By Amanda Thomas
Mum’s eyes flicked. Road to dash clock. “We’re going to be late.”
“I told you it takes thirty minutes to get there.” I gazed past the glass. Trees swept beside us on the highway. Branches curled inward in the wind.
“No, you didn’t.”
“I told you yesterday. When we were making the almond swee–”
“I don’t remember.” Her fingers hit the wheel. Two times. “Do you have the gift?”
I rustled through the bag at my feet. There was a box with shiny wrapping. It glinted once. Plain silver one minute and then a kaleidoscope of colour.
My phone chirped in the cup holder: Turn right. Indicator ticked. Afternoon sun sunk behind trees. Maybe we would be late.
“So, have you packed?” Mum stared straight.
“Uh. Not yet. We’re still trying to figure out the roommate situation…”
“You’re having a roommate? I thought you and– I thought you two were living alone.”
“Me and Alina?” I took a breath. The toothpaste smell of the car air freshener. It made me sick. “She’s my girlfriend, Mum. You have to get used to saying it.”
“It’s not easy for me. How we were brought up… It was a different time.” Mum slammed the brake. Red light. Car jerked. She winced.
“What?” I asked. “There were no gay people when you were growing up?”
“No–” Mum bit the word. She shrugged off my look. “I don’t know. We didn’t know any.”
I gripped the seat. Coarse fabric abraded my skin.
When Mum had said she was fine with me moving out, I finally thought she was getting used to the idea. She’d started going through the dishes draw yesterday, pulling out unused rice cookers and tiffins that she said she’d kept for when I had my own place. For your glory box, she’d told me. I’d laughed at the olden days term.
“I didn’t mean to upset you.” She glanced down. “How long does it say now?”
“We need another roommate to split the rent with. The city’s expensive. Alina has a high school friend who might be interested. Her lease is finishing and her old roommate is moving back home.”
“Is she also…?”
“So what if she is?”
“Her friend’s not gay.” I sighed. “The GPS says two more minutes.”
“It said that five minutes ago. That thing never gets it right.”
“I’ve tried the other app. This one’s better.”
“I don’t know. I don’t trust it. I liked the old one.”
“Hmm-hmm.” I dialled down the air. My arms were cold.
Highway shed its hollow skin into suburban colour. We drove in quiet.
“I told you to wear a jacket. And to wear something nice,” Mum added. “It’s their housewarming.”
“I am wearing something nice. I thought you liked this dress?”
“I did.” Her hands turned the wheel. New street. “It’s Aunty Jackie’s day. Don’t upset anything. Now’s not the time to share any news.”
The car slowed. It paused. A long gravel driveway. A house of old brick and tile. Music leaked faintly from inside and out into the autumn air and the wind had died down into a nothing hush.
I checked the clock. Not late.
“Do you understand?” Mum asked.
Her profile was hard. Hard to pin down. Clamped lips. Soft brown cheek. Hair pulled back to straighten out the frizz. There was a twinge in the back of my throat.
If now was a colour it would be teeth-aching toffee. Glazed over, too sweet.