The Silver Top taxi stops at the front door. The driver is impatiently pressing the doorbell. He needs to get the fare from someone, the passenger is snoring in the back seat. All he managed to do was pass the driver the note with the address for the destination when he got into the car.
It’s a quiet night, only a fool would go out in such cold weather. He would take any passenger to any destination, as long as they pay him. Newly arrived in the country, with no job prospects, times are tough, beggars cannot choose. All he is hoping is that this drunk man won’t be sick in his car.
Laura opens the door. There is no need for the driver to explain. She picks up the purse on the hallway dresser, pays the taxi fare to the driver, then calls for help from her daughter.
Madison helps her mum get her dad out of the taxi. The driver shakes his head and drives away. Another drunk man, what’s new? This is the nation where drinking is so deeply ingrained in the culture, it is one of the last things people would be willing to give up.
Brandon is a big man, a large frame with solid muscles. It’s very hard for two ladies to carry him if he’s unconscious. Laura is a tiny lady, not a typical Aussie woman. It may have had something to do with her losing her mother at the tender age of three. Moving around to a few different foster families was not the ideal way to live. She grew up in an unsteady home environment.
Madison is a head taller then her mum but even she is not able to support Brandon’s weight on her own.
“Tell him tomorrow that he’s not allowed to come in if he gets drunk again, I can’t stand the smell.”
Madison moves away from Brandon: “He stinks!”
“I can’t move him on my own.”
“He’s so big, how can you move him?”
“I have to take him in and put him in bed, we can’t leave him in the garden.”
“Why can’t we leave him here?”
“Outside is so cold at night.”
“Why do you care so much?”
“He’s suffered enough.”
“I don’t believe it, mum what’s wrong with you? I am going to move out, mum. I can’t bear to stay under the same roof as him.”
“I need you, I can’t do it without you.”
Madison is irritated, she slaps Brandon on the face: “Wake up dad, it’s too cold to leave you in the garden, you have to walk into the house.”
Brandon opens his confused eyes, his vision is blurred, he tightens his arms around Laura and tries to kiss her.
Laura turns her face away from Brandon, like a young mum turning away from a teething toddler’s bite.
“Sammy, Sammy…” Brandon weeps loudly with sorrow.
Madison angrily abandons Brandon and walks towards to the house, leaving Laura to struggle with him alone.
“Please Madison, I cannot handle him by myself.”
“He’s your husband, you want to help him, that is your problem.”
“Please be nice, I’m begging you.”
“I can’t do it, I’m sorry mum.”
Madison doesn’t know how Laura did it; she managed to put the big giant bear to bed. When she walks into Madison’s room, there is no resentment whatsoever, but a kind and caring expression on her face.
“He is coming back to stay with us now. I need you to promise me to be nice to him.”
“Why? Mum, why are you letting him come back here?”
“He has nowhere to go, this is his home.”
“Who says so? He can go to his brother’s place, they’ve got a big house, haven’t they?”
“Those two could never get along.”
“He should have some money.”
“All he has are unemployment benefits, you know that’s not enough for him to live on his own.”
“Where’s his money? His company’s worth millions of dollars. That evil woman left him because he’s poor?”
“He lost his company and money a few years ago.”
“That’s not your problem.”
“He is my problem.”
“Why do you make it your problem?”
“I didn’t make it, our marriage made it my problem.”
“He left you eighteen years ago, for another woman.”
“Now he’s back.”
“Only because she dumped him, he has nowhere else to go.”
“We are his family.”
“Don’t you have any pride? Don’t you care for your dignity?”
“Keeping him out of this family will not give me any dignity.”
“When we needed him, he was never around.”
“That made us stronger, to stand on our own two feet.”
“I don’t believe you’re going to let him treat you like a doormat.”
“Let bygones be bygones, shall we?”
“It’s your life, do whatever you like; I won’t be part of it.”
