‘How’s that little grandson of yours? Growing up?’ Rodney picked up a framed photo of Jacob from the mantelpiece while Rachel ejected the video cassette.
‘He’s going to New York.’ Rachel handed him the cassette.
‘No kidding?’ Rodney took the cassette and carefully replaced Jacob’s photo. ‘My oldest granddaughter is off to New York too. She’s eighteen now. Little Emily. Got herself a scholarship to some top university. The Big Apple they call it, don’t they? Wonder why they call it that?’
Rachel gave him a sickly smile and led him to the front door. ‘I have absolutely no idea, Rodney. No idea at all.’
6 April 1984
On the morning of the last day of her life, Janie Crowley sat next to Connor Whitby on the bus.
She felt strangely breathless, and she tried to calm herself by breathing in slowly with slow, deep breaths from the diaphragm. It didn’t seem to help.
Calm down, she told herself.
‘I’ve got something to say,’ she said.
He didn’t say anything. He never did say much, thought Janie. She watched him studying his hands resting on his knees, and she studied them herself. He had very big hands, she saw with a shiver, of fear or anticipation or both. Her own hands were icy cold. They were always cold. She slid them under her jumper to warm them.
She said, ‘I’ve made a decision.’
He turned his head suddenly to look at her. The bus lurched as it went around a corner and their bodies slid closer, so that their eyes were only inches apart.
She was breathing so fast she wondered if there was something wrong with her.
‘Tell me,’ he said.
The alarm clock wrenched Cecilia cruelly, instantly awake at six-thirty am. She was lying on her side, facing John-Paul, and their eyes opened simultaneously. They were so close their noses were almost touching.
She looked at the delicate scribbles of red veins in the whites of John-Paul’s blue eyes, the pores on his nose, the grey stubble on his strong, firm, honest chin.
Who was this man?
Last night they had got back into bed and lay together in the darkness, staring blindly at the ceiling while John-Paul talked. How he’d talked. There had been no need to probe for information. She didn’t ask a single question. He wanted to talk, to tell her everything. His voice was low and fervent, without modulation, almost monotonous, except there was nothing monotonous about what he was telling her. The more he talked, the hoarser his voice got. It was like a nightmare, lying in the dark, listening to that raspy whisper of his, going on and on and on. She had to bite her lip to stop herself from screaming, Shut up, shut up, shut up!
He’d been in love with Janie Crowley. Crazy in love. Obsessed even. The way you think you’re in love when you’re a teenager. He met her one day at Hornsby McDonald’s when they were both filling in applications for part-time work. Janie recognised him from when they’d been at primary school together, before he’d gone off to his exclusive boys school. They’d been in the same year at St Angela’s, but in different classes. He didn’t actually remember her at all, although he sort of knew the Crowley name. Neither of them ended up working at the McDonald’s. Janie got a job at the dry-cleaners and John-Paul got a job at the milk bar, but they had this amazing intense conversation about God knows what, and she gave him her phone number, and he rang her the next day.
He thought she was his girlfriend. He thought he was going to lose his virginity to her. It all had to be really secretive because Janie’s dad was one of those crazy Catholic dads and he said she couldn’t even have a boyfriend until she was eighteen. Their relationship, such as it was, had to be completely secret. That only made it more exciting. It was like they were secret agents. If he rang her house and anyone but Janie answered, the rule was that he had to hang up. They never held hands in public. None of their friends knew. Janie insisted on this. They went to the movies once and held hands in the dark. They kissed on a train in an empty carriage. They sat in the rotunda at Wattle Valley Park and smoked cigarettes and talked about how they wanted to go to Europe before uni. And that was it, really. Except that he thought about her day and night. He wrote her poetry he was too embarrassed to give her.
He never wrote me poetry, thought Cecilia irrelevantly.
That night Janie asked him to meet her in Wattle Valley Park where they’d met often before. It was always deserted and there was the rotunda where they could sit and kiss. She said she had something to tell him. He thought she was going to tell him that she’d gone to the family planning centre and got the pill, they’d talked about that, but instead she said that she was sorry but she was in love with another boy. John-Paul was stunned. Bewildered. He didn’t know there was another boy in the running! He said, ‘But I thought you were my girlfriend!’ And she laughed. She seemed so happy, John-Paul said, so happy that she wasn’t his girlfriend, and he was just crushed, and humiliated, and filled with this incredible rage. It was his pride more than anything. He felt like a fool, and for that he wanted to kill her.
John-Paul seemed desperate for Cecilia to know this. He said he didn’t want to justify it, or mitigate it, or pretend it was an accident – because for a few seconds he absolutely felt the desire to kill.
He didn’t remember making the decision to put his hands around her neck. But he remembered the moment when he suddenly became aware of the slender girlish neck between his hands and realised it wasn’t one of his brothers he had in a chokehold. He was hurting a girl. He remembered thinking, What the f**k am I doing? and he dropped his hands so fast, and he actually felt relieved, because he was so sure he’d caught himself in time, that he hadn’t killed her. Except that she was limp in his arms, her eyes staring over his shoulder, and he thought, no, this couldn’t be possible. He thought it had only been a second, maybe two seconds of crazy rage; definitely not long enough to kill her.