020: Cut Off

On Monday I am released from hospital again, and Hazel is too worried now to be angry. Sobriety hurts, and the lecture on substances is frustrating. They don’t understand. No one understands. They’re reluctant to send me home alone with Hazel, but she refuses to do anything else. She gives them the answers they want, she proves she is fed and clothed. They have no further reason, not yet. When we get home, Hazel scours the house in search of anything that could be a problem.

She doesn’t get everything.

Future visits to hospital will end in her being taken away, I know that now. I have to play cleverly. I find the balance. Enough to be serious, not enough that I can’t throw up a few times and sleep it off. She sits with me while I shake and vomit, she’s too sweet to leave me there alone. Days start to go by, blurring together – I don’t know what time or date it is anymore. I suppose that Hazel is not always home, but I am rarely sober enough to notice.

She is there when it matters. That is all that matters.

I start to lose weeks at a time. I can’t keep track of anything. This has the added bonus of letting me finally forget the anniversaries. I can barely remember my own name. Kate is a distant memory, something that this me doesn’t know or remember. Perhaps I’m happier, my only emotion is need. I need Hazel. My life revolves around getting her attention.

It’s a horrible, selfish existence. But it’s all I have.

She is all I have.

I can’t lose her to anything.

It’s amazing what you can get from the internet. Different combinations give different reactions, always something to keep Hazel on her toes. Some days are worse than others, some days I go easy. I know what I’m doing, and that’s the worst of it. I plan the doses, but when I take them is a matter of how I feel. How soon I need to escape deeper into the nothing. How soon I need Hazel to be there. It always depends.

Today is a mistake of sorts; the combination doesn’t work as well as I hope. But I’m still in the bathroom when Hazel comes home; vomiting is never a pleasant experience. She rubs my back and grabs a glass of water for me, but this she knows I’m capable of on my own. As she wanders out, I hear the phone being dialled and she retreats back into her room.

This is the soberest I’ve been in weeks.

The vomiting ceases, and curiosity kicks in. I want to know who she’s talking to. Slowly I sneak out of the bathroom, wiping my mouth and face on a towel. I’ll be fine for the next few minutes, but the next drink is already calling. Maybe if I pass out, Hazel will come by to tuck me in. I like that. It’s almost as if Kate or Mum were still around.

It didn’t work. I tried that.’ Behind the door, Hazel is upset. ‘He just sits there, he got angry at me.’ She’s talking about me.

She’s talking about me.

Paranoia strikes immediately. She’s talking to other people about me, that’s not good. Other people talk too much, they don’t understand. Other people do stupid things like call child services. I’m frozen by the door. Hazel falls quiet, the other person must be talking. I strain against the door as if I could hear the other side of the conversation, jumping as Hazel speaks again.

I can’t do that. He won’t survive, Aunty Rach.’


Anger flows suddenly through me like lava through my veins. I’m standing and wrenching the door open before I can even think, thundering across the room to tear the phone out of Hazel’s grip. I twist her hand accidentally as I do so, but I’m too busy hanging up on Rachel to notice.

‘Dad…’ she looks up and pleads with me. I won’t have any of that. I stand over her, livid and shaking. The paranoia has paid off. Hazel has betrayed me, she’s found someone else, I’m not enough for her and she’s gone elsewhere. Someone else is trying to mess with our family. I would have been upset no matter who, but Rachel Burdett? It makes it a thousand times worse.

That family took away my wife.

Now they want my daughter too.

It’s not happening.

‘Don’t you ‘Dad’ me.’ I shout, snapping the aerial off the phone in a fit. ‘You’re banned from the phone. Forever. I’m getting the damned thing cut off.’

‘I just wanted to talk to Aunty Rachel…’ she whimpers.

‘Let’s get one thing straight, Hazel.’ My voice is lower now, almost a growl. It’s dangerous, and it scares me a little to talk to my daughter this way. ‘In this world there is just you, and me. No aunts, no uncles, no nothing. And above all else, you do not have an Aunty Rachel.’

Hazel isn’t speaking anymore, just crying. I’m not done yet.

‘We don’t need them. Forget them.’ I demand. ‘Forget the lot of them!’

I storm out of the room and slam the door.

Time for another drink while I cut the phone lines.

019: Almost Worth It

Hazel doesn’t speak to me the next morning, and shame has me drinking harder. She doesn’t even come to wake me, just leaves me to sit and mull over the events from the day before. When I come out, she is sitting in the kitchen – and turns her head the other way. As I pass through, she grabs the phone and storms off to her room for another of her phone calls. She makes these more frequently now, and in my more paranoid moments I wonder why.

