Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)
TITLE: Kangaroo Loose in the Upper Paddock
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“Sweetheart,” she says, after a despondent greeting on my part. “If you don’t want your mother coming, just tell her.”
“I can’t un-invite her—not after your magnanimous gesture. But how’d I miss all those clues?”
“You’re a guy,” she says, probably twirling her necklace around her finger, periodically bringing the locket—containing a picture of me—to her lips. I exhale and rest my elbow on my desk with the phone sandwiched at my ear, a framed image of my mother staring at me. I thought I knew this woman I’d divided into thirds—one part Christian, one part mother, one part wife, now widow. But there lurked a hidden quadrant, unknown even to my father.
“Brad, are you there?”
“I’m here. How’d you know?”
“That she was . . . was an Aussiephile.”
That makes Maureen laugh. “Didn’t you see her reaction, her eyes? Hear her ohhh when we told her our travel plans? The way she jumped in her seat and clapped her hands? I mean she was happy when we announced our engagement, but nothing like that.”
I sink lower onto my desk. Why’d Maureen have to go digging? Why couldn’t she let it be? And my mother—pouring out her heart in that undignified manner. Yes, Maureen—since you asked. I’ve thought about going, dreamed about it, really. There’s something about the fragile beauty of the birds and flowers tethered to that rugged, untamed landscape that . . . ooh . . . A shiver seemed to run up her spine. She leaned in toward Maureen and whispered: You haven’t, by chance, ever heard of The Thorn Birds, the book—the mini-series?
The Thorn Birds? That explained so much. How we’d bought a VCR the day my father left for Wisconsin for a dairy farm convention. She wanted to surprise him. Right. How every time I walked into the back parlor my mother fat-fingered the remote in her scurry to pause the video.
What's this? I asked, glimpsing the priest with the phony Australian accent.
Nothing. Just something my friend, Louise, said I might enjoy—religious in nature. Well, it’s late, dear, off to bed—you’ve got school.
“Brad, are you listening to me?” says Maureen.
“Sorry, I was just thinking about that time Mom went to the Catholic church to gain a better understanding of her fellow man.
“Yup, she had it bad for Richard Chamberlain, just like every other woman in America—my mother included.”
“But Maureen, did your mother give you a boomerang for your thirteenth birthday, or a book on mythical birds hidden in a stuffed kangaroo’s pouch for Christmas? And what about that didgeridoo when I turned fourteen? Complete with instructions for circular breathing techniques for the wind instrument of the Aborigines.”
“Don’t forget the rock climbing and scuba diving instruction.”
“That didgeradoo's drone was so haunting, lonely, but she loved it.” I pick up the picture of my mother. It was probably taken in the 80s. Her shiny dark hair hadn’t started turning silver yet. She’s sitting on the stone wall in front of our farmhouse with her back to the camera, looking over her shoulder, shielding her eyes, smiling. “Do you think she was happy?” I ask Maureen. “Would you tell me if you had some secret fantasy?”
“I think she was, and you’ll be the first to know—if you ask.”
I make a mental note to always remember to ask. “But a honeymoon with my mother. Do I have a screw loose? What’ll the guys say?”
“Sweetheart, stop. She and Louise are going on the same flight with us—that’s all. They'll have their itinerary, which involves The Thorn Birds Adventure Tour, and we'll have ours—climbing Ayers Rock, diving in the Barrier Reef, and . . . well, you know. Bottom line, we’ll be alone.
I set my mother’s picture down and swivel back in my chair. “You’re right. You’re such a jewel.”
“I know.” She laughs and her spirits lift mine. Then she says, “Brad, has it occurred to you that your vote for our honeymoon destination was subliminally influenced by your mother?”
Now why’d she have to go and say a thing like that?
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