Part One 1 Nintendo has turned my kid brother Dylan into a shuttle freak. Last year it was hot rods and funny cars. This year it’s booster rockets and space walks. ‘Are we there yet, Jesse?’ ‘Uhmm?’ ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘Yes, Dylan. We’re there.’ ‘To see the spaceship?’ ‘Yes, matey. The spaceship is coming.’ I trade bitumen for dirt. I park the Millennium Falcon at the top of Lookout Hill. It’s a Ford XD station wagon that my baby brother christened after renting Star Wars. I kill the motor. It’s a big four-six. I reach under the dash and locate the switch. I kill the headlights. The sky! I cannot believe how perfectly starry it all is. Earlier there were clouds. Now it’s a celestial display. Everything looks crowded as a pinball machine. Dylan climbs into the back, excited as all hell. He giggles. He squeals. ‘Hey, mind the sheepskins.’ The boy tramples down every square centimetre. He owns the candy store, he’s so excited. ‘Dylan, your feet.’ We’re on Lookout Hill to catch the Houston light show. It’s a joke of a hill, named to steer tourists to Smiths Creek, population one thousand, two hundred and seventy-two. Think of what that means.
Think faded corduroy in a fabric shop window. Think blowfly husks on the ledge. Think signs for ice creams no longer made, logos for banks closed a decade ago. Think three-legged dogs, Malvern Star banana seats, Christmas decorations in June. Think footy training, hockey training, badminton nights. Think tractor museum. A few years ago the Shire gave away blocks of land to anyone who was prepared to make a go of it. Everything was going to plan until the story broke on Sixty Minutes. Then all kinds of wacky people applied from all over Australia. Now there’s a house that is built like a pyramid, with adjoining pyramid-shaped garage. Hell, even the dog kennel points to the stars. Think of what that means. Let’s just say five nights in our town will never be the prize on a quiz show. Lookout Hill is the highest point in the district. Daytime, there’s only oceans of wheat to photograph. Come the evening, a fuzzy orange glow sixteen kilometres to the east. After midnight, barely a smudge. Hey, you’re supposed to leave every light on, morons! Where’s your sense of history? Yessirree, Senator John Glenn is doing it all again. Not so many hours ago the seventy-seven-year-old suited up and hunkered down and revisited zero gravity. He’s headed down-under with six mates. Tonight Discovery is a shiny boomerang thrown high above the deserts. ‘It should never have been John Glenn,’ Jane informs me earlier back in our front yard. ‘The first time, I mean. 1962. Ever hear the story of the first female astronauts, Jesse? Right stuff, wrong sex. Now there’s a thesis.’ Jane would love to be a feminist. She would love to be anything. Mostly she is a pain in the ass. ‘Five hundred and twenty-three kilometres, Dylan. That’s how
high the shuttle is.’ Five hundred and twenty-three kilometres is also five-and-a-half hours on the road. Two rest stops. Petrol in Northam. Five hundred and twenty-three kilometres is about the distance from Smiths Creek to Perth. I bet they have their lights on. Dalkeith, Claremont, Peppermint Grove, all those rich older suburbs that can remember nineteen sixty-two and Friendship 7. I bet they have a sense of history. Hell, they have shares in the stuff. I miss Perth. I miss city life so much. I miss the ocean. How can this be? We moved to Smiths Creek when I was six. I have to pee. Bad. As soon as I undo my seatbelt, Dylan is onto me. The kid is fast. Snap! Like electricity. ‘Where you going, Jesse?’ ‘Nowhere.’ ‘Yes where. Where to?’ ‘Dylan, I’m going nowhere. Stay in the car.’ ‘I’m coming with you.’ ‘Dylan, I need to pee. Stay in the car. It’s cold out.’ ‘But what if the spacemen come? I’ll miss the whole thing.’ ‘You won’t. Now, stay.’ ‘No!’ ‘Dylan, stay!’ ‘No! I don’t want to stay. You stay.’ ‘Dylan, I have to pee!’ Dylan would love to be up there, weightless as a moth. He’d love to be skimming the southern sky. Me, I’m freezing my butt. That’s how cold tonight is. Two days ago outside the General Store my driver side window got smashed. Two gorilla-suited vandals attacked the Millennium Falcon.
