Monday, 27 April 2009 - 5:38 pm

Home Sweet Home

Dad wasn’t home when we got there. I knew it the moment we arrived.

I thought my heart was going to crawl out of my throat and flop around on the bricked driveway like a suicidal fish. It was too quiet and all I could hear was my own pulse, ratcheting up and up. Ben took my hand and pressed his lips together grimly. He knew exactly how I felt, and the worst of what I might find inside.

It looked like a fractured scene from a dream. The sort of dream when one minute I’m walking along the bank of the river in the middle of the festival, a step later I’m in my old classroom and all the doors are missing, and then I’m home, but it’s not quite like home should be. The choke and sprawl of the garden was missing; it was just bare earth and discoloured brick where the creepers used to cling. The house used to be melded into the earth, dwarfed by the rampant greenery that no-one had been able to tame since my mother died. Now, it stood starkly upright, its shoulders rounded as if in apology for its abruptness.

There was a squeak and I glanced over to see Matt checking the mailbox. He shrugged and closed it again, the hinge squeaking in protest; nothing for me today. The slice of normalcy jarred in a way that made me smile briefly.

My car wasn’t there – it’s probably still at the train station, waiting for the train that would never come. Dad’s car wasn’t there either and I tried not to read too much into that as I went up to the door. It was too quiet, though. I’m used to the powerless silence of the city now, but there’s an unmistakable hush that empty buildings have when no-one is breathing their air.

I still had my keys at the bottom of my bag, but I checked under the flowerpot by the door. There were no flowers on top any more, but there was a key underneath. It left an outline behind it on the ground when I picked it up. I knew then that he really wasn’t home – Dad only ever put that key there when he was going out. He forgot his keyring so often that he liked to know that he could always get in the house. I went inside anyway.

It looked different to the last time I saw it. The Christmas decorations were gone, the cards taken down. They had been stacked neatly on the kitchen counter, the string that had held them up wound in neat coils. He hadn’t known what to do with them. The tree was bare and losing its needles, but it was inside, leaning sadly in the corner of the laundry. He hadn’t wanted it to go out into the rain.

He had survived the initial blast, then, and the week until the rain started.

I realised then that the others were still waiting outside, so I turned to invite them in. Make yourselves at home, I told them. He’s not here. Then I forgot about them again and went to look around some more.

There were more clues. Small things, but it’s hard not to read meaning into them. Dad’s work boots were missing from their place by the door. His old, battered leather coat that looks like it had been through the wars, was also a. Some of the tools in the garage were just outlines on the walls by empty hooks. My old sports bag was gone from the hall cupboard. His drawers were messy and not quite closed, even though I had tidied them a couple of days before the bomb, as if someone had gone through them. The laundry hamper was overfull and spilling onto the floor.

Wherever he had gone, he had meant to go. Packed, even, and that’s not something he was ever any good at. Clothes always rebel against his attempts to fold them, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many tries it had taken him to get everything into that sports bag. He would have sworn under his breath and threatened to get the crowbar from the garage. The clothes wouldn’t have listened.

He had waited a while, though. He had waited for me to come home. I had taken too long after all, and nowhere in the house could I find a clue about where he might have gone.


I was sitting numbly on my bed when Matt came up to find me. He asked if I was all right and I just looked at him. Of course I wasn’t all right. I could be worse, but I wasn’t all right.

He sat down next to me and offered over a small wrapped box and an envelope. “We found these downstairs,” he told me. My name was scrawled across the envelope in Dad’s handwriting, his favourite ‘Faithy’.

I felt guilty then. He had left me these gifts but he never got mine; I had been on my way to get it when the world changed. I hadn’t even been able to leave him that much to hold onto. Did he think that I had forgotten? Or that I didn’t care enough to bother?

I opened his presents anyway. I had to know what he’d left for me. I started with the little box, struggling through the miles of tape and little bit of sparkly paper to get to a velvet lid. There was a bracelet inside the box, nothing fancy, just a pretty little chain that looked sturdy enough for even clumsy me not to break. The envelope held a snow-topped Christmas card with a booking slip inside. The slip was for a holiday in the islands, and he had scribbled a note in the card.

“If you don’t want to take anyone else, think you could spend a week with your old man?”

I remember him asking me about it, then. Silly little questions about where I might like to go for a holiday, what I’d want to do. I’d had no idea why. That was before Cody and I broke up. He must have meant it to be for the two of us, Cody and me, but he’d gone ahead and booked it even after we were over. He’d have taken me away to help me get over my cheating ex. It must have cost him a fortune.

That was when I finally broke. Sitting on my bed with my best friend fastening a bracelet around my wrist, looking at a card with a stupid, round robin on the front. I suddenly couldn’t breathe for the fist in my chest and then Matt was hugging me and stroking my hair back from my face, and telling me that it would be all right. I couldn’t speak.

At some point, Ben came up and switched places with Matt. I buried myself in the available arms and cried myself out, until I had a headache and was so drained I could barely move. They let me sleep until the rain woke me, hissing outside my window. It hasn’t stopped since, sputtering on and off all night and all day today. I can’t decide if it’s trying to emulate my tears or scour away the feelings that caused them. I don’t care; the rain doesn’t get what it wants.

I’m not crying because I’m sad; I’m crying because I’m loved. And I’m crying because I love back. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.