Keeper

He should have walked away.

He’d only ever seen that amount of money on TV but he knew it was always trouble, particularly when it came in an aluminium case like that. He should have just picked it up and left them both. Walked back along the track under those same old stars and stepped right in on Sharon, turned The Sale off and before she could say anything put the case on the table and opened it up. Opened it up and watched as her eyes grew wide.

It was harvest time and the hospital was hot and empty. The overhead fan turned slow—slow as his pulse, slow as the days.

Dain said that he’d run about flapping his arms and bawling so that he had to lie on top of him until he stopped but he didn’t remember that. He remembered them all standing round his bed. His father had smacked Dain’s ears and told him to watch for his younger brother and said words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘should know better’. His mother had just sobbed and kissed him and then cuffed Dain’s ears and sobbed some more. And while his parents were standing back talking to the doctor who was saying words like ‘permanent damage’ and ‘live a normal life’, the two boys faced each other. Then Dain smiled that smile, and he’d smiled back and then Dain started talking about flying cars and off ramps and take-off velocity and they’d been laughing so hard…

Trouble. One word he could read no problems, no matter how it was written. He read it in the way his brother was standing, all restless, kicking the ground and looking up at the sky. Right there he knew it wasn’t worth saying anything. He could have yelled the house down, read him a dictionary for all the good it would have done.

They were standing on the side of the road in the dark and Jeffie kept seeing the gleam of Ivory’s sharp little smile. The two men are doing the same thing over again: Dain’s saying words like ‘remuneration’ and Ivory’s saying things like ‘an item’s origins’ and next thing they’re in the ute. Dain was leaning out and directing, Ivory squeezed in between and Jeffie was driving.

‘Just along here,’ said Dain as they bumped and crashed their way through saplings and bushes finally stopping at the edge of the quarry.

The quarry was bright as day and a hundred feet down the water was fiery blue. Strange, Jeffie thought, there was that tree, the same one that he crashed out of all those years ago.

When he finally came home his reading wasn’t right. He never was that good at it but now he looked at the words on the page and they reminded him of something but whatever it was mostly stayed just out of reach. Dain sat with him through those autumn afternoons and read—Asimov, Poul Anderson, Clarke, Galaxy, Amazing Stories, Orb. Jeffie tried to follow the words on the page but mostly he’d just close his eyes and listen to his brother running on with the stories. Stories of spaceships and green-sky worlds and silver spires and cars flying through the air.

***

He should have stayed in the ute.

Stayed and listened to the radio but instead they all clambered down into the quarry. At the bottom Dain ran ahead into the glare. The light was brighter and brighter and by the time he caught up Dain was standing and staring. It was all blue and there was girlie-choir music coming from somewhere and all Dain could say was, ‘I knew it,’ over and over.
Then Ivory came up behind them and told them about the C’Mell saying words like ‘wildest dreams’ and ‘a race who’ve lost their spark’ and Dain was saying ‘it’s true’ again and again.

***

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