Ive called for another car, says Jodie.
Yeah, good, I mutter. June, this is Jodie. Shes my partner tonight. Go ahead and tell me why.
Because your husbands broken his collarbone, says Jodie. He broke down the door here, right?
So what do I tell them? the mother asks, ignoring Jodie altogether.
Thats really for you to decide, I say. But theres no shame in the truth. Its fairer on everybody.
The woman looks at me again. I squat in front of her beside the bed. She smooths the skirt down onto her knees.
I must be transparent, she murmurs.
I try to give her a kindly smile but my face feels stiff. Behind her I can see the usual posters on the wall: surfers, rockstars, women in provocative poses. The bookshelf above the desk has its sports trophies and souvenirs from Bali and the computer goes through a screensaver cycle of the twin towers endlessly falling. She reaches for my hand and I give it to her. She feels no warmer than her dead son.
No one will understand.
No, I say. Probably not.
Youre a father.
Yes, I am.
Car doors slam in the street below.
June, would you like a moment alone with Aaron before the police come in?
Ive had my moment, she says, letting go my hand to pat her hair abstractedly.
Jodie? Will you just pop down and let the police know where we are?
Jodie folds her arms petulantly but goes with a flick of her little blonde ponytail.
That girl doesnt like you.
No, not much.
So what do I do?
I cant advise you, June.
Ive got other children to consider.
And a husband.
He will have to go to hospital, Im afraid.
I get to my feet and collect my kit. She stands and brushes her skirt down and gazes back at the boy on the bed.
Is there anyone else youd like me to call?
Jodie and two cops appear at the door.
Call? says June. You can call my son back. As you can see, hes not listening to his mother.
When were almost back to the depot for knock-off Jodie breaks the silence.
So when were you planning to let me know what all that was about?
With that poor woman. For a moment there I thought you were flirting with her.
Well, you can add that to your list of complaints.
Look, Im sorry.
Arrogant, aloof, sexist, bad communicator, gung-ho. Obviously I missed a few things, coming in late. But for the record, Jodie, Im not a Vietnam vet. Believe it or not, Im not old enough.
I feel awful, alright?
So get a roster change. Be my guest. But dont do your bitching at handover in the middle of the bloody shed with your back to the door. Its unfriendly and its unprofessional.
Look, I said I was sorry.
When I look across at her I see in the lights of a passing truck that shes almost in tears. She hangs on to the wheel as though its all thats holding her together.
She nods. I roll a window down. The city smells of wet lawns and exhaust fumes.
I didnt think it would hit me that hard.
That was my first suicide, she murmurs.
Yeah, its tough. But it wasnt suicide.
Jesus, Bruce, they had to bust in the door and cut him down. The kid hanged himself.
And how the hell do you know?
Im a know-all. Remember?
She grimaces and I laugh.
God, youre a strange man.
So I gather.
Youre not gonna tell me, are you? I cant believe you wont tell me.
Excerpted from Breath by Tim Winton. Copyright © 2008 by Tim Winton. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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