The traffic on the way home was busy. It was a Friday evening and everyone was rushing to get home from work. The dark clouds above looked ominous as I sat in a mile long queue for the lights. I wondered what Edan was doing. I imagined her telling the girls to do their homework. I imagined the sulky looks on their faces as they reluctantly stormed into their rooms. Ron wouldn’t care less, he would just put his earphones in and play computer games. How he could never get bored of it was beyond me. Edan holds school highly. She believes that success is gained through your level of education, social status and salary. When we first met, some 18 years ago, I believed this too. Mainly because I was so in love with her that I never disagreed with any view that she shared with me. But lately that has been changing. I feel there is more to success that that.
I reached for the vanilla drink the lady had so intently sold to me at the market. Not bad, I thought. Tasty, organic, and refreshing. Maybe science is right.
The car in front of me started to move. A blue Holden. I’m not very in sync with the car world, but I was pretty sure it was a commodore. Terry would know if he were here. For the last 10 years I’ve put up with his rants about all the new models. Or the old ones. Whichever topic took his fancy on the given day. He had a hobby of buying old, run-down cars and doing them up. Most of the time he got so attached to them that he didn’t want to sell them again. But Siobhan, that’s his wife, threatened that she would walk out unless he sold them all. Poor Terry, Siobhan has been a bit uptight lately. Something about being infertile. I don’t like to ask questions, but it seems to be straining the marriage. The last few weeks I’ve gotten calls from Terry inviting me to the pub for a drink. I had a feeling that he was having more than one.
Five cars back from the lights. Not too bad for ten minutes of waiting – maybe there is a god looking down on us all. I watched the lights of the cars blur from the rain on my windscreen. Green arrow lit up – should be our turn soon.
The rest of the drive home was easy. The blue Holden soon turned left into a side street and I followed a white ute the rest of the way down the main road. Nice car that ute, it knew exactly what speed I liked going and made sure it didn’t get in my way. I waved to the driver as he turned to express my gratitude. He returned by wave with a puzzled look. Fair enough, I thought, I would be confused too.
Edan was in the kitchen when I got home. Friday, must be steak night. She had her back to me as I walked in. “Hey” I said, letting her know I was home. She was wearing brown slacks and a khaki top. Her hair splayed as she turned around. That hair. I remember the first time I saw that hair. She was sitting on the steps to the library when I happened to walk past and trip over right in front of her. Her red, fiery hair glistened in the sun. Each strand spelt out the word danger. But I didn’t listen to the warnings, I was too blind.
“Hey”, she replied, “you’re home late today. Was work busy?”
“No,” I said. “I just dropped into the market on the way home”.
She seemed to take this well. Usually she tells me how work is more important and that I should be spending more time there, getting promotions and earning money. I’ve tried telling her that work isn’t everything, that I’m not a machine. But I’ve given up. She never listens.
“What did you get?” she inquired.
This, again, was unexpected. I wondered if she could sense my surprise. The way I cocked my head or the slight raise of my eyebrow that I quickly fought to suppress.
“Some vanilla detox, weight-loss drink that’s supposed to be really good for me. I picked up from raspberry drops for the kids. I know Bella really likes them”.
I turned around before she could answer back. Mirabella does like raspberry drops. Especially the ones from the Friday night market. And plus, after all the work dinners I’ve attended this week, I deserved a detox. No one can work that much – I was beginning to not see the point of it. My family has everything they need to survive. Why should we want more?
Our bedroom was faintly lit. The way Edan likes it. ‘It eases my stress’ she says. I turned on the light and sat down on the bed. The grey bedspread looked wrinkled and faded and beaten. The dark lamp shade seemed to sag down so much that it was nearly touching the alarm clock. The walls looked withered and ruined. They were once white. A white so pure that it hurt my eyes when I looked at it. But now they looked old. Old and stained and withered. I noticed a rose I had given Edan a month ago for our anniversary. Obviously the room had sucked out all of its life too. It stood there, only supported by the vase, its petals dry and crisp and falling. Had I aged with the room too? Had it sucked all of the life out of me too?
“Daddy!”. It was Rachel. I don’t remember her ever not being excited to see me. Her voice sounded like a bird’s whistle. The tone – so beautiful and delicate. I could hear her footsteps running excitedly down the hallway.
“Hey sweetie” I said as she zoomed around the corner of the room and into my lap. “how was school?”
“It was ok. Mrs Arch was sick today so we had Mr Baulch instead. But he scares me. And Simone couldn’t play with me at lunch because she had a blood nose and had to go to sick bay. And now mummy is making me finish my homework even though I told her I did homework last night.”
I had to smile. Rachel was the cutest thing in the world. Her tiny hand grasped my shoulder as she pulled herself to sit upright. She was wearing her pink pyjamas with the yellow sunflowers on them. Her favourite.
“Well,” I told her, “You don’t need to do anymore homework tonight. And I bought a surprise for you and Bella for after dinner”.
“What is it?” she demanded.
“A surprise,” I explained, “is not a surprise if I tell you”.
She looked down at her feet. “Ok”, she whimpered.
We both looked up, startled, as my wife’s voice rang down the hallway, “dinner’s ready”.
“You know daddy,” Rachel said, wriggling in my lap, “there are more connections in your brain than there are stars in the solar system. Mr Baulch told us that today. We are learning about the planets. How many stars are there in the solar system?” I looked at her. Those bright blue eyes were like a sea full of questions. She always kept me on my toes. Always eager to learn more.
“There are a lot. More than there are hairs on your head”. She smiled at me, a bright colourful smile. Full of dreams and anticipation. Satisfied with my answer, she slipped off my lap and ran down the hallway to the dinner table.
– – –
“I just don’t understand, nothing I do makes him study. And he’s got important exams coming up soon”.
Edan was in fumes. If the heaviness of her footsteps down the hall and the slamming of the door didn’t give it away – I was defiantly aware of it now. He red hair seemed to be on fire – sparks were flying out of it. Careful to dodge them, I walked across the room.
I didn’t bother suggesting that she let him be. That he is old enough to choose for himself and that one day he would learn that maybe study was the better option.
“Edan – “ I started – “get some rest and I’ll talk to him tomorrow.” I knew that talking to him would be useless, but I didn’t know what else to day. Ron had been bothering her for a while now. If there were a gene for work ethic, it defiantly didn’t get passed on to him.
Edan was still standing there, her muscles tense, he face screwed up like she had just eaten a lemon.
“He’s a teenager,” I reminded her, “of course he isn’t going to listen”. This obviously was not what I was meant to say. She stormed off into the bathroom, and started running the shower. Her presence still stained the walls of the room.
Better just leave it, I told myself