Fi turns the lights off to call her father. She sits next to her unlit lamp, she adores the black shade with gold birds sitting on branches, and the slender stem with a round of crystal near the top, curved like a ball-gown. The lamp is the only piece of her in this house, the only piece reminiscent of Europe in this country town, where the houses look like toilet blocks and people walk with flaccid hands, and with frowns like birds that have become stuck.
The moonlight meanders across her thin frame, softening her juts, plumping her face like a moon-penny, palliating life in the house – the toys, the remotes, the furniture that could be anyone’s, the hum of the fridge with it’s cheap cheese, splatters of wine on the benchtop, the fly screens – made for slamming, and her husband’s wife-beater screwed up on the floor.
Her phone trills, then Gloria, her step-mother picks up – there’s rustling, her hairdryer blasting, she yells, “hang-on-a-minute…Fi, I’ll be quick…your Dad’s meds have been doubled… he started dribbling and his voice, well it was fading away. Don’t worry though, he’s OK. I’ll put him on.”
Clunk. Fi swivels her earphones, pressing her fingers over them so she can hear him coming, the soft pad of his leather boat shoes down the stairs, one by one, then the sharp whistles while he puts his hearing aids in. A flash of him flutters through her abdomen – sitting in a restaurant, poised with a handkerchief at the corner of his mouth, his words, limbering, but not making it. His eyes though, they are the same – the colour of fresh slate, seeing everything.
Her father ate a sea urchin once, the thing was wriggling around on his plate, but he sat calmly, then wielded his arm, the fork stabbing straight through. He was a market man, tenderly in love with fruit – the weight of them in his palm, the stutter of his fingers over their skins.
The stutter, the stuttering – he tried to hide it by walking behind them – you go on ahead – but she’d seen him trip over invisible folds with his stammering feet. His thumb, flickering, up and down, up and down – this was the bloody thumb he’d been talking about – the one that sent unfinished messages.
Premature – his leaving – they missed the first 12 years, now they’re locked into a universe of unborn stars – all the unfinished starts, the compressed glimpses of years missed, the pedestals they occupy – always a dash from reality, until now. Until Parkinson’s, and her becoming a mother – now they can’t hide, they’re too tired for that.
He picks up and he’s quick to begin, so she doesn’t have a chance to ask – it’s the way he wants it – still a dash away. His voice is full of dopamine, those meds filling up his lightbox with neuronal stars.
They go back to Paris – she tells him she’s reading Hemingway, and she’s stunned when he tells her the name of the café on the cover, just by the curve of the street and the particular chairs. They draw maps of the streets and cafes in the Quartier Latin – Rue Mouffetard, Boulevard Saint-Germain, Boulevard Saint- Michel – the long black aprons, pins of light from wine glass rims, the taste of afternoon Rosé, the smell of warm bread and olives. Their neurons glow, transmitting along fluorescent tales, almost touching, going everywhere and nowhere. For a moment, she is wearing that ball-gown, and he is the handsome man in Paris.
Katie Piper is British and now lives in Wodonga, Australia with her Aussie hubby and toddler. Katie is a nurse-academic and uses creative story work as a teaching tool. Her work has appeared in: Reflex Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, Virtual Zine Mag, X-ray Literary Mag and Rejection Letters.