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Page 4

Jane Downing

‘I’ve got it now. Mum froze the pea and ham soup because you weren’t around to share the leftovers at New Year. Now you’re here.’ He stood by the door, resisting the urge to attempt a nonchalant lean.

‘She got it out the minute I arrived. It was a tradition. Remember. Your Dad, us, not a skerrick of the Christmas ham going to waste.’ Gaby pulled her cashmere cardigan over her breasts and crossed her arms tightly.

After a pause, she finally explained why she was there. ‘I came to ask your mother to the wedding.’

Patrick hadn’t sat down. He did now, on the edge of the sideboard. He watched Gaby fuss around in her handbag and remembered how much that used to irritate him. Why couldn’t women simply have pockets and not these black holes for the vaguely useful? She pulled out a large envelope edged with gold. It took Patrick almost forty years to come across edged envelopes and now black for his father’s funeral notice and gold for his girlfriend’s wedding invitation in the one year. Ex-girlfriend.

‘Will I give it to her now?’ She arched her left eyebrow.

‘Can you smell burning?’ he interrupted.

The soup tasted fine. His mother was careful not to scrape any of the burnt layer up when she served. Her face was flushed from the steam and she was quiet.

‘I would have made a better supper if I’d known it was a celebration,’ she said as Gaby was leaving. Gaby bent to kiss her on her cheek. ‘I’d really like you to come. You’ll like Harry.’

The saucepan had to be thrown out.


Once his mother was in bed, Patrick went back for the painting where he’d left it propped against the laundry wall. He was having trouble with the foreground; backgrounds rarely bothered him. He laid the canvas flat on the kitchen table, moving the place mats along to make room. The light was not good. He knew he should leave it until the following Sunday when he’d have time and the river and the light. But it mattered now. So he got the paints from the cupboard and the lamp from over the piano and contemplated the skin of the gnarled red gum and tried to remember if it was really this flat and featureless. 

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