The following text is an excerpt from my National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo) effort. Excerpts appear in no particular order.
The Dutch Uncle tells the story of Crijn, his sister Mariëlle, an Australian man named Jasper and his daughter Harriet (Harry). It is the story of lost loves, forgotten chances and the problems people create for themselves and others.
Billie Hunter died in the rain on a Tuesday afternoon. She died in a busy street in the rain. It was a strong, November rain and it fell with a Melbourne style of unrelenting purpose, as if to cleanse the roads, cleanse the trees, cleanse the rooftops and cleanse the souls of those who ran through the streets to find shelter. It fell out of a dark grey sky that seemed to have no end. It rained hard against the windows of shops and rendering the wipers on car windscreens all but useless. It splashed up from the road and the sidewalk and it drenched people in its path, instantly causing their hair and clothing and anything they carried with them to be completely wet. Wetter than wet. It fell and blew in a strong gusting wind, causing umbrellas to first be deluged and then blown inside out. It fell and blew on the corrugated rooftops of Brunswick making a noise so loud as to draw people to their windows to see the rain in its commotion.
Because it was a Melbourne rain in November it caused the day to be cold and now it was colder. The wind had a chill and the very rain seemed not to be rain, but cold enough to be somewhere just short of ice or snow. That was the rain of that November day. That was the rain that Billie Hunter died in; a strong, cold, cleansing, unrelenting, blowing, drenching, loud, ice-like rain.
Her last words were to her husband Jasper and they were shouted at him through the wet glass of a window, in that pouring November rain. She ran out of the bar and onto the sidewalk; so upset that she did not care about the rain. Typical of Billie; she was wearing a cotton summer dress and long leather boots. It was freezing cold and she didn’t care. Her emotions drove her outside and she would have gone outside naked had she already been in a state of undress. That was her mind. Once her emotional state took hold, she didn’t care about things like cold, fashion, rain, eye colours or hairstyles. She was a carefree soul who cared less about the weather and how it should match fashion and she cared even less about fashion. She dressed herself exclusively in second-hand clothes purchased from Opportunity Shops.
So it was on this day, when she died in the rain, that she stood there, looking back at the building, soaking wet and her brown hair hung down in wet locks, gathered around her face, revealing her ears and her slender neck. The cold of the rain and the wind against her skin caused the large muscles of her body to tense and the minute muscles on her tanned arms and legs, those muscles at the base of each tiny hair, the arrector pili muscles contracted and pulled the hair erect.
The rain drenched her dress within seconds and now, as each moment passed, the wetness of the fabric clung to her petite body revealing hint of sensual lace. Soon her lingerie line, no longer required a tactile reveal but became obviously visual as if seeping, melting its way through the light wet cotton of her dress. The wet material now glued to her breasts, her stomach and hips, it gripped her body and revealed the firmness and roundness of her behind, the peach shape as it connected to the athletic legs. Water ran down her arms and her jewellery dangled on her wrists.
Her eye makeup ran and blackened her eyes and cheeks. She stopped, turned to face the building, yelled and then looked into the window, quietly, longing for a moment; as if wishing she was back inside; as though she was on the wrong side of a border, looking back across at safer ground. Suddenly, she smiled her beautiful white toothed smile and then the smile returned to a solemn expression. Then once again she smiled, only this time a closed mouth smile, a sad smile. Without looking, she turned her face and her body and quickly ran onto the road. The timing of her turn toward the road and her steps from the sidewalk onto the road in front of the bus that struck her was faultless, almost in one movement. She no sooner positioned her body completely onto the road than she was struck by the bus in a moment of perfect chaotic choreography. Her mind racing, she heard nothing but the rain drenching and splashing on the road, the sound of car tyres hissing as they forced water from their narrow rubber trenches along the soaked road. As she left the pavement, in the very same instant she registered the sound of a voice screaming “Look out!” She immediately recognised the sound of warning, in that split second, that disorientating feeling of not knowing what was happening, of hearing a warning, but not realising it was for you, of hearing something that took your attention away from your thoughts. It was a feeling of not knowing what to look out for. In that moment; in that one single moment, a thought travelled from her brain to turn her head to see what the warning was about and before her body could act upon it, she felt the air knocked out of her body by a powerful and agonising blow, excruciating pain, uncertainty, fear – and then – nothingness.
