Medium 9781912573639

The Other Side of Silence

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A gripping, emotionally charged drama unfolding over a tumultuous week for Anna Mason, a Melbourne doctor: her newborn nephew's life hangs in the balance, her parents meet after years of rage and silence, and Anna's own heartbreak can no longer be denied.Moving, complex, but ultimately life-affirming, this book explores what happens when families are silent for generations about painful emotional truths and how lives can change when the truth is finally spoken.

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7 Chapters

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One

ePub

Louis fingered the neck of his acoustic guitar, his Maton; it always came with him. He was seated on a low couch that ran along one wall of their tiny farmhouse. He glanced up at Anna as she stood in the galley kitchen putting finishing touches to the evening meal. He watched her as she chopped fresh basil and coriander and was caught by the steady rhythm of her knife as it rose and fell. She moved to the stove and tossed a handful of the herbs into one saucepan, then lifted a piece of spaghetti from the next with a fork and chewed slowly, testing to see if it was ready. She seemed absorbed by her task and unaware of him. He leant forward and strummed his guitar loudly. The sound was rasping, discordant. Anna flinched as she turned to face him. Louis smiled as he spoke, his voice eager. “I heard from Charlie yesterday. Just before we set off.”

It was Saturday evening. The drive from Melbourne the night before had taken five and a half hours, plenty of time to talk about Charlie, but Louis had slept most of the way. They had both risen late that morning and busied themselves on the property during the day: he mending fences and spreading hay in the paddocks, she sanding back a small cedar table they had brought with them. She looked at him. The light from the standing lamp in the corner played across his dark features as he focused on his instrument once again and she realised that somewhere she still found him attractive. She tensed in anticipation for she could predict what was coming. Perhaps she was wrong. She kept her voice calm, her tone non-committal. “I didn't know he was back in Melbourne.”

 

Two

ePub

“I hope you realise that I'm doing this for Fred!” He pulled on his jacket as she fastened her earrings.
“Don't worry, I took that as given.” She looked in the dressing table mirror to apply her lipstick and could see him behind her, glaring at her. He still spruced up so well. He must have noted the desire in her eyes, even though he could only see it in the mirror. He was instantly behind her and pulled her against him. They both gazed at their combined reflection, his arm around her waist, his mouth nuzzling her neck. The emerald green of her dress accentuated the creamy pallor of her skin and the darkness of her hair. It was a taffeta cocktail dress; classic in design it draped seductively over her cleavage without being too revealing, then tapered at her waist and outlined the fullness of her hips. Would her father call her gaunt in this?

“You look gorgeous in that dress. I could ravish you.”

She pulled away from him abruptly. This was so much a part of their relating, something she had taken years to see; the offer of what she wanted at the expense of something else that was important to her.

 

Three

ePub

Matthew turned to her with obvious relief and watched her as she approached the bed. “Hello Anna, I've just been filling your family in on how things stand.” She gave him a small smile. “I'd best get back to the Nursery.” He looked directly at Chloe. “I'll come to see you in the morning Mrs Hargraves, once I see how he's doing.”

“Will I be able to see him then?” Chloe's voice was very small, her eyes beseeched him, terrified.

“Of course.” He turned to include Adrian. “It would be best if you both can. He's in the Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery on the fourth floor.”

Adrian nodded assent silently and looked away. Anna had never seen him at such a loss for words before, would never have thought that sympathy was a feeling she could have for him, but she had it now. Matthew nodded at her then left.

“Thank you, Annie. Thank you for finding him, for getting him to come so quickly.” Chloe's voice was quivering. “At least now we know.”

“What do we know? Nothing!”

 

Four

ePub

She woke and felt strangely confused and disorientated. The room was still dark and the world quite silent. She glanced across to the bedside table and the illuminated dial on the clock radio. Seven a.m. She had forgotten to set the alarm but something had woken her. Louis lay cuddling a pillow, sprawled out and deeply asleep beside her. She was not late for work, so why the strange sense of urgency. She was sure there was something she needed to do. Then she remembered. She felt anxious at the thought of it all. She sat up slowly and climbed out of bed, cautious not to wake him. She stepped over the pile of clothes on the floor and pulled her woollen dressing gown from the back of the bedroom door. She bent over and rummaged among the pile of shoes, almost all Louis's, under the dressing table till she found her winter slippers. She slid them on and walked out of the room closing the door firmly behind her. She picked up her little evening bag from the hall table, switched the central heating on and made her way to the kitchen.

