Jillian woke after ten. She felt rested. That's odd, she thought,
as she remembered all that had happened to her during the evening. How did I manage
to sleep well? Her last thought had been about the man she had killed. She had seen
the head, on the sharp edge of rock, the back of the skull split open, eyes never
moving, bits of bone and brain and blood spread out all over the rock, in the rain
and the dark. She had wept then, for the unknown cyclist. I can't stand this, she
had thought, I'll never get the picture out of my mind. Never. And still weeping
she had gone to sleep. And strangely, slept well.
I've killed a man. A guilty conscience isn't supposed to let you rest.
I should be in a major panic. I don't feel at all good about what happened, but I've
got to get a grip on myself. Keith is right, I'll do more good for the world as a
doctor, than languishing in jail. I don't understand my own mind, it seems. Let's
see how the silly thing copes with Mum and Dad.
She showered and went down to get herself a late breakfast. "Good morning,
folks." She found that she was actually quaking, now. She hoped it didn't show.
Her mother answered. "Morning, Love. What will you have?"
She sat down at the breakfast table and helped herself to coffee and
toast. Her father looked across at her. "Have a good evening? You must have come
in late, after we were asleep, and you look a bit peaky for it, too."
"I called out to you when I came in, but you must have been out to
it," she replied, concentrating on spreading marmalade on her toast. She didn't want
to catch his eye, yet. "It was like a monsoon coming back up the Parkway. All the
L-plate practice in the world was no preparation for it. You could hardly see the
road ahead. I had to creep in low gear until I came out at the top."
"Better than having an accident." Her father laughed. "Well, we know
you didn't, because you're here with us now. And just as well, too. But it must have
been a strain, I can see that on your face, too."
"Oh, it wasn't too bad, I had Keith with me for moral support."
"Keith?" her mother asked. "You mean Keith Heffernan? He was there?
I thought you couldn't stand him. I'm amazed he's not inside. He should have done
"Barbara, love, we didn't come out of it badly," her father smiled,
"we can afford to be charitable now."
"He was completely unprincipled, dishonest. I don't know how you can
have a good word for him."
"But Mother," Jillian chimed in, hoping to defuse the anger before
her mother made it impossible for her to see Keith the following Saturday, "he only
gave Dad's password to his own father, who he thought was helping Dad with the computer
work. I would trust my Dad if he asked me to help in that way. I feel sorry for Keith
about that; I think his father betrayed him, though I can't easily forget how he
used to be so crudely suggestive to me."
Her father was watching her mother now. She looked back at him. Finally
she spoke. "Jillian, we view you as an adult now. Who you see is up to you. But I
don't like that young man and I don't want him in the house. It's a personal preference.
I know your Dad would take him as he comes, and accept him if he has changed. Or
seemed to. I would take more convincing."
"I respect that Mum, and I won't bring him here again without discussing
it with you first."
"What do you mean: again?"
"I had him with me up the Parkway. I didn't want to attempt it alone.
I brought him here to call a taxi. His mobile had gone flat. Did you know that he
is working for Mr Cumbene? He was sentenced to work at the community law centre and
was so helpful that they gave him a job afterwards. They sent him on to Mr. Cumbene.
He has learnt something from what happened. He's quiet, gentle and helpful. And he
sends you his regards. He says he was stupid. You shouldn't break trust, even for
family. But Dad, Mum, it's dreadful not to be able to trust family with your secrets."
She burst into tears and ran sobbing up to her room.
Her mother watched her departing back, then turned to her husband.
"Surely she hasn't fallen for Keith?"
He said nothing, just raised his eyebrows, and shrugged.
Back in her room, Jillian looked out of her window, watching the Sunday
yachting on the blue of the harbour, in the gentle breeze and blue skies that were
such a contrast to the storm that last night had made her kill a man.
It just isn't fair, she thought, if I had driven home only a few hours
earlier or later I wouldn't have been caught in that downpour. If I had been even
a few seconds earlier or later, he would not have been right on that corner when
I came round it. The wrong split-second. If I'd tried to time it deliberately I couldn't
have. It's almost as if it was meant to happen. What I have done to deserve this?
She rested her head in her cupped hands, and looked down at the book
she was supposed to be studying. She knew what the words meant, but after she had
read the same page several times, each time finding her mind back in the car, in
the storm, seeing the yellow cape, trying to avoid it and failing. The horrible bump.
