Sport 38: Winter 2010
Water rose in the driveway during the night, and Kirby was scooped out of bed by her father and put in Mr de Roos' four-wheel drive. It was the sound of the raindrops that woke her in the end, smacking loudly on her jacket, and then on the body of the car.
Kirby was driven across the road to the de Roos' house. Water slushed around the tires. Mrs de Roos was standing on the verandah, clutching her elbows. She led Kirby inside the house and up to one of the top storey bedrooms.
The bed had a wooden rim around the mattress, so you couldn't really sit comfortably on the edge—the wood dug into your thighs. The headboard was old and thick with a post at each end. They were pointed; high and proud like chess-set bishops, but there was a string of pink plastic flowers looped over one. Lying on her back, Kirby reached her hand up and wound the flowers around her wrist.
'That was Yolanda's bed,' Mrs de Roos said the next morning.
At the kitchen table, Kirby was presented with three little rounds of crispy Dutch toast. Mrs de Roos plunged coffee for her husband. Then she dipped a wooden stick into a can of golden syrup. It had a knob on the end the shape of a bumble bee—Mrs de Roos held it above Kirby's plate, and the syrup bled off the ribbing.
Mr de Roos piggy-backed Kirby across the road and dropped her at the garage door, where her mother was sweeping at the concrete with a fat-bristled broom.
'Hey Lady,' she said, and gave Kirby a hug and a kiss. 'That's a pretty necklace.'
'Mrs de Roos gave it to me.'
'Did she? I hope you said thank you.'
Mr de Roos raised his elbow, and leaned it against the garage door. 'She did,' he said.
'It's Yolanda's.' Kirby pulled the string up so it covered her page 165 eyebrows.
Her mother held the broom with two hands—two fists, one on top of the other. She looked at Mr de Roos, then down at Kirby. 'Do you think you should keep it?'
Mr de Roos clapped his hands together. 'Well,' he said.
'Thank you,' said Kirby's mother.
Mr de Roos gave them a salute (two fingers, like a scout) then turned and waded back up the driveway.
The radio was hanging from a nail on the wall, next to a bluegreen coil of hose pipe. Kirby reached up make the tuning stick slide, but her mother said, 'Don't fiddle.'
Her mother swept a sheaf of brown water out onto the gravel. 'Shops,' she said. 'He'll be back soon.'
The radio beeped for the news (five short, one long).
The water hadn't got into the house. While her parents went around unstacking all the furniture, Kirby sat on the kitchen floor, on some newspaper her mother had laid out. On a blank sheet she drew a picture of a white crayon cat. She gave the cat yellow ears and a yellow tail, then finished it off with a bold smear of purple dye. When it was dry, she folded it up in a brown envelope.
By mid-afternoon the sky was blue again, and the evening came in clear. Her mother and father were in the kitchen, leaning against the fridge. They both had their heads down—they looked like they were thinking. Kirby stood on a stool, stirring soup over the element with a wooden spoon. The radio was playing the news again because Princess Diana had just died in an accident, and everyone needed to hear.
'Those bloody paparazzi!' said her father in a whisper.
They put their heads down again, and listened.
Sweet tomato soup was Kirby's favourite. Her father cut cheese into hunks and dropped them into his bowl like ice cubes.
'Those bloody paparazzi,' he said.
Her mother sighed. 'Tony . . .'page 166
'You shouldn't say that word, Dad.'
'Look,' said her mother, grinding pepper over her bowl. 'You shouldn't jump to conclusions. There was probably all sorts going on that we don't know about.'
'There'll be an investigation. And I bet you, they're going to say paparazzi.'
'It's not a swear word, Kirby.'
'What does it mean, then?'
'The paparazzi are photographers,' said her mother. 'They take photographs of famous people, like Princess Diana.'
'They're sneaky, like rats,' said her father.
'Rats are just animals. Paparazzi are people—that's much worse.' She buttered a slice of bread and put it on Kirby's plate. 'There's nothing wrong with rats, sweetie.'
In times of great stress, Anja could see clearly into the future. Images of wine-soaked book club meetings came to her in drifts; the women eating olives with their fingers, cutting thick, triangular spokes from wheels of cheap mini brie. All of them saying, one after the other, 'I remember that moment; the moment I found out about Princess Di. I remember it exactly.'
In the future, Anja knew, she would not remember that moment at all.
What she did remember were befores and afters.
Before: looping the flowered lei over little Kirby's shoulders. Making seed bread for Roderick's dinner; her hands, long fingers, tucking the dough into a tight ball.
After: those same hands at rest on the kitchen table, either side of a checkered place mat. The left one covered by Roderick's right—big, brown and crack-skinned. The outside of Yolanda's bedroom door. The inside of it.
That was a few days ago now. Had she been a more reckless person she would have scratched a line for each on the side of the bedpost, like the tracks from the claws of a cat. But she didn't have the nerve page 167 to ruin the wood. What would she have used, anyway? There was nothing sharp enough in Yolanda's room.
