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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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‘My goodness,' says Carla.

‘I'm sure it's fine,' I say, too brightly, realising a few seconds later I should have said that Angus was a policeman, or we had friends who were, or any other number of reasonable explanations. My heart's hammering and I thank Carla for driving me and nearly sprint out of the car and Nancy says something to me but I don't hear it as I slam the door and run up the front steps.

I wrench open the screen door and it bashes against the cladding and I hear Mum's voice rising in the living room and I burst in ready to free Dad or throw my body in front of a bullet or lift a fridge off a baby or whatever it is you're meant to do in emergencies.

The weirdest thing, though, is that the scene just looks
normal
. Mum and Dad are on the couch and two cops are on the reclining chairs and everyone's got a mug of tea. They're all staring at me and I just freeze, like
this looks so ordinary but so
not
ordinary
.

‘Hi Clancy,' says Mum. ‘We're just in the middle of something at the moment.'

The cops, two guys—one younger and one older—look embarrassed.

‘Is everything…okay?' I'm out of breath and there's sweat pooling in the small of my back.

‘Who's this then?' says the older cop, as if I'm a three-year-old.

Dad goes, ‘Just answering some questions, Clance. Nothing to worry about.' He clearly hasn't slept. His voice is high and strained.

‘Where's Angus?' I say.

‘He's out,' says Mum, which means she has no idea.

‘Is Dad being arrested?'

Mum laughs, shaking her hands like she's trying to get water off them. ‘Nothing like that!'

‘We were the reporting officers at the accident,' says the younger cop, with what sounds like pride.

The older cop, who's shaved his head so no one can tell he's losing his hair—a tactic which didn't work the first time someone did it, and definitely doesn't now—says, ‘Tucka'll have to come down the station and make a statement. At some stage. Sure he knows the drill.'

I go, ‘The hell does
that
mean?'

‘Hold on, Clance,' says Dad.

‘Have they got a warrant? You need a warrant.'

The old cop holds up a hand. ‘Settle down there, missy. There's no warrants here. No arrests. We're just investigating a serious accident to which your dad was a witness. We're just having a cup of tea and a chat.'

‘Mister Underhill is just helping us with our enquiries,' says the younger cop.

That's what they always say on the news.
A local man is helping police with their enquiries.
Which means the local man has for dead sure done the crime and is currently down at the station getting hit with phonebooks.

Mum shoots me a look. ‘Maybe you can go out for a while, Clancy.'

‘I've just gotten home.'

‘Clancy.' Serious teacher voice.

‘How am I supposed to go anywhere without a bike?' Mum grinds her fists into her eyes. The two cops stare into their laps. I swear the old one is grinning.

‘I don't really have time for this, Clancy,' she says. She reaches over to the side table and gets her handbag. ‘Get Angus and go see a movie or something.' She holds out a fifty-dollar note. A fifty. Holy shit.

‘What about Titch?' I say, hoping for more.

Mum waggles her thumbs, like
he's playing video games.
‘Can you just go?' she says. ‘Leave us to…talk here?'

I shrug, pocket the fifty and head for the door.

15

I've been walking maybe only five minutes when I hear a car slowing down beside me.

‘Hey Pantsy,' I hear Angus shout. ‘Forget something?'
Pantsy
is the name Angus gave me when he was six and I was four, and it remains one of his favourite things and, therefore, one of my least favourite. He's rolling his ute along beside me. ‘Give me the fifty bucks now and we'll call it even.'

‘What fifty bucks?'

‘I got home just after you left. I mean,
fifty bucks
? Dad must really be in the shit.'

‘Don't joke about it.'

‘Life's a joke.'

I keep walking, holding my hand out behind me and raising my middle finger. I hear Angus cackling. ‘Do get in,' he says in a plummy English accent. ‘I shall take us to the pictures.'

‘There's nothing on,' I say. ‘There's never anything on.' Barwen's cinema is just a big projector screen in the old town hall building. In the school holidays it's all kids' movies.

‘Hop in anyway,' says Angus. He drives the ute up onto the kerb.

