tagNovels and NovellasSomething Else Ch. 23-24

Something Else Ch. 23-24



Mum, he's gone! I've looked everywhere.

She was verging on hysteria. She'd run around the house, the sheds and other out buildings, fearing the unspeakable. Then she'd jumped in David's ute and driven around for half an hour.

He's only as far as he can walk in this rain. There're the hills up the back, the creek, the main road...there was a pause. She could almost hear her mother's mind clicking over. Just hearing her business-like voice helped her slow her breathing. But when she spoke again she sounded less confident. Did you say you checked the dam?

She hadn't. She also hadn't mentioned the trail of vomit that was still evident out the front.

After an extended silence her mother's voice had lost its steadiness. Jodie-girl, that's where he'll be. Wait for us to come round.

No. She gripped the phone in terror. Mum, no. Everything'll be fine! I'll go and get him. I'll call you when we're back. She slammed down the receiver, noticing for the first time the dressing gown strewn across the floor.

Drunk. Out in the cold beating rain, god knows how long. She raided David's linen cupboard and pulled out a pile of towels and a blanket. Gritting her teeth she filled the electric jug and switched it on, ready for when they came back. You will live David Mulkerin, you will live.

Pulling up at the base of the dam, she now saw the skid marks that had escaped her first panicked inspection. Her Mum was right. Jodie gripped the steering wheel and let her forehead fall to press against it, letting the tears come. I swear to god David-you-bastard, if you are alive I will smack you from here to kingdom come for doing this to me.

She jumped out of the ute, her sneakers squelching in the tufts of grass and mud. A fine rain was falling but her T-shirt was already damp with sweat. She clambered up the slope, not wanting to get to the top. On the edge of the water she looked around, her first reaction one of relief, until she saw something sticking out of the water closer to the far side.


Half of his face and a shoulder, the rest of him submerged in the cloudy soup. She ran around the perimeter as close as she could get, then splashed into the water. Her foot skidded on the slimy bottom and she nearly lost her balance. Was forced to move carefully, feel her way. She wanted to scream. Was his mouth above the water? Nearly upon him, she was sending waves over his shoulder. She lifted his head, pressing her fingers into his neck and her ear to his mouth. Breathing. Just. His skin was like a jelly straight out of the freezer. She hooked her hands under his shoulders and heaved. Angled up on the bank she held him by the hair and slapped his blue face.

David, wake up. Wake up. She rubbed his cheeks, cursing herself for not bringing a thermos of tea. Her distress was increased by the memory of Martin's blue face, little more than a day ago, and her continued efforts to blow air into his seized lungs until help arrived.

But David was breathing. Now she was worried about hypothermia and how she was going to get him back to the house. She couldn't leave him like this. She ran to the ute and got a towel. After clearing the worst rocks and lumps, huffing and blowing, she dragged David onto it. Then she dragged him on the towel to the edge of the bank and from there slid him down.

She was considering whether to wrap him up in the towels and blanket before racing off for help when he stirred, his head lolling back and forth, his teeth beginning to chatter.

M-m-m-m. Mmm—

It took twenty minutes of holding him against her, rubbing him with the towels, trying to get enough circulation going for him to move. She was used to moving heavy patients, but not from ground level. He had cuts and grazes everywhere and the towels were now bloody. Through adrenalin and brute force she got him into the passenger seat, refusing to worry about his extremities banging on everything. Once in the cab she tucked the blanket around him and turned on the heat.

Back at the house she let the engine run as she took his hands in hers and rubbed them. Small spots of colour were returning to his cheeks, but he was a mess. There was a gash on his forehead and blood mixed with mud streaked his face. Now the worst had passed she relaxed enough to allow the tears to come. She pressed her palm to his cold cheek.

He was alive.

A smile trembled on her lips. She could kill him later.


Now her heart beat had slowed and she wasn't in crisis mode, the details of the situation began to present themselves with more clarity. This wasn't some anonymous patient. It was the man that she had loved and lusted after for most of her conscious life.

