Sport 35: Winter 2007
Anna Horsley — Going Under
Tim and Bella were on their way to the lake, on a balmy April evening, when they hit something on the road, something bigger than a possum or rabbit, something that made a thud against the front of the car, an almost human sound.
Bella cried out, as if it was her, hurt on the road. She covered her eyes like a child.
It was just after six and the sunlight was bending down over the hills and in through the windscreen. Bella had been dozing, her head rolling back and forth across the headrest, her mouth slightly open, showing the edge of her pink tongue. Tim looked at her, just for a second, and suddenly wondered what he was doing, in this car, with this woman. He had wondered that, and felt a slight stirring at the top of his stomach, a fluttery uneasiness, and then thud, they had hit it, and Bella's eyes were open, wide.
They had set out just after three.
It was a plan they had had, ever since meeting, to take off for a weekend, just hop in the car and drive and see where they ended up. The thought of it was exhilarating, as if planned spontaneity could actually seem spontaneous once the plan was in action.
'Wouldn't that be fun?' Bella said to him, tugging the end of his finger, using a tone that sounded like she wasn't sure if it would or wouldn't be and needed reassurance. She had pursed her lips a little, waiting for his response. 'Don't you think? Fun?'
Tim said, yes, yes it would. He sounded like he meant it. He had meant it.
Bella had been given Friday off work and her call wasn't until 11 on Monday. She had a main part in an English TV series shooting in the studios on the edge of town. Cast and crew came cheap in these parts, Bella said. It was like shipping in black slaves, or going to the page 7slaves, actually. And yet it wasn't slavery, it was a hell of a good gig to get—well paid, fun. She played a medieval warrior princess—with some ridiculous name—which was hard to imagine, given her short, dark hair and diminutive size. She wore a wig, apparently, made of human hair, all the way from Russia, and silicone pouches stuffed in her bra.
Smoke and mirrors, Bella had said to Tim, hazily, and he felt suitably impressed, although the statement seemed intended for him not to. It was as if he had his finger on the pulse, as if he was in the presence of a magician's apprentice, or a magician even, keeping her cloak under wraps, just for now.
Tim had picked Bella up from her flat, and had felt exhilarated for a moment, just as he'd hoped that he would. She reminded him of a Jack Russell, some sort of small, strong little dog, nicely compact, perfectly packaged. She had a quick definite quality about her movement, as if she was always in a hurry, always on important business.
'Hi-de-hi,' she called to him as he drew up in the car. She was standing on the pavement with her bags by her feet. She swiveled herself from side to side. 'Howdy cowboy,' she said. 'Howdy.'
Tim smiled at her and tweaked her waist with his fingertips.
'Hi there,' he said and winked. A soft pulsing moved through his chest, like the time he had touched Patricia Clarke's thigh in the movies when they were fifteen. Patricia was his best friend's girlfriend and wasn't his to touch. The feeling had started at his toes and moved up towards his neck, almost choking him. Every now and then he got that with Bella; that forbidden surge. He was fourteen years her senior—almost old enough to be her father—and he felt it sometimes, when she looked at him with her bright, impish eyes, and said things like that; things like howdy and cowboy, in her light youthful way, as if life was really a bit of a joke, a game.
But he liked it today, the way she said it. He liked the feeling it gave him. As if he was on the verge of an adventure, albeit a dangerous one.
'Fun!' Bella said. 'What fun.' And she slid into the passenger seat.
They headed north. It was warm and still and at first they drove with the windows down, feeling the air move around the car, in page 8under their clothes. Once they were on the open road Bella seemed unusually weary, subdued. She looked out the open window and blinked fast, presumably to try to counter the wind in her eyes. She yawned even, a couple of times, and ran her hand up and down her neck. Tim wondered if she was bored, if he should be entertaining her. He turned on the radio, and just about drove into a ditch, looking for a station. Bella didn't even seem to notice. She smiled at him, vaguely, when he looked at her. She placed one hand in her lap.
They had stopped in some small town with an unpronounceable name for a coffee at the local tearooms. Bella was charmed, she said, by the formica tables, and netting curtains, and the rotund woman who served them, who wore an apron round her waist that looked like a doily.
