Cherie wiped her face with the back of her hand and looked up at Trevor. He’d been watching her, she knew, but now he focused his attention on the efforts of the grave-diggers as they shovelled dirt over the tiny white box. Despite the intolerable heat, she moved closer to him, aching for the warmth of his arm around her shoulders, for the comfort his touch would bring. But he stood like a soldier ignoring her silent plea for comfort. She wondered why he had even bothered to come. As the minister left, she wondered how so much could have changed in three days. Damn Davo to hell!
Trevor had been driving when Davo ran them off the road. She shooed a fly and the movement made her ache, reminded her of the bruises. It could have been worse. Trevor escaped unharmed. She decided that perhaps it would have been better if she had died. At least, before the accident Trevor had shared with her, but now it didn’t matter how she explained herself, Trevor’s silence was like a wall.
He had looked forward to the birth, even picked out the names. For seven months she had wanted to explain to him. For seven months she had prayed her child would carry her colouring and not Joe’s. The accident had changed everything. She wondered how she had ever thought she could keep the truth from him anyway. He would have known as soon as the child was born. With Trevor’s strawberry blonde hair and green eyes and her own Australian fairness, the dark hair and eyes of her still-born child were signs of another’s parentage.
Davo and his two mates whooped and spun doughnuts in the gravel outside the cemetery. The hammer and thump of heavy metal music split the hot tranquillity. Tyres squealed and bit the gravel. Splinters of stone flew from under the car like fleas off a wet dog. He circled again and swung his white utility in beside Trevor’s green Valiant.
Trevor looked up from the grave and tracked the vehicle with cold eyes, his fists clenching and unclenching.
‘F— off!’ he yelled.
Davo responded with several empty beer cans rocketing full pelt from his car. The tins jumped along the ground, landed fish, and rolled to a stop near Trevor and Cherie.
‘Trev?’ Cherie tugged his arm.
He wrenched himself from her tentative grasp and stormed toward the gate. He stalked to his car, scooped his keys from his pocket, and slid in behind the wheel. Cherie watched him, dreading the return home; his silence more accusing than any verbal barrage. She preferred words to the silence. Words had never been easy for Trevor, but if he used them he invariably released the powerful emotions constantly raging under his calm surface. He had never been violent with her, yet Cherie knew the events of the last three days had lit his explosive fuse and his rage could detonate a whole town.
If she had told him the truth from the beginning, perhaps he would still be talking to her. If. And perhaps. She knew Trevor would not have coped with her revelations any better then, than he was now.
Cherie watched the grave-diggers pack up and leave. The small white box was completely covered now. She listened for Trevor. Did he want to leave now? Or would he wait while she said her final goodbye in private? He sat motionless in the stifling heat of the car. The insistent buzzing of blowflies rang loudly on the still, hot afternoon air. The heat seemed to press in on her and bake her until she felt she would suffocate if she took one more breath. Relentlessly, the thick hot air coated her skin and her mind. It trapped ideas, kept mouths closed and voices silent, inertia a relief from the parched existence.
She knelt, bruised both inside and out; beside the small bouquet she had placed there earlier. I wish it could have been different, she thought. If you can hear me, I want you to know that I would have loved you anyway. And Trevor would have loved you too, eventually. At this last thought, her tears trickled again. She stood up and blew her nose before walking to the car.
‘Better get into ‘er, mate!’ yelled Davo over the heavy metal cacophony. ‘Before someone else does! Ha! Ha!’
Trevor pivoted his head slowly, very slowly, until his unseeing eyes focused on Davo’s face. Cherie heard Davo and watched with dread. She wondered what Trevor would do. Would he take it out on Davo or would he aim his rage at the right target? She wasn’t sure if the right target was Joe or herself.
From the very first day when she dropped into Trevor’s work with his lunch, Joe raked her with his dark eyes and mentally undressed her. His threats had not been subtle. After the first time, he threatened to tell Trevor what had transpired. She remembered his hot garlic breath on her face and his callused hands on her breasts. The final degradation had been pregnancy.
If she had refused Joe in the beginning, Trevor would not have stayed employed. Jobs were jewels in small country towns and Merrigum was no different. She had watched helplessly as Trevor’s optimism dimmed over twenty-two months of unemployment. His boiler-maker apprenticeship at the Carnation Milk Factory evaporated when the factory closed down seven months after he started. He and Davo tried fruit picking but a fight between them saw Trevor unemployed again. Trevor never told her the cause of the argument, but Cherie guessed it had something to do with her. Trevor and Davo had been mates since boyhood, but he was never the same toward Davo after their fight in the orchard.
