Unforgettable

If you’re reading this, then it’s probably the most nerve-wracking for me of all my projects. In short, this is my experimentation in writing about all the things I’m not, demographically speaking. Hopefully it works. If not, feel free to let me now Can’t fix what I’m not aware of!

 

Her hands were shaking as she left the clinic, disturbing the dark coating of ever-present flies with a forceful slamming of the door. Was it the illness? No, shaking was the other one. The one the boxer had. They’d met once. Lovely young man.

“See, nothing wrong with my mind,” she grumbled to herself. Feeling better, she reached her keys. trying to remember where she’d left them. She froze, paranoia threatening. Wait, they in her bag, not her pocket. Relief fled as she stared at them. Could this really be the last time?

“I’ve booked you to see a specialist,” the doctor had told her. “It’s not for another month, so you have plenty of time, but you really can’t put this one off. I can do a small portion of the testing myself, but Dr Hartman with be able to provide a better idea of treatment.” That was about the time she had unleashed on him. He probably didn’t deserve it, but hell, he knew her. He knew what to expect.

“Elsie, please understand I am trying to help. This is not just a precaution. With the results don’t leave me with a lot of options. Dr Hartman might be able to offer something more compatible with your lifestyle.” Sure. And if he didn’t?

“Maybe you can settle down somewhere, let someone look after you for a change. What about your daughters, I’m sure they would appreciate seeing more of their mother.”

Because that had worked out great before, when Keith died.

What’s wrong old girl, afraid they won’t want to see you? Pfft. No point being afraid of the bleeding obvious They’d made it quite clear what they thought. No, they would not want to see her. Not even if the doctor was right. He might think her a saint, but she’d been practically dead to them the moment she left.

Of course, maybe he was right. Maybe it wasn’t too late for her family.

Then again, maybe it was. Maybe this was her punishment. Forgotten by those once closest to her, and diagnosed to forget them too.

 

 

Deanna adjusted her jacket. There was no dress code, not formally anyway, but professionalism called for respectable attire regardless. She adjusted her skirt, ensuring it strategically ended half an inch above the base of her kneecap.

“Come on Deanna, you’re the wrong side of forty-five to worry about skirt length,” she told herself.

It didn’t do any good, as she stressed over which blouse to wear. She had worked hard to be taken seriously in the early days, covered enough not to be a prude or ‘one of the guys’, but not feminine enough to attract too much unwanted attention. It hadn’t stopped it all, but it was better than what some of her colleagues had been forced to endure.

Old habits died hard, especially ones that had served to protect her.

She grabbed her keys and made for the door.

She made it to the apartment’s kitchen to see a dark figure leaning against the marble benchtop.

“Joseph, what are you doing here? Aren’t you meant to at work? Or Uni? Or, here’s an idea, both?”

“I’m taking a break, Mum,” he told her cheerfully.

“From which one?”

“Both.” He gave her a big grin as he shovelled cereal into his mouth. Deanna rolled her eyes.

“So, no job, showing up at 8 am – couldn’t pay the rent again?”

“Lucky I have a mother that loves me very much and would do anything for me. Have a good day in court!”

“I’m not in court today, which you would know if you had actually stuck at your degree. What you do know though is that I bought a one-bedroom apartment to avoid this very situation. And that I don’t have time to deal with your problems as well as those of my clients.”

“Love you too, Mum.”

“One night, then you find yourself a new place.” She left before he could respond. Damn insolent child. Seriously, where had she gone wrong? It may not have been a perfect upbringing, but she had put him through a good school, stalled her career significantly to raise him, and tried to give him the support and love any child deserved. She even paid his student loans up front, saving him thousands in debt!

Twenty-five, unemployed, and just a few arguments with is supervisor short of his qualification! She stepped into the elevator and let out a controlled “Arrgh!”, before taking a few deep breaths and composing herself. As it opened in the garage, she found her car and took a seat.

“Deep breaths, Deanna,” she told herself. Once calm, she drove herself to the courthouse. She had a number of cases to go over and lectures to prepare before she was ready to present her lecture, and she would not let herself get distracted by the long-haired, homeless lout in her apartment.

##

The reddy brown clouds of dirt rose behind her, leaving her side mirrors blind. “Dammit,” she muttered under her breath, shifting in her seat. She hated not being able to see behind her. Keith had been the same after he returned home. He had done a lot of things different after that.

