I

Mal Vester had a pa who died in the Australian desert after drinking all the water from the radiator of his Land Rover. His momma had died just like the coroner said she had, even though he had lost the newspaper clipping that would have proved it. Not lost exactly. He had folded up the story and put it in the pocket of his jeans for one year and one half straight because they were the only pants he had and the paper had turned from print into lint and then into the pocket itself and then the jeans had become as thin and as grey as the egg skins his momma had put over his boils when he was little.

He still had the jeans—spread out flat on the bottom of his suitcase but they were just a rag really, not even a rag but just a few threads insufficient even to cover up a cat hit in the street.

The coroner, in absolving anyone or everyone of guilt in Mal’s mother’s death, had stated to the press, represented by a lean young man in a black suit with a nose blue and huge as a Doberman pinscher, that

the murky water and distance from
the shore precluded adequate witnessing of the terminal event. If
the victim were in the process of
having her upper extremity avulsed
by a large fish she would have had
little opportunity to wave or to
render an intelligent vocal appraisal
of her dealings at that particular
moment... Death being unavoidable
and by misadventure...

Mal thought the wording cold but swell.

Everyone had thought she was mucking about. It was dusk and there were hundreds on the beach...cooking their meat, the children eating ice-cream pies, the old ones staring into the sun. There was a man washing his greyhounds in a tidal pool. The water was cold and pale, flecked with filthy foam, green like the scum of a chicken stewing. Mal was in the cottage, fixing supper, pouring hot water over the jello powder, browning the moki in the skillet oil, and next door Freddie Gomkin was burning out another clutch as he tried to coax his car up and over the hill to the flat races in Sydney.

It certainly did not seem at the time that anyone could be dying. It was not the season. It was Durban’s season.

And no one was really paying any attention. She was by herself in water no deeper than her ribs, 100 feet down the beach from the public conveniences. And she disappeared. Someone later said that they thought they saw her disappearing. But they saw no fin. Blood came shoreward in a little patch, bright and neat as a paper plate. The only thing that Mal Vester had to go on of course was that she never came back. A few days later, someone caught a tiger shark and when they cut it open, there was a bathing costume stamped with a laundry mark wrapped round its intestine. But the laundry mark was traced to a Mrs. Annie White of Too woomba who was still alive and who worked in a doll hospital.

After it happened, he was unsure that it hadn’t. He lay in the cottage and didn’t know what to do. His mother had always hated the water because she could not swim and because she was convinced that people pissed in it all the time. This had become a minor obsession with her. She went all white and shaky when she saw the women sitting on the sandbank, their legs stretched out into the waves, the water rattling in between their thighs. Mal was eleven and she held him close.

The beach was no place to bring up a fatherless child by god she always said. Snorkels and men spitting. Women shuffling behind towels, dropping their clothes. Bleeding and coughing. Hair everywhere and rotting sandwiches. Unmentionables coming in with the tide.

He lay on a rolling cot and struck his hips with a loose fist. The moki was dumped charred into the sink. The clocks ran down. He moped about the cottage, practically starving to death while he thought of his mother and how she smelled. She had sung to him—all the American hits—

There ain’t nothing in the world
But a boy and a girl
And love, love, love...

Accompanying herself with salad spoons. It had not been long ago that he had squirmed between her breasts, chewing on a smooth flat dug, smelling food, night spent somewhere by something in the branches. It was like sucking a penny.

Nothing ever came to him directly. Nothing occurred outright. The things that had changed him were blurred and discreet and this gave the life that yet remained for him to live a strange unwieldiness and improbability. Death was not thorough. It had no clean edges to it. And all that love and responsibility left behind—mewing and forever lost.

 

II

The spleen weighs 150 Gm. The capsule
is wrinkled, thin and red-purple. The
cut surface shows vascular congestion.
The lymph nodes and bone marrow are not
remarkable. The liver weighs 1500 Gm.
It is red-brown, smooth and glistening.