Sunday, 27 September 2009 - 8:48 pm


I have only ever seen my dad cry once before. It was right after my sister died. I couldn’t sleep and came downstairs to get a drink. He was sitting in the dark, weeping quietly with his head in his hands, his whole body shaking. I almost went to him, but he was so private about it that I didn’t want to intrude. He didn’t want to show that to us and I respected his desire, retreating back to my room as unobtrusively as I could. I always wondered if maybe I could have comforted him that night.

Yesterday was the the second time I’ve seen my dad cry. There was no attempt at privacy. When I saw him, I couldn’t move – he had to come over and put his arms around me, and I collapsed into him. I clung and spilled, sobbing so hard I thought everything inside me would fall onto the floor with the stains and the footprints. It didn’t ease until I was exhausted by it, and then I realised that he was crying too. His face was buried in my shoulder and he was hugging me as if he was afraid that I might dissolve in his grasp like sand.

I have no idea how we stayed standing. My legs wanted to fold up and Dad was just as shaky as I was when we finally peeled off each other. We looked at each other and had one of those embarrassed, ‘oh look how silly we’re being’ laughs. He ducked his head and swiped at his cheeks as if that might remove the evidence, and I let him. He has never been a demonstrative kind of person; with Dad, it’s all in the little things. It’s the breakfast he makes when I’m feeling down or hungover, it’s the way he winds my scarf around my neck three times when it’s cold out. It’s the holiday he books when I need to get away from everything for a while.

My mother used to get so frustrated with him. The little things were never enough for her, not in the end. He tried, but balloons screaming ‘I love you’ were never his style and he always seemed to get the big gestures wrong. Or at least not right enough for my mother. She accused him of not caring once, but that has never been his problem.


I couldn’t take my eyes off him. It was a while before we were each able to believe that the other wasn’t going to evaporate in a moment’s inattention. It hadn’t sunk in – he was here, really here, alive and in one piece. I couldn’t bring myself to break contact; after I grew brave enough to look away, one hand rested on his arm, connecting us.

I looked around at Matt and found him gazing at us vaguely. He was smiling, almost, and slipping back into sleep. I said his name and stepped to his side, taking his hand in my free one. He roused enough to answer me.

“It’s all right, Faithy,” he said. “Just need to rest now. Hello, Mr MacIntyre.”

“Hello again. Get some sleep, son.”

The wrenching euphoria of seeing Dad plunged into the familiar despair as I stroked Matt’s hair and watched him fall asleep. There was a hard lump in my throat as I counted his breaths and felt them slow and steady. They didn’t stop. I was so scared, but they didn’t stop. He was just sleeping, and by the time I realised that, I was crying again.


Dad drew me off to the gurney on the side of the room, where we could sit and talk without disturbing my sick friend. The stumbling explanations fell out as we tried to fill in the gap between us. We talked about Matt first, about the fever and how frightened I was. He said that he was glad Matt and I had found each other, and that we had been looking after each other all this time. Been doing it most of our lives, so it’s good we kept on with it.

His voice thickened when he started to apologise to me for not being able to look after me and I had to stop him. No. It wasn’t his fault. He kept himself alive and well, and that’s the best he could be expected to do for me. So many have been lost. So many killed in so many different ways. We were so far apart – the bomb stretched a once-small city into a sprawl of hazards and challenges. It’s amazing that we’ve both made it this far. It’s even luckier that we found each other, after so much time and miles. No apologies, or I would have to start saying sorry for taking so long to get here.

I still couldn’t let go of him or his big, familiar, grease-marked hand. I told him about the Seekers, about the journey we’ve taken, about my friends. I left some parts out for both our sakes. Some of it would only hurt us both if hung naked on the air. I told him that we stripped the car yard and he laughed and said he did the same.

He had waited at home for a long time. Over a month, until he stopped being able to scrounge food from the neighbourhood. Jim and Natalie from next door were with him for a while, until he put them in a car and sent them off in search of their kids up north. Then he went to the yard and lingered there for a while. He met people too, formed his own group. They heard the signal and came to Greenberry for the same reason we did; they just made it months before we did.

He stopped at one point and cupped my face in his hand. “I wanted to looked for you,” he told me. I’ve never seen him so earnest before, as if he was afraid that I wouldn’t believe him. Of course I believed him. “I didn’t know where to start. We heard that the CBD came down under the bomb, that there weren’t any survivors….”

I stopped him before he wound himself up too much. There weren’t many survivors. We had moved around so much that he couldn’t have hoped to find us. I was lucky, that was all. Just like now: lucky.


It didn’t occur to me until now why his words rang so wrong with me. When we sent the survivors out of the central business district of the city, they went to the hospital. When we got to the hospital, they had been sent on elsewhere; it wasn’t until we got to the Emergency Coordination Centre that we found out where they’d gone. Here. They were supposed to come here.

Had none of them made it? Or is it just that no-one talks about it? Is there any information passed around here at all?

That thought makes me so angry. How many hopes have they killed by not saying anything about this stuff?


Dad says he never gave up hoping I was still alive, just like I clung to the possibility that he was out here somewhere. I guess we’re alike in that way.

We talked all the way through the rainfall. I finally grew strong enough to let go of him, but only so that I could go check on Matt. The sick fella took some water but he didn’t wake again until much later in the night.

Dad is working with the mechanics. I should have known. He’s the one who helped them fix the ignitions. I told him that he has to show me how to do that and he laughed. I always did like getting dirty; used to drive my mother crazy. I think it pleased him that I took an interest in his work. Now, I’ll use any excuse to spend time with him.

But not yet. I have to get Matt well and back on his feet first. It’s not going well – he was moaning half the night, sliding in and out of delirium. He had quietened by morning, which was a relief because Simon would have used it as an excuse to try to cut his leg off.

Dad left at first light. “You take care of that boy,” he said. “I’ll see you both soon.” Then he kissed my forehead and hurried off before he changed his mind.

So now, here I am again, sitting by the bedside as the darkness thickens outside behind a veil of acid. Matt is pale and clammy, but he’s still here. Dad is out there. He’s definitely out there, just a short distance away. He’s alive. There’s still a part of me that reels whenever I try to believe that. Another part of me wants to get up and dance, wheel about the room out of sheer emotion. The rest of me is terrified I’m going to lose something precious very soon, because there can’t be this much goodness in the world any more. I can’t have everything I want; it just doesn’t work that way any more.

Luck is a fickle friend, and I don’t know if she’s smiling my way or pondering when to stick the knife in.