Four coffee shops, no pub, one corner store and a run-down surf club. Mudjimba sat happily with its lot beside an easy rolling sea for thirty years. No high rise. No stingers. No great tidal wave. Not even one God bothering, cunning rip. Just a sweet rolling surf. Lift, carve, over and down. Reach, rise, glide on the wave’s crest, exalt the gods, twist then drift on home. The town’s heart flowed this gway under the pull of an acquiescent moon, for near thirty years. Until it sank into sin.
Those who mattered began to pluck out flecks of grey and touches of complacency. Bellies fattened, cholesterol infused, and Greed slithered in. They sold the Presidency of the surf club. To Bernard Oswald Sanderland, ‘Friends call me Boss, mate,’ builder extraordinaire. Only a few pulled a wage from him, but somehow, they all slipped into thinking of him as The Boss.
'Jet ski? New uniforms? Maaaate!’ They watched the big man swagger and primp as he bargained with the angels of the sea for his place in their surfing heaven. So naturally, on the 9th of February 1991, the day after a new moon, thirteen of their children faded away in silence.
Bernard Oswald took front and centre at the Annual General. His working man’s Blundstone boots commanded the spotlight position, cutting ruts in the first fleet flooring. Some ancient mariner, an eon earlier, challenged the sandy edge of the bush and won. Right where the crumbling Mudjimba Beach Surf Club now almost stood. The sailor’s attempt to call Australia home had long ago filled the sky with ashes, but a few rough-hewn floorboards and a mishmash of a club house remained to tell his tale.
‘History,’ Boss bellowed, ‘yous have made history.’ Members shuffled bums on op shop chairs. ‘You’ve kept this tabernacle of surf,' he dug a finger in his ear, boring for a golden word, 'pure!' No beer. No pissing pokies. All for the kids. God loves you all. But the fuckin’ council doesn’t.’ His tit resplendent wife, sitting in the shadows, chided his vulgarity with a discrete cough. ‘Hmm, yep, well, nuff to make a saint swear, them shining their bums up the road. But I’m buggered if I’ll let those bastards demolish this history, this bastion of healthy, glorious, family life.’ The Boss raised two chunky fists to the skies and punched the air with each explosive letter,
‘C. O. M. M. O. O. N. I. T and Y!’
Shelley in the front row bit hard on a takeaway coffee spout to kill the threatening laugh. The suppression peed her off in every sense. Squeezing out the last kid turned her bladder into warm spaghetti. She shifted, moving the wet spot to the side. Jordan and Pete, hiding up the back, rode their chairs cowboy style. They leaned forward as one, and looked up at The Boss.
Jordan and Pete scanned the Boss’s hands, eyes, rise and fall of his bullock chest; their muscles spiking as they tried to fathom him.
‘Flipping heck, what? Shite he is!’
‘But what will he want?’
Boss pulled in a breath, studied his Blundstones, then like some mis-coloured gospel preacher raised his head, challenging each member of the surf club to look into his eyes. He waited till all heads were raised and their blood beat as one with his thumping, beefy heart. He lowered his voice, an instinctual performer.
‘I never had as a kid what yous have. Community. Decency. Love. Honour. Family.’
Jordan and Pete gripped their chairs, rodeo riders steeling muscles as the bullock bayed for blood.
‘I want nothing more than to keep this for yous all.’
Shelley thighs recalled the last man who had fucked her over.
A motorbike broke the silence, farting with venom round the sharp corner outside.
‘‘I’m gonna build you, the people of Mudjimba ... a new clubhouse!'
Most of the Mudjimba Beach Surf Club Committee, Skimmer and Fee and Craig and Colleen and Howard and Fats and Scott and Julie, plus the rest of the crowd sucked in a collective breath right out of the Boss’s body. He shone. But Jordan dug his hand deep into Pete’s shoulder, looking for the answer to a question in his best friend’s skin and muscle.
‘But what does the fucker want?’
The Boss opened his arms to his congregation as they clapped, laughed, grinned, curtsied. Yes, some woman curtsied, flushed, then sank into her chair, squirming as she whispered into her soul, ‘I am strong, I am woman, I am.’ Her husband Scott leaned across her body. His eyes bit her face.
