Printed from WriteWords -

7. Crossing

by  joydaly

Posted: Wednesday, November 23, 2016
Word Count: 3264
Summary: YA Psychological thriller/mystery
Related Works: 4. Crossing (revised) • 5. & 6. Crossing • 

It’s started pouring again and I’ve asked mum to drop me at the library for the day. Although she whinges about the petrol, she’s agreed. She won’t spring for a couple of bucks for hot chips though, so I’m stuck with a poxy lunchbox.
 I want to take Rosie with me, she’s small enough to fit in my backpack, but I have a feeling that Breedon would go mental if a dog was anywhere near his records. I rub her tummy and scratch the spot right where her tail meets her back and she wriggles and nips at my fingers. I try getting her into the backyard to do her business, even throw a piece of bar-b-que chicken left over from last night’s dinner under the clothes-line. But she won’t put a paw out there. Instead she sits beside my leg and whines.  
‘Okay Rosie, you win,’ I say as I open the front door to let her out. Her claws make the softest, scrabbling sounds as she runs across the rotting veranda to begin exploring. She doesn’t seem to feel the rain, although her fur is plastered to her little body in seconds.
   ‘Something must worry her out back,’ I say to Mum as she stands beside me to watch Rosie sniff under one of the bushes.
   ‘Probably,’ says Mum. ‘It gives me the creeps when I’m hanging the washing. I don’t know how you can spend time out there.’
   It’s a half question and I ignore it. You can’t give her an inch. ‘Come on Rosie,’ I call and crouch down to tap my knees.
   She wriggles out from under the bush and scampers to me. ‘Rosie’s great,’ I say as I scoop her up. 
Mum smiles and goes to hug me. Then she doesn’t. And I know why she doesn’t, but it hurts.
Less than an hour after I finish breakfast – a couple of slices of toast with vegemite and a glass of milk, Mum’s slowing down outside the library. She has arranged to pick me up at 4.00pm this afternoon. I figure that should be enough time to sort through Breedon’s archives.
   I haven’t told her about my investigation because it’s mine, but also because I don’t want the questions, the paranoia. As soon as she disappears around the corner, I take off for Breedon’s and it’s like somebody is dumping buckets of warm water over my head. Once more, I drip on his absorbent mat and meet the total indifference of Aleisha.
   ‘Hi,’ I say.
   She ignores me as she pretends to type something important.
   ‘Mr Breedon said I could go in.’ I pull the pair of white cotton gloves that I lifted from Mum’s cleaning supplies out of my jean’s pocket.
   She doesn’t look, just points behind her.       
‘Thanks,’ I mutter and shove the gloves back, feeling stupid. I make my way to the basement door and stand at the top of the stairs, trying to see down, but it’s black. I sneeze a couple of times as I flick the light switch.
It’s a square room, about the same size as my bedroom and it’s not like I thought it would be. Old cardboard cartons in crooked stacks, spiders’ webs, chaos. No. Breedon and his ancestors must have been very organized, maybe almost OCD. Other than the fine dust motes that float in the air, there is absolutely nothing on show except for rows of steel cabinets lining each stark, white wall. A square pine table sits in the middle of the room with a straight-backed chair tucked under it.
I walk to the cabinet closest to the stairs. Each of its drawers has a white plastic card slipped into the sleeve above the handle, with a year written on it and I see that the drawers are chronological, stretching back to 1896. In the later years, there are three or four drawers dedicated to a year, but earlier on, it looks like one drawer covered each. Breedon must have sorted this; all the dates are in the same handwriting. Wow, it must have taken him weeks. Doesn’t he have a life?  
I pull open a random drawer, 1932 and can’t believe it. Each file inside is tabbed alphabetically and a quick flick through the ‘A’ file shows manila folders with streets beginning with ‘A’. The ‘B’ file holds streets beginning with ‘B’. No Bligh Road though.
Weeks wouldn’t have done it, months; he must have been at this for months, or even years. This is more than personal; this is love. I pull on my gloves.
Our address is 172 Bligh Road, so all I’ll have to do is go to the first drawer for each year and flick through the B file looking for Bligh. ‘Thanks,’ I say, realizing Breedon has made it simple for me to find who buried the note and the key.
   Where to start? The beginning’s no good, because I don’t know when that was, so I’ll start at the end – with us.
   Mr Breedon has three drawers dedicated to 2017 and I pull open the first one and flick through the B tabs. There it is, Bligh Street. I still have my backpack on and I sling it under the scarred table. The chair is as bad as it looks and I wriggle my butt around, trying to find a comfortable position. I place the bottle beside my notebook, pen and mobile, but leave the lunchbox in the pack. Slipping in my headphones, I crank up the music and open the file.
Inside is the same lease document that mum and dad have. This is the original though. There is nothing different on it to ours, and I realize that it’s not going to take me any further back. There are some references behind it and I read dad’s old work one. Not much in it. Sort of like my report cards, behaviour A, effort C, but in words rather than grades. Maybe the C explains why they let him go. I keep flicking; proof of identity for mum and dad, utility bills and bank statements. They weren’t lying when they said things were tight.
