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Short Story | A Father's Choice

He sighs with relief as he pulls into his driveway. It has been a long day, and his body is not what it was. At the factory, he has started to fall behind; no longer able to match the young’uns he has always mocked. Not in speed, anyway. In skill, he is still far superior, he reassures himself as he slides out of the ute, wincing at the pain in his knee. He hobbles down the driveway to check the mail, stopping to admire his rose bushes. His are by far the biggest in the street. That pug-faced woman two houses down bragged about hers last year, but this year his are definitely more impressive.  

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He surveys his house proudly from the end of the drive. It is a low, sprawling building, every surface rendered to perfection. Forty-five years building cabinets, and he is living the dream. Inside, everything is in its place, colour-coordinated and harshly lit. But that has nothing to do with him – inside is her domain. His only job in that department is to take his boots off before he steps inside – a task he finds surprisingly difficult to remember. No, his primary responsibility is the garden, as it should be. Speaking of which, he thinks, he really must give the pug-faced woman some tips on lawn maintenance. His is far greener, carefully clipped at a perfect three centimetres. No one in the neighbourhood has nicer lawn than he does. Certainly not that dark-skinned mob down the end of the street, if you could even call theirs lawn. Jungle, more like.

A skinny boy with ridiculously tight pants and a bizarre haircut saunters passed and calls hello, distracting him from his reverie. He nods back, mumbling to himself about the fashions of today. Long pants in forty-degree heat – it’s just illogical. No sense, these kids.

He opens the letter box with his left hand, his right occupied with a persistent itch in the family jewels. He sorts through the mail as he heads back towards the house, moving more smoothly now his knee has warmed up, and stops at the green rubbish bin. An ad for a local handyman is scrunched and tossed in immediately – he can fix things himself for free, thank you very much, and you can bet he’ll do a better job of it and all. A real estate ad and a pizza flyer receive the same fate. A pamphlet from the Jehovah’s Witnesses earns itself a large scowl and is ripped into thin shreds before it flutters to rest with the others on a bed of lawn clippings. The newspaper, a campaign flyer from the Liberals, and two official-looking envelopes survive the cull.

He heads round to the back door and slides it open, nearly tripping over the cat as he steps through. Realising he’s still in his boots, he leaps back outside and kicks them off, ejecting a cloud of sawdust. There’ll be hell to pay if he’s left marks on the carpet. As he re-enters, his missus appears from the kitchen with a cup of tea. White with two sugars, as he likes it, despite doctor’s orders to lay off the glucose. He kisses her on the forehead and she crinkles her nose, wiping away the sweat he’s left on her brow. He is sent to the bathroom to wash up, before settling onto the white lounge seat, careful to avoid messing up the throw rugs.

He flips through the paper, the scent of sizzling steak causing his stomach to rumble loudly. He mumbles his assent as he reads letters to the editor. Yes, the lefties certainly have taken political correctness too far. Mmm-hmm, the boats should absolutely be turned around – there are enough towel-heads here already, that’s for sure. Indeed, cyclists should be banned from the roads. Bloody menaces, they are. He skips to the sports section, but just can’t make himself care about the cricket scores. Ridiculous sport, cricket. Bunch of namby-pamby blokes standing around in the heat doing jack-all. He tosses the paper aside, looking forward to the footy season. Now that’s a real man’s game.

He reaches for the official-looking envelopes. One is addressed to him, the other to her. He tears his open, expecting some kind of advertisement. If he receives any more nonsensical flyers about that National Broadband Network thingy-me-bob, he may go nuts, Martin Bryant style. Upon opening the letter, though, he finds himself wishing it was in fact something about the NBN. Even an unexpected bill would be better than this. He glares as the form in his hand.

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” it asks. His biceps tense and heat floods his cheeks. The two checkboxes he has been given an option of ticking (a simple Yes or No) are not sufficient for him to express his sentiment on this topic. He scrambles to his feet to find a pen, eager to mark the box and get this nasty matter out of the way. For weeks, it is all he has heard about – this Marriage Equality debate – and he is sick of it. She was one of those, his ex. She wasn’t when he married her, obviously – he would never have gone there if she had been. It was the internet that did it. Corrupted her. It had nothing to do with him, that was for sure. He was highly satisfying in the bedroom, he had no doubt about that. No, it was her there was something wrong with. She’d lost her head in that bloody computer he’d bought her, and then she’d buggered off with that woman and taken his kids to live in whoop-whoop. Then, to make things worse, she decided she was normal again and found herself a new bloke. No, people like that didn’t deserve to marry. He’s been nodding along with the No-campaigners for weeks now, engaging whole heartedly in any opportunity to freely voice his opinions. Yet, he is strangely keen for the whole unpleasant business to be done with. Underneath the firm anti-all-things-gay stance he has taken when discussing the matter, there has been something niggling at him; poking at him like a tiny pebble in his boot, which – while not actually painful – was an irritation that could not quite be ignored.

And it’s that niggle that causes him to pause, now, his pen hovering over the No box.

As much as he doesn’t like to think about it, his daughter is one of those, too. She and that girl she’s with – if you could call her that, with the way she dresses – this is about them, too, this vote.

He farts nervously. Puts the pen down. Wipes his brow, perspiring despite the reverse-cycle air-con he installed himself last summer.

Does she even want to get married? He wouldn’t have a clue – he’s never asked. Prefers to avoid thinking about their relationship altogether, if he’s honest. Likes to view the partner as her friend, who just happens to come along to family dinners.

He thinks about the look on his daughter’s face when he introduced her that way once. “This is my daughter, Abbey,” he’d said. “And this is her – ahh – her friend, Rebecca.” What was he supposed to have said? It was his boss, for goodness sake – he couldn’t very well have said she was her – her – he couldn’t even bring himself to think the word now. But she hadn’t spoken to him for a month afterwards, and that had hurt. They’d been so close, once, and now there was this divide between them. He’d always blamed Rebecca for that. Blaming her made it easy. But as he sits, staring at the form on the coffee table, he realises it’s not her that’s driven them apart at all, not really. It’s him.

He picks up the pen, moves this hand to the Yes box. But he falters. Every mite of his instinct is screaming that this is wrong, unnatural, grotesque. He would not just be saying Yes to his daughter, he’d be saying yes to all the others – the boys dressed like girls, the girls dressed like boys, and those weird ones he couldn’t confidently file in either category no matter how long he stared at them. He would be the laughing stock of the factory if they ever found out.

Yet, the thought of his daughter’s reaction if she ever learned he’d voted No stops his hand moving back to that box. He is frozen with indecision, each option as impossible as the other. Finally, he tosses the pen down and sighs loudly, startling the cat, who had been nestled in his lap. As he rubs at the grooves freshly carved into his hairy thigh, he has an idea. He waddles into the study, his muscles seized with nervous tension. The unmarked vote form is clutched in his hand, sweat dampening its edges.

He stuffs the form into an envelope and carefully prints his daughter’s address on the front. His hand is steady, now that he has made his choice. Before he seals it, he slips a note inside.

“Sweetheart,” it says, “I can’t vote yes – but you can. Love, Dad.”

Ashleigh Hardcastle


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