A flash of lights and sudden honking made her jump, before swerving back to her side of the road. She raised her hand in apology as she passed the death glare from the driver of the oncoming Landcruiser.

“What are you doing you old bat,” she muttered to herself, “you’re not senile yet.”

She looked at the time. Barely ninety minutes into driving, but, she supposed, it had been an eventful day. She should probably call the doctor to apologise for her behaviour. Then again, he was probably used to it by now. She chuckled a little. He was a patient man, no pun intended. Maybe she could rely on his patience a little more and avoid an awkward apology.

She glanced at the GPS and punched in the route to the next town. Probably not necessary, not a lot of roads between places here. But she liked the touchscreen. Modern technology felt like a kind of magic, sometimes. A bit of magic made the trips a little less monotonous.

She looked up – on the correct side of the road, good – to see Peterborough in the distance, making the GPS even more irrelevant. Still, it would be good to get there soon. There was a free park she could stop at, and it might be worth treating herself to an early break

A sharp, tinny ring broke her train of thought. She pressed another button on the GPS, still annoyed the magical map box was effectively useless at this range.

“What?”

“Mum? Are you okay?”

Elsie gritted her teeth. Sam. Wouldn’t do well the start the call cranky.

“Hello dear, how have you been?”

A pause.

“Mum, are you driving? I can call back if you are.”

“No it’s fine, I’ve got it on the Bluetooth.”

A pause.

“Really?”

“What, you think I couldn’t use it?”

“No, it just surprised me.” Elsie rolled her eyes and bit her tongue. Her age was not an obstacle to technology. No, just your mind.

“Shut up, you.”

“What?”.

“Not you, dear, just talking to myself. Now, what’s going on?”

“Nothing much, just calling for your birthday. Happy seventieth, Mum.”

Elsie pause, looking again at the GPS. January twenty-eighth. It was her birthday.

“Thank you, Samantha, it’s nice to hear your voice this year.” She heard a groan from the other end.

“Not this again, Mum, look I missed one birthday. You know I don’t get a lot of time to myself these days. I try.”

“That’s not what I meant, Sam.” Elsie’s jaw was starting to hurt. Damn that girl, always being so defensive.

“Sure, Mum. Look, Dee and I have tried. If you really want to ‘hear our voices’ more often, then you could always try calling us for once, since you’re so good at tech these days. Here’s a thought, you could even come and visit, if you’re not too repulsed by the big city.”

“Actually, I’ll be coming through in a few weeks, if you could be bothered taking any time off?” The words were out before she could stop them. Damn her pride. Serve her right though, trying to guilt trip her mother like that on her birthday.

“Mum, I’m booked up to my eyeballs here, you know I need more notice than that.”

“And if you weren’t you would be soon anyway, am I right?”

Sam sighed. “Send me a text with the dates, and I’ll sort something out. I gotta go, Mum, a client just showed up.”

Elsie heard the click, and it was gone again. Peterborough was closer now, and she was looking forward to the rest. It had been a long day, and she needed to work out how to text.

##

Joseph searched the house for snacks, all the while knowing he would come out of it empty-handed. Nothing. Frozen meals, all prepped with beans, sweet potato and other horrible things. Unsalted peanuts. Not ideal, but they would do. Launching himself over the back of the couch, he looked around for the remote and turned on the TV. Nothing, nothing, nothing. . .he kept flicking through until he got to the news channels.

More politicians, more disasters, and the most amazing goal by some footballer.

Huh. If that didn’t sum up society – fifty channels, nothing worthwhile, and news that put a kick off the leather at the same priority as a bombing a foreign country – then he didn’t know what did. He sighed as he put a handful of the legumes in his mouth. Cringing, he ate them anyway. Such a health freak, his mum. He absentmindedly picked at a dried-up zit. Probably wouldn’t hurt too much if he took a leaf of her book, but he had plenty of time for that. Although, with no job or studies to worry him, wasn’t now the perfect time? That’s it, he decided, he would start working on this whole health and fitness thing, starting tomorrow. After all, he needed time to research. Looking back up at the tv, he saw a recognised one of his old high school friends reporting on a cyclone impacting one of the Pacific island nations.