“Don’t you think it’s good to be a family again? All of us under the same roof again?”
“For how long? Until he finds another woman?”
“Don’t talk like that, he’s suffered a great deal.”
“He’s suffered? How about us?”
“He knows we had a hard time without him, he’ll make up for it.”
“How will he make up for it? My childhood is long gone, it’s not going to start all over again, is it?”
“Forget about yourself for a while, think from his point of view for once. He just lost his love, she left him and married another man.”
“Good! Even a evil woman like her doesn’t want him.”
“She’s not a evil woman, don’t talk like that.”
“Any woman who wants another woman’s husband is evil. If she can’t find her own, she should live without a man, not with another woman’s husband.”
“Life is not always the way we want it, there have always been certain rules in society we have to follow, which may not suit everyone. Learn to forgive and be at peace with ourselves.”
Madison loves her mum, it’s always been just her and her mum since she was four. She has no grandparents on either side. The only relatives would be three cousins from Uncle Ken’s family, but they are all much older than her so she isn’t close to any of them.
She doesn’t mind Uncle Ken. He was always willing to help when they needed him; most of all, he’s generous with gifts. His wife Auntie Mabel is a totally different story. She can’t put her finger on it but she feels the coldness and unfriendliness in her presence.
No one is dearer to her than mum, that’s for sure. She promised herself, one day she’d take care of mum like mum always took care of her.
“Did you hear that? He still wants that woman, aren’t you mad listening to him calling her name? I am going to find myself a place to live; I can’t watch you belittle yourself like that. It’s hurting, mum!”
“I am sorry to hurt you.”
“Uncle Ken is right; you sacrifice yourself unnecessarily.”
“Did Ken say that? What does he know about being a mother?”
“He’s a father, that’s the same isn’t it?”
“Oh no, a mother carries her child in her body for nine months, that’s something a father will never be able to do or understand.”
“Don’t cry mum, why are you so upset?”
“Everything I do is to protect you.”
“You’ll be surprised that I am a strong girl.”
“I have nothing in my life except you, you are everything to me.”
“You protected me when I was young, now it’s my turn to protect you. You don’t need him, mum, you don’t.”
“I needed him once, he was there for me. I don’t need him anymore but he needs me now, I can’t abandon him. Morally I can’t.”
“He’s the one who left you behind, he put you through pain and suffering. If it wasn’t for Uncle Ken’s kindness, our life would be even sadder.”
“I ask you to accept him, for my sake. He’s not well, he needs our kindness to survive.”
“Uncle Ken said he deserves what happens to him.”
“They don’t like each other much because they are so different from each other.”
“How I wish you were married to Uncle Ken.”
“Ken is already married, to Mabel.”
“Tell me mum, after how dad treated you, why do you still love him?”
“He’s a good man, a kind-hearted man born in the wrong time.”
“If he’s a kind-hearted man, he wouldn’t treat you like that.”
“You don’t understand him the way I do.”
“Is that because you hurt him first?”
“I would never ever even think to hurt him.”
“Maybe he’s very sensitive, he might sense something that you don’t want him to know.”
“You’ve lost me now.”
“Well, I know you are very close to Uncle Ken. Was that before or after dad betrayed you?”
“How do you know?”
“Mum, I am not judging you. You are my mother, I love you.”
“I am sorry.”
“What are you sorry for? I would like you to feel comfortable to talk to me about anything. I am your daughter who’s close to you, and I would do anything for you.”
“All I ask you is to help me to look after him.”
“You never say a bad word about him.”
“I want you to believe that he’s a good man.”
“I want you to tell me why he’s a good man, what did he do to get your loyalty?”
“I’d rather not talk about that.”
“Mum I want you to open up to me.”
“You better, it’s not easy for me to help the man that I’ve hated for most of my life.”
“Hate is a strong word, you shouldn’t hate anyone, especially him.”
“I hate him, mum.”
