* * * FINAL-INSTALMENT OF THE "HERALD'S" SECOND PRIZE NOVEL.* * *
YOU CAN'T SEE ROUND CORNERS
By JON CLEARY
Illustrated by JAMES PHILLIPS
THERE were two men in the
bar, talking to Flanagan, when McCoy walked in, so he went straight through and up to his room and packed his bag. He laid his clothing out on the bed and took the money out of the case lining and put it beside the shirts and ties and socks. He stood looking at it; all that dough and none of it worth a used tram-ticket. He took his wallet from his inside coat pocket and opened it. The money was still there. He riffled through it and de- cided to keep it; it might yet prove useful. He might need to flee to the country, and there he would be able to pass the notes if he should run out of money. He put the notes back in his wallet. The clippings were beginning to bulge the wallet now, and he had to work the notes down the back of them. He wrapped up the rest of the money and put it back in the lining of the case. There was no reason why he should not burn it, it was useless to him, but it was there, and it was a lot of money, more than he'd ever had before, and he did not like to see it destroyed. He packed the suitcase and went downstairs and into the kitchen. Meg was sitting at the table, skinning beans, a book propped up against a jam jar before her.
"I'm leaving, Meg."
As Frankie announced his depar- ture, Meg looked up from the beans she was stringing and stared.
"You're what?" "I'm leaving."
"What's the matter? Getting snooty all of a sudden?" She finished string- ing the bean and dropped it into the saucepan on the table beside her.
"Don't be nuts." He sat down on the opposite side of the table. "I'm moving out because—well, because I can't pay off my debts. Two of the blokes are going to do me over if I ain't got the money to-night. And I ain't got it. So I'm going to get out for a while and lay low and maybe I can pick up the money somewhere, then I'll come back and pay 'em off."
"Who's getting tough?" The stringer slid down the beans, swiftly, deftly.
"Barney Lowe and Ern McCauliffe. I could look after Barney, but I wouldn't trust McCauliffe as far as I could throw him. He'd be just as likely to use a bottle."
"Perhaps you're right. If you can get a job somewhere and put a bit of money aside, you can pay 'em back. But if they mess you up you'll never pay 'em back." She looked down at the flying stringer in her hand. "You would pay 'em back, wouldn't you, Frankie?"
"I'm no welsher, Meg. I'll pay everybody back what I owe 'em. But they'll just have to give me time."
She looked up again and sat look- ing at him.
"What's the matter? Anything
"No. Or maybe there is, I was just thinking—it's a pity Margie hadn't married you ages ago. She could've made something of you."
Could she, he thought. Could she have made me something different to what I am now. Could she have stopped me from being what I am? Or would it have been just her that I murdered instead of Myra? He was beginning to have strange thoughts now; his mind was travelling in chan- nels it had never before explored. Thinking things that were all jumbled up: things such as had he always been a murderer, but never murdered any- one up till now, just waiting for it to happen without knowing it was going to happen? But he knew, even as he thought such things, that they were wrong. He knew it had been an accident and everything had been against him. But could you tell the jury that? When a jury walked into court every member of it was stone cold sober and they had forgotten what it was like to be drunk or that they had ever even been drunk.
"Maybe," he said. "But it's a bit
He got up and walked to the door and looked through the lounge-room into the bar. The bar was empty but for Flanagan, leaning against the counter in his usual position, read- ing the paper.
"Well, I wanna see Syd. Tell Mrs. Flanagan good-bye for me. I'll see you later, Meg."
"G'bye, Frankie. And look after
He picked up his bag and stood looking at her for a moment. He felt the desire to kiss her, to thank her for being what she was, and he walked across to the table and bent down. His lips brushed hers. "So-long."
HE went into the bar and Flanagan looked up from his paper. "Hullo.
Where you off to?"
"I'm moving, Syd. I wanna see
you about it."
"This is a bit sudden, ain't it?" Flanagan folded the paper and slid it under the counter.
"Yeah. I only got the idea this morning. Look, you know I been losing dough on the horses lately." Flanagan nodded. "Well, I can't pay 'em back yet. They skinned me clean. I aim to pay 'em back, but I need time to get the dough. And a couple of 'em are getting tough now. They want their money or else."
