Split – by Jay McKenzie

I slice the bananas lengthways. On the curved bottom pieces, I lay chocolate buttons in a dotted arc before sandwiching them in with the top half. Then, I wrap them tightly in foil: metal boomerangs ready to throw into the fire in the hope they will return.

Katrina watches me work, silent, nibbling a nub of skin from her thumbnail bed.

“So,” I say, pushing the wrapped bananas into the fire with a stick.

“So,” she says.

She looks beyond the fire to the flat surface of the lake. There is little in the way of moon and stars tonight, but lights from the lodge on the opposite shore glimmer on the water’s skin. In her eyes, the dancing amber flames ripple.

“So,” I say again. I want her to bring it up: I’m tired of the responsibility. Tired of organising everything. I’m even tired of cooking these damn bananas.

“So, he liked to come here, did he?”

“Yes.” I poke the fire. “We both did. Became a bit of a ritual. Start and end of the summer.”

Katrina shivers, wraps her too-thin cardigan tight around her ribs. “It gives me the willies.”

Fifty-six metres of freshwater cocoons secrets of the ages, and somewhere in their depths, they lull the decapitated head of Donald Campbell into eternal repose. He died here trying to break the world water speed record in his Blue Bird: Dad used to tell us the stories when we were young. A man driven to obsession in the name of surpassing his father’s success.

“How long do those bananas take?”

“A little while.”

I watch my breath escape in delicate puffs, hear the crackle of the twigs and the lap of water-on-pebbles, but no sound is coming out of Katrina. She’s monumentally still and silent.

“Would you like a beer?” I ask.

“I don’t drink.”

“Right.” I pull one out of the cool box and pop the cap with the bottle opener attached to the lid. Dad’s idea, that one. We marvelled that one of us hadn’t thought of it sooner. Damnit! we used to curse, unable to find the waiter’s friend in the dark. “Not even for a toast to Dad?”

She sighs as if I have asked her to do a quick eight-kilometre lap of the lake. “I suppose. Just the one.”

I hand it to her and we clink bottles.

“To Dad,” I say.

“To Dad.” Her voice sounds very far away.

“Kat…” I start.

“Katrina. Call me Katrina. We’re not twelve anymore.”

“Katrina.” I sip my beer. “I wanted to talk to you about the house.”

“Oh?” She raises an eyebrow.

“Thing is, I can’t afford to buy you out.” I spread my hands. “And I want to stay there.”

She shakes her head tightly. “We need to sell it, Dan.”

“But it’s my home!” The whine in my voice irritates me. I promised I wouldn’t get emotional, that I’d just get this thing done. For Dad.

“Fifty-fifty, the will says. I’m happy with that.”

I clench my fist. “Look, Kat…”

“Katrina.”

“Katrina. You don’t understand. That shabby little place is my home. It’s literally all I’ve got now with Dad gone.” And you on the other side of the world, I think, but don’t say.

She rubs her eyes with the heel of her hand.

“I cared for him,” I press. “Three years, washing, bathing, cooking, driving him to appointments.”

“What, so you deserve it more than me?”

“All right, if you want to put it that way. Yes. I deserve it.”

Katrina folds her arms tightly, shrinking into the collapsible camping chair. The dark mass of The Old Man of Coniston rises at her back, watchful, silent, a corpulent witness to our fight.

“Look, you’ve been gone, what, nine years? How many times did you visit, eh? How many times did Dad get to see his grandkids?”

“Twice,” she whispers. “Twice.”

“Twice. In nine years. What, too much of an effort to leave your beachside mansion, was it? Too inconvenient? Too embarrassing?” I’m standing now, fury burning through my veins. “Couldn’t have made the effort, could you? Even when you knew he was dying.”

I hurl my half-finished beer bottle, regretting it the second I hear it splash into the water. I wonder if it will sink, find Mr Campbell’s lost skull.

“Didn’t want to spend your rich husband’s money on your tatty little family?”

“Ex-husband.”

And as she says it, the detail I barely registered when I picked her up at the airport springs up uninvited: the red, flaking skin circling her ring finger.

I drop back into my chair.

“When?”

“Couple of years ago.” She inhales through a rattling nose, unaccustomed these days to an evening chill.

“Oh.”

“I’ve got nothing, Dan. He’s keeping the kids from me. All my money goes into lawyer’s bills. I rent a crappy room in a shared house with a bunch of purple-haired twenty-nothings.” Her hand blindfolds her eyes. “I work two menial jobs to see my kids for an hour a fortnight, to look at the scorn in the eyes of my babies who are being taught to hate me.”

She sobs, huge, gulping, gasping sobs like a drowning man in a lake.

“Oh Kat,” I say – she doesn’t correct me – and I reach for her hand. It remains balled in a fist for a moment, then, softening, she lets me slide my fingers through hers. We contemplate the fire and water in silence, hand in hand, her cold palm on my warm one.

“Do you think those bananas will be ready?”

I grin. Still as sweet-toothed as ever.

I squeeze her hand, pick up the stick, nudge the foil-wrapped bananas out of their ashy bed. Kat makes a mitten of her jumper sleeve, leans forward and picks one up. I do the same. We pluck forks from the cool bag, unwrap the foil, watch the steam escape.

The flesh of the fruit is soft, mushy, the chocolate melting throughout. We blow on them, push the too-hot mush into our mouths.

“Lava,” says Kat, voice thick with food.

“Magma,” I say, bringing my little finger to my lip like Dr. Evil.

Kat snorts, a fleck of banana careening into the fire. We both grin.

“Dad used to do these in the oven.”

In the days after Mum died, back when Kat papered her bedroom in Take That posters and I was collecting He-Man figures, it was the only dessert Dad could manage.

“I’m sorry about the house stuff,” I tell her. “I lost my head.”

The pun was unintended, but Kat doesn’t miss it. Then, we’re both laughing, clutching our stomachs, kids once again.

Tomorrow, we will take out a kayak and scatter Dad’s ashes on the lake. It’s what he wanted: it’s what he breathed into my ear on a sweet, thin exhale in those last days when the cancer was making hostages of his organs.

But tonight, my sister and I will eat bananas and patch up some holes, and fling our resentments into the lake where they can bob, sink, then quietly rest alongside the pieces of a lost man.

Former teacher Jay has lived and worked in the UK, Greece, Indonesia, Australia and Singapore. Her work has been published online at Cafe Lit Magazine, Reedsy and in print in Writefluence’s Mr Rosewood, Leicester Writes Anthology and Fabula Nivalis. She is a two-time winner of The Australian Writers Centre’s Furious Fiction and two of her pieces have been featured on the Blue Marble Storytellers podcast. She is currently working on a novel manuscript. Find her on Instagram: @jay_writes_books

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