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7. Crossing (Edited)

by  joydaly

Posted: Friday, November 25, 2016
Word Count: 2981
Summary: YA Psychological thriller/mystery

As I’m eating breakfast – a couple of slices of toast with vegemite and a glass of milk, I ask 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. My face must be showing something, because she looks away and says, ‘Let’s head off.’
Mum’s dropped me outside the library. She’s going to pick me up at 4.00pm and I’m hoping that will be enough time to go through Breedon’s archives.  I haven’t told her I’m spending the day there because I don’t want the questions, the paranoia.
            I wait until she disappears around the corner before I leg it to Breedon’s and once more stand on the 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 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, disorganized 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. Holy shit, I can’t believe there are records that go back that far. In the later decades, 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. It must have taken him weeks.
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.
All I’ll have to do is go to the first drawer for each year and flick through the B file looking for our address. Where to start though? The beginning’s no good, because I don’t know when that was, so I’ll start at the end – with us.
          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 sling my pack under the scarred table after I grab my bottle, notebook and mobile. The chair is as bad as it looks and I wriggle my butt around, trying to find a comfortable position. Slipping in my headphones, I crank up the music and open the file.
Inside is the same lease that mum and dad have. This is the original though and there’s papers behind it. Licenses, utility bills and bank statements with almost zero balances. At the end of the file there are two additional applications for the house. Application 1 is a husband and wife, both artists with good references and more money in the bank than we had. The second is a retired, single man and his bank account is healthier too. Why did Breedon pass them over, 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 drawers stretching back over the last century, I’m already feeling the pain.
It isn’t until 2004 that I have a hit for 172 Bligh Street. 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 poor, but almost. It looks like they left early and 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 2003, nothing. 2002, nothing. 2001, nothing and it continues like this until I open the drawer for 1984. Then I have Bligh Street and 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 shows a pitiful balance, worse than ours and she didn’t have a job either. There’s a note on the file that she left four months early and I write down her details. I’m just closing the file when Breedon creaks down the stairs.
‘Good morning, young man,’ he calls as he comes. How’s your research going?’
I give him a grin as I flip the file, face-down. ‘Great thanks, Mr Breedon. You’ve done a brilliant job cataloguing it all. I tried finding this stuff on Google, but there’s no records before 2004.’
He gives an appreciative laugh. ‘You won’t find my records on any electronic device.’ His gaze focusses on my white gloves. ‘Ah,’ he breathes. Then his shoulders stiffen and his teeth crunch together so hard, I’m sure he’ll be spitting a couple out.  
‘Spilled water will ruin my files,’ he says, and although his voice is quiet, it feels like he’s screaming in my face.
I sweep the bottle off the table so quickly that I almost upset it. ‘Sorry, Mr Breedon.’
          The vein pulsing in the middle of his forehead and the acrid smile tell me my apology hasn’t cut it and he leaves without another word.
I go through 22 years’ worth of drawers in less than an hour before I again see Bligh Street.
The year is 1962 and the lease is for a Mr and Mrs Victor Chalmers and three children, Thomas, 13, Stewart 12 and Gloria 10. They only stayed a year. 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.  When I make my way upstairs, Aleisha isn’t at Reception and the office is empty. There is a closed sign on the door, but it’s unlocked and I stand out under the tin veranda. It’s stopped raining and the road is steamy mist.
There is a newsagent, then a solicitor on one side of Breedon’s and on the other, a takeaway place called SINGHS with great smelling burgers and the Post Office with a bench out the front. I’ll sit there.
As I pass Singhs, I glance in through the greasy windows and see some boys sitting around a table in the back corner, a big plate of hot chips between them. The chalkboard menu says $4.00 for a large serve and I quickly look away.
My appetite’s gone and I head back to the basement.
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. WWII was happening around that time; maybe the dad was away fighting. I keep reading their file. Yeah, gone in ‘45. Must be the war.
Pushing back in the chair, I stretch my arms to the ceiling, cracking my shoulders. I’ve got a feeling that none of the kids I’ve found are the ‘Who’ in my mind. The remaining cabinets stretch along the wall and it’s going to take at least half of tomorrow to finish it, but when I remember Breedons snapping teeth, I’m not liking my chances of getting back in here.
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 about the note before Mum turns up. Shoving everything into my pack, I check the room. All files replaced, drawers tightly sealed, chair tucked neatly under the table. 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, letting more water run-off. When I next make a move, 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 deep and warm, I thought she'd twitter.
‘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, when it was made and who wrote it?’
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, it’s 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?’
Her chuckle matches her voice. ‘Doesn’t sound very nice, does it? That might account for its lack of popularity these days. Only a few manufacturers in the world still produce 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 back in the early 19th century in England. Maybe the ink can give us a clue about when it was written on though.
‘How’s that?’
‘There’s a site that identifies colours and tells you when they were first manufactured. All you have to do is scan the original.’
There’s a scanner next to her computer an in less than a minute, my note’s on her screen. Then she turns to her keyboard and her fingers become busy. ‘Bingo.’ She swivels the screen around and points. On it is a vibrant, bright orange panel. A perfect match for the ink on the vellum.
‘Cool,’ I say.
She shrugs, but I can tell she’s pleased. ‘So, we have a match. Which means, 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 #E34234 – Manufactured 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 stuffed 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.
She pulls the vellum out of the scanner and reads Come and Play out loud. ‘I haven’t heard those words since I was a little girl,’ she says and there’s a wistful smile on her face. She turns it over and taps the arrow in black ink. Did you add this?
I shake my head. ‘No, it was already there.’
‘Hm. 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, in every possible way. But she probably doesn’t want to hear that. ‘It’s quiet.’
‘Yes,’ she says. She goes to say something then stops. Then she starts again. ‘If something …’ Her voice trails away and she 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 and works the library stamp into the felt. Once she has pressed it over my name, she waves the card in the air to dry the ink.  
‘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.