Nothing More to Lose – a short story
Dad came in late, after the rest of them had eaten. Kirsten found him in the spare room where he sometimes slept now. He had just got a suitcase out of a cupboard and was stuffing some of his clothes into it.
“Didn’t Mum tell you?” He turned and sat on the bed and patted the quilt. “She was supposed to tell you.”
He reached out an arm towards her but why should he want to cuddle her if he really was going to leave them. She flinched away and looked him in the eye.
“Where are you going then? Does Steve know?” Steve was her older brother.
She watched him deciding what he was going to say. You could tell whether the answer was going to be any good; if they didn’t tell you straight away then it was a waste of time asking the question. She didn’t want him to go but she did want a straight answer.
“Look Kirsten, you know how Mum and I haven’t got along so well for a while.”
Kirsten said nothing, but just kept her distance and watched him struggle for some more words. Part of her felt sorry for Dad, feeling guilty, but why shouldn’t he come out with the truth? That’s what he and Mum expected when they asked her and Steve questions.
“So where are you going then?”
That was all she wanted to know. Why shouldn’t he tell her? Two of her friends at school had spoken of fathers who had gone, never to be seen again. Even if he had been awful to Mum – she had seen her mother’s tears – she would still want to be able to see him. So would Steve.
“I just wish Mum had told you – that’s what we agreed – you see….”
Kirsten saw the look of surprise on his face as she turned towards the door. She slammed it shut behind her and went to find Steve.
Kirsten had always been pleased to have an older brother. For two years he had not been around at the junior school and then eighteen months ago he had been there, established with his noisy mates when she went up to the comp. He would know what to do.
She could have asked Mum, but she would probably be busy with the twins and, anyway, asking Steve would be easier. She found him in his room; the door was open.
“Dad’s packing his bags?”
“What do you mean?”
“I think he’s going Steve – moving out.” She watched him put his I-pad to one side and sit up. “Did you know anything about it?” She watched her brother shake his head, so slowly really that he was simply turning it from side to side while he took in what she was saying.
“Do you know where Mum is, Kirsten?”
They found her unloading some shopping from her car. The twins were trying to help, three year-old girls, eager and noisy. One of them had dragged a large plastic carrier to one side and her twin was picking up items which had fallen out and had been left behind. Steve blurted out his question while Kirsten tried to organise the twins and listen to their mother at the same time.
“What’s Dad doing, Mum?”
One of the twins dodged past Kirsten and their mother put down a bag to stop the little ones from running past the car and out towards the road. Steve walked over and pulled the gate shut.
“Kirsten says he’s moving out.”
“He’s going away for a while – while we sort things out.”
The twin made another run for the gate and Kirsten saw the weariness on her mother’s face. She waited until Sally, the noisier one of the two had been cornered again.
“Will he really be coming back?” That had been the awfulness of her friends’ situations – temporary soon became permanent – just an excuse really – just to leave them.
“God knows, Kirsten.”
Didn’t she care? It was really happening – Steve was standing to next to Sally. He had been holding Tracey, the other twin, but now he had let go of her hand and she was emptying the groceries onto the driveway. He stepped across to their mother who put an arm round him. I was a long time since Kirsten had seen this.
Back in the kitchen their mother seemed to be in charge again and the twins found some toys. Steve started again.
“So Mum…. “
“I’ll tell you about it later, love. Not now.”
“But he’s going, right now, Mum. What are we going to do?”
“You’d best ask him then Steven.”
Kirsten wished that she was one of the twins, so out of it, not touched by all this. If only Steve would leave their mother alone for a bit, they could decide what they were going to do. Asking their father more questions was probably not going to help. She caught her brother’s eye and he followed her out of the kitchen.
It was a warm day, warm enough to stay out in the garden, down near the summer house and out of the way of the rest of the family, out of the way of the spare room. Before now they had each been aware of the other’s concerns and wariness about Dad, and his not coming home sometimes and their mother’s enforced assurances. Now she was facing her brother; he was not walking off this time, to call his friends about football or chat up one of the girls in his class.
“If he goes Steve, that’ll be it – he won’t come back. You ask Maria – that’s what happened to her – they said they were going to try again but he never came back.”
Steve said nothing. What was the matter with him? Did he want Dad to go? She knew he rowed sometimes with Dad, about staying out late, about school, about helping with the twins. But didn’t he mind losing him?
“Steve, do you want him to go?” Her brother was looking past her now – what was the matter with him?
“All right, so you have rows with him sometimes, but what about Mum and the little ones? What are they going to do without him?”
“Perhaps Grandad – and Nana?”
“What do you mean Steve?” She asked herself whether their grandparents even knew about these things.
“Talk to them.”
“When? Tomorrow? That’ll be too late.” She stood up. “Now, Steve, while he’s still around.”
In the hall there were intercepted by the twins.
“Where you going Kirsten?”
“Nanny’s.” Kirsten lifted a finger to her lips, but it was too late.
“Can we come?”
“No, not this time – we’re in a hurry.” Steve was trying to be firm. Kirsten grabbed Sally and signalled to Steve to bring Tracey. They were out of the house before the twins had brought their mother out to investigate a flood tide of noisy questions.
The mother caught their father on his mobile. The kids had gone but had not turned up at her parents’. There was probably nowhere else they would have gone together. Within quarter of an hour he was back and they set off in the last of the evening light to try the park.
Away to their right, at the second roundabout, a solitary blue light was flashing and they could make out two figures to one side. At the next roundabout something made her take her husband’s arm.
“Go back, back to that other roundabout.”
He hesitated and missed the turn. To one side he was able to pull in. She was screaming at him now and he tried to concentrate on the traffic while he set off the way that they had come.
There was a police officer, crouching down at the side of the road, holding a phone with one hand and trying to comfort a girl with the other. As they watched the girl stood up and pushed the officer away. She was looking towards something behind the car, something that they could not see, then his wife was screaming again and running towards the girl who stepped away from the policeman as soon as she heard her mother’s voice.
When he reached them he could see two other officers kneeling behind the car. The three of them were there, prone in the road. As he approached, one of the officers held up a hand, keep him away. Not far away there was the sound of a siren and then an ambulance arrived.
His wife was coming towards him now; behind her Kirsten was trying to hold her back. Now she broke free – another four steps and she had collapsed into the arms of one of the policemen who had got up to his feet from among the still forms on the road. Before he could stop her Kirsten had turned and started to run. She ignored his shouts and then she had gone, a tiny figure now enclosed by the gathering darkness.
Over by the car his wife was being helped to her feet. She ignored the officers and glared at him. For a moment he was frightened, frightened that she was going to attack him.
He pointed in the direction their daughter had taken but there was nothing he could say.
Sep 24th 2013