Novel Excerpt - NaNoWriMo entry 2012

When it was all said and done she just wanted to be with her boys. Nothing fancy, nothing overblown. Any mother would have wanted the same. They’d been taken so young. Jimbo was five, Harry was just two. Drowned together one perfect late spring afternoon in October of 1929.

Grandma had not been to church since 1968. How she’d maintained any kind of faith during the intervening four decades was anyone’s guess. She had been four months pregnant with Shep when it happened and had kept going on with her life, kept washing the floors, cooking the meals, caring for her eldest seven-year-old Joyce, kept going in to church every Sunday in a daze..

“There was nothing else to do,” she told Nick. “No one had any answers, or any ideas or comfort,” she told him one Sunday morning a week before Christmas. He was still recovering from his 14th birthday two days earlier.
They were sitting out back of Grandma’s house smoking cigarettes on the back verandah, staring down at the half-empty dam Granddad had stubbornly insisted on building himself almost half a century ago.
“I went around the churches looking for something, someone who might understand and be able to listen to me, to talk it through, you know, what happened to my boys.”
She looked off toward the sun breaking through the morning cloudbank over the distant hills to the east. A gaggle of mapies encircled the bench they were seated on. Grandma took out another piece of white bread, broke off a chunk and threw it out over the verandah railing above the carport.
“When the boys died I felt the world drop out from under my feet,” she said. “Like I was suddenly sunk deep in a dark floating forest, no sunlight and no air even. Nowhere to stand and no chance of finding my way out.”
She paused, caught her breath. “I didn’t want to live any more after that.”
Nick watched glare-eyed as the magpies hovered in a frenetic cloud out of arms reach above the railing and took turns catching each wad of bread as it went twirling out over the edge. He couldn’t imagine what Grandma had gone through. Her two young sons. One minute playing in the yard, singing and laughing under the blue sky, the yellow sun. Next minute silent and floating, their faces forever staring down into the darkness.
“We had them cremated,” Grandma said. “Or rather, I did.”
“Cremated?” said Nick. “You mean, burned?”
Grandma smiled vacantly. “Yes,” she said. “Burned. It killed me… that they had drowned. So simple to avoid. But there they were. I felt like we had let them down, your Grandfather and me...”
“Where did they drown, Grandma?” Nick said softly, afraid to say too much.
“…that’s why I had them cremated, as a way of purifying their memory, of finding some way of closing the circle, if you know what I mean.”
Nick winced. Yes, yes. Talk Grandma. Get it out.
Then after a long pause he managed: “But it wasn’t your fault, was it Grandma? It was an accident…”
Grandma sighed, her bent-over figure was too tired to sit up. She was caving in on herself. She tossed another wad of bread over the cliff edge. She stared at Granddad’s dam, sitting there half empty down near Hunter Road. She seemed to lose the topic. “We should never have built that bloody thing so close to the house,” she said.
From behind them they could hear voices rising, and Vivian’s voice calling out, warning Nicks’ sister Suze and little brother Bobby to be careful with their drinks on the tiles.
“A hundred yards,” said Grandma, her mind a thousand miles away. “Half a minute is all it took. They were dead before we even noticed they were gone.”
Nick stubbed out his cigarette and swatted the smoke away.
“Here comes Mum,” said Nick. “Must be time for a cuppa.”
Nick watched the magpies circling closer, closer. One of them sat suddenly on the hand rail next to his head. He reared back, startled.
Grandma tossed another piece of bread further out now, away from the house over next to the clothes line.
“But where did it happen, Grandma?” said Nick. “In a river, King’s creek?”
Grandma closed up the bag of bread and placed it on the bench between them.
The sunlight broke through and bounced off the dam a hundred paces below them. She stood as best she could, her back hunched over in a hump up on top of her shoulders, took a hold on the rail and let her eyes graze eastward toward the small fence surrounding the dam. Her face was tilted down still, but her eyes stared up through her eyebrows to a definite point. Her chin quivered as a tear rolled down her cheek.
“There,” she said, pointing. “The dam. They drowned in your Grandfather’s precious bloody dam.


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