Dad's fluoro work shirt hanging off the back of the chair for what seemed like all summer. Some bright smear where he's dropped jam toast still stuck, swiped, to the collar. And all through the house, this being the only flash of colour (too bright, unnatural. A power surge in the gloom) and the only thing stopping me running from the house every single morning. Evening, night, whenever.
And the way silence held a new grip around each of our throats you'd've thought we were stuck in a bad dystopian paperback, committing thoughts only to our deepest selves, all words stricken, dead, before they'd begun. The newspapers arrived, still, even though we no longer paid for them. Piling up outside our door. Words bulging under plastic wrap, well-protected from the nonexistant rain. Rex had taken to kicking them each morning, further each time, more violently each time, until our lawn was a graveyard of unwanted opinions.
Me, being the youngest, being the girl. Piecing together what I could from sidemouth gossip: snide words I picked up from the bitumen. From teachers hardly muzzled merely by a threadbare sense of duty. From the holes dad left in the wall. And mum, fingers burnt bronze with caustic soda; she cleaned away our inside lives.
The Kids. This was what they had become. Fresh-faces unnaturally caught in school photo freeze-frames. Nothing like they were, I'm sure. The forehead of the driver—a blonde broken-nosed type, a footy player and a swimmer—had an acne streak nearly purple on his cheek. I pictured him fighting his way to the top, in that teeth-and-nails desparation so often brought about by early highschool, pounding his feet, his fists, for the glory of adolescent anonymity. And now he was glorious, immortal even, in death.
His one passenger. She was the real story, the real reason they sold papers. She was why newscasters pulled on their neckties in the evening. Even the name, Jaye Vamaya, was already tailor-made for smooth repetition. She of the chocolate-almond eyes. The white wide smile, that no manner of pixelating, of dot-matrixing, could ever diminish. She was the real reason anyone cared. Of this I was sure. She was the face that launched a thousand threats.
That first morning, the paint seeped up through my window somehow, like a living thing. Mum out there scrubbing at the front wall, peering up at me as I looked down at her. Her eyes red, unfocused. I left my bedroom, and entered this new world that had grow up around me overnight. Rex, standing at the top of the stairs, still wearing yesterday's clothes. His knuckles white on the banister. He turned around. Fucken Stop, he said, and fucken Go. How hard can it be?
Then I saw dad's shirt. Back-to-front on the chair. The jam stain and the collar and his name printed beneath it. I focused hard on the council logo, a black squiggle stitched on in acrylic. He still had on his boots, tanned with churned up dust. Head in hands, medication bulge in his back pocket. That's when I saw him. Just the way he was. The very last time.