jump to navigation

Out in the Storm January 20, 2010

Posted by Anna in Uncategorized.
add a comment

This week’s writing prompt was a little more complicated than most, and I have to say that although I wrote down some ideas, I really had nothing that I particularly wanted to just ‘go’ with:

List 3-5 words for each of the headings: Situation, Emotions, Objects, then choose one from each and go with that.

I have to say that when this prompt came through, I had no idea what to write, so I put it to my friends on Facebook. I had some great responses, as follows (thank you all!):

Lisa: School playground; anxious; lunch box

Jo: Death of a loved one; rejection; a bookshelf

Heidi D: Small office with no window; apathy; red leather bound diary

Peter W: Starved gaming addiction; frustration; a not so pwning motherboard [I had to ask what ‘pwning’ is, and Matthew replied: Pwning = p(o)wning (said like owning except with a p) loosely means to absolutely decimate everything else that tries to compare … to which Pete agreed. I’m not sure I was any the wiser, but I’ll trust those that know.]

Anya: Menopause; inner peace / tranquillity; a lighthouse.

Debbie: Someone you didn’t want to talk to ever again finds you on Facebook; wanting to vomit at the thought of said person, and the guilt associated with that emotion; the towel into which you are now screaming.

Matthew K: Can’t find inspiration for this week’s writing exercise; frustration; Facebook.

Lily: Loyal work colleagues who stab committed workers in the back; not happy!

My own were: Out in the storm / alone at the beach / driving a car; anger / fear / certainty; glue / highlighters / magazines / rocks.

I’d written my selection at the beginning of the week, but just wasn’t inspired by any of it. As the suggestions from my Facebook friends began to roll in though, a definite idea emerged. Once again, I found myself toying with the notion of using absolutely everything that’s been suggested. I marked the bits from the above list as I used them, then keep referring back to them, just to see how I was going. The outcome was no 20 minute short exercise, but I’ve certainly had fun piecing all the threads together into something that I hope makes at least a passable story.


Shannon hurried out of the meeting and back through to her small, windowless office. Her desk was strewn with case files, and she had a list a mile long of things that needed to be sorted out. The meeting had been as ineffectual as everything else was about the taxpayer-funded social-aid organisation she was trying to work for. All the bosses seemed entirely apathetic – disinterested in genuinely helping any of the people on their files, and really only interested in their next golf game or making sure the paperwork was so complicated its only real function was covering their expansive backsides. She just hated all the politics of getting anything done around the place!

Like a number of her peers, Shannon really wanted to help her clientele, and she closed the door of her cheerless office in order to weep briefly in her frustration. After a few minutes though, the telephone rang, and she hastily dried her eyes, blew her nose and cleared her throat before answering it.

“This is Shannon Morgan,” she said as clearly as she could manage. “Yes? Oh my goodness! No, I haven’t heard a thing, I’m sorry. Yes, alright, I’ll see what I can do. Thank you. Goodbye.”

For several minutes she stared at the full pages of her diary and wondered how on earth to manage it all. She aimlessly straightened a few files. “Oh Adrian,” she sighed. “Why on earth can’t you just get on with your life?”

She drew breath, closed her eyes for a moment, then picked up the phone again and made some arrangements. Then she ran out of the office, flinging her red leather bound diary at the receptionist as she flew past, before clattering down the stairs in her high heels, pulling her coat on as she ran, with her handbag swinging wildly behind her.

~~~~~

“He’s just sitting in the corner of the playground,” the headmistress told Shannon. “He’s been there since just after the first bell this morning, and he just won’t talk to anyone.

Together they walked down the steps from the front office, around the corner of the administration building and across the quadrangle to where Adrian was sitting on a slatted bench. He was clutching an ancient tin lunchbox by the coat hanger wire that served as a handle on its battered top. As she and the headmistress approached, Shannon saw that her brother’s fingers were anxiously rubbing at the twisted wire and he was rocking very slightly back and forth.

“I think you’d better call the ambulance,” Shannon said quietly, just out of his earshot. She moved close and took a seat beside him, while her companion peeled off and returned to the office.

“What’s going on, matey?” she asked gently, putting her near arm across his broad shoulders.

He still hadn’t answered her by the time the ambulance arrived and the paramedics had guided him into the back.

“So Adrian came to school,” Shannon said to the headmistress as they wanted the ambulance drive away. “Did Ben?”

The headmistress turned to blink at her. “I assume so …” Her voice lilted upwards as her words took shape, panic rising as she realised that she didn’t know.

~~~~~

Shannon drove her car out of town, and turned into the rutted, rocky laneway that lead up to Adrian’s house. She knew with certainty that Ben wouldn’t be at home. He never was when things like this happened. He always turned up, but he never hung around when Adrian flipped out.

The house was a mess. Predictably so, Shannon mused as she picked her way across the lounge room towards the kitchen. Computer magazines, dvd cases, software packaging, plates of half-eaten toast and mouldy baked beans – it was all just disgusting. If Adrian wasn’t careful, he’d lose Ben too, and that would probably tip him completely over the edge, Shannon considered. The last thing she wanted to do was have Child Services contacted by anybody.

