Mind My Brother: Part Two

[ I am off to the Bendigo Writer’s Festival this weekend and have a busy day Monday, so this is an early post, and the next story will begin on August 17)

He became aware of a soft rain; it was falling on the eucalypts and then dripping down on the back of his neck. He moved to a nearby rotunda. It contained a barbecue and a half empty rubbish bin. Leaning against one of the posts he looked toward the gravel road that led into the reserve. Another memory came to him. It was just before he and David had turned nineteen. David and he both had their car licences. His father often let David borrow his car on the weekends. One particular weekend in October David had asked to go away overnight.

***

I was angry when I heard dad had said yes. Three times I had asked my father for the use of the car and been refused. Dad claimed it was because I was irresponsible but he could never tell me why he thought so. My mother looked sad as she stood by watching us.

I asked Dave, “Where are you going? And with who?”

“I’m going out to Frankston to stay with a friend.”

“Which friend?”

“None of your business.”

“Come on Dave, I’m your brother. Tell all.”

There was silence and I left the room. I knew Dave didn’t tell all, far from it. I remembered being told Dave was having music lessons with a new mentor, a successful concert pianist, when he was really seeing Doctor Cullen, every fortnight, for a year. Dave turned away from me that Friday night and I didn’t see his face until Sunday morning at four o’clock.

Tapping on my bedroom window woke me. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I saw a blurry human face through half open eyes.

“Mick, open up. Mick…”

I swung my feet to the floor and turned on the bedside lamp. I staggered to the sash window, standing upright and stretching as my eyes cleared.

I said, “Hell, what are you doing? It’s the middle of the night.” I looked down at my brother’s hands on the windowsill. A cloth soaked in bright red liquid was clutched in his left hand. When he dropped it on the floor as he climbed over the windowsill I grabbed it. I held it up and we stared at each other. There was no damage to his left hand apart from a red smear across the palm. As I opened my mouth he turned to the door and opening it with his right hand left the room. I burned that cloth, and told myself he had gashed himself changing a tyre. He never was good at manual skills.

The next morning David was not at breakfast. Everyone was surprised he was not there. Dad and I had a day off work. Mum was expecting him. We’d made a cup of coffee and I was just about to say that he’d been around in the early hours of the morning when we heard the crunch of car wheels on the gravel drive. Mum went to the door and Dad followed.

“It’s Dave,” she said.

He came into the kitchen with them and explained that he had gone to get the car detailed. It was a surprise for dad. In gratitude, dad embraced him, as I glared at him over Dad’s shoulder. He leaned back from the embrace and spoke to Mum.

“Now Mick and I can celebrate our nineteenth birthday.”

Yes David was always ahead of the game.

***

The sound of a magpie’s carolling brought him back to the rotunda. He was leaning on a post by the rusty barbecue but his past was not going away. He took a bottle of water from his backpack and took a swig, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. It was hard to swallow, the muscles of his neck and shoulders ached. He stood completely upright and began to walk away from the rotunda, further into the reserve. A path on his left caught his eye. It was fringed by ferns and bush grass. The path sloped down and curved away from where he was standing into the bush. He followed it, drawn forward, guided by thoughts he would not acknowledge. For five minutes he walked until he came to a hollow between two fallen, rotting tree trunks. A rock sat in a spot between the tree trunks and deep pungent humus filled the rest of the area. He took out a camping shovel and unfolded its handle.

I was compelled to pack this. This spot is important.

***

I thought it was strange when Dave asked me to go away for the weekend. We had not spent much time together since our nineteenth birthday. A camping trip would be fun Dave said, not too far from civilisation. I asked him why he didn”t want to go on Labour Day weekend.

“It’ll be busy. You know with short notice we might not get a spot, so we”ll go the weekend after.”

“We’ll go to the pub on Saturday night,” he said. “Check out the girls.”

“O.k. I’m in. Why don’t we invite some mates?”

“Not this time. Just you and me.”

We had a good time together on the Saturday. I was secretly surprised. I had not had that much fun with him, or seen him that relaxed in years.

On Saturday night at the pub he was really interested in an attractive brunette. She had long hair and a neat figure.

“Isn’t she a little old for you?” I elbowed him as we sat at the bar.

“If it doesn’t bother her, it’s not a problem.”

We chatted with her and her friend for a while. Dave was all charm but they still left early. We slunk back to our cold tent, piled on the blankets and slept until first light.

The morning dawned bright and beautiful. Magpies carolled and Bellbirds called. We cooked bacon and baked beans. The warm food warded off the morning chill. David started pacing. He went into the tent and came out with his boots and parka on.

