The argument in the car starts the same way that it always does. One brother’s arm around another’s shoulders, the two are wrestling, both are laughing, the Floppy Adolescent uses too much force, and the The Future Prime Minister screams. It is as if it has been scripted, except…
‘It’s different with you here,’ I say to the mister. ‘Usually The Floppy Adolescent sits in the front. They can argue, but they can’t wrestle.’
This is how it has been since he arrived. He doesn’t know where to sit or where to stand. I have to take dresses from coat hangers so he can hang his suit. In Abu Dhabi I slept on the left and here I sleep on the right. I have chosen the plates, the glasses, the sheets. And now we are in my car. I did the test drive, negotiated the price (remembered to ask for the tow bar and capped price servicing), arranged the money, drove it out of the showroom. I didn’t notice the missing backseat arguments until they returned.
‘Can you change these lightbulbs while you’re here?’ I asked when he arrived. ‘Can you hang the cork board? Can you buy a rake and a broom and deal with the leaves?’
I can do all these things, of course I can. I can change lightbulbs, drill holes, rake leaves. But spending too much money makes me anxious and going up ladders makes me heave.
‘Have you got your passport?’ I ask now.
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he says, ‘I guess it’s in my bag.’
‘You haven’t checked? I would have checked.’
‘You would have double-checked.’ A voice from the back seat.
‘She would have triple-checked.’ His brother.
Even airports are more relaxed on Sunday mornings. The place is full, but no one is running across from the carpark or pushing their way to the front of the queue.
‘Wish I was getting on a plane and going to Spain,’ I say.
‘Well,’ the mister says, ‘Come through Abu Dhabi on the way and we can go to Spain.’
‘Oh, no, I want to go alone.’
He laughs. It is a proper laugh and I wonder how he does it. How he loves a person who is so often absent, who so often retreats. It seems never to injure his love for me, never to bruise his heart.
Anyway, it isn’t true. I don’t want to go to Spain. The thought of that takes me by surprise, although the truth of it does not. It is time for me to be still. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? That’s why I’ve moved back to Adelaide. To bury my roots in something more than sand.
‘Coffee?’ asks the mister.
‘Is there a Subway?’ asks the Floppy Adolescent.
They line up at Cibo I go to the newsagent. I think of the many nights ahead and buy The Saturday Paper, The New Scientist, The New Yorker, The Guardian Weekly, and Adam Spencer’s Big Book of Numbers. I know, right? As if.
‘Have a good journey,’ the woman behind the counter says to me.
‘Oh, I’m not…’ I stop, because I don’t have the energy to explain and because she isn’t interested in my explanations. ‘Thanks.’
I go back to Cibo’s. The hot chocolate is as good as it ever is, the cheese in the piadina is melted the perfect amount, but the cafe latte is more of a miss than a hit.
And then we are standing at the gate and the final passengers are boarding.
How did it happen? How did we come to this place where we would be spending our lives together but living apart?
‘It’s not the life I would have chosen.’ I have heard myself saying it over cups of coffee and glasses of wine. It’s true to say it’s not what we planned and that even two months ago we didn’t know we’d be living like this. But it’s not the life I would have chosen? I don’t know if that’s true, because what life would I choose? Which decisions would I make differently? Which fingers of fate would I pray to change direction?
We watch as the mister crosses the airbridge. He does not look back. I watch as he lifts his hand, rubs it across his forehead and over the back of his head.
I cannot catch my breath.
‘It’s all right, Mum.’
The lads close in around me. The Future Prime Minister starts to talk and The Floppy Adolescent rubs my back.
On our way out, we pass a man the mister used to know. He has put on weight, his hair has thinned, his corduroy jacket is brown. I think of going to see him, but forks in the road and paths not chosen. Too exhausting.
The Future Prime Minister is still talking, the Floppy Adolescent rubbing my back.
We get in the car and partly because we have to take care of each other now, but mostly because there is one in the front and one in the back, there are no sibling arguments.
I drive and soon we are home.
The key in the lock, the door is open.
The cork board has not been hung.
The lightbulbs have not been changed.
Leaves, blown by the wind, scrape across the verandah and into the foyer.
My love is flying and I am still.