It has to be one of her school friends, she knows no one else. Sitting in the lounge room, I can’t hear anything. It upsets me that she hasn’t made any effort with me today, and perhaps I’ve run out of luck. Or maybe, she has someone else in her life. Maybe this phone call friend has become more important than me?

Stupid thoughts all of them, and I know it – but it still worries me. I sit and stew in quiet jealousy of an unknown person. I move about the kitchen noisily, trying to call her attention back. I slam my glass down on the table; scrape my chair on the floor. She doesn’t surface.

I shove the drinks down faster, trying to forget the day before – and drown out the new paranoia that has me gripped in this stupid pseudo-competition. When the world starts to spin, I call her name. She doesn’t come out. I stumble about the kitchen, thumping the table and call louder. Her bedroom door stays stubbornly closed. It’s only when I’m swaying involuntarily, gripping the table as everything moved around me.

‘Hazel!’ I called with a sense of urgency now. ‘Hazel, I don’t feel so good…’ I hear the door open. Relief floods through me.

‘You’re just drunk.’ She shouts across the house. ‘You’re just a stupid drunk.’

I can’t walk straight, but the words hit me enough to get a reaction. Just a stupid drunk? It’s clear enough that this doesn’t work anymore. If I want her to keep caring, I need to step up my game. I find the pills from the hospital and take six.

Hearing Hazel run out of her room as I collapse… it’s worth almost dying.

018: That’s It For Me

That is not entirely how it happened. The words and the actions are the same, but the sentiments are not. I’m sure I was never so quickly sold on Kate; I never remember thinking the L word in any other context, other than what it should have been, but was not.

That was what had upset me the most. That Kate would take something from me that should have been given in love. I did want to see her again, I wanted to make it special, I wanted to validate what we’d done with some sort of ongoing attachment – and she’d denied me that. But the mind plays tricks on you, and what was unhappiness at the time presents as jealousy and love in the memory. Nonetheless, the memories are powerful.

I wake up and reach for a towel, the ‘special’ towel. The bedroom dreams are becoming more and more frequent, and always leave me the same way. It feels like more of a job than anything now, like milking a cow. Something that has to be done, but I take no pleasure in it… and I never will again. I clean up, roll over, stare at the ceiling.

Her side still feels empty. It’s hard keeping a bed this size warm. Before she died, I’d never felt cold in bed – it was always the opposite. She was always annoyed by my insistence on having the air conditioner on, even in winter – and of throwing the blankets off in the middle of the night. I miss the sound of her nagging most of all. Even more than I miss the way she held me through the night terrors. It’s strange what hurts you the most.

‘Dad, you’ve got to get out of bed.’ Hazel is in my room. I haven’t even had time to dress, or even cover up properly. I jump, shuffle under the sheets and try to pretend nothing is going on. She stays in the doorway. Hazel has been pushier lately, knocking on my door early – and like today, barging in without even bothering to knock. When I don’t move, she comes inside and opens the drawers. A pair of boxer shorts is thrown onto the bed within my reach. Sometimes it is depressing just how much my little girl knows about life.

‘Thank you.’ I say softly.

‘Get up.’ She says, waiting until I’ve stopped shuffling about under the blankets and the boxer shorts are safely protecting anything I don’t want my daughter to see. She’s insistent. Very insistent. ‘We should go out and do something, Dad. It’s the weekend. Maybe we should get icecream?’ she lunges forward and pulls the blankets off.

‘We can get icecream delivered.’ I disagree. Online shopping has made my life easier; there is now literally no reason for me to leave the house. I like it that way.

‘It’s not the same, Dad. Come on.’ She yanks on my hand this time, nearly wrenching my arm out of its socket. I have to admit, I’m starting to get annoyed – I don’t know where this is coming from. She’s never been particularly demanding. There are overtones of Kate in this so strong they hurt. I pull my hand back roughly and pull the blankets back.

‘Don’t be a pest, Hazel.’ My tone is harsher than I intend. Stubbornly I bury myself deeper under the blankets, wrapping them about myself so she has no chance of pulling them back off. She looks almost as annoyed as I am, jumping on the bed and ripping back my shoulder so that I have to face her. God she looks like Kate.

‘You have to get out of here, Dad.’ She insists. ‘This isn’t good for you. You have to get outside, go shopping, talk to people. Do something.’ She’s pushing too hard. Too fast.  I can’t handle it. I sit up and push her back. Roughly. Too roughly. She looks surprised, upset. That should be my cue to stop, but I don’t.