The door was shut, not locked. And still Roderick hadn't tried to get in. Anja had wondered why, at first. Was he not afraid of what she might do, all alone in there? On the first night, he had put a tray of food outside the door. Then he sat in the corridor, changing position every so often. Anja heard his heels shifting on the carpet; cross-legged, straight-legged, knees down, knees up.
Forty-five minutes later, he spoke her name through the keyhole. Then he got up and went downstairs.
On the tray there were three mandarins, some cheese, and a generous portion of seed bread. A cup of water. Nothing hot—nothing that would have suffered from a long wait.
With the door open she could hear him in the kitchen. The sound of instant coffee-making came softly up the stairs. The kettle boiled, the fridge opened and closed. A teaspoon tapped the lip of a mug—ting ting ting—then fell into the sink. He would go out onto the verandah next. He would sit out there and tamp tobacco strings into his pipe with his fingers.
Anja waited for the slap of the screen door, then she stepped carefully over the tray and walked, bare foot, down the corridor to the bathroom.
From Yolanda's window she watched the flood waters recede. The apple trees still stood in a foot of it—they had been planted in the bowl of the back lawn. Roderick spent an afternoon walking about, spearing holes in the ground with a long metal pole. Anja liked watching him from above. If I wasn't here, she thought, this is what his life would be like. If I was dead, and he was on his own, this is what he'd be doing.
Yolanda had died three years ago, at seventeen. It was a car accident, too. Now there was not much left in her room. A few books—all one series, mostly. Fantasy. A girl who wants to be a knight, so she dresses up as a boy. She has bright purple eyes and, when she uses her powers, the magic comes out purple too. Anja bought the first book in the series for Yolanda's fourteenth birthday. She had read it herself first to make sure it was good. There were black cats and demons and martial page 168 arts. All the things Yolanda liked.
There was one poster left on the wardrobe door. There used to be scores of them though, the Blu-Tack running rampant across the wall like acne. Roderick had stripped them all down, repainted in a neutral colour. He'd only left one. It showed six different big cats, with their latin names, average weights and countries of origin. Anja studied it until she had learned them all. The tiger was the largest and heaviest. The leopard was the most endangered. The cheetah was the fastest and the most unique, although the poster did not explain why.
That night, when dinner was delivered, she spoke a question through the keyhole. 'Roderick,' she said, 'why is the cheetah the most unique?'
Roderick was crouched in the corridor outside, squeezing lemon onto a piece of baked gurnard. He had not heard her voice in days, so Anja had to wait for his answer. 'I never thought about it,' he said. 'But I suppose they are different.'
'They're the fastest.'
'And they don't ambush their prey. All the others do—they sneak up on it. But the cheetah, he just runs and runs and runs.'
The next morning Roderick put a newspaper on her breakfast tray. Anja read the front page, and learned that the world was still in shock. Outrage in Hollywood. Britain was in the depths of despair. They were angry with the Royals. Where were they, everyone wanted to know. Why did they not come out and grieve in public? Anja felt it was unfair. If a stiff upper lip wasn't good enough anymore, what else did a Queen have to offer?
Kirby's parents wanted to give a proper thank you to Mr and Mrs de Roos, which meant wine and a box of Roses. They went across together one afternoon, Kirby wearing the flower necklace and clutching the brown envelope tight against her chest. Her mother had let her stick on a 40c stamp.
Mr de Roos let them in through the kitchen door. He wasn't wearing shoes, which was unusual, and there was no coffee pot waiting on the page 169 table. Kirby wanted to ask about a biscuit.
'How are you getting on, Rod?' said her father, very quietly.
'Oh, we're getting on, we're getting on. You didn't need to.' Mr de Roos took the wine and the chocolates in careful arms and placed them on the table.
'It's OK,' said Kirby's mother. 'Look, if you need anything. If you want me to try, maybe? I could try.'
'Maybe,' he said, 'but I'm not sure, if . . . but maybe.'
Kirby watched Mr de Roos' socks. They were brown and long and a bit too old. She held out the envelope. 'This is for you and Mrs de Roos.'
An envelope appeared underneath the door, and little Kirby's voice came through the keyhole.
'Hello Mrs de Roos.'
Anja slid off the bed and knelt beside the door. 'Hello Kirby. You've come to visit me.'
'Is it boring in Yolanda's room?'
'Sometimes. What is this you've brought me?'
'It's for you and Mr de Roos.'
'Is it a letter?'
'No. Mrs de Roos?'
'Do you want to come out of the room?'
'Do you know why a cheetah is different?'
'Is it a person or an animal?'
'An animal .'
'Then it's because it has white on its tail.'
That night, Anja met Roderick out in the corridor. She was on her way back from the bathroom, and he was putting a plate full of brightly- page 170 wrapped chocolates next to the door. They stood and looked at each other for a while in the dark, then Roderick stepped back. He pushed Yolanda's door open with his fingertips.