A Change Of gender And Beyond
by F.W. Hinton
' Luckham Downs' a ten thousand acre cattle station west of
the Gregory Range was owned and run by Angus Maclaren. His
only son Ian, and two daughters, Jane and Susan were born
there. Ian remained at the station most of his life, but his
sisters moved to the city the day after they were married.
At the age of twenty Ian married Rachel Carlyle.
In Richmond, where Rachel had grown up, her father owned the
general store, had been moderately well-off and popular.
Rachel, the youngest of three girls,
had always been thought of as being too pretty to remain in
a sleepy, North Queensland out-back town, whose population
never passed a thousand souls.
At nineteen, the mystery was, that Rachel Carlyle had not
married. It was rumoured, around her home town that she'd
had proposals of marriage from station owners, store
keepers, and a cane farmer from the coast. Her father, when
asked about this on one of his nightly visits to the local
hotel simply said,
" Although women of nineteen were thought of as being
spinsters by some folk. It was common for girls in his
family not to marry young." He put this down to the fact,
that his grandmother, married at sixteen, bore seven
children in as many years and was dead at twenty seven.
Rachel, herself was not concerned. She was young, strong,
and very much alive. She liked people, and usually they
liked her. Marriage was there, in the future, but she made
no effort to find it, until Ian Maclaren came to town for
the Saturday night dance and supplies for the Station.
Within a month they were married, and Ian took his bride
home to Luckham Downs.
The aged Homestead was long and painted white. There were
plenty of windows on the ground floor, opening on to a wide
veranda that ran all around the house. Red, white and purple
bougainvillea, red poinsettias, yellow alamanda bells, and
red, fragile frangipani covered the house. The homestead
looked a happy garden, a house of flowers.
Inside it was richly decorated. Most of the furniture was
antique. Oil paintings in gold frames hung in every room,
and thick Persian rugs lay on every floor. There were plenty
of comfortable leather armchairs, and in one room a roll-top
desk, where Ian's father sat poring over the Station books.
Every weekend Ian would take Rachel dancing in the Richmond
Town Hall. Their friends thought they were a marvellous
couple, who needed only a baby to make their marriage a
perfect union. Certainly Rachel adored children, and nothing
pleased her more, than to nurse her sister's babies whenever
the opportunity arose.
Every time she felt her husband's sperm flood her womb she
prayed for the miracle of fertility. Her prayers, it seemed
had been answered. One afternoon before the dance, she had
gone to the doctors and learned she was pregnant. She waited
patiently to go back to the homestead to share the news with
Ian, not daring to tell him during the dance, for fear of
causing too much excitement.
For the past few years the Station had run into
difficulties, and Angus Maclaren had been forced to borrow
heavily from the banks.
Luckham Downs had suffered a long drought, then came the
biggest wet they had seen in years. It had taken Ian and his
father by surprise, and most of the stock had been lost.
Rachel was fond of her father-in-law. She felt that the
worry of the Station, and the relentless harassment by the
banks, had caused his untimely death more than his nightly
nip of rum.
Her pleasure in the coming baby had been little more than a
tender seedling, when the fears of the isolation of Luckham
Downs began to spring up all around. It absorbed all her
thoughts, all her days. Now she understood why Jane and
Susan had moved to the city, never wanting to return to the
loneliness of an out-back station.
Her pregnancy, which recurring nausea forced her to notice,
had seemed little more than a medical term, like mumps, or
tonsillitis, a swollen condition with a predetermined
outcome. Ilarra, Joey the station hand's lubra, who ran the
homestead had given her pods to chew on and the sickness
Ian sat on the edge of his wife's bed,
" Ilarra's delivered plenty of babies," he told her, when
she began to cry with worry, " she had a baby---Joey's
child. It died in a flood. She can't have any more." ".
" I hate this place," Rachel cried, turning on her husband,
" I need a civilized world. A doctor, people, a hospital."
When Ian promised faithfully to take her to the Richmond
Base Hospital, long before the baby was due she stopped
crying. She tried hard to put to put the worry of being
alone in the out-back out of her mind.
