There are many ways to begin this story and it nearly ended when Clay fell off a cliff.
A steamy day standing there on the edge, shirtless, enjoying the breeze blowing up from the creek. Shirtless because of running, very fast, for a long time, and because we were boys, naked in the semi-conscious slumber of youth.
Down on the rocks a thousand turtles sunned themselves, dozing in the narcoleptic mist of a lazy afternoon.
Between catching breaths Clay said he thought it would be a good idea to drop stones and break their shells. Already destined to be murdered for our earlier deeds, the added burden of guilt for killing a protected species just to prove myself was too much to resist.
He was excited and dancing about whooping at the spectacular cracking that echoed up to us when he vanished, deft as a predator in foliage.
I stood there for awhile, unmoved, confused – the only sound the smashed reptiles below, squirming in the ruins of their shells.
A water bird preened itself on the rusting wreck of a jeep down in the creek, its song a familiar music which drags you into a memory you can never quite articulate.
A brief flash of a great cats tawny eyes going out.
I heard myself shout his name and I dropped to my knees, crawling to the edge, afraid to look over but compelled, tears blurring my vision, expecting some god-knows-what horrendous carnage.
Nothing but the birds circling.
When Clay arrived at the caravan park with his parents I hated him. Now I envisioned myself mourning him, my holidays ruined, like a black eye tainting every happy-snap.
Death’s hand touched us last summer also, spread through our cheer like a drop of Indian ink in water. Lucy broke her neck down at the swimming hole. I was conflicted because I liked her, she held my hand under a blanket at the cinema. Her palm was soft and clammy and she stroked me with her fingers. But I also despised her because when I tried to kiss her she jammed the banana she was eating into my ear. I still hate the sound of bananas and will leave the desk, the cubicle, the room, the damned operating table if you unwrap one.
Clay was always fundamental. There are 300 photographs of him in the family album and he looks amazing in every one. His eyes, simply devastating…one totally black, you could not discern the pupil, the other, half green half tawny orange, like a leopard’s. Also in his favor, an incredible buoyant mop of blonde hair which by itself, had he lived, would have made him famous.
This head of hair was the first thing I noticed when he arrived with his parents. They rolled into the park, silver caravan in a cloud of dust, a rocket emerging from a nebula, his crazy head stuck out the window like a massive frizzy space-helmet. My hair seemed thin and limp in comparison, and our ship immobile, a lot smaller, and rusty.
I hadn’t let my tongue dry on the highway for a long time.
—At least a few months, I heard his father say to the Site Manager.
Lucy never liked the Site Manager, she said that he spied on her in the showers, that she had heard he keeps a jam tin of photographs in the ceiling of his outhouse, that he stays in there, for hours on end.
And now this new boy was poking around the public amenities block, scuffing his sneakers in the slime on the concrete. While his father signed something, laughing, and his mother unpacked the station wagon, he pulled a large fat toad out of a drain pipe by its back legs.
I should mention at this point that as a boy I had an obsession with explosives. I mention this as it is one of the first things I said to him. I found him down by the creek that evening hitting frogs with a golf club. Actually, the first thing I said to him was that he was a shit-head, because I like frogs.
He shaped up and punched me in the mouth.
A couple days later I was playing pinball at the Stop & Shop when he approached and stood there examining the damage to my lip.
I said, licking the scab, —you know it’s more fun to make bombs than kill frogs…also throwing darts at toads is what we do around here, shit-head.
That was when I noticed his eyes because they grew large with glee, the half orange part flashed and the green turned dark.
—How do you make bombs then, wanker, he said, a demand, not a question.
—Let’s make one, I’ll show you, I mumbled, mysterious.
At the very edge of the caravan park, in an ancient wrecked Haulmark motor-home which teetered on the edge of the creek, lived an old woman named Bertha Jones. Every day she drank a two liter flagon of Muscat wine. She spent her afternoons sitting out under a tattered umbrella abusing whoever happened past. I took one of the countless bottles from the pyramid behind her van and, with Clay following me, filled it with petrol stolen from the gardeners shed.
Recently I had noticed an extra long electrical lead coiled up on a shelf in the laundry, this was next on my list. I cut the female plug from one end, stripped the plastic off the copper wires with my teeth and threaded it through a hole punched in the aluminum lid of the wine flagon. The hole was smaller than the cord circumference so I really had to jam it in there. Dripped some candle wax to seal it for good measure and screwed the cap back on the wine bottle full of petrol. The naked wires were now dangling into the liquid.
Then we spent the entire afternoon figuring out where to bury it.
Up until that day the caravan park where I lived had a mini golf course. Although after dark when the flood lights came on it was more populated with toads than people, it still got used most days.
We buried the bottle in a sand trap and rolled out the power lead to the amenities block. Holding my breath I plugged it in above the moldy smelling washing machine where, earlier, while cleaning guts off golf clubs, I had found a .22 caliber bullet in the bowl.
My finger hovered above the switch. Clay slapped my hand and it clicked.
There was an almighty explosion and a mushroom of sand blown tens of meters in the air. The artificial grass lifted like a rug in a gust and the main power transformer for the entire park, housed in a fiberglass mountain in the middle of the course, caught fire, billowing acrid poisonous smoke. All around us the power boxes of caravans boomed in unison.
We were running before anyone emerged from their van to see what had happened. Sirens were already rolling in from the direction of the nearby town. We ran and ran until we came to the cliff and could run no more.
I peered over the edge, laying flat on my belly in the dirt and there he dangled, terrified, clutching for his life at a tree root.
Several days before I had dropped my sisters crystal statue of a ballerina and this is how I had expected to find him, shattered, already rotting in his jeans among the turtle shells on the rocks below.
Shocked I scrambled to my feet, an instinct to seek help, but a hundred paces through the trees I remembered that everybody, at least in the caravan park, wanted my blood. Unsure of what to do I circled back and was amazed to find that he had already hauled himself out of danger and was pulling thorns from of his chest.
—You ran like a retarded girl! he laughed at me.
—I was running to get help! I gasped, heart pounding.
I could see a vein in his neck sticking out and it was pulsing, hard.
—Hey, you know what would be fun, he flicked his luxurious hair, —do you still have that bullet you found?
—Yeah, I said, fishing it out of my pocket.
He took it from my hand and placed it on a flat rock. He picked up a boulder slightly larger than his fist and motioned, pretending to hit the bullet with it.
—Dare me, he challenged, —do you think it will work?
—Dunno, I said, thinking it might.
He deftly smacked down the rock on the bullet and it discharged with a splitting bang. His hand recoiled and his head jerked back. He staggered a few steps like a cowboy in a cloud of gun smoke and slumped to the ground.
I was laughing, it was awesome, the shot was still rolling down into the valley.
—That, was totally, fucking, cool! I shouted at him.
He lay still, shirtless in the dirt. First I saw that his fingers had burst apart like an over cooked sausage. He was face down and a foaming pool of blood was soaking into the dust. I lifted him by the shoulders so I could see his face. His all black eye was a gaping hole. There was a smell like when you walk past a butcher’s shop and he was gurgling like Lucy when she back flipped onto her head. His brilliant hair was already flaxen and matted with what looked like raw mince.
He seemed angelic, his hair-helmet blown open, a crashed astronaut in the quiet woods – or perhaps a boy-devil kicked from heaven, his once holy face misshapen by the fall.
I don’t remember what I screamed but a circling murder of crows above the dead turtles all cried in reply.
© Brentley 2011