Mum spends a lot of time watching the weather channel, especially when they’ve predicted it to be the hottest day on record in Sydney – or there’s a tropical low coming down off the coast and they’re calling it ‘the big wet’. Mum’s life isn’t very exciting, so I can’t blame her for dramatising even the most unremarkable weather events. The problem is, when I go home to visit I get sucked in to it too.
Mum blames everything on the weather. She says things like ‘the car alarm went off the other day, for no reason – it must have been the heat.’ She says these things with such conviction that I almost feel compelled to find out if such things are even possible.
On the hottest day on record in Sydney when it’s late afternoon and the tar that keeps the footpaths together is melting and the internet becomes slow and unresponsive, and my little brother gets aggressive about ‘shit not working in this damn house,’ Mum tells him ‘it’s the heat’. Then she calls up the phone company to find out how many hours she will have to put up with this. When she gets off the phone she complains to me how she should get those few hours of outage off her bill – because she doesn’t want to pay for a service she can’t use. And I don’t know if self-righteousness runs in the family but I make a promise to myself then and there, to never turn out like that.
While this is happening my sister and I are draped across the lounge room in various positions under the air-con, watching the weather channel. I walk outside every now and then throughout the day to feel the heat settle upon my shoulders and within a minute I’m back inside because I burn easy and it’s the day for it.
Mum says I was born during a cyclone and I don’t know if she’s being metaphorical or just stating fact. She says when she went into labour, the local hospital was closed and her and Dad had to drive an hour in the cyclone to the army hospital in Orange. My sister laughs at the fact I was born in a fruit and colour and I tell her that it at least makes interesting conversation.
After a while my little sister gets bored of the weather channel and disappears. She comes back with a handful of old photos and I never know where she gets them because Mum isn’t sentimental and throws most stuff like that out. I don’t know if it’s because she doesn’t want to be reminded of past mistakes or if she’s offended by her bad clothes and bleach blonde mullet. My sister and I laugh at the fact that in nearly every photo, Mum is holding a cigarette in her hand. Mum doesn’t let us take her photo anymore and maybe it’s something that happens when you get older because I’ve started to be the same.
While we’re laughing at Mum my sister stops, and says ‘I’m going to miss Becca,’ and Mum stares her down like she’s too tired for that talk. I try to fix the situation by stating how I’m really not that great company and I don’t even really say anything of substance. Mum says it will be quiet when I go and I’m too polite to point out that I don’t make a whole lot of noise and I have no idea what she means by those kind of statements.
When I leave my family see it as a reason to start again. Mum says she will start that new diet and get the kids off the sugar. Maybe she will even try and give up smoking.
‘Things are going to change around here,’ she says and laughs a little to herself. ‘Things will be different.’
She means it as a statement but it comes out like a question and I’ve heard it too many times to give a different answer. It’s not that I don’t believe her, it’s just that starting again is hard, and every time I visit, Mum gives the same impassioned speech and I think things won’t ever change too much because when you’re stuck in a place like that there’s not much room to try and be someone else.