What could I have done better, she asked herself. What could I have
done to avoid him? Why did I argue with Keith when he got in? If I had just said
Yes, and left there and then, I bet the cyclist would have still been on the straight
before that bend and I would have seen him in plenty of time. How could I have been
so stupid? But then, how could I have known that it would lead to an accident?
I just didn't think about it, she told herself, running her hands through
her hair. But how could I have known? Oh, what's the use? My life is ruined. I've
killed a man. And what about his family? I never thought of that. What will I do?
I can't do anything. I'm stuck in a nightmare. A waking nightmare. This is hopeless.
I can't study like this. It's a complete waste of time. I've got to get out of here.
I'll go for a walk.
She slammed her book shut, pushed back her chair, and headed down the
stairs. "Jilly darling," her mother, coming out of the kitchen, met her in the hall,
"we will be having lunch soon, so don't be too long." She paused, "Jilly, you're
not going out with your hair like that, are you?"
Jilly ran from the house, slamming the front door behind her. Her mother
went back into the kitchen
He looked up from the newspaper, spread on the kitchen table, "Yes,
"What's got into that girl?"
"What do you mean, Dear?"
"She's beside herself, rude, unkempt. I think she's distraught!"
He thought for a moment. "When did it start, do you think?"
"Oh, you know as well as I do! At breakfast this morning."
He thought again. "Well, that was when we first knew about it, certainly."
Barbara just looked at him. He looked down and continued to read.
He looked up.
"Something last night?" she was speaking more gently, now.
"How was she when she left for the party?"
"You were with me when she said goodnight. She was fine."
"Well," he thought for a long moment, "she wasn't altogether her cheeriest
self, was she?"
"Are you trying to say I forced her to that party, and she had a rotten
time, and it's all my fault?"
"Not at all - I'm as mystified as you. And very concerned."
"How can you just sit there?"
"Same as you, Dear. We can't do much until she decides to confide in
us, can we?"
"You could speak to her."
"I think this is one where the girls should put their heads together.
You can call me in at any time you both want me. I wouldn't know where to start.
You've been the girl at far more parties than I have."
"Oh, move your paper. I want to set the table for lunch." She paused.
Outside, Jillian walked furiously down to the water and stood among
the rocks, angrily throwing stones, trying to make them skip the way Chris would.
It's no good, it's no good, it's no good, she thought. I can't turn
the clock back, I can't make it unhappen, I can't tell anybody, but it wasn't my
fault. I couldn't have gone any slower, nobody could have. If I'd been further right
I might have hit someone swinging round the bend, coming down the hill - and you
are supposed to keep as far left as possible, and I was. There was no bike lane marked.
I never even thought about some idiot spiking the punch. If I go to the police now
I would be treated like a reckless, drunken, hoon. If I say nothing it could be worse
still if I'm found out later. I'm depending on Keith, and though he has improved,
he's still Keith. Oh, Dear God. I can't even tell Chris. He may be a computer specialist,
but he's now also a policeman. He couldn't shield me if he knew.
She tried to imagine what Chris actually would have said, if she could
have asked him. His advice was always good. He might say to go to the Police, but
perhaps not, if we went through how they would push for the biggest penalty. He might
say I should have got out myself, but a stopped heart, split skull and crushed brain
tissues are not things you survive in the mud on a remote road. I'm only a student.
With sever trauma I could never have made any difference. Nobody could have. Even
if we were right outside an operating theatre a full surgical team could not have
brought him back.
Lost in thought, still miserably visualising that splattered head in
the rain and the dark, she wandered back up the hill towards their homes, not noticing
where she was, until she realised that she was pushing open the Wilson's gate.
This won't do, she told herself. He's in Melbourne, I can't ever discuss
it with him anyhow, and - she looked at her watch - mother will be waiting to serve
lunch. She won't appreciate me holding her up further.
She let her hand drop, hoping that Chris' parents hadn't seen her there.
There was no sense arousing their curiosity, she thought. Turning, she strode off
towards her own home.
"Oh, there you are Jilly." Her mother had her 'tactful' voice on.
