The Change Jar by Laura McPhee-Browne

I am at mum’s place with Clive and Gerry. They’d wanted to go past and get some money out of her change jar for hamburgers and maybe scare the dog for fun. I didn’t want to, I’d usually tell them I’d pay instead but it was the day before my cheque went in so off we went.

Mum flushes pink and happy when she sees us, it hurts my heart a bit. She puts and fusses and places and clutches our hands with her papery ones until we pull away. I see she has taken to wearing my brother’s ring again but I don’t want to say much so I just look into her grey eyes and tell her, It’s good to see you, ma.

I can’t relax though, with Gerry not saying anything and Clive licking his plate after each strawberry lamington with the tongue of a madman. And as soon as we get there I realise that Mum doesn’t want us to go either. Even after Gerry has ‘used the toilet’ and I can hear the coins yelling in his pockets, mum is grinning so wide I can see her receding gums and a bit of coconut too. She is just so pleased to have us we could empty the place and she’d help us get it all out the door. But I know that if we don’t leave soon Clive will do something nasty to mum’s two year old Dalmatian Terry and I’m hanging for that hamburger after all so I give mum a big hug and a sloppy one and adjust the collar of her blouse which she always likes and then we are on our way.

Outta there, on the road as they say. Except Terry follows us. I only see his moony face as we’re tackling the hill towards the burger shop. I know Clive and Gerry won’t want to take him home. I don’t want to either. Terry is mum’s new dog and I don’t really think he suits us, what with mum’s 1981 Datsun as his only transport to the vet and me being a girl with an undercut and us barely having enough money to buy him his favourite chicken Schmakos. And I guess I’m just not that sold on him. But the last time I turn around he’s looking so pathetically shaky and too clean for the streets that I shout, Terry’s followed us, I’ll take him home and meet ya there, to the boys and start to make my way back to where he’s crouched, all whiny with a body too big for his guts.

As I get closer I look again and see that Terry is gone but a man I know, a man who is friends with mum who has a name like Henry or Herbert is standing there. Did you see Terry? I ask, looking all around but only seeing corrugated fences and plastic bags. He followed us here from mum’s – you know Terry – mum’s dalmatian?

Herbert looks at me long and hard and slides his hands deep down into his pockets, as if something better than my question is in there. Terry went back to the house. Your mum can’t be long without him. I shake my head. But he was just here! And he doesn’t know how to get home! I don’t make the rules, he clips back, Terry knows when he’s needed. Henry looks at me long and hard again, and I push the questions down into my stomach. They’d come out all wrong anyway. Good day, He says then and turns and walks off.

I don’t like it – this Herbert coming out of nowhere and Terry gone and mum alone at home with no one to pat. So I head back. Burgers and the boys will have to wait.

By the time I get back to mum’s it’s cold and the sky is the colour of concrete. Mum and Terry are watching telly with Terry perched all big on mum’s lap and mum coos when she sees me. She tells me how Terry went off and then came back. I pretend to be surprised. She is so pleased I’m back and asks me to stay and says she’ll rustle up a green curry and please can I sit down and that she’ll kick Terry off if I’ll just sit a while.

I don’t really remember why I’m here now and I really do want that burger, my stomach feels hollow and sad. I tell mum I’ve got to go. She’s disappointed but I can’t stay. So I head out the front door and grab some change from the jar on my way.

Laura McPhee-Browne is a writer and social worker living in Melbourne, Australia. She tweets micro-fiction and micro-poetry daily @laurahelenmb.