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Authors: Honey Brown

Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers, #Suspense

Through the Cracks (9 page)

BOOK: Through the Cracks
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M
ichael was half Adam’s height. He walked with a limp. His bones broke easily, he said. They went together down the corridor. Michael pointed to where the pyjamas were folded on the top shelf of the cupboard. It was the same cupboard where the towels were kept. Adam reached up and sorted through the sleepwear.

‘If you pretend not to be awake they leave a chocolate on your table,’ Michael explained. ‘I do that when I don’t want to talk to them.’

Michael and Adam returned to their beds.

Beneath the covers, Adam wriggled out of the small pyjamas and pulled on the bigger ones. The fabric was warmer, made of a thicker material.

‘I’ve had six operations,’ Michael was saying. ‘Do you know that when your bone breaks it heals stronger in that spot? The glue your body makes to fix bones is like superglue.’ Michael began flicking through his comic. He said, while reading, ‘My mum says that by the time I grow up my bones will be like steel. Like Superman’s.’

Visiting hours were during dinnertime. Michael’s family came and surrounded his bed. The girl’s family also came. She was put into a wheelchair and taken somewhere else. Michael’s family looked over when Adam’s meals arrived. Laid out on his table were three big dinners, a bowl of soup, sandwiches, two desserts, biscuits, an orange, and a cup of tea and a glass of milk. Michael’s family were happy people. They made jokes about moving their chairs over to Adam’s bed, to share in his feast. The mother was talkative. The father told knock knock jokes.

Adam worked through the food, eating in bursts, leaning back, full; then after a period of watching TV and listening to Michael’s family he’d sit forward and have another go.

Michael’s mother went to the windows and pulled back the curtains. Adam got out of bed. He realised he was high up. The hospital was in a tall building, in the city. Adam looked down at the street, at the people and cars far below. It was getting late. The setting sun shone between the buildings and down the lanes. Lights came on in the offices across the road. He watched the people inside, packing up their things and leaving, pushing their chairs in beneath their desks. He watched a cleaner vacuum a room on the next floor up. Tube lights came on inside the hospital room. It became hard to see out the window. Clean glass was like a mirror, reflecting Adam’s face and the room behind him.

Adam returned to bed but continued looking at the glass, switching between watching the reflection and looking beyond it at the city lights. After a moment, he noticed a boy’s shape in the window. The boy was wearing shorts and a tank top. He had a bushy head of hair, broad shoulders, lean, strong legs, sneakers and no socks. What Adam felt then was as unexpected as the food he had tried, as unpredicted as the things that had happened. His chest felt full and bursting, booming, he was teary too, scared to turn, in case it wasn’t his friend.

It was.

Billy was there, walking in, coming up to stand beside Adam’s bed – his pale tongue licking his teeth, his tanned skin and the bright whites of his eyes, his short dark lashes, the round shape of his face.

‘Kid, you’re doing it again – you’re staring.’

*

Anything Adam hadn’t eaten Billy polished off. Fine spray from the orange peel lifted as he dug his nail in under it. He put the peel in a pile on the dirty plates.

‘There’s only one thing worse than one of them, and that’s a dirty dog-collared pack of them. Fiddlers Mission, that’s what we call it.’

Michael’s family had fallen silent since Billy had arrived. The mother shuddered each time he spoke.

‘But I needed some way of knowing you were up and back with the living. Brother Hell-and-Brimfire has gotta be good for something. Right?’

Billy tore the peeled orange in two, offered half of it to Adam. Adam took it.

‘Man, you went down like a sack of potatoes. You were out cold before you even hit the dirt. I tried to wake you. KO’ed, though. I didn’t even think you’d hit your head that hard. It was a fair ram up the arse we got, though. Nice old duck came out to help when you hit the deck. She wrote your name on that for me.’ Billy tipped his head in the direction of Adam’s clothes and the notice. ‘I couldn’t stick around. Did you think I’d left you for dead?’

