HILARY stared through the window to the street, at the parking meters, the trees shackled by the footpath. Cars went by in a blur unless halted by cross traffic down the road. It used to be so quiet. She held a mug of tepid tea and looked into it as she brought it to her lips. From the lowering sun, a shaft of light flared on its surface. She glanced up and her face looked back from the window glass, nostrils flaring with disapproval.
She felt it inside, this disapproval, this murmur of unease. She had no idea what initiated it. When did it start? It seemed that she’d always felt like this. She couldn’t remember it otherwise.
An impulse to turn away gathered momentum though she could have just as well and just as happily stood there all day. Stretching her mind, the parts of it that still lived, to some place other than here. Other than now. Some place happy. Some place before.
As her muscles gathered a person appeared from behind the hedge reaching for the gate latch and just like that a notion fell into her head. Shop. Peter is taking me shopping.
But it was a woman who pushed the gate aside knowing it would grind and catch on the uneven pavers. She was tall, narrowhipped, attractive with long auburn hair grazing her shoulders. She stopped halfway to the porch distracted by the garden. She wandered off the path, broke off a few dead and dying flower stalks letting them drop to the ground, kicked at the neglected soil then resumed her way brushing her hands on her jeans.
Hilary backed away from the window and looked toward the front door as a key scratched at the lock.
“Mum? Mum it’s me are you ready?”
Hilary put her hand to her chest. This person was not unfamiliar.
“Who…. are you …..?” Her breath grew rapid. Her voice wavered. Jennifer stopped in her tracks, tossed her bag on an armchair by the door. She looked warily at Hilary who stood stiff and wideeyed.
“Are you okay, mum?”
Jennifer reached out to hug her.
“It’s your birthday tomorrow. I want to get you something really nice. Come on now.”
Hilary pushed ineffectually at Jennifer’s chest. “I want Peter. I want my son. Who are you?”
Jennifer swallowed, softened her tone. “I’m your daughter, mum. Peter’s not. He’s not with us anymore.”
Hilary gasped. Her hands fisted and flew to her temples, tears sprang to her eyes. “Not with us? Where is he? What happened?”
Jennifer again moved to embrace the frail form that threatened to keel over in front of her, tried to push down her own panic, the void blooming in her gut.
“It’s alright. Sit down mum, sit down.”
She manoeuvred Hilary onto the lounge. Patted the back of her hand. Brought it to her cheek to feel the papery softness of the ageing skin. Such trials they had endured together. Long periods of silence, mutual recrimination, screaming matches enough to set the neighbour’s dog barking. Denial. Gradual acceptance. A truce and a relationship of sorts.
“It’s been 20 years, mum.”
“Twenty years? What?”
“Tea. I’ll make us a cuppa. Here. I brought you a Weekly. Look. Here’s Princess Mary with the twins…”
Jennifer made tea while Hilary sat rocking, humming, occasionally turning to watch suspiciously.
Jennifer’s hands shook, the cups and saucers rattled on the tray as she set it down.
Hilary perked up. A wide smile transformed her features. “I know who you are? You’re my mother!”
“I’m your daughter, mum. I’m Jennifer.”
Hilary laughed. “Don’t be silly. I don’t have a daughter. I only have one child. A son. Where is he mum?”
Jennifer took a folder from the bureau drawer. She sat next to her mother and opened the Memory Book.
“Look mum. I was Peter… this is me. Before…”
Hilary ran her fingers over the image. Looked up into Jennifer’s wet sad eyes.
“I want Peter….”
Jennifer was about to lose her mother all over again.
And Hilary her son.
All over again.
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**This story was first published in the May edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a physical copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional/coastal areas.