At first it seemed like nothing at all. Then came the merest
trembling of a leaf under the white smock Ian had bought
her. Rachel held her breath. It did not come again until
hours later when she lowered herself into the warm bath that
Ilarra had prepared.
This time the sensation was just as delicate but prolonged.
Tendrils, curling, relaxing under the gentle movement of the
water, that seemed to tilt at breast and thigh. She felt
faint. Instinctively her hands went to the roundness of her
belly, covering, protecting. Something was turning and
stretching inside her. The thing she referred to as a lump
in her thoughts had become a baby, her baby, hers and Ian's.
" We'll be all right," she whispered to the baby in her
womb, " soon your daddy will take us to the hospital. I know
he has arranged everything.
A week before the baby was due the big wet came down from
the North with a force that broke all records. Roads and
tracks were impassable, the river broke it's banks, the
homestead surrounded by water. Food that had been stored was
rationed. Ian moved Rachel and Ilarra into the bedroom that
was Angus Maclaren's. The station hands took refuge on the
verandah. For hours Ian walked up and down the long passage
way with Rachel, trying to help ease her labor pains.
When Ilarra thought her time was near she sent Ian and Joey
away, making her husband, who obeyed her every word, promise
to keep Ian out of the house until sent for.
She gave Rachel pods to chew on to ease the pains while she
arranged things as best she could. She worked around her
patient, singing and laughing in an effort to make it a
For two humid days and two freezing nights Ilarra battled to
save the life of Rachel Maclaren and deliver her child. On
the third night, Pauline was born, and only after she was
sure the baby would live, did Ilarra attend to it's mother.
Ian was sent for, and with tears of relief and happiness
that streamed down his cheeks he picked up his daughter.
" Next time," he said, " I'll have me a son, but for now
Pauline Maclaren you'll do just fine."
The day George Maclaren was born Ian was over the moon with
excitement. At last, he thought, there'll be someone to take
over the Downs, someone to carry on the name of Maclaren.
There was plenty of room at the homestead. It was small
enough to be snug, large enough to be airy, with spare rooms
for visitors, including Rachel's father. With a boy and a
girl Ian felt his family was complete. He thought about
extending the property and improving the strain of his
cattle. But Rachel fell pregnant again and Jillian Maclaren
was born on the tenth of March, two years to the day of the
birth of her brother in nineteen twenty eight.
Sitting on the verandah pondering his problems Ian realized,
that despite their being careful Rachel was falling pregnant
every two years. Luckham Downs was almost free of debt, and
Ian felt that providing the weather held and a with a little
luck, next year would see them out of the red.
Nineteen thirty two came and went. Both Ian and Rachel
thankful that there was no baby on the way, although
secretly Rachel longed for a baby in her arms.
In Nineteen thirty nine World War two began. Ian heard about
it, but busy with the Station never gave it a great deal of
thought. In the summer of forty the battle of Britian began.
News drifted through from the Richmond and the coast. They
read of the German Luftwaffe. How it swept over England
destroying everything. Of the destruction of Royal Air Force
planes on the ground. Ian bought a wireless set in Richmond,
and when the news crackled through, it told of London being
bombed out of existence, and of the German night attacks.
Rachel received a letter from her sister Lisa in Melbourne.
She told of the fevered digging of air-raid shelters,
testing of sirens, and sand-bagging of city buildings. All
ominous signs that war might come to the shores of
Australia. Both Lisa and her other sister Katrina asked
Rachel if rumours of invasion of the Northern Territory were
Ian wanted to be in on the fight. He didn't want to stand on
the perimeter. He wanted to get in his own blows, and talked
to Rachel about joining up.
" You're doing your job. You're helping the war effort by
running a cattle station. It is an essential industry," she
argued, " besides," she said in desperation, " you're too
" I can't agree with that," he returned quickly, angered at
the thought of being too old, " George, as young as he is
can run this place, with the help of Joey and Ilarra."
Ian Maclaren's last leave was in December Nineteen forty
one. When he returned to his unit they were sent to Darwin
to man the coastal defences. Early in February of Forty two
an island coast watcher radioed a warning.
