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PARADISE ISLAND Chapter 3 (Part A)

by  belka37

Posted: Saturday, January 30, 2010
Word Count: 2038
Summary: Jason struggles with his father's mood swings
Related Works: PARADISE ISLAND Chapter 1 • PARADISE ISLAND Chapter 2 • 

Jason woke suddenly. Was that a scream? He held his breath and listened. There it was again. He bounded out of bed and hurried to his parents’ bedroom. By the glow of the nightlight he saw his father sitting bolt upright in bed, his eyes wide and staring, his fingers digging into the bed sheets. Mum was softly crooning in the way she used to soothe Genni when she was a baby. She held her husband’s shoulders and rocked him gently to and fro.

The moment she saw Jason, she mouthed the words, ’Ssh! It’s okay. Go back to bed.’

Jason returned to his room feeling shaken. For a long time he sat on the edge of his bed. What was happening? He had so looked forward to Dad’s return and everything being the way it used to be. An army liaison officer had visited their home a week or so before Dad came home. She’d warned them not to expect too much. Some soldiers, she told them, took a while to settle back into civilian life. Some experienced depression, nightmares. There were likely to be some things they would never be able to talk about. Jason realized he was only now beginning to understand what she’d meant.

He heard movement in the kitchen, then the shower running. A quiet knock on his door followed. His mother approached his bed. ‘Sorry about before,’ she said. ‘Your father had a nightmare but he’s alright now. He woke up in a sweat and his pyjamas are drenched. He’s having a shower. We’ll sit in the kitchen awhile, have a cup of tea and then go back to bed. Try not to worry. Go back to sleep if you can.’ She cupped her son’s face in her hands. ‘It will be alright, you know.’

Jason woke early and crept outside and down to the shed. He and Dad had worked on many projects down here. He remembered the doll’s pram they’d made for Lillian, the rocker for Genni. Then there was the double swing with a hood they’d made and hung on the back porch for Mum. He scrubbed down the workbench and looked around for the materials he needed for his next project - a new surf board for Dad. They would have such fun together when it was finished.

‘Jason! Where are you?’

‘Down here, Mum.’

‘Well get up here and have your breakfast.’

Jason threw the cutting blades down on the bench top. School! He’d forgotten about school. ‘Damn!’

He stamped his way back to the house, letting the door slam as he entered. ‘Why do I have to go to school today?

Mum raised her eyes and shook her head slowly as she placed a plate of cereal in front of him. Jason grabbed the milk and slopped it on, daring his mother to comment. He looked around. ‘Where’s Dad?’

‘He’s sleeping.’

‘How come he’s allowed to sleep in when he’s kept us up half the night and we’re expected to …?’ He didn’t finish.

‘Enough! Now get to school before I explode.’ Lillian started to cry. ‘Now look what you’ve done?’

Genni, oblivious to the storm gathering around her, smiled . ‘Kindy today?’ she asked.

Mum wiped Lillian’s tears with a tea-towel and coaxed her to finish her breakfast.

‘I wasn’t the one who shouted,’ Jason said slowly. He scraped his chair back, heaved his backpack across one shoulder and left.

Jason slumped into his desk. Nothing had gone right all day. He’d bated his maths’ teacher until he was given a detention; he’d spilled paint over his partner’s art piece as they’d worked together at the studio bench; and, when he’d gone to sickbay to complain of a headache, the nurse had laughed and told him to go back to class.

He thumbed through his math book in search of a problem he’d not already worked on and began doodling in the margin. He wondered how Dad was. Would he be back to normal by the time Jason got home? What about Mum? He wished he hadn’t picked a row that morning. He knew Mum had to get Lillian to school and Genni to kindergarten. ‘Poor Lillian! She always cries when people shout.’ He wished he’d kept his cool.

A hand on his shoulder startled Jason back to immediate surroundings. ‘Understand your dad came home yesterday.’

Jason lifted is eyes to meet those of Mr Thomas, his maths’ teacher. ‘Guess everyone at your place is a bit toey today. I know it’s not easy but just try to focus on school when you’re at school, eh lad? Now off with you.’

He trudged up the path. He was more than an hour later than usual. The detention had caused him to miss his bus. He turned off Pearson Street and into Goldfinch Avenue and wandered around Herdsman Lake for a bit to clear the throbbing in his head. (‘I did have a headache,’ he muttered, ‘even if the nurse didn’t believe me.’) before he walked the five kilometres home.

‘Where …?’

‘Mum, please don’t. I’m sorry about this morning. I’ve had a rotten day and I’ve walked all the way home.’

She placed a hand on his forehead. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘Neither of us were at our best this morning. I’ll make us a hot Milo. You must be freezing. You didn’t even take your school blazer with you.’

They sat in companionable silence as they sipped their hot drinks. While Dad had been away they’d developed a habit of sharing their day and discussing decisions to be made. It helped Jason feel grown up. Jason bit his lip. It will be different now, he guessed. ‘Where’s Dad?’

Before Mum could answer, Dad stormed in. ‘What have you been doing in my shed? I can’t find a thing.’

