walking slowly downhill
Eighty-sixth Day, December 7, Melbourne
We wake early.
Daylight has barely broken.
Everything was packed the day before but there’s always last minute panic; something is missing.
But it’s found.
The drive to the airport is calm, there’s plenty of time.
We don’t say much; departures are usually shrouded in silence.
We manage to find the last car park on Level One.
Then there’s a long walk to Terminal Four.
But everything aligns.
The bags are of course overweight but I just pay the surcharge, there’s nothing else that can be done.
Boarding pass is printed, bags checked in; I buy a coffee and a mineral water for Emma.
Brunetti’s airport café is a pale imitation of its Carlton parent, like a child attempting to follow in its famous mother’s footsteps.
The coffee also attempts to follow, and it does so badly.
After a kilometer’s walk we reach the gate; everything is slow and measured and we anticipate the parting.
We’re at the head of the queue and the door to the waiting aircraft opens; we embrace and I try to sum up in my feverish mind the most significant aspects of both what has taken place and what must now be done, and then quietly pour them into Em’s ear.
But they sound like Brunetti’s coffee tasted.
To her credit she listens gracefully, tears lining her cheeks.
She walks out into the greyness towards the aircraft and we exchange waves until she sat the top of the mobile stairs; she hesitates for a moment, waves again and then disappears into the cabin.
I immediately turn away and walk back into the main body of the terminal.
I walk past a couple that’s been observing Emma and I parting; he says, smiling, see, you’ve made her cry!
I look fully into her tear-filled eyes, her face full of feeling; it was my daughter, I feel compelled to explain.
Oh, so it was your daughter, she says smiling, almost in relief.
But I’ve already walked on, my own eyes now brimming with tears.
I’ve done well to keep all this to myself, I think.
And I just walk on, out of the terminal, across the busy link roads and into the car park, just walking steadily and slowly back to my car.
I climb into the van slowly, back out slowly and then I drive slowly back to the city.
I wind down the window a little and turn up the car radio’s volume; the ABC announcer is interviewing a drug rehabilitation counselor who works in one of the city’s health facilities.
His voice sounds tired, flatly insipid, just like the airport coffee.
I turn the radio off and wind the window down completely so that I can hang my arm out and feel the rushing coolness swirling around it.
I can see it in my rear vision mirror, the flesh and muscle soft and droopy at the back of my bicep.
I flex it and slowly twist it so that I can examine it better.
It seems like a stranger’s arm, an arm I don’t know, have never known.
I look away, further down the freeway and grip the steering wheel firmly with both hands.