We grew up in the countryside because my father hated people too much to be around them for more than an hour or two each week. It was desolate, ugly, and dead quiet. There was no radio, TV, nor internet when that eventually came. My father said it would make us stupid. It was so quiet that there wasn’t a sound you could ignore.
Certain sounds hang around like a scent caught in your fingernails, or your least favourite jacket. A pair of these sounds are back now, burning through my skull. It was a Sunday and it was summer. It was the day before I turned eleven. I heard something in the early morning, when everything is still black and cold. I went back to sleep. I don’t remember that sound, only the feeling of it. When I woke up and went downstairs, my mother was not there. It was my birthday and the kitchen was empty. The whole inside of the house was silent. Al was away for the weekend with his friends for an end-of-high-school ritual that I knew even then, was just an excuse to get high away from our parents.
From the edge of the lounge room, I saw my father in the backyard. The yellow haze of a beautiful day blurred his figure in the dirty window. I saw something I’d only seen once before. He was working at a stone shed he’d always talked about finishing, but never getting around to working on. I felt terrified as I watched him lift stones and reach into his bucket for more mix. I couldn’t open the door. I just went back to my room. I had never smoked a cigarette, but I’d been saving up single cigarettes for a long time. I stole them carefully and stock piled them, until I had about a thirty at this stage. A whole school year’s worth as a Birthday present for myself. The morning passed, as did midday and early afternoon. My father didn’t stop working. He took no breaks, except to drink wine and stare into the sun. I sat on my bed looking down at him through my window. I smoked all of the cigarettes because I didn’t want to have to do anything else. The sound of cigarettes fizzing their way into ash was mixed with bricks smashing together. It was all I heard all day. The fizzing, the groaning, and the smashing, again and again. The last time my Dad had worked on that shed was the day his sister died, three years earlier.
When the sun finally faded, he stopped his work and sat down. Dad’s wine was gone and so were my cigarettes. I saw Dad walk toward the house and stood up to go meet him. It was two steps to my door, then another three to the stairs. I made it four and fell all the way down into blackness. When I woke up, I was in hospital. Dad was standing over me; mad from the waiting or something I didn’t understand at the time.
“Your mother is dead, and I have to pay for everything” he said.“She left us in the morning while I was out cold. The postman found her before the sun was even warm”
I wheezed and I wasn’t sure if I was crying or not. It seemed like the only thing in the world that mattered, but I felt like I’d be losing something if I cried.
“And you too. I don’t get a group discount you know? A couple of cigarettes and you’re as weak as a twig by the side of the road”