“Looks like all that hard work really got you somewhere,” he chuckled, sitting himself back and watching the poor girl get hit with the downpour, trying to hide under her umbrella.

“Hah!” Research could wait.

##

Sam put the phone down before it went to voicemail. It probably wasn’t Dee’s fault she wasn’t picking up but it was still annoying as hell. Telling her their mother was coming to visit shouldn’t be so damned stressful! What the hell did she think she was doing, coming here? She hated the city. She’d best not bring that damned caravan. Where would she even put it if she did? Relax, Sam, she was just saying it to get to you. She’s probably not even going to make it. It’s been two days and she hasn’t even sent you a time or date.

Taking a deep breath, Sam forced herself to relax. One call a year, and it always ended in some kind of argument or panic. This was just the same, and it would all die down in another day or so.

“Ms Townsend? Mr Rosenzweig is here.” The young man popped his head into the office from the hallway.

“Thank you, David, please send him in.”

“No worries. Um, you sure you don’t need a moment?”

Thanks, Dave for making it so obvious that I look like shit.

“I’m fine thanks, Dave,” she replied, giving him a big smile that told him very politely to fuck off.

“Okay, I’ll send him in.”

Pretentious little shit. No, he probably didn’t deserve that. But still, he was a glorified fucking receptionist. She had been a psychologist for over two decades, she knew when she had to pull herself out of a session. Of course, if her mother came and expected to stay in her house, she would need a fucking session or twelve.

“Fuck!” she yelled.

“Um, should I come back?”

Mr Rosenzweig, even paler and skinnier than usual, stood cautiously in the doorway with Dave ushering him in, though he looked ready to run the opposite way at a moment’s notice.

Shit.

“You know what?” Sam faked a comforting smile as she spoke. “I think we might need to reschedule. Sorry for the inconvenience, Mr Rosenzweig.”

“Did you want me to clear your afternoon?”

Fuck you, David.

“Thanks, that would be great. I’ll be on call if you get any emergencies.” Sam smiled again, and in the time it took to shut down a computer and close some files, she was gone.

 

##

 

Bright pinpricks in the sky kept Elsie company as she finished a glass of red. She sighed, as she arched her neck. The big cities never had skies like this. For all the conveniences, she couldn’t understand how people could stand to live there. Gotta make money somewhere, she told herself. Still, it seemed a miserable life. She sighed again, her glass and the bottle empty alike. Time to turn in. She was pretty sure the free park had a seventytwo-hour limit, anyway. It would mean an early morning to pull down the annexe, hook up the old Coromal van to the back of her Patrol and head off before anyone came to check. If they did come to check. Hard to say in a small town like this. She stepped back inside the caravan, washed out the plastic wine glass, closed the door. Tomorrow, she told herself. She had to work out where to drive to tomorrow, now the doctor had thrown out her plans. Then she could worry about Sydney.

##

“You will be gone by the time I get home, Joseph, or I swear to God, I will call the police and have you arrested as an intruder.”

“Come on, Mum, you don’t swear like that? Don’t you need someone to put their hand on a bible or something?”

“Don’t be glib with me, boy.” Deanna fumed as she threw all his crap – junk food, dirty clothes, something that . . .she didn’t even want to try and describe it.

“Only if you stop trying to bullshit me. You’ve tried the cop thing before, remember? They said it as domestic and wouldn’t touch it, even for you.”

“Aaargh!” Exasperated, Deanna pulled her jacked off, a slight ripping noise adding to her anger.

“You are nothing but a parasite, Joseph Kilian Byles!”

“Love you too, Mum!” he called cheerfully.

Rolling her eyes, she took a look at the jacket. Nothing noticeable. Good. Pulling her phone out of her bag, she saw another few missed calls from her sister. Relaxing a little, she looked at the time. She could probably spare a few minutes. After all Samantha had been trying to call for a few days now. It would nice to speak to her, relaxing somewhat. The tapped the screen.

“Hey Samantha, how are you?” This would be a nice way to destress a little. She listened to her sister’s news, coming out in a stream of panicked expletive-ridden flow.

“Shit,” Deana replied.

“Didn’t she tell you?” Sam asked as Deanna felt a guilty – or ominous – pit in her stomach.

“I didn’t call her, completely forgot.”

“Didn’t you forget last year too?”

“Probably.”

