He tried to shut out those distant family voices, but they had colossal strength. Were they the far-off voices in his nightmare of the old house? Was he the silenced parrot frantic to escape the ranch? His real voice had, for sure, been silenced by Murdy.
Sometimes, he thought being born to Murdy and Birdie was an outrage. When he was ten, Birdie had divorced Murdy, and whisked him off to Alexandria.
“We, now, have a real gorgeous pad. The ghastly ranch is in the past,” she had said to him.
After the divorce, she had collected what she called ‘beaux’. How he had hated that string of stand-in fathers, but had loved the city bookshops and folk yapping about other than ranching. In Alexandria, he had not had to prove himself ‘a man’ in the sense Murdy had understood it. Now, whenever he visited Murdy, Murdy was scathing.
“How’s your mother? Must be a faded moth, by now.”
“What do you mean?” he would always counter.
“Still attracted to bright lights and glittering folk?”
Murdy had, once, looked away, as if gathering what he had been trying forever to piece together.
“I guess, Alex, we were just different folk, me, you, Birdie.”
A rattle of cups brought him back to the present. The boy was getting himself a drink of water.
“What’s your name? You never answered,” he said.
The guy he had given a lift to had evaded the meaning of Cabrach and, now, here was this boy refusing to give his surname.
“Okay. You did say you want an egg sandwich?” he said, bringing out the eggs.
“Changed my mind.”
He poured coffee into two mugs, and handed one to Dave. Dave wrapped his hands around his mug.
“Want to have a look, now, at The Internet? Get taught computer at school?”
“The headmaster’s trying to raise money for a computer.”
“Have a shot on my laptop. Bring your coffee.”
Dave followed him into the bedroom, and he plugged in the laptop.
“So, what do you dig, Dave?”
“Me, too. Let’s find a site on fish.”
He tapped in a few search words.
“This site looks swell. It’s about salmon,” he said.
“Deveron’s full of them. Not so much, now, though.”
“Wanna go fishing with me? I’ve real cool fishing rods.”
“It would have to be when I’m not at school, or doing things around the farm for dad.”
“Your mother will work on your father.”
Dave’s face dropped.
“She died, when I was one year old. A baby died with her. Dad won’t talk about them.”
He ruffled the boy’s hair. Dave was as lonely as he had been. But, then, he had met Saul, at school in Alexandria. They had both been only rug-rats with abysmal parents, and had bonded real fast. Saul’s folks, to this day, never stopped yapping about their stint in a German concentration camp during World War II. They had never escaped Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
“I’m a ghost from a future they never reached,” Saul had said.
“Saul, you can thank God you weren’t born in that time. You escaped Hell. How we suffered,” he had often heard Leonard Cohen whine.
Saul had never shown signs of resentment, never, even today, said a word about his folks’ guilt trip on him.
“How old are you? Ten?” he asked Dave, tearing his thoughts away.
He would have to calm the boy. He had not grown more than two inches between the ages of seven to twelve, and had been real sensitive about it, especially with Murdy’s snide comments.
“Birdie was cursed calling herself Birdie. She gave birth to a chicken. Have you ever seen such scrawny legs on a boy?” had been Murdy’s favorite sneer to anyone, who would listen.
But, over the following five years, he had shot up to six feet four, remained lean but got muscular.
“Sure, you’re twelve. I see that, now, and I’ll tell you the deal about fishing with my ace rods and using the laptop. You show me where you found the necklace, and we can start having fun. And if it’s a secret place you found the necklace in, you can count on me keeping my trap zipped.”
Dave looked wary.
“Bet not many boys of your age get to drive a land rover or use a computer, not to mention ace fishing rods. Your buddies will be real envious,” he cajoled.
“The boys at school hate me I’m useless at sports. I’m left last, when sides are being picked,” Dave blurted out.
“Then, you’ll have one over on them. None of them will get treats like I can dish you.”
Dave’s eyes were exploding stars.
“I’ll come the morrow morning, at eleven. It’s Saturday. Dad always lets me off farm work to go about on my bike.”
