Pam Hardgrave has always loved playing with words. After varied careers in office work, real estate and farming, Pam found time for writing.
She ventured into studying at The University of the Sunshine Coast where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours – Creative Writing) completing her novella, Seesaw.
Her short stories and feature stories have been published in magazines, newspapers and online. Pam is heavily involved with Coolum Wave Writers’ group, The Sunshine Coast Literary Association Inc and has been a member of Queensland Writers’ Centre for many years.
Pam lives at Coolum on the Sunshine Coast with her partner, Don, and their dog, Dot, who jumps into a lot of her stories.
The long loud wail of the siren pierces the silence. A mournful cry in the night. My head screams as the sound comes closer. I wait at the door, shaking. The ambos come in. Others follow. We walk to the kitchen. I flop like a rag doll against the wall watching them hovering over the mess, breathing the sharp smell of blood, the foul stench of death. I gag.
A hot, clammy hand grasps mine and steers me into the lounge room. I collapse into a chair and curl up. The cop stands opposite me. Boobs fill out the uniform. It’s a woman, the only one among the horde of intruders. She towers over me: short hair, a grim face and a uniform the same as the guy who joins her. I thought she was a man until I saw the boobs. The one beside her is worth checking out. Anything to switch my mind off the past few minutes. I concentrate on his dreamy face. The female cop tries to bring me back to now.
‘Tell us what happened, Celine,’ she asks.
I am dumb.
‘Do you have any relatives close by?’ She tries again.
I sink deeper into the corner of the chair and close my eyes.
‘She’s in shock,’ I hear a man’s voice say.
I open my eyes and see them standing over me...their faces huge, eyes glaring. They are cops, cataloguing my features: long fair hair, blue eyes, 167 cm tall, about 57 kg. Celine Curtis is only an entry in their reports. I stare back at them vacantly.
‘Well, she would be, wouldn’t she, after all that trauma? Poor kid.’ She frowns as she realises I am a person. ‘Celine, you are an attractive teenager. Don’t curl yourself into a ball like a fetus.’
‘Oh my God! Fetus – don’t say that,’ he says. ‘Poor kid! I dunno. It could all be an act. We won’t know until the questioning starts. Anyway, it’ll be a long night for her. I just hope Juvenile Aid takes over when we get to the station so we can go home.’
He talks as though I’m not here. Like when you are a kid and just a shadow flitting round the adults’ feet. I am 15 and still invisible. But then like, I was always the shadow of my other self. Well, okay. I will be no one, say nothing. If I am in shock, I’m expected to be dumb. I can wait until Mr Cartwright comes. The cops always have to let you see a lawyer. They treat me like I’m not here, so I’ll fly away to join my twin.
I let my mind drift as I’ve learnt to do over the last two years. The house, the cops, the smell of death fades. A haze envelops me like an early morning mist rising from the sea.
I am with Corinne on our last holiday. I smell the salt; feel the breeze cool my face.
I followed Corinne splashing through the waves, diving under a big one. The sea washed over me. Water ran down my face in rivers of happiness. I joined Cor and waited for the right wave. We shot it together spearing through the water like dolphins. She beat me to the sandbank. She stood and shook her long fair hair. I copied her like I always did. We rubbed the salt from our eyes. She laughed, grabbed my hand and we trudged back, jumping the small waves, swimming out to deeper water for another ride. Time was nothing while the waves formed, curling, breaking, receding to reform. We rode the breakers until our bodies grounded on the sand, and then went back for more. We didn’t need boards. Dad couldn’t afford them anyway, not for only two weeks a year, he said.
The sun rose high burning a message on our skin.
‘Time to go home Ce,’ Cor decided.
I didn’t argue. I felt hot and tired. Anyway, Cor was usually right. We skipped hand in hand through the water to the beach.
Our temporary home was an old rented cottage at Burleigh. For two weeks a year, we took a break from the endless farm chores and Dad and Mum’s worries about the weather, the feed, the cows. We always arrived home fresh and ‘full of beans’ Dad said, ready for another year.
Oh my God! What a holiday we had – that last one. Corinne and I were new teenagers, just thirteen but we could easily pass for older, almost busting the buttons on our shirts. We eyed the boys, giggled and played games with our thoughts, drawing graphic pictures in our minds. Young, carefree. Was it only two years ago? A lifetime away. More than that: two life times away, and now three.
A harsh voice breaks into my thoughts, blotting out the past. I shake my head spraying the last drips of water from my imagination, reluctant to return to the present.
‘No good shaking your head, Celine. We’re off on a little trip to the station.’
The cop takes my arm and pulls me up. She grips my hand firmly and I smell her sweat mixed with the stink of blood and shit as we pass the kitchen. I concentrate on the floor as I stumble towards the door. She opens it. I stare at the small crowd under the streetlight and press closer to the cop. I feel exposed, naked.
‘Get rid of those people, Constable,’ my escort shouts, shielding me from the inquisitive eyes.
The young cop shoos the herd. They amble down the footpath. My minder and I step out into the night. Her arm is around my shoulders. I mentally thank her for the sign of protection. Or is her arm, like, keeping me in custody? The murmur of the retreating crowd sounds sympathetic, reading the gesture as comfort. A camera flash blinds us momentarily as we near the police car. A man’s voice says, ‘Is she under arrest, Sergeant?’
‘Shit!’ she mutters. ‘Get rid of that reporter, constable,’ she yells.
I guess the media has already arrived. We walk towards the car. I gaze at the ground. It is solid, secure and firm in a rotten night. We drive away. I close my eyes, trying to link with Corinne who is still part of me. I need her to help me tackle the questions the cops will throw at me. It doesn’t work this time. Alone, leaving this dead place at last.
