Short story The beginning of New Things
No one had ever died in this room. I had seen it coming and the doctor had seen it too, but the shock came anyway. My aunt Mary had known it as well and now I saw her crying in the corner as if she hadn’t known. Her shrieks echoed through the white-panelled house we lived in and I walked to the window that overlooked the road with the baker on the corner that sold those cinnamon rolls that made the house smell like brandy. My father had liked brandy. I looked at the creases in my hands and at my fingernails that had mud underneath them from the hole I had dug earlier this morning. It was not a big hole, just a small one. The silver sun had drawn lines around the apple tree in the backyard as I had felt the sweat glide in between my shoulder-blades. I had known my aunt was watching me, so close I could feel the heat of her body on my back. I had told her we needed to dig a hole because he was old and she had said that it was too early and that the sun was still young and I had said that no one else would dig a hole and she had swallowed her weak tea and had cast her pale eyes onto the hard-oaken side-table where we kept the medicines in a box. I had wondered how big a hole should be to fit a grown man. He wasn’t a grown man really, not any more. His skin had become loose and yellow and his back had been bent from crawling through those tunnels. I reckoned I could fold him in half so that the hole need not be as big as it would have been for a grown man. Like paper.
I had thought those things as I had watched his dull face and had listened to the rasping sounds of his breathing. The sun had not warmed the porch yet and the currawongs had been asleep still. I had touched his deep-creased hands, eternally stained from the red dirt he had felt and handled in the tunnels. His straw hair still smelled of coal. I had placed my hands over his face and after, his ragged breathing had stopped. After that, there had only been the waving roar of cicadas and the rapid beatings in my throat.
I had walked downstairs and had told my aunt that I had killed him. She had been sitting in the scarlet armchair that faced the hearth and the mirror with the broken corner and the terra cotta vase with the dried wildflowers. Her dog had been sleeping near her feet. I had said that I had killed him and she had said that I hadn’t because the tunnels had given him the poison and I had told her that I had been the one to take his breath and she had said that it was time for tea. She had been expecting the doctor to come round any moment now.
I watched the doctor when he told her that her brother had died. He licked the saliva of his yellow teeth and wrinkled his nose when he said that we all had seen it coming and that his departure had not been painful. I saw my aunt drop on the floor as I held her dog’s mouth closed so he would not bark. He was a fragile little thing. I felt I could crush his tiny bones with one determined push but I didn’t. I watched the doctor leave through the backdoor into the backyard with the small hole and the silver-lined apple tree and I said that we should wash him and dress him in his dark grey suit with the pinstripe lines. I already had chosen a tie.
My aunt sobbed when we laid him in the bathtub and I scrubbed his shrivelled skin and red-stained hands and she washed his straw hair that smelled of lavender. The vapour veiled the white tiles as the water vanished into the drain. We laid him on the bed and we dressed him in a crimson shirt and a black tie and the dark-grey suit and his eyes were closed as if he denied he had died this morning and my aunt kept wailing, along with the currawongs. He wore his good leather shoes. When we carried him down the stairs, my aunt held his head and his shoulders and I held his feet. She tripped and my fathers’ head smacked on the jarrah stairs and he laid there for a few moments with his eyes closed and his red hands and skinny arms laying alongside his body and I felt my belly turn.
Then he was on the grass next to the hole. The hard sun shone on our hot bodies as it rose above the arid land that surrounded us. The eucalyptus trees casted distorted shadows over us and the dead body that lay in-between. My aunt said that we ought to say some words and I said that he had been a good man and we both knew that I was lying. She kneeled beside him and stroked his cold cheek. She said that he had loved me, always loved me and I said that I knew and I said that I had loved him too, but we both knew that wasn’t true. He hadn’t loved anybody.
The hole was not big enough when we tried to lower him in and I had to dig a bit more. I went to the shed that stood in the corner of the garden and got the spade and walked back to the hole and started to dig. My aunt wept and howled and the jasmine flowers jam-packed the air with a pregnant fragrance that clouded my brain. The cicadas roared. The spade cut deep into the crimson dirt and as I the pierced the earth I felt the rush of blood through my chest and I heard the high-pitched noise my aunt created and I felt the unrelenting violence of the spade carving and wounding the ground where I was going to fold my father into. I turned and I saw the ugly gash gaping in my aunt’s throat and the fright in her pale eyes and I heard the shrill squeaks of her failed attempts to breathe. I watched her shudder in the grass.
The fierce scent of blood fused with the jasmine and the eucalyptus and the golden rays of the sun glimmered the garnet puddle where my aunt lay in. I held my breath. I spat in my hand and erased the stains from my father’s suit with the pinstriped lines and held his red-stained hands and folded him in two and dropped him down the hole. In the silence of the garden, I heard the soft thump that felt like a sigh. I whispered that I had been a good boy. I picked up the spade and shovelled the dirt and the grass and the blood into the hole until the sun had reached its highest point in the sky and then I sat down on the grass and drank his brandy that smelled of cinnamon.