Flanagan looked in a mirror and patted a wayward strand of hair back into place. "Where you going then?"
"I'll get a room in town somewhere. I'll look around for a job and maybe I can get a stake and pick up enough money down at Thomas' or even bet- ting with someone else to come back
and pay 'em." He stopped, and be- low the counter his foot shifted ner- vously. His pride was gone; for the first time he knew real humility. "Look, Syd, I owe you two weeks' rent. I'm not trying to run out on you. But I ain't got the money to pay you now. And—well, to tell you the truth, I ain't got any money to pay for a room at any other pub."
His shell had crumbled about him; he had tasted the salt of his own humility and he stood revealed to Flanagan and Flanagan was glad to see him that way. He had always liked the boy, but he had never got beneath the crust of him.
"Are you asking me for a loan?"
McCoy grinned, an apology for his request. "Could you lend me a fiver? Put it on top of what I already owe you and I promise I'll pay you back as soon as I can."
Flanagan walked to the cash regis- ter. The drawer flew open, the bell ringing on a new-found friendship, and McCoy, a little incredulous, watched Flanagan come back, hold- ing out a five pound note to him.
"Here you are. I don't usually lend money. But you had a bad trot. And I know if you can pay it back, you will."
"Gee, thanks, Syd." He put out his hand; the gesture was sincere; the depth of his gratitude had wiped away embarrassment. "I won't for- get this."
"Just don't forget the fiver, that's all." Flanagan grinned and McCoy was getting a new view of him, as if he had been away for a long time and returned to find Flanagan had changed in character. He did not know that for the first time he was walking with his eyes open, that he had finally smashed out of his self-built shell into the lives of other people. "When you get fixed up, give us a ring and let's know where you are. I can keep you tabbed on things out, here then."
'Thanks, I will. I'll leave my bag here and pick it up on the way back. I wanna go home and tell Mum I'm moving."
When he reached home the front door was shut and he had to knock twice before his mother came to open
'"Lo, Mum." He walked past her into the house. "I come down to tell you I'm moving from Flanagan's." His mother went to close the door. "Leave it open and let a bit of air
His mother bent down and put a doorstop against the door. Late afternoon sun streamed into the room in a slanting yellow band and the musty air came alive in it.
"Where you moving to?"
"I'm going into town. I dunno where yet. I got to look up a room at a pub."
"Have you had a row up at Flana- gan's?" They walked through into the kitchen. His mother sat down at the table and he sat opposite her. She held up a pillowcase she had been mending. "It's hard to get things now without coupons. All the bed things are falling to pieces."
"Yeah, I heard Mrs. Flanagan com- plaining. No, I ain't had a row. I just thought it might be better if I moved away from Paddington for a while. Then I won't have to worry about the provosts and I can get a job
The mother and the son sat in the small kitchen of the home that had been theirs for so long, she glad to see him in it again and he wishing he could come back to it, never to leave it. This was how it used to be once, and he wished to hell this was how it could be again, just sitting here drinking tea with his mother, and not having to worry about police and pro- vosts and coves waiting to do him over. He had hated this house once, had hated the dinginess and the taps that always needed fixing, and the lavatory that was always running, and the rat that had been in the ceil- ing above his mother's room ever since he could remember, but now he felt peaceful. Home came about him and it was in the feel of the floor beneath his feet and the chair pressing against his back and the cup in his hand and his mother sitting against the light of the window, her hair silver in the single ray of light that struck the top. of her head, and he sat there wishing he could wake up and find that this was all true and the rest of it had been a dream. But what was the use? Even as he thought it, he knew he was only dreaming.
"Time I went," He stood up and
put on his hat, pushing it back on his head. "I left my things up at Flanagan's. I gotta pick them up on
"Let me know where you're stay- ing, Frankie. Ring Mrs. Mooney up at the corner shop and she'll give me the message. But don't leave me wondering what's happened to you; I
Oh, God, Mum, why can't I tell you what's happened to me? Why can't I tell you I committed a murder and I'm scared to death they'll catch me? That I'm out on my own and everything is piling up against me and I got no one to help me, not a person in the world to show me the way out? That I'm your son and neither you nor God Almighty can
He bent and kissed her, feeling the dry soft skin beneath his lips; then he turned and went quickly out of the house and the mother stood and looked after him, joy bringing tears to her eyes, knowing she had found
the son she had lost.
