This new family that mum had romanticised in her mind, was a rough enmeshing of two fractured groups of people who should’ve stayed away from each other. It consisted of Mum, my alcoholic stepdad, my shard-smoking eighteen-year-old brother, my stepdad’s sixteen-year-old daughter, and the three-month-old son she refused to talk about and would thrust into my mother’s arms when it made the smallest bit of sound saying, “You deal with it. I can’t be fucked.”
The suburb we lived in was a wasteland, really – a sprawl. Every house was made of thin plaster walls, slathered in cream-coloured rendering, each with immaculate gardens of perfect, unnatural symmetry. Every single one looked like the last. At the estate’s heart was a park boasting a stagnant manmade lake, shit-brown in colour. It’d looked superb in the brochure but would let off an unbearable, fetid smell in the warmer months. I know exactly what Mum had thought it’d be good for – bringing our new little family together, for barbeques and picnics and little strolls around its perimeter.
In the six months we’d lived in Pakenham, the lake and surrounding park had been used multiple times but not in the way Mum had intended.
I used it to roll and smoke my joints in peace, and have private phone conversations. I’d sneak outside under the premise of taking in the wheelie bins, cross the road, position myself in the tiny bit of shade of a newly planted gum tree and call my dealer:
“Just a fifty bag man, I’m fiending for a cone. I’ll be on the monkey bars. We’ll go for a cruise. I’m fucking bored shitless.”
Sometimes I’d grab a big branch that’d snapped off after a storm and just hit shit. I knew it was juvenile but it felt grouse. I’d whack the living crap out of the play equipment, sometimes pretending it was my stepdad and sometimes pretending it was my boss from Subway.
Rumour had it my stepsister used it as a meeting place and would charge $20 to give blowjobs, and $30 for older guys – some of the creepiest men I’d ever seen – to watch her lactate.
My brother would go down there to do burnouts with his mates in his Commodore, smoke bulbs and root girls on the play equipment. Once or twice he’s used it to root my stepsister without the parents having to know.
My stepdad regularly used it to pass out in, occasionally getting hammered enough to jump into the lake, and only by chance being found by Mum before he drowned. Embarrassed, she would run in with one hand extended and one hand clasping her fleecy robe shut. Her eyes would scan the surrounds, panicked, lest anyone see that our family were a bunch of fuckwits.
I didn’t know if Mum had ever used it. Certainly I’d suggested to her in anger a few times, that she should go down to the lake and contemplate suicide; take stock of this shit life she’d dragged me into, and maybe just end it all. But Mum, even in all her sadness, couldn’t do it. Because she was too scared. So it was me who had to go.
I had known for a long time that somewhere like Pakenham wasn’t the place for me. My stepdad had a habit of barging into my room almost every night when he was drunk, and yelling: “You’re not reading one of your faggot books again, are you? Help your mum, like a proper fucking woman.”
A few times, he’d pulled the book out of my hands and pretended to wipe his ass with it. He said books were for poofters and rich people.
One night, in a drunk rant over a beautiful Donna-Hays-quality roast dinner that mum had so meticulously prepared, my stepdad yelled at me to get out of his house. Through a mist of saliva, VB and masticated potato he said that he would drag me out by the ponytail and leave all my shit on the lawn. Either that, or I could leave on my own right now.
My stepsister let out a laugh, “Yeah you fucking leso bitch. Get the fuck out.”
I looked at Mum. She stared so intently at the chicken I could’ve sworn it was engaging her in conversation. Her eyes were glazed over. My brother was nowhere to be seen as usual. His car wasn’t in the driveway and my last fifty bucks had gone missing from my wallet. I let my face fall into my hands and pinched the space between my eyes with my thumb and forefinger, willing tears to not come out. My stepsister’s baby started to cry. Mum pushed herself out of her chair and moved out of the room dutifully, while my stepsister watched her go then looked down at her nails with a snide little pout.
My stepdad had launched into Mum with fists on a few occasions, telling her to be more like a mother to his daughter and a wife to him or else she’d be out on her ass. He’d grabbed a handful of Mum’s hair and her shoulders had tensed up like a cat’s when you grab its scruff. Her face was full of pain. I’d run towards him and hit him a few times; weak little open-palm blows to his stomach. He was tall and hulking. It did nothing.
From my time working at Subway and Blockbuster, I’d saved up some coin. I booked a one-way ticket to London, thinking of it as a gap year. Not that I actually deserved it; I’d never finished high school. When we’d moved to Pakenham, it seemed kind of pointless. My marks were shit, the local public school was dero, I needed money and to get the fuck out. So I just worked as much as possible.
On the eve of my leaving, my stepdad wrapped a meaty arm around my mum’s waist, pulled her in and announced that she was the first woman he hadn’t wanted to two-time.
He was drunk as usual, and he kicked my backpack with the toe of his work boot.
“It’ll be good to have another spare room.” He saluted the air with his beer can. Mum smiled absently and rested a hand on his gut.
“I’m thinking I’ll set up a gym in there,” he said with a smirk.
Even though she was abandoning me, sending me off into the world with no hope or love, I wanted so much to take her with me. I hoped to God my stepdad would die while I waited for the cab to take me to the airport, choke on his own beer-flavoured vomit, go into violent cardiac arrest, have a vending machine crush him, get stabbed by a passing junkie or by me.
But the cab came and he was still breathing. Mum touched my shoulder and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. My stepdad threw my bag into the boot of the taxi and slammed it shut, tapping the car like he was shooing it away. I watched Mum’s face as I drove out of the street saw her inhale deeply and grip at her chest like she was scared her heart would fall out.
Kleo Cruse is a twenty-four year old Greek/Sri Lankan/Australian writer hailing from Melbourne’s South-East ‘burbs. She completed her honours thesis last year at RMITUniversity, exploring the concept of Suburban Melancholy through a series of short stories called SuBOREbia. Place, race, family and class are the themes that primarily appear in her fiction.