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Kippy Day, 7.30pm
In an inky corner of the veranda, Miranda rolls up a joint. In the middle of a hot Australian summer, the air is warm as blood. From inside the house, she listens to the sound of plates smashing, and him fist printing his fury onto the walls. She hears to his guttural groans, his mess and his kic kic kic.
“Kic kic kic,”
“Don’t you… don’t you dare Lior.” She sees him through the glass. He stares at his hand, at the fingers on the hand, as they clench and unclench like a sea anemone in shallow light. He rises and falls, bouncing on his forefeet. His hands shake. She stands at the shoreline of his world. She is the tempest and the gatekeeper and all he wants (that you willnae gie him) is his –
“Kippy day. Granda. Kippy Granda.” He lunges closer, the glass in the shadows separates them.
“Kippy day finished.” Miranda crosses her arms over her chest and sweeps them down in front of her. “Granda finished.” Their sign for “finished,” so often used, has changed over the years. It has morphed into a bigger version that uses two arms and the whole torso. And Miranda thinks how strange it is that the sign they make for “finished,” so resembles the sign they make for “love.”
Long Time Yet
Four months earlier, and Miranda woke to the sound of the toilet flushing again and again on an empty cistern. She lay in bed staring at a brown stain on the ceiling. She rubbed a hand over the soft fuzz that had grown over her head. She made a mental note to shave it closer before summer came in earnest. When the toilet flushed again, Miranda got out of bed.
She stepped into the lingering straw smell of Lior’s morning piss. He turned to her with two wet spots on the front of his pyjamas. Sleep clung to him like syrup on a spoon.
“Enough flushing now Lior.” “Enough flushing now Lior.” Miranda took his hands in her own and kissed him on the cheek. She noticed the soft floss of hair that had started to grow on his face in the last few months. She wouldn’t shave it yet. She held him for as long as she could, until she saw a fluke of panic in his eyes and felt his body rise into a jump. She stepped to one side.
“Granda. Granda today.” Lior signed.
“Not today. Granda another day. Let’s get ready.” Sometimes Miranda wondered why Lior loved her dad so much. Perhaps it was only the absence of the father she had never named. He came with the fair, spun the waltzers if you want to know the truth. No one knew the truth.
In the kitchen, Lior ate standing at the breakfast bar, milk slopped over the side of the bowl. Finished, he sent the spoon skittering into the dish and stepped away with his head to one side and a smile on his face.
“Cheeky Lior,” Miranda smiled. “Wash it up.”
He took the dish to the sink and rinsed it, leaving bits of cereal still in the bowl.
“Kippy day?” Lior smiled a gluey smile. “Kippy lights,” he bounced higher, because it might Be, it might Happen today.
“Don’t start that Lior,” Miranda tried to keep her voice playful though it was too early in the year for this. “It’s not Christmas bloody day yet. Okay?”
He stopped bouncing, stood dead still, looked at her with eyes the colour of iron. “Long time yet?”
Miranda stepped away from him. “Long time yet. Let’s get ready. Go for a walk.”
The water was low in the dam, exposing the steep gummy banks. A fish tail slapped in the shallows and it would be perch, Miranda knew, Miranda knew, there was only perch left. She imagined a tessellation of perch in the water, with their sharp spines and their endless eyes. She turned her back on the dam and followed Lior along the walk he knew by heart. Across the empty paddock on the hillside and beyond. The dam was not a place she liked to linger. Lior bounded ahead. Miranda watched his pale legs that had sprouted golden hairs like the roots of a parsnip. He lifted the neck of his Superman t-shirt to his nose and inhaled the scent of his skin in the wind. He beamed and sniffed again,
They walked an hour or more before Lior slowed and reached for Miranda. She felt his hand, hot, inside her own. They turned back towards the house, their shadows merged before them.
