The saying “blood is thicker than water” is chronically misused. People think of blood relatives, when actually it means your comrades in arms: your blood-brothers. ‘Water’ is a reference to a mother’s water breaking, so the message is ‘The family you choose is closer than the one you’re born into’.


Thicker Than Water

By Lydia Trethewey

For the TRIUMPHANT RETURN award


Sitting with my long legs folded up towards my chin, seatbelt obediently buckled, I gather these thoughts have been prompted by the kid across the aisle whose nose has suddenly and inexplicably begun gushing red. It’s very thick.

I wriggle my bony ass on the impossibly hard airplane seat as we descend. A hostess hands out immigration cards, and I fill in my details. JASON HUNTER. Date of birth: 29/10/1990. Nationality: AUSTRALIAN. Purpose of visit: RETURNING RESIDENT. I’ve done this countless times over my three years abroad. Perhaps that’s why I’m thinking of blood and family; returning at last to dear old mum and dad.

The kerosene whine of the engines dims into the bleary-eyed morning. A soft-spoken recording welcomes us to Perth, and in the terminal everyone yawns and rubs their eyes. The flight from Bolivia was long, but trying to get my South American tea through quarantine proves longer. Nobody greets me at arrivals; they don’t yet know about my visit.

I hear Dad grumbling behind the door as he opens it. Six in the morning, who— His face goes satisfactorily blank when he sees me.

Our reunited family sits around the kitchen table. Elsie glares at me. My sister hasn’t forgiven me for killing her goldfish ten years ago (a crime I didn’t commit).

‘You never contacted us,’ Mum says

‘I didn’t think you’d want me to. After you kicked me out.’

Dad goes to argue, then sneezes. He always sneezes thrice, as if his nostrils are too narrow to accommodate a proper expulsion.

‘We didn’t kick you out. You left.’

‘Yeah, after you stole my money,’ Elsie adds

‘I did no such thing!’

She snorts.

‘It’s like when you killed my goldfish. Why can’t you ever own up to anything?’

Dad intervenes. As usual, he intervenes on my sister’s side.

‘Jase, we know you took the money. Just apologise.’

‘I am not a thief. Anyway, it wasn’t Elsie’s money. You were giving it to her for university. An offer you never made to me.’

‘You didn’t want to go to university,’ Dad replied. ‘Just calm down. Now that you’re back we have another money matter to discuss.’

I try to hide my smile but Mum catches it.

‘You already know,’ she says. ‘How do you always know these things?’

‘What things?’ Elsie demands

‘We’ve just changed the will. We’re giving everything to you two.’

I smile.

‘Look, we’re all tired. How about I make some tea?’ I say. ‘It’s from Bolivia. It’s for relaxation.’

Everybody’s quiet over their steaming mugs. I watch them take long draughts of the sweet liquid.

Then Dad’s face contorts, as if he’s about to sneeze. But the sneeze never comes. Instead he starts choking, coughing, eyeballs turning backwards into his skull. Mum shrieks and leaps towards him, but begins spluttering. Elsie runs to the sink and retches up blood and bile. I sit back and watch.

Elsie screams and collapses into the basin. Mum goes quietly. Agonised, my family breathe their last breaths. I sit enjoying the silence, then get up and dump the poison tea down the sink. Elsie’s unseeing eyes watch me run the tap. Blood drips from her lips. As I think about the big inheritance, I notice an interesting phenomenon, that blood is indeed thicker than water.