The hotel stood in a short side street off Kent Street. The warehouses loomed above it, but it stood in small proud challenge against encroaching commerce. It was neat and clean looking, and the woman who owned it was friendly. She was a small blonde with glasses that she obviously hated but found necessary to wear, and a cigarette-husky voice.
"It's the only room I got left," she told McCoy. "You can do what you like just so long as you behave your- self. You can have visitors to your room, but don't make a welter of it. Get 'em off the place before daylight." She smiled, and her false teeth were apparent. "I'm no spoil-sport, but I don't want my place rubbed out. The police are cleaning up all the pubs now. So if you got a girl-friend you can bring her up here; but I don't
want the other sort."
He grinned back at her. "You're safe. I don't want the other sort,
If I got a girl-friend, he thought. He followed the woman downstairs and went straight to the 'phone in the hallway. The elocutionist at the other end answered him, then he heard Margie's voice, cool, imper-
"Hullo, Margie. It's Frankie here.
"Yes?" He had known this girl once; had loved her and been loved; had grown from childhood with her, and now .she was a stranger, someone with whom he was unsure of him-
"Margie, I know you said you wouldn't see me unless I went back to camp but could you just see me to-night? Please?"
"Why, Frankie? It won't do any good. I told you what I want you
"Yes, I know. But will you see me just this once?"
There was silence and for a moment he thought she had hung up on him again. "All right, Frankie. Same place, same time?"
"Same place, same time. And thanks, Margie."
He walked into the bar and ordered a beer. He held it in his hand, a silent toast to this one stroke of good fortune. He felt better, as if this were the beginning of a solu- tion to his problems. Deep within him he knew that it wasnt, but still he felt better.
It seemed odd having to go out from town to their old meeting place. He sat in the tram im- patiently, wondering if he would be late and would she wait for him. His impatience seemed to retard the tram —at every stop people seemed to take a long time to board and alight. He felt the strong desire to tell them to Hurry along there! I'm on my way to see my girl. Then doubt would assail him. Maybe she wasn't his girl. He could not feel sure of any- thing these days—nothing was defi- nite; everything had become a ques- tion to which there was no answer.
He was late, five minutes late, but she was waiting for him. He got out of the tram and walked across the road toward her and he could feel the excitement pumping within him as she grew more distinct in the dim light as he neared her.
"Hullo, Margie. Sorry I'm late." "Hello, Frankie. I just got here myself."
"I—where would you like to go?" She smiled, more friendly than he expected, but he was still unsure of himself, still scared that she might suddenly turn and walk away from
"I don't care, Frankie. You said you wanted to see me?"
"Well—can we go across into the park? It's quiet there." .
She turned round and he took he arm and helped her over the kerb. She looked at him but remained silent. They walked across the .road and there was comfort in having her beside him again—it was like floating on the sea after you had been down for a long time. She still had the same clean smell he liked so much and the freshness about her as if she had been standing in the breeze all day.
"How you been?"
"All right, thanks, Frankie. We've been pretty busy at the factory lately and I've been too tired at night to go out much. How have you been?"
"Oh, so-so. I—I lost a bit on the races."
She made no comment but walked through the gates of the park. A thin moon rode high in the sky and the stars were hard points of ice in
"It's a lovely night." She turned her face up toward the sky and the moonlight was faintly luminous on it, and his love weakened him as he saw the beauty of her.
"Yeah." He wondered if she re- membered. "It was like this last time we were here."
She turned her face down from the light and all he could see was the dark shape of her head. Then he felt her hand on his, and a sudden relief ran through him—he had come home to the harbour he needed.
"Yes, Frankie. It was."
His secret tore at his lips, wanting to be told. He wanted to take her in his arms and hold her close and tell her everything, about the murder and how he hadn't meant to do it, and about stealing the money, and he hadn't meant to do that either, and how he wished to God he had stayed
in camp as she had wanted him to.
He pressed her fingers and they walked off the path, across the grass, to a large tree, where he spread out his coat and they sat down. The air was slightly chilly, but he put his arm about her, she relaxed against him, and the warmth of each came into the other. He felt for her hand and held it.
