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My Brother’s Handwriting

Page 5

Peter Farrar

Jo had a boyfriend now. Bumped into them once in a bookshop. That’d always been our bookshop. I once told Jo we brought our favourite writer John Steinbeck back to life between us there. If it was true a person remained alive as long as their name was spoken, we’d discussed him so much he now had enough life to write another novel. When I saw Jo and her boyfriend browsing the fiction section it was worse than finding them in bed together. 

I returned to my mother’s house. Front garden weeded, dandelions shrivelled on the grass. Knocked at her door. Through the timber heard her labour up the hallway.

“Thought it was another neighbour with a cake. Or a lasagne,” my mother said, standing back to let me in. “As if I’m going to sit around eating at a time like this. I’m not interested in eating. They can hook me up to an IV drip and I’ll drag that around instead of three square meals daily.” She never asked if I wanted tea. Just poured me a cup. It was lukewarm as I sipped. Small tea leaves turned in it like objects spinning in a tornado.

“I’m not going into a nursing home. Or a retirement village, whatever you call it.” My mother looked at me grimly. “I won’t leave you any of your father’s port if you try to drag me there.”

A smile reached half my face. I said they wouldn’t want her. She would be the loudest person at Bingo. Drown the others out at Christmas Carols. She’d win bowls by three games and two anti-inflammatory tablets. We became silent. Through a window blizzards of flower petals gusted.

“I think Melissa was to blame,” I said. I hadn’t wanted to burden her with that. My mother had read Luke’s letter before the funeral. The room choked with silence as I’d watched her eyes flick back and forth over each line. I’d promised myself to say nothing about it. I was only there to check on her. But I blurted it out as if dry retching the words. “He said it was because of money. Have you looked inside their place? Most of the national debt is in there.”     

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