One of the things I like about music is that it’s clean; it’s ordered. It makes me feel like there’s a pattern to things. That life can be neatly contained within a bar, a set time signature, an evolving theme that progresses and blossoms logically. It lifts me out of the mess; it sends my imagination flying; it’s absolutely beautiful.
Benny pulled out my earphones and the hum of air-conditioning and idle chatter replaced my dream infusion. He nodded at the flight attendant waiting in the aisle and I turned off my iPod and put it away. She continued through the cabin and Benny followed her with his eyes.
‘Are you going to tell me about yesterday?’ he asked.
‘There’s nothing to tell.’
‘I started celebrating a little early, that’s all.’
‘You celebrated yourself unconscious.’
‘So – what happened?’
I glanced across the city to the hills lining the horizon.
‘It’s nothing – seriously, Benny. Don’t worry about it.’
As soon as the flight attendants were seated, I pushed in my earphones and scrolled through my classical playlists to Henryk Gorecki. Life was filled with so much waiting, so many barren moments, so much awkwardness – and music cured them all. I felt like I could survive anything with this rich, expensive stuff pouring through me.
The plane accelerated. Finally. And oh, the wonderful, brutal force of it. The heavy, unstoppable power of it – straining towards that critical moment of lift. It tore strips off my old life; it blasted everything away and washed me clean. School, exams, family, memory –
The nose lifted and the land released us. It was magnificent. Music soared through me, I soared through the music, the plane soared through the air. I watched the city shrink to a manageable size. We punched through turbulence and rose higher; whisps of cloud streaked across my window. I sat back in my seat and started to relax. The suburbs faded behind us, the dimpled ridge of hills melted into farmland, and soon we were sliding over the desolate plains north-east of Adelaide. For one blissful week, I was going to forget everything that had happened.
I watched the plains slowly buckle into the Great Dividing Range, then level into rich green sections of bushland and rainforest. We passed over small towns and heavy, snaking belts of river until finally we neared the edge of the land, and the Pacific Ocean emerged from the horizon: immense, blue and wonderful.
Surfers milled about the car park, leaning and sitting on their cars, talking, getting changed and waxing surfboards. I ran up the sand track and down the beach away from the headland. The sun was low on the horizon and it would soon be dark. Large waves broke out the back on a sandbar, but the water close to the shore was calm. A long way up, two girls around my age, probably Schoolies, ran naked across the wet sand and half-tripped, half-dived into the water. It was glorious the way they just threw themselves in – as though the ocean was the rest of their lives and they couldn’t wait to immerse themselves in it.
I let the lukewarm ocean swallow me, broke the surface then dove under again. Holding my breath, I pulled through the silky darkness towards deeper water. When my lungs could no longer bear it, I surfaced and rolled onto my back, gasping for air. Heart thumping, I lay in the ocean’s gentle rise and fall and stared at the faded blue sky. I felt baptised by the silence, by the freshness and cleanliness of the water. I lay for what seemed like a long time – cleansed of history and future – just a person, anyone, floating in the ocean, a lone cell amongst the world’s teeming billions. A light flashed in the corner of my vision and I turned to where the lighthouse stood, high up on the cape. Something inside me seemed to have shifted – the beginnings of a realisation, a half-formed decision. The lighthouse flashed again. I lay back in the water and closed my eyes, and each flash was like the slow, steady pulse of new life.
The sausages hissed and sizzled on the hotplate and smoke wafted over the brush fence. Richie and Benny cracked beers and knocked bottles. I lay back on the hammock and closed my eyes. It was a perfect blue-skied morning; we had Bob Marley on the stereo, and all day to relax with no-one standing over us telling us what to do. No school or exams, teachers or homework. Just warm, still air, sunshine and palm trees.
And Richie had to go and ruin it.
‘So your mum, Andrew… that case she did recently…’
‘I don’t keep track of her cases.’