‘No.’

Billy popped a segment of orange in his mouth, chewed. ‘I figured they’d contact the co-op if you had that notice on you. If it weren’t for that, I’d have no clue where they took you. Clever, hey, me coming up with that? The old duck was onto me, cottoning on something was up, nice as she was, I was half thinking she might call the cops.’

Adam ate a segment of orange. ‘They were here.’

‘Hey?

‘The cops.’

‘In the hospital?’

‘Yes.’

‘When?’

‘Today.’

‘What for?’

‘To talk about the car.’

Billy tossed the rest of his orange down. ‘Well, that fucks that.’

‘The doctor said he won’t let them in.’

‘Oh, he said that, did he?’

‘Will they come back?’

‘They’ll come back, all right. They’ll chase up a stolen car.’ Billy waved his hand, picked up his orange again, ate another piece. ‘They go mental over stolen cars. You really do have to wonder. I mean – so what if some bird can’t drive home from her jazzercise class? Priorities? Fucked.’ He crammed the last segments into his mouth. Chewed fast. ‘We gotta move.’

‘The doctor said I’m getting tests done.’

‘Have them done another day.’ Billy took out his smokes and flipped the lid, drew out a cigarette. He lit it, lowered his voice. ‘You can’t stay here.’

Michael’s father put down his paper and sat straighter in his chair. ‘Excuse me, there’s no smoking in the children’s ward.’

Billy pointed to an ashtray by the door. ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s an ashtray, to put it out in.’

Billy drew on the cigarette and blew the smoke towards the ceiling. ‘And I will do that . . . when I’m good and ready.’

‘If you don’t put it out I’ll call the nurses.’

‘The nurses? The
nurses
? Whoa, better batten down the hatches.’ Billy glanced around and took up his boxing stance, as though ready for an attack. ‘Those chicks are fucking ninjas.’

Michael, sitting in his bed, giggled. Billy winked at him.

Michael’s father got to his feet. ‘I think you should leave.’

‘What’s your problem?’

‘My problem is that you’re smoking and swearing in a children’s ward.’

‘Well, don’t have a fucking cardiac arrest.’ Billy grinned at Adam. ‘Although you’re in the right place for it.’

He went over and crushed out his cigarette in the ashtray, stuck a finger up at Michael’s dad as he returned. Billy pulled the curtain across.

Adam put down what remained of his half of the orange. ‘Do we have to go?’

‘Yep.’

‘They were saying about helping me . . .’

Billy laughed. ‘You’re set then, aren’t you? Fucking hell. They would have been talking about putting you in the system, kid. Once they do that you’ll have no say where you go. There’ll be nothing stopping them packing you off wherever they like. Fiddlers, probably. Especially now the cops have been. They’ll have you down as a juvie quicker than you can blink. Or are you saying you remember your family now? Are you gonna rat on me?’

‘No.’

‘What
are
you saying? You really gotta work out who you’re gonna trust. Look, I won’t piss in your pocket – I am pretty keen on checking out that thing we talked about. I knew they’d do this, try to stick you somewhere. I tell you what, if that’s what you want to do, if you reckon foster care or a home is the way to go, you can do it, no problem, but you can’t do it from here, not now.’ He leaned in, whispered, ‘Can’t we just see if the money is there first? Don’t you reckon? If it’s there, it’s pretty fucking dumb to leave it there, right? There are places all over the city where they’d help you, places that are less likely to send you to Fiddlers than here.’

‘Will they really send me there?’

‘They won’t
say
they’re packing you off, because they know you’ll do a runner. But don’t worry, they’ll sign you over as Brother Hayden’s new toy and not give two shits what you say about it.’

Adam put his clothes, toothpaste and toothbrush into the plastic bag with his shoes. He gave the bag to Billy, and Billy left. A few moments later, Adam got up.

