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To: jameshailler at gmail.com
From: anabelsbrother at hotmail.com
Date: 20 October 2007

Dear Jim,

I feel like a c-bomb for not being around when your granddad died and I know Frankie and her mum have dibs on you, but know that when you come back you'll always be able to crash whevever I'm living. Always. And I don't give a shit if you think I've got sentimental in my old age.

I just wanted you to know that.

Tom

PS I'm thinking of going to Walgett in December to help build something long overdue. I heard you could be out west, so if you're not doing much we could do with the help.

It wasn't as though Mackee had ever not been sentimental, was Jim's first thought and his second was to wonder if Sydney people ever looked at a map, saw an entire country to the west of them, and considered that 'out west' was a touch larger than someone's backyard. But then, he observed, to be fair to Mackee, Dubbo and Walgett aren't all that far apart, not that Mackee knew he was in Dubbo in any case, and then he noticed himself being fair to Mackee, who had been a no-show at Jim's granddad's funeral. And then he remembered Mackee's uncle's death and that he and Mackee weren't that different to each other, pushing people away after their family died, so perhaps he ought to be fair.

He closed the browser window, ambled up to the cafe counter to pay for his Internet time, and headed out down to the river, to sit there and give himself another half an hour to get ready to visit his Mum.

*~*~*~


To: jameshailler at gmail.com
From: siobsullivan at yahoo.com
Date: 25 November 2007

Dear Jim,

As usual, we all miss you and we hope you're doing OK. I hope whereever you are, you know that.

What else? Well, Rudd won the election. Which I guess you know. If Tara ever asks you, I didn't care about the election, and probably entirely forgot to vote, and definitely did not do anything like handing out how-to-votes at Australia House. A lot of Australians here are wrapt, they reckon the first thing Rudd proposes to do is the apology, and signing Kyoto, and then who knows? Setting the whales free, I guess. To live in peaceful harmony.

Did I tell you where things got up to with Tom and Tara? It's back on, he's going out to Timor to see her before she leaves. I worry that he hasn't grown up enough for her yet, but hey, my philosophy with guys was always try it and see. Or that's what Tom would tell me if I told him what I was thinking. And also, he just got back from Vietnam with Tom Finch's body, so who am I to tell him he isn't grown up enough? He grew down after Joe died, but maybe he was just taking the long way around.

Don't we all take the long way around?

Will email you in a week as usual, hang in there,

Siobhan

When the girls write to him, they never ask him about his Mum. He's definitely noticed that, but he knows it has been his doing.

"Dropkick," he'd told them over and over until the questions stopped. And she hadn't come to the funeral, and to them that pretty much was it. But Mackee hadn't come to the funeral, probably been too stoned to know what he'd been told, and they hadn't written him off. But Jim had told them to write his Mum off, he'd told them over and over again. And they'd written her off.

~*~*~*


To: jameshailler at gmail.com
From: mia.spinelli at uts.edu.au
Date: 27 November 2007

Dear Jim,

I know when the girls write to you they try and pretend that they're not worried. Maybe that works for them, I don't know. I'm sorry if my worrying bothers you, but I can't not say it. I'm worried about you.

We get back in a few weeks, and to be honest Jim, if I haven't heard from you and none of the girls have heard from you—and I mean more than asking them for money—I'm going to send Rob out looking for you. You don't have to come live with us (although you know you're welcome), you don't have to talk to us really, but the time has come for us to at least know that you're OK.

Mia

His Mum had been a dropkick. Definitely a dropkick. What else do you call someone who dumps her kid at whatever relatives will take him, because she prefers heroin? Or grog? Or whatever the hell. He'd settled nicely into hating her. And his father. Dropkicks. Addicts. Not worth the bother.

And then there had been the car accident. It had been just before the HSC exams, he hadn't told anyone. Everyone had been being eaten alive by the stress of it all, it had been easy to slide beneath their notice. Mia and Rob had been focussed on holding Frankie up, worried that after her dreadful first year at St Sebastian's that she'd lost too much time in the classroom to get the marks she needed. He went to school. He wrote his exams and tried to pretend he gave a shit about his university admissions rank. Not much of a shit, just the tiny amount that Jim Hailler would normally give.

He got what he wanted; none of them found out. He sure didn't want to tell that story about his mother. She'd been drunk, she'd crashed into another car, the man driving the other car didn't go home to his kids that night, or ever again.

And he didn't know how to explain what came afterwards. She lived in a nursing home, spent a lot of time watching TV. Sometimes he found her listening to the piano when one of the staff played it, and clapping. "She loves music," they said, what that new or was that something he'd never known about her? She smiled at him when he showed up each day, because he was the face that kept coming back.

Not the mother he'd wanted, back before he learned it was better not want her. Not his dropkick mother who he could hate either.

~*~*~*


To: jameshailler at gmail.com
From: anabelsbrother at hotmail.com
Date: 4 December 2007

The time has come Hailler. Frankie says her Dad is going to go bush looking for you soon. It sounds pretty serious. And you know what happens then. You saw what happened to Frankie in Yr 11. Dragged home in disgrace from Woy Woy station in the middle of the night, to find some kind of pity party had taken over her house.

Come quietly, son, that's my advice. You don't want that kind of scene.

Walgett. From the 9th. No pity parties when Bill and Dom and Tom Mackee are on the case. And we can call off the hunt.

Tom

"I'm gonna be away for a few weeks," Jim told his mother, Louise, sitting in her room together at the home. She nodded to the tone in his voice.

"Oh, Jim's going away for a few weeks, Lu," Sarah, the shift nurse repeated to her. "Holiday, Jim?"

"Kinda," he said. "Got some people I need to catch up with. Old friends."

"And then he'll come right back," Sarah continued to his mother.

He could only nod. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe he would. Maybe he had to. Maybe he wanted to. It was time to find out.