The day Ella arrived from Thailand it was raining. She had come through Melbourne and hired a car at the airport. He would not have let her drive; if he had known she was getting straight off the plane and into a car to drive five hours north over the border into NSW. He had thought she would stay at the Airport hotel over night and travel up the next day. She arrived barely six and a half hours after the flight’s arrival into Australia. Apparently it had rained the whole way up. She had stopped once for a nap at a service station, sleeping in the car for an hour curled up on the backseat wrapped up in a thin Mexican poncho she bought at one of the airport shops.
Rain had battered the roof and windowpanes of the house all night. He allowed the children to sleep in. The central heating was on and he was sitting on the couch watching some video clips of Lorri and the kids together from the last few months. It was still hard to believe she was gone from their lives and he was trying to figure out when the changes had taken place. When had they started? What could he have done to circumvent or prevent the inevitable? He had gone through at least twenty clips from the last year. Lorri at the park with the kids. Lorri at Tracey’s birthday party. Lorri with friends and their children. A kindergarten concert. A crèche day for mothers, Lorri and he with the kids all in life jackets on a boat, Lorri and he on a Tasmanian holiday, Lorri doing crafts with the kids at home, Lorri and the collie dog Buddy they had had for twelve months until it met an unfortunate end because it used to chase cars on the road and bit the wheels.
Lorri took that pretty badly. She found his broken body by the side of the road one day coming back from work at the school near the end of second term. She had come through the door visibly upset.
Brian, please don’t let the kids out.
Why? What’s wrong?
I have to get a shovel. I’ve got to bury Buddy.
My God, no! What happened? Where is he?
By the side of the road. He must have been hit by a car. His skull is crushed in.
Oh, sweetie. He had jumped up and held her quivering body. Let me do it. You stay with the kids. He remembered that it was the middle of July. A bitterly cold day. He found buddy’s broken body up on the nature strip where Lorri had dragged it. The back wheel of the car or truck had crushed his skull when it ran him over. He gathered the dog in his arms. The body was still loose and floppy which meant that the accident had happened only in the last few hours. Probably the idiots with their Watchtower magazines, he thought. That afternoon, two neat young men sporting crew cuts, in identical dark blue suits and white shirts and ties had presented themselves at his door. Hard to get rid of and when he finally was able to make them understand that he really did not give a flying whatever about the coming Armageddon and JC’s imminent ‘second arrival’, they left. He had refused the copies of their Watchtower. The younger of the two men was almost tearful pleading with him to ‘save’ his soul. The useless bastards had left the gate open or ajar. Maybe the dog had slipped out while they were talking to him? Who knows? They were useless idiots going around pedaling their religion from door to door, no respect for the beliefs of others who had better things to do with their time. Come to think of it, what did these people do to earn a living? He thought back to that day and digging the hole down near the back fence in the soft muddy earth down by the big eucalyptus tree that they had had to cut down a few weeks before Lorri ended her life. The next door neighbor had complained about its leaves in his swimming pool. Both he and Lorri were furious and had tried to fight its removal. However they could not prove it but the tree began to die all of a sudden. The man who came from the council to remove it solved the mystery. He told them that someone had drilled some holes into the tree and poured Roundup – a toxic weedkiller – into them. That had killed the tree. Once it was dying it was a danger to life and limb. In a windstorm the whole thing could come crashing down. A two or three hundred years old tree was sacrificed for someone’s swimming pool. Lorri fumed for days at the selfishness of it all.
That bastard could have bought himself a pool cover…
Or a net…to scoop the leaves out. Brian agreed.
Instead he would rather get rid of a tree that has been there for years and years. For his piddly little pool that will probably not be there in twenty years time.
She cried for several days after that. It was selfish of the man. He agreed but it was unlike her to dwell on things. He worried about her emotional state for a while and then she appeared to get over it.
There was a sharp rap at the door and when he opened it there was Ella. A black beanie with earmuffs taming the wisps of honey blonde hair that threatened to escape pulled down over her forehead, gloves and pullover that was way too big for her slight frame. She had a pair of loose pajama type trousers in a colourful Thai cotton. She had light pink molded plastic sandals on her tanned feet which she kicked off at the door when she entered.
