WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 29. Picture: Simone De Peak
Read more finalists’ stories hereI TOLDMum about the birds at dinner.
“And then we were walking out of the shop and Mr Harrison’s truck made a big bang and a huge bunch of doves went flying out of that tree on the corner.
“They were so noisy! Eak eak eak! Pippa nearly cried!”
I thought she would laugh but she didn’t laugh.
I put the chicken nugget I was holding in my mouth. It was still cold in the middle.
“Did not.” Pippa banged her fork on the table.
“Did too! I saw you!”
“Samson!” Mum’s voice cracked from the kitchen. “Stop teasing your sister.”
I stopped chewing. “But …”
“And stop talking with your mouth full. And …”She snapped her head around.
“Where’s your fork? Why are you eating with your fingers again?
“You wouldn’t do that if your dad was here. Jesus!”
She slapped the edge of the sink and I saw Pippa jump. Her eyes were big like they were before she cried.
“And they’re corellas. Not doves,” she snorted. “In a flock. Not a bunch.”
I swallowed. “Sorry.” A flock of corellas, I tried to remember.
Mum was smart.
Nanna said that when Mum was my age she won an award for writing some story and it got in the paper.
Nanna said Mum was supposed to do something with her life. Not – she looked at me and Pippa with that face she made sometimes -that you’re not something.
But she was supposed to do more.
“So a flock of corellas went past and Hannah said …”
“Did Hannah get milk?”
“Yes. And bread and teabags. Like on your list.”
And a killer python for me and some freckles for Pippa. But we weren’t supposed to tell that part.
Once the lady at the shop said Mum wasn’t right in the head. It was the first time Hannah took us home and they thought I wasn’t listening but I was. The lady said she felt sorry for us. Because of Dad, and because Mum wasn’t right in the head.
I picked up another nugget and looked at Mum as I chewed it.
She held a mug of tea up to her face like she was smelling it. Her head looked fine. Her nose was a bit pointy and her eyebrows were very dark but she was pretty. One of the prettiest mums at school, even if she didn’t wear make-up or always brush her hair.
“Samson, are you eating with your fingers again?”
I shook my head but when I looked down I was still holding half a nugget. I didn’t know whether to shove it into my mouth or drop it on my plate so I went to do both and it fell into my lap instead, and then splud on to the floor, sauce-side down.
Mum sighed, looked up at the ceiling.
“Now you’ve done it, Samson. Honestly …” She did a funny breath. “If you just used your bloody fork … Just wait until your dad comes home.”
Another funny breath.
“No, but, when I use my fork I …”
She turned away. “Save it for your dad, Samson.”
She always said things like that. Wait until your dad comes home. Save it for your dad. You’d be better if your dad was here.
“Just eat your dinner. With your fork.”
Her eyes were really big. And kind of pointy. I know you can’t have pointy eyes but Mum sort of had pointy eyes. When she looked at me sometimes it was like they were poking me. Maybe that was the wrong thing. Or maybe it was the freckle on her cheek.
She breathed out funny again and turned her whole body away so I couldn’t see any more.
From the back, her head just looked normal.
Nanna said I should be more patient with Mum. That this was very hard for her. Then she told Mum should be more patient with me. He’s just a kid, she said. And Mum would say she knew, and she was sorry.
I picked up another nugget. They were cold all over now.
“Muuum!” Pippa banged her fork on the table. “Samson’s using fingers!”
I tried to shush her but she didn’t stop, so I threw the nugget at her.
“Samson! Christ!” Pointy eyes again. Pointy eyes. Pointy nose. Funny big scary eyebrows. Freckle on her cheek. And a scar across her chin from when she fell over before Pippa was born. Not right in the head.
“I didn’t mean …”
She looked at the ceiling again, and I wanted to say I didn’t mean to throw the nugget but I did mean to throw the nugget.
Pippa didn’t even care. She was eating it, with her fingers. Pippa ate anything. She’d probably been waiting for me to throw the nugget for ages.
“I’m …”I wanted to say sorry but I wasn’t sorry.
“You know what?” Mum put down her mug. Thunk. Too hard. “Forget it. Forget all of it. Your dad can sort it out.” She looked at me with her pointy eyes again, then she walked out of the room.
“Forget it, Samson.” I heard the door slam.
Pippa looked at me, still chewing her nugget. “My nugget”, grumbled my belly. I shouldn’t have thrown it. Her eyes were big like Mum’s, but round, like they were supposed to be.
“It’s OK, Pippy.” I said. “That flock of corollas was pretty exciting, wasn’t it? Eak eak eak!”
“You ready for your bath?”
Mum got confused sometimes. About Dad.
Nanna said I should be patient with her, but it was hard when she got confused. It was hard when she talked like he was going to come and run our bath and put us to bed, like other dads.
His eyes weren’t pointy. They were blue.
I couldn’t really remember.
Some days I couldn’t remember him at all.