They don’t drive away quickly. You can imagine a situation; you can even plan it. It’s not how Ava wanted this, her leisurely walk to the car, after Tessa has told her to go, in tears. And the trip back to The City; the silent, suffering trip. Ava’s head on the passenger door, Louis’s hand at the wheel. Her mother’s relief when Ava calls her in and their frantic hug in the dark, that evening. The garden looks overgrown and different.
Louis’s wave. His nervous, delicate, ‘I’ll see you, then.’
She is too exhausted to say anything. But it stays in her thoughts for days, the image of him turning away and driving down the street. As though nothing has happened.
‘See, it’s going to take some time to recover,’ Jacqueline says, tucking Ava into bed. ‘It’s going to take a while to repair.’
All the phone calls Jacqueline is going to make, so ordered they might as well be written on the pinboard. Doctors. The Centre. Jane.
Jane, the aunt. Who comes in with a bouquet of wild flowers, and her skeleton bag of stories, bringing the past where it is no longer wanted.
‘I was in one of these relationships once,’ she tells Ava, placing the bunch in a clean vase. ‘A long time ago. And you know what? It took me ten years to work out why I was so miserable. Ten years! He even threatened the baby when I tried to leave. Lay down on the driveway, in front of the car.’
Ava does not want to listen.
‘It’s a good thing darling, a good thing,’ she says, patting her leg. ‘To have gotten out in one go.’
Let’s try to keep it that way.
‘Jacqueline,’ she says, ‘did you give petrol money to the boy? What was his name?’
‘A bottle of wine,’ Jacqueline says. She has her worried face on. ‘Lovely man, Louis. Very kind thing he did, bringing Ava up here.’
They agree that Ava is not allowed to go any form of social media for a month, which is as isolating as it is invigorating. So Ava starts going for walks. Her aunt encourages it. Get some air. Take a moment to indulge yourself. Exhale. Every day, Ava takes the same route so she can note down the Presbyterian Church sign. It looks more like a chalkboard than a sermon. A blackboard, one of the boards at primary school with cursive Māori by the date, in front of the paddle desks. The message reads: There are some things GOOGLE can’t answer. The Google is multi-coloured. Clearly, the Google has been painted by children after school. When their mothers are finishing jobs in fishtanks in the CBD, driving through the domain in a daily hell of traffic. Convincing themselves that God is listening. They can hear His voice, if they try hard enough. They might hear it through the radio, or the rain, and that would be socially acceptable.
Yes, she walks down the street. Past the hub of cafés and sandy puppies and the endless ocean blanket. The cyclists by the bike-stands, winding down with ice cones, near the shore. These people, who might spend their time hedging the flowers in their gardens or freezing crumbs for pannacotta. Walking to the store in full exercise gear to get the paper and ask for a regular. What is the point of exercising in lip-gloss – to alert the attention of specific strangers, to rouse the private envy of their husbands, maybe? They give her filthy glances, like they can see the pamphlet about The Benefits of Gardening and Mental Health in her front coat pocket. It is a tricoloured pamphlet, directing her to a peer-led organisation outside of the suburb. She’s been too scared to go, and it’s hard when she is sleeping all day. Bed at six pm, dawn at one. That’s the routine.
The antipsychotics are her mother’s idea. The antipsychotics are The Doctor’s, or any GP in the world with a printout that says Mental Health in comic sans on it, confidently. Ava doesn’t want to mention the hallucination again because she knows what happens to people who do, and it isn’t helpful. But the locum in Taveling has already faxed the info through to Ava’s family Doctor. Now, she’s given five pills at a time. There are thirty in a packet of risperidone.
‘A precautionary measure,’ he says to her mother. Glasses, salt and pepper beard. Wise hands. ‘Just to be careful.’
‘Better to be safe than sorry,’ Jacqueline says.
Ava is sorry she has to drive herself to get her medication, twice a week. She is sorry that it takes half an hour, that she loses her script every fortnight, and that there aren’t often any parks by the Range Rovers. That the chemist behind the U-desk has been in her year at school, and spots her. A girl with an impulsive pink shrimp strip in her hair. She’d been bad at maths, especially probability, but then so had Ava.
‘You went down south, didn’t you?’ she says, scanning the packet. ‘Didn’t you have a gap year?’
‘Sort of,’ says Ava. ‘I needed more savings. It seemed like the right thing to do.’
‘I don’t blame you,’ says the girl. ‘Jobs in The City are hard to come by.’ Double blink, a smile. All teeth. ‘Student loans these days. Honestly. Honestly. Five-ninety-nine, thanks.’
The whole way home, Ava keeps the wipers on. It doesn’t rain. She wonders if the girl will search the brand name and read the fine print, afterwards. If she will bother to look and scavenge and try to find an answer.
Jacqueline becomes a regular at the florist. She rushes out to get them and rushes in again, replacing the dirty water in the vase as jovially as she prepares dinner. But she’s a cynical version of the other mothers, down the street. The other groups in their gardens, tending with their pricey brand of hoses and drawing down the long claw of silk that windows their houses in the afternoon. They all have high gates and bevelled gateposts and children in navy blazer uniforms, and in that respect, neither Ava nor her mother fit in. Her mother is a radiologist – she can’t hold conversations about hairspray or polenta. She attaches a University prospectus to the vase, one day. When Ava wakes up Jacqueline slicks her hair back for her and listens to the latest nightmare, and says, ‘We’ll try to get you off them. We’ll see what The Centre says. I promise, darling. Soon.’
‘My dreams are getting worse.’
Her mother advances and gets under the covers. She opens the prospectus, idles through it, and says, ‘I never thought this day would come, Ava. After all your skirting around the idea –’ she smiles here, and waves a hand ‘– I just never thought you’d be interested in coming back home.’