Bye, BeautifulAuthor: Julia Lawrinson
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They found him at the old railway siding on the edge of town. All night they'd been looking. They tried to tell his mother he'd gone to a mate's, worked on someone's car, stayed late. But she clutched at their shirts until they agreed to call on the people they knew in town, take torches, find her boy. And he was only a boy: eighteen, open faced, good-looking, confident. Too confident for his own good, his mother thought. He didn't know when to stand back, look at the ground, let things pass. He was a good boy, but there was too much he didn't understand, wouldn't let himself understand. He'd told his mother about the girl, just once, but it was enough to make her fear for him. She warned him, but he just puffed out his chest like an emu and said times were changing, we don't have to listen to all that old town gossip any more. Times are changing and everything will be different.
And then he didn't come home.
When they brought him to her, grown boys crying, all of them, his face was swollen into a wink and she had to look at his hair to know that it really was him, even though he was wearing the same clothes he'd strutted out in, tight jeans, pointed shoes, the white shirt now patterned orange with dirt. His hair was Brylcreemed slick, its long ends still curling on his neck, just the way earlier that night he'd combed it in the mirror, looking at himself, imagining the girl's reaction, her smile, her warm fingers touching it. And now, here he was, his terrible wink and his hair still in place, and all his imagining was for nothing, because the girl never saw his new hair, and there was just his mother and her uneven breaths, one hand on the lump that had replaced the smooth cheek of her boy.
In the corner his sister stood, silent, one foot propped on her knee. The moon was pale as a searchlight, and she stared into it, blind, while the sounds of grief continued.
After sunrise, when the wind started blowing and the town woke to the news of what had happened, Prank Lansing put on his uniform after a sleepless night and went to work.
'There's nothing here,' Sandy remarked. The highway ahead was wet with mirage, and the car sang monotone in her ear. All she could see were bare, brown paddocks, with lonely corridors of trees at the margins. Marianne shifted, and Sandy heard her skin separating from the leather like paper tearing.
'Of course there is,' Marianne said. 'It's just where the wheat was, silly. There's never nothing.'
'It's like the Bible,' said Laurence, staring out of his own window with glinting eyes, as if he'd seen Jesus himself appear shimmering in the wheatbelt light.
'The Bible's nothing like this,' said Sandy, but she could not think of how to explain what she meant.
'What would you know?' replied Laurence scornfully. 'You don't even know the books properly.'
'Yes I do,' said Sandy. 'Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges . . . Ruth . . . um . . . '
'See?' Laurence said.
Sandy pretended to look out of Marianne's window to put Laurence off guard, then brought her elbow up and jabbed him in the arm. Laurence yelped, and reached up to pull Sandy's hair, but she grabbed his forearm before he got to it. His fingers continued to twist in the air, like pale, fat worms.
'Sandy,' her mother said. 'Be nice to your brother.' Sandy didn't let go.
'I told you kids,' their father said suddenly from the front seat. Glad turned her head, nodded at her husband and put her finger to her lips.
Marianne pulled a face at Sandy and Laurence, shook her hair across her hot shoulders and mouthed, 'Babies.' Sandy gave Laurence's arm one last squeeze and dropped it, ignoring Laurence's retaliatory punch. She stared ahead, across the front seat, between her parents' heads. The paddocks were so dry she could not understand how anything would ever be able to grow there. The bushes that grew at the roadside were rounded and hazy, and they looked as if they should be soft as cotton wool, but Sandy had touched one at the last service station, and its leaves felt like cardboard. The easterly wind blew dust through the car windows, and it settled in the creases of her skin like welts. The sun made her squint, and the squinting made her head ache. She took a deep breath, trying to conceal the rising of her chest from her irritated siblings. She wondered when they would get there, and knew it would do no good to ask.