At the station the Sarge stopped typing, pushed back his chair and looked at me. His arms were folded. ‘Gorilla suits?’ ‘Yes. Two.’ ‘That’s what you want to put in your statement?’ ‘Exactly that.’ I found that car. I restored that car. I fetched that car back from the grave. Hurts so much to think that someone would want to wreck that car. My twisted sister Alice and her ditsy friends saw everything. School had finished and that meant buy lollies. They heard the smashing of glass. They saw the two apes make their getaway. Naturally, no one thought to take down the number plate. Thirteen is the stupidest age. ‘Alice! You were right there!’ ‘Yeah. So?’ White Holden ute. That’s all the sarge has to go on. Now I have duct-taped fertilizer bag instead of tempered glass. I can’t pee. Dylan is standing next to me, peeing into the bush. He’s making happy-splashy sounds. I can do this. My bladder is full. I’ve been drinking Coke all evening. All I have do is relax. Pee! I can’t. I don’t. I am unable to pee with Dylan standing so close. Anyone standing close. Houston, we have a problem. I’m a freak. Jesse James Irwin is a freak. Dylan finishes. I zip up my fly. ‘You didn’t pee, Jesse. You said you needed to pee.’ ‘I changed my mind.’ The kid falls silent. He’s trying to figure that one out. ‘Just get back in the car, Dylan. It’s cold out.’
‘But—’ ‘Now, mister!’ Could outer space possibly be this cold? I wish the Millennium Falcon’s heater worked. It has never worked. I bet Discovery’s heater works. The glory days are over for Ford. We’re all turning Japanese. I should save my next thousand pays and trade up to a Subaru. Jane might give me a loan. Jane is my big sister, never married. She teaches the year six-sevens over at the primary school. I work there, too, but I’m no teacher. I’m the cleaner. I am the invisible one who empties the bins, scrubs the toilets, vacuums the floors and wipes every desk. I make everything sweet again. Yard duty is my life. ‘Is it time yet?’ Dylan the lizard doesn’t notice the cold at all. I swear he’s got gecko for blood. ‘Jesse?’ I swivel around and catch my knee. Stupid wires. Dylan is picking Tim Tam crumbs off his Astro Boy T-shirt, nibbling like a mouse. When there are no crumbs left, he positions himself beneath the rear window. He wipes condensation to look for the Southern Cross. ‘Jesse, is it time?’ ‘Nearly time, yeah.’ ‘How many more minutes?’ ‘Soon, Dylan. You have to be patient.’ ‘How soon?’ Red Dot had Astro Boy T-shirts going out cheap. Jane saw them advertised on TV. No kid rips through cotton the way Dylan does. He’s the Iggy Pop of ripped cotton. He’s also a retard. Dylan is a retard. Ree-tard. Sounds exactly
like it says. Simple and stupid. Unfixable. I love my baby brother. He’s fifteen years old, all legs and arms, a pain in the ass. I love him with all my heart. I would do anything for Dylan not to be the way he is. Last summer in Perth our old Kombi got hemmed in on the freeway. That’s Mum and Jane up front; me, Dylan and Alice in the middle; Eddie and Wolfgang down the back. ‘Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus—’ ‘Isaiah, Jeremiah—’ ‘One banana, two banana—’ Eddie and Wolfgang are my bible-bashing stepbrothers. Mum married a farmer, Hermann. His two sons came with the farm. They don’t live with us anymore, which suits me fine. They live in the original cottage across the highway in the next paddock. I wish they lived across the galaxy. Eddie and Wolfgang aren’t exactly easy to get along with. Hermann the farmer doesn’t live with anyone anymore. He died and went to heaven. It’s a safe bet he’s a lot further up than five hundred and twenty-three kilometres. So there we all are, stuck on the freeway, going to Kings Park to look at the wildflowers. Beside our old Kombi crawls an orange school bus. Dylan waves and waves, and then he doesn’t wave. The bus is full of slow kids. Some drool. Some sway. A couple have large round heads. Hoo-boy. We don’t have anything like this back at Smiths Creek. We only have Dylan. Later, after our pretend picnic of chips and lemonade, Jane took my arm. She said our beautiful brother had wandered over and asked her what retard meant. ‘What did you tell him?’ ‘I told him God makes special children for special families.’ Unbelievable! Like, why do we have to be special?
