Gentle Ben

by Molly Glassey

The twist in my tale came without tonic, and had the world laughing while I gently sighed. Years of high hoping, and months doing the same had led me down a passage without pebbles, only to stumble on something strange and stark.

I’d been the man who chased buses for years – always desperately late, but never in a rush. In 5 years of catching the 66 to Brisbane’s CBD, my breath never picked up, and I always found the ride one of rehabilitation. The seat never helped my sweat, and I arrived to work daily, suit soaked, but right on time.

En Route we’d pass my birthplace. A cold hospital, that smelt of seafood, though highways from any ocean. It was once the only hospital in Brisbane, but now best suited those happy to die to marinara wafts.

My birth had been swift, and clean, according to my father. “Gentle Ben,” the nurses dubbed me. My mother dubbed the same. The birth certificate neglected the prefix, but my family upheld it with pride. “A little man, with manners of snow, and a heart so gentle,” my father wrote on my sixth birthday card.

I grew up in a warm  home that smelt of pikelet batter, and cooked scones. My parents would dance to records, hand in hand, and encourage me to do the same. My father’s dance moves would make us laugh – no leg movement, just upper body flair. And my mother would move like silk, long hair lashing her boys gently, eyes begging us to bust a move. I was shy, but loved. And because I was loved, I danced with a smile.

I was driven to school everyday – my mother cut my crusts, packed my bag, and smiled in the driveway while my father backed out our ’84 corolla. We’d talk the whole trip, and miss each other immediately when he drove off. My school and his office played separate hubs where we’d spend our days twiddling thumbs, and banking memories.

Once, during lunch time I sat down with my friends – just your run of the mill collective of boys, to a sandwich, cleanly crust free. Just how I liked it. I bit in, feeling a texture of something both foreign and familiar. My mother had put the crusts right back inside the sandwich. Crust sandwich. A little joke.

In highschool, I learnt my nine to nine wasn’t the norm. When Lilly Stokes started crying in biology one day because her parents got a divorce I had to look up the term, then beg my parents to explain.

Their words gave a warmth to the term that forever stung me. It seemed unfathomable two people, who’d produced lovely Lilly, could cut cords, defy the definition of family and choose to exist as separate entities. My mother was my mother, because she loved my father, and my father was dad because he danced to records with mum.

Felicity’s parents were next. Then Drew’s. In grade 11, everyone whispered and giggled at the thought of Miss Dufficy and Mr Stuart kissing in the dark room, but when Mr Stuart left Mrs Stuart and their two kids for Miss Dufficy, the giggles stopped. There were two Stuart children then, and now there are four.

But every night I went home to a mum who served dinner, and a dad who thankfully said thank you.

Sometimes I wanted to listen to bands with drums, that would corrupt me in cries, but it grew hard. I wanted angst, but didn’t know where it was supposed to come from, while my friends seemed to emit it like a gas. My pores constantly itched with sweat, and I groaned when tuckshop lines were long, but I still came home to a mum that held me, and a dad that never yelled.

I was never cold, and it confused me. And the warmer I got, the more confused I’d get.

I met Madeleine the first year of my psychology degree. I learnt more from her about people, than I did my lecturers. It seemed right to hold her hand in public, but she always found a bag to cling to. Often she walked with her books bound tightly across her chest with two crossed forearms, like it was protecting her heart in more than one sense. When she met my parents, they encouraged her to stand up and dance, and when she didn’t, it felt like we were all putting on a trick show for the blind. But I loved her because her hair was long and her voice was soft, even when her words weren’t.

I saw Madeleine’s parents weekly when we got together, and even more frequently as months went on. They smiled warmly, and shook my hand. Sometimes they hugged me, but more often they hugged each other. They were in love – they got it.

We married, kissed in rooms, but for years I emitted more than I absorbed from her, for love. My parents loved her, because they loved me, and I got a job I didn’t love, because I loved her. The fact I could always leave at the last minute, and still arrive at work on time seemed to annoy her. And she didn’t care for my dual-pasta bolognese. It’s when you cook penne and spaghetti in the same pot, and serve it up. A little joke.

She said I love you like a bee sting, and I nulled the pain with the reminder, I loved her. We shared a bed, and shared it comfortably, but her happiness seemed entrenched in something long past.

When my parents died she held my hand. She let me cry. And when she said she asked for a divorce, she allowed me the same liberties. But the liberty to be loved was the only one I’d ever wanted but missed. The only one that settles, stings but seldom stays for the ride.

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