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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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It's then I see the broken tree, the branch twisted over. I'm leaning against it and my breath's all shallow because my back's absolutely killing me and the pain in my ribs has turned weird and fluttery. I walk on and then—thank God—I'm at the clearing. There are huge puddles forming all over the ground, and I think of all Angus's equipment in the hideout. All that bloody money.

The way out is clear enough and somehow I find my way back to the road. The cracking thunder sounds like it's right above me. I get to the ute and fumble around with the keys, dropping them twice in the mud until at last they go in the lock and I can open the door, jump into the driver's seat and finally shut the world out.

The rain hammers on the roof. I take a deep breath and put the keys into the ignition. Not quite how I'd imagined my maiden voyage behind the wheel of a car.

Keep calm, I tell myself. Dozens of diagrams flash in front of me: scores of road rules, correct distances and give way progressions, all thoroughly useless in a thunderstorm in the middle of nowhere with your brother lying at the bottom of a cliff.

Come on, faggot
, says my brain.

I hit the steering wheel to cut off my thoughts. I put the key into the ignition, turn the key so the engine starts up. A blast of cold air hits me and the radio comes on. I put the car in first gear and go to move forward but it stalls immediately.

Useless lezzo queer
.

I turn on the lights, and the car's slipped forward off the road so I put it in reverse and try again. The car jerks back, the engine cuts and it rolls further forward. I wrench up the handbrake and the car's sitting there, about to sink into the mud.

All the Underhills are fucking psycho
.

Okay. I think. One thing at a time. I think back to all the driving questions I pestered Mum and Dad and Angus with. There's no other traffic anywhere on the road. I can do everything one step at a time. Slowly, finally, I get the clutch to bite and I reverse back. I switch the wipers on and am about to drive off when the sight of a nearby tree makes me stop. I get out of the car, stripping off my jumper. I tie it to the tree, pulling the arms as tight as I can to seal the knot.

I get back in the car and drive forward slowly, following the faint grooves Angus's tyres have made in the fire track. Water washes across the track diagonally, shimmering under the headlights. Somehow I don't get bogged and I get to the sealed road and my head's going
left or right?
because somehow I can't even remember which way we came in. I slow the car to a halt and my head's hurting so much and it's only one of two decisions but apparently this is still too much for me.

Left, I decide. Left, and I power up the high-beams and swing the wheel and gun the engine. I peer over the dashboard like an old lady as I drive and all the while I'm thinking of Angus lying on the ledge in the rain with his broken leg and I'm not really sure how I'm supposed to get help because I can hardly see anything in front of me let alone either side so I just keep going.

It feels like forever and my legs start to cramp up from staying tense on the pedals. My eyes are so tired. I have to squint at the tiny stretch of road in front of me and I keep losing focus. I rub my eyes and it feels so good to keep them closed but I know I can't. I force them open and go to yawn but it kills my ribs when I do. And then I can't even breathe in without it hurting so I lose my breath and start coughing and this makes it worse and I actually shiver with pain and something keeps stabbing me in the side and my head's stretching and the road's going blurry and then this light—this whole, all-encompassing light—comes out of nowhere and there's suddenly two legs up ahead and I wrench the wheel left and the car's swerving everywhere and the lights hit swishing grass and my stomach turns over and something cuts me in half and I shout in pain and then it's like hands hitting all up the doors and then something shears through my chest. I keep screaming, not because it helps, but because everything sounds bloated and deep, and I want to cut through it. Everything's going dark and all I can think is
my shoes are so wet, how am I supposed to get around in wet shoes
?

41

My mouth's sort of gummy when I wake up but when I try to turn over to where I usually have a glass of water the entire side of my body stings and when I open my eyes it doesn't seem to be my bedroom. My hand's warm, and I think Titch has put it in a bowl of water so I'll pee myself while I'm sleeping but when I move it I realise it's warm because someone's holding it.

I try to move my fingers but nothing really happens. It's like my thoughts are on the other side of a fogged-up window.

‘Hey there,' says Mum's voice. I follow the sound and her face is there. There's a plastic curtain behind her and maybe I'm in the shower? Why would I be in the shower? I concentrate harder and remember our shower curtain is green. This curtain is a patterned blue.