‘Hey, you guys!’ yelled Dylan behind us. Jane and me watched him rush down the slope to the ornamental lake. He threw in a stick. He fell in after it. Guess who had to fish him out? Retard. I should have left him there. I should have let the kid drown. ‘Oh, Dylan,’ says sweet Jane softly. ‘Where will it all end? What’s to become of this family?’ It’s the only time I’ve ever seen my big sister cry. 2 ‘How many more minutes, Jesse?’ I bend down and forward in my seat. I rummage in the dark, jamming my ribs into the steering wheel as I go. Ouch. Two days ago I had a dash that worked. Tonight I have dangling wires. Why me? Why my car? ‘Well, let me see now.’ I find the switch. I straighten up and hold my watch to the light. ‘Eighteen more minutes.’ ‘Eighteen more minutes. You promise?’ ‘I promise.’ Little Dylan makes the noise of a chook. Most days he is a farm. You should hear his rooster crow. ‘Say, Dylan, you got any more Tim Tams back there?’ Jane gave us a packet of Tim Tams to share. I use the word ‘share’ very loosely. ‘You should have asked, Jesse. You never asked.’ ‘It’s okay,’ I say, wishing I had a Chupa Chup to suck on. ‘No problem.’ Chupa Chups are my addiction. I’ll die from the heart attack brought on by rotting gums. ‘You didn’t ask, Jesse.’ Somewhere in a parallel universe an older brother is more
assertive. He would have forced his kid brother to share. He’d have gotten to eat Tim Tams. I think about the other me a lot. He’s an action ten-pin bowler crisscrossing a parallel universe in the Millennium Falcon. He cleans up the neon-lit alleys he stabs at in the Yellow Pages. The other me isn’t interested in lugging a boot full of bowling trophies, however. Cold cash and the road split like a melon, these are the prizes. He sets down in rundown hotels far away from Smiths Creek. There’s jazz, blues, cheap musk perfume. Old men cough, turning rag to blood, but the other me doesn’t care. His small suitcase is filled with grubby cash. He has a stash of Chupa Chups and Tim Tams. All to himself. The other me shares his life with no one. ‘Is it now, Jesse?’ ‘No, mate. Soon.’ ‘Soon?’ ‘Don’t worry. I’ll tell you.’ The day Dylan was born the nurses gave him a blue woolen beanie someone had knitted. The doctors gave him bottled oxygen. He was twelve weeks early. He lived at King Edward Memorial. He lived with all the other babies born too premature. He had scratch mittens for fingers and ten tiny toes. He was surrounded by clear plastic tubes and all along the corridor was a smell that said, ‘Shhh, now, kids. Don’t be asking so many questions.’ You could fit him in a Holden hubcap, that’s how small he was. Some days the doctors gave him too much oxygen. Some days they didn’t give him enough. ‘He could die,’ they said. A couple of babies did. ‘He’s all right now,’ they said.
And for a while we believed them. I thump the steering wheel with the flat of my hand. ‘Do you miss Perth, Dylan?’ The question is unfair. He was too young. ‘Because I miss Perth. I miss body-surfing at Cottesloe. Remember the fun you had?’ Dylan remembers standing on broken glass. ‘Two stitches, Jesse. Two.’ ‘Yes, but what about the fun?’ ‘I could have died, Jesse. I could have bled to death.’ ‘Yeah. Whatever.’ When it’s clear to him that I am not interested in sending small parcels of pity, he says, ‘Clouds, Jesse. I see clouds.’ Dylan is right. This is not good. This is bad. This is catastrophic. ‘Do you want the rest of your Coke now?’ I reach down under the passenger seat, wishing away spiders. When I was six a redback bit me on the leg. We had only been in the outback one month. The elders of Hermann’s church visited me in hospital for the laying on of hands. I can still hear my heavily pregnant Mum yelling at them to get out. The deacons were all set to take up a collection for a snow white coffin. Alas, I did not die. Alice was born instead. ‘I don’t want Coke,’ says Dylan bitterly. ‘I want the stars. I want the spacemen.’ ‘Hey, guess what I found!’ ‘Shoo, clouds. Get!’ ‘Music, Dylan. How about some music? You love music. Want to hear some music, mister?’ ‘I can’t see the stars, Jesse. Everything is busted.’ ‘Nothing’s busted. Don’t even think that.’ ‘You promised, Jesse. You promised.’ ‘Hey, no way. I didn’t—’
‘You promised!’ I have this one tape left. The rest got trashed. In broad daylight, in front of the store, with a million onlookers. Two million, plus Alice. Cassette tape spooled across the footpath. No more Nirvana. No more Midnight Oil. Damn those gorilla-suited assholes to hell! ‘Make the stars come back.’ The retard is killing my sheepskins with his feet. ‘Hey, quit that!’ ‘Promised!’ Kick. One lousy tape. Please God. Let it rock. ‘Okay, I’m playing the tape, Dylan. It’s going to be loud. Got your air guitar ready?’ Dylan isn’t listening. He’s pouting. It’s too dark to see him do this, but I know my brother. He pouts. He’s been with immature Alice too long. ‘Okay, here we go. Party time.’ Squeaky Kleen. Jane is in Squeaky Kleen. She used to be in Amway, then Advanced Life Foods, then Omegatrend. But this year it is Squeaky Kleen. The animated voice coming through my JVC speakers is tape-of-the-week. This week, last week, it’s impossible to say. Jane has so many tapes-of-the-week to choose from. This could be John Glenn’s voice. It’s American. This could be the good senator from thirty six years ago, saying, ‘Shoot, what are all those lights I see down there? Why, could it be that sprawling metropolis Smiths Creek?’ I wish. ‘It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill,’ says tape-of-theweek, ‘so long as you don’t lose the cow.’