‘Get out of here and do what?’ I snap at her. ‘Meet people? What bloody good will that do? There is nothing, and there is no one out there that would make it even slightly worthwhile. Your mother is gone. That’s it for me.’

She shrinks off the bed and towards the door. She’s crying. Later I feel bad for it, and later I put myself out to try and forget how it felt to push her back. She’s rubbing her shoulder. This is the man Kate said I couldn’t be. Never, she said. I always told her not to use the N word.

‘Get out of here and live…’ she said quietly before slipping out of the door.

‘I don’t want to fucking live!’ I shout back. Not precisely what I meant, but either works for me. I’m too angry to think my words through, and how they might sound to my already petrified daughter. I just don’t want to face the outside world. I mean it, without Kate – I no longer see the point. What use are friends, when they only ruin the life you have? Where is the point in seeking love when you’ve already had the best there was to have?

017: Dreams Gone By

My dreams take me strange places. As I close my eyes, I am eighteen again. Fresh, young, naive. A little bitter, and still frightened of almost everything the world had to offer. I’m dressed in Alan’s old suit trousers, and a shirt I saved for in silver coins. What little of my paycheck doesn’t go to rent and food is sent to my sister, to help with her living expenses. Being at uni, she doesn’t have the luxury of working full time that I do, and we have no parents left to support us. The new shirt is a big deal.

Marie has given me a key to Alan’s room here in Melbourne. It’s the one he lost months ago, and for a moment I’m worried the residence might have changed the locks when they gave him the new one. It turns. They haven’t. I’m still nervous as I walk in. I’ve been here once before, with Alan – the residence is a crazy place well beyond my comfort zone.

Perfect for Alan. Wild drunken nights were always his favourite.

Closing the door, I don’t know what to do. Alan isn’t home, and won’t be for another hour or so. The room is small, and smells like Alan’s feet. There’s a basket in the corner, full of dirty washing and labelled ‘take to Mum’s’. He must be coming home this weekend. I’m tempted to do it for him. The room is an absolute disgrace, nothing is in order.

I start with the desk. It’s supposed to be a place of study, I can’t see how he studies like this. The books aren’t straight, they’re not even alphabetised or stacked in any logical order. I group them by subject, line them up carefully and pile all of his stationary together in one cup. A cup is the best I can do – it appears that Alan has never heard of stationary holders.

Next I make the bed, and pile the dirty dishes from the floor into another basket. Briefly I consider a small washing up spell, but decide it’s ultimately safer to do them by hand. I’m not as talented as Alan, the last time I tried to wash by magic I flooded the dorms. A small bathroom is the best I have for this, so Alan’s dishes are left to soak in the bottom of a deep shower, while I flick dirty underwear into the washing basket without touching it… as much as I am able to do so.

It takes a while, but the work makes me feel good. I couldn’t afford a decent present for Alan, so this will have to do. A clean room – what more could he want? And short of getting his mother in here, it’s likely I’m the only one that will even bother. I have my back to the door, polishing the windows when the sound of a key sliding into the door makes me jump.

I stop, hurriedly shoving the rag into my back pocket. Get caught cleaning Alan’s windows? Uh, no thanks. I sit back on the bed, try to look casual – but it’s not Alan who walks in. I guess there’s more keys to this room than I thought, and it turns out that perhaps Alan wasn’t so truthful when he said he ‘lost’ that second key. Surprise surprise, it went to Kate.

‘Matt.’ She says quietly. ‘I wasn’t expecting you to be here.’

‘No… I wanted to surprise Alan.’ I reply. Kate doesn’t sound happy; she doesn’t want me to be here. But I’m determined to fight tooth and claw for my right to stay. After all, I nearly lost my job just trying to get the day off.

‘Me too.’ She replies sourly, dropping her schoolbag into a corner. I’ll admit, I still think it’s wrong for Alan to be with a girl who’s not even out of school yet. She’s rolled her school skirt up, the pleats are uneven and it makes it obvious. While she’s got her back turned, she quietly does the top button back up. So… one of those surprises? I sigh. I’m still not moving. ‘Do you know where he is?’

‘School, isn’t he?’ I don’t realise how fast the time has slipped by while I was cleaning. She shakes her head, pointing to the clock.

‘He should be back by now.’ She shrugs her blazer off and hangs it on the hook behind the door. I wonder how often she’s done that. She seems very comfortable here, very different to myself – I’m well out of my depth here. The cleaning has done a lot to calm some of my nerves, but having Kate in the room just makes it worse. I don’t understand women; I don’t understand myself enough to be around them. There’s a small amount of safety in that Kate is Alan’s girl. But I still keep my distance, shrinking back as she comes closer.

