004: Eighteen Hours

Hazel was scared when I woke. Groggy and confused, her face was the first I saw – her eyes red. We weren’t on the bus anymore, the walls of an unfamiliar hospital greeted me in sterile beige and faded green. Paramedics who removed me from the bus hovered in the background, nurses tried to coax Hazel away – as they’d tried to for some hours now – but she would not be moved. She clung to the sheets, claimed her place on the bed beside me and turned her frightened eyes to anyone who dared disagree with her.

                  I had been out eighteen hours. Child protective services had already been contacted, a welfare officer was on her way to evaluate my competency as a father. The guilt didn’t hit me as soon as it should have, in some way I hoped they would take her somewhere better. Let her forget all about this, about our family – overwrite the bad memories with better ones.

                  The nurses led her out as the woman interviewed me. Any thoughts that I could live without her vanished as she turned back, giving me that look. Kate’s look. Perhaps she would be better off without me, perhaps she would have a happier life. But Hazel was all I had left of Kate, and I was just selfish enough to force her to stay.

                  I gave the woman the answers she wanted to hear. She let me keep my daughter.

                  We settled in Whyalla that week.

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