That was fine by Jillian. As she sat down she realised that she was
slightly dizzy. Her head was still spinning. She wondered how she was managing to
even seem normal. I can't work, she thought, can't talk to anybody, not until Keith
phones; I'm never going to get used to having killed someone, or at least to having
been part of a death. I'm going to have to accept Keith's view that it was quite
unavoidable due to sheer bad luck. He was there, and it's true, I couldn't have been
"I don't think I'm very hungry right now."
"But I've made your favourite, Dear, you must have something."
Her father chimed in, "If she isn't hungry, Love, maybe she would be
best not to overdo it."
Bless you, Dad, she thought, and gave him a wry grin. "Oh, I think
Mum's right though, I should have a little. It might help."
"That's right Dear. What do you mean, Help? Something your father or
I could do for you? You know we want to help in any way we can, don't you Dear? You
can talk to us, Jilly, you know that, don't you?"
Jillian nodded, and started eating. Even eating was better than coping
with her mother's affectionate curiosity. She finished the mouthful, cut up another
"Jilly, I know you're worried about your studies. Is that it, Dear?"
- and put the forkful in her mouth, nodding as she did so. If this
went on, she would end up eating the whole plateful.
"But we discussed this already. Is there something more? Something
you would like to talk about?"
Jillian continued to chew, preparing another forkful as she did.
"Perhaps you don't feel that going out last night has helped much?"
Jillian nodded in response. You can say that again, she thought. She
swallowed and quickly stoked in another forkful. There was nothing for it, she was
being forced to keep chewing to the end, and let her mother run both ends of the
conversation on her own. Her brain wasn't up to creating them for herself.
"Things don't feel any better?"
Shake head. Eat some more.
"Have you asked your tutors for advice?"
Nod. Eat some more.
"Have you asked for more time, Dear?"
Her father intervened. "Asking for more time, even if they would give
it, wouldn't help, Love. She would just fall further and further behind. She'd risk
failing at year end. Wouldn't you, Jilly?
Nod. Take another mouthful.
"Maybe you're too tense at the moment."
"Perhaps you should take it a little easier?"
"Perhaps this afternoon?"
"And get out more in the weekends?"
Jillian spluttered and nearly choked. Her father stood up, walked round
the table and patted her back. She had nearly finished her food, and her parents'
plates were still virtually untouched. She coughed and gasped, took a sip of her
water. "Last night was bad enough, thank you."
"Why, what happened last night, Jilly?" Her mother could be so obtuse.
But once more she imagined brain scattered over rock. I'm stuck in this nightmare
for ever, she realised. My life is going to be a walking horror film. This is even
worse than cutting up cadavers. At least I don't have to pretend that doesn't happen.
It's something I share with the rest of my class, except that they by now have got
over their upsets about it, and I haven't.
Her father was the more understanding. "She had a dreadful time driving
through the storm, and she had to cope with Keith, as well."
"Oh, yes, that's right. Poor dear. It must have been terrible for you.
I haven't been very sympathetic, have I?"
"Oh, Mum, Dad, the storm was unbelievable." But she couldn't leave
them thinking Keith was impossible, or she couldn't keep in touch with him without
more lies, and she had enough to last her a lifetime, now.
Better to confront them with some version of the truth, then cope with
their response when she saw which way their wind would blow. "Keith was actually
very useful. Very supportive. In ways I found helpful. I think I would be a worse
mess if he hadn't been there. I said he could phone me again, later in the week."
There, let's see what they make of that. I'm feeling better already.
"I'm feeling better already. I think I'll go down to the harbour for a while. Thanks
for the lunch, Mum, it was lovely."
She got up, put her plate on the bench, kissed them both, walked out,
and went up the stairs to her room.
"Well - " said her mother.
Her father made a wry smile and lifted his eyebrows.
Upstairs, Jillian found herself a novel that she had been given for
Christmas and not had time even to open, took a jumper and a rug and pillow from
her bed, and went down to the kitchen. "I think I'll take an apple."
She kissed them both again, and headed for the harbour-side park.
There she spread the rug in sheltered corner in the shade of one of
the huge old trees, sat cross-legged on the pillow, in the late spring warmth, and
opened the book.
An hour later she was still looking at the first page. She smiled,
thinking that at least it didn't matter if this book didn't get properly read. She
couldn't remember clearly what she had just been thinking. She thought she had been
reading, but couldn't remember doing that, either. Her mind must have been turning
over the last eighteen hours. She felt oddly calm again. The way she had when she
woke up. This morning. Was it only this morning? Seemed like weeks ago but it was
only a few hours.