She shoves a sheet of paper and a pen under my nose.

‘Find out where he is.’ She demands. I don’t argue, she has this look in her eye. She looks like she might just break my neck if I say no.

Burdo. Happy Birthday. What are you up to? Partying hard already? Wish I could be there for the party. Cheers, Matto.

I still don’t want to ruin my surprise, so I keep it general. I push the paper back towards Kate, who calls an owl from the window. The note disappears and she takes a seat across the room, pulling out a textbook from her bag and studying quietly while we wait. It doesn’t take long, which is a surprise. Neither of us expect any sort of response from Alan that quickly.

Matto. Thanks mate. Wish you could be here too. Partying, yeah – at Manda’s at the moment. Gotta head home soonish and get ready for the big party though. Mate… when did life get so complicated? I mean, you think you know one thing, and then it all changes. Suffice to say, Manda’s pretty good at delivering birthday bombs. Anyway. Talk later, your sis is demanding my attention. Cheers, Burdo.

‘He’s at… Amanda’s?’ Kate has her eyes narrowed on me. I nod, like the idiot I am – not realising where she’s going with this. I’d known Manda was going to talk with Alan soon, but I wouldn’t have thought she’d do it on his birthday. ‘He’s getting back together with her, isn’t he? He’s over there right now, he’s probably in her bed… that’s why he had to stop writing!’

She’s taking this well out of proportion. I open my mouth to stop her, but she keeps ranting, raving. It’s a bit scary, but worse is the tears I can see coming down her cheeks. I don’t know how to deal with this. I tell myself I just have to wait, Alan will come home – he’ll explain the whole thing and they’ll be fine. She’ll stop talking about breaking up with him.

But then, maybe I’m wrong too. Amanda was always flighty, and perhaps she’s changed her mind. Maybe Kate is right. I hope for my own sake that she’s not – the thought of Alan once again wanting to be my brother in law is more than I can bear. But I can’t even try and explain what I think is happening, I’m sworn to secrecy on that – and I’ve never broken that pact. I’ve never broken Amanda’s trust, even when it could have saved Alan a lot of embarrassment. I can’t do it now.

Kate charges toward me. I shuffle back on the bed, a little concerned that she means to hit me – and I can’t hit a girl back. Even in self defence. She looks so unhappy, so upset. I don’t know what to do. She falters on the last step, nervously rolling her sleeve up. I can see clean down her shirt now, she’s so close. Breathing on me. I can’t get any further back.

This isn’t right.

‘I wanted today to be special.’ She’s a little distraught. I want to push her back, but I don’t know where is appropriate to touch her. Kate doesn’t seem to share the same reservations, while I’m busy debating propriety, she’s undone the belt buckle and slipped her hands into the generous slack around my waist. I’m in shock.

‘I don’t think…’ I start, but my words are stolen as her hand travels further yet, finding it’s way into my underwear. I’m paralysed now, unable to stop her. No one has ever touched me like this, and it’s frightening. I can feel the sweat beading on my forehead, worse as my body responds to her touch – I’m disgusted by the fleeting feelings of pleasure. It’s different to doing this myself. Much different. Her hand is smaller, the rhythm is different.

She stops suddenly.

Kicking her shoes off, she crawls onto the bed with me properly. My head is thumping, I don’t understand. Kate is still upset, still crying – and rifling through Alan’s bedside drawer. With a sense of dread, I see the future. I know I should stop it, but I still don’t know how. She won’t listen to anything I have to say. I’ve never been in this position before; I’m not as casual with myself as Alan has always been. I’m too afraid of hurting someone, of getting hurt myself. Mum always said the first time should be special, and I’ve lived my life in the hope that when it was right – I wouldn’t be afraid.

Right now, I’m petrified.

‘It doesn’t matter.’ Kate gives up her search. She takes a deep breath, and swallows. For a moment, she looks scared. Then angry. And then, determined. She pushes me back on the bed so that I’m laying down, pins me there. She might be small, but she’s surprisingly strong and I’m in no frame of mind to throw her off. She positions herself over me, and slowly sinks down.

Waves of fear and utter bliss wash over me; I’m not sure which to give into. For a moment, I understand Alan. I look up at Kate in just a little bit of awe as it dawns on me that I’m no longer a virgin, and as awful as this makes me – I can only fight the pleasure so long. Kate feels good, so completely unlike anything I could have imagined. For a moment, I think I can go no further… and then suddenly I can.

