Land Divers

The burglar stood at the bedroom window and watched them drive the Mini into the garage. They’d had the car windows open and Noddy and Cissy had been singing, very loudly, the calypso carol the lower school choir would perform at the Christmas concert: “See him a-lying on a bed of straw, drafty stable with an open door…”

It was Cissy’s turn to clamber out of the back of the car and run down the slick ramp to open the garage door, oxfords slapping on the tarmac. She always made a show of her effort. The door was so heavy: apple green, and so heavy.

Like bricks,” Mummy always said and said then, shaking her head slightly, but with a small smile at the sight of Cissy hauling the door: her matchstick legs, their regulation gray socks crumpled at the ankles, braced against the ground, all muscle; one gray ribbon dangling limp at her shoulder; her features in a grimace of determination.

At that point, Noddy was still singing the carol’s last verse, belting it: “Mine are riches from thy po -ver-ty, from thine innocence e- ter -nity…”

Shut up, Nod.” Cissy hissed back at the car, dragging the huge green door sideways. “I said, shut up!”

Mine for- give -ness by thy death…for me…”

Shut up!”

Just because you can’t sing.”

Can too.”

Can not.”

Girls—“

Can too.”

Girls, the lamingtons.” Which shut them up. They wouldn’t get the lamingtons for afternoon tea if they didn’t.

Cissy stepped out of the way and Mummy zipped down the ramp into the garage; and as it was Noddy’s turn, then, to shut the garage door behind them, Cissy teased Noddy and they began to spar again: “Can not.” “Can too.” “Can not.” Cissy was carrying both of their book bags out of the trunk, dwarfed by them. The stiff brown cases banged against her knees on either side.

But they were laughing, really, all three of them. And all that time, or at least some of that time, he was watching them, standing right above their heads at Mummy’s bedroom window, watching them.

It had rained on the way home from the library, that sudden torrential summer rain of a Sydney December, and the road itself and the glossy elephantine foliage in the front garden steamed, streaming water. The front gate stuck, and squeaked; the front door—apple green, with its great brass knocker—stuck too, as it always did in the wet. Mummy had to try the key at least four times before it turned. And all that time, or some of that time, the burglar was in Mummy’s bedroom—or by then, perhaps, he was getting out of it.

They only realized this later, of course, when Noddy found Mummy’s topaz ring—a big, ugly square thing in a heavy silver setting—in the woolly white tentacles of carpet beneath the window. This is what they decided had …

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