Other Houses: Hey. Hey!

Words by Bronte Coates

Published on June 19, 2013

Mum wants to pick us up from the airport but I tell her we’ll get a taxi to save the trouble. She insists. I insist. Then she says, do whatever you want Maria and hangs up. I immediately feel guilty.

Let the games begin, I say to Joni who ignores me. She’s been ignoring me since I asked her when we’d become one of those couples who just talk about feelings instead of having sex. Now I ask her if she’s planning to ignore me all weekend. She pretends not to hear me. I look at her looking away. When my mum first met Joni she called her statuesque and Joni, who wasn’t my girlfriend yet, blushed pink all over her face and smiled in a way that made my heart leap. She’s not smiling now.

Real mature, I say to the side of her face. I’d already told her that I’d been joking about the sex thing. I was in bed when Joni had come in. Everything was peaceful and still. I’d put my arms around her soft body, moved my hand over her breast and she’d shrunk away, pushed me off. She’d said, I don’t feel well. That’s when I said what I said. I might not have been entirely joking. There hadn’t been much time for anything on that side of things lately. We’d both been working too much.

I keep looking at Joni, hoping for her to face me. She does and I put my hand on her arm which is soft and pale from the winter. She has such beautiful eyes. I forget sometimes. Joni, I say. Can we just talk about it? I’m sorry, she says, removing my hand. I thought you’d didn’t want to talk about feelings.

A few months back Joni had told me she wanted to be a mother and I’d asked her how and she’d cried for what felt like hours. She wanted to talk surrogacy and adoption. She wouldn’t stop crying. I tried to be comforting. I really did. I held her while she cried. I told her we could do whatever she wanted. I took a day off work and drove us up to the mountains. The valleys and hills rolled out before us like an ocean. On the drive home, Joni put the music up to cover the sound of her crying. And then one day, she just stopped. No more tears, no more pamphlets. It was like everything was back to normal. Only it wasn’t at all.

The taxi pulls up out the front of my house and as I’m paying, Joni steps out and goes straight through my front door. I follow her inside and take our bag into my old room. Mum’s placed two towels at the end of our bed and there’s a pile of mail beside the lamp. On top of the mail is a note saying ‘change address pls’. I want to know when my mother learnt how to say ‘pls’. I sit down on my old bed. Maybe the truth is that I wasn’t joking at all. Maybe I was feeling mean. Because I think what Joni really wanted, back when she’d told me about wanting a baby, was for me to shout out me too and hold her hand and talk about the kind of mother I wanted to be. She’d told me that not being a mother made her feel like less of a woman. She’d told me she felt barren and I’d rubbed her shoulders but the truth was, I’d simply felt relieved.

Down the hallway I can hear the two of them — my mother and my girlfriend — laughing away. Suddenly I want to run in that room and wave my arms and stomp up and down and say hey. Hey! Listen to me! But I can’t think of anything to say next.