Mum stood up and put her hand on her husband’s arm. ‘Martin, you’ve been away for three years. Of course, Jason’s used the shed. You used to encourage him.’

Dad snorted. ‘Can’t be trusted for five minutes, either of you. Whose idea was it to repaint our bedroom or get new furniture in the lounge?’

Mum did not respond. Jason watched her. He wanted to answer back but he’d caught the warning expression on Mum’s face. So, instead, he leaned back in his chair and studied his cup as he tried to recall some of the things the army liaison officer had said. He could hear her voice now. ‘It’s not going to be easy for either of you. You will both have changed. You are not the same boy your father remembers you being. You’ve matured in many ways. You’ve had to take on responsibilities of which you Dad has no knowledge. And you need to understand that the reverse is also true. Your Dad is not going to be the same man he was when he went away. He, too, will have matured and had experiences that you know nothing about. Most importantly, some of those experiences are of sights and sounds and smells that may haunt him for a long time - but about which he will be unable or unwilling to speak.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Terrible things happen in war zones. It’s not like a Rambo film. It is real. It’s immediate and it’s accompanied by images, sounds and other sensory input - taste, smell, touch - outside the scope of what a camera can present.’

Jason remembered staring at her, his head full of questions but no words in which to frame them.

She touched his knee. ‘I don’t want to frighten you but I do want you to understand there may be times when your father behaves in ways that are strange - even scary. He may get angry without reason. He may have nightmares. He may not want to be around other people.’

Jason flicked his hair back, got up from the table and carried his empty mug to the sink. Yes, he thought, she was right. It’s happening. He sighed deeply and took his backpack into his room to check out his homework.

When Mum called him for tea, he was surprised the girls were not there. ‘Where are Lillian and Genni?’

‘Gone to stay with Auntie Sarah and Uncle Bob for a few days,’ she said. She leaned toward him and spoke in a lowered tone. ‘Lillian is finding being here at the moment too hard. She got so upset at school today I had to go and pick her up when I collected Genni from kindy.
Aunt Sarah suggested a holiday might help.’ She smoothed Jason’s hair back. ‘I know you’re doing your best. It’s just that an senior officer from the Defence Force called around today to tell Dad about the official welcome home on Friday. He didn’t take it well.’

Jason gasped.

‘No, it’s alright. Dad didn’t go off the deep end in front of the officer … but as soon as the man left I could tell he was pretty het up at the thought of it. He never was one for pomp and ceremony and this homecoming is all the harder because it was not with his own squadron. He’d been deployed to another section. Now he feels out of place. He doesn’t know these guys. They’re not his mates.’

‘Did he do something bad? Why was he de-deployed?’

‘No! No! Nothing like that. He’s a specialist signaller and he was needed.’

“What are you two whispering about?’

Jason jumped. He’d not heard his father come into the room.

‘We were just solving a small problem. Jason’s got a new maths’ teacher and his way of explaining something was a bit confusing. But come, sit at the table. Tea’s about ready.’

Tea was a silent affair and Jason escaped to his room as quickly as he could on the pretext of finishing his homework.

Apart from the noises and wakings in the night, the next three days passed uneventfully.

The Welcome Home ceremony was scheduled for 2.00pm Friday afternoon. Jason was allowed to miss school and Auntie Sarah and Uncle Bob offered to bring the girls to the venue.

All morning Captain Martin Dugan fussed over his uniform. It had to be pressed three times before it was right. Jason almost laughed out loud the third time but was stopped by Mum’s warning look.

They got to the Swanbourne Barracks much too early. But Captain Dugan was fanatical about not being late. He reported in and then came back to join Mum and Jason. By this time Auntie Sarah and Uncle Bob had arrived with the girls. Jason was relieved to see the warmth with which Dad greeted Lillian. He even walked her around the gardens while they chatted happily.

As the crowd assembled, Lillian returned, all smiles with Dad in tow, to join the family.

When the ceremony was over, Dad looked at Mum. ‘Let’s get out of here, Alice. I’m done.’

Even as he spoke, Jason noticed how grey his father’s face looked and the heaviness with which he walked. What had that mysterious war assignment done to him and would he ever be Jason’s adventure-loving Dad again?

Jason wished he could take him back to Rottnest—to Charlotte Point. That place held a mysterious healing magic he could not yet understand.

Jason led Lillian and Genni back to Auntie Sarah’s Holden . ‘Are you having a good time?’ he asked.
Lillian smiled. ‘Yes,’ she said softly, ‘but I really want to come home soon. I don’t want Dad to forget me again.’

Jasom squeezed her hand. ‘He won’t,’ he promised. He turned to Genni. ‘And what about you, Miss Muffet.’

Genni giggled. ‘Uncle Bob is funny and Auntie Sarah doesn’t make me eat all my vegetables.’

Jason pinched her cheek. ‘Spoilt brat. Have fun. See you both next week. Bye.’

He hurried over to where Mum was helping Dad get into the car. She looked up. “The girls alright?’

‘They’re fine. Lillian’s a little afraid if she stays away too long Dad will forget her.’

Captain Dugan gave a tired smile and pulled the front passenger door closed. Jason climbed into the back and Mum turned the ignition key.