" An unusually large formation of aircraft are headed for
Darwin," the radio crackled, " identity suspect. Visibility
The handful of coastal defence guns were of little use
against the hundreds of fighters and dive bombers the
Japanese aircraft carriers had launched. The few tiny
Kittyhawks on the ground were wiped out. Even the hospital
with it's Red Cross sign hurriedly painted on the roof was
cut in half. Wharves and Bases were destroyed, and as Ian
Maclaren worked his gun he realized the hell people in
England must have suffered. The planes from the carriers
dived and dived again and again. Hundreds were killed, even
more were injured, and Ian Maclaren was never heard of
Rachel Maclaren gave birth to Shaun and Casey Ann the year
their father died. This time there was no Ian to hold her
hand. No one to walk up and down with, and no pods to ease
There wasn't even Ilarra who did everything, so
matter-of-factly. It was Ilarra's chuckle that Rachel missed
most of all, the way she used to make it a happy affair, an
orgy of creation.
Rachel lay on a narrow hospital bed covered only with sheet.
The room seemed suffocating, the window too small to allow
the air to circulate. Her hair was spread out on the pillow,
wet with sweat at the roots. A nurse came in and wiped her
small-featured pale face with a damp cloth, as Rachel
murmured her appreciation.
Wondering why her patient's pains persisted so long with no
labor beginning, and the intervals between pains evenly
spaced, when they should be shortening, the nurse spoke to
" How long do you think it will be?"
" Can't tell," the laconic doctor answered stroking his
narrow chin, " I'll examine her again in half an hour."
Darkness lay beyond the windows when the surgeon entered the
operating room. At the edges of white light the world was a
sombre green. Green rumpled cotton, green refracted from
bottles in the cabinet. Green the sterile cloth on the
table, where the tools were set out like a palace banquet.
The two assistants waited while Dr Eastman looked up, his
eyebrows rising like parentheses above his white mask. He
brought down his knife into a spurt of fresh blood, which
was sucked up and sponged away. The Caesarean section had
It was midday when John Carlyle walked wearily into the
Richmond Base Hospital. He was Rachel's closest relative,
and the hospital Matron, after consultation with Dr Eastman
decided he should be sent for.
" Mr Carlyle, I'm glad you came," the doctor said coming
towards him, " I suggest you allow us to send for Father
" Is there danger?" John asked, his pale face flushed, as he
let out a gasp, half horror, half despair, " her mother died
in childbirth," he added.
" Not your daughter," Dr Eastman added hastily, " I spoke
for the children. Should they not live, we thought they
should be baptized. I know Rachel would want it that way."
" Thank you," John said with a sigh of relief as he sat on
the seat and rested his head on his hands.
" I'm sorry you jumped to the conclusion that it was your
daughter fighting for her life. She has had a very bad time
of it. There was danger of a breach, and we were forced to
do a Caesarean. We tried not to. There wasn't enough room
for the twins. Her spine is the main problem. She can never
have any more children, and her age hasn't helped."
" Will she recover?"
" It's going to take a very long time and a great deal of
" The twins?"
" There chances are slim, especially the eldest one. The
Matron and I thought they should be baptized, just in case."
" Will the Priest be here before----?"
" Sometimes Mr Carlyle," Dr Eastman continued, not willing
to answer his unspoken question, " I am at death beds where
the Priest is sent for in the in the desperate need to the
fleeting spirit. I am often tempted to ask myself, what good
can another man, Priest though he may be do, at this the
twelfth hour where accounts have not been previously made
It was late evening when Father Saunders, John Carlyle, the
nurse and Matron gathered in the tiny chapel at the rear of
the base hospital. The Matron carrying the two tiny bundles
wrapped in warm pink blankets.
The service commenced. The Priest took the first born child.
" What name?" he asked, dipping his fingers in the waters of
John Carlyle had never given much thought to names. His wife
had arranged all the children's names long before they were
born. He suddenly remembered Ian Maclaren.