‘Why thank you people. Let’s settle, settle. I assume that is a yes for that item?’ Boss forced his heart into each of their skins before he moved on, not speaking till he had them all. Jordan was the last. The others followed The Boss’s eyes to the back of the room. They all turned on Jordan, willing him to lift his face, like kids in a school assembly giving up a victim into the headmaster’s hands. The Boss circled his ocean, treading water to snare the prey. Jordan wanted the fear to stop, he needed to know, could move on and fight it once he knew. He’d seen this bastard in action before, splicing a man’s dignity, strip by vengeful strip. He conceded and looked up. Victory gave the Boss a hard on, eye level to Shelley. She shifted her body away, disgusted by the feel of her damp dress.
‘Good. Let’s move on to the last item. The Best Day of the Year. The surf carnival.’
The gathering swell in Jordan’s brain fell back from it’s threatened tsunami. But then he figured The Boss may just take what he wanted, in his own time. After he’d built the clubhouse. Images of virgin sacrifices and his daughter gutted him. Sweat slid between his shoulder blades. ‘Get a grip, idiot.’ He knew his head was a train wreck, but he also knew their President. He, Pete and Shelley. The rest had The Boss up there with Jesus, walking on water, even though they’d never seen their President put one hairy toe in the surf.
‘Don’t want to show you skinny bastard's up. Melted all my trophies down, can’t stand braggers, mate.’
Jordan forced himself to keep his eyes on the man at the front. The President threw his next line away, like it was a given. No discussion.
‘I’m changing the carnival date.’
Skimmer and Fee and Craig and Colleen and Howard and Fats and Scott and Julie and Jordan and Pete and Shelley froze.
Boss spread his arms, opened his palms and shrugged. A bully-deal-done gesture. Jordan knew the move. Had seen it over and over on the building sites.
‘Safety? You want safety? Maaate? Well send all your wimping wankers home to their couches. Be safe enough there for you? Speck of dust to me this pissy little job. I’ll just pull the pin. Mate.’ Palms up. Shrug. Walk away.
Shelley’s body rocked as if she had a child in her arms. Spittle leaked from Pete’s lips, dribbling in a curve and resting in the cleft of his chin. Jordan yelled ‘Wait!’ his body shrinking away from the force of his own voice. ‘Er, yes, er, wait. If that’s okay? I mean we need to …’
‘Jordan buddy. I only want to nudge it along a week, to my birthday.’
‘But …’ Jordan screamed in silence for the rest of the Committee to protest, hit out, smash walls, start a party, anything, something.
‘C’mn, mate. It’s my big one. The big five O. You wouldn’t deny an old man that, would you? After all I’ve …’ A chair screamed as it scraped across the floor in a battle cry. The Committee stirred as one. Pete loomed tall and wide, the slow brick of a bodyguard for Jordan since junior school. Pete had cried when Jordan’s birthdate, stamped on a ping pong ball, was pulled out on TV like some macabre game show. His prize? Accommodation, food, board, gun, a grenade or two and a plane ticket to Vietnam. Return trip in bits if he was lucky.
‘Carnival dates been done years in advance,’ Pete said. Soft. Gentle, almost wheedling. As if talking to a child. Boss’s lip curled. Pete stared him down and shoved out a booming challenge, ‘Always has!’
Someone near the front called out. ‘Aw give it a rest Pete. It’s the bloke’s birthday. He kind of deserves it don’t you think?’ Bodies buzzed and nodded like bees dipping into pollen, sucking in their President’s goodwill.
Shelley stood. She was that close to The Boss he stumbled sideways. Five kids and no fella’s slippers under her bed, she’d take on trouble for breakfast and swallow it whole.
‘Boss, what you’re doing for us is beaut. But I’ve never rocked on my back for anything other than a good tumble. Never been bought off before and I’m not going to start now. Even for the kids' sake. Hold your horses for a bit and the Committee here will have a meeting and get back to you.’ She’d somehow planted her feet right where he’d been standing. ‘Fair?’