‘C’mon, it was everywhere in the media. The murderer she got off –
‘He was acquitted, so technically he’s not a murderer.’
‘Yeah – technically… I just don’t understand how she does it.’
‘Defend murderers, paedophiles and psychopaths. I don’t think I could live with myself if I made a living from defending people like that.’
‘I guess that’s because you don’t know much about it.’
He stopped pacing and sipped his beer.
‘I am studying Law, Andrew – so I do know a bit about it.’
‘And I’m sure they go into a lot of detail in first year.’
‘Actually, in one of my units, we studied the moral dilemmas faced by criminal defence lawyers. It seems to take a special breed of person to do that kind of work –
He waited for me to reply, but I just stared at him.
‘My dad reckons all lawyers are alcoholics, and that’s how they preserve their consciences – in alcohol.’ He laughed, pleased with himself. ‘Is that why you’re not drinking? To show everyone that you’re different to your mum?’
Benny glared, but didn’t say anything. I sat up in the hammock and rested my feet on the ground.
‘The only reason you’re here is ‘cause Benny wants to do work experience at your dad’s firm.’
Richie glanced sideways at Benny before setting his sights on me.
‘Anyway, don’t go changing the topic. I’m talking about your mum. I just want to know how she sleeps at night, knowing –
‘What about your mum?’ I snapped back. ‘How does she sleep at night knowing that she lives such an idle, pointless fucking existence?’
‘Hey – you don’t know anything about my family.’
I stood up and shrugged.
‘I know your mum’s on Prozac and she’s fucking half the dudes in Adelaide behind your dad’s back.’
Richie licked his lips.
‘Hey, that’s funny. I heard it was the other way round; Benny told me your dad’s fucking all the fresh young first year students at uni behind your mum’s back. I guess at least your mum will be able to defend him when he gets done for paedophilia. She’ll get him acquitted on a technicality.’
I pushed him in the chest and he took a swing but missed. I swung back, hitting him in the ear, then tackled him onto the grass. It wasn’t a good fight. Neither of us landed any good punches. I managed to get on top of him and press his face into the ground, but Benny grabbed me and pulled me away. My arms were pinned to my sides when Richie rolled to his feet and punched me in the stomach. I dropped to the grass, gasping for breath.
‘Jesus!’ Benny shouted. ‘Why’d you do that?’
Richie pushed him.
‘Sorry dickhead, I didn’t realise you wanted some too.’
Benny fell silent and backed down. Richie paced beside me, coughed, cleared his throat and spat into the garden.
‘I booked this place, I think you better find somewhere else to stay, mate.’
I couldn’t breathe, let alone talk. Benny moved in to try and help me up, but I shrugged him off and stayed on the ground. As soon as I recovered my breath, I grabbed my phone, my wallet and the pot, and walked out.
* * *
Tim’s house was far more run-down in daylight than I remembered from the party the night before. The paint was faded on the corrugated iron roof, and was flaking off the outside walls. The garden was overgrown and stitched with spider webs. I knocked on the front door and waited.
At the centre of a thick crowd, Heidi and Tim were in full flight – Heidi on a stripped-back drum kit, and Tim on a big African drum. The high-hat sizzled, the snare crackled, the bass drum kicked off the back-beat. Tim punctuated her rhythm with rapid-fire fills. He jumped around, spinning in circles and shouting out. I squeezed to the front of the crowd and set my eyes on Heidi, who, in spite of the heat, was wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt under her dress. Her eyes flashed as she glanced between Tim and the crowd. She held time beautifully; everything in its place, everything precisely portioned. Up until then, most of the girls I knew played classical instruments – viola, cello and piano. Yet here was this beautiful girl – from my home city, of all places – smashing the shit out of a drum kit. The rhythm ended and applause rippled, then broke from the crowd. A couple of sharp whistles lanced the hot, humid air. Tim lifted his hands and raised his voice.
