[ 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.”
“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.
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.