On the top of the mess strewn over the sticky dining table, there was a clean sheet of white A4 paper, probably taken from the printer. On it, written in black chisel-point marker was “PLEESE”. Shannon had no idea what that meant.

~~~~~

Picking her way down the scrubby bush track towards the beach, Shannon glanced at the sky. What had been a lovely day was fast becoming dark and intense. The predicted storms were clearly on their way. She was glad of the running shoes she’d found in the boot of her car, but seriously wished she’d also had a pair of track pants and a tee shirt as well – this running-shoes-and-business-suit combination wasn’t working so well in the bush.

“Ben!” she called as she emerged onto the beach, scrambling beyond the last of the ti tree and onto the sand. “Ben!”

The wind picked up and somehow even the waves crashing onto the shore began to sound angry and resentful as she trudged along on the hard sand towards the figure she could see, hunched up on the rocks at the far end of the beach. Just by the size and shape, Shannon knew that it was Ben, but it took her quite a while, straining into the wind like she was, to get anywhere close to being in earshot of him.

Hey matey!” she yelled at the top of her voice when she was standing right in front of him. “Come on home!”

Ben didn’t vocalise a response, but he did clamber down and slide his hand into hers, giving it a squeeze as they took off with the wind chasing them back down the beach towards the old house on the headland. They were only halfway along the sand when the rain hit, pelting at them and pummelling their backs, forcing them into an unwilling run, all the way back up to the house.

In other circumstances, they’d have been laughing their heads off when they burst into the house via the laundry door, drenched by the rain. Today, though, they were both very serious.

“Gosh, I love the rain!” Shannon gasped with relief, catching her breath. “But I can’t pretend to love getting caught on the beach in a storm! Those waves were quite frightening, don’t you think?”

Ben didn’t look at her. He just shrugged and hauled off his wet school shirt and shorts, so that he was left in only his little white Bonds undies that were now way too small for him. Shannon made a mental note to buy new ones for him.

The expression on Ben’s face wasn’t unlike the infuriated weather outside, so she didn’t try to make conversation. She did give the small boy a big hug, though. It took a while, but finally he relaxed into her.

In time, Shannon chased Ben into the shower, but only metaphorically. She dousing her own head with warm water in the laundry sink before she heard the shower start running, then went through to Adrian’s room to see if she could find anything of his that might fit her. Should she suggest to Ben that it wasn’t wise for him to be down on the beach alone, especially in a storm? She didn’t have children of her own, so she just didn’t know what Ben needed from her. It was all very tricky, really.

From Adrian’s and Ben’s bedrooms, she gathered up a load of washing, and got that going after she was changed. Then she headed through to the kitchen to get the kettle going.

It really was tragic, this situation.

Adrian was her older brother by a lot of years. She wasn’t yet thirty, but he was already well into his forties. She’d always looked up to him – idolised him, really. He’d used to swing her around over his head when she was little, making her laugh hysterically with his silly faces and voices and jokes. He’d been just the best big brother in the world. She was only about eight when he headed over to England via Thailand, backpacking his way to an adventure, he told her and their parents. She could still remember the excitement in the house when he called from overseas, or a postcard arrived from him.

He travelled for over a decade, just working as a barman or on road crews, or turning his hand to whatever was going whenever he needed money. He flew home sometimes, with a bit of parental help with the airfares, Shannon suspected.

When she was turning 21, Adrian came home for the party, and made everyone incredibly happy by saying that he was staying. It was time to settle down and get a real job and figure out how to live a responsible life. Shannon, of course, had been just as excited as their parents, but something had always stuck in the back of her mind – just the thought that in all of Adrian’s travels, he’d just seen too much. Probably done too much, too. He never said though, and she never asked.

Now, she wondered if perhaps he had indulged in substances while he travelled, damaging his brain somehow, so that it was no longer able to cope readily well in such circumstances. These were just awful circumstances, there was no way around it.

~~~~~

Nellie had been in Adrian’s class at school, and Shannon had the idea that she had something to do with Adrian going away in the first place, and then staying away for so long. He’d only come back to stay when she and her partner left the area.

Nellie and her partner hadn’t stayed together, though – Nell came back, and there Adrian was. He was working on a road gang, paying off his rambling old house on the point, and surfing in his free time. After a month, Nell moved in and they seemed good together. Ben was born within a year, and in Shannon’s opinion, Adrian was the happiest he’d ever been.

With time, surfing the net took over from surfing the waves, but Nell was as into gaming as Adrian, and Ben seemed to fit in with whatever they were doing quite affably.

