Rachel laughed out loud and clasped her hands together as if in prayer. She’d forgotten that too. How could she have forgotten it? Janie used to pretend to be a reporter at the oddest times. She’d come into the kitchen, pick up a carrot and say, ‘Tell me, Mrs Rachel Crowley, how was your day today? Ordinary? Extraordinary?’ And then she’d hold the carrot in front of Rachel and Rachel would lean in close to the carrot and say, ‘Ordinary.’
Of course she said ordinary. Her days were always so very ordinary.
‘Good evening, I’m Janie Crowley reporting live from Turramurra where I’m interviewing a reclusive young man by the name of Connor Whitby.’
Rachel caught her breath. She turned her head and the word ‘Ed’ caught in the back of her throat. Ed. Come. You must see this. It had been years since she’d done that.
Janie spoke into the pencil again. ‘If you could just scoot a little closer, Mr Whitby, so my viewers can see you.’
‘Connor,’ Janie imitated his tone.
A broad-chested, dark-haired boy wearing a yellow and blue striped rugby shirt and shorts slid over on the bed until he was sitting next to Janie. He glanced at the camera and looked away again, uncomfortably, as if he could see Janie’s mother thirty years in the future, watching them.
Connor had the body of a man and the face of a boy. Rachel could see a smattering of pimples across his forehead. He had that starved, frightened, sullen look you saw on so many teenager boys. It was as if they needed to both punch a wall and be cuddled. The Connor of thirty years ago didn’t inhabit his body in the comfortable way he did now. He didn’t know what to do with his limbs. He flung his legs out in front of him and tapped one open palm softly against his closed fist.
Rachel could hear herself breathing raggedy gasps. She wanted to lunge into the television and drag Janie away. What was she doing there? She must be in Connor’s bedroom. She was not allowed to be on her own in a boy’s bedroom. Ed would have a fit.
Janie Crowley, young lady, you come back home this minute.
‘Why do you need me actually in it?’ asked Connor, his eyes returning to the camera. ‘Can’t I just sit off camera?’
‘You can’t have your interview subject off camera,’ said Janie. ‘I might need this tape for when I apply for a job as a reporter on 60 Minutes.’ She smiled at Connor and he smiled back: an involuntary, smitten smile.
Smitten was the right word. The boy was smitten with her daughter. ‘We were just good friends,’ he told the police. ‘She wasn’t my girlfriend.’ ‘But I know all her friends,’ Rachel told the police. ‘I know all their mothers.’ She could see the polite restraint on their faces. Years later, when Rachel finally decided to get rid of Janie’s single bed she’d found a contraceptive pill packet hidden under the mattress. She hadn’t known her daughter at all.
‘So Connor, tell me about yourself.’ Janie held out the pencil.
‘What do you want to know?’
‘Well, for example, do you have a girlfriend?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Connor. He looked keenly at Janie and suddenly seemed more grown-up. He leaned forward and spoke into the pencil. ‘Do I have a girlfriend?’
‘That would depend.’ Janie twisted her ponytail around her finger. ‘What do you have to offer? What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? I mean, you need to sell yourself a bit, don’t you know.’
She sounded silly now, strident and whiny even. Rachel winced. Oh, Janie, darling, stop it! Speak nicely. You can’t talk to him like that. It was only in the movies that teenagers flirted with beautiful sensuality. In real life it was excruciating to watch them flailing about.
‘Jeez, Janie, if you still can’t give me a straight answer, I mean – fuck!’
Connor stood up from the bed and Janie gave a disdainful little laugh, while at the same time her face crumpled like a child’s, but Connor only heard the laugh. He walked straight towards the camera. His hand reached out so that it filled the screen.
Rachel held out her hand to stop him. No, don’t turn it off. Don’t take her away from me.
The screen instantly filled with static, and Rachel’s head jerked back as if she’d been slapped.
She was filled with adrenaline, exhilarated with hatred. Why, this was evidence! New evidence after all these years!
‘Call me any time, Mrs Crowley, if you think of anything. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night,’ Sergeant Bellach had said that so many times it had got boring.
She never had before. Now at least she had something for him. They would get him. She could sit in a courtroom and watch a judge pronounce Connor Whitby guilty.
As her fingers jabbed at Sergeant Bellach’s numbers, she bounced up and down impatiently on the balls of her feet, while the image of Janie’s crumpled face filled her head.
‘Connor,’ said Tess. ‘I’m just getting some petrol.’
‘You’re kidding,’ said Connor.
Tess took a moment to get it. ‘You gave me a fright,’ she said with a touch of petulance because she was embarrassed. ‘I thought you were an axe murderer.’
She picked up the nozzle. Connor kept standing there, without moving, his helmet tucked under one arm, looking at her as if he expected something. Okay, well, that was enough chitchat, wasn’t it? On your bike. Off you go. Tess preferred people from her past to stay in the past. Ex-boyfriends, old school friends, past colleagues – really, what was the point of them? Lives moved on. Tess quite enjoyed reminiscing about people she once knew, not with them. She pulled on the petrol lever, smiling warily at him, trying to remember exactly how their relationship had ended. Was it when she and Felicity moved to Melbourne? He was a boyfriend in between lots of other boyfriends. She usually broke up with them before they broke up with her. Normally after Felicity had made fun of them. There was always a new boy to take their place. She thought it was because she was the right level of attractiveness: not too intimidating. She said yes to whoever asked her out. It wouldn’t have occurred to her to say no.