A man died, she thought. He was out in appalling weather on a bike,
in the dark, in a storm. The road was too narrow, too steep. However slowly I drove,
he could not be avoided. We are all unlucky victims. At least he is out of it. I
must live with it. And Chris will be affected too. He will know I've stopped telling
him all I think and feel. But I never did, really. But he's going to feel this latest
change. I can't worry about that, not now. Now I can only talk with Keith. I could
never share a life with Chris. Never, ever. What if I talked in my sleep? He would
have to turn me in.
She started to read again, and this time soon found herself immersed
in her novel. She read several chapters. It was well written.
Her patch of shade slid quietly across the ground, until she looked
up to see why she was feeling so hot and sweaty, and realised she was in the full,
late-afternoon sun. I should have brought a hat, and sun-screen, she thought, but
I've probably not had too much time out of the shade.
She gathered up her things and headed back to the house. Passing the
Wilsons, she thought, I can't keep putting things off. Better to get the air clear
sooner rather than later. She lifted the latch, pushed the gate open, went up the
path and rang the doorbell.
Christopher's mother opened the door. "Hello, Jilly, Dear."
"Hello, Mrs Wilson. Has Chris phoned to say which flight he decided
"He finished with the conference before three. He should be home by
seven - I've put dinner on for then."
"Would you ask him to phone me, or come and take me for a walk, when
he's eaten, please?"
"Of course, Jilly. Won't you come in now, though?"
"No thanks, I'm on my way to help Mum with the dinner. Give Chris my
love." No sense upsetting the apple cart until I absolutely have to, she thought,
as she walked down the path, and on home.
Her mother was in the kitchen. She looked up from the stove. "You are
looking more rested now. That's good."
"Yes, I read for a bit, and I think I might have dozed for a while,
"You might have caught the sun a bit. Get yourself a cool drink."
"Good idea, thank you." Jillian poured herself a juice from the refrigerator
and sat down at the kitchen table.
He mother looked at her again. "Perhaps I shouldn't have pushed you
so hard to go out, last night."
"Oh, it wasn't that. It was all the trouble on the way home."
Her mother turned round, leaned back against the kitchen bench, watching
her. "What trouble was that?"
Oh, dear lord, Jillian thought, how am I going to manage keeping this
secret, for a lifetime, when I come so close to letting it all slip out in the first
few hours? What can I say? "Mother! I told you, both, earlier. It was tropical downpour,
a total gale. The wipers were useless. The windscreen was completely awash. The wind
was bringing leaves down from the trees as well. I could hardly see to the front
of the car. The headlights were useless. The rain was so thick it was like a fog,
just a blinding white sheen out the front. The road is so narrow I had to keep far
to the left, just going from one reflective marker to the next, in case I met someone
coming the other way. I couldn't see well enough to keep any speed up. I stalled
a couple of times. I was miserable."
"Why didn't you stop?"
"I didn't want to be stuck there. What if the car wouldn't start again?"
"Oh, Jilly, you just didn't have enough experience to cope. That's
"That's all very well for you to say now, Mum. But you weren't there,
though. What else was I to do?"
"I thought you said you had Keith with you. He's an experienced driver.
He might have managed better - perhaps I should have put that differently. You might
have been a lot less stressed being the passenger, with a more experienced driver
at the wheel during the worst parts."
"Oh, I wish he had been the driver, that's for sure. Oh my word."
"Why didn't you change places, then?"
"You know that, Mum. Dad was adamant. 'Nobody but you is to drive the
car at all,' he said. I've got an excellent memory, Mum, otherwise I couldn't do
medicine. Though it seems to be failing me now," she added, miserable again.
"He wouldn't have meant even in an emergency."
"Well he didn't say so, and even if he had, how would I have known
it was what he thought of as an emergency. It was easy at first, then gradually got
worse and finally it was terrible." She burst into tears again. I'm hopeless at this,
she thought; two sympathetic questions and I'm about to blurt everything out.
Her mother moved across and patted her shoulders. "Sometimes I should
just keep my mouth shut. You come in looking so relaxed and I make it all bad again."