          I focus on the final balance and I can’t understand why anybody would have rented us a place. Unemployed adults, dependent child, no savings, no assets other than an old car and some junky furniture. What made Breedon give us the green light? I flick through to the end of the file and find two applications for the house. Application 1 is a husband and wife, both artists with excellent references and more money in the bank than we had. The second is a retired, single man. His bank account is healthier too and he has a glowing commendation from a Real Estate Agent on the Gold Coast. Why would either of them even bother trying to rent the dump? They must have been sucked in by the pictures on the net like we were. Why did Breedon give it to us?
I shut the file and push it to the side. There are no clues in here about the prior tenant or owner, so I’m going to have to go through every single year and as I look at the years stretching back over the last century I’m already bored.
Flicking through the years, there’s nothing, then I’m at 2004. If the internet record at the library is right, there must be a file for this year. Sure enough, the Bligh Street file is in the drawer. The place was rented for twelve months to a John and Jane Shipton and a daughter 13, Amy. Their references are like ours, not quite as povvo, but almost. It looks like they broke the lease. The rent role entries end, eight-weeks before the year is up. Breedon has written a note on the bottom. Bond refunded. NFA. A receipt shows that the final week’s rent has been directly credited to an account called the Breedon Family Trust. I make a note of that and the names of the tenants.
And go to 2003. Nothing. 2002, nothing. 2001, nothing and it continues like this until I hit 1984. Then I have a Bligh Street, a lease form for a Mrs Louise Baxter and her son, Jeremy, age 11. Single mum I assume. Why has it taken so long between leases - twenty years, and why has Breedon – and I can see it’s his handwriting, rented it to her. He must have been young back then, probably in his twenties. Maybe she was pretty.
The copy of her bank statement is in weird type and I’ve never heard of the Bank of New South Wales. It shows a pitiful balance, worse than ours, and she didn’t have a job either, or if she did, it isn’t referenced on the application. At the back of her paperwork is a couple of additional applications, and they are for people that I would have chosen before her. What is the criteria Breedon is using? She’s broken her lease too; there is a note on file that she vacated the premises four months before the expiry of term and there’s a forwarding address. No mention of bond. I suppose they didn’t have that back then.
I write down her details and return the file to the cabinet and I have gone through another 22 years in less than half an hour before I again see Bligh Street.
The year is 1962 and the lease is written out with carbon copy to a Mr and Mrs Victor Chalmers and three children, Thomas, 13, Stewart 12 and Gloria 10. They stayed a year, but didn’t renew. I write it all down as my stomach rumbles.
I’m surprised to see it’s already lunchtime and I rip off the gloves and grab my lunch box.  I make my way upstairs to reception, but Aleisha isn’t at the counter. Although there is a closed sign on the door, it’s unlocked and I stand out under the tin veranda. It’s stopped raining and steam is coming off the road like mist. There’s only one seat for the strip of shops. It’s a bench with a high back out the front of the Post Office. That’ll have to do.
On one side of Breedon’s is a newsagent, then a solicitor and on the other, a takeaway place called SINGHS with great smelling burgers and the Post Office.
As I walk past Singhs, I look in through the greasy plate glass windows and can see some boys sitting around a table in the back corner, with a big plate of hot chips between them. The chalkboard menu says $4.00 for a large serve.
Then the rain starts again and the bench is so close to the road that my legs are going to be saturated if I sit there and my appetite’s gone anyway. I don’t look at Singhs as I pass.
Another seventeen years of files, before I make the next entry in my notebook. The year is 1941 and the tenant is Mrs Daisy Murtag and her daughter Cecilia, aged 8. The Second World War was happening around that time; maybe the dad was away fighting. I keep reading their file. Yes, they broke their tenancy in 1945. Something to do with the war, I bet.
I push back in the chair and stretch my arms to the ceiling, cracking my shoulders. I’ve got this feeling that none of the kids I’ve found are the ‘Who’ in my mind. I’m only three- quarters of the way through. There’s no way I’m going to finish this by today.
I pull the note from my pocket and unfold it, read the words, feel the surface. It feels old, much, much older than when these kids were living at the house.
Mum’s picking me up from the library at 4.00pm. I check my watch; it’s just after three. I’ll leave this now and see if I can find somebody at the library who can tell me what it’s made from and when it was produced. Closing my notebook, I put everything back into my pack, and check the room. All files replaced, drawers tightly sealed, chair tucked neatly under the table.
   Breedon ducked his head in earlier this afternoon, said a quick hello and smiled at my gloves. Then his gaze caught my bottle of water. His shoulders stiffened and his teeth crunched together; it sounded like he’d smashed some of them.
‘Spilled water will ruin my files,’ he’d said, and although his voice was quiet, it felt like he was screaming in my face.
I’d swept the bottle off the table so quickly that I almost upset it and apologized. The vein pulsing in the middle of his forehead as he gave me a tight smile, told me the apology wasn’t accepted.  I want to finish this tomorrow, but as I remember the crunching teeth, I’m not liking my chances of getting back in here. At the top of the stairs, I turn off the lights and shut the door behind me.
