Uttuku

The Books of Darkness

by Robert N. Stephenson

Table of Contents
Chapter 13

part 2 of 2


Finding the true author of Steven’s book was proving more difficult than I expected. His contacts wouldn’t speak to me, or would have little or nothing of value to say. My yearning for Samantha increased the more I probed into Steven Opie’s life. I kept seeing them together whenever I ventured down Rundle Street to have coffee. Him in his baggy clothes and unkempt hair, Samantha in short skirts and revealing tops. How could she love such a man? How could she have shared my bed and not thought anything of it?

In an effort to find what I wanted, I attended every writers’ workshop I could find. I felt driven, felt determined, and in my quieter times, I felt obsessed.

Completing and meeting my latest novel deadline, which was a task considering the time I was spending away from the computer, I had more money in the bank and more resources at hand to continue my search for the truth. Someone had written that book, or at least the original draft it had come from. I knew it, and I suspected others had thought of the idea but were just too self-interested to care.

Steven and Samantha had been swanning around like the greatest couple since Brad and Ange. I knew jealousy drove me as much as anything else, and that all the tension was messing with my body. Late periods, stomach cramps and constipation, but if I was proven right, it was worth it. And if I also got the girl, that was even better.

I grabbed my coat off the back of my chair, and the keys from the hall stand. I had a writers’ meeting to attend tonight, a new one. Perhaps this one would turn up that much needed evidence.

* * *

“He was going to kill me!” I’d started yelling again. I’d been yelling at Sarina for the last hour. She’d brought me back to the apartment, took blood from my wrist so I could sleep. Eight hours later I was alive enough to let her have it right in the face. “You sent me out to die, you selfish bitch.”

Sarina said nothing. She’d said nothing since I let my emotion spew all over her. She must have known what Orlando was planning, she must have known I would be in danger; otherwise why send Jacko with me? I stormed about her front room, clenching and releasing my fists, waiting between barrages to get my wind back, to find greater strength in my voice.

My face was wet with tears, my white, yes white,singlet soaked with perspiration. I’d had enough. Because of her I’d been forced out of my home, made a suspect in a suspicious death and had my life put in danger. I’m a writer, I write stuff like this, I don’t live it. I’m not Amalia, the super Goth-girl. I’m Diana, the positive and slightly forward lesbian woman.

“Are you ready to talk?” Sarina asked. Her first words since my ranting began.

“Talk! Talk!” I stood directly in front of her. “What’s there to talk about?” I couldn’t control the screaming. “You damn well bit me again as well.” I stuck my bandaged wrist in her face. “You’ve got a hell of a lot of explaining to do, girl, and you’re damn lucky I don’t just kill you myself.” My energy was waning. Breathing became harder, deeper.

“I didn’t know he wanted to kill you,” she said, placid, unemotional.

“What did you know?” I managed a half-yell, but kept pacing.

“I just wanted to know why he’s been following me. Following us.”

I stormed into her bedroom, grabbed a jacket from her wardrobe, my purse and went out. I didn’t want to talk any more.

The waves, black at night with white crests created a low murmur over the beach: a relaxing sound often compared to the sound of the womb. I ate fish and chips and had brought a six-pack of beer, Heineken. I rarely drank beer; right now the bitterness matched my mood.

Light bobbed on the water a long way from shore. Fishermen. The jetty, alive with anglers and couples out for an evening walk, despite the winter freeze, caste its light over the beach. The sand, usually bright white in the day, took on the colour of parchment.

My father used to bring me to the beach when I was a kid, especially after Mum had drunk herself into a frenzy. Those had been happy times. I was still daddy’s little girl then. I hadn’t seen my Dad in five years, not since Mum’s funeral. Liver cancer, which I expected, seeing as she was an alcoholic. Dad had been polite, but refused to talk to me beyond hello. I wasn’t the daughter he wanted, so as far as he was concerned I died the day he found out I was gay.

The night air, cold, the breeze even colder off the sea, caused me to shiver. The cold beer numbed the nerves and the battered fish settled the knots in my stomach. I’d searched the dark place beneath the jetty, no one watched me, the beach was mostly deserted.

Cool sand, fine and soft, squeezed up between my toes as I wriggled my feet down until they were covered. I still felt angry. The sound of water crashing on the shore, and the smell of seaweed had leached much of its rawness away. The taste of beer filled my mouth. Three empties lay beside me, the white papers of the fish and chips held down by their weight.

