You’ve never met Cassie’s Dad. You couldn’t even tell what he looks like, but you know he’s shit—she’s told you enough.
‘She talks about her Dad a lot.’
‘Yeah, I know—it’s weird, right?’ you say absentmindedly, inspecting the hair on your legs that has grown since you’ve been back in the cold. Picking at the ingrown hairs, pushing back against the grain to feel the spikes in the gap between your boots and cuffs. She’s talking to you about Sarah’s Dad. She calls him Daddy.
‘But I mean, is it weird, though? Like just ‘cos my Dad’s a dipshit, doesn’t mean it should be weird if she gets along with her Dad, right?’
You hate that she calls him Daddy. You think about your own Dad. He worries about you too much.
‘I don’t know,’ you say, ‘I get along with my Dad but you don’t hear me going on about it.’
Taking turns in front of the heater, shuffling from floor to couch with an old mug in one hand. The tick, tick, tick, WHOOSH of the gas when you turn the setting up. Asking, ‘Anyone want another cuppa?’ while you steady yourself against the doorframe, staring at the TV while you use your free hand to pull up the socks pooled around your ankles, giving you floppy toes.
‘I have work tomorrow,’ says El, ‘but I kind of want another one. Ok, one more—we’ll watch one last episode, but then I have to go to bed. I have to!’
The kettle clicks as Matt pops his head round the corner, ‘Anyone need the bathroom? I’m just going to have a quick shower.’
‘You’re fine, go for it,’ Elly says, as you grab the milk with one hand, fridge door open, sniffing the air.
‘Does anyone else smell that? We’ve gotta clean the fridge.’ The old machine is leaking, and your socks have gotten wet.
Pastel balloons hanging off the front door and letterbox. A 3-year-old’s birthday. The shriek of children filtering through the gap at the side of the house while you push branches away to navigate your way down, leaves and debris stuck in your hair. Dan tries to pull it out, but it’s too tender a gesture and you’re too mad—slapping his hands away with your free hand, clutching the garishly-wrapped gift of Lego in the other.
‘They’re their kids and it’s not my business.’
‘Yes, but they’re brats.’
There are kids shrieking on the small lawn, adults in jeans and nice tops clustered around. It’s weird to see your friends with the accessories of parenthood, but it’s not a bad thing. A plastic tablecloth covers a table filled with party food, tinged green from the weak light seeping through the roof of that kind of makeshift carport that uses corrugated plastic to keep out the weather. Grainy icing and sticky Honey Joys.
Staring at the plastic platter of cubed cheese and kabana, you remember when your Uncle Graham called you an idiot when you were eight. Your parents didn’t yell at you much, but Graham was screaming at your cousins and you just wanted your Mum. You already knew he didn’t like you—once at Kristy’s birthday at the old house in Brunswick with the concrete backyard, you kept returning to the platter, sneaking the fatty discs of kabana and popping them in your mouth. Graham stands behind you and gives you a fright when he remarks, ‘Maybe leave some of those for the grown-ups, hey? They’re not cheap. Thanks.’
Dad thought that was especially funny—Graham is a pilot and Dad always said their house was ‘worth an absolute fortune’. You didn’t really get it at the time though, the house was really old, and it was far away. You and him lived in the outer suburbs and Brunswick felt dirty. Close to the city seemed a bad thing, at odds with the leafy yard you were used to. You knew you had less money than them but that seemed like a bad thing for them, not you. Dad always said you and him were lucky to be some of the richest people in the world.
Six girls all crammed into one queen-sized bed, laying in a row, stacked spoons from bedhead to toe. Four asleep, the whispered conversation so close their breath causes the tiny hairs on their teen faces to rise.
‘But why do you even like him? He’s so mean!’
‘Well, at first it was just a physical thing.’
‘What, you mean you think he’s hot?! He’s so not.’
‘No, no, like, I wanted someone to make out with.’
And you won’t tell anyone, because you don’t want them to know you feel it too, that you want to kiss and touch. Your friends are still sexless, vessels you project your ideas onto. No thoughts outside your own, no secrets they wouldn’t whisper to you under the sheet pulled up over your head. Nick Jones on the phone at 3 am, ‘Hi Nick, this is your three am wake-up call’, with shrieked laughter in the background as though it were as funny the third time as it was the first two.
Laying in a stranger’s bed—he gasps, ‘You seen Rick and Morty?! That shit’s so funny.’ You put on your phone voice, you go, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen a few episodes, it’s pretty good!’ because you can’t leave yet, and it feels nice to rest on a chest. It’s cold outside of the room, and you like to feel that rise and fall of a warm stomach through two layers of cotton.
Ahead is Boronia Road, only empty late at night. The service stations will be closed and all the houses’ lights will be off, and you’ll feel alone, then. It’s louder and quieter outside. Fumbling with the car keys—there’s tiny scratches on the paint all around the lock where you can’t find it in the dark—it’s quiet, but your boots on the road are loud and maybe there are people sleeping next door and they’ll wonder who’s outside at this time of night, in the cold. When you get home, you’ll worry your keys jangle too much, that your neighbours will know you’re getting home late. They’re like your parents. You’re twenty-eight.
Rebecca Varcoe is an arts and culture writer from Melbourne. She is the founder and editor of comedy journal Funny Ha Ha.