It’s a miracle! As the great moment approaches, when there are no minutes left, the clouds begin to clear. We’re out of the Millennium Falcon and a small window opens up above. Stars look down. ‘Where, Jesse? I don’t see it!’ ‘Keep looking, mate. Don’t blink for a second.’ I’m standing with hands in pockets, leaning back on the bonnet. An orbit is ninety minutes. What does that translate to, exactly? Just how fast do those things boomerang by? ‘Is it now, Jesse?’ The appointed time ticks over in the dark. I’m making deals with God. No more poking fun at Alice, I promise. No more hiding the TV remote. No more helping Mrs Goodman shine up her kitchen floor. ‘Soon, Dylan. You’ll see.’ Please, God, let him see. I’m Jonah in the belly of the fish, I’m praying so hard. I am Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the burning fiery furnace. Please God. For my kid brother. Now would be nice. Is my faith strong enough? What faith? Eddie and Wolfgang are the darlings of the church. They’re the ones with the holy ghost fire. ‘I hate you, Jesse! You’re a big fat dumb head!’ Yikes. ‘You promised!’ ‘Oh, hey, look! See, Dylan!’ Pointing low in the sky, I pretend to spot the shuttle coming over the horizon. ‘Here it comes! See, Dylan! See the moving star!’ He wants to, that’s for sure. Dylan is looking everywhere, searching for that one shining star. ‘See how fast it is!’ ‘Uhmmm—’ ‘Hoo-boy, that is fast!’
‘I don’t see it, Jesse.’ ‘Sure you do!’ With my finger I track an imaginary path for Discovery to follow. Am I even pointing in the right direction? Years from now Dylan will despise his brother Jesse James Irwin the fake. ‘Hello, spacemen!’ I wave madly at the rip in the sky. ‘Dylan, say hi.’ The retard looks and looks. ‘Quick, mate, or they’ll be gone.’ ‘Where at?’ ‘There! Up there!’ I stab at the few stars that are visible. ‘Hiya, spacemen!’ ‘Hiya!’ he yells, still searching. ‘Oh-oh. There they go. Bye, spacemen.’ I try to sound disappointed. ‘Bye, bye,’ says Dylan, doing a much better job. This is bad. I need to pee. I’m hopping from foot to foot, I’m so desperate. Everything is a fumble. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is Dylan. Never under-estimate the retarded. ‘Be right there!’ I yell behind me. ‘Open the door, matey!’ My baby brother has locked himself in the Millennium Falcon. He does this often. It’s a game we play, one of many. ‘Where’s Dylan?’ I will shout, looking everywhere but in the back seat. ‘Is he in the tree cubby? Is he on the roof? Is that Dylan I see by the water tank?’ Tonight is no game, however. Discovery is over central Australia by now. The boy is pouting. Dammit, Houston, I want to yell. The window of opportunity was right there. Instead I shout, ‘Dylan, I said sorry! Now lift the button!’ My zipper is down. I’m letting go. Peeing. Whizzing.