What was I to do now? Eventually I’d have to go back to Sarina’s. I’d sleep on the couch. Tomorrow I’d have to go home and decide what needed to be done. Orlando was after me, or more to the point, the book I’d briefly seen. I didn’t have the manuscript, even though I had read part of it. I didn’t know what it meant, I didn’t even know why the old man who’d given it to me had sought me out. Evil was after me, all because of Steven.

Do I tell Sarina I knew what Orlando wanted? It was a difficult question. I had grown to like her and the strange mannerisms. Black also had its moments: getting used to it would have taken some effort; I was prepared to make the effort. Now? Confusion. There were just too many mixed feelings, too many problems to deal with, too much to consider. Last night I thought there had been a connection between us, a developing understanding. My gut said good things; was it wrong this time?

I felt a presence beside me. I turned to see Sarina sit down in the sand a little back and away to the right. She hugged her legs to her chest, put her chin on her knees. She didn’t speak. I looked out to sea and the bobbing lights. The last of my current bottle slipped down my throat, and I dropped it into the pile. Even though the sky was clear, the lights from the jetty dulled the stars and only a few in the distance could be seen.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice soft beneath the crash of waves.

“So you should be.” It came out curt, nasty.

“If I’d known he wanted to kill you I wouldn’t have let you go.” I listened, afraid my next answer would be too cruel. “I don’t want anything to happen to you, Diana.”

“You should have thought about that last night.” I looked her way, she was still just looking out at the water. “Jacko’s dead because of this.”

“I know.” She sounded dejected. The mostly even-tempered Sarina sounded hurt.

“I have to find a place to live.” I opened another bottle.

“Every night I come down here and look at the stars. Take in the enormity of the universe. Everyone needs to put their lives into perspective sometimes. Even an Uttuku.” The words came from somewhere deep in her. They touched me. Her voice a caress I wasn’t expecting. I didn’t want to look at her, didn’t want to break the spell she’d just woven. I had to see. The heart that beat blood to my mind, temper and frustration needed to see the speaker of these words. In peripheral vision I watched.

Sarina stood, face pointed to the sky. Without another word she turned and walked away. The sound of the sea cushioned my thoughts, the beer drowned, killed the pain. It was my turn to look to the stars.

* * *

We were all outside the church before Steven’s service. Only Samantha looked my way at first, and the look was reproachful, soon others joined in the staring. I squared myself. Holding a small wreath tightly in my hand. I had a right to be here. On seeing me, reporters rushed forward, microphones pressed into my space, men and women yelling over each other. Question after question fired like bullets into my chest.

“How do you feel?”

“Did you see this coming?”

“Do you feel any guilt for what you’ve done?”

I pushed through them. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the answers, it was I couldn’t believe the answers I’d given myself. The justifications. Steven killed himself because I told his publisher he had plagiarized his latest book. I should have spoken more to Steven about it first, should have met with him and Samantha about what might have been done to avoid the scandal, but no. I chose to bring him down. I thought of only myself and what I wanted.

I thought of Uri. Steven had put the poor old man in danger, and he was dead as well. Did Samantha know about him? I had wanted to tell the reporters about this, only I would have also been exposed to questioning. Why didn’t I tell the police? How did the book I’d seen get back into Steven’s hands?

I’d denied, at first, contacting Steven’s publisher, but Maxine didn’t waste a lot of time dropping my name. What a mess all this had become. Steven’s actions were explained away as his depression and his being a troubled but brilliant soul. I had become the murderer, the one who’d turned against one of their own. Though I didn’t really want to admit it openly, I had become a victim of my own doing.

Samantha’s look, reproachful as it was, didn’t seem directly aimed at me. She almost looked pleased with herself. Beside her was her mother, a large woman in a blue crimpaline suit. She wore white stockings, the kind diabetics wear to help with circulation. A dragon of a woman if I’d ever met. She hated Steven. She enjoyed the trappings he brought to her through Samantha. Standing before the old Church, its dirty grey sandstone walls competing with the straight sides of office buildings, I thought I was better than the others. My motives might have been skewed, but what I’d done had also been right.

Julian Westwood, a big man in a grey suit, one of Steven’s friends, blocked my path up the steps. I tried to walk around him. He just moved in front of me. Face, bearded and pocked on the cheeks, stared at me in suppressed anger. I could smell his BO, feel his tension.

“You’re not welcome here, Ms Arden.”

“I can either come in, or I can talk to them.” I indicated the reporters. He looked over my shoulder, then up the stairs to where Samantha was standing. Deep down I wanted to hold her and say how sorry I was, and to offer my shoulder and support. That path was closed to me now. Samantha nodded and he let me pass. I felt satisfaction, elation, all the wrong feelings to have at a funeral.


Copyright © 2009 by Robert N. Stephenson

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