Before our births, void of choice, we became part of the story,
During our lives, with a choice, we can't escape the story,
After death, abandoned choice, the story continues to seep.
- Andrew Mansell

Father’s Day 2012

Photo by Brian Valentine

I’ve thrown away countless faulty plug-in headsets for my PC. This new wireless headset is sure to be my saviour, ensuring another set of expletives are kept to themselves. I’ve no explanation for my technology rage at times. Perhaps, I should simply be more patient. I do try but when the repeated greeting – hello – hello – hello – tonelessly sounds, signalling the end of another headset; I just lose it. No more, I hope. Time to test these bitches – yes, I can hear.

‘Meet me now. I’ve got the bad gear; pure as,’ a male teenage voice says.

‘What will I tell my dad?’ a female teenage voice replies.

‘Just tell him, you’re going to the shops.’

‘Alright, give me five.’

Hang on a minute, that’s Julie’s voice. ‘Testing,’ I say into my new microphone.

‘What? Who’s that?’ The male voice says.

I quickly disconnect.

Before I can think about what Julie’s up to, she’s walked past and told me she’s going down the shop.

‘Hang on,’ I say and raise my voice a notch. ‘What for?’

‘Do you have to know everything?’ She says. ‘Dad, just chill. I won’t be long.’

She’s out the door in a flash. Not a moment to contemplate. By the time I’m outside, she’s ridden off up the street towards the shops. What am I supposed to do now? He has the bad gear which I’m sure is nothing to do with top notch sporting gear. Surely it’s got to be drugs, hasn’t it? Pure as, he did say. I’m definitely not going alone. Well, I’m insinuating a drug deal here. I grab Wagger’s lead and rattle it; a call she’ll do anything for.

Her aging German shepherd body, surprisingly, takes me for a walk, pulling me along down the street, which is a little quicker to the shops than Julie’s way. Wagger’s old age kicks in after a few minutes when we reach the creek. I guide her over several raised mounds, the only place you can cross without getting wet. Despite a gust of wind that tilts us both towards the water for a moment, we avoid dipping our feet. We stealthy weave through several eucalyptus trees and an upturned shopping trolley to the nearby picnic area. Adjacent to the shops, we halt and stand near the edge of the children’s playground – we wait. A cluster of teenagers sit at the bottom of the monkey bars and look at us with absent faces from beneath their hoodies. I hope Wagger doesn’t bark and blow our cover. I pat her and tell her if she’s good, I’ll let Ros take her for another walk later. Wagger tilts her head sideways at the news, whatever that means.

I need to know what the gear is. Can Julie really be taking drugs? She has been spending a lot of time alone in her room lately and struggling to get up for school. On Sundays she rarely gets up before dinner. At least she’s up for Father’s Day – some consolation. Ros says it’s just normal teenage behaviour but that overheard conversation has got me all worked up. God, what will I tell Ros if it really is so? There’s Julie now, she’s with Blake. He always seemed like a nice kid; just shows, you never can tell. I can’t see exactly what he’s giving her but it’s rather small. There’s no way I’m getting any closer. Julie just slipped it in her pocket. At least she’s not crazed enough to display the gear in the open. Shit, she’s heading back home.

‘Come on, Wagger, we better make a run for it.’

This time it’s me pulling the old dog along. She has no idea of the urgency needed right now and decides to halt and squat near the base of a eucalypt.

‘Come on, Wagger,’ I say again and eventually manage to pull her over the creek. This time, we both get wet feet. The bitch and she really is a bitch, reminds me of my Gran when she hung onto her walking rail, refusing to be taken to a nursing home as my dad and uncle pulled her. We really must get back before Julie. I try and pick up the pace but Wagger just plods along in a different world to mine, panting profusely. ‘Alright,’ I say. ‘You win. One for the girls.’

I slow down to Wagger’s pace. Hopefully we’ll still beat Julie back. No cats please, no cats, the last thing I need is something to distract Wagger. The road seems clear at the front of home but what looks like a bike tyre just appeared at the end of the street. I tense up and begin to walk slower. As I step, the squelch of water in my runners seems more profound than the pattering mouse that does its best to creep through my bedroom ceiling after midnight. I try to quickly concoct a story that Julie would believe. Wagger wouldn’t stop barking so we came out to see what was happening. The neighbours sprinkler had come off the hose and water was spurting everywhere, stopped it though; sounds believable. Just as I convince myself, that tyre at the end of the street turns out to be a black plastic bag, being blown along in short bursts by the wind. Some relief, I guess, some.

Back inside, I leave my waterlogged shoes behind the front door and scramble to the computer desk. I hit a key, any key, the computer is still on. Julie gets back in, not long after. I’m still puffing but try not to show it. She walks past me and heads towards her room.

‘Wait a minute,’ I say.

‘What?’ she says in an angry teenage way as if I’ve said the only thing on earth she doesn’t want to hear. She keeps walking.

‘What did you get at the shops?’ I say with my voice raised but not angry.

‘Nothing.’ She huffs. ‘Just checked out some stuff.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘I’m busy, Dad.’ She goes into her room; closing the door, of course.

