Heading North: No vacancy

Words by Lech Blaine

Pictures by Talia Enright

Published on March 12, 2014

When they called about Dad I was in the middle of shitting. The nurse asked if I was sitting down. ‘Absolutely,’ I said. She spoke in the dull hum of practiced remorse. She said there had been complications, both major and minor.
I finished up, flushed and wondered what to make of it all.
He’d been in Brisbane weeks before. We’d eaten expensive steaks and gotten drunk together. ‘There are prospects,’ he’d said, ‘in both business and romance.’
Now he was face up on a metal gurney somewhere.

He owned a motel in a northern town famous for tropical mayhem. When I arrived, both sides of the neon sign had No Vacancy lit up in florescent red.
A Maori woman was in the office. She had barbed wire tattooed around her bicep. ‘You must be Lech,’ she said. I nodded. She got me a beer. We traded small talk, minor diversions in the midst of death.
‘What happened?’ I said eventually.
Her gaze fell sideways. ‘He was stumbling and slurring his words. I thought he was drunk. Then his face looked like it was falling off.’

Outside an Asian lady threw her arms around me. She thrust two fifties and a huge bag of cherry tomatoes into my hands. ‘I’m so sorry. Your dad, very good man.’
‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘he spoke about you often.’
I put the money in my pocket and the tomatoes on the kitchen bench. I found the Maori woman cleaning one of the other rooms. ‘A lady just gave me money and vegetables. Who is she, exactly?’
She smiled. ‘That’s the working girl. She pays four grand a month, cash in hand. He called it your university fund.’

I stayed in one of the honeymoon suites. It didn’t feel right to sleep in his bed yet. I washed in the hot tub and kept the air-conditioner on heavy flow. At night, unable to sleep, I watched myself in the mirrors on the ceiling.
In the other honeymoon suite, an older couple flitted between fits of fucking and fighting. ‘We need to make it work,’ I heard the guy shout more than once.

It took me until the end of summer to get rid of his things. I felt sick with pre-emptive regret. There were people I knew who kept the clothes of dead friends and relatives, wore them around as a kind of keepsake. He was XXXL. I was XS. None of it would fit.
But in the walk-in robe, something twigged. When I was a kid, he hid massive wads of money in his blazers. ‘Better me than the tax man,’ he’d said.
I started searching and got lucky on his wedding coat. The pockets bulged with concealed cash. I emptied it onto the bed. Hundred dollar notes wrapped in stacks of ten. Each pocket had ten stacks. All up, maybe twenty grand.
I hid the money in my laptop bag. Everything else went into scented bin liners that I dumped in the boot of his car, en route to Lifeline. I knew the value of a fresh start.

Lech Blaine studies writing at UQ. He is the most narcissistic guy he knows. Tweet him: @ljtblaine.

Talia Enright is a Brisbane-based chemistry student, bio writing unenthusiast and drawer of lines. She can be contacted by whispering her name upon a crisp autumn breeze or at feminerds.tumblr.com.