Michael was fourteen as another Summer rolled around. He was smiling as he finished the phone call, “bye Nan, see you tomorrow”.
Michael’s family lived in the suburbs – the big lumpy swathes of happy, naive families that surrounded the capital cities. The lands of lawns and Victas, of backyards and Hills hoists. Mums walked their children to school in the morning and hung bright white sheets on the line during the day. Dads caught the 8:10 train to the city and came home at six – Herald late edition under one arm, briefcase in the other. Communication happened over beer or fences. Dads sat at the kitchen table talking over a bottle of Bitter poured into glasses, women chatted across back fences holding wicker baskets full of washing. There was the “good” couch and the “good” cutlery – only ever used when guests came over. On Saturdays, the kids played sport – footy in the winter, cricket in the summer. The shops all closed by noon and the football was done by Saturday night. You might be a confirmed bachelor, but no one was Gay. Immigrants were New Australians – or wogs if they were from Greece or Italy (although the difference was irrelevant) – the Vietnamese were escaping persecution on old boats, but politicians had yet to think to make political capital from this first wave of “boat people”. Houses were red bricked and black tiled. No one seemed rich or poor, and the Queen was universally admired.
Michael’s family fit into this life like a sprocket in a cog. His dad was an accountant, his mum was a part-time secretary – their lives were safe and well ordered. Michael couldn’t wait for tomorrow to arrive. He still got excited the night before heading off to the sea – the gentle tightness he felt here would ease, there he could breath. And this year, it was more than the boat and the beach he was looking forward to seeing again.
When Pop and Nan came out to welcome the car – Michael noticed, for the first time, their frailness. “How’s the boat going Pop?”, Michael asked. “The boat?”, Pop replied. “The Suzie Lou, Pop”. Nan looked at Michael and then at Pop and said, “the cutter dear, at the boat sheds.” “Oh, the boat, of course – haven’t been down there for awhile.” Michael felt a sadness creep up, a longing, a missing – it crept up and sank into his stomach.
After he had dropped his bags in his room, Michael came out to the kitchen and said, “just going to drop over and see Matty.”
“Michael”, Nan paused and then said, ” Matty’s gone.”
“Huh?, gone?, where?
“Back to her mums, in Glenville.
Michael slumped in the chair. “Her mums?, Michael said in disbelief.
“Her Grandma passed away last Winter and Matty moved back to her mum.”
“Isn’t she living in the caravan park?”
“No, her mum married about a year ago – to that copper at Glenville – so Matty moved in with them”
Michael walked into the front yard and climbed up the ladder into the tree house. The sky was awash with the yellow and pink of dusk. He felt a sadness that he hadn’t felt before, it felt black and went deep inside. He couldn’t help himself, he began to sob. He tried to stop himself, but the tears kept flowing. Finally, the halting breathing stopped, he wiped his face and eyes and climbed down.
When he came inside, he walked into his mums room, who stayed overnight before driving back. “Mum, I don’t want to stay this Summer. Can I come back with you?”