“Dee, when was the last time you spoke to her?”

“I’m not your damn patient, Samantha, just let me know when she’s coming and I’ll take a day off. If she comes at all.”

Deanna hung up, located a bottle of ’98 Penfolds Shiraz, and poured herself a glass, and put a mouthful down before it even had a chance to breathe. Putting her mother’s number in her phone, she pulled up the history. Nothing. She’d had the phone nearly two years.

Need a replacement soon.

“Sweet! Where are the glasses?” Joseph got up off the couch rubbing his hands together. “That’s gotta be, what, an eight, ninety dollar bottle.”

“Probably, but I’m not sure there will be enough to share,” she replied. “Hey, you’ve still got my old phone, right?”

“Do you need it back? Aren’t you only on the work one now?”

“No, nothing like that. Does it still have Grandma’s old number in it?”

Joseph screwed up his face as he pulled out the phone and typed a few letters in.

“Nothing under Mum, Grandma, Nan, or Elsie.”

“Huh.” Deanna gulped another large mouthful of wine and chewed her left thumbnail.

“Mum, is everything alright?”

“Fine,” she replied, waving him off. “I’m just trying to figure out the last time I spoke to Mum.”

“Well

“Okay,  agreed, I will start looking for work again tomorrow. But it would have been about four or five years ago.”

Deanna took another gulp of the wine. Five years since she had spoken to her mum. She took another long gulp. Guess she was overdue for a chat.

Shit.

 

 

Chapter 2

“So where’d you come from? Where you headed to next?”

Elsie considered the question from the other traveller for a moment, sipping at her tea before answering.

“Just been through the Flinders. Not sure about where I’ll be going next. I’d planned on heading down south through Vic, maybe stopping by the Grampians for a few weeks.”

The other traveller nodded slowly.

“Nice place around there. Bev and I stayed a few weeks back in . . .when was it dear?”

“About ‘02. Would’ve changed a bit since then!” Bev replied, seating herself next to her husband.

“I was barely on the road back then. No more than a few years out on my own.” Just three years after buying the van. Strange, how it had still seemed new yesterday. The bloody doctor, he’d changed it all. Made it seem like it was nearly over already. Should’ve never helped him get into the bloody country.

“Elsie?”

Elsie looked up in surprise, shifting in her deck chair.

“What is it Bev?”

Why were the couple looking at her?

“Don was just asking what sent you through the Flinders? I mean, everyone knows you’re one of the most travelled on the forums, you must have seen it before?”

“Before? Oh, yes, many times,” Elsie dismissed the question with a wave before adjusting her glasses.

“Been heading through annually for years now, to do my checkup.” Bev and Don looked at each other warily.

“With the doctor? The foreign one?”

“No, Steve from the pub. Of course by the doctor!” Elsie scoffed.

“Aren’t you worried? I mean, they’re not exactly up to Australian standards, where he’s from,” Don asked.

Elsie smiled, keeping a reign on the anger that arose. Won’t have to see them again from tomorrow, no point wasting the energy on arguing and ruining a nice evening. Bloody idiots.

“Not in the slightest. I was his reference, when he first came over, helped him get his degree. Trained in Australia and all, finished up at Deakin as I understand it. Went out country to try and give back to the community. Wonderful lad that one.” Worries too much about me though, she added mentally. But they didn’t need to know about that. After all, he hadn’t actually diagnosed her with anything yet. Could be one huge mistake. Probably was.

“Elsie, are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Elsie snapped at Don. Immediately she felt guilty. He hadn’t deserved that. Just like the doctor hadn’t.

“Sorry, its just, you keep staring off like your mind’s somewhere else.”

Elsie smiled- genuinely, this time.

“Don’t be silly, I should be apologising. Just had a big day is all, and I’m feeling a bit tired. Probably should turn in.” She drained the rest of her tea, stood, and folded her chair.

“Many thanks for the evening. I’m off tomorrow morn, so I’ll catch you on the forums.”

##

The yapping kept going, and Elsie began to consider her options. She had paid for two weeks, so moving on was potentially expensive. She would no doubt regret any harm that came to the dog, but maybe a few snapped guy ropes, removed pegs and some sewerage might convince the convince the owners to move.

