‘You are important,’ Ava said.
Daisy heard it though – the tiniest hesitation, like it was more complicated than that. Like it was.
‘You are.’ Ava could see that Daisy heard it, she hugged her daughter tight and close, like she could squeeze it into her. The joy. A childhood. Ava squeezed her harder, maybe she hoped they’d merge, that she could carry her inside her for a while. It would be easier – if she could just pop back into where she came from for a bit. At night. When it was dark, when everything was shut. So she could sleep.
Daisy didn’t sleep well in the car. She was tall for eleven, they were the same height. The backseat was narrow. Ava squeezed her again. Maybe she was trying to smother her. That’s what people said, if she couldn’t afford children she shouldn’t have had one. Maybe she squeezed Daisy in a hope that Ava could become a person without a child again. But she didn’t even earn enough to look after herself.
There was no work in Palmerston North. Someone had told her there was. When she’d gone to WINZ to ask for an advance on her advance on her advance (she owed them $9,000) her case manager had said if she was serious about providing a comfortable life for her daughter she would be willing to go where the work was. So she’d asked her boss. There weren’t many shifts in Wellington anymore. They’d hired a lot of young people and then they had set up the vocational training school in the restaurant and there were no shifts and her boss had said Palmerston North. He’d put in a word for her. So she saved up and bought a car from one of the other people at the restaurant and she and Daisy drove to Palmerston North with a plan. But there were no jobs in Palmerston North. She’d put in her application and mentioned her name and no one knew who she was and it was put on a pile under the young people, under the part-timers, under the youth vocational interns. Her boss hadn’t put in a word for her. She’d gone to the place where the work was not. There was no plan. They were sleeping in a car. Neither of them were sleeping. Ava thought it was best if she stayed up all night and Daisy never slept in the car. It was cold. Sometimes people would come up to the car and knock on the window. Sometimes they’d be moved on.
But not tonight. No one came to the car, so the night was very long. When the sun came up Daisy had her eyes closed and Ava kissed her and said, ‘time to get up sleepy head’ and Daisy snuffled further into her hat and the sleeping bag she was sleeping in. Ava sat up and rubbed her eyes. It was a clear, cold morning, the windows were misted up inside and out. She climbed into the front seat and started the car and the demister and the fan all at once. It was loud. She reached down in front of the passenger seat and pulled out a bun from a plastic bag that was on the floor. She opened the dash and rattled around for a plastic knife and a sachet of peanut butter she’d stolen from a café – they were free though. The windscreen was clearing from the bottom up, in two large circles. Ava split the bread roll, buttered it in her hand and passed it back to Daisy who was sitting up in the backseat now.
They clicked their seatbelts on as Ava put the car in gear and indicated.
The public toilet opened at 8.00 a.m. There were a couple of other people waiting already. A dad and his two kids were eating cups of Weet-bix while they sat in the back boot of their hatchback. When they parked Daisy pulled herself into the passenger seat, dragging her school bag behind her. She hauled her lunch box out and started digging through the plastic shopping bags. She put a muesli bar and an apple and a banana into her lunch box.
‘Could you maybe just take one piece of fruit?’ Ava asked.
Daisy made a face and put the apple back. She got out a roll and the knife and the peanut butter and shifted over so she could butter it on the seat beside her.
‘That’s for lunch eh?’ Ava asked.
‘If I want to eat it now. I’ll eat it now,’ Daisy said. ‘Don’t worry, I know there’s only one.’
‘Don’t talk back,’ Ava said. ‘No one got anywhere in this world being nasty.’ The other girls in her class had nice clothes, Daisy clothes were filthy. ‘No one wants to hang out with a bitch,’ Ava added, just to keep her right-sized. Ava couldn’t look after her if she got pissy. The only thing holding the whole thing together was discipline: there was no room for negotiation. There was no room to huff off to. Daisy snorted at her and glared.
‘Don’t even start,’ Ava said.
Daisy opened the door and went and sat on a park bench by the bathrooms. She ate the roll at Ava, eyes daggers over her chewing mouth. She was probably premenstrual. Ava knew there were exactly three sanitary pads left and four tampons because she’d checked everything last night. Maybe Daisy could get a job. Ava looked at daughter’s face, screwed up, brimming with hate. She wound down her window and shouted at Daisy.
‘I was just thinking, you could get a job.’ Daisy didn’t stop chewing or hating. ‘You’ve got a face for customer service,’ Ava shouted and laughed.
Daisy raised her middle finger at her.
‘Maybe you’ll win something,’ Ava shouted. ‘Maybe you’ll win the cross- country at school? Or New Zealand Idol? Or a million bucks in Lotto?’
‘New Zealand Idol’s finished, you fucking idiot,’ Daisy said.
Ava smiled at her, winding up the window to keep the cold out.