I tense as she cries out. A fresh lot of tears, and then I start to worry. She looks as though she is in pain, and I wonder if there’s something wrong with me – if I’m doing this wrong. She stays still, her skirt splayed across my stomach, rested completely against me.

‘I’m sorry…’ I say, apologising for whatever it is I’ve done.

‘It’s not your fault.’ She whispers back, opening her eyes and looking at me the first time. ‘It’s supposed to hurt the first time. That’s how you know it’s the first time.’ We sit for a moment, the both of us adjusting. When she is ready, she starts to move – and the feeling is indescribable. Everything about this is wrong, and strange, and frightening to me – but overpowered by an ecstasy that keeps me going even when I know I should stop.

I needn’t worry about that, though. It is all over in a matter of minutes, I’m not able to control myself. We don’t even think about the consequences, it all happens too quickly. I don’t even have a chance to warn her.

After we clean up, I stay on the bed – she slowly starts to go through Alan’s shelves, picking off the items she has brought over. There is a lot of stuff. She wraps things slowly, sitting them in her school bag. She doesn’t look at me, but I watch her the whole time. I realise then she’s beautiful, even with her mascara running. It’s the second lot she’s put on.

‘Why are you upset?’ she snaps almost, finally looking back at me.

‘I don’t know.’ It’s hard to explain the emotions running through me. Confronted with a sudden attachment to her, knowing she’s my best friend’s girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend), and that by rights I shouldn’t see her again once they break up for real. And then for breaking the dream my mother left me with. I’m still frightened. ‘First time is supposed to be special.’

‘Special is what you make it.’ She looks back at me, gives me a small, sad smile. ‘That was supposed to be Alan’s birthday surprise. He’s wanted it for so long. But he wants Amanda more.’ More tears. I want to stop them. I find myself wanting her to come back to where I am. For the first time in my life, I want to kiss a girl. That thought alone terrifies me more than anything we’ve done today. The fear is enough to stop me crossing the room.

Kate cleans up her makeup one last time, straightens her skirt and puts her blazer back on. I don’t want her to leave. I know she has to.

‘Maybe I’ll come down and see you.’ I offer, surprised at my own boldness. My heart thumps awkwardly as she mulls this over, nods, and slings her bag onto her shoulder.

‘That could be fun.’ She says, reaching for the door handle.

It opens before she can even touch it. Alan walks in, double taking as he sees both Kate and I sitting there, staring in mild horror at the door.

‘Surprise…’ I say weakly.

‘Surprise isn’t the word.’ He sighs, pulling Kate into his arms. He kisses her tenderly on the forehead, holding her too tight for her to fight back – her hand is balled into a fist, and I know she wants to. ‘Amanda just told me… the whole… sex change thing.’ His voice is mildly strangled and he has a hard time getting the words out. These are the parts of life Alan would rather forget happen. He lives a much simpler life than I do. ‘It’s… weird. Why would she want to be a man?’

Kate’s hand relaxes.

‘That’s what you were over there for?’ she asks. Alan nods. ‘Oh, Alan-bear…’ all of her unhappiness seems to vanish in a second, and she pushes herself up on her tip-toes to kiss him. A niggling thought in the back of my mind wonders what that’s like. She never kissed me. I’m not sure what to do as she steps back from Alan, still holding his hand. She has a cheeky look on her face, it’s as if she’s forgotten about what we’ve done already. ‘If that makes her… him… happy, then it’s for the best, right? And you’ve got me now.’ The expression deepens. ‘And I’ve got quite a birthday surprise for you myself.’

They kiss again. I feel like I don’t exist.

I don’t want to hate my best friend. But I don’t want them to be happy anymore. I want what he’s got, and I hate her for going back to him so quickly. In the space of an hour, I’ve found and lost my first love. The pain is indescribable.

She can’t be forgiven for this.

016: Habits

Her habits change a little after that. She continues to set the clocks, but often arrives well before the countdown finishes. I can’t complain, I live for the moments while she is there. It doesn’t occur to me that my daughter is deliberately missing her bus, and skipping school. All I know is that she is there, picking me up.

It becomes something of a competition. Each day she becomes more and more used to the situation, and I need to find more ways to drag her in. I can’t run the risk of her becoming too comfortable and believing I don’t need her. On some level, I suppose I know I’m drowning her in my misery – but it’s lonely down here and I can’t bear it without her.

It’s barely three in the afternoon when she comes home. Breathless, she’s been running. The bus stop is just outside our door, but it’s well before time for the bus to drive by anyway. She’s run in from school, I couldn’t say exactly why. As she comes into the lounge room, she looks happy and relieved as usual, gives me a hug and a kiss for still being in one piece. And then, something I didn’t expect. She idles in front of me, turns her foot a little.

