The air was thick with the smell of paint but you didn’t complain. If anything you enjoyed the newness that came with white walls and the chemical pong of freshly laid lino.
The floor boards gleamed with varnish enough to act as mirrors and you thought for the first time ever you might be able to invite one of your school friends into this house, if only during the day when your father was not drinking.
The filth of the old house fell away and you began to take pride in wiping down the benches after breakfast each morning.
At night you looked out of the window above your bed and tried to imagine you were living in some foreign country closer to the equator than here in Cheltenham on a busy main road in the new AV Jennings estate where every house matched its partner in all but number.
By then you were the oldest child living at home, so you had first choice. You took the bed closest to the window and your younger sister was happy to look across to the sky from her bed on the other side. The two of you took turns to be the last to say goodnight in an interminable game of who’d be the last to speak, and although your father had told you to leave the venetian blinds alone, only to open them in the morning and to close them at night using the cord that adjusted the light, ever since your arrival you’ve pulled the blind up to the top of the window frame so that you and your sister could both get a complete view of the night sky from this large window that was nothing like the windows from the houses in which you’d lived in the past.
These old houses blocked out the light with tiny windows that were designed to minimise heat loss, but here in Cheltenham when people no longer feared the cold and heat so much as they did when your parents first arrived from Europe, you could have windows that took up whole half walls and more.
For weeks the ritual of going to bed, of raising the blinds, of staring at the night sky until your eyes grew heavy and you fell asleep was your favourite activity until one morning at breakfast when your father decided to check on your room. Not so much to see whether you had made your beds – your father never seemed troubled by such things – but to see whether you’d done as you were told.
Most mornings you remembered to put the blind to rights before you left your bedroom for breakfast but on this morning, an autumn morning when the weather was beginning to turn, your father asked,
‘Which one of you pulled up the blind last night?’ His face was frozen over as if just a few inches under the surface of his skin an army of soldiers were gearing up for attack.
Your tongue stuck to the roof of your mouth.
‘Why shouldn’t we fix our blind any way we want?’ your sister said to your father in a voice that stunned you for its audacity.
Your father grabbed your sister by the head and threw her against wall with all the force of his army and she let out a cry.
He let her loose and she slumped into a chair while he turned and walked back to the lounge room to his favourite seat by the fire and you looked at your sister and worried about brain damage from the force of the blow.
Your sister began to cry then, quiet tears and you felt like George Pell on the third day of the hearing into child sexual abide.
You could not take responsibility for your crime.