Not their fault, you decided to come to a pet-friendly park after all. She begrudgingly regarded her own advice and put the petty thoughts from her mind. It really hadn’t been much of a choice though, with the only other option available being Jimmy’s Creek, and last time she had stayed there. . .well, safe to say a quick search on amenities or lack thereof would have resulted in a far less awkward.

Alternatively, she could head out for the day. That was the beauty of places like this. Not only were they stunning to the eye, but with plenty of history too. Plus the odd winery or two didn’t hurt. Locking up the van, she jumped into the patrol and turned the key.

“Just us today, Richard,” she told the old four-wheel drive, “we’ll let Harold sit for a while I think.”

The engine rumbled to life, in a way Elsie determined to be an affirmative, and satisfied he was on her side, she pulled out of the site and drove out of the park. It would be a long two weeks if that damned dog kept yapping, but she if she didn’t have to be there for it, she wouldn’t be.

##

“There is nothing wrong with your research, nor have I ever suggested there is.” In his mind, Joseph had always envisaged professors as having dark, mahogany desks, and living in offices full of books and scotch. The thin, weedy, hairless man sitting opposite the standard, an off-white desk that looked like whoever did the budget was cutting corners, stacked with lego constructions, photos, and an in-tray full of unmarked papers just dismayed him more at his academic experience.

“Then why not pass it? I mean, come on, isn’t that what it’s all about? Just some token research project to make the uni look good?”

The professor adjusted his glasses. “It’s about adding new knowledge to the field, Joe, not just some ‘token’ project.”

“Yeah? And what exactly was your paper on? Peacekeeping and the dawn of a new era of global non-conflict? How was that new? Or right?”

“In the mid-nineties, it was certainly not as ridiculous as it might seem today. If we were talking about mine, then I would entertain your allegations and explain that side of it to you. But we are not. We are discussing yours. Complete for over twelve months now, and with clear guidelines about what needs to be rectified, and -”

“You mean about how to fit the University’s narrative?”

Joseph watched as Professor Engelmann’s forehead slowly got more and more crimson, getting a slight thrill in riling up the old fella.

“For the last time, there is no narrative, we simply adhere to the basic tenets of good research – that includes acknowledging and addressing the other side of the debate. You have some great research and insightful conclusions on the developing world. The manner in which you address ways in which developed nations can assist without interfering is not one that has been considered before. But it reads as a series of impassioned and arrogant demands. It does not take into account cultural or political influences, assumed homogenous ideals, and does not address the negative impacts on the origin countries.”

“Because maybe that shouldn’t matter when it comes to helping people that need it.”

“Maybe,” agreed the professor, disappointingly calming himself before his face matched his crimson tie.

“Look, Joe, I like you as a person, and I like you as a student. But this thesis. . .tell me, how can I let you back in the program, or even suggest it to the board, after even with all the extensions, you still refuse to make any revisions, and offer us a biased, emotional document that deliberately ignores half the debate, and in being so, cannot be considered for academic use?”

Joseph slouched further into the wooden chair and flicked a dark lock of hair out of his eyes.

“You know who my Mum is, right?”

“I do,” the professor replied, “and I also know you would never use her to push your case. It doesn’t sit with you, not at all.”

Joseph grunted, and stood to leave. He focussed on each step, his head feeling light as he went. That was it then. Professor Engelmann was his last chance of getting back in and getting his thesis out there. Five years down the drain.

Not to mention, he had no idea how to tell his mother. Maybe he would do that tomorrow. Meanwhile, he needed a drink. He wondered if Mary’s was open yet. He hadn’t been there before, but it looked like it was worth a shot. He’s heard great things about their burgers, and after a week of his Mum’s latest health trip his mouth was salivating at the thought of the grease and fat chased down by a cold beer. In fact, with no job and no chance of finishing his degree, he might need a few.

 

##

The beauty of the mountain range was twofold. Approaching in the distance, they are a great wonder, changing colour depending on the season and time of day, the gentle sloping edge on one side of a mountain contradicting the ragged granite on the other side of, dropping off as abruptly as the name suggested. Someone, Elsie reckoned, must have had a terrible sense of humour, or a complete lack of awareness of puns in naming the place. Of course, not all of the mountains were this way, but few were as unique as Mount Abrupt’s shadow.

