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Chapter 16

It happened the day when the Bahamas were looming.

The Carters had been there twice before, bedding in a time-share property that had been part of a four-star villa on the coast. It was one of Carter’s fondest memories; the white sand spilling over the whiter marble of the forecourt, the recliners, bleached by the blazing sunlight, and the soft linen curtains trailing out of open windows. Their villa was a single story apartment, with two bedrooms and plenty of floor-space, a small kitchen and bathroom, and a large, rotating ceiling fan, a commodity as important as any in the heat of the summer months. Their vacations there, when Carter had been age four, then age six and now again, this time in his ninth year, had been fairly innocuous. The family lay on the beach, went to bars and restaurants, swam and walked in the evenings, but mainly just relaxed, and played cards and charades. They were all things that were quite easy to do back in Greenbury Park, and indeed they did when Eric was home, but that somehow appealed under the glare of the Caribbean sun. Only occasionally did they do actual things tourists tend to do; sightseeing, shopping for souvenirs, struggling to converse with locals, etcetera. Mostly, vacations were time for the family to be together, something that didn’t quite come about so effectively back home.

Carter found that he enjoyed these trips nonetheless, or at least, his memories of them were fond. He liked spending time with his dad, whose long business trips had so often kept him away, and he preferred his mom more when his dad was around. She seemed happier, more at ease, than when she was alone with him, David. They had made a great trio.

It was July 22nd, the day that they were set to catch their flight to Havana, before their charter to Nassau, but they were late leaving the house, all three for their separate reasons. The nine-year old David Carter was in his room at the back of the house, peering anxiously under his bed. He had known he left his Frisbee in there somewhere, but for the life of him couldn’t recall where. It was likely that his mom had come in and tidied it away somewhere; she had hated the damn thing. So he proceeded to root through his toy-boxes and cupboard until he finally located it, wedged down the back of a crate filled with Matchbox cars. Carter had stuffed it in his backpack, knelt down to fasten his sandals, and had set off back along the corridor, calling for his mom. Eric Carter had excused himself about half an hour earlier, shouting over his shoulder that he had an item of business that had to be concluded before they left. He had been gone ever since, and had taken the family car with him, with their luggage already packed into the back of it. Despite the fact that it was business Eric Carter had claimed he was attending to, he did not don a suit, but stuck with his holiday shirt, shorts and sandals.

Carter called and called, but his mom never replied. Slightly unnerved, he had ran downstairs and checked the kitchen and living room, opened the front door to check the front lawn, but there was no sign of Millie Carter. Now getting scared, Carter dropped his bag by the door, thought for a few seconds, and then ran back up the stairs, sandals flapping at his heels, opened his mom and dad’s bedroom door and peered in. There was no sign of her.

What he remembered of the next few moments was oddly strained and uncomfortable. He clearly recalled stepping slowly into his mom’s room, tasting the all-too-familiar scent of her perfume in his nostrils, feeling her purple cardigan which always hung on the bedpost brush the backs of his fingers as he passed it. He remembered that his parents had had a walk-in closet where they would dress at the back end of the bedroom and Carter made for it, wondering if his mom could be getting together a few more clothes and therefore hadn’t heard his earlier shouts. It was as his hand had closed on the closet’s handle that he heard the sounds from behind the door. A thump, something falling, a shoe perhaps, and then a heavy sigh. Confused, he had silently eased the door open a crack.

Then the image shuddered and became fuzzy. The picture that seemed to freeze-frame in his mind was that of his mother, her back against the far wall of the walk-in closet, her head tilted back, mouth gaping, gasping. There was a second figure, a man, some neighbour of theirs; Eddie, Carter reckoned his name had been. He had been doing something strange. One of his hands had been up his mom’s blouse, and was motionless, while the other was wedged between her legs, beyond the folds of her skirt, and appeared to be in motion. Carter wasn’t sure how long he stood there, at the door, but one thing he knew for certain was that neither of them noticed him. Although the image had frozen, odd sounds floated back to him when he thought back; a sharp intake of breath, an animal-like grunt and a short, high-pitched note. In fact, there were several. He wasn’t quite sure what happened next, and then he was being shaken awake by his mom, his dad not two feet away behind her, a rucksack on his shoulder. He had been face-down on his bed, asleep, and it was starting to get dark outside his window. At the time, Carter wondered if he dreamt what he had seen. Certainly, it was possible. Nonetheless, as they piled into the car outside in the cool dusk, he had been unable to take his eyes off of his mom. What had been happening? Was she okay? What had the man wanted?

They had, inevitably, missed their flight to Havana, such was the length of time it had taken his dad to return from his business, and so they caught a later one, boarding at eight-thirty precisely. Carter never asked his mom what she had been doing. It had been an odd day, but now they were going away again, on holiday, the plane was taking off, and it was going to be ten days that he could enjoy, being with his loving family.

When Carter thought back in later life, that third holiday never quite seemed as fun as the two preceding it.

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