It is morning; after breakfast. The sun is up and pouring burning light in through the kitchen window, promising a long and hot summer to come. I am deep in my own head, as I often am. I don’t hear or notice anything around me. I’m worse when my head is in a book. When my head is in a book mum has to yell a dozen times for me to hear her.
“Use your initiative,” she yells. Using my initiative means knowing what she wants and doing it before she has to shout, “or else!” Or else! Is a belt on the leg, cool leather marking my skin, or a slap across the face, the sting of a palm on my cheek. This morning something manages to pull me from my own head. It’s a box of flying cereal. It lands in the kitchen, spilling sugary puffs of grain across the floor. Dad had already stormed out, leaving his empty bowl on the table. There is only my little brothers and I. And mum, standing in the pantry, mumbling to herself. I look from her to the cereal. Am I going to be in trouble? I get up, meaning to clear up the cereal and use my initiative.
“Leave it,” she orders, voice low and dangerous. Then comes a box of biscuits, a packet of noodles, then jars of tomato; crumbs and sauces and shards of glass splattering all over the floor. I feel a tugging on my hand and look down.
“I’m scared,” whispers Timmy. He is six and I am ten. Ben is four and too young to understand. I take Ben’s hand and the three of us run outside into the shining light. None of us have shoes on but together we run up the driveway and cross the road into the bush. It’s quiet here, and still. Green grass, fallen trees and hundreds of wildflowers as far as I can see. No one is throwing food and cups and knives here.
“What should we do?” Timmy asks, picking some blue flowers.
“Let’s pick her flowers,” I suggest “we can take them back and maybe she won’t be angry at us” but what I really mean is maybe she won’t be angry at me.
“You should give mum the flowers,” I tell Timmy as we all pick “she never hits you”
“No, it should be Ben,” he says quickly “he’s the youngest. He’s mum’s favourite”
We start back home, walking slowly. The ground beneath our feet is a dusty red contrast to the blue sky above us. I feel sick with fear as we approach the house. We find mum curled up on a couch. I nudge Ben forward and he goes to her, flowers held out.
“I got you flower”, he says in his baby voice. Mum reaches out and pulls him to her lap, hugging him. Timmy releases my hand from his iron grip and rushes over to give mum his bunch.
“I picked you flowers too,” he says. I am angry and scared now. I don’t have a bunch to give because I had helped to pick theirs and tied them into bunches using stringy grass. They’re cuddled up to her now; safe and happy. I hang back in the doorway but mum looks over at me anyway. Her eyes find mine. Hers are a green and filled with hate. Wanting to cry, I look away.