Today, however, she was appreciating the other beauty it offered. Even in this time of year, when much of the country was still going through the natural drought of summer, the lush greenery and trickling of the waterfalls making something like another realm.

Right up to the point when her phone rang.

Staring back at the other tourists as if to challenge them to say something, she made her way back from the lookout.

“Hello?”

“Elsie? Are you alright?” The deep voice and thick accent were full of concern.

“Jundal? Of course I am, why wouldn’t I be?” She could hear the relief in his voice, frustrating her even more.

“What’s going on Jundal, I’m not due for a checkup, I was there in January.”

“Elsie, you missed your appointment.”

“I what? No, I didn’t, I just said I haven’t made one with you -”

“Not with me, with the specialist, Dr Hartman.”

“Dr Hartman?” She could hear him sigh on the other end.

“Where are you? How long do you need to get there?”

She thought about it for a moment. “Give me about ten years or so and I might be able to make time.”

The groan on the other end restored her mood a little. She reached Richard, and got inside, leaving the door open to catch the breeze.

“This is quite serious, Ms Byles.” Oooh, he was getting upset now, breaking out the ‘Ms’.

“Oh don’t be like that now Jundal, maybe it is just my mind, isn’t forgetting what it does now?”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he replied, the exasperation showing. She imagined him taking his glasses, wiping his face and putting them back on. He always did that when stressed, when she was trying to help him learn medicine.  “Elsie, I have a confession to make. You notice how I’ve given you those exercises for the last three years?”

“The ones with the circles, and the words and all?”

“Yes, that one. It’s a called a geocognitive examination. It can spot the early signs of dementia in eighty per cent of people.

“I gave it to you after noticing a few things that concerned me, but the results were inconclusive.”

“Inconclusive? So I’m fine?”

“That is to say, they were indicative of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. I say inconclusive as I did not want to believe it, and when it comes to serious diseases such as this, I would prefer to refer you to a specialist.”

Elsie paused again, trying to process it. Mild cognitive impairment. It didn’t sound that bad.

“Elsie, are you still there?”

“Yeah, calm yourself Jundel, I heard. So what is this mild. . .whatever it is.”

A pause. “That was three years ago. I gave you the test the last two years as well. They have been progressively more concerning.”

“So what is it you want from me, Jundal, spit it out, I haven’t got all day.”

“Elsie, I need you to see a specialist. Dr Hartman can diagnose it properly, and get you the appropriate treatment.”
Elsie paused again. It was a Wednesday, and they had been on the phone for some time. He should have an appointment. He was the only doctor in the town, he simply didn’t get time like this.

“Jundal, what’s going on? You’re starting to scare me.”

A pause again, before the familiar accent started again.

“Elsie, it’s Alzheimer’s. I cannot say for certain, it’s not my area. But if he does diagnose it, it will have a significant impact as it progresses.”

“Pfft,” Elsie waved a couple of flies away. “That’s what we pay you for isn’t it? Fix all that up?”

“Elsie, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. We can help with some of the symptoms, but there is nothing we can do for the disease itself. But Elsie, the other thing. . .there is something else that will happen, that is inevitable at some point. ”

“Yes and what it that?”

“If it is Alzheimer’s, and I’m not saying it is, you will suffer confusion, mild memory loss, and mood swings.” He paused for a moment. “It might not be immediate, but at some point, you will be required to surrender your licence.”

“Bah, they wouldn’t do that. No doctor in their right mind would just take is suddenly like that. . .would they?”

She heard another one of the sighs that was becoming almost metronomic to the conversation.

“It is not a sudden or autonomous decision. Your licence is issued in NSW, is it not?”

“Yes, well, I need somewhere to put it, don’t I?”

“Yes, you do. See, the thing is, the NSW government recently brought in some new legislation relating to older drivers. Specifically, annual health checks for those over the age of 75.”

Elsie felt chills running up her spine.

“Elsie, you failed yours. Technically I shouldn’t let you drive at all until the extent of your condition has been established, but I am not a neurologist. Dr Hartman is. If it were up to me, I would have to take your licence, or I may lose mine. Dr Hartman can more accurately determine the extent of your condition. And if God wills it, he will show my concerns to be ill-founded, and find a treatment that allows you to stay on the road.”

Determine the extent. Not diagnose. He had already decided. Putting the phone down, it dropped from her hand, bounced off the canvas seat and onto the ground. She could hear the short inquiries of the doctor. Was she there, was she till ok?

