Sons of Adam, p.1Myfanwy Tilley
Sons of Adam
All characters in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright 2014 Myfanwy Tilley
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Sons of Adam
Reid Palmer frowned at the half-empty glass of flat beer he cradled between his hands. He didn’t like beer all that much, but his father - impatient as always - had ordered the round of drinks before Reid had arrived at the pub. Reid absentmindedly dipped an index finger into the brew and slid it around the rim of the glass, slowly at first, but increasingly quickly as he grew impatient for his father to say something: a murmur or a grunt of acknowledgement would have more than sufficed, but Adam Palmer said nothing; he sipped his beer and nodded his head thoughtfully. Reid would have been just as pleased if his mother, Evelyn, had said something, but she never gave an opinion until his father had and, without exception, her views mirrored his.
He bowed his head slightly and surreptitiously studied his parents, inwardly repeating the reason he shouldn’t get agitated: they were old, he reproached himself, and they couldn’t help that. His father was shrinking rapidly; dissolving, almost. His clothes - once well-fitting - now billowed over his shoulders and chest, crumpling around his waist and thighs. Beneath his clothes, Reid thought, skin would be folded over his bones in ripples and waves. Each time Reid saw his father, less of his head was visible beneath the tweed cap he habitually wore, and his face was increasingly obscured by the 1970’s thick black plastic spectacles he liked to wear. His mother sagged and folded in much the same way, despite being several years younger; her being had always been in complete agreement with her husband, in every possible way.
Reid bit his lip and averted his eyes, disgusted with himself for the feelings of revulsion and dissatisfaction that had resurfaced so quickly, and which he felt barely able to suppress.
He had felt very differently two days earlier.
Two days earlier, Reid Palmer had returned to Adelaide from mountaineering in Pakistan, confident that his life would be different. He had a new perspective on life: a deeper sense of what really mattered and what didn’t. It had been a truly cathartic experience, although not in the way he had initially anticipated.
Reid had been away from the comforts of home, his wife and his children for two months climbing a five thousand metre peak in the Karakoram Ranges. Everything about the expedition had presented him with seemingly insurmountable challenges: the emotional, mental and physical exertions, the appalling weather, and the all-round discomfort. Even reaching the summit had not been as exhilarating as he thought it would be. On making that final step to the highest point, he straightened his exhausted body, ready to be consumed by a divine vista, but his expectations were abruptly shattered when a mere zephyr lightly brushed his cheeks. He had instantly known what was to follow, and ambivalence wrapped itself around him like a leaden cloak, smothering his elation. The wind quickly picked up and clouds rolled in: there was no time for peaceful contemplation. The mountaineering party had no choice but to retreat before they were endangered by the deteriorating weather. The jubilation of conquest quickly transformed into the torment of servility as the party was forced to commence their descent, and Reid Palmer wondered if it had been worth all the effort, expense and sacrifice.
There was no doubt that reaching the summit was an impressive personal feat for Reid, and many others might have generously viewed the mountain’s capricious weather as humbling, but Reid could not shrug it off so easily. He had envisaged himself perched on the summit under a cloudless sky, reflecting on man’s insignificance, the dissoluteness of materialism, and the shallowness of western society. Instead, he’d barely had time to point his camera towards a gap in the rapidly accumulating clouds and take some nondescript photographs of the summit: they could have been taken anywhere.
As the view of the summit disappeared behind the clouds, Reid attempted to reconcile himself with his frustration, rejecting his instincts that God was against him. After all, the party had reached the summit, they were safe and sound, Nadia and the children were keenly awaiting his return, and his parents had obliged him by not dying or becoming critically ill while he was ascending the mountain.
Not that Reid wanted his parents to become ill at any time, but they were in their eighties and illness - or death - was entirely possible. They were certainly becoming progressively incompetent, and this meant that Reid increasingly had to organise his life around their needs. He struggled against the resentment that this inconvenience caused him, but it was always in the forefront of his mind that he was already fifty years old and time was running out to do the things he had always wanted; like the adventures he couldn’t afford as a young man, to live in different countries, or just to live in another city.
The day before Reid departed Australia on his adventure of a lifetime, he had visited his parents to say goodbye. As he stepped out of his car, his father presented him with a list of jobs that couldn’t wait until he returned from Pakistan: fixing gutters, washing windows and trimming the hedge in the front garden. All the while that Reid worked, his father watched over his shoulder, issuing instructions and making comments. And comparisons.
“I wouldn’t have done it that way,” Adam Palmer crowed. “Your brother said to do it the other way, too.”
Reid gritted his teeth, but the words forced their way through even so, cold and brittle, “Why doesn’t he bloody-well do it then?” His brother, Wil, had been staying with their parents for the last week, and it appeared he had done nothing at all to help around the house. Nor, Reid decided irritably, had he been asked to.
“What’s that?” asked Adam Palmer. Reid usually had to shout in order that his father would hear him, but he seemed to hear well enough when it suited.
Afterwards, his father called him into the house for a parting drink. Reid groaned inwardly; he just wanted to go home and relax with his wife and children before he left for overseas. Surely his father knew that? Then again, Reid reflected, what if one of them died over the next two months? A cup of tea would take five minutes, whereas he would carry a guilty conscience to the grave.
“There’s something we want to tell you, Reid,” his father said, avoiding eye-contact with his son. His mother sat perched on the edge of the sofa, slowly pouring small amounts of tea into each cup until each held sufficient and equal quantities. The air in the lounge room was syrupy with dust and stale breath, and the curtains were pulled-to so that the light didn’t interfere with the television. Reid’s attention strayed across the frayed and faded furniture of his childhood: the old sofa, vases and rugs bought from the markets, and one or two of Reid’s school woodwork projects – a nest of tables and a wooden bowl – which his parents insisted Wil had made.
“Your mother and I…” his father began, then paused.
Every muscle in Reid’s body tensed, and he swallowed against the dryness of his mouth. He feared they were going to announce that one of them was ill and, although they wouldn’t ask him to, he’d have to withdraw from the trip. He wanted to run from the room before he could hear the words, lest he explode into rage and say the things he felt about his lot in life, and which would inevitably lead to what he thought of Wil, his selfish little brother, who took no responsibility whatsoever for their parents. Why couldn’t Wil share in the responsibility of their care? Wil, his little brother: self-employed and so confident in his abilities – as his paren
Wil had moved interstate when the first signs of decrepitude showed in their parents. Reid had been furious, and he confronted Wil who shrugged it off saying there was no point in both of them waiting around for their parents to die.
Wil always did exactly as he pleased.
But it was not illness that Reid’s parents announced the day before his departure to Pakistan. Instead, they confessed with some embarrassment that Reid was illegitimate; conceived and born before they were married. Reid laughed when he heard this. He laughed with relief, and he laughed at his parents’ seriousness, wondering why they had chosen that moment to tell him. They had made several revelations of late about their past, but this was the only one that directly concerned him, and he wondered whether it was possible they feared that he might die in Pakistan.
“Nobody cares about that sort of thing these
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