Fiction

Churn

The BMW X7 was idling in the No Stopping lane, kids bickering inside.

Billie Eilish is so much better than Drake, Siena said.

No fucking way, Angus replied.

Watch your language, Eva said as she pulled out. A bus was turning into the narrow street and the driver leaned on his horn, gesticulating at her from behind the broad pane of windscreen.

Shit, she said.

You’re a hypocrite, Angus said.

Are we going to be late again? Siena asked.

No. Maybe. I don’t know. Does it matter?

Can you buy me shin guards today? Siena asked. I can’t find my old ones.

I’ll order them online, Eva said.

Siena didn’t reply and looking into the rear-view mirror Eva saw she was immersed in her phone. Angus was scrolling his as well and Eva turned on the radio.

She drove past boxy columned houses with four-car garages and trimmed hedges; past the treeless cemetery, graves baking beneath browned buffalo grass.

Ugh, can you turn that song off, Siena demanded from the back seat.

I like this song.

Yeah, and you’re old, so no wonder.

Eva turned it off.

When they were small she had known what her children dreamt of, what they ate and what scared them. Now she knew what she found in their pockets doing the laundry – the junk food they bought after school, the crushed-up late passes. Now she knew the messages she saw pop up on their screens while charging – who liked their post on Instagram, a Snapchat notification, or the indecipherable emojis of a WhatsApp group.

She drove up the steep hill past the Art Deco flat where she lived with her first boyfriend. It didn’t face the ocean but the western sun came into their bedroom in the evenings. Once when they lay after sex in the golden evening light, his heavy head on her abdomen, she played with his curly hair and knew that she would leave him, this sweet ambitionless boy.

She turned into the street for the Kiss ’n’ Go line at Siena’s school, which stretched around the block.

Fix your ponytail, Siena. It looks like a rat’s nest.

She reached one hand for the brush in the glovebox, bumping Angus’s bony knee, and passed the brush back. Siena made the same face that Eva did when she looked at herself in the mirror, a critical squint.

Eva pulled into the lane where the deputy head of school was wearing a fluoro vest and waving cars to drive forward.

Siena passed back the brush.

You’ve done it all wrong, Eva said.

Leave me alone. Siena slammed the door behind her.

You have a nice day too, Eva said, and Angus made a sound that might have been a laugh.

Did you remember your maths book?

He grunted.

Who’s picking me up from basketball, Angus said. You or dad?

Me.

At Angus’s school she dropped him around the corner – he preferred it that way. He opened the passenger door and Eva tapped her cheek. His kiss barely brushed the skin, a breath of air that was there and gone. For a moment it felt like he took her lungs with him. Or maybe like a weight was lifted.

Driving home, Eva squinted at the surf. There were surfers clustered at the north end but the waves were chaotic. Underneath would be churned up, glittering with sand from the ocean floor.

When she was a girl her dad took her to the beach every Saturday, an hour from their unit in the landlocked suburbs. Her mum would stay home to do laundry and mop the floors. Her dad taught her to dive beneath the biggest waves and dig her fingers into the ocean floor. But when she was 13, when she got her period, she began to stay home. Her mum was glad for the help: it takes two people to fold a sheet.

Eva pulled into their steep driveway and clicked the garage-door opener. She waved to the landscaper, who was spraying the lawn for grubs. No matter how much money they spent, the worms kept coming; the lawn refused to thrive. Upstairs the house was humming and buzzing to its own schedule in the silence of the day. The washing machine spun, the dishwasher flushed the breakfast dishes of crumbs.

She filled her glass in the kitchen and took it to her office, where a floor-to-ceiling window faced the ocean, the sky stippled with white clouds. The bookshelves held studio photographs of Siena and Angus, scented candles, porcelain bowls and heavy coffee-table books with uncracked spines. There were kitchen splashbacks to choose, parent-teacher bookings to make, shin guards to order and a dinner to organise for Gareth’s partners, but she could not bring herself to sit at her desk. She wandered out of the room again and up the spiral staircase, to what the real estate agent called the parents’ retreat.

Eva took off her underwire bra and her ballet flats, her toes curling into the cream wool carpet. The relief. Her glass was drained quickly but so was the headache that had been buzzing behind her eyes this morning, like a fly was caught there, bumping up against the glass of her brain.

She remembered her mother’s feet, now, when she looked at her own. The knobbly bunion jutting out: a peninsula of bone. The podiatrist told her it was a simple operation to slice them off. In art school she had drawn her mother’s feet. Where were those drawings now? Her phone had six missed calls. Two from Gareth. She texted sorry hun busy, then turned it to silent and set an alarm for 2.30 in the afternoon.

Sometimes she was still 13, hanging the sheets on their tiny balcony, overlooking a highway tangled with traffic. Sometimes she was 20 with handfuls of curls and ambition. Today, she was 45.

It was 9.22 on a Tuesday and she was going back to sleep.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 23, 2022 as "Churn".

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Eleanor Limprecht is a novelist, short story writer, essayist and lecturer in creative writing at UTS. Her latest novel is The Coast.

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