© Simon Totten
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The Hippy Killers
‘Some sweet sixteenth this is,’ complained Lenka.
‘Well… what did you expect?’ asked Josh.
‘Dunno… a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll orgy? I’ve seen more life in a tramp’s vest,’ she said, elbowing Josh sharply in the ribs.
‘Ouch Heidi, that hurt, what was that for?’
‘Yeah…’ smiled Josh. ‘You look like Heidi the Bavarian goat girl in that dress.’
‘Shit. I knew you’d say that,' she said. ‘It’s not that bad is it?’
‘It most certainly is,’ he replied.
Lenka looked mournfully down at the yellow velvet outfit laced at the collar and sleeves her mum had made her wear for the party. She had wanted to look perfect for Josh and now everything was ruined,
‘More champers darling?’ he asked.
Lenka nodded, holding out her empty glass. ‘I hope you’re trying to get me drunk. I’m going to get so off my face tonight,’ she said, slurping bubbles that popped in her nose and extinguished the thirst she’d worked up, picking oranges in a sun drenched orchard that day.
‘I’ve got a surprise for you,’ said Josh.
‘Oh really? What is it?’ she giggled, stamping her feet.
‘You know you look about six when you do that don't you?’
‘Arrrgh, tell me. I love surprises.’
‘No chance...it wouldn’t be a surprise then would it?’
‘Dad is freaking me out. He’s watching me all the time. Won’t let me out of his sight. Can we get out of here? You can show me your surprise, some place quieter?’
Josh held out his hand, She grasped it. ‘Shall we?’ he said.
Lenka's brown eyes lit up with excitement.
‘Wait up, where are you two sneaking off to?’ asked Ivan, Lenka's older brother by a year and 9 months.
‘Nowhere...’ said Lenka, like a naughty child, caught red-handed.
‘Come on… get everyone together. We need to mark the big occasion with a photo.’
‘Oh, do we have to?’ said Lenka. ‘We were just going to get some air.’
‘Well it can wait five minutes can’t it?’ said Ivan looking handsome in a dark brown linen shirt that matched his eyes.
He rounded up his Mum, Dad, Lenka and Josh and handed his camera to Uncle Bernie, then completely bamboozled him with the operating instructions.
‘Say cheese,’ he smiled, with his arms around his Mum and Dad who were smiling proudly. As usual, Josh was so laid back he could have fallen over. Lenka made a peace sign which she reversed into something more offensive, just as Uncle Bernie took the picture.
‘Thanks,’ said Ivan, checking the picture in the viewer. Ivan and Lenka had always had their disagreements, but he had never been prouder of his younger sister than he was that night. She was growing into a beautiful young woman.
He was pleased his family looked happy, full of warmth and love but there was another reason for the smile on his face. A letter offering a place at Perth University to study Art had come through in the post. It was an opportunity to realise his dream of becoming an artist and he wanted to grab it with both hands
He was dreading telling his dad because it meant that he wouldn’t be able to work on his farm anymore and a hundred years of keeping the business in the family we at an end. He’d been putting it off for weeks but now, in front of all these people, seemed as good a time as any and he plucked up the courage.
‘Err Dad,’ he said, trying to catch his attention, ‘Dad, there’s something I have to tell you.’
‘Not now son, later,,, can’t you see I’m busy?’
Henrik turned away to confront Lenka but she was gone.
Lenka and Josh couldn’t get away fast enough. Hand in hand, they disappeared into the crowd and reached the patio doors. Luckily, everyone was engrossed in conversation or too far gone to even notice them.
Outside, sultry summer air suffocated the rickety old farm tucked away in the barren oasis of South West Australia. The place was as entrenched in Lenka’s soul as the tractor scars in the cracked red earth leading up to its front gate.
The bleeding sunsets. The ants in the dust. The low hovering spaceship clouds. The barbed wire on the cancerous fence posts in the golden wheat fields. The flies in the spiders’ web above the barn. It was all so familiar to her, she barely even noticed it. She only had only one thing on her mind - Josh and his birthday surprise.
‘Looks good.’ said Josh weighing up her newly shaved skinhead. ‘It’s growing on me…’ he laughed.
