By the time Eliza Maxine Olivia Miller was eleven, she had lived in eight different country towns. Her mother liked to move a lot.
It was a hot November afternoon. Eliza and her mother Jeannie were currently living in Morwell, two hours from Melbourne. Eliza’s class was rehearsing Christmas carols for the end-of-year concert. She was thrilled to have been picked to stand near the front, holding up a tinfoil star. Tall for her age, she was usually asked to keep to the back of school groups.
After the rehearsal, her classmates talked about who’d be coming to watch their performance. Eliza just listened, still not quite part of the class. She often arrived at new schools in the middle of term, when most of the friendships were already formed.
One girl was the youngest of six, born and bred in the town. She announced that her whole family and all four grandparents were coming. They’d fill an entire row of seats. One boy had invited all nine of his cousins.
‘What about you, Eliza?’ another girl eventually asked.
‘Just my mum,’ she said, trying not to blush at the rare attention.
‘Your dad can’t make it?’
Eliza shook her head.
One of the other girls asked Eliza where her father was. Eliza told her she didn’t know.
‘But you must know,’ the girl said. ‘Everyone knows where their father is.’
Eliza went red, wishing the bell would ring, hoping the girl wouldn’t ask for her father’s name. She didn’t know that either.
‘You do actually have a father, Eliza, I promise,’ her mother had said once, smiling. ‘I’m not making him up. He just doesn’t live with us.’
‘Can I please meet him one day?’ She regularly asked that.
‘I hope so. One day.’ Her mother always gave that answer.