‘Fair,’ he said, pulling his wife up and catapulting them both out the naturally distressed, yellow front door.
No one moved. Then Skimmer and Fee and Craig and Colleen and Howard and Fats and Scott and Julie and Pete and Jordan and Shelley, rose and flowed as one, caught in some ethereal tidal rip, melting into the kitchen, closing the door. Skimmer headed straight out the back door with his hand dipping into his hip pocket, tenderly closing the door as if wanting to disappear without fuss, forever.
‘Who’s got a calendar?’
Jordan snatched Fee’s phone from her hands.
‘Hang on, darling, it’ll need my password.’
Pete was still shaking from his outburst, never one for a fuss. ‘Calendar’s been set for twenty years, ever since we took over,' he. Muttered. 'He can’t do this.' Jordan looked up from the phone, seeking Shelley’s face.
‘New moon. Night before. 8th November.’
Scott grunted, shaking his head. ‘Superstition. Load of twat. Coincidence. We don’t bloody know, Jordan’. Shelley cut in.
‘Two years in a row, Scott, new moon the night before both times.’ She moved, turning her body away from Pete. 'And Paddy, think about Paddy.’
‘Of course we don’t bloody know, Scott, but do you want to chance it?’ Pete stepped towards Scott. ‘Do you want to risk your kids? My Mum was the living dead after, Paddy. You saw her.’
‘I think we’re overreacting guys. Look, it was so long ago and we’ve no idea why.’ Scott’s leg tapped out his internal music. He slammed his hand down to hide his anxiety. ‘Maybe God, or whatever, did get pissed off with our parents. But we’re not like them.’ His words seemed to separate everyone; an invisible thread between them snapped. A blow on the door broke the silence. Jordan opened it a crack, then pulled it wide. Near twenty people shouldered their way into the cramped kitchen.
Young Nate, last year's trophy winner, took the floor, like the prince he was. Sun lover’s hair streaming down his back, light of the universe in his smile. Jordan swallowed away the lump in his throat, the pride, the absolute bloody minded joy he felt each time he watched his kid. No, not a kid now. A giant of a man at twenty.
‘Look, with respect to the Committee.’ Nate’s voice was deep and controlled. Jordan blushed, he’d taught Nate that trick, flatter then strike. ‘We have no idea what your problem is with the date change, but unless it’s life and death,’ Pete’s fingernails dug deep into his palms, ‘we frankly,’ Jordan squirmed, ‘don’t give a bugger.’ Nate stood with both arms out to the side as if riding the waves of emotion broiling beneath the surface in the room.
Warm air spiraled to the ceiling waiting to drift down with an explanation, a resolution, an ‘It’ll be all right, son,’ that was due from his father and the Committee, the core people of his life. Skimmer slid in from outside and hid up against Shelley’s back. She caught his breath across her shoulder, metallic, bitter.
A gecko’s staccato cry pitched a warning. The Committee bowed its collective head. The story couldn’t be told.
After the Annual General, Pete was busy a lot, always at the far end of the building site and never at the end of his phone. Shelley spoke only once, when Jordan passed her outside The Boss’s office on the building site. Her eyes perched owl-like over a computer screen.
‘If I have to do it, Jordan, will you take my kids?’
‘No, Shelley, it's not going to happen.’
He’d never seen this woman cry, not once through the shite that she called her life. But there it was. Blotched, purple eyes bleeding. His body sagged, shoulders, neck, heart too full to carry. He lifted himself to face his sister.
‘Yes, Shell. Yes,’ his anguish melting once he knew what was needed. Over the hill in Nam he’d throw himself forward, ecstatic that the fear was behind him. ‘Yes, I promise, Shell.’
The eighth of November came too soon for the Committee. Most shut their doors towards the end of the day and sucked in rays from large and small screens around the house. They could easily deny the lunar rays stinging their nerve endings from a zillion light years away in the new moon night sky.
The next morning was beautiful. They all agreed. The best day of the year, the 9th of November, started out dressed in its best clothes. Kids of all shapes and sizes shone, skimming over the sand and ocean, beach insects breathing out sunshine to nourish the universe. Decked in crisp, yellow and red uniforms they fizzed with competition, adulation, cheek and determination.
