It was later than he thought by the time he made it home. He must have been sitting in the car outside the hospital for an hour, he realised. He’d been looking at a spot of Barrett’s blood on his pants, not sure if it was dry and not wanting to rub it and get it on his fingers, just looking at it and folding the fabric around it, curious that it wasn’t red on his blue pants but a dull, dark circle.
The lights were off and there was no food on the bench and nothing in the fridge but some old cheese and soft, translucent lettuce that had frozen to the shelf. His mother never cooked, but sometimes she ordered in and left something for him.
Only the computer screen lit the lounge room like a lamp on its side pouring into the lounge. There was a half-finished game of solitaire and some chat program flashing and bouncing in the corner.
He walked through the lounge to the back patio. The door was open. Actually, the door was gone, he realised as he walked through, He had a moment of panic, settled himself and saw the wire flyscreen there in the garden just a few feet away, sitting atop the tomato plants like a piece of scrap.
He looked up, further to the back fence. His brother was asleep there in the old pergola the neighbours gave them when they moved out.
Davo had dragged it over behind his friend’s Holden and fixed it up on top of the old fishpond and you could see the water and fish through the broken bits of wood on the floor. He got all of their old blankets and sheets and some more from friends on their street and he’d been sleeping out there now for a few years; a grown man in a wooden teepee in the backyard surrounded by piles of blankets and pillows like it was some sort of middle eastern boudoir without any women. Parker watched him on his back, his huge belly rising and falling through the sheets like a white, rocking buoy in the ocean and his deep growling sleep carrying across the yard like the creaking of a ship in the night.
He picked up the door frame. It’d been kicked off, and then thrown. You couldn’t kick it off the hinges and five metres in one go, he didn’t think. He leant it against the side of the house and stood back in the doorway, watching his brother.
He heard his mother sit back down at the computer and light a cigarette.
‘Aren’t you gonna put it back on?’ she said.
‘Why’d he do that?’
‘He come inside, said he was feeling better. He sat there watching some show a while, he fell asleep and then he did that.’
‘He must have been confused or something.’
‘Confused his whole life, all of us confused here. You’re the most confused and you don’t kick any fricken doors,’ she said and started playing her game again. ‘But then you don’t put em back on either.’
‘I’m going to bed, I’ll do it tomorrow.’ His mother took a long breath, he watched her trace her fingers across the computer screen, marking where she was going to move the cards, ash her cigarette and take up the mouse again. She looked old in front of the white light of the computer screen, squinting and her mousy brown hair all washed out and unkempt. She sensed him watching her.
‘I did a personality test today,’ she said. ‘I did a few, actually.’
‘What’d they have to say about you?’
‘Nothing much,’ she said with a genuine lack of interest.
‘I hope you didn’t make Davo do it.’
‘Indeed, I did,’ she answered with some pride.
‘And you don’t reckon that’s why he kicked the door off?’ he asked, his face flushing with anger.
‘I do reckon it is,’ she said, watching the cards on the screen, not moving. ‘I didn’t say anything different.’
‘Why’d you do that?’
‘I’m not sure, Gideon,’ she said as though she’s curious and sad why she might have. ‘Maybe to wake him up a bit.’
‘What’s wrong with you?’
‘I want to know what’s wrong with him.’
‘No, more than that. More than they say. The Why.’
He didn’t know what to say, how she could torment Davo. She was always prying at him, trying to work out his depths by testing and teasing his limits, knowing him by the points at which he snapped. He watched her from the doorway, sucking on the small stub of a cigarette and then holding it in front of her face to watch the last ember fade.
She was the Why, he thought, and that was why she would never know.
‘He’s a Romantic character,’ she said as though he would be genuinely interested. ’I did it for you, too,’ she added.
He didn’t answer, just stood watching his brother and then running his fingers over the holes in the frame, wondering about getting the door back on.
‘Don’t you want to know?’
‘How’d you do it for me, I might want to know? I’m not sure that’s how they work.’
