With stealth, I pass through the open gate.
I feel each heart beat like a strike on a timpany; it shudders to my core. I step towards the front door. Lift my hand to the brass knocker. My fingers are trembling, shaking. I take a deep breath, and remind myself this is my childhood home. I am visiting my father, not attempting a foray into enemy territory. Deep inside me, I know the truth: it’s the latter, but every time I come here, I close my eyes and wish otherwise.
He opens the door, snarls his hello. I stride inside, and stand in the hallway. Looking around me, I can tell that neither of my sisters have visited since I was last here. I can see the kitchen sink from where I stand: dishes are stacked in it, a wonky salute to me. Chip packets, shrivelled chunks of beef, carrots and grains of rice scatter the carpet in the living room. Dad’s recliner holds his shape; his blanket and pillow indicate he’s not ventured into his bed to sleep. The telly is blaring, with Kochie’s insipid grin and pious attitude telling me to not let my kids use tech devices. At any time. Yes, yes, I know the evils, Kochie, but where the hell are you when I need time to myself. A whooshing sigh escapes my lips as I begin my work. I start with the dishes.
‘You selfish girl,’ he screams from his recliner. ‘You think you’re helping me, don’t you? Well I don’t need your shitty housekeeping anyway.’ This comes out with a snarl.
‘Dad,’ I respond quietly. ‘I don’t mind. Besides, when else do I get to visit you?’ I inject enthusiasm into my tone, as if I thrill to come over and play housemaid with a side of aggression and abuse. As if it’s the highlight of my week.
Since my mum died five years earlier, my dad has grown vindictive and rude. As the years passed, my visits became fewer, but my guilt increased. My two sisters and I devised a roster, but they too easily gave up on Dad. I don’t blame them. Not really. I guess they’d been hit once too many times. A poor offer of thanks on Dad’s part, to be frank. Mum would roll over in her grave if she knew what he’d become.
‘You don’t do it for me,’ Dad’s voice lowers into a growl. ‘You do it to show off to your friends. To make yourself feel better about yourself. You hate me.’
‘Oh, no,’ I respond, my tone even higher and lighter than before. But I feel a whirlpool of emotions in my gut; the swirl and flow forcing long-buried thoughts up, up, up. With all my strength, I push them back down. ‘I don’t hate you, Dad. But I hate that you live this way. I wish you’d let me help you more.’
As the lie falls from my lips, my feelings bubble away refusing to be pushed aside, deep down again. I smile, to hold them at bay.
‘You selfi—’ Dad starts to repeat himself, but I cut him off.
‘Don’t say it again. Don’t you dare say it. You’re a cruel man. If Mum could see you now, she’d certainly hate you. If she could see what you do to me, Millie and Jess…oh my god, I can’t even think of enough words to describe her rage.’ My words come out with panting anger. I am screaming, crying with the pent-up frustration. For too long, I’ve let him get away with this. I should’ve stopped coming the same time as my sisters did.
Dad rises out of his recliner as if he’s thirty, not seventy-five years old. He reaches me in two steps, with his hand high, ready to strike. I cower in fear, cover my face with my hands. The blow is hard enough to send me off balance, and I stumble sideways. My ankle gives way, snaps, and I fall onto the sticky kitchen floor.
‘Get out. Ungrateful little bitch. You were as a child and you still are now.’
‘Well, at least I know which parent it came from.’ I stand up, dust off food crumbs, cat hair and mouse droppings. ‘You’re an arsehole, Dad.’
With all the dignity I can muster, I limp out the front door.