A knocking at the door. Twilight. She stands there, face gaunt, hands unsure. Come in, he says. Boys, he calls, your mother is here. Walt and Micky come running. Their mother crouches low for hugs. She is here to pack some of their clothes for the overseas trip. She is leaving first, Walt and Micky to join her a week later. Ben Harper is playing on the stereo, his voice soothing. I remember this CD, Lauren says, trying to smile. Any chance of making me a copy? Walt and Micky begin dancing to the music. Aaron asks how the boys can access her apartment if they need anything extra before they travel. Lauren shifts in place. Walt, Micky, she says – while I’m away, my friend Margaret’s staying in our place. Wow, Walt says, flat-voiced. Margaret, Aaron thinks. Hasn’t she been married for roughly three decades? Why is Margaret moving in? Walt asks. Yeah, why? Micky echoes. Are Margaret and Darren separating? Aaron asks? Yes, she’s trying it out, Lauren says, anger in her eyes. Trying it out? Aaron whistles softly. At least her children are a bit older. Aaron wants to remark, wants to say, Jeez, Lauren, you and divorce are catchy, but he stops himself.
The boys have stopped dancing and are now wrestling on the sofa. Aaron wonders if their rowdiness is a response to the rarity of seeing their parents together. There should be research, he says, unable to hold back, on the correlation between affluence and ease of separation. Lauren gasps and strafes him with her glare. What’s affluence? Walt asks. Never mind,’ his mother says. Pain twinges in Aaron’s neck. He looks at his ex-wife of 15 years, actual flesh and bone and feeling. Her face is even gaunter than his. He wants a drink, maybe a volley of drinks. He wonders what escape she resorts to after exposure to him, and what escape from the knowledge of this family they had made and broken. He hopes the boys are too young to need escaping. Can their flight wait until adulthood or would it compound the damage? He recalls the four of them playing board games, Monopoly, the joy of picking up a get-out-of-jail-free card. Time to choose your clothes, boys, Lauren says, interrupting his reverie. Aaron watches the three of them drift down the hall. They repair, I repair, beyond repair, he muses. He tries a smile but his face won’t respond.
James Gering has been a short story writer and poet for many years. His poetry and fiction have appeared in many journals including Rattle, Every Writer, Meanjin and Cordite. James holds a Masters in Creative Writing. A sample of his work can be experienced at jamesgering.com When not writing, he teaches English at the University of Sydney in Australia. Away from work, he revels in nature – climbing, canyoning and running trails in the pristine Blue Mountains. His first full collection of poetry is sitting on the blocks, rearing to go, though he fears the depth of silence likely to greet its arrival, so tinkers with it, submits individual poems, and celebrates when notable journals accept his work.