“You’re not coming in until you’ve chopped that wood!” The unshaven head disappeared as the window slammed shut.
“You’ll stay outside until you’ve caught us a couple of rabbits. It’ll be good for you!” Jack’s face appeared at her bedroom window, her palms pressed to the glass as though reaching out for him.
Dad had been determined to be self-sufficient. It was a favourite word of his, like manly and deadweight.
“You’ll learn to be manly if it kills the pair of us,” to Ian.
“I never wanted a girl! You’re just a deadweight,” to Jack.
Ian’s hand drifted through the soil, feeling no more than a slight resistance through the glove. A mist of fine particles rose before him. He remembered bunching his fists in that soil and watching blood drip on to the grass from his lip or nose after one of Dad’s attempts at homeschooling. Dad’s gifts as a teacher had been as meagre as Ian’s as a pupil, and frustration was never more than one step away from flying fists. Ian never cried. He’d learned not to make that mistake at a very early age. He’d clench his fingers into the soil as though trying to pull it out from under Dad, the house and his entire life. “Bastard,” he’d say, “bastard, bastard, bastard.”
Ian jerked his head, annoyed he’d let his thoughts wander. Forget ‘manly’ and ‘self-sufficient’. The word he needed to remember now was ‘narcosis’. Before his first training dive below eighteen meters, the instructor had told him to write his phone number backwards. He’d done it without hesitation, but when she handed him a pad on the bottom, he’d had to wring the digits out of his memory, and even then he’d mixed two of them up. It was as clear a demonstration of the effect of nitrogen under pressure on the human brain as he could have asked for. Yet here he was drifting through memories he’d spent half his life trying to forget instead of keeping an eye on his air. A hundred and fifty bars left, and he’d only been down for fourteen minutes. He shouldn’t have let his breathing run away with him.
Next week: The Door
Cover by Manda Benson
Other stories by DJ Cockburn available online