Dad drives me to Gran’s house, even though it’s ten minutes on a bus and I’ve been there a million times.
It’s just for a few weeks, he says.
I’ve got two suitcases. One has my favourite jeans and some t-shirts and homework in it. School says I don’t have to do any. Special consideration, they said. But exams are in two months and like hell I’m going to end up working at Maccas my whole life.
The other suitcase is a little blue one I found in the attic room. It’s not a proper suitcase. Feels like it’s made of cardboard. I just put some stuff in it that I wanted to have nearby. Just a few drawings. A thimble. A bit of her hair. No one knows I’ve got that.
Dad gets the paintings from the car.
Gran comes out and she’s got mum’s jumper on. The grey one with holes where she put her thumbs. I hug Gran as tight as I can and all I can smell is her—mum, the salt and turps and sunlight.
I start crying, of course. I feel like a dickhead. Gran is really squeezing me but what can she do about it? Mum is still dead. I feel like stamping my feet. Like if I throw a bit tantrum, someone will fix it.
I feel other things too, while I’m breathing all of mum’s smells. Little bits of stuff I had pushed out. Like the time we stole a boat. And the time she found a stingray. And the time, and the time. I think about all these times at once and for a second I think I stop breathing.
Gran gets me started again.
Then there’s this part of me way way way down that’s nagging at me. It’s going, at least I can stop worrying.
Because that’s the thing, isn’t it.
I think about all the times I got to the front door and wouldn’t open it because I was scared of what I would find on the other side.
Dad goes home. He has to pack up the beach house so he can sell it. He says with Fleur gone and him offshore all the time there’s no point in having a big house like that. I haven’t asked him where I’m supposed to live but I guess he’ll figure it out.
Gran has a big lounge room with a piano in it. That’s my favourite thing about her house. I can’t even play the piano but I like the way it sounds when I click my fingernails on the keys.
She gets us some raspberry tartlets and we watch Catch Phrase with Baby John Burgess. Gran likes his moustache. I don’t get any of the catch phrases.
She asks me if I want any dinner but I don’t. I just want to go to bed. I’ve slept in the bed so many times it feels like my bed anyway.
The sun hasn’t set yet but she washes my feet and gives me apple slices with the skin taken off.
She says, She loved you so much, and I say, I know.
Mum is everywhere here, in Gran’s house. It smells like her. Like her skin is right next to me. Like rosemary and butter and turps. Gran’s closed off half the hallway but I see mum in there. Grey. Purple. Orange. When Gran talks I can hear her. Like genetics. Their voices are the same. If I called Gran it would be like mum was just on the other end of the phone. In the mornings I look in the mirror and I see mum there too. I blink at myself and my eyes go up and down like hers. Sometimes I squint and she’s there and I’m not. But she’s crying. Or I’m crying.
Gran doesn’t cry.
She didn’t even cry when I showed her the note. Even at the bit that said, Look after my girls. She just folded it and gave it back to me and I put it in the blue suitcase.
I make her green scrambled eggs and get them all the way on the plate before I remember they’re mum’s favourite.
They go in the garbage disposal.
I make a couple of pieces of Vegemite toast and take them upstairs. Sometimes I forget how big the house is. All the hallways feel like they’re going to suck me into them, like the emptiness of them will just swallow me up.
Gran’s room is on the second storey. It overlooks the park with the pond. Sometimes when I look out the window I see a woman pushing a girl on a swing and she’s singing, She floats through the air with the greatest of ease.
I was never even on a flying trapeze but sometimes it felt like it.
I’ve eaten one of the bits of toast. I feel sort of bad giving Gran the leftover bit but I look into her bedroom and see her there. Pressed against the wall in her pink nightie.
I made you some toast, I say.
She says, You don’t have to take care of me, Heather.
It happens all at once then. My whole chest constricts. Really, like there’s a snake wrapped around it.
Don’t cry, she says.
But I do. I look at the ceiling and she has her old hands on my shoulders and I pull on the windowsill and cry and cry until my eyes are burning and the air is coming into me in a big rush.
Gran goes, Shhh, and I exhale until I’m empty.
And I say, I’m just so relieved.
And I can hear it beating, the drum, the end.
And the paint is running.
And she says, There you are, my beautiful girl.
And here I am.