Shannon did a quick tidy up of the kitchen while she reminisced, but as she set two mugs out and spooned in the drinking chocolate, she couldn’t help smiling to herself. Ben, of course, was always well up on the computer terms, and one time when she’d popped in for a visit, the whole network throughout the house was down, and Adrian was like a bear with a sore head and four sore paws in his frustration. “What’s up with your Dad?” Shannon had asked Ben. Ben must have been all of seven at the time. He rolled his eyes, held up his hands in surrender and said, in all seriousness, “Starved gaming addiction. Frustration … and a not-so-powning motherboard.” Of course Shannon had no idea what ‘powning’ meant, and even after she’d had it explained a dozen or more times, she was still confused. Her reminiscent smile, though, was at Ben’s obvious clear understanding of a concept that had confused her so utterly. “It’s not spelled with an ‘o’, it’s just sounded with it!” he’d insisted. Even now, she could only assume that Adrian, in addition to the network frustrations, had been having issues with an uncooperative mother board in his computer.

~~~~~

Ben came out of the bathroom and slid onto a stool at the breakfast bar. Half the laminate had peeled off the bench, and even as Shannon slid his hot chocolate across to him, he picked at the edges, making it just a little worse again.

“The storm’s still big,” Shannon ventured.

“Yeah.” Ben didn’t sound talkative.

Shannon knew there was no point asking him outright what had happened. He might not know. Catching sight of the note over on the chaotic dining room table, she asked instead, “So … what does ‘pleese’ mean?” She was careful to enunciate a soft, sibilant ‘sss’ sound at the end of the word.

Ben looked at her like she was stupid. “Pleese. Cops.”

“Oh, I wasn’t sure if you were saying ‘please’ about something.”

“Nup. I called the cops.”

“How come?”

“I got ready for school, but Dad left without me. I didn’t know where he was.”

Okay, so that was two puzzle pieces joined up. “So … what did you do then?”

Ben shrugged and took a sip of his hot chocolate. “Went for a walk. He always comes home.”

That made sense, too. Whatever his struggles, Adrian really did love Ben.

“How come you’re here?” Ben asked, as if the question had only just occurred to him.

Shannon explained, but she left out the bit about Adrian being carted off to the psych ward. For now. She’d have to tell him, but not yet. “So … any idea why he’s being so silly today?” she asked Ben as casually as she could.

Ben shot her another look, indicating that she really was stupid. “Mum’s birthday,” he said simply. He turned and slid off the stool, making his way through dropped clothing and other assorted debris across to the bookshelf on the far side of the dining room. He picked up a pile of envelopes and brought them back to Shannon.

“What are these?” she asked innocently.

“Birthday cards for Mum. People Dad doesn’t know. She had lots of friends,” Ben answered simply.

“Poor Adrian,” Shannon murmured, more to herself than to Ben. He was watching her, as if he expected her to go through the pile of cards, so slowly, she did. “Poor Nell,” she whispered under her breath.

Ben had been still just a toddler when Nell began to go through menopause – hot flushes, mood swings, the works. Most days she was able to be polite and pleasant, but some days she was an utter lunatic. On those days, she’d rejected Adrian and Ben cruelly, berating Adrian loudly wherever they happened to be, and actually hitting Ben if he made his presence known or asked for anything.

In the wash-up of everything, after the funeral and the vain attempts to cope with the idea that the person you loved most in the world had committed suicide and abandoned you, neither Adrian nor Ben held any of that against Nell. They just missed her.

Most of the birthday cards seemed to be from people Nell had met on her day trips. In her efforts to find inner peace and tranquillity, Nell had been in the habit of just disappearing for whole days. She would meet all sorts of travellers and have all sorts of adventures, and just leave Adrian and Ben to keep the home fires burning.

There must have been more than twenty cards in total. The very last card, at the bottom of the pile, had a sketch of a lighthouse on the front of it, and Shannon felt her heart sink as she opened it out. Nelly Belly! How’s it hangin’ babe? Remember the Lighthouse? You can turn my lights on any time. Hot Stuff! Jake.

Poor Adrian! The last fight that he and Nell had, before her suicide, was about that lighthouse. Shannon didn’t know much about it, but she knew that Adrian had been furious. Then, of course, her body had been found on the rocks below that very lighthouse, at Maddigans Point, up the coast.

Shannon looked at the closed card for a long time. Maddigans Point Lighthouse was written in very tiny letters below the sketch. Her heart physically ached for her poor brother. As much as she wished he’d snap out of his depression and whatever else was going on, she could completely understand what had triggered this particular episode. She hadn’t known that there’d been another bloke involved.

~~~~~

Together, Shannon and Ben worked at tidying off the dining table.  The boy’s frustration and fear seemed to have subsided somewhat, and he began to chat amiably enough.

“Why to British people say things like ‘pleese’ instead of ‘po-leese,’ anyway?” he asked. “And they say stupid things like ‘daid’ instead of ‘dad,’ too.”

“What do you mean, ‘daid’?” Shannon prompted, stacking up a pile of unpaid bills.

“Well, instead of saying just ‘dad’, like with a short ‘a’ sound, they say it more like ‘a’ and ‘i’ straight after it.”

Shannon toyed with the sound a little, and she could see what he was talking about. She had to admit that she didn’t know, though, so Ben went on, telling her about some television show that he’d been watching of an afternoon, that he really quite liked. Apparently the kids in that show talked like that.

When his talk subsided and the table was cleared and clean, Shannon made Ben a sandwich. Then she got him set up with some magazines and glue, pens and highlighters, to start work on his overdue school project. She knew he was hurt and angry, but she didn’t know any other way to help him, other than getting him doing ‘normal’ things.

She made a quick phone call to the police, just to let them know that Ben was safe and what had happened about Adrian. She had the idea that they hadn’t taken Ben’s phone call seriously in the first place, which was a bit alarming, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

With the kitchen and the dining room back in workable order, Shannon threw the load of washing into the dryer, put some towels on to wash, and settled herself at Adrian’s main computer. She had another exercise to do for her Thursday night’s writing class, but even before this family crisis, she’d been completely lacking in inspiration.