"Why did you want to see me,
"I—I dunno." He could not destroy the moment so soon; he felt a peace about him that, brittle as it was, he wanted to remain intact. "I just wanted to see you, that's all." He looked down at her hand, twisting her fingers in and out of his, entwin- ing them, holding them together. "I missed you, hon."
"Did you, Frankie?"
He nodded and looked up at her. She took her hand from his and raised it to his head and began to
stroke his hair.
"I missed you, too, darling."
He twisted round, putting his hand behind her head, lifting her face to his. He kissed her and while he was kissing her she began to weep. She turned her face away, burying it in his shoulder, and sobbed as if some- one had whipped her. The loneliness and grief of the last weeks broke from her and she clung to him with a passionate relieved possession.
"There, hon. Come on, don't cry Please."
In a moment, she lifted her face and he gave her his handkerchief. She dried her eyes and sat up and blew her nose.
"I'm sorry, darling." "That's all right. I was pretty close to it myself."
She gave him the handkerchief and leaned back against him, "We've been awfully silly, darling."
"Uh—uh. I didn't think I could miss anyone like I missed you."
"I used to lie awake at night and wonder what you were doing and if you were out with other girls. I was terribly jealous, darling."
If I were out with other girls, he thought. There was only one, Margie. And that was one too many. If there had been only you, all this, you and I here together, would be real and something that could go on forever
instead of something that must finish I don't know when.
"You needn't have been. There wasn't anyone, hon. Once I took out
Meg, Flanagan's niece, but there wasn't nothing in it. I didn't even kiss her."
"I went out once, darling. One of the girls at work had a party. But I came home before it was over. One of the boys tried to get fresh. I—I was wishing it was you, Fran-
He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face and kissed her. "I don't get fresh any more, hon," he grinned. "I'm strictly a gentle- man now." It was said with a smile, lightly, almost carelessly, but she would never guess the depth of the reason behind his reform.
She smiled. "You've changed, Frankie. Something's happened to you,"
Again the irony of it hit him; words were always the same, there was a set of stock phrases, and only the meaning behind them was different.
"Maybe it was missing you."
She leaned back against him and looked out across the park.
"Darling—what about the army?"
The army now was unimportant, but the question of it could still spoil their relationship. "Yes, hon?"
"Are you going back?"
He sat with his chin resting on her head, staring out across the park, across the grass, faintly green-blue in the moonlight, across the dark trees, across to the far yellow lights climb- ing the hill toward Randwick. He couldn't tell her why he could not go back. If that was all it meant, just going back to camp and facing the colonel, he would go to-night. But going back there he would go straight into detention and he'd be right there, the wire fences already round him, when the police came. He could not go back and he could not tell her why.
"I dunno, hon. I can't. If I go back now—"
The words died in his mouth; there was so much to say and so much he could not say.
"Why can't you go back, darling? It's better now than later. The longer you stay away, the worse they'll treat you."
"I know, hon. But, well—well, I lost a lot of money on the races like I told you." The point of their previous arguments, the bane of her existence, was now a rock to which he clung in the sea of his bewilderment. "And those people want their money back. I got lo stay out till I can get that money and pay 'em back. I can't pay 'em back on six bob a day.
She was silent again and he sat waiting for her decision, helpless, re- signed, knowing he could go no fur- ther to influence her.
She looked up. "Yes, darling?"
"What's the matter? What're you thinking?"
"I was thinking, darling, that owing these people money means nothing
to proving that you can be a man. I love you, Frankie, and I don't care whether you owe money or not. I just want you to be doing right and I think the right thing is to go back and get this other business over
You'll never know, Margie, how much I want to say Yes, you're right. He sat looking down at her then her hand came up round his neck, pull- ing his head down to her. Her mouth clung to his and her hand kept pulling him, claiming him to her, and after all this time, all these years, he could not believe it, not now when everything was all so wrong. There was an unreality about it all that frightened him, the softness of her, the complete surrender, the nails dig- ging into his back, the hair across her face, the lipstick smeared like
"Margie! Margie! No! No!"
Frightened, she turned from him swiftly. He dropped his head into her lap and lay shivering, boneless with the sudden return of the horror.
