Sibelius Lobey (Part 3)
By late morning it was so hot my head was aching, and even frequent dips in the water didn’t make it better. I wanted to go home, but to go home when you could be at the creek was unnatural behaviour that would get you talked about. I wondered how Diane managed. She sat in the full glare of the sun, apparently unaffected, her long legs stretched out in front of her, her blonde head tilted back as though she didn’t want to miss a single one of the sun’s rays. She didn’t even seem to be sweating. I felt jealous. She looked totally at ease, occupying her rightful space in the sun, whereas I was hot and awkward and misplaced even in my allotted slot on the babies’ side. I got up to take another dip in the water, slipped, and crashed my knee against the rocks. Blood started trickling down my shin.
‘Looks bad,’ said Danny, with interest.
It did, and it hurt, and I wanted to go home.
‘It’ll wash off in the pool,’ Danny told me. He scrunched up his face. ‘Unless there’s sharks in the river. They come if they smell blood.’
I wiped my leg with my hand. ‘Sharks live in the ocean.’
He shook his head. ‘Bull sharks live in rivers. I saw it on TV.’
‘This isn’t the river,’ I argued. ‘A shark couldn’t get up the creek.’
‘Maybe a baby one.’
The blood was reaching my ankle. ‘I don’t care about a baby shark.’
‘But suppose you kicked it, and its mom came looking for it?’
‘Oh yeah, Danny, how would its mom know I kicked it?’
Danny shrugged. ‘Moms know.’ Then he stopped, and his lip trembled.
‘I’m going in,’ I said quickly. ‘Coming?’
He shook his head.
The water made my knee sting more, and it looked to me as if there was enough blood to attract any number of Bull sharks up the river. I got out and went over to where Diane was sitting, aware that my normally slight limp was now acutely obvious.
‘I cut my knee.’
She looked at me without sympathy. ‘What am I supposed to do about it?’ She got meaner when she was with the others.
‘I’m going home.’
There was a moment’s hesitation while she decided between getting a row off Mama for letting me walk home by myself with a busted knee, or leaving Lucas to the other girls. It was no real contest. ‘Okay. See ya.’ I thought she must really be in love if she was prepared to risk a row off Mama.
By the time I got to where the track turned back into road, I was crying. My knee hurt and my head was raging. I could imagine Danny Southey telling everyone I was a baby for not just letting it bleed in the water until it stopped, and he would probably tell them I was afraid of sharks, and they would laugh, although the sharks weren’t even my idea. I could feel the sun burning into the back of my neck, and then I began to feel nauseous, and everything around me went swimmy.
I sat down by the side of the road. If I died here it would serve Diane right.
A car pulled in beside me. ‘Jeff?’ It was Mr Crawley. ‘What’s the matter? You hurt?’
I opened my mouth and threw up all over my bloodied knee.
Mr Crawley cleaned me up a bit before he put me in the car and took me home. Mama gave me a large glass of water and a cool bath, bandaged my knee and put me to bed with the blinds down. I was woken by the sound of Diane’s tearful shouting, Mama’s softest, iciest voice, and then Papa speaking in the stern voice we hardly ever heard. I wondered if watching Lucas Southey climb out of the pool had been worth it.
Mama opened my door a few minutes later. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘Okay.’ I kept it non-committal. Diane might get some more if they thought I was really sick.
Mama came and sat on the bed. ‘I told you to be careful of those rocks.’
‘I just slipped.’
She brushed my forehead with her fingers. ‘You should wear a hat, Jefferson, out there in the sun.’
I considered what hell my life would be if I turned up at the creek in a hat. ‘Diane doesn’t have to wear a hat.’
‘Some people just react more to the sun. It doesn’t affect Diane the same way.’
To change the subject I said, ‘We saw Sibelius Lobey on our way to the creek.’
She raised her eyebrows. ‘What was he doing this time?’
‘Just standing by his house. He spoke to Diane.’
‘What did he say?’
‘Something about Pinkville. And Nogunry.’
She frowned. ‘What?’
‘It’s really called Meal-Eye…’
She interrupted. ‘I know that. The other thing. What’s that?’
‘I don’t know.’
She was silent for a moment. I wondered if she thought that I, like Diane, would follow ‘I don’t know’ with something that showed I really did know. Eventually she asked, ‘Did he say anything else?’
‘He said the Jensen boys wouldn’t be the same when they came back.’ Suddenly I didn’t want to tell her what else he’d said, about running away from a soldier that looked like our father, and redemption and remorse and guilt.
