Sleeping in Red City

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Jean stood in the dark before the floor-to-ceiling windows. And there was the pool. Cheery little wavelets rose and vanished all on their own, peaking up over the rim, falling onto the pebblecrete. Plashing and slopping, running over and down, pooling at the door like the water wanted… She slid the door open.

The phone rang in her hand.

‘Hello, Jean?’

‘And?’ she said, ‘are the doors all locked?’

‘I…I was standing by the window and I could see him, he was swinging on the letterbox. Back and forth having quite a time. So I put some milk out. I can hear him downstairs lapping at the dish with his big scaly tongue.’

Jean exploded. ‘You didn’t open the door did you? Tell me you didn’t open the door. How could you? We agreed, remember? You keep the doors locked and I don’t worry about whether you can look after yourself. You remember that was the deal. And now you open the doors in the middle of the night to some kind of vagrant cat person.’

Jean couldn’t stop. ‘I don’t even know why we’re talking. What do you want? You want my advice?’

‘But he was hungry,’ her mother whined.

‘It’s an it for Chrissake. It’s not a he, it’s barely a thing, a fragment, a projection.’ Pause. Deep breath. ‘Look Mum, it’s late…I’m sorry OK, I just can’t… Why don’t we both sleep on it…Go to sleep I’ll call you tomorrow OK.’

‘I can’t Jean.’ She was whispering. ‘He’s coming up the stairs. He’s outside the bedroom. He’s rattling the handle.’

‘There is nothing there. It’s the wind blowing some cans about.’

‘But dear—’ her mother tried. But Jean was running free, rushing down to the shore. ‘I love you OK. I’m not going to leave you. Forget about the home. I’m not going to do that to you but I live here in Red City with Jim and the kids, your grandkids. I’ve got a full-time job and I really really need to get to sleep.’

‘I understand,’ her mother agreed.

‘I can’t keep going like this.’

‘Yes.’

‘It’s the third night in a row.’

‘I know.’

Jean took a breath and stepped into the sea between them, ‘Look it’s not Dad, OK. He’s not coming back’

‘Of course it’s not your father,’ her mother replied primly. ‘What a thought. Your father’s in his grave where he belongs and I am not crazy.’ She continued, ‘You’ve been talking to Dr Anderson again haven’t you?’

Jean soothed, ‘He says you have an active imagination.’

‘Imagination,’ she snorted, ‘It’s not imagination that tears up the front lawn, that bends the letterbox right over. It’s not imagination that tramples mud all through the house, so that I have to spend hours on my hands and knees scrubbing. Anderson’s a fool.’

‘All I’m saying is that you haven’t spoken to anyone since Dad…and all those feelings, you need to get them out.’

‘You think it makes a difference? Give something a name doesn’t change anything.’

‘All I’m saying—’

‘—And I guess he wants me to take those damned tablets. Sedate the life that’s left here. Is that what you want too, daughter?’ her mother spat. ‘A quiet mother busy tidying the doilies and the plastic flowers? Well I won’t have it.’ For the second time that night her mother hung up.

**

Climbing back into bed, Jean said, ‘I’m going to sleep.’

‘She alright?’ Jim asked from under the covers.

‘No she’s not alright and neither am I and I don’t want to talk about it, all I want to do is get some sleep. She hung up in my ear and her delusions are getting worse.’

‘Call her back.’ This was Jim the wise one.

‘She hung up on me,’ Jean sulked even as she took the phone and dialled. ‘I don’t see why I should—’

‘—because you are the good daughter.’

‘Why don’t you just go to sleep?’ Jean snapped. The phone connected and started ringing. ‘Just sleep.’

And between the tones there was the run and flow of the water, the water in between. Just the tones and the tide’s ebb in the darkness in between.

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