He hated visiting his parents. Going home always felt like ageing backwards. Years of personal growth, self realisations and independence fell away, leaving a small boy who took six minutes to tie his shoelaces and was slightly scared of everyone.
‘Are you comfortable?’ said his mother. She said it with a smile, but he immediately doubted his ability to make himself comfortable without help.
‘I’m fine, Mum.’
‘Have you eaten?’ An offer of food with the implicit implication that at twenty five, he wasn’t capable of feeding himself.
‘I’m not hungry. Can we just get on with whatever this is?’
His father made the noise that meant ‘Yes.’ To the untrained ear it sounded exactly like the noise that meant ‘No.’ And the noise that had turned out to mean ‘I was fired a year ago and haven’t been able to find a job since, we’re now sixty thousand dollars in debt.’
‘What about something to drink?’ said his mother. ‘You look thirsty.’ As a child she had convinced him that he was unable to tell on his own if he was thirsty, hungry, cold, hot, or in need of the toilet.
‘Actually I could do with a cup of tea.’
She went to make some. Silence wasn’t normally awkward with his father.
Then she came back, handed him his tea (with a biscuit, obviously he was wrong about not being hungry) and sat down. Nervously.
Something was wrong.
‘Your father and I… We’re getting married.’
White noise instead of thought. ‘What?’
‘We’re in love.’
His father made the noise that meant ‘It’s like we were dead for the last twenty years, and we’ve finally come back to life.’
Uninspired by this horrible romance, words divorced his vocabulary by the… by the… by the something. ‘But. I mean. You.’
Unperturbed by the emotional Ragnarok she’d set into motion, his mother beamed. ‘We’re going to have an Indian style wedding this time! With an elephant!’
‘This is crazy.’
‘Do you think so? Your father said that it might come off as the wrong sort of cultural appropriation, but we don’t mean it disparagingly.’
‘You can’t get married!’
‘You hate each other!’ Memories of them shouting and screaming rolled over his brain like a relaxing wave of massage oil.
His father made the noise that meant ‘About that.’
‘Remember when we got divorced?’ said his mother. ‘And we said it wasn’t you?’
‘It turns out it was you.’
‘After you moved out, your father came over to mend the fence you always said you were going to mend but never did, and, well…’
His father made the noise that meant ‘Without you in our lives, we remembered how passion burns.’
‘I was going to mend the fence, but things kept coming up.’
‘It was broken for five years.’
‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.’
His mother and father shared a look. And a smile. He wanted to be sick.
‘It’s funny you should say that, because actually we asked you here so we could tell you in person that we’d rather not see you anymore.’
‘You’re always saying how you’re a grown up now and you need your independence. Well, happy birthday. Early. Because obviously you won’t be seeing us on your actual birthday. Or ever again.’
‘But you’re my parents! How can you do this to me?
His father made the noise that meant ‘Love will always have to overcome obstacles, it’s the sacrifices that make it true.’