The storm had passed, but the rain was still falling quite heavily. In due course Shannon knew she’d have to contact her parents and update them, and she’d have to go and check on Adrian in person, too. For now, though, she’d check in on Facebook, and ask in her status update if any of her friends had suggestions that fitted in with the current writing prompt. She’d done that a couple of times before, and it seemed to work well as a means dealing with her self-aimed frustrations.

It was a good distraction for her, anyway. Quite apart from Adrian and Ben, Shannon’s own work situation was weighing pretty heavily on her. ‘Loyal’ work colleagues who stab committed workers in the back – it wasn’t a situation that made anybody happy. Here she was, caught in the middle of it all, and just not knowing whether to stay and fight, or just get the hell out of there. If everyone’s time was taken up with in-fighting, clients weren’t really being helped.

Shannon made her way through a dozen notifications on Facebook, looked at Penny’s new photos, watched a YouTube video that Kurt had posted on her wall, and checked through her newsfeed.

“Facebook makes Daddy cry,” Ben said quietly at her shoulder.

Shannon turned and gathered him up onto her lap. “Why do you think that is?” she asked, kissing his soft little cheek and smoothing his tangled blonde curls.

Ben leaned forward and clicked on an icon in the tray at the bottom of the screen, opening up the email program. “See those emails that are in bold?” he said when the list came up. “Those are Facebook notifications for Mum’s account.”

Shannon glanced through the list, and noted friend requests dotted throughout the notifications about inane games and assorted other information. One name caught her attention. Jake Moncrief. Was that the same man who had sent the birthday card with the lighthouse?

~~~~~

It was still raining when Shannon pulled her car into her parents’ driveway. She and Ben scurried inside, and after he’d had one of Nan’s Anzac biscuits and a glass of lemonade, he took himself through to the lounge room to watch the afternoon kids shows on the television. The one with the British kids would be on soon, so Shannon had timed her visit to encompass that highlight for him.

“What are we going to do?” Shannon begged of her parents, widening her eyes and conveying the sense of helplessness that they all felt.

“Silly bugger’s just gotta pull himself together, that’s all,” her father grumbled. “In my day, blokes came back from war and they just sucked it up and got on with it. Death’s just part of life. All this moping about clearly isn’t helping anyone.”

Shannon and her mum exchanged knowing looks. Dad wasn’t coping well with his son, his pride and joy, being in the loony bin again.

“How about,” Shannon suggested, “I leave Ben with you until dinner time. I’ll go to the hospital and see if Adrian’s up for a talk. Then I’ll get Ben home and give him dinner and get him into bed. What he needs is a bit of routine.”

“He’s a very angry boy, that one,” Pops muttered, loping off to the lounge room to sit with Ben.

Shannon didn’t know whether her father was talking about Adrian or Ben, but given everything, she half thought both were at least a bit justified for their current messed up state.

She borrowed some of her mother’s clothes, which were more her style than Adrian’s huge shirt and track pants were, and headed off to the hospital to see her big brother.

~~~~~

Adrian was sitting on the side of the bed, fully clothed and still clutching the ancient lunchbox when Shannon walked into the ward. “Hey sis,” he said clearly, but without emotion. He looked at her, but only briefly.

Shannon took a seat in the chair beside the bed, and thought that Adrian actually seemed reasonably okay.

“So what’s with the lunchbox?” she asked, opting to sound as normal as possible. Sometimes that was the best approach.

“Huh,” Adrian said, setting it on the bed beside him. “It was Nell’s when she was at school. It’s the thing I remember more than anything about Nell in kindy. We used to play football with it, and she’d get so upset. I replaced the handle on it when we were about ten. It broke and she cried, and Mum saw what happened, and she made me.”

Shannon didn’t know how to answer that, so she just stayed quiet.

“When we got together, properly I mean, this was our wedding ring. There was a lot of history to this stupid box, y’know. Not just the football.” Adrian sighed, not in a melancholy way, more like a release. “She used to keep our letters in here when we were teenagers. Then when she wasn’t ready to settle down, she shoved the empty box at me. I ended up carting it all over Asia and Europe with me. When we finally decided to be together, we stood under that big gum tree on the cliff and held the lunch box between us. We promised each other that we’d try to only put happy memories into it for the rest of our lives.”

He looked up at Shannon with clear eyes. “She used to go away to clear her head,” he said. It wasn’t said in apologetic, excusatory manner, just a statement of fact. “It was part of keeping things good between us.”

It seemed very important for Shannon to hold his gaze now. She did, and asked, “Did it work?”

Adrian nodded slowly. “Yeah. It helped a lot. That lighthouse … she really loved that place. She took Ben and me there a couple of times and showed us around. She said that she loved to sit on the rocks and just watch the waves crashing down below. The lighthouse was like this reminder that even when things are rough, love still shines, and it’s a beacon to guide you through the storm and safely into port.”

Shannon didn’t know what to say to that either, so again she just waited.

“She thought she was safely through the storm, you know.”