“I’ll call you back, darl,” she told him, almost a whisper.

There wasn’t much left that she feared. But the earnest and worried tone the doctor had always spoken with had a new urgency to it. This was a man who had suffered a considerable loss before being accepted into Australia. He didn’t get worried over small things. She checked her diary. Check out was in two days. The note was in the big black pen, just two after ‘Appt, Sydney, text Sam.’ Dammit. She slammed the small black book closed. Maybe she really was losing it.

No, Elsie, you’re fine. One missed appointment doesn’t mean a thing. Convinced she would be okay, she put the phone in its little plastic holder glued to the dash and went back to the park. Time to start packing up, and decide where to go next.

##

“Still here?”

“‘Course, mum, I’m not working ’til 9”

Deanna’s shocked face, grey-blonde hair still hanging to her shoulders while she got ready for work, appeared in the doorway of the single bedroom.

“You got a job!” Joe couldn’t decide if his mother was surprised, excited, or both.

“Yup, starting today. Looking for a place to stay as well. Heading out west to see what I can find.”

His mum ducked back into the bedroom and continued getting ready.

“Why out west?” She called.

“Cheaper. No way I can afford to stay here, as much as I would love to be around my mother dearest.”

“Don’t get sarcastic with me, boy.” He waited for her to finish her thought. “But yes, I know what you’re getting at, and yes, you can stay here for a little longer. The couch doesn’t get used by anyone but you anyway, might as well make some use of it. But there’ll be rent again. And you’ll pay this time. In advance. $100 a week, no discounts!”

“No argument from here, couldn’t get a better deal than that this side of . . well, anywhere.”

“What’s the job anyway?” Shit. He’d hoped she wouldn’t ask that.

“New place near Uni.”

“Yeah? Doing what?”

“Bit of everything.”

Deanna walked out of the bedroom, any relief or satisfaction at his new employment status gone.

“Joseph, what is the job.”

Never bullshit a lawyer-mum. It was something he had learned a long time ago, though for some reason continually seemed to ignore, even since his mum had been promoted- is that what it was called. He grinned widely to try and hide his discomfort.

“Barista, burger-meister, and pulling beers at Mary’s” he replied.

“Mary’s?”

“Yup.”

“The bar?”

“Uhhmph.”

“Joseph,” she started quiet, composing herself before she got too far ahead of herself, “please tell me I did not put you through a law degree to be pulling fucking beers at some burger joint.”

“But mum, it’s not just a burger joint -”
“I don’t care if it’s the fucking Ferrari of burger joints, Joseph. You work there, you earn that pittance and take the shit people give you because their orange mocha pumpkin fucking half splice isn’t feng shui enough for them. You will stay here, you will pay rent, and I will find whichever of my contacts has not met you yet, and get you an interview. You will not waste that education of yours on some fucking bar. Now clean yourself up. You have some ungrateful shit with a massive hangover’s bun to spit on.”

##

As was their monthly custom, Sam arrived at the café first, only half an hour late. Immediately she ordered a chicken wrap for herself, and a Caesar salad for Deanna. It arrived just before her sister did.

“Hi, Samantha, sorry I’m late, I can only stay a half hour or so.”

“Not a problem, lovely to see you as always. I ordered for you if that’s alright?”

Sam saw a slight hesitation before Deanna assured her it was fine. The downside of being a psych; he notices all the little things. She tried to block it out, but sometimes the instincts took over.

“How’s it all going with Joe?” She asked.

Another hesitation.

“Oh, you know, he always seems to land on his feet. Starts a new job today. Nothing fancy, just working at some burger joint near his campus. Margarets, or Made-”

“Mary’s?”
“That’s the one!”

“Great burgers there. Might be a good excuse to drop by for a bit.”

Deanna rolled her eyes, “Yes, if you want your arteries to clog up in a heartbeat – or lack thereof.”

“Thanks, Dee, I needed more motherly advice in health and diet,” she replied with friendly sarcasm.

“Talking of mothers, has ours gotten back to you about visiting?”

“No,” Sam replied, “not yet. Though I received a call from her doctor the other week, claimed to be trying to get a hold of her. Apparently, he tried to call you too?”

