The March of the Dead

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20

It wasn’t looking too good for my future step father who had turned that awful colour.

From Kehlani’s house, I called her phone about a gazillion times, but she didn’t pick up once. So I sent her a text instead. ‘Babe, U wanna go out to Bingo tomoz night?’ I keyed in a little smiley face, and a sexy chest emoticon, then pressed send.

‘She a lucky girl,’ I said, moving back towards the door, which I soon found locked.

It started raining seconds after.

Maybe this is what brought me back to reality. There I stood locked out Kehlani’s front yard, rain pouring on me.

I went home, not knowing what to do. When I walked into the house, Mum looked up at me.

‘What’s wrong, Jarli? What’s happened?’

They took me into the hospital. I sat in the back of the car, Mum the front.

‘Was he sick? How long was he unconscious for?’

From the back seat I was trying to text Kehlani. ‘Mum, I don’t think I did too well with the situation today,’ I said.

We got to Burarra hospital, and Mum spoke to the front desk receptionist.

The lady apologised to Mum.

He was in ICU, and not allowed any visitors who weren’t immediate family.

at the moment.

I looked to the candy machine on my left against the wall.

‘You wanna Kit Kat, Mum, or what? Let’s do this, hey. Fuck the calories.’

There I sat in the hallway of Burarra Hospital, clutching a half-eaten Kit Kat.

Soon Kehlani emerged from a connecting hallway, white-faced.

Dried-vomit clung all down the front of her school dress.

‘You didn’t even shower for me, babe?’

Mum slapped me in the back.

Now Kel and I stood out front of the hospital in the darkness. Kehlani stared out to distant and foggy stars.

‘You just don’t know, do you ... you just never know.’

*

At school over the next few days, Kehlani would come through the gates in the morning, and I would go and greet her.

She’d be nice to me, smiling, looking up at me.

A few days later on the weekend, I strolled alongside the dam with Mum and Dad, the footy clutched in Dad’s hands.

We walked close together.

Dad was asking all these questions about my plans after school.

‘You need to start thinking about your options, Blinky. You’re in Year Twelve soon. People your age should have some idea about what they wanna do when they leave.’

I looked up to dad.

‘I wanna be a famous footy player, Dad, just like my brother Latrell Mitchell. Know what I’m saying?’

He slapped me in the back of the head.

‘Learn to catch a frickin ball first, superstar.’

In the dimming light, the ball was kicked up in the air. It absorbed the haze from the sunset glowing behind those brilliant and white clouds. The hills in the distance covered in the gum trees were painted bright orange. The grass on the oval shone a golden yellow.

Soon twilight arrived, and in that thick blueness I sat with Mum and Dad, a single outdoor light glowing above us. Chicken kababs sat on the plate before us, fizzy drinks bubbling away in the plastic cups on the table. A wrapped present sat in between us all.

That ball sat in the back of my throat.

Dad gazed at me, eyes glassy. ‘You open it this year, Blinky. You haven’t had a go yet.’

I shook my head. I pushed the present towards Dad. His blue eyes shone in the blueish twilight. Cool breeze brushing through. ‘You do it, Dad ... I want you to do it.’

There we drove home from the dam, no music playing from the speakers, my parents silent.

*

I had a maths exam Monday.

Immediately afterwards, I caught the bus to the hospital. The bus having dropped me off, I walked along the pathway to the entrance.

She stood out front, looking towards me. I thought I saw a smile on her face.

‘Babe ... babe ... he’s getting better,’ she said.

Now we both stood inside the ICU room. Nurses paced through hallways, sliding in through the curtains of the other patients. Cords came out of the man before me from his many incisions. His eyes were closed.

‘Still looks like dog-shit,’ I said to Kehlani as I stared down at Mr Jones.

Outside the hospital, I texted Mum.

Kehlani gazed at an ambulance sitting in the driveway across from us. Her hand had touched mine. ‘Life is so short, isn’t it, Blinky.’ She looked over at me. Her face still seemed white, the colour—some of it—having washed from her hair.

Nurses walked back towards the hospital from an afternoon tea break. Two police officers walking through the doors.

‘You never really know what’s going to happen, do you.’

Kel stared back out towards the ambulance.

‘You talking about the footy scores?’ I said.

Back in the ward, I was looking over the man. His eyelids opened, and murky red eyes stared at me. He was struggling to say something. I leant down. His pudgy white arm tried lifting.

‘I can’t hear you, sir? Can you speak a little louder, please?’

Beeping and low mummering sounded throughout the ICU ward.

A nurse came in and wrote down some digits from a machine which stood beside Mr Jones’ bed.

‘Do you guys ever get lunch breaks here?’ I asked her.

She gave me a smile. ‘We try to take them when we can.’

Soon she was gone again, and I helped myself to a couple of the chips sitting on Mr Jones’ food table beside his bed. I placed a hand over his forehead. It felt so hot I was certain I would scold myself.

‘You are one poor, sickly old man,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘If you had taken it easy on the hand burgers maybe this would never have happened.’ In my mind I scolded myself for saying such a thing.

Kehlani turned up beside me. ‘Is he responding?’ she said.

On Wednesday, I sat in History listening to Mr Henrikson.

In the corner of my eye I noticed Aisha.

Her hands were cupped before her, lips moving in short, slow movements. On the projector before us a video played of refugees stuck on a boat. Aisha clutched that necklace, looking down, muttering more prayers.

After school, Walby and Turner and I sat inside Ted’s Takeaway.

They kept asking me what had happened with Kehlani’s Dad, but I just shook my head. ‘Put it this way,’ I said, looking at them, a wry smile on my face. ‘If I wasn’t there, that sunofabitch would be plucking roses out of his mouth right now, he would,’

The boys all gave sarcastic guffaws, then chuckled as they leant back against the booth.

