Riley came home, sweaty and tired after a long day, dumped her bag in her room and headed for the bathroom, grabbing a towel and a spongebag as she went.
Pat watched her, disapproval in her eye. Of course, Pat disapproved of most people so perhaps it signified little.
She listened as the shower started, went over to the bathroom door and hammered on it with her fist. ‘Don’t use all the bloody water, hear?’ But she knew that the heated water would run out as the water in the long, sun-warmed pipe from the tank stand was replaced with much colder bore water. Kids these days wouldn’t put up with cold-water showers.
She wondered where Charlie was, and went to the front door, scanning the yard from the verandah. It was quiet. Riley’s car sat in the shade under the pepper tree by the gate, and the dog got up from a patch of shade beside the fence and wandered, seemingly aimlessly, across the yard.
Trouble with this bloody place—nothing to do and all day to do it in. Bloody sun, bloody dust. She turned to go back inside, and caught a glint from inside the shed. She stared. Was that Charlie? The big end doors of the shed were open, but in the strong afternoon sunlight it was like the mouth of a cave… dark, impenetrable. Pat watched, listening to the shower, knowing instinctively what was going on. She turned and walked to the other end of the verandah and took the steps to the ground, walking quickly through the shadows the house cast, moving silently over the dusty yard.
From the other side of the house she was out of sight from the door of the shed, and she crossed the yard quickly, slowing as she approached the corrugated iron building. Silently, she moved to the back of the shed, knowing the door there would be open.
From the doorway she could see Charlie in silhouette, standing behind the ute, leaning against the side, and holding the binoculars to his eyes, unmoving. No, that was wrong, she realised: he was moving a little, rhythmically.
Pat edged forward around the front of the ute, careful not to make a sound. She watched Charlie, realising what he was doing. She could see him more clearly from there, see his right hand down in his groin, his breathing heavy and ragged, his left hand holding the binoculars, the elbow on the edge of the tray side.
She did nothing for a moment, then suddenly banged her fist on the door of the ute. ‘You bastard,’ she shouted, and Charlie nearly jumped out of his skin.
He dropped the binoculars and scrabbled with his pants. ‘What?’ he shouted.
‘You filthy sod,’ Pat screamed back. ‘Think I didn’t know what you were doing? You rotten shit.’ Saliva span from her mouth as she leapt towards him, grabbing him by the collar and forcing him to bend over the tray of the ute. She kicked his legs, then further up to his bum, all the time shaking him by the collar and screaming invective at him. ‘You bastard, you shitting filthy bastard. Just like your stupid filthy father. You fucking wanker. You disgusting no good useless wanking bastard. You cunt!’
Charlie knew all that, but he had never heard her use such language. He kept his head down as she slapped and punched him, but his jeans were falling down his legs and he couldn’t fight back. Well, he didn’t really want to fight back, just wanted her to stop her attack, to stop her screaming. ‘Stop it, stop it. Stop screaming. Oh I’m sorry Pat. I’m sorry, but please stop.’
In the dirty, dusty bathroom Riley switched off the water and pulled her towel over the rail, drying her hair. They should have a fan in here, with this heat, she thought. I’ll be sweating again in a few minutes.
There was something going on across the yard, she could hear. Shouting. Not that there was anything unusual about that with Pat around. Boy, could she ever shout. She looked towards the open window, the raised sash glazed with obscured glass. That’s where they could put a fan, she thought, right there in the window. Not much chance of that. She’d have to get out, find somewhere else. Somewhere modern, somewhere in town. Stupid idea, lodging all the way out here. Thought it would be interesting. Rural. Sort of a tree-change. Stupid. Dust and dirt and boredom and a mad woman always looking for something else to complain about.
She bent her knees a little and could see Pat dragging Charlie across the yard by the collar, still raving on about something. Madness. She heard the two of them go up the steps and onto the verandah, heard the front door slam and the sounds of struggling and fighting, and wondered what the hell?
‘Get out here, slut,’ Pat shouted.
Riley froze. What on earth was she going on about?
There was heavy banging on the door. ‘Now, you slag, you slut. Get out here.’
Then Charlie, pleading: ‘No Pat, you got to stop. Pat, stop. Let it go.’
More pounding on the door.
Riley towelled herself off quickly, pulled on her jeans and her shirt, hurriedly buttoning up and wondering what on earth was happening. She grabbed her bag and her towel and slipped back the bolt on the door.
The door pushed inwards immediately, and Pat stood there,
cast-iron frying pan in her hand, raised to strike. Her eyes narrowed. ‘You fucking slut,’ she spat, more quietly now, nearly a whisper. As though she was muttering to herself.
Riley raised an arm in protection, but the cast-iron drove past her defences, the rim striking her just above the eye. Even as she fell blood spurted from the wound.
