I shouldn’t have risked smuggling this old thing in my night bag, but I need to get these feelings out. I’m so blessed. So lucky. So tired. Two tiny, beautiful little boys. I hope they’ll be okay. I hope they can fatten up and not get sick and nothing goes wrong. My beautiful babies. Our family is now complete. Poor Matty. He looks worse than I feel. I’ll stay up for a bit. Let him sleep. I feel so washed out. Whatever they gave me was strong. I hope it doesn’t hurt the babies. They would allow for that kind of transference, wouldn’t they? I hope they feed. I hope I can make enough milk for them. My nipples are already sore. I forgot how hard it was feeding Ellie at the start. This is going to be tough, but it’s not my first rodeo. I’ve got this. Beautiful little bubbies. I can’t stop crying. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.
Ellie was in childcare three days, Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays. It was structured that way from when Jackie was still working part-time as a teacher, and we had kept it on. It was a good thing that we did. With the arrival of the twins, these days, whilst no walk in the park, were significantly more manageable than the off days. I would take what I could get. As I meandered through the morning traffic in the Carnival, I tried to recall a jagged fragment of the morning’s saga but found that I couldn’t. That was odd. There was usually at least one hostile stand-off when it came time to get Ellie’s arse into gear. These episodes would usually reverberate in my mind well into the short trip to childcare. I must have tuned it out. The day generally started off with pleasantries and well wishes. Everyone was pleased to see each other; we were groggy but considerate and warm and loving. Hi guys. Missed you guys. Good morning everyone. Hello new day. How good are we? Look at us, we’re a perfectly functioning family unit, aren’t we? This isn’t so bad. This is what life is all about.
The chaos was a slow build, vibrations intensifying throughout the morning. But now we’re alright, we’re all calm! Ellie would put her demands in. She wanted ice-cream for breakfast. She wanted to brush her teeth with the plastic side of the toothbrush. She wanted to wear gum boots on a forty-degree day. Life would be easier if we just said yes to all of it, but parenting meant that ninety percent of these requests needed to be appropriately declined. With every rejection, Ellie would get a little stroppier, and with every request, Jackie’s patience waned until it became paper thin. What it escalated into was a shouting match between Ellie and Jackie that would hit its crescendo just as the twins lost their shit, transforming the house into a wailing banshee. I wondered what the neighbours thought. If you walked past our house at 8am on a Monday, Thursday or Friday, you could be forgiven for thinking that experiments were being exacted on some very distressed rhesus monkeys. It was just as well Jackie dealt with this process. There was a quite comfort in knowing that I was incapable of performing this task to meet Jackie’s minimum benchmark. I would put Ellie in the wrong jacket, forget her singlet, put her Wednesday pants on. The joke was on her.
‘No darling. That is a lollypop man.’ Was it? The uniform was androgynous and it was difficult to tell. The elderly frog like person in the uniform wasn’t helping. It didn’t matter. I needed to make a point.
‘There is Lollypop men too, you know. I bet you he comes from a long line of Lollypop men. His Daddy was a Lollypop man, and his Daddy was a Lollypop man, and so on. His great ancestors were probably ushering velociraptors across the primordial soup, I bet.’ Too far.
‘Are you being silly?’
‘Yes Darling.’ I wasn’t though. I had proudly made a case for Lollypop men everywhere. There should be more of this kind of righteousness, I decided.
After drop off, there was a tranquil intermission. For thirty minutes – operating under the guise of a coffee run – I was a free man. I jumped behind the wheel of the Kia Carnival, and as I pulled away, I cranked the music, the same song every day on departure. Black Sabbath’s Iron Man.
Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all
Or if he moves will he fall?
I hit the accelerator hard and felt the kick of the guitar riff stroke the last corner of my soul that was not quite dead. The Carnival could move, despite its mass. That summed up where I had landed, really. Life’s journey could be summed up in Kia car models. You had the Rio, young dumb and so on. Fuel efficient, small, cheap. No ties. This was the starting point. From there, there were multiple avenues that beckoned. You could go for the Stinger ‘Let’s have a toast for the douche bags, Let’s have a toast for the assholes’, for the guy heavily invested in himself. You could gravitate towards the Optima, Mr. Business, no time for anything else. Or, you could start the slow progression through the family models, the Sportage (one kid), the Sorento (a nice amount of space for two) and lastly arriving at the Carnival (for soccer teams). I had always suspected that I would be a Sportage man. Instead, as such things go, I was escorted directly to Carnival city.