Michael’s family watched him go. The mother shook her head as though disappointed. Billy was waiting out in the hallway. He saw Adam and kept on walking.

They went into a toilet. Billy put down the toilet seat and sat on it. It was a disabled bathroom, no cubicles, nowhere for privacy, with one loo and a basin, a steel rail on the wall.

Adam began to undress.

‘You look heaps better, by the way. You got more colour. Did they say anything about those marks on your legs and bum?’

Adam didn’t know he had marks on his legs and bum. In the tall mirror on the wall, he turned to see his reflection. The marks were faint, but they were there, from the beatings.

‘They’ll fade. Don’t sweat it. I’ve seen plenty like it. You know, you also got this thing on the back of your neck.’

Billy got up and came across. Adam was naked, shy because of it, but he didn’t feel afraid. Not even when Billy pushed Adam’s head forward and stood close to him.

‘I think they call it a stork mark. You got one.’ His fingertips tapped Adam’s nape. ‘Right there. See,’ he ruffled Adam’s hair, ‘you come from somewhere, don’t you?’

Adam finished dressing. Billy took the square bandage off Adam’s forehead. Under it were two black stitches holding the small cut together. He peeled the bandaid from the crook of Adam’s arm and stuck it over the stitches, pressing firmly to make the sticky bits reattach.

‘We don’t want you looking like the walking wounded.’

In the lift down to the ground floor Billy made Adam laugh. He was pretending to be Maxwell Smart
.
A character Adam knew. Billy did the thing at the lift doors, the same thing Maxwell Smart did. He hummed the tune. He spoke in that voice, called Adam ‘Chief’.

Leaving the lift, Billy handed Adam the bottle opener.

‘Looked after that for you.’

They walked through a large open area towards a bank of doors. The clean cold hospital smells stopped; warm fumy smells began. Quietness ended. It was an unusual commotion – nothing in particular to see, a few cars passing, but it was as though something big was happening somewhere. Air hummed and rattled with activity.

Billy made Adam stand by a bin. They used the blade from the bottle opener to cut the hospital bracelet from Adam’s wrist. Adam looked at the plastic tag amongst the rubbish, felt a rush of doubt.

It was a little thing – silly, he supposed – but what bothered Adam most about changing his mind, going back in, was the nurses’ reaction to the broken bracelet. Now that it was in the bin it seemed too late.

S
hops in the city stayed open late. People filled the footpath. Trams clattered on metal tracks. At one street crossing there were so many people that Adam lost sight of the skyscrapers, and of Billy. He got to the other side and waited, people stepped around him, someone bumped into him. Billy’s arm draped around Adam’s shoulders and he steered him off again. They walked beneath a train bridge. A man sitting on a camp chair and drinking from a thermos asked them for change. Billy gave him a cigarette instead.

They walked along a steep street and stopped in front of a big building, an art gallery. Behind the glass the entrance hall was brightly lit. Adam looked up at the green plastic cubes hanging from the roof. Things made of bits of tin and wood had been placed throughout the foyer. Paintings dangled from wires attached to the ceiling. Billy and Adam stood at the windows, looking in. Billy pointed to a painting on the back wall. It was huge, taking up the entire space. It was of a man holding a surfboard above his head, resting it like that. The sea was behind him. The sun was setting. The man was silhouetted. He had a wetsuit on, pulled down to his waist.

‘That’s me.’

It was Billy too.

‘A surf brand uses it. It’s on their tags and tops. It’s in magazines, that picture.’

‘Is it from the beach where we were?’

‘Sort of. I wasn’t down on the sand. I was inside Vern’s studio. He did a smaller one of it, then that bigger one. I had to stand for ages with that fucking board on me head. Vern gets money every time someone uses it. Every time you see that picture in a magazine or anywhere, Vern gets paid. People like it because I look a bit Abo, but not too Abo, you know? They like to think – maybe I am, maybe I’m not. And if I am, well, ain’t it great I’m doing something nice and white like surfing.’ Billy shrugged. ‘Thought I’d show you. No real reason. We were near it.’

