She, his mother, has never left the country. Actually, has never been on a plane. Sat, many times, when she was young, on the back of a motorbike while riding through fields, her heart fluttering in her chest, and may have been, a long time ago, in the back of a cabriolet when the roof was taken off. But only knows from television the small luxuries and immense banality of air travel. She has had a modest life but an easy one and believes there will be a day that evil will give balance back to her private cosmos. There will be death or sickness or violence, enough to unpick the fragile stitching of her life. She is so sure of this that there is no need to say a word of prayer against it.
He interrupts her while she is massaging her more arthritic joints and watching her show. She turns the volume down; the Dead Man tells her he is going out now, to meet friends. She calls him to come to her before he leaves, pats the space on the couch next to her, asks him to bring the comb. He sits on the floor in front of her, crossing his legs. She shapes his hair with one hand, smoothing over, half kneading, combs with the other. Reaches to the bowl of nuts on the coffee table, takes an almond in her fingers and hands it to the boy. Has hopes for him, of course, encourages him to think of the opportunities which may come to him if he goes to live overseas, wishes for a grandson. But the boy shares something with his father—a lifelessness in the eyes, a reptilian lethargy. Easy to distract, to make laugh, to annoy—sometimes she does it, to both of them, just to see if it sets off a spark. Tugs at his hair but he is absorbed in the images on the muted television and eats his almond. Why are they like this? Is this all men?
Sometimes she is surprised to wake in the morning and see his bare foot sticking out from under his bedsheets, home and in a single piece. One time spotted him across the street with his friends and they were fighting like birds. Another time he told her about an incident from the night before: he was with friends, in a borrowed car. They were driving too quickly down a hill, and—
No, she said, and put a hand up, in his face, to stop him speaking. Held it up, in front of his eyes, as if this was the source of his voice.
Tristan Foster is a writer from Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Letter to the Author of the Letter to the Father and 926 Years, co-authored with Kyle Coma-Thompson.
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