As I arrived back at the house, the radio reported the cyclone had made landfall. I fought through the sheets of rain and wrestled the door open. Molly appeared, dressed in pyjamas.
Her battle-cry summoned her younger sister, Hannah, who was followed down the hall by their mother.
‘What are you doing here?’ asked Trish.
‘The storm’s hit the entire coast; they evacuated the rig yesterday.’
I helped finish boarding up the windows with whatever plywood was left in the garage while Trish blew up the air mattresses in the hallway for the girls.
‘These are for camping, Mummy,’ said Hannah.
‘Tonight we’re camping inside, Ok?’
We lost the power at 9. The girls lay on their mattresses with our iPads and headphones, distracted from the storm by Disney and apple juice. Trish and I watched our daughters from the far end of the hallway. The cyclone whipped around us like a wild animal circling a tent. I poured two tumblers of bourbon.
‘How’ve the girls been, anyway?’ I asked.
Somewhere, the metallic screech of a torn gutter cried out. Trish didn’t look up from her glass when she spoke.
‘You didn’t call.’
‘There wasn’t time; I had to beat the storm.’
She scoffed. ‘You haven’t called in two bloody weeks. You didn’t even ring to see how Hannah’s recital went.’
‘I’m working; it’s not easy being away.’
‘And sometimes it’s not easy having you back.’
A barrage of rain smashed down upon the old tin roof above us. I tried to decipher Trish’s face in the dull glow of the camping lantern. ‘What are you saying?’
‘I’m saying, if you want to be here – you need to be here. You can’t just sit on the fence anymore; it’s not fair.’
‘You really want to talk about this now?’
The ceiling groaned.
‘When do we ever talk about anything anymore, Darren?’
‘Fine’. I threw back my drink. ‘Looks like we’re stuck here anyway.’
We fought for an hour, trading bourbon-laced accusations and insults. The storm blew, and both of us thundered; our little weatherboard shook on its precarious foundations. We might have fought until dawn had the girl’s iPads not finally drained of power.
‘Why are you shouting?’ asked Molly, her panicked face illuminated beneath her headtorch.
‘We’re not, sweetie.’ Trish pulled the girl into her arms. ‘I was just telling Daddy how much we miss him, that’s all.’
‘Yeah, we miss you, Daddy,’ said Hannah, crawling onto my lap. ‘Lots.’
The four of us huddled together on the floor, entwined. The girls shook each time some part of the neighbourhood crashed against our house, but Trish and I squeezed our daughters tightly and promised them they were safe. After a few hours, the rain relented, and the wind softened. Trish waited for the girls to fall asleep before nodding off on my shoulder.
In the morning, I went outside and inspected the house. The damage was extensive but with some work – fixable.
© Matthew S. Wilson, May 2021
This piece was originally written for May’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.