We pulled in just as the sun lent a burnt lip to the mountains. Swaying past were ferns and hydrangeas, flapping at the windscreen, leaving water and pollen. Lee wiped his hand across the inside of the window, and seemed only slightly surprised when it made no difference. I thought, he said, maybe, the condensation.
I smiled thinly and re-gripped the wheel. The unpaved road made steering a series of tics and twitches, like the old jeep was a skittish, jumpy animal. Nearly there.
The garage shimmered with formaldahyde. No air for fifteen years, at least. Lee shivered. Reverse out, he said. Let me get out in the garden. And who was I to argue. I backed the jeep out, and he jumped out before I'd even stopped. I could tell already, the way he kept pushing her hair back. He didn't want to be here. A chorus of voices told me the same thing.
We went in through the side of the house, through the always-open screen door. That smell was still there. Hot fruit and soy sauce.
Jesus, said Lee, covering his mouth with his hand.
I looked at him. I said, Seriously. You're going to do this? and he just shrugged his shoulders, standing still. I clenched my jaw, relaxed it—the way he hated—and felt the pleasant settling pain, my teeth realigning.
She was in the back garden. Of course. Never any ceremony, especially not now.
Ahoy there, I shouted out, from the open kitchen window. My mother half-turned, a clump of rainforest soil bulging through her tightened hand. Her face, from a 90-degree bend, looked more happy than surprised.
Thought you were coming later, she shouted back. As she straightened up, the grim chalkstripe of her mouth levelled off. She had on her overalls, her constant patchwork armour since dad went; almost no denim to them now, all material scraps and dirt.
I didn't answer her. Just watched the wind picking at her hair. Lee appeared at my side. Hi, Helv, he said.
Mum licked her lips. So, she said, I get both boys, do I?
I felt Lee's fingers digging into my shoulder. Ignoring her comment, I said, You want we should take the guest room?
She shrugged her shoulders. Got a bit more to do here. Sleep where you want.
I leant my head against Lee's and watched the old lady turn away.