This is not going well, at all. She can’t just walk off like that. How the hell can I sort this? Ros gets home in an hour; maybe I’ll discuss it with her first. I browse the internet, using teenagers and drugs as my keywords, end up on a site with so called official statistics. Alcohol is the most used drug by Australian teens, there’s no way that’s what Blake gave her unless it’s a miniature bottle of something extremely pure, hopefully not 190-proof Everclear. Cannabis is the next most used drug but Julie is still so quick thinking and alert; doesn’t fit. Third choice goes to cigarettes. I’ve never smelt their chemical laden smoke around Julie. Who could have imagined some of the side effects of ice and its contemporaries, next on the list of choice – chronic sleep problems, hallucination, panic attacks and out of control aggression? Almost describes a typical teenager. No time, not to be serious here. More side effects of ice – trembling hands and fingers, severe headaches, itching and picking skin, psychosis and stomach cramps. I’m going to Julie’s room, right now, well, almost. The phone rings; it’s Ros. She’s driving and can’t talk long but says she’s finished work early and will pick up dinner. I can’t really talk either which suits me. I’m heading in.

I get up and walk the passage to Julie’s bedroom. Wagger follows me. I knock at Julie’s door but no answer. Wagger sniffs my damp socks and then at the bottom of the door. She makes me think of a drug sniffer dog which is not exactly a thought I need.

‘Julie,’ I say. ‘Are you OK?’

‘Of course,’ she says with obvious annoyance. ‘Can you go away? I’m busy.’

‘With what?’

‘I’ll tell you later. Just go and take Wagger for her walk.’

I grab onto the door knob and turn it a little, pressing against the door with my shoulder, ready to confront Julie. I want to burst into her room but can’t – just couldn’t. I lean back and release the knob, taking a deep breath in the process.

‘I’ll be at the computer if you need me,’ I say.

My hit of anxiety seems to have eased and I walk away from Julie’s room. I have no choice but to respect Julie for whom she is. I remember being a teenager and the last thing I would have wanted is my parents to spring me, especially when I used to write limericks saturated with the F word, a couple of C words and the B word as my mum used to refer to them. For a moment I wonder if Julie’s talking to Blake again but decide not to bother with my new headset. One overheard conversation is more than enough for today.

I’m not sure how long passes as I browse over before and after pictures of once healthy people that became addicted to methamphetamine. I shudder at the bruised chicken spot faces that refuse to open their mouths and show teeth blackened to the root. Fortunately Julie comes up to me, saving me from my worsening nightmare. I click the x at the top of the screen but not before Julie sees the faces. She doesn’t ask. I scan her face quickly, only spotting one tiny red spot on her nose.

‘Sorry Dad,’ she says. ‘I just couldn’t let you in my room.’

I’m unsure what to say. I can see the tips of her unblemished teeth as she speaks.

‘Please, don’t be mad at me. I’ve got you a Father’s Day present.’

She hands me what could only be a packet of gum wrapped up in glittery cyan paper. I open it to find a USB flash drive, also of cyan colour.

‘I’m detecting a theme here,’ I say.

‘Boot it up,’ Julie says.

I do and a file appears, Breaking Bad – Series 5.

‘Blake ripped them for me. It’s the first seven episodes.’ Julie beams. ‘Episode 8 airs tonight. I can probably get it for you next week.’

‘Sure, I had no idea. This is amazing.’ I stand up and give her a huge hug and a kiss. ‘You know, I love you,’ I say. I don’t let go of her for a while, probably a while too long.

‘Ease up, Dad. I knew you liked the show but not that much.’

‘Sorry,’ I say and let go. ‘Your dad’s just takes a little longer to catch onto things, these days.’

‘No sweat,’ Julie says, subtly nodding her head. ‘Perhaps, I could show you how to stream the rest of the series?’

‘That would be great,’ I say and second guess what streaming is. Anyway, I’m up for learning. I knew nothing of meth before Breaking Bad came along and oddly feel wiser.

The front door opens and Ros walks in to find us both in smiles. She’s not alone; a pizza, Coke and some munchies are with her.

‘Guess what we’re watching for Father’s Day?’ I say.

Breaking Bad –series 5,’ Ros says and smirks. ‘Well, hello! Julie arranged it with me during the week.’

I can’t help but grin. ‘You – bitch,’ I say.

We all laugh. And I don’t mind feeling like an idiot, it’s usually a temporary thing. Besides, instead of feeling like an idiot, tomorrow I’ll only remember tonight’s entertainment and be in dire need of the remaining Series 5 episodes. Despite Breaking Bad’s drug theme always being in my face, its overriding entertainment factor distracts me, ensuring I don’t have to look beneath its surface as I’ve done for real today.

Julie takes a piece of pizza and walks towards her room. Ros sits down beside me and I click on the first episode. An ad warning about piracy begins. Now, that is a bitch. I envisage a pure entertainment void of distraction and wonder why Blake had to rip the ad. Anyway, gives me a chance to poor the Coke and ponder why I’m saying bitch more than usual; just can’t help myself. The word is stuck in my mind like a relentless pop song. I’m glad in an odd way though; seemingly simple things like words, including expletives, can be addictive. Fortunately, their side effects are mostly harmless.

Andrew Mansell, September 2012.


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