Sibelius Lobey (Part 4 - Final Part)
I stayed awake for as long as I could, in case Diane decided on a night ambush, and just before I fell to sleep I heard the front door open and close, followed by the click of the screen door being eased shut rather than just allowed to slap back. There was the sound of the car starting, with that hiccup of the engine that Papa shook his head at every time we went anywhere. I wondered, sleepily, where he was going.
The next day being Sunday, there was no question of going to the creek, and even a busted knee couldn’t get me out of putting on my Sunday clothes and trailing to church, hot and uncomfortable, with Mama and Papa and Diane. Papa always looked almost as reluctant as Diane and I did when it came to getting all dressed up on a Sunday. I sometimes wondered whether he would insist that we went, if Mama wasn’t there. The Southeys hadn’t been to church since their mother left. Lucas and Danny were even allowed to go to the creek on a Sunday.
After the service all us kids stood around outside the church while the mothers conversed and the fathers exchanged nods and brief words. We were just about to start the trail back down Duclos Street when Sheriff Rainley’s black-and-white whipped round the corner and pulled up in a cloud of dust. The sheriff got out and stood for a moment, his back against the car. He looked straight to where Papa and Mr Crawley were standing, and his face was the colour of chalk.
Sibelius Lobey had fallen from the higher of the ledges above the deep side of the pool and been impaled on the sharp rocks below. A few weeks later, Diane and I read the local newspaper’s accounts of the inquest, when Mama and Papa weren’t around. Papa and Mr Crawley told them about the morning Sibelius Lobey stood in Kilcannon Drive, twisting his crooked smile and his glittering eyes from one side to the other. Papa said Sibelius Lobey had been frightening kids with stories about Korea, and so Papa and Mr Crawley and Mr Southey had called on him, that Saturday night, to tell him that was wrong, and to see if they could persuade him to talk to someone about the things that troubled him. The visit hadn’t lasted long.
Everyone was surprised at the level of alcohol in Sibelius Lobey’s blood, because he never usually drank. Some people thought he’d been drinking for the courage to go to the creek in the middle of the night and throw himself onto the rocks. Others thought the visit from old friends reminded him of his childhood, of the days when they used to spend their vacations diving into the water and burning their skin in the sun, and so he had gone back to remember and he had just slipped. I thought about what Papa said, about memories sometimes being more real to Sibelius Lobey than what was around him. A piece of torn checked cloth and some spatters of blood were found by the old railroad track, and the inquest decided this showed Sibelius Lobey was so drunk he’d fallen there on his way to the creek.
I had no doubt who was responsible for his death. If I hadn’t gone home that afternoon, and told Mama about Sibelius Lobey talking to Diane and me, so that she told Papa and then they asked Diane, who told them more about it, so that Papa and Mr Crawley and Mr Southey went to see Sibelius Lobey – if none of that had happened, then he would never have gotten drunk and gone to the creek and tipped off the rock ledge. It was all my fault.
No-one went to the creek after that. Kids gathered in each other’s houses and back yards, or congregated at the rocky outcrop where the road turned towards the rocks, where I had sat, bemused by the sun, on the day Mr Crawley took me home and I killed Sibelius Lobey. I didn’t join them. I stayed at home, on my own in my room mainly. The week before school was due to start, Papa came in there again. I was sitting at my window with my sketch pad, drawing Mama’s white oleander bush.
Papa stood watching me for a minute before saying awkwardly, ‘That’s good, Jeff.’ After a moment he continued, ‘Are you okay? You’re spending a lot of time holed up in here. You never go out with the other kids now.’
I carefully traced the line of the plump flowers onto the paper. How could I go out with the other kids? I wasn’t a kid any more. I’d killed Sibelius Lobey. ‘It’s like Mama said. The sun doesn’t suit me.’
He hesitated. ‘How about we get you a new mitt, and we can do some practice in the yard?’
I started shading the flowers. ‘Yeah. Maybe.’
Papa said, ‘Just don’t keep things all bottled up, Jeff. Don’t let things eat away at you.’
‘Don’t let it fester. I know,’ I said.
‘Eventually Papa said, ‘I’ll see about a new mitt for you.’
‘Yeah. That’d be good.’
I was grateful that he never did.
Gradually, life returned to normal in the dusty streets of our small town. No-one talked about Sibelius Lobey any more. By the end of that year, there were other things to talk about, as details of the massacre at My Lai, the slaughter of women, old people, children and babies, penetrated even our little corner of the world. Mama and most of our neighbours were loudly implacable in their view that no soldier should face a court, but Papa was less vocal. He was disinclined to enter any conversation about it, and often turned off the radio or the TV when it was mentioned. Just before Christmas, Mr Southey took Lucas and Danny to Los Angeles, where his cousin got him a job building things for a film studio. They never returned. Lucas went into real estate when he grew up. I saw a picture of him in a newspaper once, portly and slick in a smart suit, a cigar nestled between gold-ringed fingers. Danny, of course, became a rock star. Danny South, frontman of Southern Shadow. I never saw an interview with him when he didn’t talk about the trauma of his mother leaving, and the day he was first to the creek one summer morning, the first to see a body lying shattered on the rocks, and the first to run and raise the alarm. We heard he stood stock still and screamed for ten minutes straight, and Lucas had to smack his face to make him stop. I guess Danny’s memories of the day are just different.
