Mary hung a load of washing on the line. Tears slipped down her cheeks, but not caused by the sun’s brightness beaming directly into her eyes.
Bert’s new rules had brought a schism in the home. She pegged his undies on the line, furious and sad over last night’s dinner conversation.
‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ Bert had stated. He lifted his chin, and arrogantly looked at her, and then the children. Mary had wondered how they would take it; all three were certainly old enough to ignore such unnecessary directives. This may even be the impetus they needed to move out. Sally, she’d figured, wouldn’t buy into it.
Mary stared back at her husband of twenty-nine years. They’d lived a companionable life together. Never passionate—Mary’s occasional ‘friends’ took care of that element for her—but happy enough. She slowly exhaled. ‘Why now?’ she’d asked.
Mary’s eldest son raised his posture high, like a meerkat. Oh god, she thought, surely Erick wasn’t on Bert’s side.
‘Because Dad’s said so, that’s why,’ Erick answered, placing his arm around in his dad in a show of solidarity.
Bert cleared his throat. ‘There’s too much nonsense going on here. I never know where any of you are. This is why I’ve instigated this new policy, beca—’
‘Dad,’ Sally interrupted. ‘We’re not your work underlings!’
Mary watched as her daughter’s face had reddened and she crossed her arms defiantly over her chest. They made eye contact and gave each other a wan smile.
Bert had slammed his hands flat on the dinner table. ‘Enough!’ he’d shouted. ‘It’s my way or the highway!’
At the clothesline, Mary untucked the arms of a long-sleeved T-shirt and wiped tears away. She picked up the washing basket and walked back through the laundry door.
‘We’re off now Mum,’ said Sally. Matt was standing next to her.
‘You’ll be OK?’
‘Yep. We’re going to stay with Suze until we can find a place of our own.’ Suze was Matt’s girlfriend and Sally’s bestie. They had been close since prep. Mary knew Suze’s parents would take care of her two youngest.
‘OK, stay in touch. Please,’ Mary said, hugging the two of them at once.
‘Mum,’ whispered Matt. ‘Don’t stay with him any longer.’
Mary let go, stared into her son’s eyes. ‘Where else would I go?’
‘Come on, Mum. I’ve known for years.’
Mary’s gaze fell to the floor. ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
‘Your extra-marital lovers. Not judging you, Mum. In fact, I reckon it’s what kept you sane all these years. With him.’
‘Mum,’ Sally spoke up. ‘We all know. It’s only Dad who doesn’t.’ She smiled. ‘Leave him now. Erick and Dad will be fine. They’ll always have each other.’
Mary smiled to herself. Funny how the one child who wasn’t fathered by Bert was sticking by him. If only they knew.