‘Dad? Can I use the phone?’

She’s never asked before. But I guess things are different now. I nod, not seeing a problem with it. Better she contacts her school friends from here, rather than wanting to go to their houses. I wonder for a moment if she’ll invite her friends over to our house, but that thought is just ridiculous. We’re not in any position for guests. She takes the phone and disappears to her room.

I let her have her talk in peace. I’ve still got a few drinks in me before it’s time for her to tuck me into bed. I get off the couch, and go to find them.

015: Things That Hurt Less

For a fortnight, everything is okay. Hazel comes home at the same time every afternoon and leaves at the same time every morning. She sets the clocks to count down to her arrival home from school before she walks out the door. Without fail, she stops by my chair for a kiss and a hug before the bus and finds me first thing as she walks back in the door.

‘I’m not going anywhere.’ She reminds me every time, before convincing me to stand and start preparing dinner for the night. I’m torn between two worlds. I want to be okay for her, I want to be the parent as I should be – I don’t want her to feel guilty for leaving, but I can’t handle the idea that she might stop needing me or feel that I no longer need her. I don’t want her to leave.


I let my hands shake as I cook, I make sure my glass is topped up. She notices all of this and more. This is how she knows I’m not okay. We never talk about it anymore, it’s something understood. Of her own volition she refuses invites to the houses of her friends, and no longer bothers to ask whether she can go. She accepts our way of life. I am her everything, and she is mine.

On the ninth anniversary, she finds me with a photo album. I am beyond drunk. Nine months feels like a lifetime. The wedding album is grey with dust, and heavier than lead. Each picture cuts like a knife, not a single hit softened by the alcohol. My wife, my beautiful wife. Laughing, smiling. Smirking in the pictures just after the speeches we never actually heard.

It’s not fair. We married so late. We never had a chance. Hazel came in then. She’d gone to school despite the day, perhaps she hadn’t remembered. It’s clear enough that she remembers as she comes forward, and I’m not sure whether she’s shaking – or if I’m simply that unsteady. Either is likely. She closes the album, pushes it away and holds her hands out. I take them and stand.

Quietly she pulls me back towards the lounge room, settling me back on the couch. I lay down as bidden, and she pulls the blanket back over me. It’s warm and safe there. Once I’m secure, she crawls under the blanket with me, wraps my arms about her and stays. I bury my nose in her hair, let the last of my tears fall softly into the blanket. She is silent, and the overwhelming urge to sleep has me drifting off. Only her occasional moves bring me back, just to the edge of consciousness. She is shaking for sure now. Perhaps crying, I can’t tell.

‘Why can’t you get better, Dad?’ her voice breaks as she asks the question.

‘I’ll never be better, Haze.’ I murmur sleepily. ‘Not without your Mum.’

‘Never?’ there is an element of fear to her question now. I answer truthfully.

‘Never.’ I couldn’t stop the yawn. I was fading fast, the alcohol was taking me away. I was warm, miserable – but safe with Hazel.

‘Where do you think Mum is?’ she moved around, waking me a little more. I settled quietly before replying, yawning again.

‘Heaven. She was a good woman.’ I murmur, drifting even closer towards sleep. But Hazel isn’t finished. She swallowed, a huge motion that went right through her.

‘Dad… do you want to die?’

‘It would probably hurt less.’ All thought processes are lost in sleep. I drift off by the end of the sentence, passing out into a deep slumber that claims me for the next twelve hours.

Hazel doesn’t sleep for any of it.

014: Everything To Me

When I woke up with a blanket thrown over me, I knew Hazel was back. I don’t know how she got back to the house, and I’d be lying if I said that visions of her sitting in the cold outside the school didn’t plague me for weeks after, but as I woke with yet another throbbing headache, I found some comfort in the thick quilt and the knowledge that once again, I wasn’t alone.

The tapes had gone back under the bed, I’d watched and studied every one. With memories refreshed, my dreams were so much more vivid – I woke, sometimes still tipsy and certain she was there with me. The perfume in the sheets was so believable, I remembered the sun and how solid she felt in my arms, the blind she insisted on leaving open even though the sun was rough on our eyes. It always seemed so real.

But my room didn’t have blinds. The perfume was sprayed by me, it didn’t come off her skin in the night. There was no warmth. I’d put the tapes back reluctantly, but the images stayed with me. They teased me. So many things I would never have again – could never do again. There wouldn’t be anyone else like Kate. Hazel was all I had.