“Hang on there Lior,” Miranda said, when they arrived home. With a burst of energy Lior ran to the cherry blossom tree. Miranda opened the letterbox, to find a large envelope, bent to fit inside. Lior, crouching low, felt the grass under his palms. The wind drove the blossoms from the tree. They carpeted the grass that would not survive the approaching summer. Not with the dam so low and the rain so fleeting. And the wind was sharp, and Miranda cold without her coat. Perhaps that was why it trembled – the hand that held the envelope. Perhaps it was only that. Miranda opened it to find a pamphlet. Picture of a large, yellow building on the front, empty trellis on one side. There was no note, but she knew who’d sent it, could feel him in her fingertips. She heard him (well it’s nae guid pretending) in her head.
Miranda stood with the pamphlet in her hand watching Lior. He stood under the tree with his face tipped to the boughs. There were blossoms netted in his hair and his hands. His mouth had fallen open in silent joy. Behind him, the house her father built for her Aunt Ada. When Ada died, he allowed Miranda to live there. And it was a place Miranda could hide. A place for Lior to listen to loud music. Where he could take his clothes off in all weathers. And run, screaming his joy and his rage into a world that understood neither.
Lior bounded over to her and took her hand. He closed his eyes, she saw the trust on his face as she kissed him, for she was only, his absolute proof of love. Lior took the pamphlet, slapped it against his hand and pressed his nose into the pages. He assessed its worth by smell and touch, then released it like an undersized fish. They began to walk up to the house but Miranda turned back and picked up the brochure. She couldn’t leave it there to blow away and litter the land. She would put it in the recycling (will ye noo?) or give it up to the fire.
The mournful shriek of a black cockatoo cut through a hazy afternoon. Miranda watched the red speck on the horizon getting closer as the car kicked up a cloud of dust. The turnoff led to so few places that few people ever took it. Every now and then the sun glinted off the windscreen. Lior got up from his blanket, agitated, she picked up a toy car and spun the wheels with her finger. Her eyes did not leave the road. He turned to her and signed,
“One more sleep,” she replied and signed.
Lior sat on the ground and swirled his hands in the dust and dead, desiccated grass. As she watched the car getting closer, she felt her temperature rise. She could almost taste her sister in the air. When she stood up Lior copied her, his hands full of earth. Miranda stepped away as Lior signed Granda again, and garbled the word. He jumped on his feet, getting higher in the air as he signed over and again, each time banging his hands together. In a moment the car would turn into the driveway, and for a moment, Miranda felt she couldn’t bear it. The waiting and the happening. She stood out of sight behind the old wood shed. She listened as the car clattered over the cattlegrid and inched along the track. She heard her sister get out of the car and greet Lior. The moment trickled by as slow as honey. She stepped out from behind the tree.
Ophelia came to greet her, arms wide, “Sorry sis I didn’t see you there.”
As a child, Miranda would pretend she could make herself invisible. Ophelia had believed it, when Miranda said it was her deepest, darkest secret. Miranda thought of this now as she felt Ophelia’s arms around her. She could feel the lightness of her younger sister’s bones, could smell the cinnamon in Ophelia’s shampoo. She could not remember what it felt like to have hair to wash. “Merry fukken Christmas,” Ophelia said.
Miranda opened her eyes. Over her sister’s shoulder, she saw the change in Lior’s face.
“Kippy day? Kippy day.” Lior jumped from foot to foot, his movements sure.
“One more sleep,” Miranda replied. She licked her lips and realised they were dry and sore and after she realised, she could not stop licking them.
Ophelia walked back to her car. She set her belongings on the ground. Two carrier bags overfilled with her clothes. Lior took out a hairdryer and sniffed it all over. He brought the cord close to his face, then let it dangle from his hand.
“He’s pleased to see me then,” Ophelia joked as she leaned her back against the car. She lit a cigarette and held it between her fingers.
“How have you been?” Miranda asked, sidling over.
“Busy.” She put the tip of her thumb in her mouth. The gesture reminded Miranda of their childhood. Ophelia, with little blisters pearled on the tips of her thumb.
“Didn’t you go away last month?”
“Yeah.” Ophelia sighed, “feels like ages ago. Haven’t we spoken since then?” She tipped her face to the sky and closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Miranda said, “I’m as bad.” Miranda looked up at Ophelia. “I’ll ring you more. I promise.”
(Ye didna lick your lips since you lied last).