Sibelius Lobey (Part Two)
We collected our swimming towels. My trunks and Diane’s swimsuit were already in place beneath our clothes.
‘Going to the creek,’ Diane announced at the kitchen door.
‘You mind those rocks,’ said Mama. She said this automatically, every time we went to the creek. No-one we knew had ever come to grief on the rocks.
I looked at Papa, who was standing looking out of the window at the place where Sibelius Lobey had stood looking at us with his creepy smile.
‘’Bye,’ I said.
He didn’t turn round. ‘’Bye, Jeff. You heed your mother now, Diane.’
Diane was half way down the path before I had finished negotiating the screen door. She stalked along in silence. Her long legs, in the blue Jamaica shorts Mama said she was really too old to wear, covered the ground at a pace I could barely keep up with.
‘Do we have to walk so fast?’
She shrugged. ‘You can walk as slow as you like, cripple boy.’ But she slowed her pace. As my sister, Diane had the right to be rude about my hip. She would verbally, and even sometimes physically, assault anyone else who was.
A few minutes later we turned into Clairmont Street, which was lazily occupied in the Saturday morning sun. Lawn sprinklers were already turning, a couple of cars were being waxed, a few small children were playing on porches or running in and out of the arcs of sprinkled water. I could smell the smoky, musky scent of water on parched earth. Papa always said it was a waste of water to sprinkle lawns when the sun was high. Our sprinkler never went on till the evening.
Half way down Clairmont Street was the Southey house. Danny was in my class at school, while Lucas was a year older than Diane. Their mother had left home two weeks before the vacation started, and Danny Southey kept peeing himself in class. Linny French said it was because he was traumatised. I didn’t know what that meant, but Linny’s father was a doctor so I assumed it meant Danny was sick. Linny knew all sorts of medical words no-one else did. She also said that Diane was in love with Lucas Southey, but I was reserving judgement on that one.
We turned into Louis Avenue. Despite its name, it was a narrow road with smaller, older wooden houses. Sibelius Lobey’s house was the one he had grown up in and moved back to after his mother’s funeral.
‘Oh Jeez,’ said Diane.
The road was empty except for the lone figure in jeans, cotton shirt and hiking boots standing by his front gate, leaning his hip against the flaking picket fence.
‘Let’s walk on the other side,’ Diane muttered. I followed her across the road. Both of us stared straight ahead. I suddenly became aware of each of my movements, each muscle of my legs, each flexing of my toes in my sneakers, each breath in and out. The tension in mine and my sister’s bodies crackled between us, and I knew she was feeling the same.
As we drew level with him he said, ‘Hey, girl.’
Diane quickened her pace, but then a shout came across the road. ‘Hey! Girl!’
She stopped. Ignoring an adult would have repercussions. Even if he was a nutjob. ‘Hullo, Mr Lobey.’
The words sounded odd and I realised this was the first time either of us had addressed him directly. Or heard anyone else do so. He had never been Mr Lobey. ‘Sibelius Lobey’ was as much description as name.
‘Come here, girl.’
For a few seconds she did not move. Then she took a step off the sidewalk, and looked back at me.
I shook my head slightly. He didn’t ask me.
The expression in her eyes threatened death.
We stood in the road, a couple of feet from Sibelius Lobey.
‘You’re Mike Bailey’s girl.’ His voice was a throaty bass rumble, like something reaching up from the depths of his belly.
‘Ever seen a soldier, girl?’
Even Diane was momentarily silenced by that one.
‘Huh, girl? Ever seen a soldier?’
‘My father was a soldier.’ She frowned. ‘With you. And Mr Crawley and Mr Southey.’
Sibelius Lobey took two steps towards us and leaned forward, until his face was just a couple of inches from Diane’s. She held her ground, looking steadily back at him. I thought he might smell of whiskey, like Mr Crawley, or old tobacco, like Mr Lyle, but his skin had a warm, soapy scent, and his clothes smelt the same as ours did after Mama washed them. ‘You see a soldier, girl, you run. You hear me? You run. Fast as you can. Even if he looks like your father.’ The glittering grey eyes never moved from her face. His voice got lower still, as though it was coming from the earth itself. ‘Especially if he looks like your father.’
Diane was motionless, and I felt sick as I realised that she wasn’t facing him down. She was just too scared to move.
He looked at me. ‘You Mike’s boy?’
I managed a nod.
The grey eyes examined me. ‘You fixing to be a soldier?’
‘You know those two boys gone off to be soldiers?’
My voice seemed to have dried in my throat, and a wispy, papery sound came out of my mouth. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Well, you’ll never see those two boys again. Never again. Oh you might see something that looks likes them. Something that sounds like them. But it won’t be them. Know how you’ll know that?’
‘No.’ I could barely hear my own voice.