Blessed relief. Behind me, I hear the slow-tire crunch of moving vehicle. ‘Dylan! No!’ The Millennium Falcon is leaving without me. ‘Dylan, the handbrake! Pull on the handbrake!’ He’s off the dirt road and flattening scrub. The suspension bounces and squeaks. I hop after him, peeing all down my leg. ‘Handbrake!’ Too late. I hear the scrape of metal on granite. Lookout Hill is hard country, make no mistake. ‘Dylan! What did you do?’ All goes quiet. I squint at the dark. 3 It’s less than a minute later and I’m seriously sad. ‘Jesse, it jumped. The car jumped.’ These are the words I hear when I fling open the door. No, no, no, I want to protest. Lions jump. Accountants jump. Tourists from Birmingham, England jump. Cars stay. ‘Are you hurt?’ I’m checking Dylan’s head and neck. ‘Nope.’ He sniffs loudly in my ear. ‘I could’ve been squished.’ I take out my hankie and wipe his nose. At least he has quit his pouting. ‘I could’ve been squished, Jesse.’ ‘Come on, mister. Pull your legs around.’ I start to haul my brother out from behind the steering wheel. Everything is at an angle. The door swings only so far. Also, the fifteen-year-old is lanky and awkward, a baby giraffe. ‘I know what Jesse did,’ he says, sniffing the air. ‘Dylan, please cooperate.’ ‘Uhmmm, naughty Jesse wet the bed.’ I pull the kid free and stand him up. He’s A-okay, not a bit
shaken up. ‘Look what you did, mister.’ ‘Oh-oh,’ he says, noticing how much the Millennium Falcon is weighed down on the driver’s side. ‘She’s stuck fast, mate. See.’ ‘Oh-oh,’ says Dylan again. No amount of dark can hide the damage done. The front wheels are in the air. The front end sits on rock. I get on all fours and dip my finger into sump oil. Ouch. The Millennium Falcon is going nowhere. ‘Shall we dig?’ says Dylan at my shoulder. ‘Wouldn’t do any good. This is a job for the Road Runner.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Oh’ is Dylan-speak for, ‘Please explain.’ ‘Andy Sherwood’s tow truck.’ I yank the air handle. ‘Ha!’ says my baby brother, doing the same. Every kid in Smiths Creek yanks air for the Road Runner. Andy Sherwood’s tow truck is the shiniest rig around these parts. That would be Andy Sherwood of Sherwood’s Smash Repairs and Towing Service. ‘That reprobate,’ Jane will say, putting him on par with serial killers and loan sharks. Andy Sherwood is to Smiths Creek what Clint Eastwood was in The Bridges of Madison County. He’s the cowboy poet cruising the district in the Road Runner. He writes country and western songs there in his cabin. He plucks acoustic. Women love him. They’ll squeeze lemons, bake cookies, put on a dress and fix their hair. They’ll drive out to whichever road he happens to be, all angling to be the inspiration for his next song. ‘Jesse wet the bed.’ ‘Yes, okay. Very funny.’ I shepherd Dylan away from the Millennium Falcon before it
decides to maul him. We stumble over rocks and scrub. We find the dirt road and head down Lookout Hill. ‘We’re going to have to walk, mate. You up for it?’ The boy says nothing. He’s feeling guilty. I hope he’s feeling guilty. I know I would be. Three hours from now John Glenn and his buddies will have orbited the planet twice over. I’ll still be stuck with the retard. If I think about that too long I’ll sit down in the dirt and cry. Only, it’s too cold to cry. It’s too cold for anything, except walking. ‘Jesse?’ ‘Uhmm?’ ‘You’re mad at me.’ ‘No, mate. I’m not mad at you. Just keep up, okay.’ ‘You’re mad at me.’ ‘Dylan, I am not mad at you.’ ‘See!’ ‘Dylan, please.’ ‘You should have asked. You didn’t ask.’ ‘Right.’ ‘You don’t ask, you don’t get.’ ‘I see.’ ‘That’s how it works, Jesse. You’ve got to ask.’ ‘Okay, then find our father. Our real father. The one who went away and left us.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Yes, oh.’ No one knows where our father disappeared to. Dylan was born and Dad took off. He didn’t look back. He is my one missing Weetbix card. Walking the line, I get to thinking those dangerous thoughts. Like, why did Hermann have to go and get himself squished? Like, who
were the jerks in the gorilla suits? Black moods, Jane calls them. She can spot them like a pimple. She’s uncanny. ‘Think of a rainbow,’ she will say. ‘Think of a sunset.’ This is no easy challenge. It’s past midnight and I can barely see past my hand. ‘Open a box of colours, Jesse, and chase the black away.’ Jane is a visualist. What you see is what you get. What I see is a rundown wheat farm on the edge of a dying town. What I see is a hurting family slowly coming unhinged. What I get is Squeaky Kleen. ‘Jesse, you think that’s the pioneering spirit that built this great nation of ours?’ ‘All I said was—’ ‘Take a walk to the museum, mister. Look into the faces of those early settlers and learn.’ ‘Jane, I never said—’ ‘Knock the ‘t’ off can’t, Jesse James Irwin. Remember, the Wright brothers flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.’ I swear, tape-of-the-week has warped Jane’s mind. She used to be cynical like the rest of us. Jane is a hypocrite. In her wardrobe is a shoe box and in that shoe box are all the rainbows she will ever need. Remind me never to keep love letters, especially the perfumed variety. Shoot me if I ever write love letters. Lost love is what makes you cry into your pillow long after the TV set has cooled. And the perfume, the perfume is plutonium disguised. ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘No, Dylan. Does it look like we’re there yet?’