Saturday night, Kehlani and I took a stroll along Morrison.

We stopped off at Game Zone again. I tried to get her to play Mortal Kombat Eight, but apparently ripping the spine out of a body and chewing on it wasn’t her cup of tea in that moment.

Back at the hospital, Kel ate dinner with her Mum in the diner, while I was in Mr Jones’ room, watching over him.

That single eye opened, his hand trying to reach up again. There beneath the dim lights of the ICU ward, he muttered, ’Emmm ... emmm ....’

I frowned, trying to hear. ‘What’s that, brother?’

I arched over, accidently leaning on one of the tubes coming from his penis. Mr Jones frowned, forehead wrinkling as the entire piss-machine tipped sideways from its standing place beside the man’s bed.

It slammed onto the ground, the bag bursting open as piss spilled out all over the floor.

‘Miss ... he tipped his machine over,’ I called.

Kel and Mrs Jones were back in there soon after. Those eyes opened again, his hand coming up towards my face as he said, ‘He stares at me ... the one from beneath ... he looks at me now as I lay in darkness ... be gone, thing from my mind .... Don’t you know he is inside every one of us, waiting to come out, when all will be infect ... infec ...’

Mr Jones started to drift again.

‘What ... what?’ I nearly yelled in his face.

Mrs Jones grasped my shoulder. ‘Blinky. He’s just recovering. Take it easy, okay?’

Eyes wide, I stared at Mrs Jones, talking sharp, deep breaths.

‘What was he saying about the man? Was he saying something?’

Sweat built up in my armpits.

Soon after, I strolled back and forth out front of the hospital beneath the large jacaranda. Beside me, a man was being wheeled by on a stretcher as he lay there, eyes closed, skin deathly white.

‘They already said cigarettes would kill,’ I said, holding out my palm for the man to slap as the trolly squeaked on by.

One of the paramedics looked to the security guard near the entrance. ‘Get this dipshit away from here, would you, Sam?’

And that’s how I got kicked out of the hospital.

Pretty lame, when you think of it.

I returned the following day, when another security guard was on.

Those beeping noises sounded throughout ICU again. ’Wake uuu-uuuup. Waaake uuuuu-uuuup,’ I hummed to Mr Jones.

Kehlani appeared behind me.

She touched my shoulder.

‘Has he been speaking?’ she said. Her hair was uncombed, her face lacking the vibrancy I had come accustomed to.

I gave her a sympathetic gaze, shaking my head, tracing my fingers along her back. I looked into her eyes.

‘I know your dad.’

I was going to add, “He’s a fighter”, but, really, judging by how large his stomach was I really didn’t think I could say that, so I said, ‘Look, I think he’s going to be just—’

Mr Jones’ eyes blinked open again, a long smile coming over his face. Tubes and pipes poked out from multiple orifices. He blinked as he lay.

‘You ... you ...,’ he muttered, gazing at me. He blinked a couple more times. ‘The devil stands before me. And he looks down upon me but does not know it.’ A slack hand rose to touch me. Kel reached out, grabbed it.

‘He talking about you?’ I said, gazing at her. ‘Why’s he calling you the devil?’

And yet, still Mr Jones still glared at me.

‘It is inside of you. And it draws forth ... draws forth ...’

*

Friday night, I strolled Morrison alone. That man sat against the shop window. He too pointed to me. ‘I can see it ... the evil ... seeps from you like blood from a wound ... like milk from an udder ... yes ... clear as day it—’

I cut him off, standing over the man there on the footpath.

‘Come on ... ya wanna threaten me? Get your fat-arse off the ground and I’ll give you blood from a wound, ya stupid hobo. Come on, get up, get up.’

I was shouting now, and felt a few people walking with their shopping bags from the supermarket gazing over.

‘Stand up, ya big wimp ... I’ll show you the devil, I will.’ I leant over the man. My eyes were now wide, and so were his. Soon I stepped back and back, before turning away.

And that night I wandered along Morrison in the dream again.

Around me sat those stalls, those long grey tarpaulins slumped over each. The metallic grey sheen of the plastic covers shone like blades in the night. I walked with slow steps, hearing something rustle ether behind a stall or beneath the tarpaulin of one.

A little gasp escaped my mouth.

On Thursday, as that bitter autumn sun streaked down, I stood on the edge of Evie’s, that hollowness flooding through me.

My hands, legs, arms ... everything felt weak.

I shook my head, the evening breeze brushing dark hair over my eyes. ‘Beau ... Beau,’ I said, gazing at the water. I felt somewhat dead inside, and when I looked back to the trees, I felt something hot in my eyes. ‘You were meant to be there for me, Beau,’ I said to those gum trees, feeling that ball rising in my throat. Something hot reached my eyes. I bent, grasped a rock

and the girl started shoving those rocks into her gown

and looked back out to the water. I dropped the rock, turned, and saw a figure staring at me in the evening light from the top of the bank.

My mouth ran dry.

Heart thrashed.

But an old lady turned away, shuffling back towards the park.

It felt like some vice had been levered off my chest.

I groaned, bent, and pegged another pebble out there to the water. It splashed and sunk under, never, I suspect, to be seen again.

The sun lowered and cockatoos squawked as I stood there, and as the cool autumnal breeze swept by, I had bitter thoughts only.

Back at the hospital, Mr Jones groaned, opening his eyes. Kehlani was asleep back over on the seat in the waiting room.

He stared up at me, tried speaking. I loomed over him, placing a figure over his mouth, saying, ‘You just stay quiet, old man ... you just take it easy for the moment,’ closing his mouth for him.

‘You sleep ... you sleep ... old man.’ Soon he was back asleep, and in the dim room I slumped back down to the seat.

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