‘I ask myself ‘what would Jesus do?’ and then you got: The Protector,’ she laughed, but was mostly serious.
He walked out onto the balcony and heard her start clicking again after a time. He thought about the boy, Barrett, how calm he had been holding the shirt to his arm. Maybe he had liked the girls there with him, the goth one with the eyes. Her makeup ran when she cried.
Water dripped from the hot water tank into a dark and mossy line over the concrete path. The path used to go to the clothes line but Davo dug the end of it up to prop up the corner of the pergola so he wasn’t sleeping on an angle.
Parker was picturing the kids skating around the boy. He could see him, pinned down on his chest and his face was pressed on the concrete. He hadn’t moved since he had arrived, just his eyes moved around on his still face, following Parker. The boys wouldn’t get off him until he had cuffed him, even though he wouldn’t have otherwise.
He played it back in his head over and over, he was always surprised how much of the dialogue he could remember, whole conversations with motorists and victims and people he had arrested. He could quote it in court, if he needed to.
He repeated it to himself under his breath, always the same as it had been. It wouldn’t be right to remember it any differently, even though it was inconsequential, it meant nothing; he told himself but didn’t entirely believe.
‘What have you done here, son?’ he had said looking into the rear vision mirror after the ambulance had left and all the kids were standing outside the car watching them both. His voice had betrayed how confident he looked in the blue uniform and he knew that now and hated himself for it.
The boy had looked up and recognised the concern and understood then how serious it was, more than if he had been screamed at.
‘Drive around the corner, please,’ he had asked and began to cry as the car pulled out from the parking lot.
‘OK Gideon,’ she said in a low voice. ‘So what happened tonight?’
He didn’t know how long he’d been standing there like that, remembering the boy’s story about the fight and the knife. Barrett had said something about the skater’s sister and another kid brought the knife for him, urged him on. Maybe he was a good kid, Parker thought and hoped it was true.
‘They stabbed a boy,’ he said quickly without turning back. His brother was turned on his side now, maybe watching him, he couldn’t tell.
‘In Burrell Creek? And they say we’re nuts.’
She clicked around a bit more, lit another cigarette.
‘Someone must, the neighbours most likely if I’m to choose anyone. You should have seen the look she gave me today, over the fence, like she’s got anything better going on in her yard.’ She turned off the computer screen and the room went dark. ‘What do we do? You’ve got the answers.’
‘About the kid?’
‘About you and your brother! The kid; the kid’s got his own mother to do some answering for him.’
He didn’t have the answers. He wanted to have the answers, knew that he should, that no one else would. But what were they?
‘Go to bed son. He’ll sleep it off, he’s probably forgotten.’
Parker knew he wouldn’t forget and realised then, perhaps as his mother had intended, that his brother would wake and see the door off the hinge and hate himself and lay in bed for days, drinking Pepsi and pissing into the fishpond from the edge of his bed.
His mother went to her room and he got up and fixed the door quietly with a screwdriver and some putty in the screw holes. His father had kept a small toolbox under the porch. He had never had a shed like the other men, his mother liked to point out with a snarl. She was coughing from her room, her Night Cough from the evening breeze, she called it like she didn’t smoke and cough all day.
He noticed the snoring stop and heard the creak of his brother sit up and watch him a while but he just kept on in the darkness, listening to the noise of the neighbour’s pool pump and the cicadas and the buzz of the highway a few blocks over.
He wondered when the pool pump would stop, and then thought of the highway and that it wouldn’t. He thought of all those cars and the drivers in the night, their tiny faces illuminated by the lights of their dash in a yellow-red tinge. Everyone looked so peaceful and expectant when they drove.
He finished the door and lay on his bed in his clothes, falling asleep wondering how many of those small faces he had seen drive past him in his patrol car and how many different names they all shared between them. He pictured them smiling and in their school photos and front-on, and he pictured their children and their parents. He wondered if he would have loved any of them, if they had stopped, if any of them had answers, and what questions they had asked.