A Shoebox IV

Posted: August 30, 2010 in #tuesdayserial, A Shoebox, Short stories

The drive home was a sombre one. Seeing her dad for the first time in nearly fifteen years had brought back so many emotions, some of which had turned themselves upside down and inside out after their lengthy discussions. Her head was more muddled than a tin of alphabet spaghetti shapes.

She understood the guilt and fear her dad had been suffering and in a way felt sorry for the mess that his family had developed into. But her mum had suffered more than his guilt and self-pity could ever have described.

* * *

He’d left when the girls had been at school, saying only a tearful goodbye to his wife and the baby. Ryan was 12 months old and sat blissfully unaware on the floor playing with his building bricks. Little did he know that the motion of knocking down his tower of bricks, was much like the lives of those around him.

The relationship between Gemma’s parents had deteriorated over the last few months, so it was no real surprise to Gemma when she and her two younger sisters had arrived home from school, into a single parent family. What hurt the most is that he hadn’t say goodbye, or even left them with any type of explanation. Her mum was in the kitchen cleaning frantically, a Tasmanian devil couldn’t have moved any faster around his dead prey, gorging on his feast, than her mum around the kitchen counters. She emptied cupboards, scrubbed the kitchen tiles and the smell of bleach was heavy in the air.

She eventually stopped, her hair standing up in places from her energetic cleaning workout and her eyes looked so tired and drawn. She sat the three girls down in the living room and tried with every last fibre in her body to control her tears. This was their turn, she needed to be strong for them.

“Girls, your dad has moved out. We’re not getting on very well lately and it’s not fair on you children to live in such a tense and unpleasant home.”
She took a deep breath and with a quivering in her voice, which you could hear right at the back of her throat she spluttered, “We both love you, all, very much. Its nothing you’ve done. He just needed to have time to himself.”

She made it sound like he’d gone on vacation and she was happy with the choice he’d made to leave, but the girls knew this wasn’t a mutual decision or a temporary conclusion. They all hugged her individually and went to bed relatively early as a family. But no one slept. Gemma heard her mum sobbing through the bedroom walls, breathless, pillow-smothering sobs, so that the children didn’t hear. Her world was in pieces. She was a hollow lifeless shell, washed up on the shore, but when you put her close to your ear, you couldn’t hear the crashing waves of the sea, but a world crumbling and crashing rapidly into pieces.

Gemma woke early to Ryan and took him downstairs to fix his breakfast. He sat in his highchair, an innocent and happy baby, flicking porridge around the room, without a care or worry in the world.

Her mum had gone to work at her part-time job in the local newsagents on Saturdays and Sundays. Gemma and her sisters took it in turns to entertain Ryan. Jess had dance lessons at lunchtime and Kim went next door to play in the neighbours garden. Gemma had just put Ryan down for his afternoon nap when she heard the front door close, followed by a thud. She went downstairs to find her mum in a complete heap on the floor. Like a rag doll thrown to the ground with force, she lay there a lifeless mess, with no skeleton or structure to her body, crying uncontrollably. Her limbs seemed like dead pieces of flesh, unrelated to her body at all. Gemma hugged her tightly and tried with all her might to lift her up, but her bones had gone like jelly, firm but wobbly and unsupported.

“Mum, you need to get up mum. The girls will be home soon. Mum. Mum please get up,” Gemma herself now fighting back the tears, tried to life her but she could feel the whole weight of her mums burdens suctioning her mum’s body to the floor.

“He’s gone Gem,” she howled, “He’s not coming back!”

“I know mum, I know,” Gemma squeezed her tightly like her mum had done so many times for her through the years, making circle motions on her back with the palm of her hand. “We’re here mum. We’ll all stick together.” Gemma knew her mum was on the verge of a break down. Her dad was the centre of her world, like an apple core, without him, she was a hollow and unstable being.

Her mum was emotional and unstable. The mere sight of something related to her dad and Gemma was supporting her emotionally and physically. Picking her mum from a heap at the front door became routine and pulling the cosy woollen blanket over her tired and crushed body was the only thing she could do each evening, to ensure she slept if only for an hour or two.

Gemma sheltered her sisters from her mum’s torment and anxiety, but the strain and emotions she was using to help her mum through this anguish was heart wrenching. It was grief in a totally new form. He’d gone, forever, but yet he was still out there somewhere.

* * *

As she drove further and further down the bleak and dreary motorway she remembered the agonising weeks after her dad had left. Gemma had to pull her mother through each day, hiding the breakdown from her sisters as best she could ‘Mum’s ill, its all the emotions she’s going through, she’s just run-down’ she remembered explaining. Lifting her up from the front door when she returned from work, the exposure, gossip and whispering neighbours were enough to send anyone over the edge. She soon became reluctant to leave the house. She had lost her soul and Gemma had no way of helping her to get it back, other than support and comfort her. She remembered the powerless feeling, which she had blamed her dad for.

He hadn’t called, written or even acknowledged any of the children’s existence.

Gemma’s hate was returning to the surface, despite having heard her dads side of things over the last two days.

The traffic on the motorway was sparse. She pulled off onto a slip road which looked quiet. She wound down the window and screamed at the top of her voice, before exploding into hot, stinging tears.

  1. Maria Kelly says:

    I don’t blame her for screaming. I would have, too. Poor Gemma. I’ll have to visit your story on Tuesday now since you’ve put it on the Tuesday serial. 🙂

  2. Thi sis emotionally exhausting. It’s tough to read through; I felt drained at the end. Great depiction of emotional wringing and heartache. Wonderful job. 🙂

  3. Vandamir says:

    Poor Gemma with no real childhood; no wonder she’s a mess. Another great installment.

    There is one spot where I think a word is missing: “Gemma woke early to Ryan” and double check your apostrophes – there are a few missing near the end.

    Other than that, a strong, emotional piece.

  4. Wow, the whole family is a mess! I don’t blame her for screaming — who took care of Gemma?

    Quite compelling!


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