SCATTER • by Rosalie Kempthorne

We’ve been scattered by the wind to all the corners, we four.

Time has made us half-strangers, and we all feel it, looking at each other, seeing where the new lines have formed, the touches of grey, the softening around edges. We can’t help but take in the differences, so unlike mere photographs. So real.

Jenny is the first to arrive; the first to be anything. She sets her heart’s compass by it. She always looks young and crisp, decked out in a bright suit, in shiny heels, a silver brooch, her faultless golden hair. She falls into my arms with enthusiasm, wrapping her arms around my neck, stepping back, saying, “Just look at you.” Jenny: the baby.

“Look at you.”

“People used to say we look alike. Can you believe that?” She doesn’t mean to cut me with it – she only doesn’t think. She doesn’t take it in: that time’s been so much harder on me, whilst stepping so lightly over her, leaving barely a trace.

“I’m glad you could come.”

And she rolls her eyes. Not come? As if! We’re here for Dad’s book. We’re here because he called, and of course we’re going to come running.

“Gerald and Tans won’t be here for an hour. Coffee or something?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Sitting down, she takes a moment to check her make-up, she checks her phone as well, and I know she’s eyeing up some guy standing over by the bookshop. Be careful what you wish for little sis, it doesn’t turn out like the fairytales.

“Hot in LA?” I ask her.

“Oh, you know it is. Scorching. So, when’s the big day?”


“Is he excited?”

“You know Dad. He’s excited on the inside. But he’s waited his whole life for this.”

Dad, at last, following his childhood dream. Finally a writer. It’s his book launch on Tuesday, and of course we have to be there, dressed up to the nines, with Mum in her blue suit, in her ribboned hat, red with pride, probably crying.

I’m proud of him too. I am.

A plane lands. We watch through the whole-wall window. Another. Then the next one, which is Gerald’s. He’s flown in from Canada where’s he’s teaching school, where he’s hiding in a small town, licking his wounds. I can see from a glance that he still thinks about her. All the years that have bypassed Jenny are piled high on him instead.

“Mandy. Jenny.” He embraces us in turn.

“Good flight?”

“Good enough.”

You look…. I don’t know what I should say.

“How’s Dad?”

“Quietly ecstatic.”

“I mean his health?”

“I think okay.” His heart. His liver. There are doctors telling us it’s only a matter of time. A year: maybe. Two years would be pushing our luck. Why do we all stay away so much?

“We have to talk about that, properly.” Gerald, falling quickly into that role: man of the family, at least for our generation.

I counter: “It’s too early, surely?”

“Doctors, they estimate too high. They’re human, they want to hope for the best. We need to talk to Mum.”

“Gerald, this week: it’s about the book. He wants things that way.”

“Okay. But soon. We can’t leave it too long.”

And Tans, coming off the next flight. Flying in from Sydney. She tries to be Jenny, but she doesn’t have the sparkle, there’s something too serious about her. Her curly hair is tamed by shiny red clips, her suit is a deep black, enlivened by a red silk blouse.

“Court date on the way over?” Gerald teases.

She doesn’t get it: “I’ve cleared my schedule for Mum and Dad.”

Gerald says, “Well, you look great.”

She does, but she notices – she can’t help noticing – that Jenny is here, and Jenny is outshining her. Again. And still they fall into each other’s arms, holding on that little bit longer, a tear on Tans’ cheek.

We’re all saying how it’s been too long, how we shouldn’t wait again before we do this. We need to catch up more, we need to stay in touch. These are empty words, lighter than feathers. I can see them float up through the air, already dying. Time has scattered us too far apart, physically, emotionally, and there’s no gathering it back, not for all the world’s wishful thinking.

Gerald says “All right then, let’s do this. I’ll find us a cab.”

Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Writer Profile, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing.  She has much better luck writing stories.  You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, or on her website:

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Rate this story:
 average 3.5 stars • 40 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Mayur Wadhwani

    This was so good, simple and perfect!

  • Stephen Duffin

    I enjoyed reading your work. A very sensitive piece of writing. I think you captured the atmosphere very well. Loved the ending, especially “These are empty words, lighter than feathers. I can see them float up through the air, already dying.” This definitely sums up the mood. Well done from me.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    This was elegant, graceful writing. That said the same thing over, and over, and over again. The entire story could have been boiled down to three paragraphs as each sibling arrived.

    There was more than enough room here to get everyone out of the arrivals lounge and given us the real tension of dealing with mum and dad, their favoritism and expectations and reversals of roles as Gerald must begin to take charge.

    When you’ve painted an effective portrait in one sentence, move on. Don’t reframe it three more times.

    You’ve got plenty of talent, but great writing requires brutal discipline too. Three stars.

  • JAZZ

    I disagree with Sarah here. The writer offered up her version of the very familiar theme of sibling diaspora.
    Doing what Sarah suggests – editing it to three paragraphs would take away our knowledge of the characters subsequently weakening the story.
    As written, I believe Rosalie should be congratulated for striking a chord with many readers and doing it well.

  • While I enjoyed reading what is here, it feels incomplete to me, like the beginning of a longer story. What actually happens? Four adult siblings who haven’t seen each other in a while come together in an airport, on the way to their dad’s book launch, which is what I thought the story was going to be about.

  • MaryAlice Meli

    I also disagree that the story’s opening could have been shortened. What all that repetition accomplished was to reflect the past, predict the future and emphasize the hopelessness of the present. Much greater impact.

  • I think the issue here is that this isn’t so much a story as it is a portrait. It’s beautifully rendered, and I very much admire the writing, but it’s static. Nothing wrong with that, of course, if that’s the intent, but this really does feel like the introduction to something much longer.

  • I read this early this morning when there were only 2 comments. I look forward to reading those posted since.

    I admire the creativity of the writing.I identified easily with the siblings. Although the story states it’s all about Dad, it’s really all about the siblings and their separated bonds. The story really never got to the meat of the matter of unresolved relationships and read more like an opening chapter. The journey was a pleasant trip but I was unfulfilled at the arrival of the end.

  • The writing is without question. Talented. I assume strong ties with “The Big Chill”, but don’t mean to say on purpose. The beats put me off. To much of “it’s been too long”, and about Jenny. Didn’t mind the cut off, as much of an ending as we’re going to get, but it did its job. I want to read more of your writings.

  • S Conroy

    I warmed to this straight away and even found myself inserting my own brothers and sisters into the story. The dynamics feel so accurate. Skilful writing.Thanks.

  • Kate

    This is one of those pieces that introduces just enough. It honors my ability as a reader to fill in the past and future of the characters. There is universality to the circumstances. The subtext of sadness is smothered with good intentions, but hints that when dad’s gone, the continental drift will scatter the siblings again. Thanks Rosalie.

  • Jeff Coleman

    I have the bad habit of skimming a few lines and then moving on. But the opening line grabbed me, and the story held my attention. Loved it!

  • Paul A. Freeman

    This felt like one of those many family drama films I don’t get on too well with.

  • Carly Berg

    The chances lost between the siblings rang true, especially this part at the end: “These are empty words, lighter than feathers. I can see them float up through the air, already dying. Time has scattered us too far apart, physically, emotionally, and there’s no gathering it back, not for all the world’s wishful thinking.” Wow. I gave it five stars.