"Frankie! Darling, please? What's
He rolled over on to his back, still shivering, now feeling cold; the peace was gone and his crime was
about him, standing in the dark shadows of the trees, quiet-footed in the silent park.
"Oh darling, what happened? What's the matter? Please! There's nothing wrong, is there?" Panic was sweeping through her; her innocence rose up like a veil that kept her from the knowledge of what had happened
He lifted himself, catching his breath, trying to steady himself. "No, hon—no, there's nothing wrong. Nothing. I have changed, like you
She suddenly dropped her head and kissed him, her mouth pressing
fiercely against his, her arms tight about his neck. Then she leaned back, her eyes wide and happy.
"Oh, darling, I do love you."
They went home a long time after- wards. They walked down her street and stood at the gateway to her home. She leaned against the gate and he put his arms on each side of her, leaning against the fence.
"Frankie, have you decided about the army?"
He looked down at his foot as he moved his toe in circles on the pave- ment. "I'll think about it, hon, I promise."
She said nothing, and he looked up at her. She was gazing at him, steadily, appraisingly, and yet tenderly, and as if with an effort to come to some decision.
"What's the matter, hon?"
"Frankie, will you see me to- morrow night?"
He felt a lifting eagerness. "Gee, of course! And the next night and the next and every night you want
"Promise you'll be there to-morrow night, Frankie. Same place, same
"I'll be there, hon. Same place,
She took his face in her hands and kissed him. Her lips were soft, then her mouth pressed harder; then she had broken from his arms and had gone inside the gate.
"Good-bye, darling. I love you."
THE next morning when he went downstairs and out of the hotel there was rain beating at an angle across the street, pelting swiftly before the strong cold wind. There was a newsagent's opposite the hotel and, running through the rain, he crossed the street and went into the shop and bought the morning papers. He went back through the rain and up to his room. He wiped the rain from his face and hair with a towel then sat down on the bed and looked at the papers.
Interest in the murders was waning; a strike, had taken the headlines and the murder stories were at the bottom of a column, just a synopsis of what was known yesterday. Maybe the police had come up against a dead end; hope lifted within him. Maybe the Greek had not come forward after all and maybe all they knew was her name and her age and her address and that she was murdered and maybe that was all they ever would know. He cut out the clippings and put them into his wallet then burned the papers in the grate.
He went downstairs to breakfast. He sat there and while he waited for his food to be brought he thought of last night. Last night he had conquered the thunder of his blood and it gave him a certain pride in himself and the feeling that he now loved Margie completely and the flesh was only incidental. But it would not work out. He knew that. Nothing would work out till he was absolutely sure of everything, that the police would never catch up With him. Not till he could walk down the street and the police and the provosts and the bettors wanting their money would not be a worry to him. He wanted her now but it would be no use, he could not draw her into the whirl- pool of his own predicament. So nothing would work out till he could walk down the street without anyone to worry him. And yet he knew, though he tried to deny it, there would always be someone to worry him. Himself and his memory. He would never again walk alone within him- self, thinking only of the present and the future. There would always be the horror of a certain night in the past.
After breakfast he went out to the phone.
"Hullo, can I speak to Margie Harris?"
"Is it a private call?"
"Yeah, it's private."
Margie's voice was husky over the phone but it was not worthy of comment; perhaps there was just a bad connection on the wire. "Hello darling. How are you this morning?"
"Fine. How're you?"
"All right. A bit tired. I—I didn't go to sleep till a long time after I'd got into bed."
"Yeah, I did a lot of thinking, too." There was just the humming of the live wire, then she spoke again. "Frankie, will you be there to-night?"
"Gee, hon, of course. This rain
won't keep me away. We'll go to a picture or something, eh?"
"Yes, if you like." Again there was a short silence. "Darling, have you thought any more about the army?"
He had thought about it but he had no answer, not the answer she wanted. "Yeah, hon. But I still dunno. I wanna pay back that money. You see. I'd feel a welsher if I went away without paying it. I ain't ever done that before, hon."
"I still think what I said last night is the best thing. But, darling—?"
"Frankie, you know I love you, don't you? Really love you?"
"Sure I do. I feel the same way, hon. Why, what's the matter?"
"Just always remember that, darl- ing. To-night. Same place, same time. Good-bye, darling."
