Hazel enrolled in school as soon as we settled. She never asked why we left, I never gave her a reason. She cried in the night for her mother, cried for the friends and family we’d left behind. Some nights she would sneak into my room, curl up on what should have been Kate’s side of the bed and sleep there. Curled up with Elephant, she looked sad even in her sleep – a sadness I couldn’t help with. All I could do was watch her sleep, try not to wake her with my own tears.
School was good for her. She was a good kid who made friends easily; she never struggled with her work. The mothers took pity on her, invited her over to stay frequently. She came home with stories of happy families, of pets and parents and everything we didn’t have. I smiled as she told them, drank quietly through our dinners and pretended the world was rolling on as it should.
I didn’t even realise I was clearing bottles a night. It certainly didn’t occur to me that Hazel’s constant play dates were less about her having friends – and more a desperate attempt by the school and it’s families to save her from drowning with me, her alcoholic father.
The school made more obvious attempts. Letters came in almost daily, inviting me to this and that, a suggestion that I might help coach the soccer team – a meeting with Hazel’s classroom teacher, notes to fetes, school excursions, committee meetings. I put them aside as though I planned to consider them, but never did. Money from the sale of the Roo was more than enough to keep us in cash, leaving the house for even the smallest things felt too much of a struggle.
Hazel took the bus to school.
I sat in the dark until she came back.
Months passed slowly, each one more painful than the last. First she had been gone one month, and then two. Three months, then four. By the fifth month, the last of her favourite perfume was gone – spread into the dusty house we lived in. I bought more, but it wasn’t the same. She’d never touched the bottle. It smelled like her, but it wasn’t hers. When Hazel wasn’t home, I burned cigarettes like incense on the dining room table.
With enough scotch, I could close my eyes and imagine she was still there. A waft of perfume just left the room, snuck out for another dirty cigarette I’d be sure to note the minute she returned. I drank until I could fool myself.
Sometimes it worked.