‘Maniac,' I say. ‘It's
my
money, though.' I get in on the passenger side, noticing a giant duffel bag in the ute's tray.

‘Bullshit,' Angus says, getting back onto the road. ‘That's for both of us. Mum said. You were supposed to come and get me.'

‘As if you'd have come.'

‘What were you going to do with the money anyway? Get a bunch of new Tegan and Sara albums?'

I punch my brother as hard as I can on his forearm.

‘Shit! Settle down, Pantsy.'

‘You're such a turd.'

Angus smiles and puts on a pair of reflective aviators.

I go, ‘Yeah, and
I'm
the gay one.'

‘Piss off. Got these in Brisbane.'

I whip them off his head and pretend to read a description written on them: ‘Guaranteed not to come off while playing nude volleyball with other sweaty men. Sounds ideal.'

‘I need them for driving.'

I put them on. ‘They're rubbish.'

‘Give 'em back.'

‘Let me drive.'

‘Give 'em back!'

‘I'll give you ten bucks if you let me drive.'

‘You haven't got your licence. You owe me twenty-five, anyway.'

‘Bullshit I do.'

Angus flicks the indicator. ‘I gotta get petrol.' He turns into the servo at the bottom of the hill and parks next to the bowser. ‘Gimme the fifty. I need it to fill up. I'll give you change.'

‘Tank's still half-full.' I tap the dash.

‘I wanna top it up. The gauge's rooted anyway.'

‘You'll just take the money and then not fill up.'

‘As if I'd do that.'

I give him a look, like,
that's exactly what you'd do
.

He takes a deep breath and lets it out. ‘All right,' he says. ‘You keep the fifty, but you've got to do me a favour.'

‘What's that?'

‘You gotta help me out with something.' He motions to the bag in the back of the ute.

‘I'm not helping you count chemtrails.'

‘What?'

‘Whatever it is you conspiracy theorists do.'

‘It's just some surveillance. Recording data. It's like an experiment. Scientific.'

‘I'm
sure
it is.'

‘Just help me take some readings and write a few numbers. It'll only take a couple of hours tops.'

‘Where do you do it?'

‘Up the mountain.'

‘Really? The Beast of Barwen?'

‘Come on. It's fifty bucks.' He sticks out his hand.

‘I'm not shaking your hand,' I say.

‘You'll do it, though?'

‘Can I drive for a bit?'

‘Maybe when we get out of town.'

‘I want a guarantee.'

‘You in or out? I'm more than happy to leave you here at the servo and let you become a trucker's sex slave.'

‘So funny. Let's just go already.'

‘Awesome.' He starts up the car and swings back onto the main road, heading straight through town and out into the hills.

Secretly, I'm smiling. Fifty bucks'll buy me a new pair of shoes easy. Cheap shoes, from Spend-Less, but new shoes nonetheless. I want hi-tops or maybe rip-off Cons. Sasha—I know—will only be impressed by stilettos or thigh-high boots, but it's a start. I think about Sasha in thigh-high boots. Slinking through some cocktail party, mouth slashed with dark red lipstick, a tight black dress that wrinkles only at her hips.

Angus interrupts my thoughts with an impromptu drum solo on the steering wheel. I never want to know what awful college-rock soundtrack he's got grinding through his head at any given moment. He says, ‘So Mum was pretty freaked, hey.'

‘I guess. Yeah.'

‘Why're you home so early? Thought you were working.'

I tell him about Raylene McCarthy and her twins, about Eloise, even about Buggs. I leave out Nancy and her mum for some reason.

‘This town's full of real arseholes,' is all he says in reply.

‘Cops still there when you left?'

‘Yeah, just sticking around to eat all our biscuits.'

The houses thin out and we drive out through the wheat fields on a backroad that runs past the abattoir. Past the turnoff that takes you out onto the highway. It occurs to me that Dad's accident would've happened pretty close by. I wonder if there's still police tape at the scene, whether anyone has put up bouquets yet, or stuck crosses into the ground.

‘You talk to Dad today?' I say.

‘Nup.' Angus keeps his eyes on the road.

‘He seemed better than last night.'