 

Five

ePub

“Chloe, are you alone?”
“Annie?”
“I'm here in the hospital. Are you alone?”

“Yes, Adrian's gone to lunch, but he'll be back soon.”

“Okay, I'll be there in a minute.”

She put her phone away hurriedly. She felt like a spy or fugitive slinking down the corridors hoping not to be seen, or maybe just like someone who felt she had no right to be there. She didn't want to meet any of them; not the Hargraves or Adrian, equally not either of her parents. Her father had not rung her as he said he would. She knew the call would come, he always kept his word. But she half dreaded it.

She entered the room. Chloe was sitting up in a chair by the window, completely free of all tubing and attachments. She looked different, far more alert, alive, and tougher, that was it, tougher than she had looked for years, maybe ever. Her habitual cloak of fear and confusion was missing.

“Come in, Annie, don't stand at the door. This is terribly hard for you isn't it?” Concern for her from Chloe? She walked slowly towards her sister.

 

Six

ePub

She sat in the lobby and watched as he approached her. He was so handsome still. Did his family age well? Not a question that could really be answered. He was an only child and his parents had both died when he was in his early forties. She had no recollection of them. They had lived in Grafton in northern New South Wales. She had a vague memory of broad streets lined by purple flowering trees if her grandparents were mentioned, no picture in her mind of either of them, just the jacarandas. From what she knew he had been on his own long before their death in any case; studying in Sydney, then London, distancing himself from his country town roots, more by education and sophistication than geography. Had he been able to communicate with them at all in the end? Had he been able to communicate with them ever?

Frederick stood beside his father at the long workbench. It was nine in the morning and the heat was building, but the dew had not completely evaporated and the pungent fragrance of the large, lemon-scented gum tree just outside the shed wafted through the open door. It would be a searing hot day. They had started early. Maybe they could finish it today before the heat really set in, before the long trip to Sydney tomorrow. They worked in silence; he on the seat, his father on the stand. Each piece so beautifully turned, the rich red of the mahogany gleaming. So many months in the making, and then the countless coats of shellac alternating with pumice, more sanding, more shellac; its smell mingled with the olive oil that let the pad glide across the ever glossier surface. Would this really be the final glaze? Could the thing be done in time? She had wanted it for so long and now she might have it before he left her.

 

Seven

ePub

She woke confused. Where was she? She felt the containing confines of the single bed with blankets tucked tightly around her and a summer doona on top. The guest room, she was in the guest room, as she had been for the past three nights. It must be Friday morning. She picked up her mobile phone from the bedside table and checked the time; six-thirty, her father would be on his flight to Europe. Bypass surgery next month: she would have to get in touch with him, follow it up, make sure he did not try to delay it, speak with his doctors if he let her. What daydream was she in? Why would he let her? They had never had that kind of relationship. The closeness she had experienced with him in the last few days was real, but any follow-up on her part, other than responding to his invitation to participate in his life again at Christmas, was likely to be seen as an intrusion. She had tried it in her teens. It was so disorienting to grapple with the reality that he was gone.

She pushed herself up in the bed and ruffled her hair. Was it easier to think about her father than to face opening the door and walking into the corridor of her own home? The realisation dawned: she had not seen or spoken with Louis since Tuesday night when his vicious remarks to her in front of Charlie had sundered something. She had been coming home late and leaving early ever since. She had eaten out and gone to a movie on her own the night before just to avoid him, but, as she turned her mind to him fully for the first time in days, it occurred to her that she had no idea when or if he had been home. She felt deeply shocked. She knew that neither of them had called or sent a text message but she also realised that she had not looked for evidence of his presence in the house, only for his absence. It was the opposite of her usual way of being with him: waiting for him, anticipating his moods or reacting to them, thinking of how best to engage or placate him.

 

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