'It's so cute, isn't it?' she said. 'Quaint.' She leant over the table towards him as she said it and a fleck of spit shot out her mouth, and landed somewhere, Tim couldn't see where. For the first time that day, for the first time since he had met her in fact, he felt a pang of disapproval, embarrassment for her, even.
'It smells like dirty hair, to me,' he said. 'Places like this are the places of my childhood. Quaint isn't the word. Depressing, I would say.'
Bella looked at him quite blankly, as if she hadn't even heard what he said. She blinked rapidly, just as she'd been doing in the car—it clearly wasn't the wind—and then she made a sound in her throat, a soft sort of humph. She slid out of her chair and sauntered up to the counter to get herself some gum.
They got on the road again, still with no clear destination in mind, but they were heading in the direction of the lake, that's where the road was taking them. Bella found a tape in the glove box and slipped it on and rested her head against the headrest and chewed away at her gum. The sun was getting lower, and the paddocks and trees were bathed in it. They slipped by, field after field, fence after fence, and then the road grew steeper, started to climb upwards, winding a little as it did so.
Bella rested her hand on the back of Tim's neck, fiddling her fingers through his hair. Her skin felt cool, he thought, like water. She spoke every now and then, pausing in her chewing, to remark on something page 9out the window, something that always seemed to have passed by the time Tim turned his head to look. He continued to try, though, feeling somehow that he was missing out on all the fun. It seemed to make Bella edgy, his rubbernecking, even though it was she who was instigating it.
'Never mind,' she said to him after a while, almost tersely. 'Let's not drive off the road!' And then she flicked the gum out of its resting place in her cheek, and started chewing again, not loudly, but with a certain vigour, an elasticity.
They climbed higher and higher, and Bella started to blink slowly, Tim could see that out of the corner of his eyes. She closed her lids intermittently, lifted them, closed them, and then, suddenly, she seemed to be asleep. Her head lolled a little and her mouth was open and Tim wondered if he should hook a finger inside her cheek, to rescue the gum, to stop her from choking. He wanted to do it, wanted to search around in there against her tongue, almost wanted her to open her eyes while he was doing it, get a fright. But he didn't. He just kept a watch on her, carefully, noticing the white downy hair on her neck—illuminated by the sun—and the line of three tiny moles, dotted along her hairline, and then he felt that sense, the sudden uneasiness, and then they hit it, and Bella opened her eyes, and cried out, seemingly in pain.
It was a bird.
That's what they'd hit. And Bella wouldn't get out of the car. She kept her fingers over her eyes, and made a low sound in her throat, like the far-off drone of an engine.
The car was stopped in the middle of the road, and Tim stood there, with his arms crossed over his chest, and felt shaky, shakier than he would have expected to. It was not just a bird, it was a hawk. And it wasn't dead.
Bella's voice came snaking out through the open door.
'Okay,' she said. 'What is it? Tim? Is it very bad?' She paused. 'Tim?'
He swallowed hard.
The hawk was half sitting, half lying on the road, one wing outstretched awkwardly, almost as if it wasn't associated with the rest page 10of its body at all. The other was tucked in under itself, and its neck bent down towards that side, as if it could tuck its head under there too. Tim could see one open eye, and its beak, which was opening and shutting on itself, opening and shutting like a mechanical gate that was broken, stuck in one repetitive movement. There was a streak of blood on the road, not much, but enough, and it was coming out in one thin line, from somewhere under its body.
'Tim?' Bella called. 'Is it bad?'
He took one step, tentatively, towards it. The hawk tried to move itself, almost managed, dragging its outstretched wing a couple of centimetres along the road, but then it fell back onto its side, breathing heavily. The lower side of its body seemed to be crushed, one leg hardly there at all.
'Christ,' Tim said. 'Would you come and help me please, Bella?' She didn't respond. 'Now?'
'What is it?' she cried.
They had met a month before at a friend's birthday dinner, at some swanky restaurant in town.