‘Ahh… I dunno, at first I liked it,’ she said, the silver stud in her nose glinting. ‘But now I’m not sure. I only had it done to stop Dad calling me a dirty, long haired, hippy.’
‘Well… now he can call you a dirty, skinhead, hippy, can’t he?’ laughed Josh, fixing his long dreadlocks into a ponytail, his gold front row tooth glowing as the yellow lights of the farm’s kitchen windows and the rumble of party chatter faded behind him.
‘It’s not funny...I feel naked without hair,’ said Lenka.
‘Now there’s a lovely thought… you naked I mean,’ he said, thrusting his eyebrows up and down.
In a small clearing in the trees, the orange flames of a camp fire crackled and spat. Sparks flew off it, exploding like stars. Josh was hidden in its shadows but as he moved it painted his naked torso yellow and red. Its warmth reached down into her soul, making her skip and dance in her sheepskin shoes.
A didgeridoo hummed and bongos echoed in the distance. ‘My surprise starts here,’ he said, picking up a fire stick and twirling it in the air then placing it daringly in his mouth.
Lenka howled with delight and wolf-whistled.
Josh stepped back, took a run and a jump, did a back flip and a somersault.
Lenka applauded and ran over to him. Josh took a bow.
As they rocked slowly together, not exactly dancing but smooching, a silence fell, broken only by a chorus of hooting owls.
They sat down next to the fire, cross legged, staring into each other’s eyes. Plumes of smoke billowed over treetops and clung to her clothes. An exhausted dog collapsed in a crumpled heap next to them. Josh’s strong arms pulled her closer making her feel cosy and safe.
‘Here,’ said Josh, holding up a small plastic bag full of white powder.
‘What is it?’
‘What’s it look like? A birthday treat from me to you,’ said Josh, his nose ring sparkling in the moonlight. She stared into the last of the flames wishing time would stand still but the dying embers of the fire sank into a pit of black cinders.
Josh emptied four white lines of powder of equal length out onto a cloth, rolled up a dollar bill and handed it to Lenka.
‘There you go. Happy Birthday!’ he said.
Lenka snorted two of the lines up her nose.
‘Wow, that’s good stuff,’ she said in a daze. ‘Listen…I know we said we’d wait but I’ll never have this time again. This is my day. My sixteenth. Most of my friends have already done it. It just feels right.’
They both knew what was next. A long lingering kiss set the stars alight. The pleasant tingle of an aching desire, stirred in her loins.
‘Not here though…I want it be special.’
‘Then where?’ he asked.
‘Shhh,’ she whispered, placing her hand over his mouth. ‘Trust me ok? I know just the place.’
‘Come on,’ she said.
High on love and coke they floated under a giant moon that shifted from under a cloud, turning the dusk blue, spreading a serene silence. Tip toeing through sturdy elms they strayed off the gravel dirt track into the shadows, Lenka stumbled. A cool breeze whispered through the leaves. The black veins of branches in the clouds above her creaked, playing tricks on her mind. Through the bushes at the top of the winding road, something rustled.
‘What was that?’ she asked.
A distant car engine rumbled. Voices echoed. Headlights flickered in the darkness.
‘Dunno… a bird maybe?’ asked Josh. ‘Don’t worry. I’m here,’ he said, running his fingers tenderly across her cheek. Lenka felt for Josh’s reassuring right hand while his left strayed down under her dress onto her buttocks and squeezed, making her moist with excitement.
‘Where are you taking me?’ asked Josh.
‘You’ll see,’ she said, approaching a modern, state-of the-art warehouse.
‘Here we are, my dad’s new pride and joy to store the fruits of his precious labour.’
‘It’s huge… how big is the fruit he grows these days?’
Lenka didn’t answer but stood still, staring seductively at Josh. She unbuttoned the front of her dress and peeled it over her head, allowing it to fall slowly to the ground. She paused, confident in her body. She was a fully grown woman - all curvy thighs and full breasts in black lace bra and knickers.
Josh’s wide-eyed adoration reassured her. She draped her arms around his neck and spread her legs around his waist, digging her heels into his buttocks.
‘I love you…’ he said, kissing her full on the lips. After he slid his hand inside her knickers, Lenka no longer cared where they were. She kissed him again, caressed the warm skin on his back and ran her fingers through the hair on his chest.
