By Fhionna Mac
There’s a hole in the canvas you could put your fist through. It doesn’t put me off, I hated being here already, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I try to mend it and fail, and you laugh, the young wrinkles round the edges of your eyes becoming old and cruel.
You think you know best. You always do. It’s the small things like going camping, banning the use of technology even though the kids shriek when you give them the news their phones are “staying home.” But it creates more trouble to argue with you. You go red in the face, and we can all see your temples pounding with blood being forced to cooperate.
It hasn’t always been like that. When they were small you loved it when we went to the park, but that was before you got your first promotion. You grew more distant as the meetings became more frequent. Dinners were missed, then the girls’ bedtime stories became non-essential, and I minded that your family was relegated to the bottom of your checklist.
I know you must be proud of the girls, but it wouldn’t hurt to show it more. A camping trip twice a year seems to ease some sort of guilt, so we’re gathered here, in a damp tent that smells like a dirty rag, waiting for a glimpse of sunshine in the hole above our heads.
We should all be used to your moods. Remember the time we were on our way to McDonalds for Ellie’s sixth birthday? You’d mistakenly bought her a plastic trumpet, which sounded like a duck being strangled. You told Ellie to “shut the hell up.” You made Gillian cry; she was only two at the time. Do you remember? I swaddled her in her favorite soft blanket, stroked her cheek with the back of my hand until she stopped.
Ellie saw you for who you really were, for the first time, that day. She got the same look in her eyes, a few years later, when you told her Santa doesn’t exist. There was a moment of disbelief and then a crashing blankness as the truth took hold; innocence shattered like a pint glass thrown at the wall. You can be frightening, we all know it, but in public you’re usually sweetness-and-light. No one would know, to look at you, that you have this demon inside. Tracy used to say you were like “Jekyll and Hyde,” and that was before you really changed.
It was difficult to persuade you to see a doctor, and I asked your mum and dad for help. That’s probably why you stopped talking to them. Maybe that was when you started to keep me on a tighter leash. But something had to be done. I couldn’t make you go on my own. I was worried about you. I was worried about us.
You went to see the doctor, eventually. You said he was a quack, but he gave you medication to help stabilize your moods, and you liked that. You decided it wouldn’t hurt to have the odd whiskey with them, even though I said you shouldn’t. You sneered over the top of the tumbler at me, “Don’t be such a pussy. Won’t do us any harm. My job is stressful. I do my best to provide!”
It wasn’t long before your pills started multiplying. I found stacks of them under our bed. Turns out you’d found a non-prescription alternative, which had the same effect. You could jump from chemist to chemist and build up your supply. In the end, I phoned your parents again to discuss rehab, but they wouldn’t answer.
I think the shouting bouts in the morning are the worst. Mrs. Jones, next door, asks, “Everything ok, dear?” when you leave for work, and she’s seen you on the doorstep from behind thick gray lace. I know she means well, but you moan that she needs to mind her own business.
We fight a lot. Sometimes it’s the same old petty issues, and other times you roar with anger just because I dare to think of Tracy. You wonder how I can bear to keep her dresses in our wardrobe. You can’t seem to cope with the smell of her anymore. But it’s hard to remember a single episode. They run together like stream-of-consciousness-speech in the plays you insist we go to see, a loud jangle of nerves, snippets of salty words, and images of darkness. You hate the sadness you see in the mirror and want to hide behind the onslaught of words, and I don’t know how to help you. You know I miss her too.
Then there was that awful day you said you’d leave. “I wish to God you didn’t exist. You’re weak and pathetic,” but I guess you don’t remember because you were drunk. I hatched a plan to leave you first. Take the girls. I bought hard-backed cases; I thought they’d need protection one day. But they’re older now and able to hide inside their heads like teenagers often do.
Eventually, the trips-away stopped. I could see it happening before my eyes. So even though I secretly hated it, I suggested we go camping. “Why don’t we dig the tent out and head to the woods this weekend, if the weather holds?” You shrugged your shoulders. “Can’t it wait?”
I said that it could, but “let’s make the most of it. Let’s have some fun by the river. It might be our last chance before the girls leave home.” You grudgingly agreed, and I was pleased. I’d already packed several bottles of your pills and three bottles of wine. I took my phone, sent an email to your boss:
“I can’t live like this anymore. I’m not myself; split in two since Tracy died. Please take care of the girls. You’ll find them at the Caledonian Campsite, 56-69 Riverbank Road.”