"It's not your fault. I think I'm just too sensitive. Men are so much
better at coping with these things."
"Maybe, dear. I've seen even your father just as upset, at times."
"Never. He's always so strong."
"When the embezzlement thing was on, he was every bit as distraught."
"He never showed it. Not that I could see."
"No, not when there was anyone else around, including you. But when
we were alone together, then he would share his feelings with me. He was just as
upset. Maybe more. I think that was his way of coping. Letting all his feelings out
to me. Then he could go out in the morning and carry on. It's one of the ways couples
help each other."
"Are you hinting again, Mum?"
Her mother went back to the stove. "I wasn't meaning to. Now you bring
it up, though, do you want to see Chris this evening? Andrea says he's on the four
o'clock plane, and will have finished his meal by about eight."
"Mother, you are hopeless. Anyhow, I've already left a message asking
him to see me this evening."
"Well, we'll be finishing our meal in plenty of time for that. I don't
need any help here. You could set the table, though. If you wanted to."
Jillian was helping her mother clear up after dinner when the phone
rang. It was Christopher. "Hi, Jilly. I'm back. Mum told me you were in to see her.
Do you want me to come round, or what?"
"It's a lovely evening. Feel like a walk?"
"Fine, I'll be waiting on the porch."
Ten minutes later Jillian was walking through the warm breeze towards
his house, in the setting sun. He saw her approach and walked down the garden path
and out of the gate just as she reached it. She remembered that he sometimes rode
a bicycle. She wondered how he would look lying in the rain with his eyes open and
fixed, staring into the dark, his brains splashed around him on the rocks.
He bent to give her a kiss on the cheek, then pulled back and looked
at her face. "Jilly, you look so sad." Suddenly he turned her towards him, put his
arms around her and hugged her, quite tightly. "Jilly, poor Jilly. What is it?"
She stiffened, then as the living presence pushed the image of his
death from her mind, she thought, this feels so nice, and she relaxed. I don't need
to say anything. Just let this moment be.
He felt the change, and his heart leapt within him. She's growing up,
he thought; we're going to be adults together at last, perhaps. I do hope so. Of
all the women I go out with, she has been the least approachable, but still the most
desirable. For me, anyhow. I want her to be my first, my only, but it has been hard
waiting. At last!
Jillian felt her heart beating harder as his arms continued to enfold
her in their comforting pressure, and as she appreciated the size and solidness of
him against her. Like a tree trunk, she thought; chunky, firm, warm, supportive.
If I fainted I wouldn't fall, I'd still be supported by this confident embrace. I
really caught the sun today. My face feels so flushed, but I like it. Why have I
held back so long. this is lovely. She felt that she needed his support. Her legs
felt weak, and her whole body started to feel hot. It couldn't have been the sun,
she realised; I wasn't in my swimming costume, so I couldn't have got the sun in
some of the places that are hot now. Oh, Chris, she thought, why can I relax with
you only when I'm pushing you away?
"I do love you Jilly. So much. Let's not just stand here in the street.
Come on, let's go down by the water." As he released her she stood for a moment,
looking at him, at his happy smile. She was glad for the pause. It gave her time
to get steady on her legs and gather her breath. She wished she could gather her
thoughts. She had thought she had worked out exactly how she was going to speak to
him, but now he had changed the mood, and it was going to be so much harder.
He took her hand. After having accepted his hug she didn't know how
to take her hand back again without seeming totally rude, so she let him, and they
walked like that down through the parkland, Christopher looking at her happily and
giving her hand little squeezes.
Jillian decided to try a different tack. She opened her mouth to start
telling him how upset she had been, then shut it again. I mustn't let people think
it was a big deal, she realised. I don't want them thinking later that perhaps something
more serious might have happened. I can't risk them putting two and two together
if there is anything in the papers or on the news about an unsolved killing on the
Parkway. This is dreadful, I'm developing a criminal mind. Perhaps I had one all
along and never knew. Well of course I never knew. She waited for him to speak.
"Oh, Jilly, you've been on my mind all weekend. I had plenty of time
to think about you. I knew about all the stuff in the papers. The department at the
university is working on some of the new developments, the Fraud Squad has some of
the top computer audit brains in the country, and I get to see all the journals and
publications. Your dad would have found some of it interesting, though. What really
fascinated me was when the speakers described what they were going to work on next,
or what changes they foresaw in the future. And I loved meeting still others who
are doing similar work in other centres. Every investigation has its own problems.