‘Yeah. I haven't talked to him. I saw him downstairs but I couldn't—didn't know what to say.'

‘You think anything'll happen to him?'

‘Hard to know.'

Angus is doing his cool act. He's put a million sticks of gum in his mouth again and hasn't offered me any. With the aviators, he looks like an eighties motorcycle cop. ‘Don't you care what happens to him?' I say.

Angus shakes his head. ‘He'll get what he deserves, I guess.'

‘What if he goes to jail?' Voice at full Disney princess.

‘You don't know what it's like,' he says.

‘What
what's
like?'

Angus sighs. ‘To be constantly called a fuck-up. That's all Dad ever does. Reels off the ways he thinks I've gone wrong, the decisions I could've made better. As if his life's been perfect. As if he's ever made it easy for me. This is just karma.'

‘He can get pissed off sometimes, but—'

‘You don't know, cause you're the smart one. It's like, they don't have to worry about how you're going to turn out because you'll be a scientist or a lawyer or whatever. With me, with Dad, it's like it's his life's purpose to have a go at me.'

‘I don't think he's
that
bad. Is he?' Dad
is
a dick to Angus, but Angus is a dick back. And, really, my brother never settles on one thing long enough to fail or succeed. He always just changes his mind.

‘You've got no idea,' he says. ‘Uni was the worst. Having to come back home was totally humiliating.'

‘You didn't have to come back.'

‘Yeah, I did. Head lecturer had it in for me, just because I had the balls to ask the tough questions. Just cause I wasn't a sheep like the rest of them.'

I knew exactly the types of questions Angus would've asked. He's always been a
contrarian
: this is the word Dad uses. Constantly trying to find ways to undermine authority, to take the opposite view to what he's being shown is right. He would have spouted half-baked conspiracies all the way through his business degree, about the World Bank or the Illuminati or alien coverups: any of a number of obsessively insane theories he's crammed into his head at the expense of basic life skills.

‘Rather be a sheep than a loon,' I say under my breath.

16

We drive for about forty minutes, coming way up into the hills, following the spiral road that circles partway up Mount Meyer. On the other side is the national park and between, over the crest of the mountain, is thick bushland that gradually grades up into cool air and a kind of half-rainforest.

Angus swings off the main road and plunges us down a dirt track with a sign that tells me it's a firebreak. The canopy of trees closes tighter and tighter above us and after a couple of minutes Angus pulls the ute to the side of the road and kills the engine. It's only after we stop that I remember I wanted to drive part of the way. I remind myself to nag Angus about it on the way back.

‘This is it,' he says.

‘I'm not going to have to walk through mud am I?' I peer out at the dark foliage lining the track.

‘Nah, it's cool. You can walk it fine in sneakers or whatever.'

‘Can I walk it in my
only
pair of shoes?'

‘Absolutely,' he says, hopping out of the car.

I get out, surprised by how cold the air is. Something flies at my face, smothering it, and I scrabble to get it off.

‘It's a jumper,' says Angus, ‘you pussy. Temperature drop.'

‘You could've just
handed
it to me.' It's some scratchy army surplus thing, but I put it on.

‘Not out here. We're adventuring now.'

I roll my eyes. ‘How often do you drink your own urine when you're up here
adventuring
? More than at home, or the same amount?'

A backpack hits me in the head.

When we're all strapped in, Angus plunges off the track at a seemingly random point.

‘Jesus. Wait!' I'm worried at how dark it'll be in the bush, and how my legs will most likely come out covered in leeches.

‘There's a track just through here,' says Angus from somewhere behind what I'm sure is a fatally poisonous tree.

I follow his voice through the thicket and sure enough it opens up a bit and there's a faint track winding through the bush. It's slightly lighter, somehow, too, like we've just gone through the forest's front hall and are now in the living room. The sun is a glimmer in the tops of the gum trees.

‘Nice,' I say involuntarily.

‘I know, right? Come on, just up this way.' Angus ducks under a branch and skips up the track. He's got a silver box in his hand. It's got a little handle and it looks a bit like a tape player.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
13.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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