Afflicted 08: Chapter 7

Bevan left Rick sitting contemplatively in the clearing when dusk was starting to fall down around their shoulders. Sitting out there with no lights didn’t worry Rick for some reason, despite the fact that he wouldn’t have a clue where all his stuff was when he went to pick it up, pack it away, and take it home. Bevan could never understand Rick’s perfectly contented ability to sit in a fucking huge mess and apparently not notice it. The chap had the ability to totally disregard his immediate environment. Or maybe it was just the ability to rest contently inside himself to the degree that the external environment didn’t matter any more. Either way, Bevan couldn’t stand it, and equally he couldn’t stand having to scratch his way through the scrub and back to his bike in the dark; so he left Rick sitting there, with hardly any further words spoken between them. Bevan was convinced that Rick had acted from a dubious position that afternoon. He’d never seen Jack quite so worked up before. He was so worked up that he was almost a shade of himself, rather than the full complement. The afternoon passed him by and he barely noticed. But Rick was a different kettle of fish altogether. Bevan had been quietly watching Rick, whilst Rick watched Jack. He noticed the self-satisfied smugness that Rick was suppressing in his face all afternoon. And when Rick won the toss with regards to not reporting their discovery, it didn’t pass Bevan’s notice that when Jack acquiesced, Rick looked happy.

It was all a bit weird, and the arrogance that Rick had displayed all afternoon made him unpleasant to be around, even if he did show some concern for the state of Jack’s family life. Rick wasn’t the only one who hoped that Jack’s mum wasn’t taking the piss. Although she seemed like a nice enough woman, she had a tendency to cruel or cold jokes, which she played primarily in the guise of discipline. Perhaps it was the fact that she’d had three boys who were given to the cruel and bullying side of life; maybe they had taught her how to do it. Or maybe they got their skills from her; she was well known for her ability to do things like that, things that tended to hit right where they were intended to hit, and which were not easily forgotten. Stories abounded about her interactions with women her own age, and they weren’t always good ones. Bevan’s mum seldom had anything good to say about Jack’s mum, though even Bevan had to admit that most of his mum’s opinion were rooted in baseless gossip.

Bevan hadn’t taken anywhere near as many fish as Jack, but he did spend a good amount of time down at the river cleaning them. He was incredibly particular about the cleanliness of his fish, and unlike the other two did not have a space outside where he could legitimately clean his fish. The last time he’d tried to clean the fish in the laundry sink, his mother had nearly had a fainting fit for a week. He couldn’t stand trying to cope with that again, it was too much bullshit the first time. What made it worse was that his father never interceded on his behalf, as much as Bevan had often deserved leniency. After many years of marriage to the woman, many years before that, and with a daughter who was pretty much the spitting image of her mother—in personality only: she rather looked like a dumpling on legs in Bevan’s opinion—it’s probably no wonder the man had developed the mechanism of keeping almost entirely to himself and not interfering in whatever Bevan’s mother decided to do. Or reacted to. Or whatever her method or lack of method was.

The ride home took Bevan longer than usual. His mind was utterly distracted by so many things. The first was what Rick had mentioned—that of Jack’s mum taking the piss; the second was Jack’s state of mind; the third was the corpse in the river. He went the long way home, and paused in the park around the corner from his house for a long contemplative smoke. He noticed, kind of vaguely, that his smoke tasted faintly odd, but disregarded it. He was probably hungry. Smokes often tasted weird when he was really hungry.

Bugger Jack’s mum, he thought. Those three fish were the best fish I’ve caught all year. Never get any more like them, although if that spot turned out as well as he hoped… The beige gunk on the top of the water recurred to Bevan like a sticky film, his thoughts getting all disgusting and tangled up in it. He pulled the fish out of his backpack and eyed them suspiciously, smelled them to see if they were okay. Then he put them back and sat gently in the swing, sweeping the park and its surrounding neighbourhood for peering gossips that might know his mum; seeing none he pulled out his pipe and had another cone. Then he lit a smoke and swung aimlessly for a while, thinking.

Despite the fact that his mother would have his guts for breakfast, and despite the fact that it was now pretty much dark, Bevan suddenly didn’t care much for any punishments that could be dished out to him on the same plate as his dinner. He was amazed to realise that he’d seen the first human corpse of his life that afternoon, and even more amazed to think about how awful it was, and his almost total calmness in the face of it. He was also incredibly curious to see that although he was relatively calm about that, that everything else he had been worrying about suddenly faded into the background and wasn’t half so important any more.

Jack’s reaction to that mess in the river was the thing that really chewed at Bevan, though. He wondered what the source of his mate’s overconcern with it could be. If Jack was the romantic type, he thought as he chewed at a fingernail, and if the thing in the river had been identifiable, then he could feasibly—and what a fucking long shot—have been chewed up by that. Or maybe he had something to do with it; with his anger he might have accidentally lost it and had a go at a chick and maybe killed her; or maybe it was something else. Something perfectly innocent. Maybe he’d heard about something from somewhere. With those brothers of his always getting in the shit, it wouldn’t be the first time.