She'd bathed more men than she could count and directed many a penis into a plastic urinal, but now with the naked body of her fantasies in her arms, she felt awkward. Almost couldn't look. But of course she looked. And after all the fevered imaginings, he was just normal sized, normal looking. Shrunken and caked in mud, a thread of weed in his pubic hair.

She ran a lukewarm bath and helped him into it. Ratting through the cupboard under the sink she found a box of Epsom's Salts, set like a brick. She cracked it on the side of the bath and let a chunk fall in. As David's colour returned, she turned on the hot tap.

He gestured at the tap mumbling some kind of protest.

For god's sake David, there's plenty of water, use it.

Steam filled the room. The hair on his legs and chest ran vertically on his white skin. His dark neck and forearms blared out in contrast. All the while he didn't speak. He hunched in sullen silence as she dropped some shampoo on his head and rubbed it in. Massaged his head and neck. Made him lie back to rinse. A fug of thwarted intent between them.

She brought in a chair and sat next to the bath watching him soak, her hands on her knees. Gathering herself together, she spoke with firmness.

Well, I can easily confiscate the stock whip David, but whatever else you threaten me with will now be useless. I'm not going anywhere after that little caper.

His eyes flicked up at her and back down to the water in front of him.

My guns, now my stock whip, he muttered into his chest. Don't forget the knives and forks.

No need. I've got a nice little strait jacket for you out the back.

He glowered at her from under his brows, but she was relieved to see a glint in his eye.

She wiped him down as he leaned a hand on her shoulder. He said nothing as she rubbed the towel in his pubic hair and patted his privates dry. She quietly enjoyed the last touches of his naked skin that she may ever get. Got him to sit down on the chair while she dabbed at him with Savlon. When she was done she held out the dressing gown. He took it from her, a hint of the old twinkle in his eye.

Hardly need it now, eh. But I guess you've seen worse.

It's no reason for you to parade around the house naked. I have some aesthetic standards.

Not when you've been porking—

Can it, will you! It's getting really bloody tired.

Seeing his contrite face, she pursed her lips. Go and lie on the couch and I'll make us some Milo.


She sat at the opposite end of the couch with him silently hating her for being in Martin's spot and being so profoundly not Martin.

He sneaked a look at her over his mug. He was caught between angry resentment and thinking what a little trooper she was. When he started coming to, the horror that he was still alive seeped into his brain, quickly followed by an awareness of extreme cold and pain. When he realised who it was pulling and grabbing at him, cursing and grunting, something in him had been amused. And relieved that it wasn't anyone else.

After the Milo he was hungry, so she made cheese on toast. Putting the empty plate on the floor he lay down on the couch and closed his eyes, comforted by the domestic noises coming from the kitchen. He had a piston banging away at the inside of his forehead but the Panadol Jodie had given him was beginning to kick in. His core temperature had returned to normal; he was clean, although stinging and aching everywhere, and he had some food in his stomach. The only thing he was missing was the weight of a long lean body to lie back against him. The emptiness came on him in a rush and a sob rose in his throat. He choked it down; wiped the hot tears with the heel of his hand. But the hollow ache in his gut remained.

So many times he'd watched Martin perform the simple act of returning from the kitchen or the bathroom to ease back down onto the couch into his arms, not realising that every time it filled him up, kept him buoyant. Now he was empty, sinking, clutching at space.

When Jodie came to take his plate away he was curled on the couch crushing a pillow to his chest, eyes screwed shut, fighting tears.

Tears spilled down her own cheeks as she felt the impossibility of absorbing his pain. She eased her weight onto the edge of the lounge in front of him; caressed his cheek.

Baby, she whispered, I'm so sorry.

When she leaned over and kissed his forehead, he erupted in shuddering sobs. Quickly she lay down beside him and gathered his head under her chin, his agonised cries clawing at her heart. There was only one thing she could do.

She held him, and she held him, and she held him.


Jodie let the book drop to her lap when he entered the living room. She was about to make room for him but he lifted her feet up and placed them on his lap. He let his head fall back against the back of the lounge.

How'd you sleep?

Like shit. He turned his head towards her. How about you?

Not so great. I don't see how Martin put up with that bed.