Tim hadn't even noticed Bella for the first half of the evening. She was at the other end of the table, and didn't seem especially worth noticing. That's how it seemed to him at the time. But somehow, as the night wore on, they ended up sitting next to each other, and she turned to him, as if he was a pet project.
'So,' she said. 'Tell me. Are you having fun?' She whispered the last part, conspiratorially. He could smell her breath against his cheek, the twang on it, from the wine.
Her nose twitched slightly. She was cute. Tim suddenly felt happy, a great rush of it. He laughed.
'I am, as a matter of fact,' he said. 'I am now.'
Later, she leant over, as if to whisper something in his ear, and licked the lobe instead; a quick flick of her tongue, like a cat.
Much later, she slid her warm little hand under his shirt at the back, and rested it there above his belt, against the skin.
How could he refuse?
The hawk was in the backseat, loosely wrapped in a sweatshirt. Its bad wing sprouted out from under the fabric, so big that it made Tim's chest do a little thump every time he looked at it. Every now and then the sweatshirt shifted. It was Bella's, and had 'Hawaii' printed on its front. She didn't even like it, she said. She was glad for it to be put to good use. She didn't seem to be able to put herself to good use though. Every time she looked at the hawk she cried out, though the cries were getting fainter and fainter as time went along. She couldn't touch it, she said. She was sorry, but she just couldn't.
The sun had gone down, and they drove in silence. It was not totally dark yet, just a heavy tainted grey, and the headlights swung across the road in front of them, as they wound down the hill.
'Where did it come from?' Tim said. 'I didn't even see it. How could that be?'
Bella was driving, and she flicked one hand up off the steering wheel. She touched his hand, lightly, and he noticed how much hotter it was now, slightly wet.
'Let's talk about something else,' she said. 'Hey? Let's just change the subject.'
The sweatshirt rippled. Tim rubbed at his face.
'I'm pretty tired, Bella,' he said. 'I don't really feel like playing let's pretend.'
It sounded sharper than he'd meant it to. He heard her exhale slightly, a little puff coming out from between her closed lips. She lifted her hand up off his and returned it to the steering wheel.
'Sorry,' he said.
'No, I'm sorry,' she said. 'I'm sorry not to be much help. I'm sorry our weekend is ruined. I'm sorry you hit the damn thing.' She made a little clicking sound in her throat, licked her lips. She turned the tape back on, and the music lurched into the car, cutting in right in the middle of a song.
They came across the Oasis Motel just after eight. It had a large lit-up sign with two palm trees on it, a bright blue pool of water, a hibiscus flower. The top left hand corner of the sign had been smashed so that the edge of the flower was gone; the yellow cylinder of light pulsing behind it. It was like seeing under a woman's skirt, Tim thought, and discovering that she was wearing beige underpants. Maybe not as bad page 12as that, actually, but still. He ran his hands through his hair.
The motel seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Its white sign had blinked at them, even when they were miles away from it, even before they could make out what it was. It had seemed like a haze of bland light, hovering somewhere above the land, just at the edge of the horizon. As they got closer they could make out the palm trees, the unnatural looking pool of water beneath them, the flower; its jagged edge. There were rows of separate units, all with lights on, dotted along the mini porches. The main building was lit up like a Christmas tree, yellow light bleeding out of every window, out into the night. It was impossible to tell where they were, if they were close or far away from the lake. But it was dark now, and Tim didn't really care any more.
Bella swerved into the entrance and turned off the engine and then the headlights, with a small flick of her wrist. They sat in the dark, side by side, with the feeling of the hawk behind them, though no sound was coming from the backseat now at all.
'They might know of an after hours vet,' Tim said. 'I'm sure they'll know what the best thing is to do.'
'Yeah, sure,' Bella said. 'An after hours vet, right in the middle of the wops. That's right, city boy.' She laughed bitterly, and then patted his hand. 'Sorry,' she said, 'but, you know.'
She leant towards him then, straining against the belt, and kissed the edge of his face, her lips feeling too warm, and moist, like her hand.
'I'm sorry,' she said again. 'I just can't stand this. This whole thing.'
