‘I’m serious,’ Mum said.
She looked it. I’d never seen such concern writ large over her features. Her brow was tightly drawn, her eyes dark and cloudy. Her lips were a thin, taut line.
In contrast, I was all dumbfounded shock. My mouth was gaping open while I thought of something to say.
But how do you respond to the news that your father had up and left? Bought a 1970s Falcon for a pittance and decided to drive around Australia to, as Mum quoted, ‘find himself’. I didn’t have a vocabulary set aside for such feedback.
‘He’s not coming back, Misha. He just won’t. He’ll either get murdered, or die of dehydration in the outback.’
Despite the circumstances, I chuckled. Dad never was the outdoorsy type. Preferred to watch the telly each weekend instead of all the activities Mum would do for us. Biking, jogging, team sports, art classes, picnics in the park. Actually, come to think of it, Dad had never really been present.
Mum glared at me.
‘Sorry, didn’t mean to make light of this,’ I said. I felt like a teenager again, receiving consequences for sneaking out to parties. I cleared my throat. ‘Did he say whether he’d keep in touch?’
‘Didn’t say, but I imagine we’ll hear from him every few days.’
‘How long will he be away?’
‘A year, at least, he said.’ Tears moistened Mum’s cheeks. She reached for the tissue box and snatched one to dab away the wetness.
This woman had always been a tower of strength through my childhood and adolescence. It was bizarre to see her dissolving at the thought of being left. I reached for her hand; the tissue now a scrunched up wad in her fist.
‘Mum, you’ll be fine. He’s never been involved. You’ve done all the heavy lifting.’
I watched her face collapse as it registered. The man had been like a millstone around her neck. Her whole life had been spent trying to keep her head above water while managing the dual roles of parenting. She had been a single parent.
‘You know, Misha. You’re right.’ She drew breath. ‘I’m going to be fine.’