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Kippy Day, 12.30pm
Lior holds his granda’s hand, strokes the back of it with his thumb. Miranda stares at is like it is an open wound. Equal parts fascinating and painful. Her father doesn’t agree with handholding now Lior is thirteen.
“Ye can’t give him pasta bake at Christmas.”
“It’s what he likes,” Miranda says as she takes the meal out of the oven. “I’ll put some brussels with it if you want. He won’t eat them.”
“Yer mother made ye girls eat whatever she put in front of ye.”
Lior senses a change. He drops the hand. He springs forward and lands in the living room. He keeps springing, forward and back, rotating all the time.
“Noisy bugger today aren’t ye?”
“What do you expect Da?”
“Kippy day.” Lior goes up to the tree that his mum and aunt put up while he was sleeping. He peers into a blue bauble, staring at his distorted face. He taps the ball rhythmically with one finger. He rises up and down onto the hard part of his foot, nostrils flaring as he breathes in the smell of tinsel.
“Can’t ye gie him something?” Granda asks.
“I did already,” Miranda frowns. These days she feels like a walking dispensary. Doling out alprazolam, diazepam, lorazepam, in spoonfuls of raspberry jam. Ophelia lays the table and soon Lior is at her side. He touches the Christmas crackers to make the little bells jingle. Ophelia gives Lior a napkin and he flicks it with one hand. His tongue keeps falling out of his mouth. Ophelia sets a paper hat on her own head, and Lior’s. She kisses him on the cheek. He reaches up and the hat tears, and sits lopsided on his head. Miranda steps towards them with a warning on her lips as Lior brings up his leg and kicks the table. The glasses shiver like icicles on the white linen.
“Lior,” Miranda’s voice threatens, “don’t start.”
“Kic. Kic An-tee.”
“Abso-bloody-lutely not boy. On the couch.” With her hand at his back Miranda marches him into the living room. “Legs up.” She puts his weighted blanket on him. His body moves, feverish hot under the blanket.
Miranda fills a glass with water from the fridge. She takes a moment to steady her breathing, running a hand over her naked head. She knows they shouldn’t celebrate Christmas anymore. Lior’s need for it is too heavy. He can’t carry its weight. She has never been able to take it away.
“What are we doing about this turkey then?” Granda says as he sets it down on the table.
“Wait a minute Da. Let him calm down.”
“Och, it’ll be dry as bane by the time your lad calms down.” Granda looks at Miranda. She notices his eyes, red-rimmed, dropping low in his face (getting auld).
Miranda feels as though the house has been shrinking all day. The windows sweat. The air is thick and sticky. Granda always insists on a roast dinner. Fondly, he recalls the Christmases he spent in Scotland. The way Granda tells it, and he tells it with some shine in his eye, Christmas was the only day he knew he’d be properly fed. He and Aunt Ada migrated when they were children, now he’s another forgotten Australian who can’t forget. At the farm school they told him that his mother didn’t want him, and his country didn’t want him, and that they could do what they liked to him. And they did, and did what they liked again.
When Miranda calls Lior for dinner, he comes out and bounces over to his granda. He puts his face close by. Breathing in, he sings, “shouey.” He reaches out and flaps the loose skin around his grandfather’s neck. Ophelia looks at Miranda. They smother a giggle. Ophelia uses her phone to put Christmas music on Miranda’s battered old speaker.
“That’s right Lior,” Granda says, patting him on the back of his hand and then moving the hand away from his face. “There’s a good lad.”
Granda’s palms meet, fingers clasp, his head bows low. Nothing more. The old gesture was long ago put aside.
Between mouthfuls, Lior jumps up and around the kitchen. Miranda thinks his movements are slowing. She detects a looseness, a rolling about the eyes that tells her the tablets she gave him are taking effect. They drink a toast to Mum. Miranda takes a quick sip of her wine. Ophelia finds her hand under the table.
Lior sings along to the music in a garbled voice that mimics the song. Miranda realises that it is the most she has ever heard him say. She wonders if things are getting better. And in the middle of this, Granda goes over to the sideboard for another bottle of wine. An instant slips by, no one sees what happens. The first thing Miranda knows is that her father is on the floor. Lior springs back, over to the window and puts his hands over his ears. There is a series of long, low groans and the sound of Granda breathing heavy like a horse come in from the rain. Ophelia gets up, knocking the table as she does, she reaches his side and tries to help him stand. Her paper crown has slipped and folded in on itself. Miranda can’t stop looking at it. She revolves on the spot, first turning to Lior.
“Kic, kic, kic,” he chants like a child reciting a well-known verse, “kic, kic, kic.”
She stares down at her father, toppled like a chess piece. His body trembles and already the knee is swollen, the leg extends at a wrong angle. She stares at her father’s white face and she watches him gasping. On the floor he is grey. He is grey and cracked, a statue torn from its plinth. Miranda makes no move. She hadn’t realised how close it always was, cleaving to her like unshed skin. She closes her eyes and listens to the rhythmic thud of her child’s foot slamming against the wall.