He looked at me and said “you pack up bro. I’m going for a walk.”

“Hey, I’m not packing up on my own. I’ll wait.”

He stalked off, and an hour later I was still waiting. I put on more clothes and doused the fire. Another fifteen minutes went by. In the distance on a road that bordered the camping area I could see a person walking. I decided to look for Dave and set off in the direction I had seen him go.

I found a path that wound across the reserve, at one point I took a turn and found myself on a loop that connected back to the main path. Here the path sloped down away from me and I heard a female voice.

“…Please—”

A minute later, I was right behind her as she fell, dead from stab wounds inflicted by my brother.

***

He dug for an hour, down and around, down and around until he struck an object of different consistency. He lifted the shovel to look, falling onto his knees. Until now he could not, would not, believe it. A little over fifteen years ago he had followed David here. He wanted to catch him but instead he was caught, like a fly in a web. On the shovel was a cracked leg bone with patches of moss. He knew it was human, he knew it was hers.

Now he trembled, now he knew. He had never questioned David, just cried, silently, as they buried the body. He had thought about telling someone but instead after a silent trip home he just avoided David. Then he had thought, after the shock had worn off, I can’t bring her back. For a few years he’d often considered what would happen if he told. Always his conclusion was: he wouldn’t put his parents through the ordeal. Finally, his mind had helped him by burying it, so cleverly, like it was just a nightmare. But then David had died and his dreams turned on him.

He thought I kept silent. I helped bury the body. An accessory.

He shook as if with fever. Everything went out of focus. He put his head between his legs, sour vomit issued from his mouth, its acrid smell filled his nostrils. Time passed and then he heard voices. He smoothed over the bush grave, shook the shovel and packed it away. He walked back to the house, trembling all the way.

He showered, shaved and drank two straight shots of whisky. Feeling dirty, he sat on the edge of the bed for a long, long time, until the dappled moonlight patterned the floor. Stiff all over, surprised sleep had visited, he woke at dawn.

An hour later dressed in a suit, with the car packed Michael drove through the town and out onto the freeway, toward the city, not stating even in his thoughts the thing he had decided to do.

Michael felt she was truly there when he saw Tania: Stephanie’s mother with the black, silky hair. She beckoned to him as he stepped on to the bitumen. She may have walked him to the doors—the shiny glass doors and the tall desk.

The woman behind the desk looked surprised when he said, “I have information regarding a number of crimes. May I speak to someone from Homicide?” While speaking, he pushed his car licence across the desk. She looked at it and her hand closed over it. “I’ll see who might be able to help you, Mr McKenzie.” Turning away from him, she put the phone to her ear. In the distance he heard a door slam, and quick light steps along a hallway. Then standing before him, was a neat-figured, dark-haired woman. She held out her hand, “ Hello Mr McKenzie. I’m Detective Stephanie Ryan.” She smiled, and everything lost focus. He staggered and she gripped his arm.

The End

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Mind My Brother : Part One

This story came out of contemplating the question: What would you do if someone you were close to turned out to be a nightmare come true?

 

Since coming here, he had felt better. Everything felt like it was going in slow motion. On the 15 March, two weeks after moving, he had written in his journal file: “I woke with the definite feeling I’ve been sent here. It all seems to fit a pattern. Every time I hold the hair tie, I know more about what happened to this woman.” He could enter the dream if he held the talisman even when he was awake. He wanted to find out where it had happened. He still used the word “it.” It was as if he were a grieving relative, reluctant to consider the reasons for her disappearance.

He entered his study and turned on the lamp. He had taken the accessory worn by the woman in the dream, and all the newspaper clippings. Local woman missing. He sat in the chair, after reading an article about the frustration of local police at the lack of evidence, and held the souvenir. The desk clock ticked, the owls hooted and his palms grew damp. Then, suddenly he was amongst the ferns and grass, back in the dream of two nights before. This time he was walking down the path right behind the woman with shiny black hair. She turned to face him then was grabbed from behind. He saw the man, and the knife. He awoke to the sound of his own voice “Where did it happen?”

He took out a local map, and smoothed it on the desk. It showed the recreation reserve where the woman was last seen. Now he was here and he wanted to know the exact spot written about. He must place his feet on the last place she stood.

I suppose that’s really weird. I don’t suppose I could tell anybody now. I could never have imagined being crazy like this—not in a million years. Maybe I deserve it.

He sat at the window as he had the previous night, listening to the small sounds. At first he’d thought it eerily quiet here. Now he could hear the life behind that first impression. After a while, he lay down on his bed. A peaceful sleep came over him.