She led him inside the warehouse, lay down on a mattress in the floor, removed her underwear, opened her legs and closed her eyes, savouring the moment, wanting nothing more than to receive his love.
When the most exhilarating, breathless pleasure she had ever known was over, she was still sixteen but no longer sweet. She used to be a girl, now she was a woman. She cuddled up to his warmth and fell into the deepest, most contented sleep ever.
‘It’s Lenka’s big day,’ warned Mo, circulating and mingling back at the party. She smoothed the hem of the purple knee length dress she’d kept for best since her sister’s wedding five years ago. ‘I want her to remember it for the rest of her life, you hear me?’
Henrik rolled his eyes.
‘Are you even listening to me?’ asked Mo.
Henrik stood silently in the corner of a room full of people, swigging beer.
‘You’re still in your work overalls, you might have made an effort. Everyone else has. And for heaven’s sake, smile, it might never happen.’
Henrik stood like a rock, being battered by the sea.
‘You could at least try to make it look as if you’re enjoying yourself.’ She looked for some sort of reaction but these days her husband’s hearing was selective.
‘Just be happy for our daughter on her big day. She’s young and in love Henrik. You probably can’t remember what that’s like can you?’
Mo straightened the crucifix on the silver chain around her neck and turned away. Smiling and gritting her teeth she offered him a silver tray full of fresh sausage rolls.
Henrik grabbed one and stuffed it in to his mouth and washing it down with a gulp of beer, he swallowed hard while sucking in his middle age paunch.
She tutted, too ashamed to even look at him, mortified that someone might see that all wasn’t rosy in the Novak household.
‘Where is Lenka anyway?’ asked Henrik.
‘I saw her going outside with Josh about half an hour ago. Something about getting some air,’ said Ivan.
‘Half an hour ago? I knew it… that lazy, filthy, no good hippy waste of space is only after one thing. Why did you let them go?’
‘I err…’ replied Ivan.
Henrik went over to the patio doors and looked out.
‘What the?’ he gasped.
‘What is it? What’s going on Dad?’ asked Ivan
‘Look!’ he screamed, pointing. Everyone ran over to the windows to see what all the fuss was about. A wall of searing orange flames lit up the sky. Thick black smoke was rising from the warehouse.
‘Jeesus Christ on a bike!’ he shouted.
Henrik pushed through the crowd of people and ran outside. Ivan, Mo and the rest of the party guests followed behind him.
As he approached, a sick panic rose inside him. He’d worked morning, noon and night for years on that warehouse. The blood, sweat and tears that had gone into affording it, and now it was literally going up in smoke.
The flames were raging higher. The smoke getting thicker. On the pavement leading up the entrance lay Lenka’s yellow party dress. He picked it up, buried his nose in it and breathed in his daughter’s perfume. A tear snaked down his cheek.
‘Fuck,’ he whispered. ‘She’s in there. Lenka’s in there!’ he shouted.
‘No Henrik no… don’t go in there,’ shouted Mo, covering her mouth in horror as he battered at the door. When it opened, a wall of flames jumped out at him.
‘You’ll never get in. Call the fire brigade,’ shouted Mo.
Overcome by fumes, Henrik fell to his knees into the dust.
‘Lenka? Lenka?’ he screamed.
Ivan sat in the shadow of the porch, gazing out at the scarecrow trees on the hill, an eagle lifted a freshly baked rabbit off the deserted road.
A strange smell drifted on the breeze over the charred black debris of the burnt out wreck of the warehouse. It had been lingering for the best part of a year now, ever since the night of Lenka’s disappearance. Nothing had been the same without her. Anything was better than the empty purgatory of misery, loss and loneliness. His dream of being an artist was nothing but a distant memory now. He couldn’t possibly have left, his dad needed him more than ever on the farm.
The thought that it might be the aroma of his sister’s burnt flesh and bone made him sick and the uncertainty of not knowing what really happened that night was almost as bad.
‘I told you Josh was trouble, but you wouldn’t listen, would you? She was far too young to be bothering with the likes of him,’ said Henrik.
‘Surely you can see that when it comes to love, age doesn’t matter?’ replied Mo.
‘It does when you’re sixteen. Josh is four years older than her for Christ’s sake he was only after her for one thing.’