Diane was thirty-four when the mutations that the sun infiltrated into her skin, on those long hot days, finished festering and showed themselves. She died from the melanoma. My beautiful, feisty, clever sister, who knew everything even when she said she didn’t, and who would have protected me against anyone at the same time she was planning to kill me herself.
A couple of years before that there was a Christmas holiday, when we were both home, when I told her what I’d found out about No Gun Ri.
We were sitting on the porch swing, looking across Kilcannon Drive to the Crawley house. Our parents were at somebody’s Christmas party, where the numbers were limited so Diane and I were not required to attend.
As usual, she knew more than I did. ‘It wasn’t My Lai,’ she said. ‘At No Gun Ri they fired on Korean refugees. They weren’t raping children, like at My Lai.’
‘Still,’ I said.
She looked at me. ‘Papa wasn’t at No Gun Ri. Or Bill Crawley or Chris Southey. Or Sibelius Lobey.’
‘Yes. I looked up the records for their outfit.’
‘So you thought it too.’
She shrugged. ‘Maybe.’
I said, ‘Sibelius Lobey talked about all the Pinkvilles and the No Gun Ri’s.’
‘What are you going to do? Ask Papa for a list of all the places he went in Korea, and check them off against atrocities?’
‘Maybe. Why not? Maybe we should know. Don’t you want to know?’
She didn’t reply.
I said, ‘Have you ever thought about what happened the night Sibelius Lobey died.’
‘Jeff – ‘
‘I think he was going to tell everyone,’ I said. ‘Whatever it was, I think he was going to tell everyone. Because he saw himself as the conscience for all of them.’
She said quietly, ‘And?’
I looked across to the window where Bill Crawley and his wife had stood, watching Sibelius Lobey. ‘They had a lot to lose,’ I said. ‘If it all came out and if, whatever it was, it was like My Lai. Or even No Gun Ri. I mean, children, Diane. It makes me wonder just what little girl he was telling to run away from a soldier who looked like Papa.’ I started to explain it to her. ‘He was burned up with it all, and he couldn’t understand why they weren’t. He couldn’t understand how Papa and Bill and Chris just got on with their lives, got married, had kids, went to church – how they could do all that as if the other stuff never happened. Maybe that’s why he stayed, after his mother died. To remind them that forgetting doesn't bring redemption.’
‘Or,’ said my sister, ‘Sibelius Lobey just fell apart in the war, like so many do, and he was burning up with envy that he couldn’t manage to have what the others had.’ She took my hand. ‘Jeff, you need to think very carefully about this, because we’ve got a lot to lose too.’
‘I’m not going to turn Papa in for murder or war crimes. I just want to know.’
‘Do you?’ she asked.
I looked across Kilcannon Drive at the Crawley house and the Lyle house. I could smell the scent of Mama’s white oleander. I thought about the old baseball mitt that still rested on the top of my bureau. Then I thought about Sibelius Lobey, patrolling our town every morning in his self-appointed role as the conscience that nobody wanted, on some sort of guard duty against some sort of enemy that was already here.
‘I think he was trying to protect us,’ I said.
She sighed. ‘You don’t owe him anything, Jeff. Whatever happened, it wasn’t your fault, or mine. We just happened to be the kids walking down Louis Avenue that morning. You might just as well say it was the Jensen boys’ fault for getting drafted. Perhaps that was the trigger.’ Neither of the Jensens came back from Vietnam.
‘You think it’s okay to just forget it?’
‘I don’t know.’ She squeezed my hand. I waited. ‘Honestly,’ she said, ‘I don’t know.’
I continued weighing up the oleander and the baseball mitt, and the quiet peace of Kilcannon Drive, against the images of Sibelius Lobey on his patrol or tipping, hopefully too drunk to care, off the ledge and towards the sharp rocks beneath. I weighed it up for the next two years, and then Diane was diagnosed and everything else receded into a grey mist of inconsequence. Afterwards Papa and Mama were so shattered by her loss that it would have been the cruellest of strokes. Mama passed some years ago, but I still visit Papa every few months in the house on Kilcannon Drive, where a girl in a crisp white uniform comes to help with his meals and see that he comes to no harm. Sometimes I look at Papa, sitting in his easy chair, his hands unsteady, his eyesight dimmed, and I try to imagine what ferocity Sibelius Lobey wanted to warn Diane against.
Sometimes it's easier not to know. And sometimes it isn't.