" Shaun!" he said loudly.
" They're twin girls Mr Carlyle," the nurse proclaimed, "
I'm sorry, I thought you knew."
There was a pause.
The Priest spoke again. " Name this child!"
" Shaun!" John declared firmly, " it is the name Ian
Maclaren wanted. The other baby will be named Casey Ann."
The Matron and nurse looked at him in amazement. Each
believing that the twins should have been given their
John Carlyle was not allowed to see his daughter until the
following morning. His eyes glistened as he looked down on
her. Her face, white as the sheets, but her eyes were
triumphant, filled with a tender contrition. He kissed her
forehead and stroked her hair. She saw his emotion, and a
faint smile parted her lips.
" I bore these two badly father, but I'm thankful it's all
over. How thankful, none can know only those who have been
" I think they can," he said, as tears streamed down his
weather-beaten face, " I never knew what thankfulness was
" That the babies are safe and baptized?"
" That you're safe Rachel. I never really knew what prayer
" Why did you give the girls those names, they sound as if
they belong to boys?"
" Ian asked me."
" Ian!---When?---no. It's just not possible. They sent me a
telegram. You read it. It said he was killed in action. Even
you knew he was on the guns in Darwin. How could you stand
there and tell me , that he told you to give twin girls boys
names. I never thought you could be so wicked."
She turned from her father and began to sob. The nurse stood
just inside the door.
" I'm not wicked or cruel Rachel, you know me better than
that---it was just before he went back after his last
" I don't believe you," she said, turning to face her
father, " he couldn't have known, couldn't have even
He sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her hair.
" Ian came to see me --on his way back to the barracks. He
talked about you and the children, made me promise to look
after you. From the way he spoke it seemed as if he knew he
would not be coming back. I told him he ought to go Bush.
Told him to wait until after the war was over. He became
angry. Told me I should be ashamed for even thinking such a
thing. He said he could never let his mates down no matter
what the cost.
Before he left he made me promise that if you did have
another baby, boy or girl it would be named after his
Grandfather Shaun Casey Maclaren. I added Ann. It was as you
know your mother's name."
With tears running down her cheeks Rachel clasped her
father's hand and closed her eyes.
" She'll sleep contented now," the nurse told him as she led
him out of the room, " the doctor wants to talk to you
tomorrow. There are things that need to be discussed.
Rachel slept fitfully. The nagging pain in her back and
sides did not allow her to recall the memories in detail.
They passed through her mind like a series of pictures, in
an unconnected way of random glances through an illustrated
She saw at one time, the Homestead at Luckham Downs. The
flowers that surrounded the house and had bloomed nearly all
the year round. She remembered the dances, where in lan's
arms she had danced the night away. Then there was Pauline,
dancing with her father, while she held Jillian, asleep in
With tears that ran hot down her cheeks from closed eyes she
remembered the baby they had lost. The race to the doctors,
of hearing him telling her husband that she had a slight
form of paralysis at the base of her spine.
" Nothing to worry about," she remembered him saying, "
providing she doesn't have any more children."
For a little while there was a deep darkness around her. She
tried to open her eyes. It was then she saw Ian standing at
the foot of the bed, still in his uniform. She held out her
hands, begged him to hold her. He just smiled, then waved
goodbye as he turned away.
It was early morning when John Carlyle came in to see his
daughter. Rachel tried to sit up to greet him. Her legs
seemed to have lost all feeling and she found it impossible
to move. A nurse came in and helped her to sit up. The
matron placed the two babies in Rachel's arms. John looked
at the twins and knew that Ian had given them the right
" There is something we must talk about," he told his
daughter when at last they were on their own.
" I know all about it," Rachel interrupted, " it happened
the last time I was pregnant. I should have been treated
then. I will walk again---one day. I will get better, you'll
" The babies?"
" They're not going to be put up for adoption," she shouted
before her father could continue, " they're mine. No one is
going to take them from me. I don't care what happens. I'll
manage somehow. Please Dad---Please don't let them take my
babies," she pulled the two bundles closer to her and rocked
backwards and forwards as best she could, not daring to let
" It's all been arranged," John told her, trying to calm his
daughter down, " Jane, your sister-in-law is going to look
after Shaun, and our Katrina will take care of Casey Ann,
They'll be well looked after."
