Somewhere in the stunted stretch of time between Donald Trump being elected and his first day in office my mum had a heart attack. Don’t get me wrong. He had nothing to do with it. Today is his first day in office and her second day out of hospital. Some days are better than others.
We’re sitting in the lounge room, big white bowls cradled in our laps, eating the fried rice I’ve made. The rice started out good but has ended up pretty ordinary. We’re watching a free-to-air movie, we’re not watching the live coverage of the inauguration, happening somewhere in an upside-down space where Washington’s midday is our night. After dinner I sneak outside for cigarettes I shouldn’t be having and larger sips of wine because now mum’s on the wagon, guzzling when I’m sitting right by her seems less appropriate. My partner’s asleep in the lazyboy. My mum’s knitting a blanket. She asks me which combinations of colours will work best, creating bunchy tableaus of cheap-looking balls of wool. I say yes to the pale green and a bit of white and we both say no to too much yellow.
In between small mentions of things that have to happen—rehab, when she can drive, when she can fly, walking for two minutes each day, then ten, then 20 and the times that’ll be best to do that in this heat—we pay out on the movie, rolling our eyes, the knitting needles and our eyes click-clacking. And because of what’s happened it bothers me less when mum points out things I’ve clearly just watched too or when she repeats something a lead character has just said. I’ve got my laptop open, only half watching action men leaping over walls on the TV screen, two-finger scrolling, wondering about this first day in office absently, like it’s happening somewhere else—a never-never land we’ve heard too much about and never been, a place that hangs over us all like a great stain on a map but doesn’t know me or my mum or this low-level house in the wetlands with the security grills and the rationed out air conditioning because it is. This is all happening to someone else. When mum says it’s okay to use the dishwasher because there’s three of us I’m surprised. Less fussed about the future she can’t see or the details. When I’ve finished I come back into the lounge and put my feet up on the Super Amart poof, mum’s recovered herself in lime green swaddling to match the couch, watching the screen time rage laid out on my thighs feeding on itself.
We are the oncoming storm. They still don’t know I’m not a banana. Old pussies rise up. There’s been a tiny cookie-baking disaster. Women on the US–Mexican border weave their hair together. Masterchef shares the best way to cut a watermelon. Everything I’m interested in boils down to the fact there is an injustice happening somewhere. Babes who wine and opera. I still can’t believe I have to protest this fucking shit. Mmm that fake chicken was good. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. How a sewing machine works. Melania blink for help. Fancy shagging a foot? I think Baron is an adorable kid. Who’s got the crazy leader now, motherfuckers? University of Oxford free course—critical thinking for beginners.
Everything has changed in our small corner of the world but not because of Donald Trump. America hasn’t made one iota of difference. And here is Ashlee Judd on a microphone and Madonna is being investigated by the CIA and I think about how my mum rates a movie by how many aliens it has in it. And behind her head are the five limited-edition Beatles albums she’s had framed that the robbers didn’t have the nous to steal and the hutch full of art magazines and the tallboy full of CDs and pirated movies sent over from England by uncle Brian with helpful titling and pictures on the disc. The vase I brought back for her from Melbourne and a roller derby of hot rods in the corner left there by the grandkids and looking like they’re about to take off and rip into town. All these humans on Facey so cashed in, so drawn down into their caves or their private palaces or hells, a gap that is mostly, or maybe exactly, the same thing and no-one saying anything about the fact that we might have deserved it.
Mum says she’s tired and says good night and I kiss her and hug her with a bit more lean and she trots off to bed and I hear the pipes shuddering and the long necklaces she keeps on her bedroom door handle jangling. And I stand outside in the courtyard finding clouds through the gaps in the dirty lattice and I’m not worried about what is happening on the other side of the world. I’m worried about what can happen in a second, what can happen in a night. Life goes on, I think, staring and blowing smoke through the small wooden squares out over the garden mum can barely keep back.
Sally Breen is the author of The Casuals and Atomic City. She is senior lecturer in creative writing at Griffith University and chair of Asia Pacific Writers and Translators.