“I guess you are mature enough to know the truth – his lover left him because he married a man in San Francisco.”
“He loves to dress up as a woman.”
“He certainly fooled me. Did you always know about this?”
“Yes, I always knew.”
“Even before you married him?”
“Why did you marry him?”
“Now you know the truth, won’t you be satisfied?”
“Why don’t you tell me the whole story?”
“That’s enough, don’t you think?
“I don’t know what to think right now, it’s a shock to my system. I need time to digest it. Are you trying to tell me that he likes guys not women, therefore you are not mad at him?”
“If I tell you the whole truth, you may not be able to handle it.”
“I am shocked to know he’s gay, but I am handling it alright, aren’t I?”
“So far, yes.”
“Mum, be frank and honest. The sooner this discussion’s finished the sooner we’ll be grounded and stabilised.”
“Right!” Laura clears her throat, moves her head around with an uncomfortable gesture. “I was pregnant, without a husband. I didn’t want my child born without a father, he kindly married me to save my embarrassment. After he and Sammy got together, he could have asked me to move out, instead he moved out himself. I was nobody to him but he helped me when I needed it. Legally, he never abandoned me, even when he needed money.”
“Wow, I am speechless.”
“He bought this house before we married. How can I ask him to leave his own property? Once I was desperate, he took me in and helped me. Now he needs us to help him.”
“Now I know why you always refer to him as ‘him’ instead of ‘your father’; because he’s not my father.”
Madison remembered when she was five, mum took her to dad and Sammy’s home, because mum needed dad to sign some paper.
Sammy was a large woman with heavy make-up, her boofy hair covered half of her face. She offered her some chocolate while mum and dad were talking.
She always remembered Sammy’s large hands. When you are five, all adults look tall and big, even her small sized mum. Somehow Sammy’s super large hands made a big impression on her. Now she knows it’s because Sammy was a man.
“Are you ok?”
“I am fine. I didn’t know I was an unwanted child.”
“Ever since your birth, I have been so grateful to have you.”
“It must have been very hard before you knew he was going to marry you.”
“I tried my best to give you the best in your life, to make up for what I’d done.”
“So they are good people, I mean those two brothers.”
“No one else needs to know the truth, let’s keep the family secret to ourselves.”
Laura hears a noise from Brandon’s room, she goes to check on him.
Madison walks into the kitchen to fix drinks; after the talk, they need it.
She can’t figure out how she feels, the truth has come as a shock to her. She would never ever have guessed that Brandon is gay. Why would she? She thought that he was her father! Now she knows he is not her father, then who was her father?
Does she really care? To her, he was no more than a sperm donor. After what he let her mother go through, she couldn’t care less for him, whether he was somebody important in society or a useless bum. As far as she was concerned, he was nobody to her. She wouldn’t waste her time or breath to find him, whatever for? Her mum is both her mother and father, that’s just that.
Laura sits down opposite Madison. She hadn’t wanted to tell her daughter the truth. If not for the worry that she would move out, she would have kept her lips sealed. Madison is her life, without her she could not live. She doesn’t remember her mother and has very little memory of her father. Madison is the only family she ever had.
Ever since Madison arrived in her life, she feels the joy of living. She knows what love is all about, she understands the meaning of hope, she finally has a purpose for living.
“How is he?”
“He misses Sammy terribly. I feel so sorry for him.”
“Why don’t you talk him into dating again? To cure a broken heart, find a new love.”
“Who told you that?”
“I follow it like the bible, that’s why I never cry for any man.”
“You are much smarter than I am, you won’t fall into a man’s trap.”
“In my generation, girls are much tougher than guys. We do the dumping, not guys. See, pills and knowledge changed the world, guys can’t handle us.”
“Life is a process of constant change, nothing remains the same.”
“My generation is better than your generation.”
“Not better, they’re different. Each generation has its own good and bad points.”
“If you could start all over again, would you do things differently?”