I think I say, ‘Hi,' but I'm not really sure this is what's come out of my mouth. All the lines of things are fuzzy and then I can't remember if things are actually
supposed
to have lines around them. I hear music, somewhere.

‘How are you feeling?' Mum's pulled her hair back so I can see her freckles. On the window next to the bed there's water running down in racing lines.

And then I remember the rain and the lightning and the cliff and the car and then it's all tumbling back like a dream except in reverse because memories are flooding back from real life instead of my subconscious.

‘Angus,' I say. ‘He's on the thing.' I try to lift my head but I'm already too dizzy from talking. ‘He's got the backpack, but he's fallen off.' There's the image of my brother's face, twisted up, spattered with mud.

Mum squeezes my hand again. ‘Angus is okay,' she says. ‘He's here as well. He's fine.'

Here
? I think. Here. Then I roll my eyes, like
der, Fred
. Hospital. I'm in hospital. ‘What happened? How long…'

‘You had an accident,' Mum says. ‘You were driving.'

She talks like she's not even mad, which doesn't make sense. I
was
driving. No, I crashed the car. I remember. My first time behind the wheel and I crash the car. ‘Is Angus's ute okay? I didn't mean to.'

‘Don't worry about it, Clancy. For goodness sake. You were so lucky. You were both so lucky.'

‘Did I wreck it?'

‘There was a road crew. They were there, otherwise…' Mum wipes her eyes with a tissue.

There's the set of legs rushing up towards me on the road, a jolt in my shoulders as I wrench the wheel. ‘I swerved. They were in my way. I could hardly even see.'

‘You went off the road. They said the car rolled. In a field. You were so lucky.'

Yeah, I think. Lucky: I get it. My mind's trying to ratchet further back—something else I have to remember—but nothing will catch. ‘Angus is okay?' Then, ‘Did he get out? How did he get out?'

‘You really…You told them, Clancy. You told them where he was, how to get to him.'

‘I did?' I can't remember this at all, which is probably why I gave them the right directions.

Mum nods. ‘They said you'd tied your jumper to a tree. So clever. They found the tent, and you'd broken branches so they could find the way.'

The jumper. Time's jumping backwards. Had I broken the branches? I say, ‘A good scientist is always prepared.' Then I cough, and my chest explodes in pain. And it's like this has jump-started all my nerve endings because the rest of me starts to hurt, too. ‘Aaah. What's going on in there?' I rub my side, where the worst of the pain is blaring out from.

Mum guides my hand back to hers. ‘You cracked some ribs,' she says, ‘among other things. You bruised your coccyx.'

‘My coccyx?' Jesus, even when I hurt myself it has to be the most embarrassing-sounding place. ‘What about Angus?'

‘He's broken his leg and some other bones, got some cuts and bruises. He's still under sedation, but they say he'll be fine.' All the while, Mum hasn't even sounded angry or asked why we were messing around on clifftops in the middle of nowhere.

‘Is Dad here?' I say.

‘He's taking a little walk,' she says. ‘Titch doesn't really like hospitals.'

‘Poor Titch.' The little bastard was probably guilting Dad into guiding him on a healing journey to a vending machine. Titch hates not only hospitals but anything that doesn't feature the phrase
flavour explosion
.

‘Reeve was here too. Earlier.'

‘Reeve? Reeve's here?'

‘He was who called us. Last night. He was at the hospital. He found out everything he could and stayed so he could fill us in.'

‘He called you? What? Why?'

‘They found his phone number in your pocket. It was all you had on you.' Mum reaches over me to the bedside table. Reeve's business card, crumpled and smeared with mud.
Reeve Lewis: Senior Executive Retail Law Enforcement Officer, Esq.

I smile. Thank Christ I never clean out my pockets. If I hadn't—

And then I remember Sasha. And running from the house. Leaving Nancy. The car. Macca's. The observatory. The kiss. No, no, no. And then, impossibly fast, the rest of it falls into place. All my fuzzy thoughts finally snap into focus and I remember all of it. I kissed her. It happened. It really did. I try to shrink back into the bed, to disappear. If only I could slip back into unconsciousness. There's no responsibility there. Where's the machine that turns up the painkillers?

