She parked in the driveway. She didn’t open the car door, just sat there. The house looked different. Bright red gutters replaced the old, peeling green ones. There was a new beige garage door. Yet the garden, the street and the suburb surrounding it was much the same.
She tried to think of the last time she’d been here. Boxing Day. Four years ago. After that Danny didn’t want to. Especially when his real habit crept in.
She remembered their last year of high school. She used to spend most nights here. In his room, drinking homebrew, smoking cones, watching Wes Craven movies, listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Making love. That was fifteen years ago, but it felt like a lifetime.
“Mummy, when are we going in?” her six-year-old, Hunter, asked from the backseat.
Mikhaila lit a cigarette. She immediately regretted it as Val would smell it on her and add that to her shit list. She was already wearing a black sleeveless top that couldn’t hide the love heart tattoo which Val had never disguised her disdain for. The one her son had designed.
“In a minute, hon.”
She reclined the seat slightly and took a drag. She might as well finish it now it was lit.
Back in high school she was seen as a good influence. Their Daniel had never got anything but D-grades. All he wanted to do was skate. And then she came along. Pianist. President of the student council. Plans to study medicine. Singer in an up-and-coming local band. Danny’s marks moved up to a C. His parents liked her. For a little while, she felt, anyway.
“Mummy, I’m thirsty,” her four-year-old, Courtney, whined.
Her band got signed. Got on the U.S. festival circuit. She didn’t want him to come. It was work, after all. But he did. And with a lot of time and a little money on his hands, the soft drugs became hard.
Then quick as it began the band ended. Artistic differences, youthful arrogance. Their visas expired. She and Danny returned home. Settled down. Somehow their relationship rolled on. They had one kid, then another.
She wanted to get married, she wanted to take his name. She knew this would make them happy. She saw how they treated Lauren, Danny’s older brother’s wife, once they’d married. She couldn’t even have kids. But Lauren was a respectable primary school teacher, not a former frontwoman of a failed synth-pop band who flashed her legs (and occasionally her tits).
Danny always had an excuse ready and loaded about not conforming. She even got the blame for not baptising the kids Catholic even though Danny said he’d take care of it. She wasn’t even Catholic but she wanted to. She knew how it would make his parents happy and her life easier.
“I’m hungry,” said Hunter.
“I’m bored,” said Courtney.
They moved down south. She got a job in a clothes shop. His tattoo venture didn’t get off the ground, and he couldn’t cope with the normality of just existing. Of being a partner. A husband. A son. His addiction took hold and knowing he was failing at all that mattered he chose to take his own life on the one night she’d come back up to the city to have dinner with her remaining friends.
“Mummy, can you hear us?”
Last month in the Family Court it all came out. Val claimed it was Mikhaila who had turned her son onto the pipe. That she was unstable, she was an unfit mother. Val even alluded to how it was Mikhaila’s fault that her son had ended it all with a leather belt tied around his neck.
Val didn’t mention how Mikhaila had never touched serious drugs. How Danny had lost them the home she paid for, her car, her job. And left her a bereaved single mother at age 31.
The judge gave the grandparents one weekend of visiting rights a month.
The front door opened. Mikhaila stiffened, quickly put out her cigarette and opened the window. But it wasn’t Val. She saw the dark greying features. The strong jaw. The dignified gait. It was Brian, Danny’s dad. Almost exactly how Danny would have looked if he made it to 60.
“Grandad!” the children squealed racing out the car to throw themselves at him.
She’d always liked Danny’s dad. He wasn’t a strong man, but he was a nice, quiet man who, in his own way, and faced with great adversity, had tried to stick up for her. Mikhaila saw the curtains twitch and spotted Val’s stern features gazing through the glass. Her eyes bore right through Mikhaila and then softened when they settled on her grandchildren.
“You doing okay?” Brian asked.
“We’re getting there.”
He reached into the back and lifted Hunter and Courtney’s backpacks. “We’ll drop them back Sunday night.”
“I know it’s hard, but it’s important we do this. For the children.”
The kids waved and disappeared through the door. Mikhaila reversed down the driveway. Drove down the quiet street, parallel to the street she grew up on, and made it out of the suburb. The narrow-minded suburb where nothing ever happened, which she’d tried her whole life to escape, but never could.
It wasn’t until she hit the freeway that she realised she had nowhere to go.
Words by Paul J. Laverty
Paul J. Laverty is a Scottish-Australian writer. Emerging from University of Melbourne with a Graduate of Diploma of Arts, he was shortlisted for Overland’s 2018 ‘Fair Australia Prize’, and his work has been featured in publications such as Underground Writers and Better Read Than Dead.