He could feel the small puffs of air coming out her nose, and she just stayed there, with her face pressed against his, almost as if she had fallen asleep. He touched her bare knee with his fingertips, lowered his whole hand cautiously onto the skin. She shifted herself, slightly, towards him.
'Fighting already,' she whispered. 'It's a bad sign.'
Tim pecked the edge of her nose, and her cheek, and up a bit, right at the corner of her eye.
'Yes,' he said. 'But it'll be okay. Promise.'
He got out of the car.page 13
Tim had met his wife, Jennifer, when they were both eighteen. They had married six months later, and had stayed like that—married, that is—for eighteen years. Eighteen + eighteen, Tim often thought, equals disaster. Not that it was, not a disaster exactly, more of a puttering out; as if they started with too much of a bang, too steady a belief in the power of their supposed love, and then just ran out of gas, one day, in the middle of nowhere.
Jen had gone in all the wrong directions, she said. Career, no kids. She wanted to start anew. She moved to Australia, and remarried within a year, a car salesman, BMWs or something. She had a baby now, had sent Tim a photo at Christmas, with a card that was friendly, but distant. The kid looked nothing like her; it was fair, with a smudge of white hair on the top of its head, and small, fat hands. Tim had looked at the photo for hours, not because he liked babies especially, but because the baby was sitting on her lap. He recognised her hands, the tan of her skin, the veins pressing up underneath it, curling up under her sleeve. He could see her hair too, just the ends of it, slightly brittle, thick. Love Jen, she had scrawled on the back. Love Jen—like a plea, instead of a signing off.
That's how it seemed to him at the time, anyway; as if there was a message there, in those two words, the meaning seemingly changed just because there was no comma between them. Love Jen—scrawled, smudged, an afterthought perhaps, an attempt at softening the blow of sending a card and picture advertising her new life. It was nothing more than that, of course, and he didn't even want it to be. That was just the feeling he got when he read the words. Love Jen. Please.
That was at Christmas, and now it was April. He'd been seeing Mandy Smart, then, just casually, but that hadn't even lasted into the New Year.
And now he was seeing Bella. An actress. He could put that in a card to Jen. Here's a photo of my new partner, it could say, who is an actress in an extremely popular TV series. This is her in costume, it could say. Love Tim.
The door of the reception had an old fashioned bell on it, and it tinkled nervously as he stepped inside.
The walls were panelled in a pale wood, had framed pictures hanging on them, fishing memorabilia, as far as Tim could tell. Even though, from the outside, the lights had seemed glaringly bright, inside everything was dim. It was as if the air was filled with smoke; a dusty soft smoke, almost a fog. The air smelt faintly, Tim couldn't tell what of, perfume, soap, an attempt at masking tobacco probably. He stood by the counter and waited. The bell at the door hadn't brought any staff running from the barracks. He pressed the button on the counter's top, briskly, not holding it down too long, not wanting to seem impatient. He heard footsteps on the floor above him then, though they were more like the sound of a dead body being heaved around up there.
Tim craned his neck to try and read the papers strewn across the reception desk, ran his foot back and forth across the carpet. A car door slammed outside. The front door opened, setting the bell off, letting out a shimmer of sound. Tim turned, expecting Bella, but it wasn't her at all, and the woman who moved into the reception shot right past him, lifting up the counter-top, ducking under, landing in the seat behind the desk like a large bird on the surface of a pond. Her flesh, mostly concealed under a floral kaftan, seemed to shudder for a moment, almost in her wake, though of course it wasn't, just all around her, soft and voluminous, moist looking.
'Stairs broke,' she said to Tim abruptly, her small eyes blinking hard.
He didn't know what she meant.
'Stairs broke,' she said again, in exactly the same tone, 'so I have to come down the outside. Every time. I've called the builder three times. Could've broke my damn neck. Or worse.' She smiled then, as if it was funny, even though she clearly didn't think it was. 'Sorry to keep you waiting,' she said, smiled again, added, 'sir,' like a child that had just remembered its manners.
Tim tried to smile back. He felt overwhelmed by tiredness.
'We're after a double room,' he said, 'a double room, and a recommendation for where we could find some dinner, and we have page 15a little problem,' he paused, 'that I'm hoping you may be able to help me with.'