‘You’re being ridiculous Henrik. Listen to yourself. What did you give her for her birthday anyway, a fucking chastity belt and a prayer book?’
‘I should have known I wouldn't get any support from you. Ever since she was a kid you’ve always been too soft on her. If anyone’s to blame it’s you. You were too busy dressing her up in a party dress. She’d still be blowing out the candles on her cake. If it had been up to you we’d all be wearing party hats and playing pin the tail on the donkey or fucking musical chairs. She wasn’t five anymore Mo.’
‘How dare you? I only wanted what was best for her. And you’ve been the perfect fucking father I suppose? If you hadn’t been such a Nazi control freak. Behaved like a jealous teenager and given them some space, she’d still be here.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s obvious isn’t it? They torched the place and ran. Couldn’t wait to get away from you. Now they’re off some place laughing at us.’
‘What? You think they did it to get back at me? I’ve heard it all now. That’s it. You’ve gone too far. I’ve had enough.’
‘Where are you going?
‘Anywhere, as far away from you as possible.’
‘Oh yes, that’s right run away like you always do from problems. You coward.’
Henrik opened the door, bundling a suitcase outside.
‘Coward! Good riddance and don’t come back,’ shouted Mo.
Henrik slammed the door on his way out, climbed in to his 4x4, started up, screeched the wheels and drove off without so much as a goodbye.
Mo sat down at the kitchen table and poured herself a tumbler full of red wine.
‘Where’s Dad going?’ asked Ivan.
‘Who cares? Hell, I hope,’ she snarled, scaring Ivan off.
Alone in the silent gloom, the combination of missing her daughter, smouldering anger at Henrik and a dark hidden secret she had been unable to tell anyone was all too much. She sniffed, wiping away her tears and tried to stay strong. She still believed. Call it a mother’s intuition. Call it a gut feeling but she was convinced Lenka was out there somewhere, still alive.
She knocked the wine back in one go and screamed as she hurled the empty glass against the kitchen wall, shattering it into a thousand pieces over the floor.
With her friends and Henrik gone, just when she needed them most and not being close to Ivan, for the first time in her life she was on her own.
Fifteen years ago, soon after she and Henrik were married, her mum had moved to Swinburne Farm, intending to be closer to them but after falling out over a disagreement about Lenka’s discipline as a child, they had not seen each other for six years but she was the only one who could help her now. She didn’t know where else to turn. She decided to swallow her pride and go and see her.
As Ivan watched his dad disappear in a cloud of dust on the horizon of the long road leading away from the farm, he wasn’t in the least surprised, it had been coming. In fact there was an inevitability about it, tinged with relief that he wouldn't have to endure any more toxic silences and hateful blame.
For the best part of two centuries, the sun had been a blessing to the Novak family. The life force behind bountiful crops of grapes, bananas, melons and apricots. But now it felt more like a curse.
He sighed, shaking the dust from his crumpled Blundstone boots and forced them on to avoid sheep shit getting between his bare toes. A long, torturous day stretched out in front of him. As he made his way slowly across the yard blades of coarse grass poked through the copper flaked spokes of abandoned bike wheels. He wafted clouds of flies away, sending skinny mice scuttling for cover under old tractor engines.
Two pink cockatoos squabbled in the trees opposite. Ivan took off his shirt. The sun burned his arms and chest. He lifted up a wooden structure that reminded him of crucifixes for the aborigines. He had no idea why. He wasn’t religious and had nothing against his indigenous forefathers. He hit the head of a nail with his hammer into a brittle plank of wood with such brute force it splintered and fractured. He threw it away and started again on the next one. He drilled holes in the corners and threaded wire through them to grow grapes on.
‘Fuck!’ he raged throwing his tools down. A sheep dog whined with its tail between its legs, He walked quickly to the barn, hoping the shade would numb his pain, but once inside his mood only darkened.
He blew the dust off a ‘Sammy Davis Junior’ disc on the shelf and put it on the old record player’s turntable. As it crackled into life playing ‘Love is all around,’ his dad’s favourite song, the one he always played while he worked. The word ‘Love’‘Love’‘Love’‘Love’ ‘Love’ repeated over and over again as the needle got stuck. He dragged it across the black grooves scratching it badly. A tear trickled into the dirt on his face.
