Part 6 of a longer short story about a teenager still learning how to navigate tricky situations, the price of loyalty to the unworthy, and the demands of any relationship. (Go to the beginning: Part 1 )
As always constructive criticism, feedback or even a note to say hi in the comments is welcomed!
The silence had expanded throughout the interior of Dad’s van and, with nothing obvious to jump-start conversation, paralysed my ability to speak. For his part, Dad seemed like he was constantly on the verge of saying something. His eyes would flick over to me, and he would suck in a breath to oxygenate all the words, which somehow got trapped in his diaphragm and the air would whoosh out again, like a sigh.
The sheer width of the car, and the roar of noise from outside as Dad’s ‘free air-conditioning’ preference had all the windows down, made it difficult to talk even when my brain finally produced the banal, “So… new car?” which got lost in the wind, and had to be repeated three times at volume, before Dad wound up a window to reply, “Yeah, you like it?”
Well… It wasn’t clean like Mum’s car, with regularly vacuumed mats and my Grandma’s lace doilies on the headrests. The van was grimy and a few soft-drink cans rolled over empty chip packets underfoot; while in the back a mass of crumbled black tarps covering some cargo. Whitish, grey dust covered everything.
We pulled up in front of the white, concrete-brick building that looked more like a community hall than a Correctional Centre. The tall fence around the side was bare of barbed wire, and young guys leaned against the railings on the balcony, chatting.
“Are they… inmates?”
“Yeah, probably knocked off from their work for the day. They’re all good kids, don’t worry. “ Dad passed me a card in a plastic sleeve. “I’ve gotta go park this down the road a bit, you go on in, show them the visitor card and tell ’em I’ll be coming along in a bit.”
What! Go in? Alone?
As Dad drove off, I lingered by the curb. If he was coming along soon, I could just wait until then.
“Hey, Miss! You with Mr Walker, Miss?” The boys on the balcony had noticed me, one was walking down the stairs. I braced for a police squadron to appear and tackle him down as he moved further from the Centre.
“You here to see Mark, Miss? I’ll show you where he’s at.” The boy was tall, and a few years older than me, but even up close didn’t seem that threatening. I followed him mutely, expecting jeering comments as I passed the others. They had all resumed their conversation however, about Dad’s van and how sick new rims would look on it.
My guide took me past the sign in desk, after quickly flashing the badge towards a police officer who nodded us through with a: “So John’ll be along in a minute? No worries.”
Down a narrow, dim hallway, lined with doors. The boy stopped by one.
“Here’s usually in here in the arvys.” He said as he opened the door.
Compared to the hallway, the room was well-lit with afternoon sun. Two beds lined up against the walls, with a table and chairs against the window. Mark had been sitting with his back to the door, flipping through a thick book, though he turned at the noise of the door.
“Hey Mar-” My words got cut off by a mouthful of shoulder at he leapt up and across the room to grab me in a hug. His body was harder, and taller, than I remembered, and his clothes cleaner, without the stink of cigarettes.
“Ahhh, I missed you! Come sit down! Do you want the bed or the chair? You’re so much taller now! You’re going to be bigger than Mum soon. Is she coming today too?”
“Oh, fair enough.” His lips twisted a little, though he smiled again as he pulled out the chairs.
“I think Dad wanted it to be just me today. I don’t know if he’s even seen her since he moved out.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so.” He sat in the middle of his bed, legs pulled up. “She hasn’t come here either. She calls sometimes, but I think visiting me in the police station made this whole thing a bit too real for her.”
I looked around at his room. The white bricks were hidden beneath aboriginal dot paintings in frames and tattered posters of cars and bands.
“This is a lot nicer than I expected. There’s no… bars or anything.”
“It’s pretty low-security, everyone here’s in for drugs, or fights, mainly.”
“Aren’t they worried you’ll try and escape?”
He shrugged, “Nah, it’s not so bad in here, and I guess they trust us not to take off. “ He caught my eye, “There’s a lot of trust here.”
Mum trusted you too. I frowned, but he had begun talking.
“They keep us pretty busy anyway. Some of the guys are really good at their art – not me though – so we make them wood frames, and boards and stuff. We can do TAFE courses, and even go out to classes or to workshops sometimes. Dad has me helping him most days…”
“Yeah, the business is doing really well, he’s needing me most days now.”
The business? I felt the walls were closing in on me. The van, the whitish powder, Mark’s old connections…
My voice lowered to a harsh whisper, “What are you doing! Dealing drugs from Dad’s van! That’s fucking crazy, you’ll get caught again–“
Mark stared at me. “What the hell, Rachel, no! I’m not dealing drugs with Dad’s, though, “ He laughed, “The van does look a bit dodgy, when you think about it, but… NO!”
“Then what business is it?”
“Baking! Not hash brownies either, just before you think that.”
“Oh.” I sat and digested this for moment. The food safety certificate hanging over the desk, and business management texts on his desk by my elbow suddenly seemed obvious. “Well… I feel dumb. Sorry for thinking… ”
“Don’t, don’t. I kind of deserve it. I’ll have to make sure I’m more clear when it comes time to tell Mum.” He leaned forward. “We have a plan, sis.”
“Drug smuggling, right? OK, OK, it was a joke!”
He threw a sock at me. “Listen! Mum’s always told us, Dad left, and we had to deal with his mess. Dad reckons she kicked him out though, saying our lives would be better off without him, and I guess it was kind of true at the time, so he went.”
I opened my mouth, but he continued quickly.
“So, he got this job at the bakery, and worked there until the old boss wanted to leave, and he bought it! It’s his now. That’s where I’m working most days. And, Rach, get this, it’s making a profit! People like his stuff. I’m not working there for free, I’m getting first year apprentice wages.”
We heard footsteps coming down the hall, and Dad’s voice bantering with what sounded like the police officer from before.
Mark got up to fix him a chair. “Dad’ll fill you in on the rest of the details, but the main idea is to get us back to being a family again. If we can get them together in the same room, Dad can make his case for secon– well, more than second but anyway, another chance now that he’s made good. That’ll be your part, Rach, getting her cool enough to hear us out.”
Us. It wasn’t just for Dad, Mark wanted that second chance. His room here was tidier than I’d ever seen it; certificates embossed with his achievements spread over the walls, and his ambitions on his desk. He was trying to be worthy of that second chance.
Would Mum accept his efforts?
As Dad reached the door, Mark put his hand on my shoulder, “It’s going to be different when I get out. If I don’t let the past hold me back, no one else can either. Dad taught me that.”