The woman still had her lips pinched upwards, though Tim realised it was more of a default setting than a smile. Her face was just set that way.
'Try me,' she said.
'I have a bird in the car,' he said, 'a sick, well, a hurt bird, really. I hit it, you see. On the road. It's a hawk.' He stopped, scratched at his neck.
The woman narrowed her eyes at him, as if she'd just stepped out into a great wind.
'A hawk,' she said.
'That you hit on the road.'
'Mr Sheridan,' she shuffled her hands round the computer. The skin of her forearms swayed as she did so, slowly, back and forth. 'Mr Sheridan, we have a no pets policy in our rooms.' She slapped a laminated sign down, triumphantly on the counter. No Pets, it said. Etcetera, etcetera.
'We have a no pets policy,' she said again. She smiled.
'It isn't a pet,' Tim said quietly, 'and we don't want it sleeping in our bed, I can assure you. It's half dead. There must be someone we can call for help,' he waved his arms around, feeling stranded. 'There must be someone we can call,' he said, raising his voice, ever so slightly, 'who'll know what to do.'
The woman opened and shut her mouth several times. Her hair was dyed cherry red, had grey roots that looked more out of place, somehow, than the lurid brassiness beyond them. It was cut short and had the fluffy shapelessness of brushed cotton.
'Oh, I don't think so,' she said. There was laughter lurking, somewhere in behind her voice. 'Help you? With a half-dead hawk?' Her lips curled up—default setting. 'No, Mr Sheridan,' she said. 'I don't think so.'page 16
'No vet you know of who I could call? No?'
She did a little shake of her head, and made a sound in her throat to accompany it.
'No ideas at all?'
Tim started to back towards the door.
'Never mind,' he said. 'Forget it. Forget the room. I'll sort it out. Thanks anyway.'
She leant back in her chair.
'What I would've said,' she cocked her chin at him, lifted one dappled arm up towards the counter. 'What I would've said, is don't pick it up in the first place. That's what I would've told you. Leave it, I would've said. That's my advice.'
'I wish you'd been there to give it to me then,' Tim said. 'It would have been helpful, I'm sure.'
'Sherry's being killed off upstairs,' she said. She glanced at the clock on the wall, and Tim was suddenly aware of its ticking, slightly irregular. 'I've almost missed it,' she said. 'Sherry's last show.'
Tim was by the door, and he reached for the handle.
'I interrupted you. Sorry.'
'My advice,' she called after him, 'would be to put it back on the road, let someone finish off what you started. Sad, Mr Sheridan, but true!'
He had already let the door clang back into place behind him. Bella was sitting on the bonnet of the car. She had her legs folded up against her body, her arms holding her knees. He couldn't see the expression on her face; it looked almost smooth, featureless.
'How'd it go?' she said.
Behind him, Tim heard the door of the reception open and then shut again. The woman started down the ramp, wobbling a little. She was wearing her slippers—he hadn't noticed that before. They flapped against her feet, making a soft squelching sound.
She kept her head down, as if she didn't know they were there.
'Not so good,' he said. He almost laughed.
In the last year of their marriage, Jen's cat had died. It was old, and its death was well overdue, but even then it still felt like an omen, a metaphor for their already failed relationship. It was twenty-one, a silver-haired Persian, and its fur had taken on the qualities of a soiled rug in a Burke's Bin. It had lost clumps of flesh to cancer, maybe even an organ or two. Nearing the end, it could hardly even meow. Tim referred to it as The Doorstop.
Still, Jen was devastated by its death. And Tim, despite himself, was slightly stricken too. They brought it home from the vet, wrapped in a pink baby blanket; its body strangely heavy, feeling more full, more solid, than when they'd carried it in alive.
Tim dug a hole in the backyard, and they put it in and covered it over with dirt. Afterwards Jen lay down, placed the side of her face against the earthy mound, like a doctor listening to a child's chest. He should have laid down there with her—wanted to even—but he didn't, just went inside to put tea on. He could see the dark shape of her body from the kitchen window, the stillness of it. After half an hour, maybe more, she raised herself up slowly, just like something coming back from the dead. He could hear the softness of her feet padding down the hallway, the sound of the shower being turned on.