She must have heard me wake. No sooner had I sat up, she was in the room with me. Her face was drawn, and she was still wearing her school uniform. I realised then I’d failed to pick her up, wondered how long she’d hung around waiting, but she apologised before I had to.

‘I’m sorry Dad.’ She said, shuffling over and hugging me. ‘I thought you were ready.’ She doesn’t move, just leans there with her arms around me.

‘I need you, bub,’ I say to her softly. ‘You’re everything to me.’

013: The One Who Knew Better

The eighth month passed while she was away. They were the only dates I could remember, the only ones that ever seemed to matter. I spared some of my morning thoughts for Hazel, hoped that Canberra was going well – and that whatever she was doing, she didn’t pay the same morbid respect that I did for the day. I hoped for her sake, that she forgot. She was too young for a single date to haunt her every month.

I was drinking by ten, softening the edges of a hangover with a bottle of the good stuff – a special bottle for a ‘special’ occasion. For an hour I sat in Hazel’s room, wished for a while that she was there, was relieved for a while that she wasn’t. Wallowed in my loneliness at the bottom of the shower, scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt and cursed the lukewarm water that found its way into my drink. I drank it, water and all.

When the bottle was gone, I shut the shower off, stepped out onto the towel and stared at my blurred reflection. I was a mess, I knew it. Three days gone, I was well back – and even worse than I’d been before. I found another bottle. A towel. I sat on the bedroom floor, and missed Kate. My drunken curiosity got the better of me, and I found the box under the bed. The box of items I’d not ever, and would never allow Hazel to see.

There were a number of tapes. Most of them silly, some of them quite intense. I selected one at random, bottle gripped in sheer determination. It would hurt. The photos had hurt enough. But I was desperate to see her, hear her. In eight months, I was terrified that I’d forgotten the sound of her voice, that I would forever lose the way she smiled at me. That special smile – the secretive and slightly smug smile she saved for me alone. It wasn’t ever in the pictures. It was only in fleeting moments. I was glad now for her insistence on the camera.

The first shots were of me, much younger – always nervous. Setting up the camera, standing in the way. Giggles in the background made my heart race, and stop. And race again. The screen version of myself stepped aside, and she was there. She laughs, and it must have been the first taping. I’m too nervous to walk back into the shot. She waits, smiles, and I barely hear the words as she coaxes my younger self closer. I’m too focused on the melody of her words, of the rich tone of her voice. Shattered in poor recording, but enough.

The passion with which we kiss is heartbreaking, though we don’t realise it – we are in love. We realise in the end, but this is fun. This is what we do to upset Alan. It is before our official relationship. This is the beginning.

She is drunk, as I recall. Drunk – yet still the one taking advantage. I still appear hesitant, hovering back as far as I dare – but she’s got me. Well and truly. I let out a deep breath as my former self gives in, ignoring the camera. Trusting in whatever crazy fate it was that brought us together, mesmerised by the woman who only moments ago had been falling asleep at the bar.

She is beautiful. As our bodies meet on screen, I long to touch her again – to bury my hands in her hair, hold her close and listen to her breathe. We are mostly silent. There is no need for noise, and even as our mouths part, we still find no words. No great exclamations. We stare at each other instead, breathless and in awe of the other. It’s there, strong and running between us – but we don’t know. The staring is odd. She kisses me again.

As I watch, I remember. The bedside lamp, pointed directly at my back – a warm light for the camera. Her arms, thin but strong, her fingers sliding across my body, the catch in her breath. The serious moment, staring again.

‘I think I love you.’ She says.

‘I think you’re drunk.’ Is my reply. She laughs and smiles. That smile.

She always did know better.

012: Back To Bad

Canberra camp was all we talked about for the next month. Since Kate’s death, we hadn’t travelled. Only enough to get out of Narrie, I’d barely been out of the house since then. Kate’s job had meant a lot of travel to visit other schools, and she’d often taken Hazel for a drive with her. The pair of them loved to get away, family holidays had always been amazing. I just couldn’t do it anymore.

The morning of departure, she woke at three in the morning. The bus was due to leave at six, we’d packed the night before – but still she couldn’t sleep beyond the earliest hours. She checked and double checked her bag, comparing the items she had with the items she needed according to the list. We’d already crossed them off four times, but it seemed that Hazel was even more pedantic than myself. It was almost cute the way she over-checked, but I was far too anxious to find any amusement in it.

