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Page 5

The house made its own noises, as if it were a being too, settling itself to sleep. Other noises broke the surface as he mixed more white into the grey: his mother heaving herself off her bed, feeling her way down the hallway, the soft slap of the toilet door. Her bladder competed with her other aches and pains and kept her moving, like the kettle’s whistle in the daylight hours.

Gaby had been adamant he shouldn’t move back in with his mum after his father died. ‘She’d be happy in one of those places.’ His face told her to back off but she thought she was right and kept going. ‘Not a nursing home, God forbid, I didn’t mean that. One of those low care facilities.’

Low care. That said it all. Low care, that’s what was written on clothing labels to indicate you don’t have to give a toss, just chuck it in with everything else, it’ll all come out in the wash. Patrick sucked the end of his paintbrush into a fine point. As his mother had taught him when he was a frustrated five year old trying to paint the night sky. He’d had nothing but care from her. She didn’t like change. This was her home. He traced a line of stringy bark.

It couldn’t have been the only reason Gaby left him, but his revenge would be a silent I told you so when her kids dumped her in a nursing home. In forty or so years. He smiled at the silliness of serving the dish that cold.

When he stepped back, the landscape was worse than when he’d started. He packed up and checked his phone for the time. Two hours, where had that gone?

A souvenir from the Gold Coast fell off the window sill as he re-propped the failed painting. One of the many traces of his father round the house, this, an ashtray, heavy and indestructible, left there for the last cigarette of the day on the back step. His last words, spoken as he squeezed Patrick’s hands: she should have died first. I didn’t want to leave her alone like this. ‘Well you wouldn’t have lung cancer if you’d stopped smoking,’ he’d replied, but only silently, and only once his father was dead and in his coffin.

He ironed a shirt for the morning, made a note to leave ten minutes early to get petrol on the way in, and felt his way down the dark hallway so no light would disturb his mother.

‘Patrick, Patrick?’ Her call was soft and apologetic.

He stopped by the toilet door. ‘Mum?’

‘Sorry dear, I’m stuck. I can’t get up.’ 

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