His smoke, held above the filter as always, burnt Bevan’s fingers and he looked down at it in disgust. It wasn’t until the sudden sensation of pain that he realised that his arse was getting numb and that it was, actually, quite chilly sitting in the park. The breeze that had been blowing down at the river had picked up and was a veritable wind. Reluctantly, Bevan put his bag on his back and slowly rode his bike home again.

When he got home he saw that the kitchen wasn’t ablaze in light, and that it was peaceful. The telly wasn’t on. No little girl whining or whingeing or crapping on relentlessly about something that didn’t mean anything. No mother yelling on the phone.

Bevan left his bike in the garden shed out the back of the house, and walked through the back door, discarding his boots at the entrance. He similarly dumped his fish next to his boots and dashed off to the bathroom for a shower and a clean change of clothes. On his way back, smelling of the awful soap his mother insisted on buying ‘because it doesn’t need to be expensive when all you do is wash it down the plughole,’ he grabbed the fish from near the back door and took it into the kitchen. He gave them a final rinse at the sink, wondering at the absence of female noise in the house. He reached into the top of the pantry to grab the small jar labelled Poison (which he’d done just to freak out his sister when she was a bit younger), and coated the trout in his special mustard-and-spice mix. Bevan set the fillets aside on the bench just as his dad shuffled in, lazily throwing his current novel on the table on the way to the kettle, for what was probably his fiftieth cup of sencha for the day. Bevan’s dad inspected the fillets as he filled the kettle.

‘Trout, eh? Good size, too.’

‘Thanks.’ Bevan’s stomach gurgled obscenely as he gazed at the fish. He was pretty happy with them, they were nice and big and fat. What a shame he gave the three best ones to Jack. His stomach gurgled so loudly that Bevan’s dad turned, startled.

‘Hungry, eh?’

Bevan grinned and kneaded his guts. ‘Yeah. Could say that.’ He looked around, half expecting the rest of the family to pile in, or his mum to at least berate him for the time of day in which he’d sauntered in. ‘Where’s mum?’

His dad, finished fussing for the time being, turned around and leaned, arms crossed, against the sink. He didn’t say anything immediately. He took a sudden decision and reached over to turn off the kettle. Then he peered into a cupboard on the other side of the kitchen, and dragged out a bottle of wine, two glasses, and a corkscrew. After he’d uncorked the wine, filled the glasses and given one to his son, he leaned against the sink again. His eyes sparkling, dancing a bit, and he smiled in a happy, relaxed sort of way. He appraised Bevan as though he were his best mate, and then raised his glass in a toast. He waved his hand in a vague sort of way.

‘Gone.’

Bevan frowned uncomprehendingly at his father’s assertion. They clinked glasses and each took a draught.

‘Well, gone for a period of time, one might say.’ Bevan’s dad coughed slightly. ‘One might say she’s taken the daughter, too, for a right-old jolly-up at her ghastly sister’s place some miles away.’ He smiled again. ‘One might even say that one is free of women for, oh, up to a week.’ He took a draught of his wine and grinned some more. ‘Now how’s that for something to be happy about, eh?’

The wine in Bevan’s glass seemed to disappear of its own volition. He set the glass down on the table beside himself and exclaimed, ‘shit hot!’

He dived under the glass shelves and pulled out the toaster, a loaf of bread and a frying pan. He threw some bread into the toaster, turned on the stove and oiled the pan. His throat fair watered with the prospect of not having to eat the shite his mum undercooked; with the idea of just devouring the fish as they were, coated in his special ecstatic coating.

Beautifully cooked, smelling absolutely delicious, and sitting delicately on a large enamel plate in front of them, the fish were the centre of a lovely meal that Bevan and his dad were sitting down to within twenty minutes. But Bevan found that he couldn’t eat a skerrick of his fish. No matter that he was so hungry he could’ve eaten a week’s provisions without a second thought; whenever he looked at the fish, he kept thinking of that beige crap in the water—the same water that these had lived in, had been pulled out of, had been cleaned in. And let’s face it, that beige crap wasn’t a great deal further around the river.

So, he piled vegemite on his toast and gave all the fish to his dad ‘on purpose’: ‘Oh yeah dad, you have it. Go on you never get enough…’ and claimed that since his mum was out his dad ought to enjoy himself and just be a guts for a change. Not only did this work a treat, but his dad gave him all the rest of the wine. Bevan was never tight-fisted with his fish, but being overgenerous was not out of character either. In any case, his dad just thought he was being nice. He ate, burped leisurely and loudly, gathered up a glass of wine and his book, and retired happily to the loungeroom and the couch. He was a picture of perfect contentment.

Lucky bugger, thought Bevan. You’re so simple, or perhaps beaten down, that happiness is easy to find. Happiness is, indeed, a good glass of wine and a nice comfy book.

For his part, Bevan did the dishes and went to his room, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the crap in the water. The strange taste had returned to him as well, so he lit some incense, had a smoke while hanging out the window, and buried himself in redoing the picture that Jack had fucked up on him a week earlier. By the time he’d finished it, his eyes were burning, and he climbed happily under his doona.

With a relaxed, dopey smile, he wondered if perhaps he was more like his dad than he thought.

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