Silence for a moment or two, but it seemed an age. Charlie and Pat looked down at the crumpled body, saw the blood running over the tiles.
Charlie reached behind him for the back of a chair, and sat down at the table. He turned his head away and ran a hand over his face, white now. ‘Shit,’ he said quietly, and rested the top of head in his hands, his elbows spread widely.
Pat turned away and took the frying pan back to the range, and stood there for a moment, noticing the blood on the iron. She moved to the sink and took a dish cloth, returned to the range and wiped the blood from the pan. She looked at the red stain on the cloth, then returned to the sink and turned on the tap, wringing and rinsing the cloth until the water ran clear once more.
Charlie watched in silence as Pat filled the kettle and set it on the hot-plate of the range. ‘Is that it?’ he said? ‘Are we just going to have a cup of tea?’
For once Pat was silent. She took the teapot and and put it on the side of the range to warm, took the old tea-caddy from the mantlepiece above the range and spooned two large helpings into the pot. She turned to the cupboard and took two mugs to the range, and set them down, too, to warm on the side. She didn’t look at Charlie. Went to the fridge and opened the door, took milk from the tray in the door. Poured a little into each mug and returned the milk to the fridge. Stood, then, with her hand on the handle of the kettle as though willing it to boil. It did, soon enough.
‘Go and get her car and put it beside the verandah,’ she said without turning her head.
Charlie lifted his head from his hands and stared at her. ‘You mad?’ he said quietly. ‘You’re not going to move her?’
‘Do as yer fuckin’ told,’ Pat said, lifting the kettle and pouring water into the teapot.
‘Fuck that,’ Charlie shouted. ‘You do as you like, but I’m not getting any deeper into this.’ He stared at her in disbelief.
Pat swirled the teapot a few times, then put the lid on it and left it on the side of the range. She picked up the frying pan again, and seemed to be weighing it, still not looking at Charlie.
In a sudden movement she turned and took one step towards him. The frying pan lifted and smashed down on Charlie’s arm where it lay on the table. Charlie screamed. Pat turned back to the range. ‘Do as I fuckin’ told you,’ she said quietly. ‘Now.’
Charlie hugged his arm as though it might be broken. Fucking bitch is mad, he told himself. Always has been. He whimpered. ‘Yer can’t move her. Yer gotta call the cops. Call an ambulance.’
‘It was all your fault you wanker. Now do as yer bloody told before I fetch yer another one.’
Charlie had never been able to stand up to her, her and her rages. But maybe there was a first time for everything. He got up, still clutching his arm, and went to Riley’s room. Her keys were in a bunch on the chest of drawers behind the door. He took it and slammed the door as he left, stumbled across the yard as quickly as he could. The dog watched him without moving. He found the right key, pulled the door open and got in. The seat was much too far forward, and he fiddled to release it, to move it back. He started the engine and put the car into gear. She wasn’t very smart, he thought. He wasn’t going to have a hand in moving the body.
But she was smarter than he thought, and quicker, too. Before he had moved the car two metres, he saw Pat running to the gate and throwing it closed, and leaning back in triumph, watching him breaking to a halt just in time, the front of the car only centimetres from her legs. She sneered in triumph. ‘Next to the verandah, I said.’
Charlie slumped over the wheel, defeated again.
They heaved Riley into the boot. ‘Now, what the fuck are we going to do with her car?’
Charlie scratched his head. He grew more resolute. ‘What’re you going to do with her car, you mean’ he said. ‘I’m not doing nothin’.’
Pat looked at him, the sneer back on her face. ‘You’ll do what I tell yer,’ she said, and spat.
Charlie sighed, and looked her closely. ‘Yer mad,' he said quietly. ‘Yer killed ‘er. Yer can’t ’ide it. She lives here. She’ll be missed. No good jus’ moving her car, cos it’ll be obvious.’
Pat shrugged. ‘So let em come. I don’t care. It were an accident.’
‘Not any more. Might’ve been if yer adn’t moved ’er. But now,’ he looked away over the yard, over the gate, over the road toward the town, ‘no, it ain’t no accident now.’
Pat was about to fight back. He could see that, the stiffening of the shoulders, the slight raising of the head, the clenching of her fists.
But she clearly thought better of it at the last moment, and she sighed a deep sigh instead.
She lowered herself and sat on the edge of the verandah, leaning against the corner post. Charlie sat down next to her, and put his arm around her shoulders.
‘Should never ’ave married you, you useless fucker.’ She turned and looked into his eyes. ‘Could ’ave amounted to sommat, yer know. But you, you jus’ took the easy way every time, let me win; let me boss you around. You should a fought.’
Charlie said nothing. So it was everybody else’s fault yet again. He had known it would be. He shook his head slowly, stood and walked to the gate, pulling it open, then on to the shed. He got into the ute and drove through the gate and turned towards the town.
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