Gap Year, by Donna Austin

“I’ve decided to take a gap year after Year 12. I’ll work full-time. I’ll move out with Serina and we’ll stash our cash for six months until we can afford to go overseas.”
“Move out and save? You won’t be able to.”
“If we both do it,” he says, undefeated, “Everything will be fine.”
He never thinks things through. “What about the rent?”
“What about it?”
“It won’t be cheap.”
“I know, Mum but if we’re both working, it’ll be fine.”
I sip my morning coffee at the kitchen table and read my stars. Scorpio reveals that there’ll be some ‘financial strain’ coming my way. Silently, I curse. Relationships will revolve around a ‘power struggle’ and my health worries centre on my ‘lower back,’ as a result of ‘stress.’ My son looks at me expectantly, not wanting to end the conversation. At the same time, he’s making holes in his toast trying to spread hard butter. Unscrewing the Vegemite lid, he dips in the knife, leaving butter all around the top of the jar. Our fluffy turquoise cat winds its way in and out of my legs, meowing for a bowl of cream.
“What about food?”
“We’ll diet, you know and grow our own veggies and stuff.”
“You mean you’ll have subway for tea?”
“No,” he grins, “At least not all the time.”
“It’ll be tough.”
“Bring it on.”
“I’m trying to make you aware of reality.”
“We’ve got it all planned out, you’ll see.”
“I know I’ll see.”
“I won’t need anything either. I’ll pay for my own furniture.”
“Ah huh.” His magical thinking is driving me crazy.
“I’m serious.”
“I know but it won’t be as easy as you think.”
“Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
“I am happy for you,” I say looking into his sea-grey eyes, “But do you think it’s a good idea to move out so soon?”“Hell yeah, no-one to tell me what to do.”
“I don’t tell you what to do.”
He deliberates for a moment, “I guess not.”
“I guess it’s the privacy thing.”
“So you won’t need to come around to wash your clothes then?” I imagine him arriving with an armful of dirty undies and handing them directly to me. Would I load them into the washing machine or throw them back in his face?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Well, you’re either independent or you’re not, which is it?”
“Now you’re twisting my words and making fun of me.”
I smile at him, the way I used to when he was little, “Just a bit.”
“Mum, don’t. It’d be nice if you listened to me for once.”
“I do listen.”
“Yeah and then you try to take control.”
“That’s not true.” He is an expert at stabbing me in the chest when I’m not ready. He’s an expert at making me second guess my own behaviour.
“Yes, yes it is. You think your opinions are the most important.”
“That’s because it’s me who’s thinking them.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I mean,” he sighs, “You can’t see things any other way.”
I roll my eyes, “Oh come on. You’re overreacting.” I wonder if there’s any way to placate a seventeen year old.
“No you don’t take what I want seriously.”
“I hear what you’re saying. You and Serina are moving in together and you’re taking a gap year.” Secretly I hope they break up before the end of Year 12.
“And what?”
“Have you really been listening?”
Another chest wound that hurts but it won’t send me to the Emergency Ward just yet.
“Yes,” I repeat in a monotone grunt, “You’re taking a gap year so that you can work and save to go overseas.”
“Now, you’re getting it.”
“Oh for goodness sake, you’re so melodramatic.”
“I wouldn’t have to be if you paid attention.”
He pushes my buttons and I’m on the boil, “Let me ask you this then, are you at least going to apply for a couple of university courses at the end of the year?”
“Yeah, of course I am. I’d be crazy not to.”
I let out steam from my nostrils and relax my shoulders. “Which ones?”
“I haven’t totally figured that out yet. The careers person is helping me. I was thinking either Police Studies, Zoology or enrolling for the Conservatory of Music.”
“Zoology? I never knew you were so into animals.” I reflect back to an afternoon where he is fishing from the pond out the front. On closer inspection I find he is pulling the legs from tiny frogs to see if they turn back into tadpoles.
“Yeah, I like ‘em. I’d love to look after monkeys because they’re so cool. Remember that one on T.V who learned how to boil a packet of two-minute noodles?”
“Ah huh, plucked from the decimated jungles of Borneo.”
“I’d like to be a trainer, someone they could trust, like that woman who teaches them how to communicate and stuff.”
“That’s not exactly a zoologist.”
“I guess I need to look up what’s in the job description.”
“The online Job Guide would be a good place to start.”
“I know that Mum.” He stares at me, exasperated, like I’ve said the stupidest thing ever.
“Okay, okay, I’m just trying to…”
“Take over, I know.”
“No! “ I protest, as another stab wound slices through the left ventricle of my heart, “I just want to help you out, that’s all.”
“Thanks but I can find out all the information I need to know on my own.
“Hey, you could end up looking after the Tassie devil community,” I say excitedly, “You could save an entire species!”
“Mum, why do you always have to go overboard?”


The Australian Literature Review

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One Response to Gap Year, by Donna Austin

  1. Susan Currie says:

    Donna, I can totally relate to this. You have a gift for writing dialogue. Thoroughly enjoyable!

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