Lethe – Chapter 3
The moment Marj had clapped eyes on the thug, she had known that he was trouble. Cut from the same cloth as Bob, alright. There had never been a decent cell in that boy’s body, for all the love that she and Reg had wasted on him. Some kids just turn out wrong. Kindness made them meaner.
Now Andy was a different matter: a sweet, sunny-natured boy without much spine, alas. Easily cowed by his elder brother, even though Andy towered over Bob by the time he was in his mid-teens.
‘Wes’ – or whatever-to-goodness his real name was – tried to sweet-talk them at first, then his manner rapidly became intimidatory. Straight from Bob’s playbook.
When Reg took him to look around, Marjorie knew exactly what to do. She went to the gun safe, took out the shotgun and loaded it with 00 buckshot. It had been enough to see off those feral pigs that had come snuffling and rootling ten years ago – and it would do just fine for human vermin too.
Then she had come into the room and seen that piece of filth maltreating her Reg, punching and slapping him in his dear, gentle, beloved face. It was more than she could stand.
Marjorie Grant may have seemed the epitome of the ‘sweet little old lady’ at CWAteas and Scouts fundraisers, yet in her ancient breast beat the heart of a tigress: ready to expend her last breath in defence of her love; to rip and rend asunder flesh, sinew and bone.
Wes owed his life to the fact that Marj couldn’t get a clear shot without hitting Reg. Instead she smashed the butt into his temple with all the strength of her outrage. She would have finished the blasted sod off on the dining room floor and never mind the Persian rug, if Reg hadn’t gently laid his hand on hers, pushing the barrel aside.
It had been an awful struggle to drag him to the woodshed, but somehow they had managed it, after wrapping his legs in wire left over from trellising the roses last winter.
Handling the gun brought a previous event to the cusp of remembrance. It was not one that she cared to dwell on. Truth be told, it was one that she had diligently swept under the rug, so to speak.
Still, there it was.
It must have been a year ... two years ago? Bob had turned up, during one of the brief spells of liberty that punctuated his life of incarceration.
He had always been a busy fellow in his way, hatching this scheme and that: anything to avoid a day’s honest, hard work for modest reward. It gradually emerged that he had immersed himself in legal studies, these last years in jail. The diligence had not been motivated by academic interest, of course, nor the hope of a job.
After a day or two of playing the loving son, he started in on them. The big, old homestead was getting too much to handle: anyone could see that. Surely?
Items started disappearing: antique silver; the Streeton watercolour. No, that’s been gone years, Mum. Don’t you remember? Reg’s beloved Hardy split-cane trout rod vanished. Think you got rid of that ages ago, Dad. Anyway, want to be careful on the river at your time of life.
Then he wanted power of attorney. Mum and Dad couldn’t look after themselves any more; it was cruel to leave them struggling. He would manage the family finances, turn the homestead around, get essential maintenance done.
In fact, now here was a thought. Maybe it was time to consider sheltered housing, just for respite care, temporary-like, while he fixed the old house up. What about that nice place in Cerberus?
Marj and Reg might have been bewildered and befuddled much of the time, but they knew their elder son well enough, and dug in. Meeting unexpected resistance, Bob tried another tactic: any more of this silly fuss and nonsense, and he would get them made wards of the state.
‘Then you’ll have to do what you’re told, for your own good. They’ll put you in a home. Separate homes, probably …’
In one of her increasingly rare lucid moments, Marj had weighed up the odds, and found them not in their favour. Their minds were being eaten away by dementia, she knew. Soon they would be defenceless against their predatory son. Something must be done, and quickly. She decided on a course of action, then took it.
It had been a bright autumn morning, mist rising from the river, magpies carolling. She caught up with her firstborn son, the bitter fruit of her womb, in the old orchard. Hearing her slow, dragging footsteps, he turned to face her, squinting into the sun.
The old couple soon forgot their guest in the woodshed. He simply passed into oblivion.
That winter, Reg went too, gently and at ease, sitting by the waters of Lethe on a sunny winter’s afternoon. A smile on his lips and a cold cup of tea by his side.
Marj took a few pills; said her prayers; sat with her life’s love and followed him peacefully into the realm of shadows. A passing angler found their cold forms the next morning, snuggled together.
The cause of death was clear. No other party was implicated and the investigation was cursory.
Son Andy came home at last, for the joint funeral. His Canadian wife Celia followed later with their two teenage girls. Doing a routine check of the house and its derelict outbuildings, Andy forced the woodshed door and received a nasty shock.
The forensic team spent half a day around the homestead, packed up and returned to Melbourne. The blame was laid with the gangland associates of elder son Bob, who had broken parole two years previously and was presumed still on the run. Clearly the old couple themselves were not involved: unthinkable.
There was a brief flurry in the media on account of the grisly nature of bikie ‘enforcer’ Wesley James McKenzie’s end. Really, though, who cared that much about another gangland murder?
Celia said they couldn’t possibly move into the homestead, not after that. Uggh. Just imagine!
That spring, Andy was prevailed upon to get the tall grass in the old orchard slashed at last. The CFAdeemed it a serious fire hazard and the shire issued a stern final warning.
The orchard was half-mown when the contractor found Bob. Or what two years of sun, wind, rain, ravens, rats and blowflies had left of him.
Empty eye sockets gazed up at the sky. His mouth still wore the contemptuous grin it had assumed upon seeing the shotgun in his mother’s frail hands – moments before eight 00 lead pellets tore open his chest.
Thank you for reading ‘Lethe’. I hope that you enjoyed it. Next week, we’re off on another adventure with Steve Fendt’s Tall and Tiny Tales …
CWA – Country Women’s Association
CFA – Country Fire Authority, the Victorian volunteer fire service
shire (Aus.) – rural local government