Flares. If only I had Mum’s yacht flares. Now there’s a box of colours I could use. I’d stand on the highway and fire them off at five minute intervals. In a town of over a thousand someone has to be about. My silent cry for help would be noted. A hand would pick up the phone and alert the station. The sarge would be duty-bound to investigate. But I don’t have Mum’s yacht flares. I have Dylan. The same Dylan who every ten minutes says, ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘Jesse, are we—’ ‘No, Dylan! No, we are not there yet. Do the sums, okay. Do the adding up. Get your calculator out and punch in the numbers. How can we possibly be there yet?’ I want to scream. I want to take a life. Forget black moods. My life is positively coal mine. Consider the evidence. I’m nineteen years old, I haven’t had a girlfriend since forever, my retard brother has just trashed my car better than any vandals, a forty-two-year-old woman seduced me on her kitchen floor, and after a dozen years I still get to call Smiths Creek home. ‘Look, Dylan, forget the adding up. Just trust me in this. We’ve got a really long way to go.’ I’m trying to be as patient as I can. I just know it’s going to rain. Hell, it might even snow. Geographically, snow is impossible, this being the parched wheat belt of Western Australia. We’re always three bad seasons away from dustbowl. But subliminally, all that static? ‘Look, Dylan, I’m trying not to lose the cow here, okay.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘Yes, oh. Oh, oh, oh. Now speed up, mister. We’ve still a long way to go.’ I’m piggy-backing Dylan the last half kilometre. He may be the skinniest kid I know—the boy is made of sticks—but his heaviness
grows. Hours have passed. The stars have swung around. I am spared the rain. ‘We’re home, mate. See. This is our driveway coming up. Race you to the house?’ ‘Uh-uh,’ says the monkey on my back, shaking his head enough to make me drop him. They’re still up there somewhere, John Glenn and the spacemen, laughing their asses off. We should have stayed in the Millennium Falcon and to hell with the broken heater. ‘Wanna jump down now?’ The monkey isn’t stupid. How heavy is my retard brother? How heavy is this idiot boy I love with all my heart? So I keep going. I carry him the length of the driveway. It’s a long driveway lined with gums. Home is visible now, stitched into the dark. Here’s the tree cubby that Hermann made with a hammer and nails. I’ll say this: the farmer loved the boy. Shoot, we all love the boy. He’s just so lovable. Old Mrs Owen especially likes to stop him in the street and pat him on the arm. She used to pat him on the head, but he’s way too tall for that now. ‘We’re there, mate. Okay. We’re home.’ Finally! He elbows my spine to get down. He clomps across the verandah. ‘Don’t wake your sisters. Don’t wake Mum.’ The screen door bangs. I walk in after him, trying not to make a sound. It’s an old house, rats in the ceiling and roaches in the sink. The floors creak. Some nights I swear Hermann comes down from heaven to check up on us all. Call me superstitious, but I cannot be alone in the tractor shed after dark. It is my no-go zone. Cold spots race me back into sunshine. I get as far as the lounge room. Bed is not an option because I smell. I crash on the sofa and close my eyes. Where Dylan goes I do
not care. With all that clomping and door banging, Jane figures we’re back from our adventure. ‘Jesse?’ Air moves around me. The dark takes a seat by my side. It wears vitamin e. ‘Hey, Jesse.’ No, no, go away. Leave me be. Please. I pretend I’m asleep. I pretend I’m not anyone’s brother. I pretend beautiful sweet Jane has met someone tall and handsome and is now hopelessly in love. This very evening. Suddenly, inexplicably, her life has become a romance novel. I pretend that she has a life at last. The passionate kissing scene on page fortyfour? It’s her! ‘Jesse, we need to talk.’ And I am thinking, No, Jane. You need to talk. You always need to talk. And I need to sleep. I am tired and I am cranky as all hell and I really, really need you to leave me be. ‘Jesse, are you awake?’
End of Part One