David looked at her for a moment, took in the I-shouldn't-have-said-that-look on her face. One corner of his mouth lifted slightly. I should have thought it was pretty obvious by now that he didn't.

Jodie's eyes darted down to her book. Watched her fingers smooth the cover. She let out a stilted breath. Nodded. When she looked up at him her smile was pure bravado.

So you've decided you're gay now?

He frowned and turned his head back towards the front window. The absence of rain created a dull emptiness around them that teased at his nerve ends. He stroked Jodie's feet for a moment. When he spoke it was almost to himself.

My feelings for Martin don't fit into some box with a label on it. All I can tell you is that I loved him. He had a man's body. I learned to love what he had. Does that make sense?

He gave her a look of sad appeal. Then he let out a bitter laugh, threw his head back. I loved him. Jesus. Now he's gone, I can say it. His mouth crumpled and he quickly covered it with his hand. His shoulders heaved silently. He pinched between his eyes, trying to control himself.

Ah, Jodie, in a ragged whisper. He said it so often. But I could never say it back. Like I was playing some kind of game or making some point of principle; holding onto myself. Saving it for a special occasion, for Christ's sake. He wiped his face. Now he'll never know that I loved him more than anything.

Jodie reached over and pulled his hand into her lap. Spoke quietly, deliberately. He knew, David. Of course he knew.

What makes you so sure?

Because we had an argument about it.

She told him about her visit to his surgery. How she had abused and threatened him.

Oh, Jodie-girl. He sighed, his face serious. He never said a word about it. Only ever said nice things about you. Always.

Now she was crying, struggling to speak. I'm sorry David. I'm so sorry. But I was angry...and—and jealous. But he knew exactly how I felt. He understood me right from the start.

David gave her a look of pity and reached out to stroke her cheek with the backs of his fingers, but she pulled away.

And then—and then, when I was leaving, he said, 'This isn't some fly-by-night thing, Jodie. He's in love with me.'

David swallowed, his eyes locked on her face, hungry for any more words she could give him. When no more came, he nodded, pressed his eyes closed.

Jodie put his hand back in his lap and swung her feet to the floor. They say you can't choose who you love, David. But you were lucky enough to choose someone who loved you back. She stood up. Some people never experience that at all.

She turned quickly and headed towards the kitchen. I'll make us some tea.

Ten minutes later he was taking a hot drink from her hands. He gave the contents a tentative blow.

Oh shit.

Jodie paused in bringing her mug to her lips, a look of enquiry on her face.

I need to go in and clear Martin's stuff.

Mrs Jacobs—

No. He got up from the table, wiping his mouth. I have to do it.


Driving helped clear his head. His elbow crooked out of the open window, he breathed in the clean rain-fresh air. The sweetest smell on earth. The dark bitumen was smeared with pasted caramel mud, the purple hills draped in threads of mist. His eyes feasted on the wet solid colours that had so recently been painted on. In a few weeks there would be green.

There was a sign on the surgery door redirecting patients to the hospital until Dr Jacobs' return. He fingered the key on his key ring. Didn't want to give it up.

He walked into the hall, steeling himself. Knew he could never see Dr Jacobs as his doctor ever again. In the kitchen he stood there dazed, looking at the empty table where they had shared so many meals, forgetting what he'd come in there for. Remembering, he ducked out to the laundry and grabbed a handful of plastic shopping bags.

There wasn't a lot and what was Martin's was pretty obvious. He wrapped the cord around the coffee grinder, wedging it next to the pot. In the laundry was a case of wine, still with three bottles remaining. He hesitated, thinking he'd leave them for Dr Jacobs, that he should never touch the stuff ever again, but thought better of it and placed the box on the kitchen table with the other things.

In the bathroom he shed tears over all the personal items, even the half used foil of Panadol took on meaning for him. It was ridiculous to keep such detritus, but he bundled it all up anyway, unable to make such decisions.