“I doubt it.”
“So you didn’t learn anything from it?”
“Oh, I learnt a lot. I look back at my life, there’s nothing I would like to do differently, otherwise I wouldn’t have you. Having you was the most important thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
“You’re worth it.”
“Do you hate him? I mean my biological father.”
“No, what would I hate him for? Without him I wouldn’t have you, would I?”
“Did you love him?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Do you still love him?”
“Love doesn’t have a switch, you can’t switch it on and off whenever you like. The love you give out stays permanently in that time and with that person forever. No one can take love back.”
“Do you hate him? What am I saying, you don’t hate anyone.”
“Hate is poison, it stays in your heart to poison you, not the person that you hate.”
“Yeah, you’ve told me that enough times. You are so nice, maybe that’s why good things happen to you.”
* * *
When Madison sees Brandon in the morning, for the first time, she offers to cook some French toast for him; that’s her favourite breakfast. Brandon has already had his morning coffee, that’s all he wants in the morning, but he gladly tells Madison that he would love to have some.
Madison takes the eggs, sugar, milk and bread out of the fridge. Brandon sits at the kitchen table and helps to beat the eggs with a fork.
They politely start with casual small talk. When the French toast is ready, they are on to the subject of Facebook. They talk about this social utility, how it was founded, when it was launched, the impact on philanthropy, politics, media and societies.
When Laura comes back from her morning walk, she sees two people in the depths of their conversation. She never enjoyed French toast so much before.
Madison finds Brandon a very well informed person. He has a good mind when he is sober.
She looks at him in the morning sunlight. She can’t find any hatred towards him, it has all gone, just like that. Her mum wiped it away with her confession last night.
Before she leaves home for work, she asks Brandon to stay sober because she wants to know his opinion about cars when she’s back home, if he’s around.
Laura walks into the bathroom to dry her eyes. She is pleased that her daughter is finally accepting her father. Life would be much better from now on.
* * *
“Wake up sweetie, wake up sweetie.”
Laura’s face is pale, something is wrong. Madison is worried.
“There’s been a car accident, Ken is in the hospital.”
Is that all? Madison loses interest.
“Is Uncle Ken OK?”
“Not too good, Mabel is asking all the children to be there, she asked for you too.”
“Why me? We are not even related. I’ll drop in to see him tomorrow after work.”
“Ken asked for you.”
“Did you tell him? I already know my dad is not my biological father; therefore he’s not my biological uncle either. Give me a break; I need time to readjust myself. He asked for me because he wants you to be there. Go mum, you just tell them I am too tired to go.”
“Sweetie, change your clothes, let’s go.”
“No mum, I am not like you. I don’t care who he is, how nice he is. I am not going to hospital for anybody at this hour.”
“Uncle Ken was always there for you when you were young. He went to your school activities, concerts, plays.”
“He was trying to please you mum.”
“Do it for me!”
“No, you don’t need me to help you this time. Auntie Mabel has pretended she doesn’t know for so long, she may really believe there’s nothing between you and Uncle Ken. You are safe mum? I want to go back to sleep now.”
“Ken wants all his children to be there.”
“Good, I am not his child… Mum? Am I?”
“I should have told you earlier, forgive me. I didn’t want to hurt you, there were too many secrets for you to cope with in one day. I thought that I’d tell you later when you were stronger. Who knew Ken would end up in the hospital tonight? If you are angry with me, I understand. But don’t be angry with your Uncle Ken, he needs you now.”
“I don’t have an Uncle Ken. That bastard is my biological father? He had the guts to make my mother pregnant, make me a bastard like him? He betrayed his wife and children first, and then betrayed you and I. He let his younger brother bear his sin. He’s a man whose no good for anyone around him. He lives a lie; he makes everyone who’s related to him live the lie. I don’t want to visit Uncle Ken; I don’t have an Uncle Ken anyway. I am definitely not going to visit my biological father.”