" But they will be separated," Rachel argued, " Twins must
be together, always. What about the others? I can't leave
them on their own. Perhaps I can get a wheel chair. Jilly
will help, I know she will. George, he's the real worry. For
weeks he's been talking about joining up. You know he's far
too young. He's just turned seventeen."
" Rachel stop!" her father said impatiently, " I told you
everything has been taken care of. Susan, Ian's eldest
sister has gone back to the Downs with her husband. They're
going to run the station until you're up and about."
" George! what about George? I know something has happened."
" I don't know how he did it Rachel, but the lad has joined
the Air Force. He'll be all right, I'm sure of that. This
war will be over before they send him anywhere."
" Come along Mrs Maclaren," the Matron's voice rang out as
she entered the room, " there's a specialist, a Dr Mitchell
coming to see you this morning," she added, taking the twins
from her and ushering John Carlyle out of the room.
Dr Mitchell arrived an hour later. A short, plump, reticent
man who kept his chin on his chest when he spoke. He seemed
unwilling to confide his opinions, and behaved as if the
case involved some secrecy, which took it out of the Matrons
hands. He examined Rachel's legs and lower part of her spine
He stroked his chin, glared at Rachel, then at the Matron.
" Should never have happened," he grumbled, " how soon can
the patient be moved?"
" I will have to ask Dr Eastman. I think it should be within
the next few days."
A week later Rachel Maclaren was transferred to the Kenny
clinic. She responded well to the treatment of hot moist
applications in conjunction with passive exercises as
prescribed by Sister Kenny. But every night Rachel lay awake
for hours, and sometimes sleep eluded her completely as she
lay staring at the ceiling worrying about the twins.
Casey Ann, she knew was being well cared for, Katrina would
make sure of that. It was Shaun that concerned her more than
she dared to admit. Jane and her husband were years older
than Ian. Their family had grown up and left home a long
time ago. She knew her sister-in-law's husband was not a
temperate man. Even his own three children had been scared
She accepted the fact that George had joined up. On one of
his weekend leaves he had visited her. She remembered trying
to get cross with him for leaving Luckham Downs. Then found
it impossible when he reminded her so much of Ian.
Two days before Christmas, John Carlyle took his daughter to
visit the twins. They went first Katrina's house. Casey
Ann's eyes sparkled when she saw her mother, it was as if
she really knew her. The baby was blonde and already long
for her age. She would be large-boned, Rachel thought, as if
she belonged entirely to Ian's family, and not at all to
It was obvious the baby was spoilt. She was loved and adored
by everyone, and the moment she cried someone picked her up.
There were toys of every description, and her aunt had
dressed her in the prettiest of clothes.
Although John Carlyle had promised to get his daughter back
to the clinic in time for her afternoon exercises, he gave
way to Rachel's determination to see Shaun. It seemed to
Rachel, as she sat in her wheel chair in her sister-in-law's
kitchen that the atmosphere was completely different to that
There were no toys, no baby waiting to greet her, no
Christmas tree, not even a decoration, and Jane not wanting
the baby disturbed, refused to allow the child to be brought
down to the kitchen.
John carried his daughter upstairs to the baby's room. Shaun
seemed happy enough as she sat in her cot with a cuddle rug.
Her hair was straight and short, not like her sister's long
and curled, and Rachel wished with all her heart that
Katrina had taken both her babies.
" She is well looked after, clean and well fed," John tried
to assure Rachel on the way back to the clinic, " Jane is so
much older than Kate. You really can't expect her to do the
same for Shaun as Kate does for Casey Ann. I know the baby
is left in it's cot most of the time. But at least she's not
been placed in a foster home. You should think yourself very
With a courage and determination that surprised the staff at
the Sister Kenny clinic Rachel Maclaren began to take her
first few steps. A month after Christmas she was sent back
to Luckham Downs, and apart from her daily exercises Rachel
was confined to her bed.
