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Sport 43: 2015

Melissa Day Reid — A Small Rip

page 113

Melissa Day Reid

A Small Rip

You missed them more than you thought you would, but only once, right at the beginning in Los Angeles, where no one cared what time you went to bed and you could read until whenever, except the very friendly girl who shared your hotel room turned bitchy at two o’clock in the morning because your light was keeping her awake.

‘You going to read all night?’

You had hoped to.

Switching off your light you pressed your lips together to hold in your tears and you spasmed toward home, toward going home and crawling into bed with them even though you had never done this in your life, not even the night you were nine and dreamed a hairy fiend had scaled the drainpipe at the back of the house and scuttled across the walls of the second story to climb through your bedroom window.

Thank you,’ said your roommate.

‘Sure,’ you said. ‘Sorry.’

City light infiltrated the room through and around the thin curtains. Lit orange, you lay awake thinking about Southland. Before you’d seen any pictures of the place, its name had given you magnolias, cotton, and Spanish moss. You knew you were being stupid about this because you’d never even been to The South, and you were being extra stupid because the south that waited for you was not The South but a south, a cold south, as south as you were north.

At five you dozed off. At six, your roommate, friendly again, woke you. It was time to go.


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You arrived in Hart the week before opening weekend.

You had imagined a town because you’d been given a name to call where you were going, but Hart wasn’t a town. It was a pub, a school, a rugby club, a loose group of farming families to whom town was Invercargill, a low-slung estuarine city, the seat of Southland. Dark and wide like their distant river namesakes, Invercargill’s streets lay beneath your plane. They came up to meet you as your plane curved down through the air to deliver you to your host family. The O’Keefes, a mother and father with only the youngest of their five sons still living at home. The O’Keefes greeted you with handshakes and drove you north toward Hart in their 1968 Ford Cortina.

The O’Keefes owned acres and acres of grass. They owned hundreds and hundreds of sheep. The grass fed the sheep and the sheep fed the grass, and perfumed with their sweetish shit the air around the isolated house. The house had a veneer of white stone, gold discs of glass in the bathroom window, and carpets of green, orange and brown. There was a magnolia tree in the front yard, but you didn’t learn this until the tree flowered in the spring, until its dark pink petals opened beneath the blue and white sky and you asked the name of that beautiful tree out there in what you knew by then to call the garden. When the answer was magnolia, you understood that you knew nothing about any kind of south.

But at dinner that first night your question was: ‘Opening weekend?’ Also: ‘What’s getting opened?’

‘Duck season,’ answered the youngest O’Keefe. Sean.

‘Do you shoot, love?’ asked his mum, your mum now, a proper mother who cooked dinners and made breakfasts and lunches and was always home except for when she was off performing necessary mother tasks like shopping.

Love. She meant you.

‘Um, I don’t, no,’ you said. You looked at Sean who was not looking at you but at his dinner. Lamb chops pink in the middle, roast potatoes and boiled peas. ‘But I would if someone showed me how.’

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That weekend Sean took you out to a hide, a structure of green-painted, salvaged plywood lurking near a small, algal pond. Flax bushes, their leaves licking the wind, hid the hide. Not very well, you thought, but then you were not a duck. You went inside. He followed you into the dim, close space. The tin roof above you made the drizzle outside sound like a downpour.

He shot at ducks for half an hour while you sat on an up-ended wooden crate with a shotgun across your thighs..

‘I miss on purpose,’ he confessed, as he lifted the gun off your lap. ‘I fucken hate duck season.’

After the May holidays you started school. After school, you did your chores. Fencing, mustering, hurling dead sheep into the offal pit.

‘Should have had five daughters, look at you,’ said Dad.

After your chores you ate tea, after tea you did the dishes, after the dishes you did your homework, after your homework you went to bed, after midnight you visited Sean, and after eleven months you went home.

