Ember is a dual timeline novel told from different perspectives. Natalie’s younger sister is getting married before her and their father is coming to the wedding. Their father broke the family apart thirty years ago on Christmas day after an affair. Ember is a novel about childhood trauma. We think we grow up and it is all in the past, but something can trigger us, and if we don’t sort things out with the ones who hurt us we will keep bleeding over the ones that didn’t cut us.
Ember is also a love story. It has joy and happiness, and sadness and grief. Much like life itself.
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I can see the light is on in Mum’s bedroom. It is with trepidation that I walk towards it. I never know what I will find. Even though I had seen a lot — tears, tantrums, depression — it takes me a moment to take this in. Mum is unpacking Father’s suitcase. She has taken him back. Again. I feel a wave of crushing disappointment. Why does my mum have to be such a doormat? I start to leave but it is too late. Mum turns her head to acknowledge me.
Mum looks at me.
‘Did you want something?’
‘How can you do it?’
‘How can you let him walk all over you again?’
‘Natalie, you are too young to understand.’
‘That is so condescending.’
‘I know it sounds that way, but you have so much left to learn. Things get greyer as you get older. I am not just talking about hair.’
Mum gives a faint smile at her little joke. She is hoping to see kindness in my eyes, but I don’t have any to give.
‘You could do so much better.’
‘You want the truth?’
‘Yes, I want the truth.’
‘Fine. The truth is that sometimes you have to love someone more than they love themselves.’
‘God, that is lame.’
I can tell Mum is hurt by my words, but she doesn’t show it. She has become the queen of the poker face.
‘I am sorry that you think that.’
‘I can’t see this through your eyes. I just can’t.’
I leave. Feeling like my world has blown open. I wish I could respect my mother. It hurts that there is no female in my life that I can look up to, but I guess I have no male role model either.
I go downstairs and he is sitting there. Snuggled up with Amanda and Paul like we are a normal family. I give the bastard an evil glare. I grab the remote and start flicking through the channels. Sitting on the edge of the sofa. Not part of this crap.
‘Oh look. Fine line between love and hate is on. Perfect.’ I look around as I say this. Daring father — anyone — to say anything. They turn to look at me, but they do not dare make a comment. They all look away.
I unpack Tim’s clothes carefully. Putting them in the drawers and wardrobes. I only realise now that I never used up any of the space he left behind. I hate being a single mother and even though I know this situation is not ideal, I am hoping for the best. It will be good for the children to have their father back. To get to know him. I am even excited about the thought of having help with childcare and some help around the house. I stop as I feel the presence of someone behind me. It is Natalie. I did not want her to find out like this. I was going to go to her room. It was all so unexpected. I talk to her and nothing seems to help.
I look at my daughter. The harshness of her youth, and the inexperience of it. She doesn’t know much about love yet. She has never experienced it. It is incomprehensible to her that you can love someone who might hurt you. Who constantly makes mistakes. That anyone in life could possibly settle, or forgive. But life wears you down. The more mistakes you make in life, the easier it is to forgive other people. We are all so flawed.
I look on as she walks away. I feel like I have lost my daughter. Both of them. Amanda had chosen to live with her father for so long. The pain has been unbearable. It is hard to get through to Natalie. I know she loves me, but it devastates me that she doesn’t respect me. It even makes me question if my husband is worth the price, but it is done now. Hopefully there won’t be another time. The stakes are so much higher now. That is the worst of it. That I am lying to my children. There is something in me that might take me away from them forever. All they will have left is a father who has never been a father. I guess that is better than nothing. All I have left is hope.