Sometimes she thought of her bed as a throne. It was raised
on a low platform in the center of a long wall. She leaned
against fresh, linen covered pillows, under a canopy held up
by carved rosewood posts. It had been her father-in-law's
bed, and now she realized why Angus Maclaren would not give
the bed to his son. Jillian came every day to see her, and
when Rachel inquired about Pauline everyone told her she was
working away from home.
Many times Rachel thought of her bed as a ship. A great,
safe ocean liner similar to the ones she had read about in
books. Floating all night on a calm sea until morning.
Waking early, she would open her eyes to the safe haven of
Angus Maclaren's room at Luckham Downs.
For a few minutes she would lie quite still, watching the
first light shake itself through white trembling curtains,
then get out of bed and force herself to take a few more
steps. At times she wondered if this was how a baby felt
when it stood, or walked for the first time.
One morning Rachel asked Susan if the twins could be brought
back to the Downs.
" I can't!" her sister-in-law replied, " we've more than
enough to do without looking after two more children."
" Surely Pauline could come home and help?"
" That little bitch---she's gone," Susan said loudly, " gone
down south and a damn good job too."
" How dare you call my Pauline that. How could you and
Arthur have allowed her to leave home. You must have done
something to upset her."
" Me! upset her!" Susan screamed, " I don't know what sort
of up-bringing you and my brother gave her, but I can tell
you that girl is man-crazy."
" Man crazy? Not my Pauline. I'll never believe that."
" Then you'd better believe it---I ought to know. I caught
her in bed with my Arthur. It wasn't his fault. Twenty two
years we've been married, never once---until your Pauline
started flaunting herself in front of him. I made him throw
" Where is she now? I've got to find her. Arthur must have
" So far as I know she's gone down south with some RAAF
officer. She nearly broke up our marriage. And now you want
me to look after your bloody twins? I can tell you here and
now Rachel Maclaren, the day you walk down those stairs, is
the day we leave Luckham Downs."
" But you're part owner of Luckham Downs."
" Nothing left to own.'
" How can that be? There's plenty of stock. I know Ian
cleared up all the loans. It's free of debt."
" Not any more. We were forced to borrow from the banks just
to survive. Who do you think paid for your treatment at the
Kenny clinic. If you've got any sense you'll get out as
quick as you can. Perhaps your father can pay off the
That night Rachel cried herself to sleep. When she woke the
next morning she looked around the room just to make sure
she was at Luckham Downs, that her sister-in-law's words had
not been part of a bad dream.
For along time Rachel lay very still in Angus Maclaren's
bed, enjoying the feeling of well-being and a new, sudden
brightness of spirit. This was the day she was going to walk
down those formidable stairs. This was the day Susan and
Arthur would leave her home and her twins would be returned.
Her father was coming to see her. She re-read the letter
hidden under her pillow, the letter Jilly had sneaked up to
her before Susan or Arthur had a chance to read it.
From her wardrobe she chose a dress that was long enough to
cover the boots the Kenny clinic had forced her to wear.
Satisfied at last with her appearance she made her way
downstairs ignoring her sister-in-law's glare and scowling
at Arthur who offered her his hand.
" I can manage," she said sharply, " I've had all the help I
need from you. "
" Look Dad! Look at me! I can walk. I walked down the stairs
all by myself."
He held out his arms, she almost ran to him. When she
reached him without falling he hugged her. Delighted with
her progress he stayed at the Downs for a month. The twins
were brought home, and Rachel spent all her days looking
after them. A letter from George telling her he was still in
the country acted like a tonic. When Susan and her husband
left John Carlyle began making inquiries about Pauline.
At last he felt now was the time when he could retire. Sell
the store in Richmond, take the holiday his doctor told him
years ago he needed.
It was dusk when John Carlyle let himself in through the
front door of his house at the rear of his Richmond store.
He felt as if a great weight had been lifted off him, all he
wanted to do now was to rest. Too tired to turn on any
lights he went to the office at the back of the store,
slumped in his chair behind the desk and allowed the desire
to sleep take hold.