The car crosses the main street with its long bed of roses like a cemetery in the middle of town. The dried-up town of Biggenden recedes as we head for Bundaberg. The old wooden school towers over us as we pass. The lights seem like my classmates’ eyes leering at me. I imagine the goss spewing out once the media spreads the news. Small towns thrive on goss to keep their spark of life. That first spark dropped two years ago. It smouldered when we moved into the cottage and flared up with dear Mother’s hassles. The man in the moon laughs from above, sniggering and dancing on the trees as we fly on. This night has a thousand eyes. If only that other night two years ago showed the way, today could have been different for our family’s future. But the road winds and twists like a maze towards God knows where.
I try to sleep but my scrambled mind won’t let me. My eyes close and I try to think of the good days. Time passes. I stare out into the night as we slow to cross the river, zoom round the bends, then shoot onto the highway. The car soars past Bingera sugar mill. My nose twitches at the sickly sweet smell tainting the air from the sugar stacks. The cop beside me holds her nose. I breathe in deeply hoping the sweetness will overpower the shit of the night. We leave the cane fields, moving closer to the city of Bundaberg, onto the wide streets, turn the corner and drive slowly beside the sleeping river to our destination. I shiver, gazing at the blank wall of the station. It makes me feel so small, so alone. What lies beyond that wall? I don’t know and don’t want to know.
The young driver pulls into the kerb. My escort takes my arm, tugging gently this time and escorts my reluctant body into the police station. She checks with the desk constable and leads me into a room. It’s close to midnight, I see by the wall clock. Tomorrow is almost here but there are hours of night before the light of day. They must let me sleep soon. My eyes droop, I feel like I’m floating. I’m real buggered. Not like me. Maybe my body says sleep will blot out the drama or it could be shock, I suppose, like the cop said. A plainclothes man enters. He nods at the female cop.
She goes over to him and I hear her whisper, ‘Shouldn’t we wait for JAB, sir?’
Sounds like an injection, maybe a truth drug my sleepy, idiot mind jokes, but I know they mean – Juvenile Aid Bureau. I know from last time that it’s illegal to question me, a juvenile, without the proper authority. Maybe I can stay dumb for a bit longer.
‘They’re on their way, Sergeant,’ he answers her and sits down in front of me. ‘I’m Inspector Black, Celine,’ he says with a serious face. ‘We’re here to help you but we can’t do that until you tell us what happened tonight.’
Geez, an inspector. I am already a celeb. Just my luck to have an inspector with a black name...black comedy, black magic...yeah, I’ll need some of that to help me. Can’t see any help in this one’s face. More like put me in jail. He stands tall, looking down at me. His long fingers reach up to a ledge and grasp a recorder, which he places between us as he sits opposite.
Inspector Black says, ‘Do you have any relatives nearby, Celine?’
It’s to my advantage to answer this question. ‘No. There’s only my grandmother who lives in Brisbane. But I can ring my lawyer.’
He looks at me like I am a person after all. ‘What’s his name?’ he asks.
The female cop grabs a phone book and gives me the phone and number.
My fingers press the buttons. It rings and rings. Then a message. He’s away until tomorrow. I leave my desperate plea. ‘This is Celine Curtis. I’m at Bundaberg Police Station. Please come and get me.’
I pass the message on. ‘He’s not home until tomorrow,’ I tell them. Surely now they’ll let me sleep until Mr C comes.
The inspector regards me. His eyes explore my face. His fingers drum the table. He is impatient, waiting, making a decision. He relaxes when another man comes into the room. This one is younger, about forty, I reckon. He looks across and tries a smile. It doesn’t reach his eyes, which look like he is half asleep. Is this another helper?
Inspector Black shakes hands with the newcomer. ‘Glad to see you, Mark,’ he says.
I see by his face that he has made his decision – no black magic, only questions.
‘This is Sergeant Davies from Juvenile Aid, Celine.’ He introduces the new cop as though we are equal but it’s only to cover him with the law.
They sit and turn on the tape recorder. Inspector Black talks, recording the time, place and interviewers. He leans towards me, ‘Your name is Celine Curtis, 15 years old, of 13 Morris Street, Biggenden?’
I nod. I know that will annoy him and waste time.
‘You must answer, not nod, Celine.’
‘Yes,’ I concede. ‘But I don’t have to answer your questions without my lawyer.’
‘A Juvenile Aid officer is here. Just take your time and tell us what happened there tonight.’
I am dumb. I hold his gaze. He frowns.
‘The sooner you answer the questions, the sooner we can all get some sleep.’
Sleep. My escape. I look at him vacantly. My mind is already asleep like I’m sort of delirious.
‘Interviewee says nothing,’ he records. ‘The chain of tonight’s events are as follows.’ He takes the initiative. ‘At 21.10 hours Bundaberg Police Station received a call from Biggenden Police, Sergeant Edgars, reporting that he and ambulance officers answered a triple-0 emergency at 13 Morris Street, Biggenden and discovered a woman had been shot. The victim subsequently was pronounced dead. Bundaberg detectives and forensic officers arrived at the scene at approximately 22.30 hours. A .22 calibre rifle lay on the floor beside the body. Police searched the premises and surrounds. The only person present was a teenage girl, Celine Curtis, the interviewee, who, up to this time, has not offered any explanation.’
Inspector Black resumes staring at me.
I am tired. The night is forever. My mind is sluggish, my eyes droop like shutters to blot out the horrors.
‘You fired the gun that killed your mother, didn’t you?’
My lips form the word he wants, ‘Yes,’ I say.
His mouth curls into a shadow of a smirk. It tells me sleep is still only a dream.
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