Sitting on a hay bale he pulled the photo he’d taken the night of the party from his back pocket. The night all was well. everyone was happy and the future was bright. Now it felt as if his whole future had disappeared before his eyes. As if he would be condemned to a life of slavery, imprisoned on the farm in a life he did not want to live. And how would he manage all the work without his dad anyway?
He pulled a shotgun out of the shadows of the barn, took it in the palm of his hand and carried it back to his seat. With tears and sweat mingling in his stormy eyes, he lifted it and placed it upright on the ground. He rested his chin on it, closed his eyes, opened his mouth and placed the barrel inside. His brain caught fire, blood ran cold through his veins. His mind went blank and his finger tensed on the trigger.
As Henrik climbed out of his car to greet his brother Mikhail, he had forgotten how much he hated Coober Pedy. To him it was like the face of the moon, the set of the clangers, the back o’ beyond, a place that made hell look like heaven.
‘Brother Henrik!’ exclaimed Mikhail.
‘This place doesn’t change does it?’ asked Henrik, as a thorny devil rambled over a mountain of white sand.
‘What can I say? I am admired all over the world. People come from miles around to see me. I’m a celebrity. Famous for my art,’ said Mikhail.
‘You’ve got some serious delusions of grandeur my friend,’ said Henrik shaking his head. 'What you do isn’t art, it’s junk.’
‘You would say that. It’s modern contemporary. Ahead of its time. I’m an artist,.’
‘Artist? Piss artist maybe? Nothing to do with the fact that the shrivelled prunes that pass as people round here, see your junk as wonderful art because there’s fuck all else to keep them entertained. They only do two things. Mine for opals or get rat-arsed. Their eyes light up with the get rich quick fever but they’re wasting their time. There aren’t any jewels left in this godforsaken hole. It’s just a dusty desert. It drives me crazy. I swear the heat’s done things to my brain already.’
‘I don’t care what anyone says … not anymore… it’s what I am. I mean have you ever seen anything as beautiful as sculptures made of old dunny cisterns, lampshades, exhaust pipes, bikes, telephones, computers, mirrors? I have no God and no family but one thing’s for sure. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the world, it’s full of crap and the future is junk. Everyone should start a junk art café for tourists.’
‘Good to see you anyway,’ he said, embracing his brother. ‘Look...you haven’t visited in years. So if you’re not here to annoy the shit out of your brother and if it’s not the finest contemporary art the world has ever seen or the delights of my humble abode, then what brings you here?’
Despite Mikhail being batshit crazy and the two of them being as different as oil and water, Mikhail had always been very perceptive and Henrik knew he could talk to him about anything
On the road to her mum’s place, Mo Novak glanced at herself in the rear view mirror. She didn’t like the face staring back at her, it was worn out, defeated. She tried to fix her straggly hair but it was a lost cause, she’d let herself go.
She stopped the car and pulled over to the side of the road, unable to see through a flood of tears. She opened the door and got out for some fresh air and to wipe her eyes.
Scouring a sprawling boneyard landscape that was dotted with dead tree stumps, hay bales and telegraph poles, she leaned on a gate, lit a cigarette and inhaled. The wind whipped around her, bending the branches of Jarrahs and Karis trees and fluttering the feathers of ferns. Swallows and swifts swooped in the grey sky. Spots of gentle summer rain tickled her bare arms.
The rolling hills stretched out, full and rounded, like the underbellies of the cows which she pictured flying over her head surfing on waves of green, wearing shades, sporting shorts and goatee beards. Perhaps she was losing her mind, after all.
She went over the row with Henrik in her mind. What she should have said, what she actually said. Her dark secret weighed heavy in her soul. She went over her reunion with her mum several times. She was afraid she’d say ‘I told you so’ about Lenka and close the door in her face. Then she imagined heartfelt apologies and tearful regrets, culminating in the biggest hug the world had ever seen.
She got back into the car, took a boiled mint sweet from the glove compartment, shoved it in her mouth and was back on the winding country lane in seconds.
As soon as Mo took a right at the crossroads, she knew she was on familiar ground. She’d taken this road so many times on visits with Ivan and Lenka when they were small.
