seven. sound the alarm

I wake to the sound of his father crying out for us. His mother has passed in the night. She went while we were asleep.

We stand around their bed in our pyjamas. The air is fuggish with the warm smell of tousled linen and crushed pillows. I hover on the edge of their grief. Although I knew she was desperately ill, her death has come as a complete surprise to me. It is my first time. I have always imagined it coming in a hospital bed. The day before, she had taken my hand and asked me to take care of her son. It suddenly occurs to me that I have made a promise to a woman on her deathbed.

As the sun rises, plans are put into action. Mundane events of coordination and bureaucracy that had never occurred to me before. The undertakers navigating doorways and polished floors with their collapsible stretcher bed. The phone calls to family and friends. The detritus of palliative care that most profoundly marks her absence. A half-empty glass of water. An open jar of lip salve. There is a hushed, frantic discussion taking place in the ensuite. His sister wants to hide the remaining morphine before the authorities come to clear it all away. He agrees. Where should we hide it? Both eager to try it out. I am thunderstruck. I know he is a pot head. I’ve become attuned to the scrape of his pen-knife cleaning out the bowl of his pipe. The sound of the plate holding his paraphernalia sliding out from under the bed will trigger Pavlovian shivers of dread in the months to come. Is it in this moment that I realise it’s more than just a predilection? Having the wherewithal to steal their mother’s drugs before her body is removed?

At the funeral, his sister insists that I sit beside her in the front pew. You’re part of the family now.

When we get back to Canada I throw myself into the process of applying to theatre schools. Whereas NIDA seemed like the only option in Sydney, there are four reputable schools to choose from in Toronto: two college programs, and two university degrees. I am offered direct entry into the second year performance major at York University. I am also offered a place at George Brown College, a three year conservatory program modelled on the principles of the National Theatre School in Montreal. Six days a week, twelve hours a day. No breaks except for two weeks at Christmas and the summer hiatus. The school operates under the umbrella of a technical college, but has its own black box theatre, workshop and costume store. It smells like TSP, which is only a ten minute walk away – black paint, coffee and dust. I cancel my auditions at options three and four. I know where I’m meant to be.