You were a new person and your mom had a new car, a new bracelet, a new haircut. Her car and bracelet were red, and her once long blond hair was cut to her jawline and darkened by the cut. The car was a Subaru wagon, and sunlight shot through the red glass beads of her bracelet as she drove. Red light lit the scar that webbed her wrist. She’d punched through a picture window as a child, an accident caused by running in the house. You’d forgotten about the scar while you were away, a powerful scar that had prohibited running in your own childhood house. When other kids ran in your house they would have to look at the scar while your mom explained the no-running rule and its rationale.

When you got to your house, you and your mom walked inside, walked to your room where you set down your suitcase, walked to the kitchen where your mom offered you something to eat like you were a guest, an exchange student newly arrived. You both felt the strangeness of this at the same time and dropped your shoulderspage 116 and huffed out little laughs and hugged.

‘Help yourself,’ she said. ‘It’s all in the same place, nothing’s changed.’

And it all was, and it hadn’t. The green Tupperware lettuce crisper was still in the bottom drawer of the fridge and you were glad to see it like you were glad to see all of the little things you knew well but had forgotten—the ceramic cherry blossom plate around the kitchen light switch, the little iron skeleton key that hung on a nail by the back door but didn’t unlock anything, your mom’s wrist.

‘Hello,’ you said to the lettuce crisper and kind of stroked it before you took off its lid to get at the crisp lettuce inside. There had not been many lettuces in Hart, only in the summer, when you and Sean grew them in the vegetable garden. Standing by the fridge you felt his foot nudge yours as the two of you measured out spaces between rows. You put the lid back on the lettuce crisper, slid the drawer closed, shut the fridge. Your mom had wandered off. You would have gone looking for her if you’d noticed that she’d gone.

Your dad flew home from St. Louis that afternoon. You accompanied your mom on her second airport run of the day and ran in to wait at the end of the jet way while she parked her new car. She wasn’t there when he hugged you and told you that you’d grown even though you hadn’t, but she was at the baggage claim and they hugged each other there and you wondered if they’d always looked that awkward when they tried to fit their body parts in around each other.

You wondered on the ride home if your dad noticed the red glass light on your mom’s scar, wondered if he already knew the bracelet, if he had given it to her, wondered when she had told him the story of the scar, if she had, because he never ran in the house but just sat with one leg swung over the other drinking coffee and reading. The people who couldn’t decide where to put their arms in a hug were maybe never people who’d swapped scars stories Sean with his thumb on the disc of mottled skin at the top of your right hipbone kind of listening to the story about the rootpage 117 you’d tripped over in the tunnel of trees that you ran through only once and never found again after the day you got that scar from running outside and when your mother moved out three months after you came home from Hart you felt stunned and indignant with shock because Sean made it hard for you take in the way your dad had shrunk like he’d been washed in hot water, the way your mother acted around her new theatre friends; also trigonometry and glasnost.

Amicable was the word she used and he nodded, and so one time the two of you, you and your shrunken dad, decided to surprise your amicable mother with a dinner sandwich at one of her rehearsals, but the surprise was that she was smoking a cigarette in the theater, ashing into a Coke can with her legs slung over the seat in front of her while she played audience for her castmates; the surprise was the way your father looked, like he’d finally caught something he been chasing for a long, long time.

The day they got divorced, your favourite shirt (white-and-blue paisley silk and only two dollars from the Salvation Army in Invercargill) came back from the cleaners with a small rip between the left sleeve and its cuff. You threw the black plastic hanger at your closet door, shredded the thin plastic sheath the shirt had come home in, and howled oaths at the people who had done this to you. Your father poked his head around your doorjamb and told you to calm down.

‘This is the worst thing that has happened to me today!’ you hollered at him.

Your father stepped into your room. He shook his head at you. His shoulders were very straight and square. He’d grown.

‘It’s my favourite shirt,’ you said.

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘okay,’ as if to himself, and he walked out of your room.

That night, you stayed up late reading until whenever it was that you fell asleep holding your book with the light still on. In the morning, your book was closed and bookmarked on your nightstand and your light was switched off and though he was notpage 118 known to you as mender of clothes, your dad had fixed the rip in your sleeve with invisible stitches and hung the shirt in your closet on a blue satin padded hanger.