All Good (short story) part 2 of 2
"That’s good,” he repeats, “because then I can keep you safe from all of it.”
I don’t know what he means, but I put my bag down. It knocks over a pile of newspapers that wasn’t there when I last visited, but Dad doesn’t react. I notice clippings removed from the newspaper and get an awful sinking feeling. Dad stands, grabbing one of the clippings.
“See this? Letter to the editor. From someone named Hank Smith who says he’s local around my age, but I’ve never heard of his name. They’re all copies of copies, Thom. Copies of copies, copies of copies.”
He’s pointing to the letter to the editor, which looks mundane enough to me. He’s made incomprehensible scribble and highlights all around it.
“Your mother’s probably one of the good ones, but I’d rather you be with me. I can keep you safe from being copied.”
I notice his eyes now, darting from place to place, and details I missed earlier: more and more piled up newspapers, notes made in their margins, and clippings pasted above the wall in the kitchen.
I feel ill suddenly, like I have to go to the toilet or throw up almost.
“Dad…” I say. He looks up at me.
“Can you drive?”
“I actually want to go home.”
I nod. I pick my bag up.
Dad drops me off and doesn’t insist on coming in, which I was concerned about. The whole way over he pointed out landmarks into town he believes have been replaced by them and I just nodded politely.
I sneak back in; it’s now one-thirty and Mum never noticed I left. I hear the hum of her air-conditioner and her snoring. Dropping my bag, I follow the sounds to her room.
She’s passed out, sprawled. I climb into the bed. I haven’t done this in a while but Mum takes it in stride, waking.
I shake my head. She opens her eyes.
“Why are you dressed?” she asks.
Mum tucks the covers in around me and then turns away from me, her breathing slowing down. I want to ask before she goes back to sleep.
“Can you tell me a story?”
She thinks for moment.
“Like from a book?”
“Yeah. Or maybe a true story.”
“I’m tired, Thom.”
“Can you tell me the story of how I was born?”
Mum turns back to face me, sighing. She holds me in her arms.
“You want the story I used to tell you when you were little, or the true one?”
I consider this. I can imagine the true story: it’s 1994 and Mum is having contractions while Dad argues about hospitals being where they put microchips in your brain or something. I don’t want a story like that right now.
“The one you told me when I was little. Please.”
Mum nods. She breathes in.
“I was gardening that day. March fourth, 1994. Your dad used to work at the mill, but he was home that day. Do you remember when he worked?”
I shake my head.
“Well, he did. Anyway, I was gardening, and I felt you kick and then I knew it was time even though you weren’t due for a week.”
She smiles, like she always does at this point in the story. Nowadays, she has lines around her smile she didn’t use to have.
“You were just so excited to be here. I was so worried when you came out because you were small and red and I kept asking the nurses is he okay, is he okay. They had me on lots of drugs.”
I chuckle a little. That’s a new addition.
“Then the nurse put you on my chest, all cleaned up, and you immediately start feeding. And the nurse looks me in the eyes and says this: Miss Sterling, this is your son. And he is ‘all good’.”
I’m smiling. I notice Dad’s not really in this new version of the story.
But I understand why.