He'd lost all track of time when he awoke, but even in the
blackness of the curtained room he knew exactly where he
was. He sat for a long time in the dark silence, feeling
that the deep sleep, the longest he'd had in weeks had
restored his vitality. His strength was returning. He
thought about Rachel. She could walk again. The twins were
back, where they belonged, with their mother. He decided he
had something to celebrate.
He was concerned about Shaun. She seemed withdrawn, even
afraid, nothing like her sister. But he knew Rachel would
soon deal with that. His eldest grandson had not been sent
overseas, the war would soon be over. Now he, John Carlyle
was going to have that holiday he knew he deserved.
The odour of the darkened office was musty, heavy with the
smell of leather and wood. This was the first time since
Rachel had gone to the clinic he had been able to sit in his
"Nearly two years," he said aloud, knowing no one could hear
him, " thank God it's all over," he grinned, " a
celebration---that's what I'll have. A bottle- -even two. I
reckon I've bloodywell earned it"
For years John had kept a wine cellar just a few bottles at
first. Slowly the stock had grown, too large for him to
consume. There had been Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries.
It seemed that everyone had given him a bottle or two, most
of them stored in the cellar. He thought of the two huge
racks he had made. How his late wife Ann had laughed at him.
" You'll never fill them up. You don't like wine anyway."
John was not a connoisseur of wines, but now he felt that
the bottle of champagne his doctor had given him just before
he retired would make it an occasion to remember. Delighted
with the inspiration, he switched on the desk lamp, stood up
and opened the cellar door at the rear of the office.
From force of habit he closed the door behind him. He
remembered Ann telling him to make sure it was closed.
" We don't want the children going down there. You never
know what mischief they might get up to."
In the total darkness he groped for the light switch that
had been recently installed. He knew where it was, but
missed it, then something went wrong. Perhaps going from the
darkness of the office to the light on the desk, then back
to the dark cellar. Perhaps the deep sleep in the heavy
atmosphere, or the relief of knowing he could stop worrying
about Rachel, whatever the cause he fell.
As his legs buckled under him he missed the top two steps.
He clutched at the brick wall, scraping his hands, breaking
his nails trying to save himself. He felt his legs twist as
he rolled from side to side down the long flight of stairs.
One leg, he knew was broken. The pain seemed to delay the
fall to the floor of the cellar. When he landed with a
crash, he lay still, not daring to move.
In the darkness he was blind, suddenly deaf. When at last a
silence entered his head, he realized he had created the
silence in the midst of his screaming. His right leg, the
main source of his nightmare, had twisted itself under him
He reached down, forced his fingers along the leg of his
trousers. He touched the broken skin, and for the first time
in his life he fainted.
Consciousness returned immediately; the pain too strong for
quick relief. He lay staring into the blackness as a pain
not noticed before competed with the pain of his leg. There
was a sound as he shouted again. It seemed to be somewhere
in the distance, he thought it could have been his own
voice, in a sort of a cave. Then came a roaring sound, a
roar from within.
Irresistible curiosity forced him to touch the side of his
head. The substance felt sticky, then it trickled down the
left side of his face, past the corners of his mouth. He
touched it with his tongue. He held out his hand, trying to
look at it in the darkness. Vaguely, he remembered that
blindness was a symptom of a fractured skull.
Without extra pain, liquid poured from his nose with the
urgency of a river bursting it's banks. It surged over his
mouth, he felt violently sick, and again slipped into
unconsciousness. When he came round he thought he could see.
He realized it was his body, not he that was fighting for
breath. It was then he knew he was going to die.
Part of his intellect informed him that he could not last
the night. He screamed, knew no one would hear him, knew he
would not be missed. Since Rachel had stayed at the clinic,
he often closed the store. Sometimes for a week.
He screamed again, a last protest, now no more than a
muffled cry. The pain--it was gone. This was the way it all
ended, to die, hoping to die. Believing there was no hope of
living. Then came the moment no one has ever told anyone
about. The secret can belong only to them.