A doctor and the head nurse came into the room then. They explained that Adrian had run out of his medication some days earlier and hadn’t bothered to refill his prescription. They asked Shannon if the family could perhaps keep a better eye on that in future. They said that Adrian was probably fine to go home, provided he was consistent in taking his medication.

Just as they were leaving the room, two policemen turned up, just to follow through on the phone calls from Ben and Shannon.

Adrian didn’t offer any apology, or explanation beyond what the doctor himself told the police.

Once it was just himself and Shannon in the room with the two policemen, though, he jumped to his feet and shoved the battered old lunchbox in their direction. “I reckon she was murdered,” he said, sounding suddenly animated. “In there is a whole bunch of emails and cards and stuff from a bloke called Jake. There’s one more at home that I forgot. She met him up at Maddigans Point, at the lighthouse there. He was very taken with her, but she wouldn’t do anything with him. He tried to contact her a few times, but he’d stopped for about two months before she died. She was coming out the other side of all the menopause nonsense, and she was really starting to love life again. She just went up there for the day because the place made her happy. She didn’t mean to die, I’m absolutely sure of it.”

The two police officers frowned at each other, but one of them did take the lunchbox from Adrian, probably because he seemed so adamant about it.

The taller of the two said, “Have you got any evidence, sir?”

Adrian frowned. “I’m not sure. Whatever I think might be is in there. You know when she was found, you blokes kept it out of the papers until after we’d had the service? Well it was after her name was published that this bloke Jake started sending her cards and letters. Then, last night, there was a friend request came through to her Facebook account from him.”

Again, the police officers exchanged a glance.

Insistent, Adrian went on. “I mean, this was someone that Nell didn’t want to talk to ever again. It’s been all through the papers that she’s dead, but he goes to the trouble of finding her on Facebook. I saw that notification come through last night, and I just want to vomit at the thought of the guy. He’d done everything he could to ruin our relationship, and last night …” He turned a look of abject apology towards Shannon. “Last night I wanted to vomit, but then I just felt so guilty because Nell and I had a fight the afternoon she died. She reckoned I paid too much attention to all the stupid computer games, and if I wasn’t so hell bent on winning that particular round, I’d have gone with her to the lighthouse. That’s what she wanted, you know.”

Now it seemed that all the occupants of the room were confused, except Adrian.

He persisted: “Nell never took the lunchbox with her to the lighthouse. It was a private, at-home thing. But because she was feeling so much better in herself, she wanted us both to go and kind of rededicate ourselves there. I did mean to go, but then I got way further in the tournament I was in than I expected, and so I wanted to leave the trip until the next day, and we fought. I didn’t know until hours after she’d left that she’d gone alone, and it wasn’t until Ben got dropped home from playing at Dane’s house that I realised she should have been home again. They found the lunchbox way down the road from the lighthouse – nowhere near where Nell’s car was parked or where her body was found. It was only last night that it hit me that suicide was all just wrong, somehow.”

The policemen, with barely disguised reluctance, agreed to take the lunchbox and get fingerprints from it. They would come by Adrian’s house the next day to collect the envelope with Jake Moncrief’s handwriting on it.

~~~~~

Ben seemed glad enough for his father to be home again, but he was certainly very keen for Shannon to stay with them, too. He said as much before he went to bed. “It’s nice when the house is tidy,” he said when he kissed her goodnight.

Sense and order did seem to be starting to seep back into Adrian, Shannon had to admit. Even during that first evening, he wordlessly helped her clean and tidy through the house, but he was ready for bed himself well before ten o’clock.

“Where’s the red towel that was in the laundry?” he asked, coming back to the kitchen where Shannon was having a final cuppa, after he’d bade her goodnight.

“I washed it,” Shannon said lightly. “The first load, the clothes, are all folded and back in your drawers. The towels will be in the dryer. Why?”

He looked abashed. “I was about to wash it myself,” he said, in a way that sounded like a confession.

“How come?” Shannon asked, puzzled.

“It was my screaming towel.” He seemed ashamed of the admission.

Shannon just widened her eyes and blinked at him.

Adrian shrugged. “When it all just got too much for me, I’d put the towel around my face and scream into it so that I didn’t scare Ben.”

Shannon put her mug of tea down and put her arms around her brother. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Yeah. I know. But I reckon there’s a chance I’ll be okay now.”

~~~~~

Adrian stayed on medication for another year after his last episode. The doctors by then agreed with him that he no longer needed the help.

Shannon gave up the lease on her flat and went to live with Adrian and Ben for a while, just to help out and stop the house being too much of a blokezone. It took her a while to decide that political fracas is painfully common in every workplace – somehow the incidences of intensity are cyclical, and in between times, it is actually possible to help people in very real and practical ways. For the most part, she came to enjoy both her work life and her home life.

Ben took a while to settle properly at school, preferring to spend time on the beach watching the waves in all reality. His dad came to accept that grief always leaves a scar on all it touches, but what that scar looks like is often very different, even between people who have loved the same departed one so completely.