‘It's just bloody well sparkling. I’m no poet but cast your peepers over that sky, that sea, these beautiful people.’ The Boss was orgasmic. ‘Did you see the sign, woman?’ His wife nodded and smiled at no one in particular. ‘Happy bloody birthday to The Boss!’ Woman stepped away after she’d completed her reflective duty, looking to help Scott’s wife, Julie. The one scurrying in the kitchen, frying, buttering, boiling till she began to look like the greasy crap she was serving up. Woman pulled the tab on a cold drink, meeting Julie’s eyes. The spray splattered over them both, cooling the moment as they laughed.
‘Pete, mate. You look like you’ve lost a fiver and found two bob.’ Boss pulled at Pete’s arm as he tried to walk past. Even the massive Boss had to lift his face to see Pete’s. ‘Geez mate, you’re a great sun block, ha, ha! Just stand there for the rest of the day, will you?’ Pete ignored him and moved on, his face never leaving the waves. It was getting late, getting to the end of a magnificent day and one by one the Committee grazed the shoulder or arm of another. Nothing said. Just a touch that spoke, ‘It’ll be okay now.’ Except Pete.
His wife Colleen slipped her hand in his. ‘It’s going to be all right, Pete.’ She could feel his heart in his fingertips, breaking with every wave. ‘Look Pete, it’s over, the kids are coming in.’ He watched them toss and stretch and paddle and roll like a family of luxuriant seals, gathering together at the edge of the water. The sun rolled down to the west, exhausted. It spread a last kick farewell in golds and reds across the horizon, the kids dark in silhouette. Pete captured the sight in his mind, a work of art to keep and love in the hours when sleep wouldn’t come. He turned and looked down at Colleen, at her patient, feline face that he could never quite picture when she wasn’t there. He heard Jordan laughing with Shelley as they walked up to the club house. He listened to the kids splashing, skiting at the end of the day’s competition. The youngsters sounded relieved and tired but still had a buzz going on. Pete’s skin tuned in to a different world, his heart seeing his father thirty years younger, head bowed, hunched over on their brown vinyl lounge. Confessing to a crowd of friends.
‘… I have. Why would I make it up for shite’s sake?’ He couldn’t meet their shocked eyes. ‘Lost it all. Our money’s gone, love.’ He looked up at his wife. ‘Gone on the pokies, darlin’. Pete knew. God’s taken the boys to punish me.’ His Dad’s body arched towards the ceiling as he sobbed, ‘I’m sorry! I am so goddam sorry!’ Pete had strolled in half-way through the confession.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, Pete.’ His Mum was pointing around the room. ‘What about the other kids you stupid lump? Have their Dad’s stuffed their lives into the pokies too?’ She had backed into Pete. Damn walked right onto his wet feet.
‘Mum, what’s going on?’ She had her hand on his arm where she had stopped herself from falling. She clutched the side of his body and sniffed the air like an animal checking her young. He held her when her legs sagged and put her down beside his Dad. Confused, he had listened long to the silence.
The scream. The one Pete had been waiting for all day. It pulled him back to the present, shredding his ear drums, then cutting through every cell in his body. He dropped Colleen’s hand, turned away from the waves, and spewed his soul out onto the sand till he was empty.
Jet skis throbbed; pacing, circling, probing, mindful not to slice any bodies. Paddle boards wobbled dangerously through the crowds of swimmers who were darting and calling and diving. The ocean was alive with fathers, lovers, mothers and brothers, except for The Boss. He stood at the edge. Broken. Uncovered.
‘Boss. Get your arse in the water,’ someone called to him from the waves. Boss shook his head like an ancient automaton. ‘You can’t swim can you, you bloody bastard.’ Boss turned and walked away. He’d watched the waves with the rest. Proud. Happy. Vindicated by the glory of the day. The young ones splashing and playing as they came together, waist deep at the edge of the water. He’d picked out his girl, shrieking with laughter and dunking her mate. He’d felt their tension increase, their movements change. He’d seen those kids evaporate. Well no, that was the thing. He didn’t see them go. One second it was a mass of bodies, then, so many less. Too much space. He had no idea what happened. A rip? Must be a rip. His daughter had gone and he was too scared to go into the water. Woman was in, diving, twisting, calling, desperate.