Kippy Day, 8.30pm
They stand outside, Lior runs around the house; an embodied ghost. He bites his upper arms, leaving red mouth marks in his flesh. Miranda cannot bear to watch him through the windows. She turns away and looks out onto the early evening and the stars emerging in a blind, benevolent summer sky. She can still hear him screaming. Miranda wishes Ophelia had gone with Granda in the ambulance. Instead, she totters on her feet and teeth stained with red wine.
Ophelia clears her throat, “will you be alright?”
“He’ll calm down in a bit.”
“I don’t think it’s safe for you on your own with him. What if he hurts you?”
“I can manage him. And if one day I can’t – well – there’s always the dam.” Miranda clamps her mouth shut but it’s too late. Ophelia arches an eyebrow. Miranda pretends to laugh. As if it’s a joke. She hadn’t meant to say anything about the dam.
“Da told me there’s a place, a house, for people like Lior. He sent you a brochure. Did you get it?”
“I got it. It’s four hours away from here.”
“Have you been to look at it then?”
“It’s four hours away.” Miranda doesn’t want to remind her sister that – well, she can drive – of course she can, but she doesn’t have a licence. Had been too busy to get it when she was a teenager. Back when Lior had been two years old and hadn’t smiled yet, and still looked through her as if she were water.
“I think you should think about –”
“No.” Miranda stands in front of her sister. The woman who drives, works at a hospice like the one their mother died in. One day Ophelia will have her own children. Who won’t headbutt the walls and kneecap their grandfather.
“You looked strange in there,” Ophelia says. The booze has made Ophelia’s eyes luminous and large. Miranda does not look at her. She looks at the sky, blue as veins, and the setting sun. A night like this she had gone to the fair to find the man who span the waltzers. She’s been lying to herself about the man who span the waltzers.
“When Da got hurt. You were smiling.”
Miranda remembers looking down at her father, listening to his pain. She had thought about a pain of her own that is always, always there. The stench of his whisky on the breath as he showed her his magazines (there wisnae anyone to teach Aunt Ada). The time he said she should be prepared, should be taught. With her mother gone there was no one to teach her (what’s oot there) except himself. And the world is rough. The next time he’d been mouthless. All hands. Tugging hands. Teaching hands. But that was before, if she’s honest with herself. And she hasn’t been honest with herself. That happened before the man who span the waltzers. Miranda swallows. Her throat is dry, the swallowing hurts. Ophelia offers the drink, but says nothing. Miranda raises the glass to her lips to feel it there. She fills her mouth and swallows the secret before it reveals itself. She stares at an ant hole in the ground. At the dirt piled up around a perfect “O.” “Taxi’s here,” Ophelia says. Miranda does not look up. They’ve known for a while that the taxi was getting closer. Ophelia doesn’t need to say it, but it’s time they both stop pretending. Miranda suddenly can’t wait for her sister to leave (just pish off) so she can sit down in the quiet, roll up a joint, and forget.
Lior paces inside the house. He rattles a flyscreen and shouts, “KippydaykippydaykippyDAY.”
“Will you be alright?”
Ophelia takes her glass and expertly tips it into a drink bottle.
“You’re taking a roadie to our father’s bedside?”
“Yeah,” Ophelia grins in a way that reminds Miranda so sharply of their childhood. She reaches out and puts her hand on top of Ophelia’s. When it is time to part, Miranda makes a small noise at the back of her throat, but Ophelia does not hear it.
After Kippy Day
Miranda will wake up before Lior. She will dress in silence while it’s still dark. She will put her boots on and step out into the mist that rises like angels off the pastures. She will wish that she got into the habit of walking on her own. She will walk all the way to the cattlegrid and then she will stop. And it will feel as if her own two feet have turned cloven. She will stare out onto the road for a long time, and imagine Lior waking up and looking for her. Wandering from room to room, signing mummy, opening the cupboards as if she has shrunk to that size. Eating food from the freezer. Eating until he’s sick. When he realises that she isn’t there, perhaps he will cry. Perhaps he will squat on his heels and run his fingers through the carpet and slap his hand on the side of his head and cry and cry and cry.
She will turn back, running. She’ll falter at the threshold to her own front door. Place her hand on the fly screen, rub her face with her sleeve until it hurts. Because she is crying and her breathing is unsure. The only thing she will want to do in that moment is sit by Lior’s bed without waking him. When she is in his room she will take his hand and kiss his fingers. Breathe in the scent of him where it gathers at his hairline, at the nape of his neck. Fluorescent constellations of stars will drift over them. Lior cannot sleep in the dark.
“I’m sorry,” she will whisper, “I’m back now and it’s only us. Granda won’t visit us again.” (but I’m still inside yer heid). “I’m not going anywhere and you’re not either. Because I love you.” She will sit with him while he sleeps. She has half an hour to love him in until he wakes. And she will try to be careful, but her love is made of angry, hungry stuff. It stirs like ghosts even when she holds it between her teeth. Lior will turn towards her as the sun rises. Miranda will stroke his sleep mussed hair and wish she could make him a little less – and a little more –
But instead he will wake up, turn to her, and say,