The jet banks right as it comes in to land, opening up a panoramic vista of the sparkling ocean abutting the dense green rainforest. The tourists are aflutter at the first sight of their tropical paradise. Lydia’s stomach churns anew.
“Don’t leave me here,” Therese begged when Lydia went away.
“I’ll send for you,” she’d promised. That was four years ago.
No air bridge here, just straight out into the wall of heat. The airport is next to a mangrove swamp and the air is thick with the salty tang of the mud. Lydia’s clothes stick to her immediately and the sun is merciless on her black Melbourne uniform.
She spots her sister before she even get into the terminal, thinks she must be standing on a chair. Lydia grins widely at the sight of Therese eagerly scanning the crowd but the mean part of her brain notes how much bigger she is now. She lifts a hand and waves. Therese waves back hesitantly and the happy smile falters. She disappears from view.
The greeting is strained. Nick tries hard but it’s obvious Lydia’s committed some un-named sin. Bleakly, Lydia thinks, ‘she’s turning into Mum,’ as she tries to coax her out with questions about the wedding. Nick fills the gaps: he seems nice enough, the kind of guy Lydia would have been lucky to end up with if she’d stayed.
The minute they pull up in front of the house Therese runs inside, crying. Unseen, she pulls out a Mars Bar from the stash under her bed and eats it in three quick bites.
“She’ll be right,” says Nick, before he leaves, but Lydia’s not so sure.
Apart from paper decorations hanging limply in the heat, and a few peach balloons tied to the gate, the house is the same. Madeleine’s bulk lurks darkly behind the fly screen. She starts in on Lydia the minute she walks in.
“What? What have I done now?”
Her mother’s look is venomous.
“You have to ruin everything, don’t you?”
She thrusts a dry-cleaning bag at her daughter. Inside is an acre of shiny peach satin. Lydia can tell straight away it’s too big.
“Is this mine?”
“Unless you’re too good for it”
“But I sent my measurements”
But her mother’s leaving already. The dress hangs like a sack.
“You look beaut, love” says Jim, when she goes out into the garden. She’s shocked: why didn’t anyone tell her he’s in a wheelchair?
He brushes off her concern, tells her it’s temporary. Madeleine calls him away. She can hear her mother complaining to anyone who’ll listen about how selfish Lydia is, that everyone knows the girls have always been the same size. Even Rockin’ Rob, the DJ-for-hire gets an earful. Lydia reminds herself of her vow that there will be no fights today but looking at the buffet – whole hams and buckets of KFC – she feels a fizz of anger and can’t help asking if there are any healthier options.
“Don’t you come here with your big city ideas,” Madeleine snarls, her face ruddy in the heat. “It was good enough when you lived here, it’s good enough today.”
The celebrant coaxes Therese downstairs but she barely looks at Lydia during the formalities. Lydia pastes on a smile but inside her heart’s aching. When Therese looks up into Nick’s eyes and says ‘I do’, her face radiant with joy, Lydia can’t hold back the tears. When Therese sees them she kisses them away with a laugh and for the first time Lydia’s happy to be home.
The guests are mainly Nick’s family, all couples. Madeleine and Jim were never much for friends. His grandparents, tiny and frail, speak Italian to each other and Madeleine mutters loudly about wogs. Therese and Nick are oblivious to her gibes, floating on air in a bubble of happiness. Lydia prays her sister’s found her escape and seeks refuge in the cheap bubbly and cask wine. Rockin’ Rob, all bleached perm and leather trousers, sleazes onto her, thinking he’s in, and she’s grateful for the company.
When the mosquitoes come in at dusk, Therese fetches the Aerogard from the laundry.
“Dad has to have an operation,” she confides, and feels lighter for sharing the burden. Dutch courage looses Lydia’s fury.
“Amputation! Why won’t you listen to the doctors, Mum? Are you trying to kill him? Will that make you happy?”
Madeleine’s anger has had years of conditioning. She looks at her eldest child and feels nothing but the rage that expands daily to fill the holes in her hopes. No one understands what she’s endured. Jim’s illness forced them into town, forced them to suffer the stares, the talk. Sometimes she thinks he did it on purpose, to shame her. And Lydia left them. She should be here. Be here helping. Not looking down her nose.
“Don’t you come here and tell us how to live. Just because you go to university doesn’t make you better than us”
“It’s diabetes! It’s a medical fact. How can you be so stubborn?”
Therese wails for them to stop, just stop, but Lydia can’t back down, can’t be the one to stop. Nick’s parents and grandparents get up to leave and the cake hasn’t even been cut.
“Why did you come here to ruin your sister’s wedding”
“Me? I came to see her get away from you”
Deep under the anger, Madeleine feels Lydia’s barbs as sorrow and buries the feeling in a slap that knocks Lydia to the ground. She catches her father’s eye as she looks up, spell broken, and he looks away. Rockin’ Rick pulls her to her feet. Therese looks away too.
In the end it’s Rick who drives Lydia back to town, helps her find a motel. On the way, she listened to him putting down her family and felt sick. She’d left the peach satin sack on the bed in her old room, not wanting to see it again.
Waiting for the plane to take her away again, she dials Therese’s number and listens to it ring. She hangs up when it goes to voicemail, not knowing what to say. Outside, the mangroves stink like a toilet in the heat.
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