She would be fine, I told myself. Hazel was in the company of friends and teachers who’d been nothing but wonderful to her, schools were reliable with this sort of stuff. Sixty other sets of parents were putting their trust in the school, and they were taking a bus. That had been the main point for me. There was no way I was letting Hazel cross the country in a plane.

At four-thirty, we made our third cup of milo and she finally stopped checking her bags. She pinned a copy of the itinerary to the wall, so I would know where she was and what she was up to at all times, and we stocked her wallet with a fistful of coins so she could call me from the caravan park. I’d been tempted to slip her a phone, but in addition to being against camp rules – the only extra phone I had was Kate’s. I couldn’t take it out of its box yet. Coins would have to do. She was under strict instruction to steal a phone from a teacher if she felt in any way threatened or unhappy.

At five, we gathered her bags and started the walk to school. I wanted to see her off, and there was no way she was going to get all of the gear to the school on her own. With a sleeping bag tucked under one arm, and her suitcase rolling behind me, I shuffled nervously down the quiet suburban streets. I felt out of place and disconnected from the world, I’d showered three times to get ready for it. It had been months since I’d stepped inside the school, and I wasn’t looking forward to being surrounded by other, normal parents.

Hazel just beamed as we walked (she skipped) the few blocks across town to the school. Two busses sat purring on the road, a flurry of children and parents gathered about them, shoving bags underneath and wiping faces. I stopped at the edge of it all, letting Hazel drag her stuff bit by bit over to the bus. A few of the parents looked over at us. I tried to ignore them. She came back, stood in front of me with a broad grin. She looked so happy. Jumping forward, she threw her arms about me, hugged me tight.

‘I’m going to be fine, Dad.’ She reassured me, relaxing her arms just a little, and resting in there. I rested my arms about her, let the moment settle. I needed to hold on to this for the next week, while she wasn’t here. ‘I’ve been worried about you, Dad.’ She sighed.

‘Mmmm?’ talking wasn’t really on my mind right now. I was holding my daughter, and that was all that mattered. She was where she belonged, with me, safe and sound. She wouldn’t be for a whole seven days. Hold onto it, I told myself. You never know when it’s going to go away.

‘Yeah. But you’re getting better. I can go away now, and you’ll be okay.’ She said it so plainly. It shocked me to the core, her sweet sentiment so harmlessly meant – scared the hell out of me. My heart thudded awkwardly. Hazel was going to be fine. She didn’t need me. She didn’t think I needed her anymore. She was going away for a whole week. Hazel hugged me tight one more time, before jumping up to kiss me on the cheek and tear away towards the bus.

I headed back via the bottleshop.

Kate wouldn’t have approved. But she was hardly here to care.

011: Both Mother & Father

I spent the next day at the library. Research was key. If i was going to be both father and mother to my daughter, I was going to need to be better prepared. I haunted the women’s self help section with shame, avoiding the gaze of the librarians as I checked out a handful of titles. I needed some new understanding of what it was to be a woman, I needed to approach the world trying to understand what Hazel was going through.

She thought it was hilarious.

That’s Life!?’ she asked incredulously, coming out for breakfast one morning. Halfway between my coffee and another bite of toast – and trying desperately to prove that I wasn’t affected by the cover page sob story, I shrugged nonchalantly and promised to finish the story and have a proper cry later. I closed the magazine.

‘It’s got good puzzles.’ I defended myself, indicating my ‘cover pen’ which had somehow rolled halfway down the table with the cap still on. She didn’t believe me. I finished the last of my toast, poured her a milo. She sat down to breakfast with a smile, and for just a moment – it felt like things were working.

‘Yeah, sure Dad.’ She rolled her eyes and we both laughed. Around her toast she rambled on about school work, teachers and the dramas between her friends. I gave advice as best I could, recalling the gems I’d learned from the library and my intensive study of trashy womens’ magazines. It seemed to do the trick. She continued smiling, but lingered at the table a moment.

‘Bus’ll be here soon, Haze.’ I reminded her. She nodded, but stayed.

‘I know, um. Dad…?’ she started hesitantly, shoving her hands in her pockets. Her eyes stopped meeting mine, she seemed to be looking more at the ground than at anywhere else. ‘My grade is going on a camp. To Canberra. I know it’s expensive, and it’s for a full week, but I really want to go…’ she finally met my eyes.

I didn’t know what to say. I tried to recall everything I’d learned again, but nothing came back to me. I didn’t want her to go. Not for a whole week. But everything I’d read had a lot to say about clipping wings, and how it shouldn’t be done. I was already feeling anxious as I swallowed hard, shifted the plate about in front of me.

‘Of course you can go.’ I replied, simultaneously making her day – and destroying mine.