‘If you like what ya hear, don’t be scared to come forward. Dance! Enjoy! Give gener–
Heidi cut him off with a galloping rhythm and when Tim glared at her, she merely looked away and kept playing.
Heidi opened the door and walked in with the towel wrapped around her. I caught a whiff of honey scented soap as she pulled some clothes out of her drawer and dumped them onto her bed.
‘Can you just…?’
She indicated for me to look away, so I turned and moved towards the window. I heard her towel drop to the floor and stole the briefest of glimpses in the dresser mirror. I saw her long, dark hair draping over her shoulders and her small, lovely breasts. She had a spattering of moles on her chest and, I noticed, a long keloid scar running up the inside of her left forearm. She caught my eye in the mirror, and I looked away, heart thumping.
She didn’t reply. I heard the snap of her bra, then the sound of her hurriedly putting on the rest of her clothes. I picked up a book by someone called Anais Nin and skimmed the back cover: the mysteries of a woman’s sensuality… a glittering cascade of sexual encounters…
‘Have you read it?’ she asked.
‘No… but I’ve read some of his other –
‘You mean her other?’
She lit a joint on the front verandah and we started walking. Dark clouds hung low and heavy in the south and I noticed the air was becoming thinner and beginning to smell sweet. She drew on the joint a couple of times before offering it to me.
‘You saw my scar, didn’t you?’
I took the joint and drew.
‘Nah, not really… kind of.’
‘Well, just for the record, it’s not what it looks like.’
‘I didn’t think it looked like –
‘I got pushed into a window when I was a kid. I put my arm out and the glass sliced me open. I wear long-sleeved shirts ‘cause I get sick of people staring.’
I drew on the joint again before passing it back to her. The smoke burnt my throat and I struggled not to cough. She glanced at me waiting for a response and I decided not to say anything, then replied a little too late.
‘I barely noticed it.’
We crossed over train tracks and wove through a small carpark. She led me between some cars, stopped beside a silver Mercedes 3200 and glanced around to make sure no-one was looking. Then she bent the badge forward, snapped it off with the base of her palm and shoved it into her purse. Her technique was efficient enough for me to assume she’d done it before and I was about to ask, but she gave me a look that told me not to. We continued through the carpark, finished the joint and stubbed it out.
She was watching something over my shoulder and I turned to see two of the café staff gently ushering a man out of the cafe.
‘What’s going on?’
‘He’s one of the local crazies. He comes here every now and then, trips out and starts upsetting customers.’
‘Who is he?’
‘He used to be a lawyer down in Sydney.’
The contempt in her voice was unmistakable.
‘And what happened?’
‘He fucked himself up on too many mushies and lost the plot. He mustn’t have had any close friends or family because no-one came to get him. Sometimes I see him walking down the street banging his hand against his forehead, shouting at the sky and crying.’
She glanced at him once more before setting her eyes on me.
‘It’s probably one of the worst things that could happen to you, don’t you think? Losing your mind like that? But like I said – he was a lawyer – so fuck him.’
I thought of Mum.
‘Why do you hate lawyers so much?’
‘They’re the scum of the earth.’
A tense silence fell between us and I was relieved when I heard the first rumbles of thunder – huge mountain ranges of clouds colliding in the south. There was a brief pattering of rain, then nothing. A moment later, the clouds broke open and great streaks of rain fell and shattered upon the roof. The sound of the rain dragged her out of some distant memory, and she smiled again.
‘I love it when it rains like this. You wait – in an hour it’ll be sunny again. It’s just so melodramatic, so Byron.’
And she was right – by the time we left the café, the sun was shining again. Steam curled and peeled off the hot, wet roads as we walked back to her house.
Tim shook his head and smiled when I emerged from Heidi’s bedroom the following morning.
‘You Adelaide people just can’t resist each other, can you?’
Heidi turned to me, suddenly tense and off-balance. After talking and laughing in bed all morning, her sudden change in mood was frightening.