I pulled into Westpoint, someone’s washed out idea of a shopping complex from the eighties. It was as though someone started making it, then realised that it would never amount to much and simply stopped. Rather than opting for a cohesive, open planned structure, it was made up of ramshackle portable segments, one tacked on to another in a sprawl that looked like a chain of pizza hut pagoda’s holding hands from a distance. It was an appropriate stain on the area. Langford did not deserve nice things. Langford was close enough to the city, had great access to the freeway and was the last stop before the airport. We were so close to the airport in fact, that if the wind was right, you could almost taste the jet fuel. One would think that with all it had going for it, Langford would slide towards gentrification. These factors had indeed impacted house prices – I couldn’t afford to buy there – but not enough to push out the generations of bogans that were passing down their dilapidated flats, it seemed.
Langford was not without its culture though. I remembered the first time we happened across one of Langford’s many art installations. The residents didn’t like to dump rubbish. It lacked finesse, decorum. That is not to say that one should completely refrain from leaving one’s unwanted shit wherever one pleased. We had cruised passed a vacant lot that had been furnished, but without the house around it. In the middle of the lot sat an armchair that had seen better days, complimented by a five-foot lamp, coffee table with an old phone on it an ottoman directly in front of the armchair. A mystical diorama – left by the criminally artistic residents of Langford. They were sensitive, the natives – aware that simply dumping unwanted items lacked class. I longed to observe one of these diorama’s in the making. It would involve staking out the area at night though, and my nights were solidly booked.
I floated towards the entrance of the mall, and the smell of sweet nicotine wafted past my nostrils. I hadn’t had a cigarette in years. I still wanted one. Maybe I could take up smoking again. The look on Jackie’s face. I stifled a laugh. Adding a vice rather than subtracting one. Hilarious.
The dreariness of the half-awake mall presented itself, as did the realisation that perhaps seventeen weeks leave was a little too ambitious. I could have just told Jackie that they needed me at work, the most that I could do was so and so. A friend of mine had only taken four days when his wife gave birth. This, I knew, was not because of the policy at work that he had cited. It was a cop out. The blokes I knew said they wanted to help with the kids. This was of course bullshit. We simply weren’t wired that way. Guys like me that took the time to help, with a spoonful of sugar wincing our way through, were about as progressive as it got. I could not lactate. I did not have the hormones pulsing through my body that provided me with deep gratification simply by looking at babies. I was doing okay, I was surviving – we had our trial by fire with Ellie and I had an idea of what to expect with a newborn. Just times it by two, I thought. Just times it by two…idiot. Other guys though – the way they spoke of their experiences – it was harrowing. Dilapidated husks of the men that they used to be before babies. That wasn’t going to happen to me. I was staying focused. Staying angry. I was going to win the war. Anger is a gift.
I looked around. The place was dead. Most of the shops didn’t open until 9, the rest until 10. It bothered me. It wasn’t as though there were a lack of early morning punters, there were swathes of geriatrics milling around, dying for the place to come to life. There were a few cafes that opened early, as did the supermarkets, but even these venues did not operate at full capacity.
Take The Donut Guy, who coincidentally made the best coffee for a reasonable price. He opened early, but wouldn’t start glazing his donuts until about 9. As I always grabbed a coffee before this, I was faced with a unique dilemma. I wanted a donut. I always wanted a donut. I wanted one of those fancy ones though, with the icing and the crumbles and swirls. What was presented instead was a wall full of naked, sad, lonely looking donuts. Why did he even put them out like that? Should I ask for a specific glaze job? That would be inappropriate. I would word it differently of course, but even then, who was I to interfere with the apathy of this poor sod simply because my own day job was on hiatus? I could come back, but it wasn’t meant to be. I ordered the usual, black coffee and a hot chocolate for Jackie.
Jacks. How she functioned on sugar instead of caffeine throughout the day defied reason. It was all because of the breastmilk. Can’t have that tainted. God bless her. If I were breastfeeding and such discretion was left in my incapable hands, the twins might be better off drinking Amy Winehouse’s milk.
As I waited for my coffee I cruised around in circles, just in time to see the morning security huddle. A motley crew of lost causes, all rocking a Jehovah’s witness uniform – navy blue polo with the buttons done up to the top, khaki pants, black boots and bum bag. Man, I loved watching the huddle. These guys hated their jobs even more than I did. What necessitated a coordinated approach to security for a forgotten mall like Westpoint, I would never know. I was looking at the Mullet pointing fingers and aggressively mouthing words at the security guards. And what a magnificent mullet it was. Party in the back; business in the front. Classic mullet fade. Around Langford, you were more likely to observe the skullet, an even lower socioeconomic adaptation that manifested in a skin bald head and rattails at the back. What I was admiring though was more of a business mullet. He was built like a brick shithouse. I formed a profile. Hard arse, kicked off the force – maybe never got in. His turf. His town. This little shit stain on the world. The security staff couldn’t look more disconnected. I couldn’t help but delight in the fact that someone else was putting up with that kind of shit. The irony that I was dealing with my fair share of shit of late wasn’t wasted on me. At least it wasn’t that shit.