He couldn’t believe it. Even now. After all these years. He was still shocked and horrified by what he’d done.
She was still warm, but he knew, without a shadow of doubt, that she was dead.
Although later he wondered if he could have been wrong. Why hadn’t he even tried to revive her? He must have asked himself that question a million times. But at the time he had felt so sure. She was gone. She felt gone.
So he laid her carefully at the bottom of the slide, and he remembered thinking that the night was getting cold, so he put her school blazer over the top of her, and he had his mum’s rosary beads in his pocket, because he’d done an exam that day and he always took them for luck. So he placed them carefully in Janie’s hands. It was his way of saying sorry, to Janie and to God. And then he ran. He ran and ran until he couldn’t breathe.
He thought for sure he would be caught. He kept waiting for the heavy weight of a policeman’s hand to drop on his shoulder.
But he was never even questioned. He and Janie weren’t at the same school, or in the same youth group. Neither their parents nor friends had known about them. It seemed that nobody had ever seen them together. It was like it had never happened.
He said that if the police had ever questioned him he would have confessed immediately. He said that if someone else had been accused of the murder, he would have given himself up. He wouldn’t have let anyone else take the fall for it. He wasn’t that evil.
It was just that nobody asked the question so he never gave the answer.
During the nineties he started hearing news reports about crimes being solved through DNA evidence, and he wondered if he’d left a miniscule vestige of himself behind: a single hair, for example. But even if he had, they’d been together for such a short time and they’d played their undercover game so effectively. He would never be asked to give a DNA sample because nobody knew he had known Janie. He could almost convince himself that he hadn’t known her, that it had never happened.
And then the years had just gone by, layers and layers of years piled on top of the memory of what he’d done. Sometimes, he whispered, he could go for months feeling relatively normal, and then other times he could think of nothing else except what he’d done and he was sure he’d go crazy.
‘It’s like a monster trapped in my mind,’ he rasped. ‘And sometimes it gets free and goes rampaging about, and then I get it under control again. I chain it up. You know what I mean?’
No, thought Cecilia. No, actually, I don’t.
‘And then I met you,’ said John-Paul. ‘And I sensed something about you. A deep-down goodness. I fell in love with your goodness. It was like looking at a beautiful lake. It was like you were somehow purifying me.’
Cecilia was appalled. I’m not good, she thought. I smoked marijuana once! We used to get drunk together! I thought you fell in love with my figure, my sparkling company, my sense of humour, not my goodness, for God’s sake!
He kept talking, seemingly desperate for her to know every tiny detail.
When Isabel was born and he became a parent he suddenly had a new and terrible understanding of exactly what he’d done to Rachel and Ed Crowley.
‘When we were living on Bell Avenue, I used to drive by Janie’s father walking his dog on my way to work,’ he said. ‘And his face . . . it looked . . . I don’t know how to describe it. Like he was in such terrible physical pain that he should have been rolling about on the floor, except he wasn’t, he was walking the dog. And I’d think, I did that to him. I’m responsible for that pain. I tried to leave the house at different times, or drive different ways, but I kept seeing him.’
They’d lived in the house on Bell Avenue when Isabel was a baby. Cecilia’s memories of Bell Avenue smelled of baby shampoo and nappy cream and mashed pear and banana. She and John-Paul had been besotted by their new baby. Sometimes he’d go in late to work so he could spend longer lying on the bed with Isabel in her little white Bonds suit, nuzzling her plump, firm tummy. Except that wasn’t true. He was trying to avoid seeing the father of the girl he’d murdered.
‘I’d see Ed Crowley and I’d think, That’s it, I’ve got to confess,’ he said. ‘But then I’d think about you and the baby. How could I do that to you? How could I tell you? How could I leave you to bring up a baby on your own? I thought about us leaving Sydney. But I knew you wouldn’t want to leave your parents, and anyway it felt wrong. It felt like running away. I had to stay here where at any moment I could run into Janie’s parents and know what I’d done. I had to suffer. So that’s when I had an idea. I had to find new ways to punish myself, to suffer without making anyone else suffer. I had to do penance.’
If anything gave him too much pleasure – pleasure that was solely for him – then he gave it up. That was why he gave up rowing. He loved it, so he had to stop because Janie never got to row. He sold his beloved Alfa Romeo because Janie never got to drive a car.
He devoted himself to the community, as if a judge had ordered him to do so many hours of community service.
Cecilia had thought he was ‘community-minded’. She’d thought that was something they had in common, when in fact the John-Paul she thought she knew didn’t even exist. He was a fabrication. His whole life was an act: an act for God’s benefit, to let him off the hook.
He said the community service thing was tricky, because what about when he enjoyed it? For example, he loved being a volunteer bushfire fighter – the camaraderie, the jokes, the adrenaline – so did his enjoyment outweigh his contribution to the community? He was always calculating, wondering what else God would expect of him, how much more he would have to pay. Of course he knew that none of it was enough, and that he would probably go to hell when he died. He’s serious, thought Cecilia. He really believes he’s going to hell, as if hell is an actual physical place, not an abstract idea. He was referring to God in a chillingly familiar way. They weren’t that type of Catholics. They were Catholics, sure, they went to church, but heavens above, they weren’t religious. God didn’t come into their day-to-day conversation.