*** Some sweary words are featured in this piece ***
“Jesus Christ, Liam, will you just get in the damn car.”
His words come out quiet, even though they’re mean. I take two steps toward the passenger door and stare at the rust spots on the chrome handle. He’s already settling himself in the driver’s seat, the beige striped fabric hanging off the back of it like its skin is too big. He crouches a bit and looks at me through the window as he puts on his seat belt. I see him mouth the words Get in but I’m thinking about my mum’s car and how it was sky blue and didn’t have any rust spots on the handles. We wait for a bit like that, him inside the car staring at me from underneath the rim of his blue baseball cap and me outside looking at the handle. He takes a big breath in and blows it out slowly and then he punches the steering wheel with his fist. I look at the back of the car, where the caravan is hooked up to the tow bar. The caravan is dad’s house. It’s old and used to be white with a mint green stripe down the side and words on the back but now it’s dirty with mud and mildew and the words are too faded to read.
I don’t look back at the car when I hear the driver’s door swing open, or when he walks around the front and is facing me. I keep looking at the caravan. I don’t like caravans because they’re not real houses.
“Liam.” He says my name like “Leee-ym” drawing out the first bit and saying the last part with his mouth almost closed. “Listen, kid.” He lifts his cap and rubs a hand across his forehead. “Are you getting in that car or not? Because I got a job down the coast starting in two days. That’s the only job I got.”
I lift my face to him just as he bends down to look in my eyes. His eyes are brown but not brown like mine. His are toffee brown with bits of yellow and green in them. And the whites aren’t bright like mine are; they look like off milk. His nose has squiggly red lines on the top and sides. When mum was here, she made me wear sunblock every day. Even in winter. My skin is white and there are no lines. I don’t think dad’s mum gave him any sunblock.
“No job, no food. Got it? Jesus. What’s the problem? Do you want to sit in the back? I can make Lu get up front.”
I look at Lu, her big hairy face hanging out the open back window next to me. Her tongue is falling out of her mouth and big blobs of spit are dripping onto the concrete. She’s got grey fur that used to be black and she smells like wet wool jumpers and Nan’s garage. I don’t want to sit where she’s been sitting.
Dad looks at his watch and says, “Shit!” then he touches that rusty door handle and flings it open hard. It groans and gapes like a yawn. Then he puts his hand around the top of my arm and pushes me.
I say, “No no no no no no,” but he pushes harder until I’m inside the car next to the seat with the too-big skin. I don’t want to be in the car but he’s already sitting next to me and has started the engine. I’m scared of falling out of a car that’s moving so I stay still.
In front of me is an ashtray and it has twisted up cigarettes in it and one of them is still smoking a little. It smells bad and I can’t stop thinking about the rusty car handle and about mum’s car with the sky blue paint and the grey upholstery. Her car was always clean and it smelled like coconuts and flowers because of the cardboard palm tree hanging from the mirror. I can feel the hard rectangle of my notepad in the front pocket of my shorts. I could take it out and write some words on the white paper with the blue lines. But mum isn’t here anymore so there’s no one to read my notes.
Dad is rubbing his hand up and down his face. He’s wearing a red shirt and jeans and his shirt is wet under his arms. He smells like cigarettes and sweat and fish because he’s a fisherman and it doesn’t ever really wash off. He rolls down his window and adjusts the cap on his head. I don’t say anything. The caravan is bumping behind us along the road and we drive for a long, long time.
The motel has a big car park with painted lines telling you where to park your car and the building is long but all one storey. There’s a line of doors starting at 39 and going all the way to 55 and I wonder where the doors are for rooms 1 to 38. The walls are brown and covered in something that looks like millions of tiny crushed stones and it sparkles in the sun. The doors are painted white and the numbers are made of metal and nailed on. There’s an office with a red flashing sign that says “Office” and that’s where my dad is now. I’m sitting in the seat where I haven’t moved for hours and hours and Lu is in the back and she’s whining and barking. The sound is horrible and it hurts my ears so I take off my t-shirt and roll it up like a sausage and wrap it around my head. The sound is quieter but I can still hear it.
I can see my dad walking back to the car and he looks angry and I know it’s because of me. I didn’t want to stay in the caravan because it’s not a real house and I wouldn’t have a proper bed, just a bed that’s made from taking the couch apart. I wouldn’t get into the caravan when it was night time so he said a bad word again and now we’re at the motel.
There are two beds, and both of them are double sized which I like because I’ve never slept in a big bed before. But then I wonder if I’m going to like it because it might be too big and I might not be able to feel where the edges are.
Dad throws his bag down on the bed by the door and sits on the end. He takes off his boots and puts them by the door and puts his hat on the table. His hair is brown and grey and his forehead is white up the top from where his hat has kept the sun away.
“Liam,” he says. “I know this is all different for you, mate. But the caravan is your home now. We can’t afford to stay in motels every night.”
I nod once to show him I heard but that’s all. My legs ache all down where the bone is and a mosquito bite tingles on my elbow. Lu walks up to me and sniffs around my shoes. I kick at her face but I don’t hit her because she turns her head at the last second.
“You’re sixteen now, Liam. When we get to the coast, you’re going to have to pull your weight with me on the boats.” He pulls up the leg of his jeans and itches his hairy leg as he says it.
I think about telling him that I will not be working on the boats but then I remember all of the places we’ve been today and my lungs get tight and my under my hair feels hot and prickly. I’m thinking about my hands and how there will be 10 million bugs on them by now and the thought of them crawling over my knuckles and under my nails makes me gag a bit.
“Oh for fucks sake Liam. Get into the bathroom. Hurry!”
He pushes me toward the bathroom but there are tiles in there and this is carpet so I can’t go across it without tapping S-O-S onto the wall. I’m still gagging so it makes it hard to tap properly and a bit of vomit comes up into my mouth. It tastes like the orange juice I had in the car and I look at him. Because I hate orange juice.
The way his face is makes me swallow the puke. His eyes are wide and he’s shaking his head.
“I can’t do this,” he says. His hand presses flat on my back and then he pushes one more time, hard, so that I go through the doorway almost tripping.
After I look around, I take my notepad out of my pocket and tear off a page. I write I miss you lots and lots of times on it and then I fold it up into a square that’s small enough to hide in my hand. Dad is banging on the door and when his banging stops, I can still feel that he’s outside. I think he’s listening through the wood, maybe with his forehead leaning on it the way I used to do when mum was in the bathroom. I didn’t like it when she locked the door.
I fold my fingers over the paper in my hand until the sharp corners hurt my skin. When he’s gone from the other side, I put the note down next to the sink and unfold it. There are squares all over my words. In my head, I say, I miss you. At the top of the paper, I write, Dear Home.
My thanks to Susannah Conway for these prompts.