‘Their eyes. Their eyes will tell you. Because they’ll hold everything those two boys have seen. Everything they have to look at every day. All the Pinkvilles, and the Nogunrys. All of it.’ He put a hand on my shoulder, and his thin fingers seemed to burn into my skin. ‘There’s no redemption without remorse, boy. There’s no remorse without guilt. There’s no guilt without acknowledging the crime. And there’s no acknowledging without a conscience.’ He shook his head, and the wisps of grey hair moved against his face. ‘You can’t just forget. No matter how much you try. Someone’s got to be the conscience.’ He took his hand off my shoulder and turned back to Diane. ‘Don’t forget, girl. You see a soldier, you run, and keep running.’
Suddenly Diane grabbed my hand and started pulling me away. She dragged me up Louis Avenue, half running, half walking, without even the politeness of a goodbye to Sibelius Lobey. She didn’t stop until we turned the corner.
She looked back. There was no-one on the road behind us, and she let go of my hand. ‘What the hell was that?’
‘I guess he really is nuts,’ I said. ‘What’s Pinkville and Nogunry?’
She shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Pinkville is this place in Vietnam. Some soldiers killed people they shouldn’t.’
‘Who did they kill?’
‘Civilians. Women and children.’
‘The Vietcong killed women and children?’
She shook her head. ‘Not the Vietcong. The GIs.’
She frowned. ‘Yeah, well, Lucas Southey says the gooks use women and children to hide stuff for them, bombs and guns and stuff, and they get the women and children to sneak up on the GIs and ambush them.’
I’d watched enough Ironside to know my criminal justice. ‘If the civilians were going to kill the GIs, it’s self-defence if the GIs kill them first.’
‘Of course. But, you know, all the protesters and hippies and stuff, they’re screaming about it, so there’s going to be a trial.’
‘A trial for the GIs?’
She nodded. ‘Some of them.’
I considered. ‘That’s not right.’
We started to walk again, Diane glancing behind her every now and then. The road began to slope upwards, becoming a steeper climb after about five minutes. The houses stopped and the asphalt became pitted, and then grainy, and rocks began to appear at the side. When the road was little more than a track it turned sharply to the right, around an outcrop of rock that looked as though someone had placed it there to warn that the landscape was about to change. On the other side, the path descended even more steeply than it had risen, and the creek appeared before us.
The rock formation had created an almost perfectly circular pool, beyond which the water cut its crooked path to the main river three miles away. On one side a series of underwater ledges gave a suitably shallow gradient for younger or more timid swimmers. On the other, two high rock shelves jutted out, exactly the right width to launch dives or jumps into the deeper water. There was a rough path up to them, but it wound round the back of the rocks and took a good five minutes to climb. Intrepid and impatient divers took the more direct route, measuring their way up the footholds and handholds in the rock, disregarding any scrapes or cuts.
When we arrived, Lucas Southey was just making his way up the rock face to the higher of the shelves. I glanced at Diane, whose eyes had become dreamy and sparkly at the same time. Maybe Linny French was right.
My sister went off to join the group, mainly girls, who were sitting round the spot where Lucas would climb out of the water after his dive. The pool had its rules. Younger kids could only progress over to the deep side when the older kids said so, older kids kept their eyes open for any younger ones who got into difficulties, and Lucas Southey, with his sun-bleached hair and lean torso, was king of the creek.
I made my way over to the shallow side, to join Danny Southey and a few others on the stubby grass and smaller rocks. I was old enough to apply for admission to the deep side, but had neither the social nor swimming confidence to do so. Besides, Diane would have vetoed it. She didn’t want me hanging around.
Danny wore his usual tremulous expression, as though any wrong word would make him cry. Or pee himself. Linny French said Mrs Southey had gone to live with a man who sold insurance in Lannisville.
Danny gazed at me dolefully. ‘Hey.’
I chose a position where the rocks provided some shade. In a couple of hours the sun would have shifted and there would be no respite from the sun at all. ‘Hey. Guess what?’
Danny looked as though he didn’t really care, but I told him anyway. ‘Sibelius Lobey’s gone really really weird.’
‘He’s always weird.’
‘No, I mean really nuts.’ I told him what had happened outside our house, and when we walked down Louis Avenue. Then I asked, ‘Do you know what Pinkville is?’
Danny nodded. ‘I saw it on TV. It’s what the GIs call this place in Vietnam. But it’s really called Meal-Eye.’
Danny scratched letters in the dusty earth. M-Y L-A-I. He grinned. ‘Lucas says that’s what he’s gonna call his girlfriend.’
I frowned. ‘Meal-Eye?’
Danny looked impatient. ‘My Lay. Gettit?’
I didn’t, but I smiled anyway.
‘But yeah,’ said Danny, ‘you really say it Meal-Eye.’
I looked over to where Diane was sitting, waiting for Lucas to come out of the water. ‘Who’s Lucas’s girlfriend?’
‘Anyone he wants.’ Danny looked proud.