They aren't all as easy as your dad's was, by any means. But mainly I thought about
"Oh, Chris, that's nice of you." How was she managing to keep from
panicking? How was she able to keep him from guessing that her life had effectively
gone down the tubes. Maybe she didn't care. Maybe she had no conscience? Is there
something wrong with me? Doesn't he have eyes? Can't he see? I feel so changed? Why
doesn't he know? Doesn't he care? Or maybe he just doesn't really know me at all?
"I loved it when I hugged you back there. I love the feel of you, and
the smell of you."
"I shouldn't have let you, though." Though the evening was still warm,
she felt cold now. Right through.
"Why on earth not?"
"Well, I went to the party at John Cumbene's, last night." She shivered.
He didn't seem to notice.
"Yes, you told me you were going to. With Margaret. Margaret Somerville."
"Actually, we met there. She was at Warriewood already. She lives out
"How was it?"
"Oh, some people I knew. A few I didn't. Music a bit too loud. Not
too bad, though: his parents were there. There was a storm when I came home. On the
Parkway it was quite savage. If I'd been more experienced it wouldn't have been a
problem, but I felt a bit shook up at the time."
"Oh, that must have been frightening to cope with so soon after getting
your P-plates, especially alone, late at night. That's a very steep, narrow road.
"The thing is, Chris, I wasn't alone."
Something in her voice made Chris wary. He didn't answer immediately.
The silence lengthened. She was looking at him, but her expression was unreadable.
He hoped that was just due to the failing light, in the gathering dusk.
"Who was with you, then?"
She continued to look at him. Silent. Still. An age more mature than
she had been when he left her for the plane, two days previously. Only two days?
She looked as though she had lived a lifetime since then. He had thought she was
too young for him. Now it seemed as if the tables had been turned. He wondered what
had happened. He'd heard that Keith Heffernan was doing some work for the Cumbene's
business. He probably would have been at the party. He had thought Jilly couldn't
stand him. Perhaps he was better than nobody, if there was the storm to cope with.
"Nothing. We stopped for a coffee at Chatswood. I would have liked
him to have driven, but Dad had said only I was to. The strain was bad. You're right,
I couldn't have coped on my own."
"I didn't say that."
"Well, you should have thought it. I did. Still do."
"You still haven't answered my question about why I should not have
hugged you. Why not? You seemed to like it half an hour ago."
"That's not the point. The point is that I shouldn't have. It's not
fair to you."
"Keith asked me to go out with him. I was so grateful for his help,
and he seems to have grown up a lot. We all have, I suppose."
Well, he thought, you have anyway, my little Jilly. "So you've made
a date with him?"
"Not yet. He is going to phone later in the week."
"You were going to go to a movie with me."
"Chris, is this making you jealous?"
"Of course not. We've got no claim on each other. Well, perhaps a bit
"I don't want to hurt you."
He could hear in her voice that she meant it. Just as well that he
could hear it. The evening was now too dark for him to read her face at all.
"It's not the end of the world, Jilly. We wouldn't face that decision
for years, anyhow."
She kissed his cheek. "You are a dear. My best friend ever." She was
relieved that he hadn't made a fuss. Was she getting cynical? Or just growing up?
But did she have to kill someone to make that happen?
They walked in silence, back through the park, towards the lights of
their homes. At Christopher's gate she kissed his cheek again. "Nothing's changed,
I'm not so sure, he thought. You certainly have, Jilly. "I know. See
you at the bus stop tomorrow?"
There's a new edge in your voice. Of course, you said. Of course, Jilly.
Of course. I wonder what Keith has in mind for you? Or you for him? You're not the
same girl. Not at all. I think I liked the old one better. This new girl - that's
it, he realised, you're not a girl any more. You're a woman. And not because of sex,
perhaps. Something in your mind. I used to think we would click, for sure, if you
would let me start touching you.
A few minutes ago I felt sure. I'm not so sure, now. Perhaps we wouldn't
click. Only two days ago I was prepared to wait, for.. for quite some time, anyway,
for you to become ready. Now? Now I think I might be wasting my time. "Goodnight,
Jillian." Goodbye, little Jilly.