I must make a noise because Mum goes, ‘Are you okay? I can get a nurse if it's the pain.'

I shake my head.

‘What is it?'

I can't tell her. Oh God. The biggest mistake of my life. One hundred per cent
real
. A wave of exhaustion comes over me, and I realise my jaw is clenched shut. I try to relax it, but I can't work out how. I stretch my eyes wide. My skin feels so heavy, like it's sinking down through the pillow. ‘I'm sorry, Mum,' I hear myself say.

‘Nothing to be sorry for, sweetie. I'm just glad you're safe.'

‘No,' I say. ‘Not about Angus or whatever. I left you all behind. I abandoned you.'

‘Don't try to say too much. You probably just need rest.'

‘I got all…' the words just aren't there. ‘I got all
tangled
up.'

‘Tangled up?'

‘Everything's gone wrong. I got everything wrong. I thought Sasha liked me.'

‘Who's Sasha?'

There's an echo in the room. This makes no sense. Everyone knows who Sasha is. Everyone knew Sasha. ‘She's got the car, but it's not hers.' I close my eyes. ‘She's going to be a model and she invited me. And I tried to kiss her and then I was going to…off the tower. But it wasn't water.'

‘Maybe just let yourself rest,' says Mum's voice.

‘I loved her,' my voice says. ‘We were going to live in a cabin and eat dinner. We'd eat late.' My thoughts are getting spongy.

Mum squeezes me hand again, but it feels like my arm's at the end of a really long road. ‘Ask Dad when the cricket starts,' I say.

‘Okay, sweetie.'

‘I love you Mum. I love everybody.' I'm nearly at the bottom of a comfy dark swimming pool. ‘I just wish I knew what the hell I was doing.'

42

I wake up at what appears to be the right time for a nurse to bring me breakfast. I sort of nod at her and she leaves me with a teabag steeping in lukewarm water, a tiny orange juice and travel pack of Special K. I never get Coco Pops. This reminds me of Nancy. Just another victim of my recent scorched-earth social policy. Another casualty of my misplaced loyalty.

Everything was fine up until Dad's accident. I was getting by fine on my own. Maybe I could again. Except I'll never be allowed to. By the time school starts, everyone in Barwen will know about Sasha and me. They probably already do.

There's no way I can go back to the Beauty Station. One Raylene McCarthy I can handle, but it won't stop with just her. Buggs's family and the rest of the Barwen royalty will be out in force. Eloise doesn't deserve that, having to ruin her business to keep me on. The only thing worse than employing a murderer's daughter would be employing a murderer's gay daughter.

All these thoughts are with me constantly. Probably I should be enjoying the isolation of a hospital bed. Perhaps I should be absorbing every overacted moment of the silent soap opera playing on the TV bolted to the wall. Maybe I should appreciate the lack of input from the old woman lying on the bed next to me, snoring through her open mouth. I should be lapping up these moments of anonymity, while my identity is still just a tick or a cross on a doctor's clipboard.

A rustling noise shocks me, and I look up to see Reeve in the doorway with a bunch of cellophane-wrapped flowers so crazily colourful they can't possibly be real.

‘Oh hey,' I say. ‘How's it going?'

‘How are
you
going, more like.'

‘Been better, I guess.'

‘They said you were awake, so…Does it hurt? You broke your rib?'

‘Three of them, apparently. It's not so bad. I'm riding on a fluffy morphine cloud most of the time, anyway.'

Reeve goes, ‘Always with the morphine,' with a perfectly executed Dr Hibbert chuckle.

I smile. It's weird to see him. My thoughts are still a little muddled, but isn't he supposed to hate me? ‘Hey thanks,' I say. ‘I really owe you.'

He waves a hand, like
forget about it
. ‘Probably the first and last time someone's going to use one of my business cards.'

‘Your business cards save lives.'

Reeve puts the flowers down on the end of the bed, eyeing the bouquet uncomfortably the way most boys do:
I've given you these and now they're yours and you can figure out what to do with them
.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
5.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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