Shelley was the first of the Committee to get out of the water. Jordan watched her run up the sand towards her car. He knew how stupid this all was and what they needed to do. But Jesus, how could they do it?
‘Have to tell the others. Got to.’ He ran and caught up with Shelley yelling now, ‘Public, we have to go public.’
‘Don’t stop me, Jordan.’ He clutched at her dress and she splayed out face down on the sand. He dragged her backwards, down towards the hysteria in the waves.
‘It’s not just our children, Shelley.’
‘Go away, Jordan. You promised. Be there for my kids. I’m going to the police. I have to, three of my kids, gone, I have to tell… ‘He pulled her out of the sand, sat her up to face him. She stopped fighting. It had been so long since he’d held his sister. The softness of her as a child crept into his hands, a thread, a memory of kindness.
‘Listen, Shelley, it doesn’t matter who you damn well tell right now, as long as it’s spoken out loud. Just come back and tell them. Everyone will hear what you did soon enough anyway. They can’t lock you up Shell. They can’t.’
Shelley lost her gravity, moving higher to anywhere, home, another town, to the bottom of a bottle, fetal inside her mother, to the tip of a syringe, to hell, anywhere but inside Jordan’s pleading eyes.
He sat. He knew he’d won. But the fight had been punched out of him too. His heart ached to join her and drift into the dunes, rolling, rolling as they had once done, the sun and air feeding their joy, breathless and light, zimming as free as sandpipers across a lazy sea.
‘We have to show them. We have to show them how to get their kids back.’
‘What have you done, Jordan? Sorry but I have to know first.’
Jordan laid back, mutely pleading to the mercy of the clouds. Shelley waited. Jordan was the person she most wanted to be. All her life. Strong. Good. Her everything. Without him as her mirror she trod a spiked road of self-disgust.
‘Remember that movie, Shell? Sophie’s choice?’
‘The one where Meryl Streep had to chose which child to give to the Nazi’s? What …?’
‘Yes, but it was really about the one she chose to keep. The one that she would sacrifice anything to keep with her.’ Shelley didn’t speak. She knew that Jordan wasn’t going to tell her anything evil. For this she was grateful.
‘I play that movie over and over. Asleep. Awake. Obsessed I suppose.’
The doctor said…’
‘What, you …a doctor … But you never go …’
‘Fee made me. I can’t sleep, eat, focus. He said I am afraid. I am scared I am going to lose the kids, and I am bargaining with the devil. Like a sacrifice. Hey you bastards, if you are going to do this to me, let me keep my boy!’
‘Oh, my god Jordan, you’ve chosen Nate.’
‘It kills me Shell. How can I do that? Petrie is the most beautiful soul. A perfect daughter. But I can’t lose Nate. He is me, he’s more than a son.’ Jordan’s eyes fired. ‘It had been Pete or Paddy and his parents chose Pete.’
She took his hand and kissed it. She saw him in the giant mirror frame that she still had leaning in the corner of her shed. Unconsciously she copied his movement just as she did as a child, as he ran his hand through the sand. The mirror with no mirror. They would dance and play each side, pretending to be one. He’d lead. She’d follow, becoming more in tune with him as she grew. Hiding from reality for hours at a time. Till Pete, the Fee came along, like an unbidden rips in a bloody beautiful sea, tugging her brother to waters out of her reach. ’Til she stood in front of the mirror no longer seeing who she was. He had still protected her from her father, but from a distance. She let the tide take her wherever then, to places she never meant to go, where no one showed her who she should be. They stood knowing they had to go back to the families.
‘Jordan.’ She stumbled over her thoughts, her knowledge, like you do when you must tell someone they are dying. Just how do you do that?
‘Jordan, I don’t think your sin is big enough to bring them back.’ He stared at her.