“Probably went to Joe, he’s got my old phone.”

“Why?”

“The usual, didn’t have one of his own, kept borrowing mine and somehow it became his”

Sam nodded. Sounded like Joe.

“So should I get a new number for you?”

“Just call my work on.” Deanna shovelled in the salad as she spoke.

“So did the doctor get a hold of Mum?”

“No idea, he never called back, so I suppose he must have.”

There was silence as both of them took bites of their meals, both women practically inhaling them in an attempt to get back to work sooner. Not to mention trying to avoid the awkward question of why neither of them felt compelled to check on their mother.

“Hey, before I forget as well, how is Joe doing? Make sure if he needs to go through anything, he’s more than welcome to call,” Sam offered, trying to break the silence.

“Joseph?” Deanna looked at her quizzically. “What do you mean?”

“Oh, with Uni, the board not accepting his thesis. I know he put quite the effort in over the last few years, it must feel terrible for him.”

Deanna’s cold stare left Sam with goosebumps.

“Shit, Dee, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise he hadn’t told you.”

Taking a deep breath, Dee replied.

“Don’t stress, Samantha, this is on Joseph, not you. I think the two of us are going to have a very frank discussion when he gets home.”

##

May the road rise up to meet you. One of Keith’s favourite sayings, back in the day. He would have been impressed with some of the vehicles around these days, Elsie though, allowing a moment of melancholy. He would have been equally upset at the traffic blocking the roads. This is why she left Sydney in the first place. She looked at the time. 3:15 pm. Right as expected, the phone rang.

“Yes, Jundal I’m on my way,” she answered before he got a chance to speak. A brief argument about her meant to have already been there, and the damn traffic, and he told her he was glad she was going, and she hung up.

“Interfering bloody moron,” she muttered. She was a grown damn woman, nearly twice his age, she could get to a bloody doctor’s be herself! Except for that time she missed it, but that was simply a once off, nothing to worry about.

The crawl of traffic on the multilane highway – highway, hah! A bloody carpark it was – slowly moved forward, as Elsie opened the window to get a bit of fresh air. She immediately closed it again. She’d forgotten the Sydney air. Not that it was as bad as some other places, but when she wasn’t used to it, the mild smog and thickness of the air hit her harder than expected.

Her phone buzzed again, and she hit the green answer button.

“I told you, I’m nearly there, the GPS says 52km to go, so that’ll be what, four bloody hours at this pace? I’ve gone about five feet since we spoke.”

“Mum, you’re in Sydney already? Why didn’t you text?”

Elsie quickly looked at the phone. Sure enough, ‘Daughter 1’ was displayed across the screen.

“Sam? Oh, I’m sorry dear, I’m just dropping by for a quick visit. Didn’t want to bother you.”

“What are you here for?”

Elsie weighed up a few lies. But that was the trouble with Sam, even over the phone, if anyone could pick a lie, Sam was it.

“Just got a doctor’s appointment on the other side of town, St Leonards if you know where that is.”

“Of course I know where that is, I work out of Crow’s Nest and Dee lives in North Sydney. But look, if you don’t want to catch up that’s fine, I was just calling to check if you were coming or not. Guess we know now. Have a good one, and I’ll call next birthday.”

She hung up before Elsie could answer. Despite herself, she couldn’t help but feel a little guilty. They’re your daughters, and Joe’s got to be twenty-something now. Just a coffee or something.

Sighing, she called Sam back.

“Yes?” Shit, She was angry.

“Look, if you’re in the region, we could catch up for a coffee or something if you like. You reckon you could convince Dee and Joe to come?”

An unexpected lump in her through grew with every moment of passing.

“Sure, why not,” came the curt reply eventually.

“Thank you, dear.”

“But I can’t speak for Dee. Joe will probably be there, he hasn’t got much to do these days, but Dee keeps pretty busy.”

“No worries, just do what you can,” Elsie replied, trying to keep any excitement from her voice. It had been what, five years or so since she had seen them face to face?

“I will, Mum. But look, I’ve got to go I’ve got a-”

The steering wheel exploded into her face, cutting off her breathing for a moment. Airbags she realised, before a second jolt threw her car backwards.

She vaguely remembered someone asking if she was ok.

“I’m fine,” she tried to murmur, but her voice wavered, and she gave in to the void.

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