By Eileen Herbert-Goodall
You’ve been stuck in the car for hours, watching trees rush past, wishing you were back home. Sunlight pours through the windscreen; the sound of tyres chasing down bitumen rises through the seat.
Your mother’s found out where he is, the old man who disappeared years ago, and she’s determined to visit him. What’s the point? The way you see it, if he were even remotely interested, he would’ve kept in touch, or at least called on your birthday. But he never did. It’s clear the old man isn’t interested in either of you.
Nothing about this situation makes sense.
Her voice breaks the quiet. ‘You right, love?’
You look at her; wispy greys litter her hair and lines crouch around her eyes. ‘I s’pose.’ You watch as she gets a tighter grip on the steering wheel.
‘There’s something I need to tell you,’ she says.
You wait, staring out the passenger window.
‘I haven’t been completely honest about your father.’
You don’t move a muscle.
‘I known where he is – I’ve always known.’
Shifting in the seat, you avoid eye contact.
‘He’s in prison, Cass.’
You look at her side-on; she meets your gaze, then turns back to the road. Silence seeps through the windows, stealing space. You should say something, but draw a blank. You weren’t expecting this. ‘What’s he in there for?’
‘He killed someone.’
You swallow. You’ve seen photographs of him; they’re hidden in a box in your mother’s cupboard. He looked young, handsome, harmless.
‘He was involved in a bank robbery,’ your mother says. ‘Things went wrong. There was a shoot-out with the police.’
‘He shot an officer?’
She stretches her fingers, lifts them off the wheel, presses them back down. ‘Yes, he did.’
Your thoughts slide, losing traction. Your father is a killer, a cop killer.
‘You were just two at the time, tiny. I cut the ties and refused to see him. It seemed like the right thing to do.’
Your head spins and you shut your eyes.
‘I wanted to protect you.’
You keep quiet.
She reaches out, grips your leg above the knee, then releases it. ‘He wants to see you.’
‘Why now?’ you ask.
‘He’s spent twelve years on death row.’ She glances at you, then away again. ‘In a few days, he’ll be executed.’
Your throat draws tight. How is it possible to feel something for a man you’ve never known?
‘You okay?’ your mother asks.
She taps the wheel and says, ‘I couldn’t say no to him anymore.’
‘He’s asked to see me before?’
‘More times than I could count.’
‘You should have told me.’
‘I’m sorry.’ She lifts a hand and wipes her eyes.
An eagle stands by the side of the road, watching their vehicle approach. The creature is majestic, brimming with grace. As they draw near, the bird spreads its enormous wings and takes flight.
‘It’s okay, Mumma.’
You hear her breathe out as together you head into the morning sunshine.
Eileen Herbert-Goodall holds a Doctorate of Creative Arts, which she attained from the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC), Queensland, Australia. She teaches high school students through the university’s Creative Writing Excellence Program. Eileen also works with adults who wish to improve their reading and writing skills. She has had various pieces of fiction and non-fiction published in magazines and journals. Eileen recently won ‘joint first prize’ for a short story entered in the 2014 Australian Writers’ Centre writing competition. She is presently working on a collection of short stories.