The sun had gone, ashamed, leaving its beach creatures to scurry and paw at the water. SES were on their way with flood lights and rescue boats. One of the women pulled at Jordan, begging him to help. Scott grabbed him, ‘Where’ve you been?’ His anger was looking to crush anything, anyone.
‘We’ve got to tell them Scott, the new lot.’ Shelley saw the lifeguard’s whistle around Skimmer’s neck. With a shocking calm she eased the lanyard over his head, dug her heels hard into the sand and pierced the air with six long, hard blasts. A woman raced from the clubhouse propelling her body like a diving hawk sighting its prey. ‘You’ve found them? Shelley?’ She shook Shelley till Jordan peeled her off and held her close. ‘Where are they?’ she screamed.
‘SIT everyone. Just SIT.’ Shelley absorbed their panic. Relief clashed with fear, the crowd rippled and moved around her. Jordan picked up the clacton, the trembling through his body magnified a thousand-fold into the biting salt air.
‘YOU WANT YOUR KIDS BACK?’ They stilled. ‘Sit down and listen.’
‘Who trusts me? Come on, put your hand up if I have ever dudded you … lied, conned you?’ They folded, sinking deep as adrenaline failed them, wanting so much for Jordan to be ‘the man’.
‘No hands. So who is going to trust me now? I need all your hands or I won’t go on. NOW. WHO TRUSTS ME?’
Boss stood at the back of the crowd, unable to let Jordan take this, his rightful place.
‘Shit, Jordan, what are you the Messiah or something? What are you crapping on about, boy?’
Pete moved away from the place he had taken near Jordan and treading with care around the crowd he smashed the Boss straight between the eyes. He turned, at peace and without a care whether the Boss lived or died. A perfect circuit breaker. The previously frantic families sat as if waiting for Jordan to walk straight across that water and pull out beloved children, one by one.
Pete spoke again. ‘If your kid is okay, leave. Get out of earshot back up to the clubhouse.’
Nothing much happened.
‘Now! You’ll hate yourself tomorrow if we lose them all, or any one of them. GO!’
He waited, watching two dozen people walk, look back, then submit, moving out of sight towards the clubhouse hidden by the bush. Jordan sucked in a breath from the past and began.
‘Thirty years ago, at the surf carnival, every single one of us, the Committee, disappeared.’ He hesitated letting them roll the words around in their brains. ‘ Just like your kids.’ He could barely make out their faces, happier not to see the pain in their eyes in the cloudy dusk. ‘It happened two years in a row, the day after a new moon both times. We all came back bar one, Pete’s brother Paddy.’ The silence was harsh enough to hurt.
‘We don’t really know why or where we went, with no memory of what happened. The last we all knew we were in the surf. Then we were home, or in the clubhouse. Still wet and still happy.’
The surf’s white bubbles circled limbs as they sat, as if to comfort.
‘What happened to Paddy then?’ To ask a question at that moment was to break the spell, the trust Jordan had created. People murmured, moved, squirmed. Jordan saw the sea withdraw, separated from man by disbelief. Each of the Committee stood, knowing what needed to be done.
‘Paddy died because one of my parents lied.’ Pete looked out to sea as he spoke. ‘Perhaps not lied, but stayed silent when it was the time to speak up.’
‘About what?’ a newcomer shouted.
‘Their sins, Malcolm, their sins.’ Shelley shouted from her belly where her truth lay fermenting.
‘Sins? Where’d you get that word from Shelley. You don’t believe in all that stuff, not you.’
‘I’m going to cut the crap. I have to do this now and quickly.’ She had the look of a person diving, diving into the forever. ‘My father beat us. Me, Jordan and our Mum. When he stood there in the clubhouse thirty years ago, and begged God to forgive him for bashing his family, Jordan and I came home.’ She stopped, feeling her father’s hand swivelling her head with the force of his blow, and her body and her love, breaking against a concrete wall. She ignored her tears and forced out more words. ‘My friend’s mother was there too, bargaining with the universe. She’d stop stealing if her son was delivered. He walked in two seconds later, asking for a hamburger.’ In the fading light the families listened, no longer searching the waters but looking deep inside themselves.
