LORI AND FRANK BRIDGEFORD SIT ON A TERRACE of replica sandstone overlooking a ramshackle garden in 29 East Maine. They are each enshrouded in a little world, buying time, catching up with time, even toying with the notion of it.
To Lori, it is safe being like this, not talking about things.
Horrendous things have happened in their lives, clawing at normality. Now, the urge to speak is unmanageable. It hovers, it taunts.
Silently, they share a fag.
Her eyes are flat, his fretful.
A billow of smoke rises from her nostrils with her words. "Itís been a long time, since - "
"Sorry babes," he says gruffly.
Time has dusted a bucket of ash in his hair, pulled at his face and added more wrinkles than before.
Before what? she wonders.
When he speaks, his chin dances.
"Should have come to Little Country sooner," he says.
"I?m glad you made it at short notice." A dry tear prickles her eyelid.
"Not every day one comes home to find a sitter floating head down in a bathtub," he says. "Coppers sweating up a storm."
Carrying no words for him, she broods.
His car is slovenly parked at an angle, his haste to be here. Mazda TJ Plates mark the new idea of him, her father. The years have added to his persona, easing the weight of ashy greys on his head, making them seem normal. Seeing him, she can almost be grateful he didn?t go cranky with loss, chasing women half Loriís age.
That could suck, seeing him in such disarray.
Always an adrenaline junkie, he was. Going off like he did after mamma died was no surprise. Settled somewhere in the hinterland, a place with mozzies so big, they tapped you on the shoulder.
A metre out, Lisianthus, cream chrysanthemums, Dutch violets and rare cyclamens sway to a slicing wind. Further out, canopies of gnarled pine oaks ghostly sway.
A patter of little feet, of a child racing on land solid as ice, lifts the silence. She leaps, humming softly. Words of her rhyme carry above outdoor filters of wind, leaf rustle and a sway of boughs.
"Mother duck said Quack! Quack! Quack! Quack! but only four little ducks came back."
Lori and Frank fret, entrapped by silence despite Jordanís song. Their lips fill with useless words that cannot undo the past or rouse the dead.
Each struggles to maintain it, the silence. Frank fails.
"Know what happened?" he asks.
She shrugs. "The detective thought the hair dryer did it."
"Howís Jordan coping?" he asks, almost reluctantly.
Lori shakes her head in a gesture of near hopelessness.
"She liked Cory very much? But now look at her." She nods at her daughter. "Playing as though nothing happened. Sat in the bathroom humming, as the sitter lay dead."
Frank stares with near fascination at the childís strange eyes. White arms of a late evening sun toss a backlight on her flaming hair as she glides a red-billed duckling across an invisible lake in the air. Opal eyes lift inside long lashes, past Frank to Lori. She gives a toothy grin, waves chubby hands.
Lori waves back.
Frankís distressed face perturbs her. She stares unseeingly at her hands.
"You don?t like her," she says, matter of fact. "Jordan."
He lifts his head, taken aback.
"When David died," she says. "Guilt came, knowledge that I couldn?t bring her dad back. Maybe I spoil her some - "
"You?ve raised her in great vein," he says. "After David? I wanted you to come live with us. But your mother - "
"Itís fine, Frank."
She speaks consoling words, but her mind is set on night.
A strong, restless streak drives her to the brink of insanity, pressure of a different kind. Something happened years ago, something that forces imbalance into her life. Same something took David and now that thing, hell, whatever it is, brings a faceless man to her bed at dusk.
She looks at the sky, almost impatient. Night transports her to another world. Reluctantly, she waits out the sun.
"Better head off," he says, as if reading her skyward glance.
"Stay, Frank. Please stay."
He is already up. "I?ll check out at the motel. Tomorrow. I promise." Rifles through his pockets for car keys.
Lori doesn?t rise with him.
He ruffles her sandy hair. "All right, then, buster."
"See ya," she says flatly.
He walks proud and upright, despite his age. Age. He wears it well.
Jordan blinks unevenly, runs up to Lori and tucks a little hand into her motherís larger one. Together, they eyeball the reverse of car.
A squeal of tyres on the gravel, then a softer crunch.
"Well then, Jordie," Lori says, cupping little fingers firmly in her palm. "Just you and me, skipper."
The childís glowing eyes nudge a smile.
Time chips away at Loriís fatigue.