“Why aren’t you at school, today?”
“Sore throat. I climbed out my bedroom window for a bike ride. Dad will never know if I get back, soon.”
“You should be in the sack.”
“Bed? I’m fine. Mind you, it’s for the fishing I’m coming. Later, I’ll show you where I found the necklace, but you mustn’t tell anyone.”
“Deal. Get your father’s okay for me to take you about.”
Dave shook his head.
“Dad doesn’t like me talking to strangers, never mind going about with them. Anyway, I’m off.”
He followed Dave to the door. His mind was in spate over the necklace, but he had to play it cool.
“See you, tomorrow, Dave.”
Dave walked down the path.
“I’d a pal once,” he said, looking back.
“What happened to your buddy?”
“My dog, Charlie, got run over.”
His dog had died, when he was nine years old. Tex had been a gift from Hamish, and, despite Murdy naming it, Tex had been his alone, had for a short while been his buddy on the ranch.
“Take this on the chin like a man, Alex. Tex has bit the dust,” Murdy had said.
“How, how, did, did…?” he had started to stutter, but had got no further.
“He ran under one of my hosses.”
“Tex isn’t stupid! He wouldn’t have done that!” he had screamed.
Birdie had come into the room.
“Murdy was digging his vile spurs into that unbroken, white stallion. It went berserk, careered off, and cannoned into Tex. Tex was killed by Murdy,” she had said.
“Bitch,” Murdy had snarled, walking away.
He looked at Dave. The boy was on the verge of tears.
“Real sorry about Charlie, Dave. Know just how you feel.”
Dave dashed to the gate. He loped after him, and patted him on the shoulder. It was an awkward movement. He was unused to touching others. Suddenly, he craved a son. He would not care a toss if the boy were macho or gay. His son would be allowed to be who he was. He and Saul had discussed the rug-rat thing.
“If you ever get a yen for a son, grab a surrogate mother. Surrogates! Shows you how low a dame can stoop for bucks,” Saul had said.
“Don’t have a yen for a rug-rat.”
“Don’t wed, Alex. A dame wielding a legal rug-rat would have a forever throttle on you.”
Dave pulled his bike out from a bush at the side of the track, and sped away, standing up on the pedals, a baby turtle making a mad dash for the sea. As Dave vanished, a dame about thirty years old appeared on the dirt track from the opposite direction. According to the map drawn by the owners of Meadow Cottage, the track came to a dead end four miles beyond Meadow Cottage. He stared at the approaching figure. She was flashily dressed, what Saul would call ‘real cheese-looking’, and her thick, coppery hair was springing curls everywhere. From a distance, it was as if her head was festooned with snakes like Medusa. He grimaced. Lilith and Medusa were, for sure, sisters.
He looked over to the surrounding hills and, then, back at the dame coming down the track. She was sporting a yellow dress splashed with red that made her look like a big, wounded butterfly. He thought on the butterfly that had almost bought it on his windscreen.
He started to go inside the cottage, but the dame called out.
“Hello there, are you my new neighbor!”
He gave a wave, and began to shut the door.
“Don’t go in! I want to welcome you!” she shrieked.
Reluctantly, he walked to the gate. As she came closer, he saw she had an unusual face, fine-boned for her fleshy body. The plastering of garish makeup could not take away its beauty. The red splatters that, from a distance, had looked like blood on her yellow dress were, now, crimson stars. Her plunging neckline displayed titanic tits that heaved like the Atlantic, as she hurried towards him. She was a walking milk pledge.
In her haste, her purple panama fell off. Giggling, she stooped lower than needed to pick it up. No wonder Saul despised dames. They used tits to trap guys. He could not believe his ill luck such a dame was shacked near him. He had been hoping for an old worthy, who would have a sack of tales. This dame would have zilch but gossip. With luck, she might turn out to be a tourist renting for a week, or so.
He sighed. He, certainly, was not meeting the intelligentsia of The Cabrach. He longed for Saul’s insights and witticism. But he felt Saul’s presence through the ring.
But a prickling was at the nape of his neck, as the dame drew level with him.