The Scientist

Author : Meg Everingham

In the night Tom rolled over and opened his eyes. Through the dark like a ghost floated the low sound of his mother crying.

She had arrived home earlier, from the airport; she had stared past him like a blind person and disappeared into her bedroom.

Tom followed a light down the hallway. He found her bent into a chair in her office, lovely dark head in her hands, all sharp edges of grief. He stood in the doorway and whispered to her. She looked up and held her arms out to him, red eyes terrible. Tom moved to her obediently, in awe of her sadness.

She settled him on her knee and turned him, so they both faced her desk where she spent so much time working when she was home, away from the ocean. Lying on it was a photograph.

‘Look, Tom,’ his mother whispered, and she traced a finger along the blue lines of the image.

Tom recognized the picture of the humpback whale. He looked up to the empty space on the wall, where it usually hung alongside other luminous images of the deep.

‘The very last one died today,’ his mother said. ‘In a sanctuary up north, where I work.’

‘Why?’ Tom said. Her arms around his waist were hard, cold.

‘He was always going to,’ she replied, speaking into his hair. ‘But it was mainly because of people.’

She stopped working. She spent a lot of time curled on the floor of her study, hemmed in by the walls of photographs. She was silent and lost to the world. Deep underwater.

One morning, some men in suits knocked on the door, and asked Tom politely if they could see his mother. He showed them to her office, where they disappeared inside. Tom sat near the door, his cheek resting on the cold steel. There was the low murmur of questions and answers. They were there for several hours.

Soon after there came an afternoon when Tom got home from school, and his mother was gone. He searched the house, calling softly. He was hungry.

Something had happened in the office. Papers were littered across the room. Framed images from the walls lay crushed on the floor, fragments of afternoon sunlight caught in the splinters of glass. The chair was upside down.

Tom tried to ignore the cold feeling in his chest. He shut the office door and wandered around the house for a while before turning on the television.

She was on it.

Out the front of an important-looking building, the strange men in suits were holding her by the arms as she struggled like an animal. They were restraining her from a nearby knot of angry people, who were throwing objects at her and shrieking. They used the words monster, heartless, murderer.

Tom kept his stare on his mother’s face. Her hair was in her eyes. The camera zoomed drunkenly in on her as she said, over and over again, ‘He was lonely, he was lonely.’

Later that evening, Tom’s grandmother came and helped him pack his things into bags and boxes, and he went to stay with her.


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