After five years away from home, I return to my father's house in Sydney. He tells me he'll be back down in a few minutes, that my visit should have been last month, that now he doesn't have time for me. I nod, bite back tears.
Inside the confined space of the living room, air thick and heavy, I take five steps between two walls, six steps back, walk in circles, reverse the circles, slow down, speed up and hop on one leg until I notice my three kung fu swords stuffed under the staircase. One hangs without its scabbard on a bent nail, blade ready to dice and slice. My gut surges as I remember the black belt test my father refused to attend. "Martial arts are for men, not women," he'd said.
I hyperventilate through fifty jumping jacks.
My father's sword collection hangs high above the staircase. There's that one German sword, rusty with blood, a relic from World War Two. I always wondered where he'd picked that up.
I touch my toes twenty-five times.
I watch and wait, in spite of a racing pulse. There are those Persian carpets, threadbare, embedded with red stains -- reminders of violent words and alcoholic binges. Twilight falls like a shroud as I walk to the window, pull aside moldy curtains, view a blurred image of ghost gums through a pair of seldom-washed casement windows.
Antiques crowd the mahogany coffee table: a Roman warrior with wire whip riding a metal chariot, a faded black and white photo of Khartoum, a broken pottery shard found in a wartime excursion to the pyramids. Dreary paintings by dreary artists line the walls in a haphazard arrangement above china cabinets, above my father's swords, next to the staircase, wherever a few square feet beckon. A woman's dirty yellow slippers lie under a green corduroy love seat, a beat up pair of cracked, leather army boots stand on top of the cherry wood armoire. I clear old letters and newspapers from the cedar dining table and reel at dates from two years ago. Sweat rolls down my forehead as I wait for my father to return, but he doesn't. A wave of nausea rises up my throat, and I swallow the bitter taste of vomit. This time, I resolve, I'll never return.
I wait another half hour, sit at my old white desk with the inlaid world map, and punch my fist repeatedly on its dusty surface. I stand up to leave, but my eye rests on the book shelf, packed with books from poets and world historians. My fingers find my old, raggedy high-school text -- T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, inscribed on the front page to my mother from my father. From somewhere upstairs I hear argument, loud and distinct, my name thrown around like a dog's ball.
"Ok, Dad. I get the message," I whisper.
I cross the cobblestone road to the neighborhood taxi stand and turn around to make sure no one follows.
"Airport, US airways."
"Right you are luv," the taxi driver chimes. "Where you headed?"
"Home," I say. I stare straight ahead and take a long swig from the bottle of whiskey that I swiped from my father's china cabinet.