FICTION: Chapter 22 Reclaiming Territory (Complete)

22: RECLAIMING TERRITORY

Future Bastard

1979

I knock on Mum/Dad’s front door. It’s late on a cold night. I’m shivering, my jacket pulled tight around me, and I can see my breath in the porch light next to the door.

Dad, in his pyjama bottoms, appears in the doorway and sees that it’s me. It takes him a long moment, but then his face erupts in happiness, amazed again to see me, understanding that something like a miracle has occurred again, as if miracles happen so often in my time they are routine, beneath comment. Dad looks like a man who feels his body filled with a million comments, as if they were eels, seething and writhing, struggling to get out, to be expressed. He gestures for me to come in, and says he’ll put the kettle on, and complains about the cold and the rain, but supposes the farmers need it. I don’t tell him that in my time Perth and surrounds rely increasingly on desalinated seawater, and sewage subjected to such extreme filtering that it’s safe to consume (and it is). That people talk seriously about whether Perth will even be habitable for much longer.

He rouses “the Missus”, and again I see this strange discomfort they have with me, and all at once I want to disappear and just write them a letter about Robbie via the Time Capsule bank vault. But the news I have is too urgent, too serious.

Mum shuffles out of the bedroom, looking like she’s in the grip of a nasty cold. “Hello, love! Nice to see you again. ‘Scuse the lack of hug, but am full of lurgy caught from your useless father, though he denies all charges, a likely story.” She inspects the interior of the fridge and winds up in an horrific fit of coughing that sounds like crunching through gears on a truck, only the gears are swimming in snot. Dad tells her to go back to bed. She plonks herself at the kitchen table with an orange, but feels too feeble to peel it. Dad peels it and separates the segments for her and humours her generally.

I notice how well they’re getting on without me in the picture. Dad is still obviously, visibly, depressed. He looks like a five-watt current in a sixty-watt bulb. He looks so weak he’s not casting a shadow, or if he is then even the shadow’s depressed and just wants to stay in today. But despite all that, they have a visible chemistry, warmth and care. It’s the quality I found in them in my own time, when they’re old, and Dad’s had successful treatment.

But maybe, in point of fact, I truly was the problem? Maybe I was the battlefield they fought to control for all those years. The thought makes me hesitate before telling them what’s happened to Robbie. This thought is treacherous. The whole thing about the voices in your head is that they are always, always lying to you. They do not have your best interests at heart. They want to see you dead, if they can swing it. They are not meant to make sense. They are not meant to seem reasonable. You are not meant to hear your mind think, “maybe it’s true that all those years when Mum and Dad were in such strife, I really was the problem”. No! A million times no! I’ve been through this with doctors and psychologists. It’s very specifically not true.

But again comes the voice. What if it is true, though? What if it’s right?

And, standing there, a man out of time like a fish out of water, I realise I’m getting sick. It’s stealing over me again. The spiders are building their webs in my head again, the sort of messy, chaotic webs that catch as much dust as bugs, that look like spun-sugar madness crammed into a ceiling corner.

Mum and Dad were still talking. I shift my awareness back to them. I feel as if I’ve just been underwater. They’re talking about how happy they had been before Mum got pregnant. Not that they were expecting or planning anything. I was a big surprise to a couple with no money and no fixed address. But they kept me, despite the impossibility of it. That was my mum in spades. The merely impossible was never a problem.

It reminds me of how, when Fiona and I were in our early days after we got out of hospital, and somehow Fiona got pregnant despite her numerous troubles, her parents offered us money to make the whole thing, including no-good me, go away. I think that have been the last time she spoke to them. Well, my Fiona, anyway.

That was around the time she let me watch her cutting and burning herself. It was unbearably, excruciatingly intimate. I’d known she did it, had seen her naked many times, had seen her landscape, all that white scar tissue on her arms, legs, not only on the visible places, but even the most private places. How could she do that to herself? I’d say. I would get upset, watching it, the cutting, the bleeding. She would ask how her dad could do what he did to her? What he did was unspeakable. What she did was a kind of rewriting of herself, of claiming back her own landscape, making it her own, no matter what–and making sure he and all his clients would never want her again.

Hmm, digression. Focus, idiot.

Once I have their attention, I show them the letter. It’s a copy, so safe to handle. They are bewildered by every part of it. I explain that their future selves followed my totally illegal investment advice, and were quite wealthy, so this kidnapper decided to try for some fast loot.

“But that’s our boy!” said Dad.

“It is. She took him from outside school and moved him to the future to avoid cops here.”

Mum sits up straight suddenly. “Ooooh, wait. Wait just one minute. She gets up, bent over for another coughing fit, then lurches off, grabbing corners, walls and items of furniture to keep herself upright. She finds her handbag, rummages in it, and produces a folded note, which she brings to the kitchen table. “Here,” she says. “I got a call from Detective Lockley today. I got him to speak slowly because of the noise on the ward.”

“Lockley got in touch?” Dad and I were amazed, and both craned over to see the note.

Mum pulled the note close. “He says some witnesses came through with information about the abductor’s car, including enough of the license plate to greatly simplify the search.”

“Bloody hell,” I said. Dad got up and was soon leaning into the fridge, his lean uneasy features picked out in electric ghostlight. He went on, “Did I raise you properly to be a VB man?”

I couldn’t abide booze because of what it did to my dad and other members of my family. But of course I had one with my dad.

Mum said, “There’s more.”

“More? There’s more?”

“There’s more.”

Dad and I were both about to pop open our cans. Now we were both caught, as if frozen, not yet true Australian men, but close.

Mum read. “A patrol car looking for something else found this car up near Trigg Beach. There’s a group of beach houses there. We issued search warrants but found nothing of interest, I am genuinely sorry to report. It looks like a dead-end.”

We all looked at each other, staring, and then I could see Mum and Dad were looking at me. They looked like hungry dogs who thought it was their dinner-time. They looked like they might eat me if I didn’t do as I was told.

I reminded them about the Time Capsule. They could send me messages and smallish items that could fit in the box. I could do likewise to them.

“If our boy is in the future and–that–God!–if that’s happening to my boy,” Mum said, “then we are bloody well going to that future as well and we are going to find our blessed son, because what kind of shit parents would be if we did anything less, I ask you?”

There was a very loud, highly charged, fraught silence in those next few moments. A sense of two powerful teams each pulling on one end of the silence, stretching it to breaking point. The silence bristled and twanged.

But nothing happened.

I said I’d get back to them tomorrow. We needed a plan. Lockley’s new information was great–it opened up one obvious line of inquiry, and perhaps others.

The thing was, though, I knew Dad wanted to say something he thought was important, but Mum had steamrollered over him. The silence had torqued like that because my dad was pressing against it, trying to find a way through it. Tonight, I knew, he’d pull an all-nighter, writing me one of his essays. I was looking forward to it.