She shook her head. ‘Sibelius Lobey is a troubled man, Jefferson, and I guess we just have to pray for him. But he’s got no business talking about things like that to you. I’ll speak to your father.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said.
‘It does. These things don’t concern children.’ She stood up. ‘Do you want something to eat?’
I thought about having to sit across from Diane at the dinner table. ‘No, thank you.’
‘Do you want to get up for a while?’
I would be no safer sitting on the couch. ‘No. I’ll just stay here.’
I lay in bed, listening to the sounds of the meal being served. Mama had opened my window, and the gentlest of breezes was bearing the scent of oleander, heavier with the evening. My head still ached, but I no longer felt nauseous. I thought about Rick and Corey Jensen, nearly a week gone now, and about Papa, Mr Crawley, Mr Southey and Sibelius Lobey, going off to Korea. And before them Mr Lyle, going off to fight the Japs. Maybe Diane was right. Maybe wars did go on for ever. Maybe they just changed the name.
I drifted off to sleep, and when I opened my eyes the light outside was much softer. Papa was standing by my bed. ‘Hey. I didn’t mean to wake you.’
‘It’s okay.’ I felt awkward. Papa rarely came into our rooms. He was looking around as though reminding himself of something, and then he smiled. ‘You kept that old baseball mitt? You could darn near fit your whole arm into that when I first got it for you.’
The baseball mitt had always sat on the top of my bureau. It hadn’t been used in a long while. I was too lopsided to be good at baseball.
He sat on the bed. ‘You feeling better?’
‘I guess so.’
He looked around the room again and then back at me. ‘So. Mama told me about Sibelius Lobey speaking to you and Diane.’
‘It doesn’t matter.’
‘I asked Diane about it. She said he spoke a lot of stuff about his conscience.’
I wondered if Diane had told them about the other thing Sibelius Lobey said. ‘Not about his conscience. He said someone had to be the conscience. What did he mean?’
Papa shook his head. ‘I don’t know, Jeff. But Sibelius Lobey - you know, he isn’t weird or nuts or any of those things people say. But sometimes he lives in his own world. Sometimes he loses track of things.’
I considered this. ‘You mean he doesn’t know where he is?’
Papa looked down at the bedcover and then back at me. ‘Not exactly. Sometimes memories come back and they seem more real than what’s around him now.’
‘Memories of Korea?’
‘You mean he thought Diane and me were someone else?’
His voice was quieter than I could remember hearing it. ‘In a way.’
I shook my head. ‘But he knew who we were. He said our names. No, not our names. Your name.’
Papa was very still. ‘Diane told me. What he said.’
I pressed my lips together, because I was afraid to ask what Sibelius Lobey had meant.
‘Sometimes things take a long time to come out, Jeff. Sometimes it’s best for them not to come out at all. Sometimes it’s better all round if you make up your mind not to remember.’
I thought about what Sibelius Lobey had said, about not forgetting.
Papa went on, ‘But sometimes, if things come out a long time after the event, years maybe, sometimes it’s worse, because they’ve just been festering. It’s like a wound that goes bad if it’s not treated right.’
I asked, ‘What is it, that’s been…festering? In Sibelius Lobey.’
He smiled. ‘I don’t know, Jeff. It may not even be real. People don’t always remember things exactly the way they happened.’ He gently patted the bedclothes over my injured knee. ‘I’m thinking maybe your sister will choose to remember this afternoon differently than you.’ He stood up. ‘Goodnight, son. Don’t you give another thought to Sibelius Lobey.’ He looked towards the bureau, and chuckled. ‘That old baseball mitt. Your whole arm, Jeff. Darn near your whole arm.’
A few minutes after he’d gone, the door softly opened again. Diane stood there.
I pulled the cover up to my chin.
She advanced towards the bed. ‘Because of you,’ she hissed, ‘I can’t go to the creek for a week. All because you’re too much of a baby to just wash it off in the water, like everyone else. All because you can’t walk home on your own without falling over, cripple boy.’ She bent down, and her voice was as dangerously soft as Mama’s. ‘I’ll get you, Jefferson Bailey. I will.’
She straightened up and moved away, and I called after her, ‘Lucas Southey calls his girlfriend My Lay.’ I still had no idea what it meant, but I thought Diane might.
She stopped and looked back. ‘What do you know about Lucas Southey’s girlfriend?’
‘I know it isn’t you.’
Mama’s voice came from the living room. ‘You going to your bed, Diane?’
‘Yes, Mama.’ My sister’s eyes were like fire. It was going to be a long week.