I am ten.
I am in my unwashed, unironed school uniform and quietly eating my breakfast at the old wooden table in our government rental home.
My sister is four and is in the middle of the lounge room playing with her dolls and watching cartoons. My brother is thirteen and is in the kitchen, making himself a Vegemite sandwich to take to school.
I see him look in the fridge for an apple or a mandarin to put in his plastic bag for recess- but there is rarely any fresh fruit in the house these days and today is no exception- he closes the fridge with nothing.
When we hear our mother waking up, that first daily dose of anger coming from her room, a silent flash of hostility sweeps through us. We act quickly. My brother hisses at my sister to be quiet and turn the TV down. I have a brief awkward moment of eye contact with my brother as I try to quickly finish my cereal before she comes out of her room, as I know I won’t want to be in such a central point of her path and risk being a target.
Her door slams open and she storms out in an old fleece jumper and the denim shorts she wore yesterday. Her hair is messy and her eyes are piercing pale blue and full of hatred.
We see her stalk down the hallway and into the toilet. My little sister has gone still and is sitting in silence on the edge of the lounge with her dolls still on the floor, head down. My brother is already gone – retreated into his bedroom at the back of the house, door closed.
My room is right next to where my mother is and I am too scared to risk crossing her path so I begin to walk to the back room to hide and save myself from what happens next.
Then, the yelling. It is always yelling, slamming, swearing. Anger, resentment, hatred. My mother storms out of the bathroom and into the living area. Something is thrown across the room and dolls are kicked into the wall.
“Why the f*ck is this f*cking house so messy! No one ever does the f*cking dishes, I am so sick of this sh*thole. F*cking little sh*ts!”
Her tone gets angrier and she enters the kitchen and pushes the stack of dirty dishes around in the sink, not looking for anything, simply making noise to reinforce her resentment. She kicks the bin over, slams a cupboard open and shut, punches the wall. She slams a mug down from the cupboard and pulls the fridge open, then bangs it shut again.
I realise with familiar horror that my sister is getting teary, and so am I. I hate crying but I cry all the time. I clench my fists and rub the skin around my eyes firmly before the tears can come out. It hurts because the skin there is always so sensitive from the rubbing from the previous day – always red and sore. The physical pain temporarily deflects the emotional pain.