Favourites



   I used the piece of wood to clear away any pieces of glass from the frame, then reached in, undid the latch, pushed the lower half of the window up and slithered in head first, over Dad’s bench. I knocked ponies and old boxes of sandpaper off his bench as I awkwardly tumbled in.

   One of the cardboard boxes rattled when I picked it up. There was a SIM card for a cellphone inside.

If Mum asks why the shed window is broken, I’m not going to lie to her,” Margaret called through the window.

I didn’t ask you to,” I said. “Go away.”

   She flounced off. I pulled myself up and sat cross-legged on the floor of Dad’s shed, sitting in the single strip of sunlight from the window. I took my cellphone out of my school kilt pocket and swapped the SIM card in my cellphone for the SIM card in the box. I checked the inbox. Only one text message remained. “Call 707 to hear one new voicemail,” it read.

   I called 707, of course. “You have one new voice message,” the nice robot lady voice said. “Message received on twenty—six—June, twenty thirteen, at four—fifty six—pm.” Scuffling. Then:

Hi, it’s me.” A slow sigh. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. Look, I just—I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t mean to pressure you. I know your situation’s really complicated, and I know you don’t want to leave your kids, especially Penny. Penny’s your favourite thing in the world, you’re not gonna leave her behind, I get that. It’s just—I don’t think you realise. See: you’re my favourite thing in the world. And not having you—“ A pause. Then the voice returned, throaty. “Not having you—it tears me up. And I just—If you really honestly feel like there’s no way you could get sole custody of Penny—if you really feel like the only way to stay with Penny is to stay with your wife—then I—I have to step away. I can’t—I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry. I love you. I’ll always love you.”

   Then the man hung up.

   An hour later, the shed door opened. Mum stood in the doorway, looking down at me. I was still sitting on the floor like a little statue, my phone still in my hand. Margaret hovered behind Mum. “Go back inside the house,” Mum said to Margaret. Then, amazingly, Mum sat down on the floor opposite me, her legs crossed like mine. She picked up the now empty cardboard box by my knee, looked inside, then put it back down. Still looking at the box, she said, “Did your father really call you his favourite thing?”

   My voice was all raspy. “Yes,” I said. “His favourite thing in the world. His star.”

   She nodded. Then she looked at me, and this lingering weariness bloomed in her eyes, staying and staying like an ache in a bone that had broken once long ago, and had never really healed. Then very quietly, she said, “Lucky you.” ▼

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