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Authors: Suzanne McCourt

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The Lost Child

BOOK: The Lost Child
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THE LOST CHILD

Suzanne McCourt grew up on the wild southern coast of South Australia and now lives in Melbourne.
The Lost Child
is her first novel.

The
Lost Child

Suzanne McCourt

textpublishing.com.au

The Text Publishing Company
Swann House
22 William Street
Melbourne Victoria 3000
Australia

Copyright © Suzanne McCourt 2014

The moral rights of the author have been asserted.

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

First published by The Text Publishing Company, 2014

Cover design by Imogen Stubbs
Cover artwork © copyright Jeremy Miranda
Page design by WH Chong
Typeset by J&M Typesetting

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Author: McCourt, Suzanne, author.
Title: The lost child / by Suzanne McCourt.
ISBN: 9781922147783 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781922148773 (ebook)
Subjects: Families—South Australia—Identity (psychology)—Fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4

For my mother and sons

PART ONE

1

On the mantelpiece, Mum is a bride with a mermaid tail and a frothy veil, her hands hidden behind big flowers. There are two bridesmaids with more flowers: the one with the grumpy face is Mum's sister. Dad is standing next to Mum but it doesn't look like him.

‘Who's this?' I ask when I climb up to get a closer look.

‘Your father. Who do you think?'

‘It's not his face.'

‘They got the airbrushing wrong.'

‘What's airbrushing?'

‘Improving the photo.'

Dad's improved face is dolly-smooth with lipstick lips like Mum and her maids. The dimple in his chin looks like a spider hole. You could pick a whole nest of spiders out of that hole. He doesn't look happy with his improved lips and his spider hole. He looks like a stranger to himself in a black suit and bow tie, gloves like cocky feathers in his hand.

In the other photo, Dad is a boy with his own lips and chin. He is standing next to a chair, stiff and straight as a fence post, wearing a jacket, short leg pants and socks pulled up to his knees. He looks as if he thinks it's silly being dressed up in a suit with slicked-down hair, holding on to a chair instead of sitting on it. He looks as if he wants to be outside, being a boy instead of a little man.

Next to him is a photo of Big Red winning the Muswell Cup. This is before Big Red fell at Reedy Creek and broke his leg and Dad had to shoot him to put him out of his misery. In the photo Big Red nuzzles Dad's ear as if he wants to eat it, as if he loves Dad as much as Dad loves him, and Dad holds up a silver cup, grinning fit to burst. In his other hand, he holds a folded whip.

It's his whip from the kitchen dresser, his whipping-whip!

‘What sort of hat did she have?' says Mum.

Dunc throws his bag on the chair and unbuttons his shirt. His face is shiny hot and he smells of summer grass. ‘I dunno. Yellow.'

‘What about her dress?'

‘We had to sit on the oval for ages and when the plane flew over we had to wave. The Queen was in a car and you couldn't see anything, except everyone waving. It was dumb.'

‘What about the Duke?'

Dunc makes us wait while he drinks a full glass of water. ‘Why didn't you go yourself? The whole school went on the train and half the mothers too. You could've taken Sylvie. Mrs Winkie took Lizzie.'

‘I'm not Mrs Winkie.'

I know this and Dunc does too. Mrs Winkie has grey hair, three chins and a strawberry birthmark on her neck shaped like a beetle. Mum has reddy-brown hair, one chin and a mole called a beauty spot near her mouth. Marilyn Monroe has two beauty spots.

Dunc unbuckles his bag and gives us presents from Coles in the Mount. ‘I hope you didn't waste your money,' says Mum, sucking on her ciggie.

Mum's present is a cup with the Queen's head, and a saucer with a gold crown underneath. She says Dunc shouldn't have. Dunc has a new pocketknife with a gold crown on a red case, and blades and hooks and things that he snaps out and back under my nose. My present is a locket with a Queen's crown on top, when I really wanted a skull ring like his. I wish I had money to waste from trapping rabbits like Dunc, instead of sixpence inside a pig that I can't get out.

Dunc presses my locket until the top pops up. Inside is a hole covered with a cellophane heart. ‘This is where you put the photo.'

‘What photo?'

‘Your boyfriend's, of course.'

‘I don't have a boyfriend.'

‘Or a lock of hair,' says Mum.

My hair has dead ends from the Toni Home Perm that Mum gave me when she permed hers. Mine didn't take properly, which is why it is straight with frizzed ends. Dad says I'd be better off bald.

In the bedroom off the kitchen, where Mum sleeps in the big bed under the window and I sleep in the bed against the wall, Dunc clips the chain around my neck.

‘Don't lose it,' he says, making slitty eyes at me in the mirror as if he can't decide whether he is pleased with my locket or not. I move my head in the mirror light and make the gold glint. I wonder if there is time before tea to take my heart up the street to show Lizzie. She has a gold bangle, and her own bedroom. Her mother is Mrs Winkie with the beetle birthmark. Mrs Winkie also has a gold tooth.

When I turn from the mirror, Dunc is on my bed, bouncing my dolls all over the place. ‘Don't,' I say as I rescue Ted, but now Marilyn is bouncing on her head and Blue Rag Doll's arms and legs are twisted and I am full of scorching air and angry words. I squash everything inside my mouth and rescue Marilyn and ask myself why Dunc is always being nice then turning mean and tricking me. Then his new
Phantom
comic slides out from under my pillow. This is not meant to happen.