Bloody wet. And freezing. I had to buy these and the jumper in a service station near Sunbury.
So saying she drew off the gloves and flipped the beanie off. Her hair flew up all electric. She kissed him briefly on the cheek and strode over to the heater vent and stood over it in her bare feet.
Damn. Damn. It’s so cold. She hugged her shoulders and rocked on the balls of her feet over the vent. Finally he spoke.
So they didn’t have your size? In jumpers?
No. They were probably marketing to truckies coming from Queensland or Northern NSW who forget how cold it can be down here, anytime except midsummer and even then…anyway women are always better prepared. She paused and watched his face. Usually, except when the unexpected happens.
Ok. Do you want something to eat? She shook her head.
Coffee? Tea or bon ox?
No. She glanced over to the big screen where Lorri was paused in mid flight just after she had kicked a ball to Tracey and a friend. She looked as if she was just about to fall backwards. Her face was set in a grimace of concentration.
I still don’t believe it. I mean… Ella drew her hands up as if in supplication or prayer. WHY? She had everything to live for. She had you, Tracey and Tommy…WHY?
Brian fought for control. He felt the water build up in his eyes and cheeks. He slowly shook his head.
Did she leave a note? A letter saying why?
Slowly Brian nodded and mumbled. Yeah.
Ok. Where the fuck is it?
The police have it.
What do you mean the police have it? Have you read it?
No, I mean I tried to and they took it as evidence. Before I could even open it.
You mean you have not read it yet?
Yeah. That’s right. I called 000 and they came with the ambulance. I didn’t have time. I was more concerned that she might still be alive. I mean, I was not thinking, shit my wife is dead; I’d better look for her suicide note to find out why she did this. He paused. If there was one chance, one spark of life, I wanted her back.
Stupid moll. Didn’t she think of you and the kids? That you guys might have needed her.
Don’t Elly. Not in front of the children. Not a word.
So what about the note or letter? When do you get to read it? It was addressed to you, wasn’t it?
Yeah. At the moment it is evidence. There will be an inquest.
Oh so do they think you could have come home early, knocked her out with some sleeping pills and booze and dumped her in the bath and slashed her wrists while she was comatose?
Something like that. They have to investigate all the pros and cons. Some people have acted like I drove her to it too.
You? You drive someone to suicide? You?
Ella spun round and faced him. Her eyes searched his face. Her scrutiny was unnerving, but he was resigned.
What a load of bullshit. Unless you have changed a hell of a lot in the last few years. What are Maria and Rita saying? Are they sticking up for you, at least?
It’s kind of complicated now.
What do you mean?
Well, Maria was interviewed by two people from the Department just after the funeral.
According to Rita and Maria, they seemed very keen to present Lorri as emotionally unstable. I think the whole idea is to present her as a bit of flaky personality and to steer away from workplace conditions or events at work being responsible for her emotional state.
So what’s been going on there?
I am not sure. I don’t have the full story. Lorri did not talk shop much at home. She was becoming increasing agitated at times and easily upset lately. I thought it was just pressures, you know.
So when did Rita tell you this?
This afternoon. She took the kids out for a while. She told me to be careful about what I say when they come to ‘visit’ me.
You know Lorri was unhappy about work when I visited you guys about six months ago.
No. How did you know that?
Well she was taking sick days all over the place. That was unusual for her.
Yeah, maybe. Look I was so tied up in getting the business up and running. I had to look after the kids two days a week while Lorri was at work, then she was only working four days. So we had them in childcare one day. We talked about putting Tommy in the crèche two days as Tracey was going to start pre-school three days a week.
How did she feel about that?
Fine, I think. Although Lee Hammer made some comment to her about the fact that she had left it so late to have kids and now she was dumping them in childcare instead of caring for them. She was quite upset by that. And angry.
Yeah well it is probably jealousy. Lee is a stupid cow. She’s is pure ambition and not much else. I’d hate to work for someone like that.
What do you mean? When did you meet her?
Oh last year, when I came up in December. I went with Lorri to the school break up party. To help out with the kids and just moral support.
Yep. Rita was on maternity leave and Maria was going to go. She felt really alone and isolated. That is the impression I got.