She came into the kitchen wearing only her underpants, and one sock.
'Help me, please,' she said, and for a moment he thought she was asking him to take it away, the pain, to hold her or something. But she only meant with her necklace, the clasp. He fumbled with it against her neck.
There were two spindly twigs, caught there, in her hair.
They started driving again, the hum of the Oasis Motel getting smaller and smaller behind them, until it was swallowed suddenly by the black. It seemed as if they were driving backwards, as if leaving the light behind was wrong somehow, as if they should be crawling towards it instead. They had not eaten for hours, but neither of them mentioned it, and perhaps neither of them needed to. Tim didn't feel hungry, certainly.
The hawk still shifted from time to time in the backseat—a soft page 18feathery scraping. Bella no longer cried out when she heard it, but lifted her hand to her face, as if to muffle the sound that wasn't coming out anyway. She seemed so small to Tim, sitting there in the seat beside him. He could hardly relate her to the woman who had flicked her tongue against his skin in the restaurant the night they met; the brashness of her hand sliding under his shirt in a room full of people; her unbuckling his belt in the car. She seemed so cool to him then, putting the show on the road, running it. And now, perched in the passenger seat, with the bleeding bird and a bad afternoon behind her, she seemed like the opposite, yes, the opposite, of everything he'd thought that she was.
'How old are your parents?' she said to him, quite out of the blue, as if it was something she had wanted to know all along, and had only just found the words.
She was almost smiling, her face turned slightly towards him, and the road also. Something in her expression made him tap down lightly on the accelerator, as though a little more speed was the answer, though he didn't know what the question was.
Outside it had begun to rain, just a drizzle really, a wet mist frosting the windscreen. The wipers squeaked against the glass.
'You'll have to kill it, Tim,' she said. 'You know that don't you.'
'Yes,' he said. 'I do.'
And then the silence descended on them again, like a faint smell.
It seemed, in a way, that the lake found them.
The road, the hills and trees all around, the white markers, the headlights rolling on in front—it had all felt endless. And then suddenly there was the water, smooth and dark, the land opening out to accommodate it. A sound came out of Bella's mouth, but it wasn't anguish, it was a sing-song sort of sigh; it was relief.
Tim swerved onto the gravel and turned off the engine.
It was half past nine.
They opened the windows, and the drizzle angled in, tapping against their faces.
'You have to kill it,' Bella said again. She stared straight ahead.page 19
Tim sat dead still, his hands pressed against his knees. From somewhere under the bonnet of the car came a ticking sound, loud and irregular. His breath seemed to match it—or that's how it seemed to him, at least—but Bella's beside him was steady and slow, hardly audible. He waited for her to say something else but she didn't. She wound the window down a little, and then up a little, and continued looking out through the windscreen.
'How about if I said you had to kill it,' he said. 'Then what would you do?' It was a question that he didn't even want an answer to particularly, and a question that—he knew—wasn't really fair to ask. He could fool himself into believing that he was truly interested in the answer, if he wanted. But it wasn't that. It was her response that interested him.
Bella paused, and drew her tongue across her top lip.
'I'd probably get out and walk home,' she said, and then she turned her face square towards him and smiled an odd little smile, its edges slightly jagged. 'Why, Tim?' she said, smiling all the time. 'Are you going to ask me that?' The whites of her eyes were lit up by the lights on the dashboard and the headlights outside. She shook her head.
'Are you?' she said again.
There seemed to be a hardening in the skin round her jaw. Something in the way she held her teeth—tight together, the bottoms bared—made the skin all round her mouth and under her cheeks look like it had set.
Tim tried to laugh, though the sound that came out his mouth was more like a warble.
'No of course not,' he said. 'I'm sorry. Ignore me. I was just trying to make a joke.'
He smiled at her, in the hope she would smile back, but she had already turned her face towards the windscreen again, and she was looking out it, peering even, as though she were waiting for something—anything—to appear in front of her on the road.
