Silas pulled up outside the block of six units and checked the address again – 6/78 Paradise Street. Someone had a sense of humour. They were nondescript red brick, each with a small balcony. He hadn’t told anyone about the letter from the lawyer. Silas’s childhood experiences were still too raw, like they happened only weeks ago. He couldn’t trust how he might respond coming here. It was safer to come alone.
When the lawyer informed him his mother had died, Silas panicked. For a shocked moment Silas thought he meant Edith, the woman who raised him. Relief made his knees weak when he realised it was that good-for-nothing drug-addled pisspot who had given birth to him.
It took Silas another few weeks to pick up the keys and find the bloody place, some bleak development in the middle of fucking nowhere. Even the sat nav struggled to find its way and took him on a bloody detour through his childhood, suburb by dreary suburb. He stared at the featureless block from the car, memories twisting his gut into a hard knot.
It started to rain, and Silas was tempted to drive away. Instead, he opened his umbrella, walked to the front door of unit six, unlocked it, and stepped inside. The place had an expectant air, as if waiting for its owner to come home. There was a vinyl two-seater lounge, a rug and a couple of prints on the wall. Everything was neatly put away in the kitchen, a kettle and toaster alone on the bench. It was not what he’d expected.
Silas felt his shoulders tense and knuckled his hands. He saw an envelope on the table with his name on it. Glancing over his shoulder, he picked it up and slid his finger under the seal. Before reaching inside for the contents, he pulled up a chair and sat down, the steady drumming of rain outside an urgent second pulse chasing the one in his ears. When he pulled out a single scrawled sheet and a newspaper clipping, a photograph fluttered to the floor.
His mouth went dry, his thighs clenched. A rage threatened to explode from that hot unpredictable core smouldering inside him. He wanted to smash something, shove his fist through a window, or add another slash to the tally of cuts scarred along his left thigh and forearm. One for each time she’d disappointed him, let him down. The false promises, forgotten birthdays and Christmases.
The last time he saw her was at an access visit thirty-one years ago when he was ten. She was too inebriated to take him. He nearly jammed everything back into the envelope, but curiosity prevailed.
It’s me, your mum. I know I stuffed up, big time. I am a shit of a mother, was a shit of a person. By the time I took measure of myself, it was too late. Sorry kiddo. I didn’t know I was pregnant, was still shooting up, just shy of twenty. You came early and had to go through detox. I’m not proud of that. It was a rocky start for a kid. I tried. I really did. Got off the hard stuff and moved to the grog instead. I was furious when they took you away, but it was for the best.
He took a breath, his anger a tight fist, remembered being moved between families, changing schools, not fitting in.
I fought hard when that couple wanted to take you. I know I let you down, wasn’t there for you, but that time at Maccas, for your birthday, I was so nervous I drank half a cask, was furious when Edith intervened. It was the last drink I ever had.
He remembered all of it. The access visits where he got excited, and his mother didn’t show or arrived blind drunk. Edith consoling him when he started wetting the bed again. She stood by him when he’d vandalised the school hall and graffitied Fuck Yous All on the side. Edith convinced her husband, Jimmy, to keep Silas. ‘There’s a good lad in there somewhere.’
He’d never thanked Edith, even spat on her once when she insisted he return the CDs he lifted from a store. Silas’s throat went tight when he remembered how close he had been to being sent away, yet again.
Edith sent me updates every week. I was so bloody proud of you. I kept the article where you played a part in the school musical.
Standing in front of the crowd as Bill Sykes in Oliver was first time Silas felt accepted, included as a main player amongst the cast. The audience cheered when he bowed afterwards. Edith came to every performance.
I wanted to make you proud, make something of my life. Some good people stood by me, and I stayed dry. I left it too late to raise you, to be family for you. I avoided facing up to myself. Too late I realised what was important. You never got to know the Mum who loved you and longed to have you back.
I got a couple of cleaning jobs, saved up and bought this place for you. I nearly made contact several times. Too bloody scared in the end.
It’s yours now.
The photograph was a picture of him holding a balloon standing next to his mum at Maccas. She listed to one side. Edith’s handwriting inscribed the back. Mum and Silas
He let the picture drop to the table, his thoughts a tangled mess. How long since he had even contacted Edith?
He pulled out his phone, fearful he had left things too long, that she was fed up with him.
‘Edith? Is that you?’
He pictured her sitting in front of the telly, the lacework of laugh lines crinkling with surprise to hear from him.
His voice cracked. ‘Thanks. For everything.’