She asked you to go?
Yeah. I met the famous Lee Hammer.
And? What happened?
She asked me if I was a relationship and who my ‘partner’ was.
Yeah. Then what?
I didn’t answer her. Instead I asked her if she fucked her husband regularly or was he just a pretty face? Despite himself, Brian laughed.
Well at least your sense of humour is there somewhere. Ella chuckled.
Ok, Elly what did she say then?
She got this tight angry look on her face and looked down her nose at me. So I said, WELL? Then she turned and left. She kept away from me for the rest of the night. Do you have herbal teas by any chance? I would love a lemon and ginger tea.
Sure. Go put your bag in the room. Take a pair of flannel PJ’s from my chest of drawers. I am sure they’ll be warmer than what you have.
He pottered around in the kitchen getting them both some tea while she took her backpack up to the spare room and changed into the pajamas. Somehow it did not feel so bad now she was here. Elly was cool and tough. She gave him strength to see life differently.
The next morning Tommy and Tracey were excited to see their Aunty Elly. The visit was made even sweeter with the treats she had bought them in Thailand. A beautiful toy elephant for Tommy and some beautiful dolls for Tracey in Thai national dress. She had also bought some games for them. He watched her playing with the two children for a few minutes before going into the kitchen to make them a pot of tea. When he bought out the set up tray she looked up.
So you still don’t use tea bags? Gran trained you well. You are one of the few people who still have time to make pots of tea. He shrugged and poured her a cup of tea. The atmosphere was far more relaxed now then last night when she has arrived. He realized that he was so lost in his tragedy that he has not asked her what was going on in her life.
So, what have you been doing with yourself Elly?
Now or next week?
I dunno. Your life moves very fast. What are you doing now?
Well I finished working for that advertising firm two months ago. At the moment, I am doing some freelance work and ghost writing a book. She stretched her shoulders and legs. I had to take a break so I went to Thailand to cut loose a bit.
Oh and what’s the book about? Who is it about? Can they sue you for defamation?
She laughed a full deep laugh of genuine amusement. One of the things he liked about his sister was that she was resilient. Nothing fazed her.
I can’t say. Honestly, I have to keep things under wraps until the final proofs are in.
The person I am writing about is very private and wants a certain image presented.
So it is an authorized biography?
Yes. And no.
How do you mean?
The subject wants control of what is presented in the final copy. Look I would like to have an ok but I am trying to get all the facts down and they may not turn out quite as the biographical subject would like. They have different perceptions and I guess they want to do is to buy my skills to present their truth and have it promoted.
Brian laughed. I am sure you will handle it well. You always could see the bullshit before any of us.
Yeah, trouble is this person is paying me money and while they are, I don’t write utter crap. You can’t buy truth. It is what it is. Somewhere, somehow many of us have put ourselves up for sale. They have sacrificed truth for bread and butter or cream cakes and cavier.
They were interrupted by an argument between the two children. Tommy decided that he really liked the dolls and had tried to swap a doll with the elephant. Tracey was not having it. Ella went to referee the dispute. Just at that moment, he glanced through the French windows in the lounge room and saw Maria and Rita coming up the driveway carrying two large cartoons. Quickly he crossed the room, opened the front door and went out to help them carry the cartoons in.
This is everything from her desk. Rita’s hair was pulled back into a bun. She looked wrung out.
Maria had kept her dark glasses on and her mouth was set in grim line. Brian was glad to have Lorri’s personal notes back in the house and had been dreading going up to the school in the next few days to collect her things.
Thanks guys, but you didn’t have to…
Maria waved away his thanks. Look, Rita and I spoke today and I said I would go up to the school and take her things before they got a chance to go through them and take anything that was relevant. Did you get her letter back from the police?
Well, don’t hold your breath.
You may not get it back. This time Rita added her bit.
What do you mean?
Just that. You may not get it back. Maria and I decided we would give you a chance to find out. If you do find anything, do yourself a favour. Get a good lawyer.
Hey, just a minute. Why might they not give it back?
Brian, we have got to go. Say hi to your sister and we will catch up before the end of the week. Ok?
He saw them out the door. Something was not right and no one was telling him exactly what was wrong.