‘You’re from Adelaide ? Why didn’t you say?’
I raised my palms and nodded, confused. I could hear the house’s wooden framework creaking and groaning in the rising morning heat. Tim suppressed a laugh.
‘Sounds like you got to know each other pretty well before – ahem – getting to know each other.’
Heidi glared at him before dragging me back into her bedroom, closing the door and putting on a Ramones album.
‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ she asked.
‘You didn’t ask.’
She shook her head.
‘You should have told me.’
‘I mentioned Adelaide to you yesterday, but you clammed up and didn’t want to talk about it.’
‘I didn’t. I don’t.’
‘Why is it such a big deal?’
‘Well, we’re probably related by blood for a start.’
‘Second cousins would be okay though, wouldn’t it?’
She frowned so I quickly changed tack.
‘C’mon Heidi, the chances of us –
‘I bet we’re connected…’
She stared at the carpet shaking her head.
‘Fuck! I came to Byron to get away from all that.’
‘So did I.’
‘Alright – let’s get it over with.’
‘Get what over with?’
‘You know what.’
‘Let’s find the connection; it’s the Adelaide way.’
Heidi and I paid a quick visit to the supermarket and returned to the apartment about fifteen minutes later. We parked around the corner, waited until the street was quiet, then jumped the side fence, removed the fly screen from one of the windows and climbed inside. We threw eggs, fish-sauce and chopped liver all over the walls and the carpet. I ran upstairs and tipped sauce all through Richie’s suitcase. I hesitated in front of Benny’s, then thought nah, fuck him, and tipped it all through his stuff too. I heard loud crashes coming from downstairs and I ran down to find Heidi smashing everything she could get her hands on. Plates, glasses, wine glasses. She threw a small marble statue that smashed the television before grabbing the next closest thing and smashing that. I called out to her, but she was going so crazy that she didn’t even hear me. I had to put my arms around her to stop her. She was quivering with excitement and I could smell the sharp pinch of her sweat. When I spun her around to face me, she was wild-eyed and breathless, almost unrecognisable.
‘C’mon,’ I said. ‘Let’s go!’
We climbed out the window and waited until the street was clear before jumping the side fence and heading back to the car. We forced ourselves to walk slowly and as far as I could tell, no-one took any notice of us. We unlocked Tim’s Valiant, got in, and took off hysterical with laughter. As we cruised the backstreets, Heidi kept leaning over to kiss me swerving all over the road in the process. At one point, we almost crashed into an oncoming car, and that only made her laugh harder.
‘What was all that stuff about going to court?’ Tim asked.
I considered lying, then decided against it.
‘The rental apartment I was staying in got damaged and they’re trying to blame me for it.’
‘Did you do it?’
‘Are you worried it’ll go to court?’
‘No. They won’t press charges.’
‘Mum’s a criminal defence barrister – one of the best in the state. Everyone’s too scared of her.’
Tim seemed impressed.
‘What kind of criminals does she get off? Rapists? Murderers?’
‘I’d rather not talk about it.’
‘Yeah, maybe – sometimes.’
‘Does she have Mafia connections?’
‘Probably, I don’t know.’
Tim nodded to himself and smiled.
‘Man, that’s awesome…. So you can pretty much do anything you want and get away with it?’
‘Not anything, but…’
‘Does Heidi know that your mum’s a lawyer?’
‘No – and I’d rather keep it that way.’
‘So you know she hates lawyers more than anything.’
‘Scum of the earth, I think she said.’
He nodded, looked up and studied the ceiling as though deciding something, then set his eyes on me.
‘Just do it. C’mon.’
I stood and waited, palms raised.
He motioned me aside.
‘Move. C’mon, get off the rug.’
I glanced at my feet and stepped off the rug.
Tim dragged the heavy coffee table aside, then flipped back the rug underneath it. It took me a moment to realise what he was showing me: there was a cellar door cut into the floorboards.