Content Notes apply to this chapter
Cello’s been back and forth from Sydney a few times. She stayed with Gillian for a while but it didn’t work out, and I wonder why anyone thought that was a good idea. She could have kept staying with us, but her presence is still quite stressful for Mani. She moved back to Sydney but she’s not just… gone like the way she was before. She didn’t leave behind her phone. I have her email address. She comes back to visit.
There is a knock on the door one afternoon. I don’t know if it is because I had just been thinking of her, but I expect it to be Cello.
Or maybe it is just because the only other person that usually comes to our house is Gillian, and Gillian doesn’t usually knock first.
“It’s not that I hate her,” Cello had told me, “It’s just that I don’t want to hate her and I think that if I spend too much time alone with her, I will.”
But when I open the door it isn’t Cello. And I think it isn’t so much that I don’t know the person who knocked on my front door that stresses me out so much as… having an expectation about what would happen and then it not happening the way that I thought it would, and not having any time to prepare in advance, for not knowing how things would go.
“Is this Gillian Parker’s house?” The woman asks.
“Who are you?” I ask her.
“Shell,” she says. “I’m Shell.”
“No,” I said. “It is not Gillian’s house.”
She was looking at me very intently and it made me feel weird. People have told me that the way I look at them is weird (but also that it is weird when I don’t look at people, so I can’t really win) and I wonder if this is the sort of thing that they mean by that.
“Technically it is her house because she does own it, but she does not live here, ” I said awkwardly.
“You’re Alan,” she said.
“I’m Shell,” she says again, and I don’t know if that is supposed to mean something to me.
I think maybe she will go away after that, but she does not.
“Gillian lives nearby,” I say, once I remember to think about what she had asked me and why she might have asked it.
“Okay…” she says.
“I can show you where it is.”
She doesn’t say anything to me as we walk. I point out that one of her boots is untied but she tucks the laces into her boot rather than tying them up again. I think about telling her that they will probably just come out again if she does that, but apparently that sort of thing makes people feel like I am being judgmental. I can’t tie my shoelaces properly and the thought that somebody would think I was judging them for not demonstrating a skill I don’t even possess was stressful, even though I hadn’t even said anything.
Being around strangers is exhausting sometimes.
I have a key to Gillian’s house. But I knock on her front door anyway.
I am surprised when Cello opens it because I didn’t expect to see her here. Which is odd because just a few minutes ago it was her absence – when I had expected her presence – that had unbalanced me.
Michelle left. Cello came back. She doesn’t quite fit into the space she left. I thought, when she’d come home, that it would heal the hole she’d left in my life when she left. Instead her return just drew an outline around it, and her absence is somehow even more painful even though she isn’t absent anymore.
Shell sits on the couch with her head in her hands and just quietly says “fuck, fuck, fuck,” to herself and it is comforting in a way, because I have no idea what to do or say. But I am almost certain that nobody would know what to do or say, so at least I am not worried that I am missing something obvious.
Cello is looking at me impatiently and I can’t explain why I have come over, or who Shell is, and I realise that I don’t know the answers to any of the questions Cello wants to ask me… and… when we were kids and I felt like this, Cello was always the one who stepped in and helped me and somehow knew what to say when I couldn’t make the words come out.
So I am trying very hard to hold myself together when Gillian comes home.
Gillian sees Shell and her face goes white.
“You shouldn’t be here,” she says to Shell, “please…leave. Please just go.”
Shell just stares.
“Is that …it? Just ‘please leave’ and you expect me to… what? To walk out the door? Is that all you have to say to me right now?”
Gillian doesn’t answer.
“Hi Shell, nice to see you again how are you doing? Is your mother still demonically evil? Why yes she is, Gillian! Thanks for asking!”
Gillian just asked her, again, to leave.
“I mean… I don’t know Gillian, aren’t there a couple of things you failed to mention the last time we met? Fuck! FUCK. FUCK I just cannot say that enough times right now fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck… Fuck I am so fucking angry right now and I just… fuck. Nope, still going. FUCK FUCK FUCK. Fuck you.”
“I never expected you to forgive me. Just go.”
“Fuck you! Fuck. You. You think I should just… leave. This. And that. Her. And him. With his fucking name and his fucking face and his what the fuck oh my god fuck. Fuck. Gillian. Gillian.”
“You really should go.”
“FUCK. YOU. How you could you just… say nothing. You left. YOU LEFT and you didn’t fucking tell anyone or say anything and I thought… I thought I knew why. I thought I understood. And I saw you. I fucking saw you. We had a conversation. A nice one! I liked it. And it was a while back, I grant you, but it was NOT THAT LONG AGO. And I … fuck. Am I that useless to you? Am I that bloody useless and pointless that you thought you’d, you’d all just…be better off without me? You were on your own. You had nobody. You had nothing. I had nothing. We could have had each other. I spent so much time without a reason to keep going. Alone. I would have been there. And at least you would have had money. My mother is a terrible person but she is rich and you would have at least been able to play the fucking electricity bill. Or or we could have run away I would have left with you I would have helped you. I would have tried.”
“You would have FAILED.”
“Oh fuck you. You don’t know that. You don’t know that!”
“I wasn’t willing to take that risk.”
“That risk? What risk? The risk of having someone to talk to? To share with? Because you think I’m too fucking useless to contribute anything…”
“What would you have done? Would you have married me?”
“And then what, Shell? And then what? Would you have stepped up and tried your hardest to be a husband and a father?”
“HOW LONG would you have been able to keep that up, Shell? For how many years day in and day out pretending and forcing yourself to be someone you are not before you shattered into pieces. That was the risk I wasn’t willing to take. I couldn’t. I couldn’t let it be my child who had to find their dead father on the fucking floor.”
“Fuck you,” Shell says.
She pauses at the door and looks at me and at Cello and my stomach feels sort of cold because I’m looking right at someone’s face while they’re having a feeling. But I can’t look away, because I notice how her eyes look like Mani’s when he’s confused and scared, and how her mouth looks like Cello’s when she’s furious, and how her eyebrows and her nose look like mine.
There’s an old film camera on one of the shelves at Gillian’s house. Displayed along with photos of Cello and I as children. It’s the camera she used to use when I was a kid.
Shell glares at Gillian one last time, picks up the camera and then she’s gone.
“I can’t talk about this,” Gillian says and she walks into her room, and closes the door.
I can’t think of anything to say, so I don’t say anything. Cello doesn’t either.
So we just sort of stand there. Not saying anything.
And then she puts her arms around my waist, and I pull her tight against my chest and she smells like she did as a child. The Michelle I miss becomes a Cello that I love and we stand there. Not saying anything.
And it feels like I have a sister again.
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