It was a weird funeral. No hugs. No extended family. One friend. The world’s routines had altered, but my world had changed forever.
I was angry. I didn’t want a farewell. I didn’t want to say goodbye. I didn’t want others to think that they loved him more than me, that they knew him more than me. I had loved him for nineteen years. Only. My grandparents had been married for sixty years. I could have loved him for another forty. I’d been shortchanged.
Around the world (literally) people were watching the livestream. Impersonal. There was to be video footage of people talking about him. As if they had insight. He was my world.
I knew. I knew that he woke up with one strand of hair always facing the wrong direction. I knew that he was incoherent until the first swig of coffee. I knew that most mornings he would sit in his car before running back inside for his phone. I knew that he was angry that Kraft Peanut Butter had been bought out by Bega. I knew that, after twelve years of trying, he cried for a week when our son was born. I knew that he couldn’t grow a decent beard. I knew. I knew. I knew everything. My picture of him was complete.
An old schoolfriend was on the screen, talking about how two young men had climbed the water tower, and etched their initials up the top. How had I never heard this story? I’d loved him for nineteen years, and never knew. I knew he was a larrikin, but this story I never knew.
My sister-in-law was next, remembering how he had traversed the shops for his mother’s favourite lipstick on what would be her last Mother’s Day. I knew he was kind, but this detail I never knew.
A colleague spoke of the Luke Skywalker bobble-head, and how he would add the “May the fourth be with you” to his email signature each year. I knew he was a Star Wars tragic, but these minutiae I never knew.
The night before, my son had confessed that whenever his dad bought petrol, he would buy Slurpees for them both, dumping the containers in a public bin before returning home. I knew he was devoted to our boy, but these special rituals I never knew.
I had been naïve. I didn’t have the complete picture, and probably never would.
His picture had been woven by a lifetime, a short lifetime, of threads. Family was a common thread. Resilience another. Humour a different thread. Over. Under. Over. Under. The weave was complex. The design meticulous.
Kind - over. Star Wars - under. Dad - over. The Sea Eagles - under.
Some threads caused pain. Perfectionism - over. Self-doubt - under.
The same picture looked different to different people, like a Rorschach ink blot.
The funeral was weird, but I saw my picture of him more clearly.
A perfectly imperfect weave.
When I was young, I was scared of the dark. It swirled around my bed like mist, teasing and taunting. Every night, my ear-piercing scream would echo through the house until My Protector (mother, father, brother, anyone) opened the door and told me to put a sock in it, or other unsympathetic advice. I pleaded for the door to be left open, for a sliver of light to bounce off familiar pieces of furniture, dirty clothes on the floor, and the collection of Barbies piled in a basket as though in a mass grave. What I saw, I knew. What I couldn’t see was menacing.
I grew out of it, of course I did. My developed, rational brain understood that the chair in the light was still there in the dark. Logical. Reasoned. Obvious.
When I had children of my own, I grumbled at my husband when he closed Maddie’s door at night. “Just leave it slightly open. It’s not that hard.” Maddie would wake the baby, and the screaming would be passed on from one child to the next, a relay of anguish.
Maddie grew out of it, of course she did. Her developed, rational brain understood that the chair in the light was still there in the dark. Logical. Reasoned. Obvious.
Many, many years later, Maddie and I shared a quaint weatherboard cottage. (Ben shared an apartment with his father.) We cooked comfort food on the old electric stovetop, and grew geraniums near the Narnia lamp-post in the yard. The wallpaper was peeling, the pavers a death-trap, the carpet threadbare. But what we saw, we knew. We loved it. We were happy, childhood fears long forgotten.
We heard it before we felt it, the roar of wind through the valley, the crescendo and crash of thunder in a sinister sky. The old gum toppled over, crumpling the lamp-post, bringing down wires, skimming the side of the house. The sun was setting. What we saw, we knew. But what we saw was menacing.
The sun disappeared, replaced by a dense darkness. It swirled around us like mist, teasing and taunting. We could not see our hands in front of our faces, much less the peeling paint. But we didn’t make a noise. Oh no. We were much too old to be scared of the dark.
And yet I screamed, a primal, silent scream that permeated my being, but soundless. There was no light, but my fear was blinding, electric.
Electric wires arced in the distance, lighting up the street. What we saw we knew. Or did we? What we saw we didn’t recognise. Changed landscapes. Broken homes. Broken people.
We had danced with destruction and desolation, and somehow survived. Unlike the cottage. Unlike the neighbours.
Maddie moved interstate. “A fresh start.”
I was alone.
Dormant fears had been charged, hardwired.
I’m scared of the dark. I’m scared of sounds. I’m scared of life.
I’ve grown into the fear, not out of it.
Thank you for your application for the position…
Another punch in the guts.
Surprisingly, I resist the urge to throw my laptop out the window.
Another bland rejection, wrapped in painful platitudes.
We were impressed by your academic credentials and experience…
Really? Impressed, or confused? Impressed, or nervous?
We congratulate you on progressing to the final round of interviews, but regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful …
Why the regret? You got the person you wanted. (Clearly, not me.) Do you regret the administrivia of human resources? Or just that you have the uncomfortable duty of delivering disappointment? Why bother me with your regret? I don’t feel sorry for you.
We wish you the best in your future endeavours…
Yeah, right. Why didn’t you just kick me out, slam the door, and shout ‘Good luck’ from your window? Same degree of sincerity.
I make myself a coffee and flick through Instagram in a futile attempt to distract myself.
In my mind’s eye, I see myself walk, then run, out the door, down the street, across the state, the country… Just running. Like Forest Gump. Run. Run. Run. I want to be anywhere but here.
I toss most of the coffee down the sink. My insides are churning, and the coffee's not helping.
I mentally write a truthful rejection letter:
Someone like you is very brave to apply here.
We were impressed that you finished High School, let alone University. Surely you are aware that your experience in a hick country town counts for nothing. We put you into the second round of interviews, to avoid any bad PR if you thought we were being discriminatory. However, I’m sure you won’t be surprised that you didn’t get the job.
Good luck in the future. You’re going to need it if you want to work in big city firm like this.
I refuse to embrace the stereotype, so I drown my sorrows with tap water. Four rejections in three weeks. I’m ready to break free from here, but feel encased by the preconceptions of others.
I flick on the TV.
Continuing coverage of protests. Everywhere.
I open the CV that whispered 'unworthy'.
Academic results are strong, but the University is not elite. Promotions showcase my potential, but only in rural NSW.
Success is a mirage.
I glance at the TV and see courage personified. Disappointment, injustice, rage – all fuelling this moment, propelling fairness and equality into the collective consciousness.
Inspired, I take anot44her swig of tap water and open Seek.
Courage takes guts.
swinburne microfiction challenge
Part of the Emerging Writers Festival