Hello, dear,” my mother called through my intercom. “We’re here.”
In 2007, I had been gone from their house for five years. I had graduated from Sydney University Law and I was working in a legal practice in a country town a few hours from Sydney. My father was Vietnamese. He had fought against the communists. He came to Australia in the ’70s and worked in an RSL club as a cook. He was a quiet man and had great patience for things. We grew up with him working nights and sleeping during the day. He could do a back flip from standing still and would sometimes do it for us wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Usually, it was summer and near Christmas like a tradition. My mother was Chinese Malaysian, and she also worked nights at the RSL. I buzzed them up to my apartment. The apartment had amazing views of the town. You could see the river, the cathedral, and a park from one side and the town’s Main Street from the other. I had offered the landlord a higher rent than he was asking to get the place.
“Hi, mum, hi, dad,” I greeted them when they arrived.
“How are you, dear? How is work?” my mother asked as she entered my door.
“Great. It’s going well. I’m getting a lot of work in criminal law. It’s always busy.”
Dad came in and stood in a corner, and looked around. He looked unchanged since I was a young girl. He was thin and dark. Mum had changed to look at though.
“It’s good to see you,” she said.
“Do you like the apartment? Let me show you around.”
“It looks great,” mum said.
I showed them the bedrooms, the bathroom, and the dining room. I pointed out the view to them.
We grew up in a suburban house with no views, nothing remarkable about it. It was in a street like hundreds of others. It was a comfortable three-bedroom house. It was only a short drive to the RSL. We used to catch the bus to school. Mum would pay a tutor to teach us after school, and my brothers would also play basketball. I played the flute.
“Your brother says hello,” mum said.
“How is he?” I asked.
“Good. Going well.”
I have two brothers. Yang and Tim. Mum was talking about Yang. He is a surgeon in Sydney. Tim doesn’t get much of a mention. The last I had heard from him, he was selling ice creams. I like catching up with Tim, but he is hard to contact.
“Would you like to go to lunch?” I asked.
“Sure. We are happy to do whatever you want to do. We can have lunch here or go out.”
“I don’t have any food in, really. Let’s go out.”
I left them in the lounge room while I went to get changed.
When I came back, mum was looking at my bookcase. She was holding two books. One was “On the Road”; the other was “The Ethical Slut”.
“Mary, why do you have this book?” she asked.
I saw her hold up The Ethical Slut. I looked at it for a moment—my mind racing. I glanced at dad. He looked back at me. I could never tell what he understood and what he didn’t.
“It was here when I rented the place,” I shrugged.
The truth was that I was experimenting with multiple partners. I would use Tinder, I would pick men up in pubs and bars and I would sleep with them as I pleased.
One of the friction points between my mother and me was that I didn’t want children.
“When are you going to have children?” she would ask.
“I don’t want children,” I would respond.
We had been over this ground in many conversations, and she would always turn and look at me as if I were breaking her heart. In the early days, there was a slight smile, a look that said Just you wait, you’ll change. But now, the look was darker and less hopeful.
“Who will look after you in your old age?” would be her typical response.
I would always launch into that there was no guarantee a child will look after the parents, and it’s not a reason to put yourself through childbirth and that I can look after myself and when I can’t I’ll have the money to buy care, and this would send my mother into a darker funk.
I’m sure she suspected my lifestyle; she knew the book was mine.