Nell had been dead for almost three years before two detectives arrived on the doorstep one evening to let them know that at last Jake Moncrief had been arrested. After a piece on a television program, some tourists had come forward with a photograph of Jake and Nell in the background of their happy snap at Maddigans Point Lighthouse, clearly arguing. They’d taken three shots using a tripod and self-timer, and each frame contained decent evidence. Fingerprints inside Nell’s lunchbox, and a pattern of behaviour that was echoed in several other apparent suicides, where Jake was always somehow involved, had all sealed his fate.

~~~~~

On a summer’s evening, just as the breeze swung around to bring some coolness at the end of the day, Adrian, Shannon and Ben all stepped out of Adrian’s car at Maddigans Point.

Ben was in high school now, and Adrian had sold most of his computer gaming paraphernalia and was back with the road crew, working hard, coaching Ben’s soccer team, and for the most part enjoying being a dad. Shannon was married to Greg, one of the policemen who had helped solve Nell’s murder, and they were expecting their first baby around Easter time.

“Thanks for coming,” he said to Shannon. “It’s just something I’ve wanted to do, and Ben and I couldn’t have come through this without you.”

She smiled, and stood with her arm around Ben while Adrian read out a few lines from a Joan Baez song that he and Nell had loved back in the seventies.

Just one favour of you, my love /  If I should die today  / Take me down to where the hills / Meet the sea on a stormy day / Ride a ridge on a snow white horse / And throw my ashes away / To the wind and the sand / Where my song began.

Together, Adrian and Ben released Nell’s ashes to be blown away on the ocean’s breeze. “It’s not a stormy day, but it sure was, the day I knew it was murder. And there’s no snow white horse, cos I’m no hero, but you can be at peace, Nell. We’ll live again now.”

Shannon stood with her arms around her big brother and her nearly-as-big nephew. “I guess it pays to listen to that small inner voice, doesn’t it?” she said.

Nobody said it, but they all knew that despite the tragedy, they had survived. Some good had come out of the bad, and yes, there was still life to be lived.

Advertisements

Limited September 26, 2009

Posted by Anna in Uncategorized.
add a comment

The exercise is: “Write about being limited in some way.”

 

I’ve been thinking lately. Well, truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot for years. You tend to think a lot when you sit in a rocking chair on your front verandah, day after day, year after year, watching the world go. Watching the grass grow. Watching the neighbourhood brats grow. ‘Silly old bugger,’ they call me, sitting there keeping an eye on them. ‘Silly old bugger’ is what my own kids call me, too. Well, not to my face, but I know it’s what they think.

Think. Oh, that’s right. I’ve been thinking lately.

I’ve always got a pile of books beside my chair, for the hours between when I’ve finished the morning paper and when school’s let out. In one of the books – can’t remember which one – I read a statement. Love limits itself. That’s what’s got me thinking.

Can’t say I’ve ever been fond of limits. Dad gave me a curfew when I started going out with my mates as a teenager. I didn’t like that limit, and I never heeded it unless I was bored and wanted to go home anyway. If I’m honest, I didn’t pay much heed to limits with girls, either. Only stopped if they hit me. I was a good looking young fella though, so I got a way with a lot. I was pretty reckless, I suppose – fast cars, fast women – fast with every damned thing, Dot’s always told me. Scowled at me, more like it. Shrew.

My mum was a shrew, too. Gawd, that woman could shriek! Get that mud of your boots, you little bugger! Wash those filthy hands before you come to my dinner table! Don’t speak to your gran like that! She never just spoke anything, my mum. Everything was in this high-pitched, banshee wail that could travel a hundred miles in one utterance, my dad used to tell me on the quiet.

Dot didn’t start out like that. When we first got married, she used to talk softly – more like Jim’s Nancy. Dunno where she picked it up from, because she never met my mum, but old Dot can shriek like the best of them these days.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right. Where I usually am. Thinking. Love limits itself, but I never did.

No. I never saw why I should, really. It was my right to yell if I was angry or frustrated. It was my right to hit something – or someone if they irked me. It was my right to follow a bit of skirt if it took my fancy. Actually, that might be the one area where I did learn to limit myself, but only after I came home and found that Dot had moved herself and the kids out of the house because I’d done it again.

Jim talked to me a lot about that. He reckoned Dot was right to expect faithfulness from her husband. Geez, that scared me! It was like they, Jim and Nancy and Dot, were forcing me to grow up.

Huh. Not sure I’ve ever thought about it like that before. No more getting drunk all the time. No more knocking her around because she was slow to get up and cook for me at 3am. No more thinking that all of womankind was my own personal playland. Geez that was tough. But, Dot and the kids came back, and they stayed.

She did leave one other time, after all the kids had moved out and I hit the turps again, but by then I felt too old and tired to go chasing, so I promised to be a good boy and she eventually came home again. The kids don’t come often, and when they do, they don’t stay long. But at least Dot’s here to cook and clean and give me a bit of the other.

Huh. So maybe I did limit myself. For Dot. For love of Dot. Geez that’s an awkward thought. When you’ve been married as long as we have, love isn’t really a topic of conversation very often. You talk about the weather, or the kids, or what’s on the telly, or what the neighbours are up to. Love’s more like a dirty word. I think.

Jim and Nancy aren’t like that. They still say ‘I love you’ all the time to each other. They say it to our kids, and they even say it to us, Gawd help us!