'Well ha ha,' she said.
Tim got out of the car, opened the back door, leant in across the passenger seat. The hawk was hard to grasp, covered in the sweatshirt, its broken wing falling right to the floor. He felt its resistance, though page 20it didn't struggle, and for a moment he hoped that it was just the resistance of bone, and that it may already be dead. It was wishful thinking, for sure. As he tried to angle the wing out the door it wavered slightly, and then rose sharply towards his face. It almost hit him in the eye. It seemed to take all his strength to get it contained again, pressed tight against his chest. He tired not to pay attention to the fact that the fabric—Bella's Hawaii sweatshirt—felt wet under his hands; wet and sticky, but cold.
Tim moved down the bank and across the pebbles and onto the sand. The sound of the lake, slapping in and out, was suddenly loud, so close sounding, as if it was right upon him. He turned back towards the car. Bella had turned the internal light on, and the doors were open, and she sat in the whiteness staring straight ahead, quite still. Her head looked small and dark, like the top of a pin, and he suddenly felt that his whole life was in that car, though of course it wasn't. That was the only life he had, right at that moment though; her, and the hawk, and the water, and the heavy throb of the sky above them, releasing gusts of wet into the air.
Go to her, something said to him, inside.
He laid the hawk down on the sand, and moved his body down beside it. He was muttering to himself, almost afraid. When he peeled the sweatshirt back the hawk lurched slightly, out towards the air. In the dark he could hardly see and he was glad of that, glad to be spared the mess that he had made; the slow seep outwards. The hawk seemed more alive than it should, he thought, considering everything it had lost. It clawed at the air with its one leg, its beak opening and shutting, creaking softly. As Tim lifted its body out of the sweatshirt he felt where the fabric stuck a little to a wound; the soft tear as he pulled the two apart.
Up close its feathers smelt slightly sweet, like freshly dug earth. There was a strange smoothness to them, the rise of bones somewhere deep under all that downiness, under the flesh. Its chest was against his, and far off he could feel a pounding, though it could have just been him, his own heart. It bet its wing against his shoulder. He moved his hands to hold it tighter, and as he did his fingers sank in to a patch where the feathers were gone; sliding right inside, touching something that felt like bone. It felt so hot in there, as if it should be steaming. page 21Tim cried out and stumbled, and felt something cool move up around his feet, into his shoes, sucking up his trouser legs.
It was the lake.
The suddenness of it being upon him made his knees give way. He felt his body fold down into the water like someone into prayer. The bird fell out of his arms, sliding across his stomach, into the lake, almost soundlessly. It was still for a moment, seemingly resting on the surface, and then the water started to draw it down. It pounded its wing against Tim's torso, arching its body towards him, its neck curling in the dark; a sound coming out of its beak that was hardly a sound at all, more like a far off squealing, so faint and desperate that it seemed to Tim it was simply inside his own head. He pressed his hands against its feathers, pushed its body firmly under, pushed until he felt it grate the bottom. The water was up to his elbows, and up to his stomach, and all round his legs, a part of his shoes. There was a soft lurching against his palms, faint as a pulse. A heaving sound came out his mouth. It was his breathing, sounding parched and raspy. The water quaked.
Tim turned his head away, scanning for the car.
Bella hadn't moved, the soft fog of drizzle surrounding her, and it looked to him as if she was floating up there, in that ball of light; like a plastic figure in a toy plane.
Go to her, the voice said again, but he turned his head away, shaking it slightly; turned to look out across the lake.
Far off, on the other shore, he could see lights, a whole gaggle of them; a powdery yellow in the mist. They seemed to be blinking, winking even. And he blinked back, almost calmly, the fever in his throat beginning to slide down, out of reach, back into the water. There were lights on either side of him—Bella in the car, the town in the distance; him in the dark, surrounded, holding the hawk's body down. He would stay there a little longer, he thought, right there inside the lake, the water moving round the edges of him, where it met the air. And when he was ready he would let it go, that mound of wet feathers beneath his hands. He would lift himself up out of the lake. He would watch as the hawk's body came rising up, through the soft water, to meet him.