The shrill beeping of my alarm wrenched me violently from my dream world and thrust me head first into reality. I groan, I'm not used to alarms. Mum likes waking me up. She says I still make the same face, upon regaining consciousness, that I did when I was a baby. However, she sleeps in just often enough for me to be late to school a little too often, and I figure that I should take responsibility for it now that I'm a senior student. Dad is big on responsibility. Duty too; everything came back to doing your duty. Not the he ever explained what that meant. In a way, it’s easier with him off in Afghanistan, doing his beloved duty; we don’t always get on too well. I just avoided him most of the time, but when I had to talk to him he used to call me ‘little man’, without much conviction, and on the day he left he looked down at me and said ‘you take care of your mum and your sister for me until I get back’. Well, I try. Mum does need a bit of looking after – she’s so spacey. He’s been gone for three years and she’s still lost without him. As soon as she begins to learn some independence he comes home on leave and ruins it all.
This morning she was sitting in the lounge room, staring at their wedding photo. She didn’t look sad, or happy, or anything really. Just staring. She didn’t see me, so I went back into the kitchen and watched Tess texting for a while. When she finally looked up I told her about mum, and she shrugged and said
“It’s their anniversary today. Their wedding anniversary. Dad hasn’t called or emailed or anything for two weeks now. He must have forgotten.”
I’m hopeless with dates and numbers, but Tess always knows stuff like that. She made mum a coffee and some raisin toast and carried them out to her, then went straight back to texting.
I nodded towards the phone, “Who’re you talking to?”
“Oh, just Ben.” An unfamiliar expression flitted across her face.
“What’re you looking like that for?”
“I’m not looking like anything.” She stood up, leaving her cornflakes half-finished, “I’m going to get the early bus today.”
“Me too. Hang on.”
She shrugged, “See you at the bus stop, then.” And left, phone in hand.
On the bus I thought about dad, and about how he let mum down, year after year. And I thought about mum, and the way she never stood up for herself. Never made a fuss, like what he was doing was so fucking important that we counted for nothing in comparison. She says that he’s the one suffering, so we mustn’t complain, but it’s not true. He loves what he does. It’s like a big holiday with the boys. Mum’s the one who’s suffering – flinching every time Afghanistan comes up in the news and trying to keep it together as he misses every anniversary and every birthday.
I thought about it for longer than I usually allow myself. Then Nikki got on the bus and I guess I forgot about mum and dad. After that I thought about Nikki. The way her heart-shaped face wrinkled up into ever-changing expressions. The way her uniform hugged her sides so that she was all smooth curves, up and down. The way her hair, too short to be tied back, fell over her eyes and then the way in which she pouted her lips and blew ineffectually at it, like it was a fly or some other minor annoyance. I could almost say that she was all I noticed that day, but I'd be lying. I had Modern in first period and I honestly find the whole subject fascinating. But besides Modern History (which, contrary to romantic ideals, actually does take precedence) that day was all Nikki. Last year I didn't see much of Nikki. Last year was Emma, and before that it was Sophie, but I saw Nikki a few times in the holidays, in big groups and that, but it was different. She acted all different, like girls do sometimes, when they're into you. At least I hope that's what it means.
She seems to almost be seeking me out at the moment. In Modern one of her friends had saved her a seat, but Nikki pretended not to notice and sat next to me. I suddenly found myself very conscious of the way I was sitting, talking, everything. It’s like, she sits beside me and suddenly I don’t know where my limbs are anymore.
Near the end of the lesson, assessment notifications were passed around. We have to give a speech about the 'experiences of Australian soldiers', in the conflict of our choice.
Nikki rolled her eyes, “They always give us the same question; they just put a different spin on it. Which war are you going to do?”
“Afghanistan.” I answered without even thinking about it. Of course I was doing Afghanistan.
Nikki made a face. “Good luck. There's hardly any information on that, it's too recent. I think I'll do Vietnam. Why don't you do one of the World Wars or something?”
I shook my head silently. “No, I want to do Afghanistan. I find it more interesting.”
She shrugged and said, “Up to you.” As though I was crazy.
I feel like I have some kind of advantage, in choosing Afghanistan, but maybe that’s not true. After all, what do I know about the experiences of Australian soldiers? Dad doesn’t tell us anything. We ask, but he says he’d rather not talk about it, if he replies at all. But perhaps this assignment is the key to making dad talk. He’ll have to, if I say I need him to answer questions for school, then surely he’ll have to. I can find out what’s happening that’s so important, and what he does in his free time that means he can barely contact us. I’ll make him tell me every last detail so I can understand where he’s gone wrong; what’s made him screw us over so bad. And then I’ll know how to do better. When I go away to serve I’ll do better than he ever did, and he’ll welcome me back one day and tell me how proud he is.
The cynical voice at the back of my head says ‘what a silly, unrealistic little delusion that is’, and I know that’s true. I’m not cut out for the army. I’m not like my dad. But when I say that I want to follow in his footsteps, those are the only moments when I see recognition in his eyes. It’s the only time we have anything in common.
When we have information evenings at school about our options when we finish school I say I want to go to ADFA. There is no plan B; that's all I want to do. People look confused, or surprised, and when they ask why I say it's because they'll pay me to study. Or sometimes I just shrug and say 'because I want to be in the Defence Force', and they smile and nod and move on, but they never understand.
I think the main issue of this piece is that the narrator is too self-aware. That's what happens when you change something from third-person to first-person. What do you think? Should I change it back to third-person?