Jim. He and I have been best mates since before we started school. We both still live in the houses we were born in. It hasn’t always been an easy friendship, but we’re still mates.

He’s always been very different from me. He was just as much of a wild boy as I was when we were young, but then he went away to do his training to become a cop, and he came back different. My mum said it’d toughen him up and stop him being such a nice, easy-going bloke. It wasn’t like that, though. He came back with the same nature, but there was something respectful about him. Something restrained. Used to annoy the crap out of me!

He wouldn’t get drunk, because that wouldn’t look good for a cop. He wouldn’t sleep around, because he had his eye on Nancy and he wanted to show her that he was a decent bloke. He wouldn’t come to the drag races out on Turvey’s Lane any more, because he wanted to make sure he was around to enjoy his future. Gawd! The names I called that bloke!

The school kids start walking past, and a couple of teenagers stop just outside the old Harrington place and kiss. I guess I was pretty sweet with Dot when I first started chasing her. But that was because I wanted something. Had to marry her to get it though. Talk about paying a high price for something!

Where was I? Silly old bugger, I am! That’s what happens when you get old. Your mind wanders.

Dot brings me out my afternoon tea. Right on time. Trained her well in that regard. Usually I just nod toward the little table on my right, and she waits while I take the papers and books and dump them on the boards of the verandah floor. I grunt when she’s put it down, and she leaves. Today, though, when she puts it down, I muster all my strength and say, “Ta, love.”

When she looks at me, startled, I meet her eyes and I give her a bit of a smile. Gawd, it feels odd! It feels like my heart’s tried to climb out through my throat, then fallen backward in a big quivering heap of jelly. It’s something Jim would do, though. He’d do it to Nancy or Dot or anyone who did something nice for him. I wonder if he feels so wobbly on the inside every time. But Dot isn’t doing something ‘nice’ for me, she’s just doing what she should do for her husband.

Dot scurries inside, and I struggle to remember what I’m thinking about.

Love limits itself. Jim got really good at that, I have to say.

He’s a big bloke, Jim. Tall, broad shouldered, a real super-hero build on him. Big in personality, too. When we were teenagers, he was always the life of the party – rambunctious, inappropriate with his words, loud. As he got older, though, that seemed to settle.

It wasn’t just because of Nancy, either. He told me that. He said, “Some people can’t take me, huge and loud all at the same time. If I settle down a bit, they can get to know me, and they might even get to like me.” I always thought that was stupid. People should like you as you are. I certainly never moderated myself just to con people into liking me! They could take me or leave me!

Huh. For the most part, I guess, they left me. I’m not just a ‘silly old bugger’ around town. I’m a ‘cranky old bugger’ and a ‘menace’ and a whole other string of things. If someone shoves me with their trolley in the shopping centre, I don’t care whether they meant it or not, I turn right around and shove them back, as hard as I can. If someone blows their horn at me in traffic, I’ve been known to get out of the car and bang on their window with my walking stick. I hate it when people impose themselves on me. Jim reckons that it’s just part of life, but I always let people know when they’ve crossed the line. They still do it an awful lot, though.

Jim and Nancy still do it an awful lot, too. You can tell. And by ‘it’, now I’m talking about the other ‘it’. They’ve been married a bit longer than Dot and me – about two years, I think. I remember asking him, when I was thinking of proposing to Dot, what it was like doing it with the same girl all the time. “Wild,” he said, and he looked really embarrassed, which on a big bloke like Jim, looks odd. I couldn’t figure how a sedate girl like Nancy, and a bloke who was on his best behaviour all the time like Jim, could be wild in the bedroom. When I said that, though, he just laughed. “That’s the place to be wild,” he laughed. “I’m not being gentle with Nance as an act, you know. I’m gentle with her because I love her and I respect her. I choose to be that way with her. I’m rewarded with ‘wild’ when it’s just her and me and it’s private. Believe me, it’s worth it.”

Dot and I had been married about a year and a half when our first kid was born. Darren. Little bugger. Ruined my sex life! I remember whinging to Jim about it, and he just looked at me like I was from another planet. He and Nancy had been told they couldn’t have kids. “You’re a selfish, selfish man,” was all he said to me then.

Nancy gave birth to a little boy, oh, it must have been about five years after that. We had Darren and Barry and Susie by then, and you’ve never seen a happier bloke than Jim. He changed nappies and hung out washing, and did a whole pile of stuff for little Adam that I’d never have been caught dead doing for our kids. Big wuss! But … if I dare to be really honest with myself, I’ve never actually seen a happier family than Jim and Nancy and Adam.

Our kids were all surly little blighters. They’d mouth off at you or kick you, and they were always laying into each other. When all six of them were on the warpath, the house was like a warzone. I used to leave a lot in those days, just for some peace and quiet down at the pub. Dot never seemed to understand why I needed it, but it wasn’t like she loved the rabble. She cried a lot. I guess men and women just cope with things in different ways.