‘How old were you?’

‘It was last year.’ After a pause he said, ‘I was seventeen.’

‘Was it the first time he painted you?’

‘It was the last.’

‘What’s Abo?’

‘Are you asking me that for real? It’s when you’re black, you fool. That’s what I’m sayin’, I’m not one thing or the other.’

‘What am I?’

He laughed. ‘You’re about as white as they come. Sorry to be the one to break it to you.’

As they left, cutting across the road, Adam looked over his shoulder, keeping sight of the painting of Billy for as long as he could. It was such a thing to see, Billy towering over everything in the gallery.

‘Will I tell you a funny thing?’ he said.

‘Yes.’

‘I can’t even fucking surf.’

At dawn they lay down in the long grass behind a burnt-out warehouse. Billy could have kept on going. Adam had tired. It was going to be another hot day. Adam lay down on his stomach, his arms up around his head to block the building sunlight. Flies crawled over his back. He could feel the feather-light touch of their legs through his T-shirt. The green grass felt alive, thick and spongy. Adam thought it was the best bed he had ever stretched out on. But soon the hard ground poked up under his hips and ribcage, things in the grass clicked and crawled. He felt tiny nips on his scalp and down on his ankles. Billy fell asleep, on his side, both hands under his ear, like a pillow. The singed back wall of the shed gave them shade.

Tolling church bells in the distance woke them both. Billy had the imprint of grass on his cheek and shoulder. His face was puffy. He yawned, squinted, scratched his chest. He lit a smoke. Adam sat up. His sleep had been a deep one. At some point he’d stopped half-listening, half-waiting, and relaxed. Hours had passed. Light wind rustled the branches of the trees along the fence. A blowfly whizzed past. Adam tipped his face to the sky. Streets were quieter here. Instead of houses, there were vacant blocks, locked-up businesses and sheds. No people. Birdsong and breeze. Adam shut his eyes and kept his face angled to the sky.

When he’d been little, playing with the tiger, he’d felt a certain way. An electric, excited thrill had travelled through him. His skin had tingled and his heart had felt light. It had been such a secret feeling; he’d hidden it from his father as carefully as he’d hidden the toy, both things too valuable to be discovered and taken. That same feeling swept through him now. Fresh, good-smelling air filled his nose and mouth and throat. Inside his chest was a fizz of energy. It was as though he might float up, nothing holding him down; everything seemed possible, no rules. For a while Adam was dazed, caught in the thrall of it. He marvelled at how long the feeling coursed through him. It flowed as strongly as it ever had. Adam’s eyes opened. Happiness. He felt as charmed and mystical as a tiger, as special. Slowly it faded. Adam shifted his weight, shifted the feeling. It didn’t go completely. It lingered just beneath his skin.

Billy was watching him.

‘You know what I get from you?’

‘No.’

‘You’re not a faker.’ Billy smiled, arched his eyebrow. ‘Not many people like that around.’ He ground out his smoke and got to his feet. ‘Soon enough you’ll be bullshitting with the best of us, though. That’s the trouble with wising up.’

The church bells had stopped chiming. Billy offered his hand to help Adam.

‘How you feeling, anyway?’

‘I feel good.’

‘What were these tests they reckoned they wanted to do?’

‘X-ray and blood and . . .’ Adam concentrated to remember. ‘Kidney test.’

‘You sure do remember stuff when you want to.’

Getting inside the blackened warehouse was as simple as stepping through one of the gaps in the walls. Blackberry bushes were growing in there. Adam and Billy picked the ripe fruit. Broken bottles and faded chip packets littered the concrete floor. Billy kicked a scorched timber beam until it collapsed and a sheet of roofing iron came sliding and clattering down. Berries stained Adam’s fingers purple. His tracksuit pants snagged on the thorny vines.

BOOK: Through the Cracks
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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