We’re an hour and a half into a three hour trip to my Mum and Dad’s house in the country where we’ll be staying from Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve and, excluding the nappy Maki threw out the window, it’s been a relatively smooth ride.
‘Look Mum,’ Tyson says, from directly behind me.
Reservoir Mum’s laughing before she’s even fully turned because he’s jiving to the Donna Summer classic Hot Stuff and pointing at her like she’s the camera recording his personal music clip.
‘God,’ RM says. ‘He is just the spitting image of you. The faces he pulls…’
I glance in the rear vision mirror and, yes, the resemblance is there but I take the semi-compliment with a grain of salt because even though I’ve heard it said from many sources that both Tyson and Lewis look more like me and that Archie and Maki look more like RM it often comes with this disclaimer – Archie and Maki are the easy kids and Tyson and Lewis are total jam-jar screw-caps.
‘Hot Stuff,’ I sing, just a little rebelliously, lifting my fist for a two syllable pump and getting a rush at Tyson’s appreciative laugh and all of a sudden it occurs to me that this has been one easy trip so far.
There’s been none of the usual fighting, or screaming, or begging for food and now that Maki’s two years old we no longer need to plan in breastfeeding pitstops or to slide off highways for nappy changes and it’s probably the awe-fog from that realisation that dulls me into making a comment far beneath my hard-earned parenting rank: ‘This has been a really easy trip so far…’
‘What did you just fricking say?’ RM whispers, spitting a little as she leans so close that I can see the red-veined strain in the corner of her eyeball.
My gaping mouth and the expression of utter disbelief that takes my face hostage lets her know that I have acknowledged my fatal error – by commenting openly on good behaviour or good luck in association with our children I have opened up the portal to the dark side, inviting all kinds of unsavoury forces and invisible demons to possess their vulnerable bodies and take purchase of their easily swayed psyches and the chances of us getting to our destination without drama and challenge and totally frayed nerves is now virtually nil.
‘You fricken jinxed it,’ she says, spraying me with more spittle.
‘Could you lean away from me?’ I squeal. ‘It’s not like I can undo it…’
Bypassing the rear vision mirror I look over my shoulder to see that Tyson is now sitting dolefully and that Archie and Lewis are talking quietly without punching each other and, even better, that Maki has fallen asleep for the daytime nap that will make our first evening with the Gran and Pa a more pleasant experience.
‘I think everything’s going to be okay,’ I whisper. ‘Look, Maki’s even sleeping…’
‘Oh yeah?’ RM says.
I follow her gaze to see that Tyson’s jamming his hands into his groin like he’s trying to plug a hole in a sinking boat. ‘Dad,’ he says, in a shock-filled whimper that would be better suited to a patient who’s just been told he has terminal cancer. ‘I need to go to the toilet.’
When RM glares at me more capillaries burst around her optical nerve and add branches to the veiny tree. I know this without even looking at her. ‘We never comment on how well things are going,’ she says. ‘Never.’
‘Stop verbally italicizing your words,’ I say. ‘We can’t undo the wrongs of the past. We just have to work out what to do next… if I pull over Maki will wake up…’
‘Mum,’ Archie says, from the back. ‘Lewis took one of my thongs.’
‘Yeah because he’s an idiot,’ Lewis says.
‘And now he’s got the other one.’
‘We’re going to have to get him to piss into this,’ RM says, holding up an empty Coke bottle.
‘What?’ I say. ‘That’s crazy.’
‘What do you suggest, jinxer?’ she says, verbally italicising my new nickname. ‘I’ll get him to sit forward in the seat, thread his penis in the bottle and then tip the urine out the window.’
‘That’s insane,’ I say. ‘It’ll spray back in your face!’
‘It won’t,’ she says, winding down the window.
When she empties the dregs from the coke bottle it coats both windows on the passenger side in brownish wet spider webs and when she turns back she’s forced to wipe a little bit – just a smidge – from her cheek.
‘Next time that will be piss on your cheek,’ I say, triumphantly, preparing to verbally italicise my first word for the trip. ‘It might even be on your lips.’
‘I’ll hold it down lower after he’s weed in it,’ she says, glowering.
‘But the mouth of the bottle’s too small,’ I schrisper. ‘There’s no way you’ll get all the piss into it while we’re driving down these bumpy country roads. We can’t have piss in the Tarago’s carpet. Not again…’
A thong flies through the air and lands on the dashboard but I ignore it because RM is already undoing her belt and preparing for this very risky operation and I’m looking about the car like I’ve never seen it before – trying to ignore the mental image of Tyson’s urethra uncoiling like a regurgitating jungle snake – until I see a plastic Ben 10 drink bottle in the driver’s side door. ‘This!’ I say, handing it behind, now focussed on the crucial task of keeping the vehicle steady. ‘Screw the top off. It has a much bigger mouth. Pretend it’s one of those suction things you stick on a cow’s teet. Just shove his entire package in it and don’t remove it until…’
‘I know how to do it,’ she says.
‘Dear god…’ I say.
It’s as I’m hitting the buttons on the entertainment system to return to Hot Stuff, in the hope that it will placate Tyson and keep him steady, that another thong flies onto the dashboard and as I glare at Lewis in the rear vision mirror it occurs to me that if the Tarago was a Boeing 747 this scene would most certainly qualify as a compelling episode of Air Crash Investigation.
From the back I hear ‘Just hold still’ and ‘What’s Tyson doing Mum?’ and ‘Is he weeing in a bottle?’ and ‘Hold still!’ and ‘Archie, he’s weeing in a bottle!’ and ‘Get me back my thongs’ and through it all is the hysterical, maniacal laughter of someone who is either being tickled to death by a fifty-fingered gargoyle or is being forced to jam his entire genitalia into a commercialised, overpriced drinking vesicle that he has, until now, taken to kinder in his lunch box.
‘Hold it steady!’ RM says, as I edge towards the gravel embankment and bump over several raised reflectors on the white line.
I’m swamped with concern and doing my best not to look over my shoulder or take my eyes off the road and even though I’ve slowed down to eighty kilometres per hour I seem to hit every pothole and divot. When I hear RM say, ‘Good boy!’ I hit rewind to reward Tyson with another dose of Donna Summer and giggle with relief. And it’s in that giggling that I become aware of a different, more biological kind of pressure.
RM climbs back into the front seat, holds up the sample and just as I’m preparing for her to wind down the window and spray the interior of the Tarago like a bristle-backed, ass-exposing cat, she says, ‘This is how you do it…’ opens the door a little, reaches to hold the bottle as close to the road as possible and pours all the urine out. And I have to admit, pretty skilfully.
I pretend not to see her wiping the back of her hand on her jeans when she closes the door and says, ‘See?’ but only because of the plight in my own situation and the fact that Maki is still sleeping blissfully. There is nothing I can do but smile, like a little boy, cheeky-sad, and say, ‘Okay, now it’s my turn.’
RM moans, drops her head forward, makes little circular motions between her eyebrows with her thumb, mumbles something about me and Tyson being peas in a pod, and then sighs and says, ‘Okay, undo your zip, spread your legs and edge forward a little…’
The bottle inches closer waiting for me to reveal myself. It reminds me of a desert bird waiting to pick the eyeballs out of a dying camel. ‘I don’t think the mouth is big enough,’ I say, bashful for the first time in our eighteen year relationship.
‘Oh,’ RM says. ‘I think it will be just fine.’