Martin's suitcase resided in the bottom of the wardrobe. He flipped it open and pulled open the drawers of the tallboy. It took a long time to pack as he felt the compulsive need to fondle almost every item. Gently removing each shirt from its hanger, he folded each one and laid it carefully down. None of Martin's clothes would fit him; he was too broad in the shoulders, too thick in the waist; but the shoes were a possibility. He smiled at the shiny brown leather covered in a whirl of pinholes. Perhaps a little too natty for him, but they might do in a pinch. He could see Martin rolling his eyes at him now.

He'd never seen Martin wear a tie, so felt no attachment to the selection he found. He held some of them up and was surprised at their reserved colours. Maybe Dan would like one. He'd ask Jodie.

The suitcase packed, he finally turned his attention to the bedside drawer. The handkerchiefs, the puffer, some more lube, and the magazine. He sat back against the pillows and made himself comfortable. Only half focused on the turning pages, he was deep in recalling a night he'd stayed over. Martin was in the shower and he'd fished it out to have a proper look; see what the attraction was, whether his ideas had changed. They hadn't. He flicked through the pages of oiled thighs and shaved skin, the Latino complexions and black cocks, almost with relief. Martin came in rubbing his wet hair with a towel. When he saw the magazine he paused and grinned.

David waved his hand at the open pages. Does this turn you on?

He smiled. Some.

Which one does it for you, then? Hearing the petulance in his own voice.

Hmm. He leaned over David, giving him a heady nose full of clean body. Flicked the pages. This one. He tapped a page. A pale body from the waist down with a black head of hair in the way. Kind of in the way.

David glanced at it pretending to be dismissive. That's nothing we can't do.

Yes, but you're not here every night, are you.

I would be if I could.

He looked for that picture now. It was part of a series. It only dawned on him now. A blonde man, almost a boy, with a tanned built man. Not exactly, but close enough if viewed through half closed eyes. He propped the magazine up on a pillow and undid his jeans.

Later, with the bed sheets rolling around in the washing machine, he sat down to a lunch of tomato and avocado sandwich with a stub of cucumber to munch on at the end.

He thought he was done when he packed Martin's CDs. All but one. He couldn't resist putting on the Sarah Vaughan. It was then he realised he'd forgotten the surgery.

Feeling like he was trespassing, he poked his head into the office. Memories raining down on him. He rubbed his right palm, felt the thick ridge crossing the fleshy part below the thumb. Happiness welling up at the thought that he would have this mark forever. He looked around the room, at the books on the shelf, the posters of bodies with exposed veins and muscles, immunisation promotions, the stethoscope hanging from a hook on the wall; stupidly thinking, he was a doctor. He sat in the chair behind the desk and looked around. He was about to stand up when he spied the black notebook next to the keyboard. David's heart sank as he flicked through the pages of names and addresses. People that knew Martin, people that had known him far longer than David, people that didn't know he was gone. He dropped the little book into his chest pocket, its weight feeling like lead.


Days passed; he didn't know how many. Jodie and he rubbed along in companionable silence, routine conversations over dinner, watching movies together in the evenings. She'd accepted a few day-shifts and he tried to get back to the jobs that needed doing. But he kept putting them off. Knew he'd keep looking around for Martin, seeing the work they'd already done or half done together.

Once, Owen brought out someone to see the property. He almost didn't care any more. Just wanted everything to be over.

One evening after dinner he sat down with Martin's address book and went through it. It was hard to tell if some of the entries were professional contacts or friends. He knew that Maureen and Ken James were his parents. The only other James couple listed were Brian and Thelma; Brian must be his brother. He wouldn't be ringing any of them. The only other name he recognised was that of Pamela Wells, the friend it turned out that he'd stayed with when he went to Sydney. He went into the office and dialled the number.

A deep voice answered.

G'day. David Mulkerin here. I'm after Pamela.

Oh thank god. David. I'm so glad you called. I've been going out of my mind! I didn't know how to contact you.

They talked for over an hour. The first ten minutes were the worst, re-living the horror of that day, although he spared her some of the worst details. Spared himself. Friends who still worked at St Vincent's had let her know. She had been mown down by the news but was powerless to do anything.

There was no way I was phoning them up, she said, meaning his family. I was almost at a point of hiring a private detective to find you. Dipstick never mentioned your last name.

A small smile crept over his lips. He said he told you all about me.

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