Sure There Wasn’t Anything in the Wallet?
The air in the room is thick, stale. It smells of old grudges left to fester. The coffee table between mother and son is cluttered with resentments. There’s a chess set, willed to her, though the black knight’s mane is worn away from where he rubbed it constantly. It was always the first piece Dad felled when they played.
He takes the wallet out of his pocket, and places it on the table like a declaration. The walnut-coloured leather is worn smooth, the two halves of the wallet pressed together like tightly pursed lips. Yes, perhaps he has become more careful with money since inheriting it.
“Did he leave anything in it?” she asks.
He considers what to say. The truth? Pepper it with lies?
“Twenty bucks, a few coins, an old drycleaning receipt.”
Somewhere in between then.
“No letter? No photos?”
“Not in the wallet, no.” He doesn’t mention retrieving the coat from the drycleaner, the contents of the pockets neatly placed into an envelope.
“I always suspected he had someone.”
Yes, he thinks, we all suspected when the widow moved in down the street. Her tight hair and her lips red like a warning.
But he also remembers trips with Dad to the gorge. Pitching their tent under the stars sprinkled like salt across the sky. He remembers the cold, Dad throwing him his scratchy wool jumper. He remembers Dad clutching him close as they summitted, saying, “It’s just you and me and the sky, son”.
He remembers coming home to the women, dusty and bone-weary. He remembers the feeling of being in a balloon with dad, in their own contained atmosphere. As if his mother and sister were breathing different air, their words lighter, floating away. He remembers Dad eating Mum’s lasagne, saying, “Oh this is great, Sal, after that rehydrated mush all weekend, eh James?” And he remembers Dad’s wink, and secret smile, and he remembers smiling back, thinking he could eat Surprise Peas for every meal.
“Sure there wasn’t anything in the wallet, James?” Mum calls him back.
He sees the look in her eyes. If it had been pleading, or even just unsure, he might have told her about the letter. About the letter from the widow down the road saying she couldn’t run away with him, no matter how much she loved him, no matter how he made her body come alive. She couldn’t do that, and she’d be moving away. He might have told her how the paper had been worn smooth, the creases cutting into the words like knife wounds. He might have told her as a way of explaining what came next. How Dad slipped away, as a leaf on the autumn wind, dry, browned with the dead weight of hope.
But her eyes speak of us and them, of taking sides. So he finishes his tea, puts the wallet back in his pocket. He leans over to kiss his mother. She angles her cheek to him, but the rest of herself away. He catches sight of himself in the mirror, his body curved over to reach her, just like his father, his lips just brushing her cheek, just like his father.
About the Author
Sumitra Shankar writes in Naarm/Melbourne. She travelled through many spaces to get there and writes to make sense of her experiences, including of grief and loss. She’ll be the one in the kitchen making chai (where’s your cardamom?). She works in mental health. You can find her and her other publication credits on twitter: @pleomorphic2