With the window open, her long, grey tinged hair flew in the wind, drying the sweat on the back of her neck and cooling her. She cruised along the narrow, snaking lane leading to Swinburne Farm. The shadows of sweet hawthorns danced on her face, as she swung into the driveway.
Memories of Ivan and Lenka as children playing in her mum’s back garden swamped her as she marched up to the garden path to the doorway. Her shaky hand reached for the doorbell.
Mo knew that her life was falling apart. Her daughter was gone her husband had left her and she was facing the biggest crisis of her life. She had nowhere else to turn. How could she be so nervous? She was her mum. If she couldn’t talk to her who else was there?
‘Stop!’ said a voice from the shadows.
‘Lenka? That you?’ asked Ivan, taking the gun from his mouth and dropping it on the ground.
‘Where are you?’ he asked. In the corner of the barn, a rusty plough and sickle sat silently among the cobwebs. A rattle at the barn door startled Ivan. It grew into a bang and then a crash. He hid the shotgun behind the hay bale, dried his eyes and shoved the door open. Shielding his eyes from the light, two men wavered in the heat.
‘You remember boss? You say come early?’ said Yutarka, a Japanese tourist helping Ivan out with some casual labour on the farm.
‘Oh… I thought it was tomorrow,’ said Ivan. ‘I lost track of the days.’
‘Today Monday no? You ok boss? You look…’ said Yutarka’s friend Mamoru.
‘Yeah… I’m ok,’ said Ivan. ‘Why?’
‘We worry about you no?’
‘I’m fine,’ he said.
‘Please… if there anything we can do to help….’ said Mamoru. ‘A journey of a thousand mile begin with small step,’ said Yutarka. ‘Let it be boss… let it be.’
Ivan stood in morose silence.
‘Ok… we get to work now…’ said Yutarka, before setting off for the vineyard.
When he heard the distant hum of a car engine, Ivan looked over his shoulder. As it approached, a trail of dust followed it, dirt span off its wheels before drawing up outside the barn. Out climbed a tall, thick-set middle aged man. Grey stubble grew on the sides of his bald head and chubby face. Ivan recognised him from somewhere but couldn’t quite place him.
‘Clinton Burke…’ he said, offering a handshake. ‘DI at the South Western Australian police department. We met a while back.’
Ivan scrutinised him closely.
‘I know it’s been a while but I’m still in charge of the investigation… into what happened to your sister Lenka.’
‘Yes, of course,’… said Ivan. ‘Now I remember.’
‘G’day mate…are your Mum and Dad around?’
‘No sorry… just me I’m afraid. What can I do for you?’
‘Oh, right…sorry to bother you but maybe you can help us. I have some news…. Yesterday we recovered a body washed up on Yulahari beach. We’re not absolutely certain but we think it fits the description of Lenka.’
Ivan shifted his feet in the dirt. Feeling faint, he took a deep breath and looked at the sky. It was the news he’d been dreading.
‘It can’t be her,’ said Ivan. ‘I mean… ’
‘Mr Novak, your sister is still being treated as a missing person. Forensics haven’t given us any concrete evidence to confirm your sister died in the fire. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t eliminate all possibilities at this stage. Would you mind coming to the station to identify the body for us?’
Unable to bear the thought of his sister’s body lying on a cold slab in a soulless mortuary, it was some time before he nodded.
‘At least you’ve got a wife and family…’ said Mikhail. ‘That’s more than I ever managed. To know the fruits of your loins are walking the earth long after you’ve gone. Something to be proud of ain’t it?’
‘Had…past tense. I had a wife and family you mean. That’s all gone now.’
‘Ah mate…it doesn’t have to be. You can’t just give up on them can you?’
‘Nothing’s the same. Me and Mo don’t agree on anything anymore. And Ivan needs a good rocket up the arse. It’s time he started pulling his weight. Standing on his own two feet. I’ve been slogging me guts out for years and for what? For him to turn up late with a hangover every day, put half a shift in and bugger off down the pub with his mates. Well I won’t do it any longer, not anymore, enough’s enough.’
‘And what about Mo? ‘Everyone says stuff they don’t mean, even at our age. Twenty five years of marriage that must be worth fighting for surely?'
