"He thought at first that it was a mirage or a trick of light, because he was an old man, and he thought he had seen everything that there was to be seen in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood like Meadowvale."
Short story. 3rd prize winner. Aestas 2014: A Fabula Press Anthology. November 2014.
This story won me 3rd place in the Aestas 2014 Anthology Competition. It's about a woman who, upon learning of her husband's sudden death, screws her eyes straight up at the sun and refuses to look away. But at its core, I think, it's about the things that people do to make sense of tragedy, and how these different ways, between neighbours, parent and child, overlap or sometimes have trouble to.
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Excerpt of sun-gazer
The woman who had pulled into the neighbour’s driveway was named Thea. She was not the neighbour’s wife but the neighbour’s daughter, who one day at eighteen had grown long legs and walked away, only to return again when her father was in old age. They call these kinds of happenings full circles.
She drove his blue minivan, bringing him cartons of eggs and colourful little pills she placed in specially marked plastic compartments. She wasn’t so bitter, because he wasn’t so big of an inconvenience yet.
Thea did not notice Lena, only her father peeping out of the window. The Watchdog the neighbourhood kids called him and then, smilingly, nastily, would wave their sticky palms at him.
“Dad, it’s me.”
“What are you doing here? Where’s your mother?”
“Um.” Thea looked around. “She went to return something at the mall.”
“Oh yes, that’s right. I had forgotten… Do you see that woman out there? Do you think she’s lost her mind?”
Irony, thought Thea, the English teacher, she always had trouble teaching it to her students. It had to do with incongruities.
“I think we should call the po-lice, Thea.”
“Anyway, time for a nap Dad, let’s go… I’ll make you something to eat for when you wake up.”
He nodded, and moved his jaw up and down like he was chewing on a strand of grass. Spit bubbles had formed in the corners of his mouth. Thea used her sleeve to wipe the spit, and helped him walk up to his bedroom.
It was difficult to explain irony, and it was difficult to explain the meaning of the word incongruity. Then how was she supposed to teach it? She felt that she wasn’t a very good English teacher, but that it wasn’t always her fault, that maybe there was something about irony’s maliciousness that fourteen year olds refused to acknowledge or accept.
Her father’s room still had that same oily smell of lemongrass and lime and lavender that Thea’s mother would brush into her hair in the mornings. She helped him undress and slip into bed.
“Goodnight honey,” he said. He still chewed on air.
Thea left the room.
In the kitchen, she saw two dirty dishes by the sink and the answering machine light flashing red, and she suddenly pictured her mother walking through the door, young again, keys jingling, her purse shaped like a doctor’s bag dropped on the cool linoleum. She thought to herself what a funny thing it would be if her father was healthy and she was the sick one. If what she believed to be true was false, and her father was right. But the vision blurred as she rolled her sleeves up to wash two small plates, and then open a can of soup and butter one untoasted piece of bread that would be her father’s lunch when he awoke. ∞
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