The speed of the bus and the timing of Billie’s step onto the road meant that the bus driver did not break until after the massive vehicle struck the young woman and so she was lifted up some considerable distance and came to rest back in the middle of the sidewalk. Her lovely young body was broken by the impact and as police and paramedics on the scene later testified, she most likely died before she hit the ground.
Jasper didn’t hear her last words. He only heard the sound of the door close followed by the sound of the rain outside on the roof and against the window. That noise swallowed up anything that was yelled through the tears outside the front door. Billie’s words were like the water disappearing down the drain. Said and then lost. Told and if not heard, then never heard. A tree falling in the forest. So Jasper only heard the sound of the rain. That and then the sound of someone running into the bar and hysterically calling his name; a sound that was at first unrecognisable, only that he knew something terrible had happened, and that he was unable to immediately understand what it is and then all too quickly, the sounds and the words all started to be filed by his mind into the right pigeon holes and the images started to take shape in his head. At the same time, hope entered his mind and tried to present a counter view of the situation; trying to suggest that somehow the terrible thing that was being explained to him was not be as bad as it first sounded, as though the messenger somehow made a mistake, somehow made a mountain out of molehill.
Outside in the rain a crowd was gathered around the mountain that unfolded and Jasper immediately knew before taking a second step from his front door that his hope was terribly, terribly misplaced. The sound that rushed into the bar was right. The voice was telling the truth.
People gathered. Gathered, there in the rain. Some kneeling down, others behind them standing and looking around, others running and moving quickly in different directions, some on cell phones, some hugging others, and none able to do anything to change the tragedy that just happened.
On the road was a stationary bus, cars backed up behind the bus and more people moving and gathering. Before too long emergency sirens could be heard and the police arrived, soon followed by paramedics – all too late, but all there to do what needed to be done and the scene looked like tragic scenes look, only this tragic scene was in the rain.
The rest of the day was a blur to Jasper. Everything after Billie left the bar had been pictured in his mind in a haze. He also couldn’t remember much about the day in the lead up to her death; what he’d been doing, what he was wearing, what had been done or said in the morning. What he could remember vividly though was the argument that they were having, and the reason they were having it loomed large. The fight that made her so angry; angry enough to make her run outside and die in the rain. He couldn’t remember, nor could he understand where she was running to, but he knew very well why she ran and it filled him with an unending, bottomless deep and guilt ridden shame. It wasn’t like every argument ended with her running out onto the road. Even the bad ones never lead to that. It wasn’t as though there was anywhere else to go, that crossing the road would lead to. It perplexed him for so long that in desperate irrational moments he wondered if perhaps she’d thrown herself in front of the bus on purpose. Certainly, he pondered on the idea that perhaps the argument was enough for her to want to say enough. Either way, he couldn’t remember much about the events of the day. For the weeks and months and years that followed, it remained a blur. A long time after Billie’s death Jasper recalled that he couldn’t remember that night walking up the stairs to the apartment. He couldn’t remember his neighbour Con helping him to close the bar early so that the police could sit inside and ask questions of the witnesses. He couldn’t remember if Harry had anything to eat before she went to bed. He couldn’t remember how he managed to get to bed. He couldn’t remember anything. The thing that haunted him the most was that he somehow went to bed and could not remember if he lay there acknowledging that Billie wasn’t in their bed. He had drifted off to sleep without thinking about the emptiness beside him.
What he could remember was that Billie had run out into the pouring rain, on a Tuesday in November. He could remember telling his daughter Harry to stay quiet during his argument with Billie. He could remember those things and he could remember the sound of his neighbour Con running in to his bar screaming and sobbing Jasper! Jasper! Oh my God Jasper! Oh my God, It’s Billie, come quickly. Those words, and the rain stuck in his memory. Any time he thought of Billie, all he heard was the sound of Con sobbing and all he could see in his mind was the rain on the window. Rain on the window and a drenched Con running into him in desperation.
Billie died on a Tuesday in the rain and Jasper forever hated rainy days. A week later she was buried in Melbourne’s psychotic opposite; a 36 Degrees Celsius November day.