The moment lulled, our cheer subsided.
Standing in Tracy’s front foyer, my backpack slung over my shoulder and Daniel in my arms, it was obvious I should now leave.
“Um Chris,” I ventured.
Why did I feel a need to be gentle with this man, to coerce this man, to “bring him around” to the idea of supporting his son’s wellbeing by keeping Daniel’s care within the family? It was strange. I could not be normal with Chris, I always had to “deal with” Chris.
“I’ve got – ahem (I cleared my throat). I’ve got some work coming up.”
“Yeah yeah, an actor.”
“Yes. Well, the thing is, it’s three days one week then four days the next week.”
“So you want me to look after the baby.”
I looked at Tracy, standing alongside Chris. I wondered what she thought. Was caring for her boyfriend’s child troublesome to her? Did she indulge in the utter beauty of Daniel’s buoyant spirit, or did she resent each swipe of shit, changing his nappies. Did she have giggles with Daniel, or was Daniel a hassle to her? Tracy was a parent single who did not have paid work, so her days were open. Was she an energetic person, or a lazy person?
“I can’t promise nothing,” Chris said. That was no surprise.
“But, do you think – do you think it’s a possibility?”
“Why don’t you just put him in daycare?”
“I can, of course I can, but the cost of placing him in care causes, in effect, that I work for extremely low wage. To receive the most of the wage handed to me, it would be best to have family support. I mean, you’re not my family – but the other parent’s support.”
Tracy and Chris looked at each other. I could read neither of their faces. Phong, I could hear in the background in his bedroom, got up from what sounded like a bean bag, changed a game in his Xbox or whatever he had, and sat back down again. Punching, kicking and excitable music played.
“I try, we see.”
“It would be in two weeks time,” I said.
“Oh, not yet?”
“No. The thing is, it could be ongoing work. That’s the best thing. The agency have a contract with this… place. I could get work forever through them!”
“Well, if they like me, yes. For this whole year, I would get work for a few weeks, break a week or two, and work for a few weeks. Never five days – just one to four days in any week.”
“You see: you don’t need child support. You just want more money.”
This threw me completely. It must have been forefront of Chris’ mind.
“Chris,” I said gently, “I don’t want ‘more money’. I want to earn sufficient to afford Daniel’s life and, with the support of you, the father, to even afford him prosperity in life.”
“The government give you money too. You’re lucky in Australia.”
I was riled, deeply. I had worked during my school years – paid for my books in the final year, and I had worked nonstop after that – well, basically nonstop. I constantly left jobs when I could cope no more, go underground, survive a depression, and come out acting smiles and confidence to win another job. But I had worked “forever” and now, because I had a child whose father was denying parenthood in the justice system, I was brought to accept government money.
“The government gives me less money if I work. The government only keeps me – your son – on the bread line. Because I don’t want to raise Daniel poorly, to afford Daniel great experiences – excursions, a good home, quality food – I –“
“Yeah yeah, you want more money.”
I was being baited horribly. This was a mindset of Chris’ which was abhorrent to me: that others – the government, and secondly me – are financially responsible for Daniel…anyone but him.
“Don’t you want Daniel raised in prosperous circumstances?”
Tracey was completely silent. I absolutely knew Phong could hear us. Chris threw back his head and laughed fully at me. He opened the door.
“Chris?!” I said, taking a step toward the flywire, obviously not welcome any more.
“Chris, I need to know so that I can plan.”
I felt anxiety inside, felt as if I need to preserve Chris’ good temper. I felt I needed to negotiate this man, pander to his clear self belief that his job was number one (it was, after all, going to make him ‘rich and famous’ one day). My job could be useful as it would cause him to (have to) pay less money to Daniel, but my job was not useful as it was asking support from him.
“I think about it” he said, as we stepped onto his patio.
I would not beg. I would state my request. I would leave and find another way without his support. And if I could not find a way, then simply I would not take the opportunity for work – an opportunity to work in what I really enjoy, an opportunity to get a name in what I really enjoy and future work by it. I wanted to cry at the wrongness, and desperation, I felt in this moment. But I would not beg, I would not beg.
I had to put Daniel down, so I could slip my shoes on, which were at Tracy’s front door.
“I need to know pretty soon,” I said to Chris, tying up my runners.
“As soon as possible. I start in two weeks – the Wednesday.”
“I see what I can do.”
I guessed he wanted to speak about it with Tracy. I had to respect that. I just hoped he wouldn’t take long.
“Thanks for having Daniel” I said, straightening up and slinging my backback over my other shoulder.
“Yeah,” Tracy said. She never said much.
“And you’ll let me know as soon as possible, Chris?”
“Yeah yeah, I tell you soon as possible.”
“Thank you,” I said, and walked down Tracy’s path. As I opened the gate, I turned for a last goodbye, but they were gone.
That was Chris.