Jillian, she thought. Not Jilly. Goodbye Chris. "Goodnight, Christopher."
And she walked on, away, shaking from the stress, the tears starting down her cheek
Arriving home, she dried her eyes, called out, "It's me. Give me a
yell when you make supper. Please?"
At her desk, she could not concentrate. The dead man filled her vision,
the head, the rock, the staring eyes, and she was back in the storm. I can't cope
with this. It's much worse that cutting up cadavers. studying anatomy. What a bizarre
way to take my mind off my troubles.
She pulled her anatomy text towards her, and started making notes.
This is just a job. Brains are brains. I'd better learn that names of the parts.
Even splashed on a rock. Or I'll fail.
Two hours later she was called for supper.
"Coffee, Mother. I'll be there in a minute." She stretched, looked
at her notes. I've done a lot, and well, too. Maybe I'm getting over it—or just a
hardened criminal? She burst into tears again, then washed her face and went down
to join her parents.
"How did Chris enjoy his conference?"
"Mainly boring. Though he enjoyed meeting the speakers. They all talk
the same language."
"What you both doing this weekend?"
"I'll give Chris a miss, go out with Keith." He mother opened her mouth
but Jillian got in first. "You know you like them both. Chris doesn't have exclusive
Her father looked up. "You make your own mind up." He looked pointedly
at her mother.
Father is really the quiet boss, here, Jillian realised. I thought
he was silent because Mother had him cowed. Actually, he lets her run things except
when she needs bailing out. No wonder his business does well. If Harold had been
honest, they would have been a great team by now. Lucky that Keith is different.
She went up to bed, kissing her parents goodnight, setting her alarm
for an hour earlier, so she could buy an early paper before breakfast.
That night she dreamt of a brain, dissected out on a rock, each part
neatly and correctly labelled, suddenly sweeping together into the back of an empty
face, like a movie running backwards, the skull re-assembling itself from its fragments,
and the cyclist rising onto his cycle and starting peddling up the hill again, still
in the rain and the dark. She woke, gasping, sat up, breathing heavily in the dark,
then lay down again, wishing, for her own sake, and that of the unknown cyclist,
that it could have been so, before finally falling asleep again. She felt quite rested
when the alarm woke her, and had the sense that she had had the same dream again,
but as if seen from a distance, as if someone else had been the driver.
Walking home in the dawn, scanning the accidents page, she saw no report
for the Parkway. Keith was keeping his promise. How did he do it?
Back home, her mother had breakfast ready. "Went to get a paper? Dad'll
"I wanted a walk. You're right. I need a balanced life." She put the
paper at her father's place. As she ate, her mother looked at her thoughtfully.
Jillian noticed the gaze, realised that her sense of distance from
her mother had been with her for years. Had crept up unaware, unrecognised until
After her classes, on the bus home, she still felt the force of her
dream, the sense of looking down at herself, from the outside. Saw the girl, tied
to her desk for long hours, ineffectively trying to learn by rote, avoiding staring
the gruesome facts in the face. You've been dropped in the dep end now, my girl.
Grasp the nettle. You really only need three hours tonight. Anotate today's lectures,
memorise their main points, and do some catch-up of the cadaver notes you've been
An hour or two with Mum or Dad, to convince them Saturday night was
okay. Go for a walk with them, or a game of chess with Dad. Haven't done that for
Chris's bus was behind hers. He called out as he got off. She waited.
Asked him,"How's work. Still feel the same about it after hearing the stars of the
"Yes. Even more certain. I love the Squad. Harold Heffernan did me
a good turn, all of us. Gave me my thesis, got me my job. Your dad's business runs
better than it would have. Keith is learning to cope on his own. And you had an adventure."
"You might have found another topic. We make our own opportunities."
Boy, have I changed. She shivered.
"No." They were outside her gate. She put her hand on the catch. "You
go and work out how to stop the next generation of crims and crooks. See you tomorrow.
'Night." And she went in.
Before dinner she finished her notes, and joined her parents at the
table. "Dad, I'm catching up on my work. One more hour and I'm done. But I need a
break. Game of chess, perhaps? Or a walk?"
"Chess for me."
As ever, her father won, but not so easily as usual. About time, she
Then she easily finished the work she had set herself.
Copyright © 2003 Peter Leon Collins