an itinerary, he says it’s not finalised yet. Haven’t seen an invite either. Apparently “It’s around somewhere.”‘
‘What are you thinking?’
‘I think he’s planning to take the kids and make a new life overseas. It’s pretty far fetched, but if he left with them- I’ve got no way of finding them. No names, addresses, nothing. If I’m right- it’s too much of a risk.’
‘We need to go to the police. We need to put a stop at the airport.’
We go, but the officers say there’s nothing they can do. Audrey’s husband introduces me to a colleague who starts the legal process for an airport stop.
Audrey let us stay ‘for a sleepover’, then another, then another. I keep guessing at what he’ll do; how far he’ll go. Over three days I sleep only half a night, and that is with the aid of sleep tablets. I don’t eat, except when Audrey watches me finish a piece of toast or an egg with veggies.
I think back to our visit to the police. The officers had tears in their eyes. They believed me. If they could, they would do something.
Then I notice it when Audrey comes back from the shops. Her words are unnatural. I hug her, and feel a line down her back. Also, the white curtains have been taken down.
‘Who are you?’ I say.
‘Lisa, It’s me, Audrey!’
‘No, I’m talking to the person on the other end of the wire you’re wearing.’
There is a pause. ‘I’m not wearing a wire.’
I raise my eyebrows.
Another pause. ‘OK, who do you think I am?’
I watch her reaction closely. She’s obviously seen them, and I can read her like Dr Seuss.
‘Police? Lawyer? Both!’
‘Why do you think I’m wearing a wire?’
‘I think you’re investigating my story.’ It’s only subtle, but Audrey’s face tells me I’m on the right track. ‘You’re watching through the windows; you see that I’m not making this up; you’re getting evidence for the courts.’
‘I’m worried about you,’ Her response is more natural. It’s Audrey speaking now.
‘I know, I haven’t been able to sleep.’
‘Are you tired?’
‘No, I’m wired. What do you think I should do?’
There’s a pause. ‘I think we should go to emergency and get you checked out.’
We drive to the hospital and tell the nurse my story. She and Audrey accompany me to double locked doors. Audrey says good bye as I’m escorted through to a room with a bed, a little table and chair, a cupboard, a strong smell of urine and nothing else.
Audrey has packed for me some of her own things. I take out the shampoo, my drink bottle, and a hospital towel, and get on my hands and knees.
I scrub every centimeter of lino. Shouldn’t have let on about the wires. A mental hospital! Suppose it’s cost effective surveillance.
Audrey visits every few days. She does my washing, prays for me, tells me about the kids. I say my mum could look after them. She looks at me.
‘The doctors don’t want me to tell you, but it’s come up, and I’m not going to lie.’
‘The kids are with Jeremy.’
I see nurses behind the glass office wall that protects them from me. A stale coffee ring stains the table top. It’s meant to be a ring, but it’s not complete. It’s defective.
‘Are you OK?’
‘The kids are with Jeremy. Either the courts have ruled that he’s safe-.’
Audrey ‘s eyes are shining.
‘Or there was no police investigation. No wires.’
She shakes her head.
‘Then I’m insane.’
‘No,’ she says, ‘No you’re not insane. You’re just-‘
‘I was acting as if there was someone on a wire was telling you what to say, I’m insane. ’ My voice is rising, ‘I can’t do being crazy.’ Shoulders shaking, tears splash out. If people find out what I am-
And she’s still here.
In time I let Jeremy visit. He seems happy to see me, seems genuine. In time, I’m let out of the hospital. I sleep a lot, unable to get up for the kids in the morning, and I while away the days in a haze. Conversations are hard, so I keep to myself. The carpets get crunchier, and objects around the house obey the second law of thermodynamics. In time, I start to come off the medication, blinking in a body that’s one year older, and ten kilos heavier.
Audrey invites me out for coffee. She asks how I’m going, and I tell her I’m coming off the medication. She’s really glad for me, and tells me that God has been kind. It’s a slap. I drive home and collapse onto the bed.
It’s like I’ve been dropped in the middle of a thriller, but I’m doing it, I’m finding a way out, then some moron jumps out and says, ‘Just kidding,’ and I want to throttle them, but I can’t because that moron is me. And I want to avoid Audrey, Jeremy, myself, because I’m a liar, and I want to yell at them until they understand that I really believed it, but they already do. And I know Audrey is right, God has been kind. I’m no longer suicidal or psychotic; the kids have bright futures; my husband loves me despite me leaving him- But I’ve got my party hat on, there’s bean dip left, and I’m not finished feeling sorry for myself. I need some meaning to it all. I need to achieve the impossible but I’m not extraordinary enough; to overcome some great odds but I’m not unfortunate enough.
Jeremy comes and lies with me. My thoughts plummet down that well-worn track, though it’s now devoid of hellish allure.
‘I’m just a blob that takes up space. Why shouldn’t I die?’
Jeremy hugs me. ‘Because we’d miss you. You complete our family.’
Stay alive. Slumped on that cold bathroom floor it was impossible, but now- The lights come on, revealing me in an empty room, peeling a crusted bean skin off the bottom of the bowl with a cracker crumb. I take off my pointed hat and look for the exit.
And I see myself one morning in the future, sitting with a cup of tea, listening to the sounds of the birds; the wind; the traffic. And I smile, because after school, I’ll take the kids to the park.