‘How come it happened again then?’ The call in the dark was defiant.
‘Because people are stupid.’ Jordan said. ‘Sceptical. When they’re cosy and safe in front of the TV with the kids tucked up in bed, they stop believing. They think they’re in the clear. Just a one off, weird shit happens, but not their fault.’
‘That’s enough.’ Shelley moved closer to the sea’s edge and spoke softly.
‘I killed my daughter’s father.’ Only Jordan heard the words. He shuffled to her and reached out to stroke her back.
‘Didn’t hear you, Shelley. What …? She swiveled and stormed her way into the center of the group.
‘I killed Sara’s father you sanctimonious, superficial bunch of wankers. I caught him in bed with her when she was six.’ She dropped to her knees, sucked dry. ‘I didn’t mean to but he said he’d keep coming back. I …I pushed him over the cliff at the headlands.’
A primeval cry, that of a wounded animal escaped from one of three figures at the edge of the sea. A girl in the middle of two shorter boys was screaming.
‘Not one word, Mum. You never talked to me. I thought it was my fault he left us. ‘Disappeared,’ you said. ‘Run away,’ you said.’ The girl flew away, up to the dunes. Jordan looked at Shelley, laying in the sand, dead to herself. He ran after his niece.
‘My husband hits our kid.’ A woman stood, yelling at the sea, her body in spasm with the electricity of emotion. She waited but no child emerged. ‘Get here, Bill. Say you’re sorry for God’s sake. Do it, do it now, or by Christ I’ll do the same as Shelley.’ The shore became a wailing wall. Skimmer crawled on his knees swearing he’d had his last drink. Families rocked and cried and beseeched the gods to forgive them and bring their children home.
Except The Boss.
‘Not me, mates. I’m a good bloke. Look. Look what I’m doing for you poor useless bastards. Without me this place would be dust, nothing but … ‘His heart stopped. And it took much too long to start again. He was in quicksand, drawn down, sucked into a sense of slime and wrongness. Yes, it was wrong. ‘Get back here, woman. I’m warning you.’ Everyone stopped and watched his wife and Julie sweep arm in arm to the edge of the water. Stand taller. Shout their love to a crystal moon tipping the darkening horizon. From nowhere, children stepped into their circle holding the two women, as if born with the knowledge of their mothers’ love.
By the time Jordan came back and put his niece in Shelley’s arms, children were being smothered by deranged parents begging forgiveness. Jordan took in their confusion and fear, remembering how each kid in the Committee had walked lightly for thirty years, their earth no longer safe and firm.
He found his wife, head bowed near Pete, with the water riding over their ankles.
‘Our kids?’ he asked. He looked into their faces, then screamed at the sea.
‘I love Nate more than Petrie. You hear me you bastards out there. Bring them back!’ His wife reached out to him. He brushed her off calling louder. ‘Okay you want me to say it all? Nate’s my best friend in the world, my rock, my other Pete …’
‘Stop it Jordan. Just stop!’ his wife’s anger spoke to him somewhere deep in his unconscious, a place he didn’t want her to reach. Her face shone in the dusk, tears streaming, beautiful and innocent as the falls they had sat under at the base of Tamborine Mountain, bringing them together as one.
‘He’s not your son, Jordan. He’s mine.’
The moon’s light and love dimmed.
‘But God man, he’s yours. You made that kid, whole and perfect.’ Pete was choking with an explosion of the truth that had rotted inside him for so long. ‘We both … so … needed … you. Fee and I. You went to Nam. We were broken without you … and scared. We found you, Jordan, in each other. I can’t say it any other way. If I could have gone instead of you …’
Pete didn’t see the punch coming. The blow that killed the greatest love he’d ever known. Jordan’s children stood at his back as he drew back his right arm and slashed through with the force of a pile driver straight to the middle of the forehead. Nate and Petrie stood wet and laughing from the day as they saw the neck arc backwards and break, with the head rolling as if loose, then coiling inwards as the body followed like a flying angel. Their mother lay on the sand, her face framed by moonlight and a smile directed up into their hearts.