I’ve just placed the bowl of cashews and grapes in the hole between Tyson’s crossed legs and programmed the set-top box to play Peppa Pig over and over again, for as long as it takes, to get five-months old Maki down for his morning sleep.
‘Right, Tys… you wait here okay? And watch TV until I get Maki to sleep… okay Tys? And then I’ll come back and we can play together… did you hear me? Tys? I won’t be long. Okay? Wait here.’
As I pass the mirror in the hall I catch my own expression and all I see is the desperation in my eyes and the dark shroud of fear that always follows me into the main bedroom, where Maki’s cot is, whenever I’m home with the two of them, alone.
I glance at Maki to see that his left eye is already shut and that the right is only half open and so I close the door as fast as possible to get past the baby-waking squeal that lives inside the hinges and once I’ve arranged my arms perfectly – with my right hand supporting my left elbow, with my left hand cradling Maki’s head – I navigate the mine-field of weary floorboards to pad along the one creak-less strip like a gymnast on a balance beam. A shrill terror sprinkles white-hot sweat down my spine after only a dozen steps when I hear the rattle of the door handle behind me and I twist around to face it – in a mechanical kind of slow-mo to prevent shocking Maki from his near-slumber – already baring my teeth and bouncing my eyebrows to silently scare Tyson back in to the hall by mouthing a soundless get-out get-out. No one is there but I’m certain I heard something and so I remain transfixed on the door, like a Border Collie eyeballing a rabbit, until Maki reaches up to start sleep-circling his thumb around the perimeter of my left nostril. The resulting itch punctures the subcutaneous levels of my skin to inflame nerve endings that reach behind my very eyeballs and suddenly my situation conjures images of twisted souls in straight-jackets leaning against padded walls because both my hands are occupied and I have no means to relieve the nasal irritation and the door becomes a dark rectangular tunnel echoing the sounds of approaching doom. I am lost in a torture borne of sperm and egg, attempting to bunch every muscle to the centre of my face, as I fight against a harrowing sense of urgency to gently baby-bounce my feet across the floorboards and I cannot believe that one eye! It’s still half-open! It makes no sense. It’s fucking senseless to fight for consciousness when you’re obviously so close to the kind of sleep I would personally slay an army or hire a nanny for and now there are stranger noises – a gentle repetitive banging with a metallic or ceramic edge – and what… the sounds of splashing in the distance? I give in. I manage to scratch my nose by easing to my knees beside the bed and shifting Maki to my lower abdomen so that I can face plant the doona cover and nod into it frenetically. I’d compare the physical relief it delivers to a long, fifteen second, orgasm. When I rise to my feet I’m disorientated and my nose is aching – I may have broken it – and I’m just about to charge out into the hall to catch Tyson in the act of domestic vandalism when I look down to see that Maki has finally fallen asleep.
After transferring Maki to the cot I find Tyson sitting in front of the TV exactly as I left him except that he’s nude from the waist down and wearing a saturated jumper that’s covered in some kind of claggy white powder.
‘Tyson,’ I whisper, pre-defeat. ‘What have you been doing?’
‘Look Dad!’ he says, as he leaps to his feet, holds up a toilet brush and races past me down the hall.
We reconnect at the toilet where he’s standing with both hands raised in a silent tah-dah! and for a moment I simply stare, regarding the scene like a spaced-out meth addict. There is no emotion. I don’t really feel… anything.
There’s a five kilo value-box of Omo spread all over the floor and on top of the cistern and inside the bowel and when Tyson decides to get his evil witch on by pushing the toilet brush in and stirring the special potion in his ceramic cauldron I see his blue jeans stuffed half way inside the s-bend and the multi-colored finger-waggling Wiggles are grinning at me from the undies that are plastered just below the rim.
On the way to the bathroom to clean him up and redress him I’m reprimanding him as much as I can because, really, you shouldn’t take cleaning products from the laundry, and you mustn’t play in the toilet and there are so many bad things like germs and chemicals and slippery floors but when I tell him he has to help me clean up the mess he starts nodding enthusiastically and clapping his hands and I realise he just isn’t getting it because, really, the toilet is just a big watery toy that can even make things disappear like magic. It needs to be cleaned, yes, but to get him to help me will just turn me into his playmate and reinforce that belief that frolicking around toilets is fun.
So I head back to the lounge room and place a bowl of cashews and grapes in the hole between Tyson’s crossed legs and program the set-top box to play Peppa Pig over and over again, for as long as it takes.
‘Right, Tys… you wait here okay? And watch TV until I get the toilet cleaned… okay Tys? And don’t go near Maki’s room. He’s sleeping. Alright? When I come back we can play together… did you hear me? Tys? I won’t be long. Okay? Wait here.’