‘No way mate that’s it. I’m not going back, ever. She knows I lie awake at night thinking about Lenka dying in agony in that blaze every night and still blames me. She reckons Lenka and Josh burned the warehouse down and ran away to teach me a lesson. That’s it for me. Over. Done. Kaput. Twenty five years of marriage down the dunny. I wasted the best years of my life on that woman. And what thanks to do I get for it eh? I’m telling you until she apologises, I’m never going back… and that’s the end of it.’
Mikail paused. ‘No… I care too much for you to stand by and let that happen. You can’t just give up on it all. Family’s too important. There must be a way to work things out. Must be. You’re going back to sort it out… even if I have to drive you there myself.’
‘No never… you don’t understand I can’t. It’s over mate… I don’t care anymore.’
‘What are you saying?’
Henrik glared at Mikail, with a darkness in his eyes.
‘Look…’ he said leaning in closer. ‘Swear to me this won’t go any further but if I keep it to myself any longer, I think I'll go out of my mind. The thing is, I never meant it to happen but I’ve met someone else. I love someone else.’
Mo hadn’t for a moment considered that her mum might be out. She waited a while, peering into the gloom of an empty kitchen, then wondered if she'd be around the back. Mo unlocked the latch of the gate at the side of the house and walked down the short path leading to the back garden.
There on the patio, with her glasses and paperback on her chest asleep in a hammock was her mum. She sat down in a deck chair opposite and sighed. She traced the lines on her face, up to the closed eyes she remembered had always sparkled with a steely blue coldness. She was shocked by how white her grey her hair had become and how stretched her skin was over her cheekbones and by how much weight she’d lost.
She sat there, contemplating the ravages of time, the ageing process and her own mortality. She considered the best way to wake her, to nullify the shock of seeing her. Eventually, she reached over to her arm and shook it gently.
‘Mum?’ she whispered. It took several shakes, before her eyes flickered and opened. Then several seconds before she was back in the land of the living.
‘Mo?’ she said. ‘Is that you? It can’t be… can it?’
‘Yes mum… it’s me… Mo.’
‘Jeez… thought I might be dreamin’ for a minute there.’ Putting her glasses and book on the table, she swung her legs off the hammock and smiled at Mo. ‘Put the kettle on for me eh? There’s a dear,’ she said.
Mo breathed a sigh of relief. She needn’t have worried. The last six years had been wiped away in a second. Nothing, not even time, could erode a mother’s unconditional love. It was like she’d never been away.
'Of course, wait here… I’ll bring it out,’ smiled Mo.
While she waited for the kettle to boil she picked up the framed photos on the old sideboard. The first she remembered well. A beautiful sunny day with Ivan and Lenka enjoying a paddling pool as toddlers, in her back yard brought back happy memories. She could hardly look at the other. An old black and white photo of her mum on her wedding day with her dad Bruce, who’d passed away ten years ago.
The kettle boiled and recalling where everything was in the kitchen she filled a tray full of her mother’s best china cups and saucers and poured the water into a steaming tea pot and carried it out into the garden.
‘What a lovely surprise…’ said Mo’s mum. ‘I was just thinking of you all. Wondering how you were all getting on. How’s Henrik and Ivan?’
‘Oh you know… just the same…Fine.’
‘Sure?’ asked her mum, with the look of a mother who knew her daughter like the back of her hand.
‘Yeah…of course,’ said Mo.
‘Something’s wrong isn’t it?’ said her mum, observing her pensive expression.
Mo said nothing and didn’t look her in the eye.
‘I’m right aren’t I?'
Mo nodded and burst into tears.
‘I knew it…there had to be a reason you came out to see me after all this time. What is it? Spit it out.’
Mo, wiped away the tears, took time to compose herself and clear her throat. ‘Henrik’s left me. We had the worst row ever, over Lenka. You were right I was too soft on Lenka. If I’d stopped her seeing Josh, none of this would have happened. You said the same years ago didn't you?’
‘Yes… but that was years ago… it’s not the same thing now. Well… I can’t pretend it’s a shock. These things are never easy. You and Henrik just need time to work things out.’
‘Well… that’s just it, I don’t think we’re going to be having more time together.’
‘So you’re getting divorced, is that what you’re saying?’
‘Well… no, not yet anyway… I didn’t mean that. I mean I went to the hospital last week and they found a lump in my neck. They say it’s a tumour.’
