I felt James tap me on the shoulder and my eyelids flickered. Opposite my bed, the armchair and the clothes piled over it were a soft grey form in the creeping light of dawn.
James had been sleeping on the side of the bed closest to the window and I had my back to him. I’d felt the chill morning air flow down my neck and run over my back as he’d lifted the soft flannelette sheets and feather doona in raising his arm. I hadn’t moved.
The stained glass window was ajar and through the flyscreen came the faint inconsistent pitter of spitting rain. The pitters grew to patters and then regular drumming splats as the drops hammered the corrugated tin roof. Water gurgled along the gutters and gushed down the drain. I could feel James’ breath on the small of my back. I pulled the doona up over my shoulder and held it under my chin.
The mattress beneath me moved as he lifted himself so he could look down at my face. I kept my eyes shut but not clenched – so he wouldn't know I was awake. After a few seconds, I felt him lower himself onto the mattress and snuggle into my back.
Then, after a minute or two, he was tapping me on the shoulder again. Not hard but with a soft persistent anxiety. ‘Daaad, daaad. Are you awake?’
‘Nooo.’ My voice cold and grey as the miserable dawn.
He moved his lips close to my ear. ‘Do you like Harrison more than me?’
My shoulders collapsed. ‘For fuck’s sake.’ The words seeped out as a hushed sigh of resignation.
He shook my shoulder. ‘What did you say? I didn’t hear you.’
I kept my eyes closed but opened my mouth.
We’d had Mexican takeaway for dinner and the spicy pulled pork burrito that I'd washed down with half a bottle of shiraz still lingered.
‘I like you in different ways. Harrison is fourteen. He’s sporty and confident but he doesn’t say much.’
‘And that’s why you like him?’
I stifled a yawn and thought for a second.
‘There’s a good side and a bad side to everything. I like doing stuff with Harrison like going to the gym, or watching sport and not feeling like I have to talk all the time. That’s the good side.’
James pounced on it. ‘And what’s the bad side?’
‘Well, sometimes I’d like Harrison to talk more. You know, to tell me stuff and ask me questions but that’s not really him. That’s the bad side.’
‘Okay, now what about me?’
I hadn’t even drawn a breath and felt myself frown. ‘Well, even though you’re only a few years younger than Harrison you’re smaller and you’re not as sporty and not as confident, but you talk to me. The good side of that is we go to galleries and exhibitions, and you tell me things and ask me questions and, sometimes, when you wake up in the middle of the night, you climb into bed with me. That’s the good side.’
‘And what’s the bad side?’
I pressed my head into the pillow and pulled the doona up over my ears. The rain became an incessant muffled staccato of splats and taps, and the rush of water down the drainpipe a deep rolling moan.
James pressed his mouth into the doona which was covering my ear and persisted. ‘Dad, tell me. What’s the bad side of me getting into bed with you and talking? Come on, Dad. Tell me. Tell me what the bad side of me talking is ...’
Copyright: story David Benn; photos Wix.
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