Little Adam. Now there was a bonny kid. He had a halo of golden blonde curls, and the biggest grin on his face. He was cheeky and funny, and he was just the light of old Jimmy’s life. One afternoon – he was in kindy or first class, I think – he was walking home from school, and this drunk driver careened off the road and onto the footpath just down the road from Jim and Nancy’s place. Nancy was waiting at the gate for Adam, and she saw him start to run towards her, full of anticipation for the afternoon tea that she always made for him. Then she heard the squeal of tyres – she saw the impact of the bull-bar of the old Valiant ute hitting her angelic little boy and ploughing him sideways through the Vaughn’s front fence and into their fish pond.

If I was Jim, I’d have killed that bloke. The drunk driver. I’d have hunted him down and blown holes through his heart and his brains with my service revolver. It was months after the funeral that I said that to Jim. He was a cop – he could have done it so easily.

Jim looked at me like I was a moron. Me, with my six pain-in-the-butt kids. I still don’t know what kind of reaction I expected from him. Maybe that he’d go off and do it, or maybe that he’d come over all saintly on me and tell me that wasn’t the way.

What he did do was sigh heavily, lean forward and hang his head for awful, long minutes. Finally he looked up and me, and his eyes were red. “You think I haven’t thought of that?” I didn’t answer. “I’ve thought of it, alright,” Jim said flatly. “I’ve seriously thought of dealing with it like my old mate Frank would deal with it.” I felt momentarily proud that he’d contemplate doing something like I would. Then he shook his head. “But all that would do,” he went on, “is give vent to my anger and frustration. There’s nothing good comes from that. I’d then be up on murder charges, and how would that help Nancy? No, Frank. I’ve watched you all our lives, just doing whatever you wanted to do. Nothing could have spoken louder about how not to live a life. Nance and I will hold onto each other, and we’ll come through.”

You know … it’s years since I thought about that conversation. I wasn’t hurt at the time. If anything, I was proud that he’d watched me doing what I wanted to do. Now that I’m really thinking about it though, he certainly wasn’t paying me a compliment! He was actually calling me … for want of a polite term … a loser.

Love limits itself. There it is again. That thought.

Oh, I’ve limited myself alright, but only to get me what I wanted. Jim, on the other hand, has limited himself for the sake of others, and despite all the sadness that he and Nancy have endured, they’re still the happiest people I know. They travel, they have friends all over the world … and they have six kids, six sons-and-daughters in law, and about twenty-five grandchildren who all adore them. Biologically, those kids are Dot’s and mine, but they’re not really ours at all, any more.

I’m not really sure when I noticed it, but some time after Adam was killed, Jim and Nancy started being more involved in our kids’ lives. Our kids would go there for afternoon tea on their way home from school. They started sharing their exciting news with Uncle Jim and Auntie Nance. They’d go there to talk through problems that they had. I didn’t care! At least I didn’t have to sit and listen to them whinge!

Most of the horde of school kids have passed by, now. They’d be home telling their mothers about their days. Well, maybe not. Most mothers these days are out working. They’ll be home watching the telly. I’m actually glad that our kids had Dot to come home to. I’m even glad that they had Jim and Nance. I can see that they’re better for it. They’re all okay, these days, as far as I can tell.

I hang my head, just dropping my chin to my chest. I feel the whiskers of my unshaven face bristling and prickling where chin meets chin and chins meet chest.

Gawd, I’ve been a bastard.

Really, I’ve only ever lived my life for me. Now, I’m a lonely old coot who shares a house with a frightened rabbit of a woman who only speaks when she’s spoken to and does everything she’s told because she’s scared not to. I fought for ‘me’ all the time, and in the grand scheme of things, I’ve got nothing. Jim’s got everything that matters, hasn’t he? He’s got the love of everyone around him, but especially his wife.

Gawd, I’m sorry. I can feel hot tears on my cheeks, but I don’t care enough to brush them away.

The sun is setting when I struggle to my feet. I put my weight on my walking stick and shuffle inside the house. Then I go back and pick up my mug and plate, balancing them carefully in one hand as I walk through to the kitchen.

Dot looks up, and blinks in amazement as I put my used crockery on the bench. I’ve never done that before, and I’m almost surprised to realise that it hasn’t cost me anything.

She’s peeling the spuds for tea, and I shuffle to her, take the peeler from her hands and put it on the bench. She’s frozen, not knowing what I’m likely to do. I put my arms around her. “I’m sorry, love. I’m sorry I’ve been such a bastard. For so long.”

Slowly, her arms come around me. I don’t know whether she can feel my tears through her grey hairs and onto her skull – I just know that I don’t care if she can. It’s not weakness. She’s my wife.

“I love you, Frank,” she ventures at last.

“I love you, too.” I straighten, but still hold her, looking down into her perplexed, wrinkled face. She’s still beautiful, beneath the years of torment I’ve put her through. It must be five decades since I told her that. Maybe when Darren was born.

“I was thinking,” I say. “All that money that I’ve been so … mean about.”

“Yes?” I can hear the fear in her voice, and I don’t want her to be fearful any more. She’s a good woman.

“We should book a holiday. Go and see all the kids. And when we come back, lets look at doing some renovations on the old house here. Maybe then they’ll want to come and visit us.”

Now her tears are hot on my chest, soaking through my vest and my shirt and my singlet, and I’m holding her close, like I don’t ever remember holding her in all our lives before. Now, I’m not doing it because I want sex (although I wouldn’t say no). I’m not doing it because I want her to come home and stop being stupid. I’m doing it because I want her to be happy.

We don’t have a lot of years left, but it would be nice if, when she finally buries me, she’s glad she married me in the first place.