Trevor stared at Davo and said nothing. Davo continued up-ending cans of amber until he tired of the silent treatment from his former friend. He revved his engine then charged out of the car park in a cloud of burning rubber and loud whoops.
Trevor started the engine and Cherie knew it was time to move. He nursed the car into gear before reversing; he still hadn’t repaired the engine damage from the accident with Davo. They swung out onto the dirt road and headed toward town.
‘Thanks for coming,’ she said. She wasn’t expecting a reply and she jumped when Trevor responded.
‘No, seriously. I appreciate what you did.’
‘I didn’t do it for you. I wouldn’t do anything for you again.’
His words stung but she felt more relieved that at last he was talking to her again.
“I’m sorry, Trevor. I wanted to tell you. But -.’
His next words almost tore her heart out.
‘You enjoyed it, didn’t you?’
What could she say? She knew he could not understand. And in that moment she knew he never would. They fell silent, each occupied with thoughts they would never share.
The sputtering engine woke her from her thoughts and it took a moment for her to realise what happened. Trevor coasted to the side of the road, hoping to bring the car to a stop under some shade. It didn’t work; he got out and ducked his head under the bonnet, then swore loudly. He kicked one of the front tyres. Cherie looked questioningly at him.
‘Juice,’ he said.
The hot afternoon silence of a deserted country road closed in on them. Ahead, the road shimmered and danced in the scorching heat. Half an hour passed in silence before they heard a car approaching. Cherie watched Trevor’s features harden when he recognised the car.
Davo was back. He did a u-turn and pulled in behind Trevor and Cherie. His mates unfolded themselves from the car and all three swaggered toward the valiant while heaving empty cans into the dry grass as they went.
‘Run outta juice?’ Davo asked. He turned to his companions. ‘Silly bastard’s run out of juice.’ They cackled. “Got some juice in the boot if you want it. Believe it was yours once.’ He elbowed his nearest mate and laughed again. Trevor stiffened with understanding.
‘It’ll cost ya, but.’
‘Yeah? How much?’ Trevor reached for his wallet.
‘Not money, you dumb ox.’ He motioned toward Cherie. ‘What’s she worth now?’
Trevor was silent. Davo advanced on Cherie.
‘No!’ Cherie fled into the flat scrub as fast as her bruised body could move. Davo and his two mates followed and matched her pace. She stumbled and fell as her feet found uneven ground, but Davo’s nearness jolted her bruised body into a run. She wiped perspiration from her face. Her blonde hair swung limply and plastered itself across her face like sticky streamers. She brushed it away hurriedly and kept running. She heard Davo’s heavy panting as he closed in on her. She screamed as Davo grabbed her waist and they both landed heavily on the hard ground. His mates yipped when he caught her and they sauntered over to watch. She scrambled to free herself but Davo held tight. She tried to scream again but his hot beery mouth descended, trapping her mouth and bruising her lips with his savagery.
‘Don’t!’ she screamed frantically as her hands found purchase on his chest and she shoved him, fighting for distance.
‘Oh God, please, don’t!’
Her desperate scream sailed on the still air, settling over the afternoon stillness and leaving a thick emptiness in its wake. She screamed again as Davo sat astride her and crushed her with ugly intent.
Trevor moved to his car boot. The unmistakable click-clack of a shotgun being pumped brought Davo’s head up sharply. Two shots rang out in the still air and seconds later his companions folded to the ground like limp rag dolls.
Davo stood up and sneered. Trevor walked toward Davo and Cherie, the shotgun nestled in the crook of his arm. When he reached them, he pumped the shotgun and aimed it at Davo’s knees.
‘Go on, ya gutless prick! She wasn’t worth having anyway!’
Trevor stood silent, unmoving. He pulled the trigger. Davo screamed as the shot found its target and he fell backward. Trevor moved over to Cherie. She was re-adjusting her clothing and refused to look at him.
‘Kiss the dirt.’
Cherie wasn’t sure she heard him correctly so she ignored him.
‘Kiss the dirt.’ His tone was cold.
What was the point anymore, she wondered vaguely. Staring at the barrel aimed at her face, she thought it strange to feel so relieved. She rolled over. She didn’t want to see anything. She had faced other horrors, but somehow death was one she couldn’t watch. As her body went limp, her head rocked sideways and her bruised lips parted to kiss the dirt. She never heard the last blast.