Dunc bounces to a stop. ‘What's this? Didn't I tell you to leave my comics alone? Didn't I?' He rolls the
Phantom
into a tube and flicks my head—
flick
—arms—
flick—
ears—
flick
. ‘Anyway'—
flick
—‘you're not even five'—
flick—flick—
‘you don't go to school'—
flick—flick—
‘and you can't even read'—
flick—
flick—flick.

‘I can read pictures.' I climb onto my bed and back into the corner against the wall. ‘Mum!' I yell, holding Ted over my head to shelter me from his hits. ‘Mum! Dunc's messing up my bed.'

Still she doesn't come. Dunc stops hitting and I peep through Ted's legs. ‘Anyway,' he says, ‘this was my bed before it was yours.' He pokes out his tongue so close to my nose that I can see his dangly tonsils thing. ‘I slept here for five years before you were born, and Dad slept here too, not in the spare room. You didn't know that, did you?'

His breath smells of licorice and mint leaves. He must have bought them at Coles and eaten the lot.

‘Dad used to sing me to sleep every night.' He whispers with a licorice hiss as if it is a dirty secret. ‘He never sings to you. Does he?'

He picks up Marilyn and holds her in front of my face. ‘You don't even know she married Joe DiMaggio. You don't even know who he is!'

When I don't answer, he whispers: ‘You don't even know how babies are made.' I know about the stork but he doesn't wait for me to speak. ‘A boy puts his red hot poker in your black hole of Calcutta.'

Suddenly he is gone, sliding across the floor on his socks, and my breath dropping out of me.

In the kitchen, I hear Mum say: ‘What did you get your father?'

‘A beer mug with a crown in a coronation box.'

‘He'll like that,' she says.

He does. I am fed and in bed when he comes home from Hannigan's. I am keeping quiet and being good like Mum says I should. From my bed, I can see the stove and mantelpiece, half the table, two chairs, the bubble-glass dresser, the door to the laundry porch. When Dad comes in, I can see him but he never sees me.

‘What'd I do to deserve this?' he says, messing Dunc's hair and play-punching him. ‘It's a beaut. Better baptise it right away.'

‘Haven't you had enough?' says Mum.

Dad pours beer into his new mug. When he sits at the table, Fluff hops onto his lap. I send Fluff magic messages.
You are my
kitten
.
Jump down and come to me
. But Fluff rolls on his back and puts his legs in the air and Dad tickles his tummy like Faye Daley's dad tickles her.

I put my head under the blanket. I am a wombat in a hole full of hurt and hot air. A bird is squeaking and beating inside my chest. When I burst out, the hurt is a slimy toad and Dad has finished his tickling.

‘Come on, Dunc,' he says, tossing Fluff onto the floor, ‘better see what's happening with the weather.'

I take a running leap onto Mum's bed so the bogeyman underneath won't reach out and grab me. When I lift the curtain, the night is still summer-hot with no breeze; there is a smell of dry mud from the lagoon and waves boom on the beach behind the dunes.

On the back step, I can hear Dad telling Dunc that a ring around the moon means rain in two days. The moon is low over Shorty Manne's shaggy pines, with no ring anywhere. Dad says a star close by means wind will blow up next day. There are star spots everywhere, pale and white, with a bright one not far from the moon. But how close is close by?

‘Should be an okay day. Worse luck.'

‘You don't like fishing, do you, Dad?'

‘It's a mug's game.'

Mum's voice: ‘Duncan, you've got school tomorrow.'

A beer bottle clinks. ‘With horses you can tame 'em. But the sea's ya master. You're nothing out there.'

‘Can we get another horse, Dad?'

‘No point, mate. Racing's a mug's game.'

Then Dad begins singing, softly, hardly more than a hum, his honey-brown voice sliding in through my window like a warm breeze. ‘In the cool, cool, cool of the evening…tell 'em I'll be there—'

Mum again: ‘Come on, Duncan, bedtime.'

‘Stay where you are,' says Dad and then he tells Dunc a story about a monster he saw out past Ten Mile Rocks. A flash beneath the wave's curl. Something lurking. ‘Could've been an old, sleepy hair seal swimming on the edge of the deep. But when the seagulls fly up, flapping and squawking, you can bet there's something big about. And probably pretty darn mean.'

‘Duncan! Bed.'

‘Was it a monster, Dad?'

‘Could've been. Augie reckons he saw a tentacle curl outta the water big enough to wrap around the whole boat. Could've been a squid that grows up to fifty foot and weighs a couple of ton. I says to Augie, we're getting out of here. And we did. Faster than a cut snake.'

‘I wish you wouldn't tell him things like that,' says Mum at the back door. ‘You'll give him nightmares.'

‘You're the only nightmare around here.'

There is a drop of silence. Then Dad laughs. And after another drop, Dunc laughs too. Their laughs cackle high into the sky and now there is a laughing ring around the moon, which means rain in two days. But that laughter booms in my head like the surf behind the dunes and I curl in my bed against the wall and wonder if I smashed open my pig, could I buy Dad a present for sixpence?

Water is up to my shins and hidden things—periwinkles, crabs and maybe stinger fish—wriggle beneath my feet. ‘Dunc!' I yell. ‘I want to go home.'

Dunc jumps off the reef with a silly scream. Pardie and Ken scream on their tractor tube. Gulls scream for sandwich crusts.

‘Du-u-u-u-u-u-nc!' I scream.

Suddenly there is a hole in the reef and water over my head. I choke and grab at weeds and kick and scream and swallow sea and try to swim and sink with water in my mouth and ears and suddenly no sound of anything.

BOOK: The Lost Child
10.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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