The next morning, he packed the map and other items in a backpack and took a heavy parker from the wardrobe. As he gazed outside during his breakfast of toast, thick dew glistened on the grass. The sky was cloudy but the sun was shining weakly. He would go to the entrance of the reserve and see what he could feel. The woman’s hair accessory. As he placed his hand around it in his pocket, it felt cold.

It’s strange calling her “woman”. Prompted by this thought he went back to his bedroom and looked up the newspaper articles with the intention of remembering their content rather than allowing the horror of the truth to overwhelm him. Her name was Tania Ryan and her daughter’s name was Stephanie. One of her funeral notices said she had a daughter, Stephanie, aged eight years. The year the article was printed was 1993.

Now Stephanie would be 25.

He gasped as he took note of the date for the first time.

March 15, 1993.

The strong sense of entrapment by the dead was intensified. He hoped it would bring a resolution to the intense guilt that sat like a weight on him when he pondered the consequences of his brother’s life. He thought of David’s archive of shoeboxes; many were still covered by dust. As Michael sorted out his brother’s things, he realised David had more than one skeleton in his closet.

Oh, the black humour, he thought. A lump formed in his throat. Why didn’t I burn it all? Now I’m haunted.

He slammed the back door and checked it was locked as he began his four-kilometre walk to the reserve where Tania’s life had ended. He adjusted the backpack he was carrying with its load of a camping shovel, water bottles, snack and map. He removed the map and shoved it in his coat pocket.

When he reached the damp, green vale of the reserve, around the base of the volcanic mountain, he inhaled the tangy smell of damp eucalyptus, and his thoughts raced. He was captivated in his own cinema, vivid memories played out in his mind in colour. The first scene was from his youth. He was seventeen and in his final year at school. Arriving home one afternoon, after mid-year exams, he’d found David already at home. Unusually, his mother and David were seated in the lounge room with an official-looking stranger in a suit, accompanied by a black briefcase.

***

I knew something was up. They were using the formal front room, instead of relaxing in the kitchen with a cup of tea. When I attempted to sit with them, Mum told me to leave the room.

“Fine”, I had spat out, “I’m going for a run.” I changed and made sure I slammed the door on my way out. I changed my mind at the end of the driveway. Over the past two years Dave had become secretive. When he was home he stayed in his room a lot, supposedly studying and practising music.

Bet he’s gone and got himself a scholarship to the conservatory of music. I want to know before dad.

I snuck round the side of the house and through the double doors of the sunroom, across the room and stood in the hallway opposite the closed lounge room door. I feared that the creaking floorboards might give away my presence. I dried my palms on my pants. The house was quiet and I could hear a tap dripping through the open bathroom door.

I heard the stranger say, “It’s been necessary to meet with you for an important reason, Mrs McKenzie, so I best come to the point now.” His voice was soft but clear in the silence. “I am here in my capacity as consultant psychologist to the school counsellor, who has asked me to call on you. We’ve already spoken to David about our concerns and he agreed to me coming here. I need to point out, he agreed after the principal explained that a solution must be discussed or immediate expulsion from school would be required.”

“Expulsion! David?” My mother’s tone was scornful. “Why he is one of the best, if not the best student in that school.”

I took a deep breath and willed myself to remain silent and alert.

“I’m aware that David is highly intelligent and an excellent student.” I heard a click, and the shuffling of papers, and presumed the stranger was opening his brief case. “But you could say this matter concerns his social development.”

Dave’s voice broke in.

“Don’t show her. My father–”

“David, I feel it’s necessary to show your mother. Otherwise there’s no accountability for you and she needs to understand.”

There was a graveyard silence.

“My God, how dare you come into my house and show me this disgusting filth!” My mum’s voice seemed to bounce from the walls of the little room. “David?”

The stranger’s voice was warmer, now.

“Believe me, we know how unpleasant this is but we’re here for your son’s sake.”

“How do you know this is David’s fault? Couldn’t someone else—”

“I know this is hard to accept but similar material was found three times in David’s possession over a six month period.”

My mum’s voice rose to a screech. “Dr Cullen—”

“Enquiries have been made as to its origin. Recently David has admitted to obtaining it himself.”

“Mum, I’m sorry.” Dave’s mellifluous voice became rough.

Cullen continued. “This is only a sample of numerous images in David’s possession. Their mixture of sex with violence is most disturbing. Apart from the fact that their existence could be a legal matter, it is our opinion that David needs help.”

I didn’t wait to hear more. I exited through the sunroom and ran to the local park. I wet my head under a tap near the picnic tables. Shaking my head, I took slow deep breaths.

I thought Hell; my favourite person could be a psycho.

And then Poor Mum.

***