I read in a Women’s Health mag once that chronic sleep deprivation can be as detrimental to cognitive function and self-awareness as being chronically drunk. And that may explain why I’m experimenting with some new dance moves in my in-laws kitchen and singing ‘Like To Get To Know You Well’ by Howard Jones. Although I am wearing pants there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way because I’m really cutting up the dance floor and they’re beginning to chafe me.
Reservoir Mum is sitting at the computer. Reservoir Mother-in-Law is eating some dinner at the dinner table. I’ve convinced myself that both are looking at me in awe.
‘You guys are like the snakes,’ I say to them, after I finish the chorus, ‘And I’m like your snake charmer…’
‘You’re like a fricken idiot,’ Mother-in-law says, jealously.
‘The key to mastering the hard hip-hop moves,’ I say, as I Crank That Yank almost perfectly, ‘Is to know every step ahead of time and to keep a positive attitude.’
‘You look so tired today,’ RM says, before looking past me to her mother, ‘He was up late drinking at his Dads 60th and Tyson’s had a bad few nights. He’s been getting up to him so I can sleep through.’
‘Well he should get to bed early,’ Mother-In-Law says.
‘Also, flexibility is crucial,’ I say. ‘A key to dancing is to make each move seem effortless. Make sure you stretch every day. Great dancers are super-limber.’ To demonstrate I bend sharply at the hip and kick my left leg back forcefully. When I’m almost certain my body’s a straight line from head to raised foot I turn my head slowly to Mother-In-Law and say, ‘Like an arrow.’
When Reservoir Mum says, ‘Don’t you have to write Wednesdays From The Womb tonight?’ I stop dancing.
‘I’m not sure I want to anymore,’ I say. ‘People are starting to talk about me.’
‘Who?’ she asks.
‘Your Dad said he was “wondering” about me “fawning all over Jim Morrison” in From The Womb 33.’
‘So you’re going to stop writing because my Dad’s ribbing you about being gay…’ she says, over Mother-In-Law’s cackling.
‘I don’t know… I’m just so cold,’ I say, as I sink to the ground and hug my knees.
Mother-In-Law says ‘It’s not cold!’ and sounds so incredulous that my only valid response is to start rocking back and forth.
‘He’s been saying that ever since we moved here,’ Reservoir Mum says. ‘But he’s always walking around in shorts, with no socks on.’
I begin to feel a monstrous defiance rising through the haze of fatigue ‘In the entire history of my life, I have never ever needed to keep my legs warm,’ I say. ‘If I’m cold it’s because my upper body’s not covered properly. Or if I’m not wearing a beanie – all the heat can escape through my balls.’
Reservoir Mum shakes her head and says, ‘Well I hope you’re keeping those covered around here.’
‘What?’ I ask.
‘Your balls,’ she says.
‘I said my baldness.’
‘I’m pretty sure you said balls,’ she says.
I’m about to fight her all the way on this but it’s no use. I’ve lost the will to win and I may have busted out my last awesome move this chilly night. A voice on my shoulder says, just let go RD you can go now and even though I hear some music that makes my weepy end seem almost irresistible I am stirred by unfinished business and find myself turning away from the light towards Reservoir Mum with these words in my mind ‘Oh, don’t you know I need you so. Tell me please I gotta know. Do you mean to make me cry, Am I just another guy?’ and I realize that I’m Leo Sayer, complete with a pink suit jacket and frizzy brown afro, but RM doesn’t know this and I’m not sure she believes me when I scream ‘I’m Leo Sayer!’ and wake myself up.
My eyes focus to see that RM is still tapping at the keyboard furiously. When she says, ‘Speaking of balls, when you go to the doctor with Tyson on Thursday you should ask about getting the snip.’
Fear grips me. ‘I’m not sure I can go through with that anymore. I was thinking we could try something else… like the experimental male contraceptive pill, or the withdrawal method… or having more kids.’
‘Hmmm. Nup,’ RM says, patting her tummy, ‘I think this will be our last.’
Minutes pass before she turns to see why I’m so quiet. I’m standing, arms outstretched, wiggling my hips like I’m performing with an imaginary Hoola-hoop.
‘Don’t you think that’s enough dancing for now, sweetheart?’ she says, patiently.
‘I just want to feel them jiggling around down there. I want to remember what it’s like.’
‘You’re not getting your balls chopped off,’ RM says.
‘Fricken idiot,’ Mother-In-Law says.
‘I’m going to send them to you in a jar,’ I scream, before running into the bedroom.
Reservoir Mum enters to find me sitting on the bed inspecting myself tearfully. I have stretched my scrotum out as far as it will go on the bedspread.
‘What are you doing?’ she asks. ‘Trying to flick my switch?’
‘I’m trying to find my soon to be murdered vas deferens,’ I say.
‘Well if you find them point them out to me. I’ve got a scalpel. We could save some money.’
I start laughing and turn to take her face in my hands, ‘You’re just a funny one.’
Her cheeks are so warm and I suddenly remember that sense of wellness that comes when we’re alone together and it occurs to me that I may be feeling a tad more tired and emotional than usual. I may even be over-reacting. I feel a sudden dulling down of the scatter and intensity and when I look into her eyes I’m struck by something I’ve always seen there but have not always been able to acknowledge – kindness… for me. It was there when we climbed a tree and sat on a branch together at Lake Wendoree, not quite ready to say ‘I love you’. It was there when I held out her ring on my trembling fingers. It was there as I held her hand and watched her suffer through three long labors. And it’s been there for every one of the doubts and insecurities I’ve had in raising our crazy-cool boys. I remember that it’s always there for me. Forever.
‘It’s not a big procedure you know,’ RM says, ‘You go in and come home that day.’
‘I know,’ I say. ‘I just wanted you to look at my balls… I didn’t know how to get that across to you with your mother in the room.’
Her laughter feels good and I’m only minutes away from sleep and I know tomorrow my mind will be clearer and we’ll be back on track. As I place my hand on her belly Rick Astley kicks like a maniac. I think he’ll be a great dancer, or an agile footballer, or maybe a hot tempered bouncer. Actually I have no idea. But he’ll be okay. I put my lips as close to him as I can and say loudly. ‘Mummy’s got it wrong mate. You’re not the last one. You’re just number four.’
‘And you’re a fricken idiot,’ Mother-In-Law says, from down the hall.