Ivan wandered over to the car and slid onto the back seat through the door opened by Burke.
On the short drive to the police station, Burke struggled to fit himself into the driver’s seat. His stubby fingers gripped the steering wheel and his thick legs only just fitted in the space either side of it. His thick neck was slightly bent to prevent his head from hitting the roof. Every now and then he'd try to wave a buzzing fly out of the open window, then give up.
‘So… how are you Mr Novak?’ said Burke, squirming in his seat, loosening his tie and sweating.
‘Err… not great I have to admit.’
‘No… no… only to be expected, I guess. You need closure on this and it’s been quite a while hasn’t it? Things like this have a nasty habit of dragging on,’ he continued as the buttons on his shirt threatened to pop under the strain of his bulging belly.
‘You copin’ alright?’ he asked.
‘Not really, the work’s tough and my mum isn’t well and my dad’s just left so...’
‘Oh I’m sorry to hear that… I’m sure things will get better soon. What is it they say? Time’s a great healer. You’ll get there in the end,’ said Burke.
After about twenty minutes of an awkward, hot silence, Burke blew out his cheeks, relieved to be pulling up outside the police station.
‘You sure you’re up to this?’ he asked.
Ivan undid his seat belt, remaining calm and silent.
‘We can leave it another day if ya like?’
‘No… no,’ said Ivan, composing himself. ‘Let’s get it over and done with, shall we?’
Burke led Ivan into the station, where the desk sergeant eyed him with a mixture of professional concern and suspicion. Burke leaned over the desk to scrawl on a form.
‘Follow me,’ he said.
Ivan stayed close behind him as they took a right into a shabby corridor. Burke opened a door on the left and invited him in. The stuffy room stank of disinfectant. A uniformed cop, standing to attention, was guarding a zipped plastic body bag on a table.
Ivan was painfully conscious of Burke’s eyes on him, watching him all the way, checking to see if he could stomach it.
As Burke slowly unzipped the bag, Ivan pictured his sister’s beaming green eyes, long lashes that flickered in conversation. The pixie nose. Those full lips that delivered words slowly and deliberately, yet so assertively.
When Ivan saw the face, he drew in his breath sharply. She had a similar pale, gaunt face, high cheekbones, eyes heavy with mascara and flat, lifeless eye lashes. The long brown hair of a young woman unfurled from it.
‘Well?’ asked Burke, attempting to tone down his impatience. ‘Is it her?’
Ivan shook his head. ‘No…’ he said, relief flooding his eyes. ‘It’s very like her. But it’s not my sister. It’s not Lenka.’
‘What?’ asked Burke moving tentatively towards him, placing his hand on his shoulder as if he wanted to offer some comfort but wasn’t sure how.
‘You sure?’ he asked.
Ivan nodded, tears in his eyes.
‘Yes… I’m sure…. I recognise her. I know who it is. It’s Lenka’s friend Carena.’
‘Carena Williams? You sure about that?’ said Burke, raising his eyebrows.
Ivan nodded again to confirm.
‘Well… thanks for that,’ he said ‘Sorry to have dragged you in like this, I know it can’t have been easy but we have to be sure in these cases. I’ll give you a lift home…’
Burke showed him out, nodding at the policeman on guard with relief that the ordeal was over and opened the exit door for Ivan.
On the way out to the car park, a man and a woman walked past. ‘Mrs Williams?’ said Ivan, barely recognizing the haggard features of Carena’s mother.
‘Ivan?… How are you?’ she asked.
‘I err… I’ve ..’
Before he could finish his sentence Mrs Williams wailed hysterically, tears streaming down her face.
‘I’m so sorry Mrs Williams. If there’s anything I can do…’
Mrs Williams stopped and stared into space, her face contorted with pain. ‘It’s all my fault...’ she said. ‘I should never have let her go I had a bad feeling about Yulahari beach. Ever since those traveller types moved in. Those losers have been nothing but trouble. They’re bad news ..’
Before she could say any more, Mr Williams put his arms around his wife to comfort her to usher her away but she turned back.
‘Oh… I almost forgot,’ she said. ‘Before she died, Carena called me … said she’d seen Lenka at the party.’
‘What? You sure?’