Breedon’s not in. When I ask Aleisha if he’ll be back, she shrugs. I hate this girl.
It’s raining again and I sprint to the library, but I’m still dripping by the time I reach the portico. I push through the doors and see a tall, thin woman with a long, beaky nose and tight grey curls behind the counter. Excellent, she looks vintage; she should know about old stuff. I stand on the mat, letting it absorb my drips and then step off.
She shoots a beady, disapproving look over her wire-framed glasses and I step back onto the mat, letting more water run-off. When I next take a small step, she offers an approving smile and I head towards her.
‘Hi,’ I say, ‘I’m Jack Simms.’
She points to her name tag. ‘I’m Delia Brooks.’ Her voice is not what I expected. It’s deep and warm.
‘I hoped you would take a look at something for me, Ms Brooks.’
‘Call me Delia; and what would this something be?’
I pull the note from my pocket and unfold it on the counter between us.
‘I want to know what it’s made from and when it was made?’
She pulls it towards her, and I can tell she’s excited.
‘Where did you get this?’
‘I found it.’
‘It’s some find,’ she says as she gently strokes the surface. ‘I haven’t seen a piece of this since I was working at the State Library, forty years ago. Normally, you find it on book covers.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s vellum, Jack, and from the texture and feel, I’d say it’s calf skin.’
‘Calf skin?’
‘It’s a very involved process and only a few manufacturers in the world still do it.’
‘Can you tell when this piece was made?’
She shakes her head. ‘We’d need some complex equipment to determine that, but I’d guess it was probably produced back in the early 19th century in England. What is very interesting though is the ink that has been used.’
‘Not actually orange.’ She turns to the computer on her desk and her fingers become busy. ‘Here.’ She swivels the screen around and taps it.
On it is a vibrant, bright orange panel. I hold up the parchment and compare the colours. ‘Wow, it’s a match. How did you know?’
She shrugs, but I can tell she’s pleased. ‘Librarians, Jack. It’s surprising what they’ll explore with their time. So, we have a match. Therefore, regardless of how old your piece of parchment is, the words written across it must have been placed there after 2008,’ and she points to the label under the orange panel.
Vermilion – Introduced 2008
‘But that can’t be right,’ I say.
‘Why not?’
‘Because...’ I stop. Why can’t it be right? Because the parchment and tin are old? Because there was a mat of green over the pavers? Jungles grow quick and it wouldn’t be impossible to get your hands on an old tin, or vellum, especially in this town. There’d have to be heaps of attics and old boxes filled with great-grandma’s junk and not just attics. When we moved in, a corner of our garage was stacked with wooden crates filled with junk.   
Some kids must have done it for a practical joke, but that doesn’t make much sense. When you do something like that, you want the payoff. And no kid is going to stake out the back of our shed for years in the hope that somebody will find the right paver and dig up the box.
Even the message doesn’t make sense. Come and Play. If it was a punk, wouldn’t they have drawn a map for treasure or written some desperate letter from a prisoner. I don’t know, something, anything, but Come and Play. It’s lame. And as I continue to stare at the words, I give a start. Of course, it’s vermillion. I used to have that colour ink back in Canberra. I wonder what happened to it, what happened to my calligraphy kit. I’m sure I packed it. Must have got lost in the move.
‘Anyway, there you go, Jack. Hope that answers your questions.’
It has raised more questions than it answers, but I smile and say, ‘Thanks.’
‘And I’ll bet there is something else I can help you with today?’
I look at her puzzled as I refold the vellum and slip it into my pocket.
‘You’re a local?’
‘Then you need a library card.’
‘I suppose I do.’
‘How about now? Do you have some ID?’
‘Student card?’ I reach into my back pocket and pull out my wallet.’
‘Perfect,’ she says as she clicks on a menu and begins typing.
‘Where do you live?’
‘I’m at 172 Bligh Road.’
Her fingers stop. ‘The old West Place?’
‘I guess. That’s what Mr Breedon called it yesterday.’
‘Hmm,’ she keeps typing but her smile has gone.
‘Is there something wrong?’
Delia looks at me for long seconds. ‘How are you finding it out there?’
God, I could give her an answer that lasted for an hour starting with it stinks, literally and figuratively. But she probably doesn’t want to hear that. ‘It’s quiet.’
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘It is. If something …’ She stops and shakes her head.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Nothing,’ Opening a drawer, she pulls out a small blue card, about the same size as my student card. It has a number neatly printed in the top right corner in red. She types this number onto her screen and then prints my name in capital letters across the centre of the card. Underneath it, she signs with a flourish and flips open the lid to an inkpad. Pulling a stamp from the same drawer as the cards, she inks it up and presses it deliberately over my name.
She waves the card in the air, waiting for the ink to dry before she hands it to me.
‘There you go, Jack.’
I almost laugh. This is what passes for a library card in Hicksville. ‘Thanks Delia, about the West ...’
‘Hit that if you want to borrow anything and the counter is unattended.’ She points to the nickel-plated call bell, sitting next to the slot for returns.
          ‘Thanks Delia, but...’
She waves dismissively and disappears through the door behind the counter.
I look at the door for a while, then decide to wait out under the portico for mum.