The 'phone went dead and slowly he put it back on the stand. Some- thing was worrying her. Had he made a slip last night and given her some hint of his trouble? He racked his mind but nothing came up to substantiate that thought. Last night they had talked about only his debts and his absence from the army. He shrugged—she must be worried about the army, the least of all his troubles.
It continued to rain all day and he stayed in the hotel. After dinner, he went upstairs to dress. Margie had always liked his blue suit and blue shirt. He changed into them, putting his loose change from the sports trousers he had just taken off into the trousers of the suit and the wallet into the inside pocket of the blue coat. The wallet made a slight bulge in the form-tailored smoothness of the coat; the clippings were begin- ning to mount up. "Maybe by the end of the week there would be no more to collect.
He walked up through the rain, his coat collar turned up, to Elizabeth Street, and from the newsboy on the corner he bought a paper. He got into the tram, shutting the door against the rain, glad of the warmth of the interior of the car, sat down, opened the paper, and saw the head- lines of the murder arrest.
The man's name was not given. There were the headlines, a recapitu- lation of the two murders, the un- ceasing work of the police, the clues they had discovered and the informa- tion that had come to them, and finally the arrest of a man whose name had not yet been released.
He did not hear the conductor ask- ing for his fare and the man next him touched him.
"He wants your fare." "Eh? Oh, sorry."
He paid the threepence and went back to the paper. The possibilities came up between the lines, another story in themselves. Maybe this was his salvation; maybe they would charge the arrested man with both murders and the suspect would have no alibi; all the police wanted was an arrest; they weren't out to prove the man's innocence, only his guilt. He folded the paper and put it in his pocket and sat lost in the hardly credible thought that this perhaps was the wish, the prayer, the dream that had not seemed possible.
He got out of the tram and walked across to their meeting place. He
looked at his watch. He was early. He stood in a shop doorway and lit a cigarette. He stood there out of the wind, watching the rain bounce from the roadway, seeing the cars go past in moving reflection, looking down the street to where the red light above a doctor's gate gleamed like blood in the wet night. Something caught his eye and he looked up at the street light. A. child's kite had caught on a roof and the tail, a long rope with pieces of cloth tied to it, was blowing about in the wind. It twisted as if alive, sometimes shoot- ing out of sight beyond, the down- aimed light, then coming back, a beribboned snake in the air.
He looked at his watch but the face was too dim. He stepped from
the doorway toward the gutter and held up his arm, twisting it so that
the light fell on the watch face, and he was standing like that, at half past seven, time for their meeting, when he felt the touch on his arm.
"Right on time, dig."
He turned and was looking straight into the face of a soldier, a soldier with a black armband on which were two red letters. He stood there, immobile in his shock, trying to com- prehend this. The provost put his hand on McCoy's arm, and it was as if he had touched him with a live electric wire. He twisted and jabbed his elbow into the soldier's stomach. The provost grunted and dropped his hand, stepping back, and McCoy fol- lowed him, hitting him hard on the chin with his bunched right hand. Right on time. Same place, same lime. Promise you'll be there to- night. I love you, Frankie. Remem-
ber that. Oh, why did you do this, Margie?
He turned and ran straight into the two provosts as they came up toward him. He ducked and tried to side- step but he was too late. One of them hit him, running in behind the big red fist, and he felt the bone in
his nose go and the blood begin to run instantly. He swung his leg and he felt his foot sink home into the soft stomach of the soldier as he heard the scream. The other soldier came in, running hard, and McCoy felt the pain happen to his mouth, the lips going dead, the taste of the blood, the broken teeth that he spat out. Oh, God, this couldn't be happening! This must be another dream, another awful night- mare. The provosts grabbed his coat and the buttons flew off as he twisted to escape the grip. He turned and hit with his fist, then with his back to the roadway stepped off the gutter, feeling something fall from his coat to hit his foot, hearing the scream of brakes, and the scream of a woman, seeing the blinding lights, feeling the sudden agony that shot through him as the car hit, then he seemed to be falling from a long way up, and his wallet was lying open on the ground beneath him and the money and the clippings were lying in the rain, and her face was laughing up at him. The panorama of the past went swiftly by and the long-forgotten words burst from him as he went out of the agony into the darkest mystery of all: "Holy Mary, Mother of God . . .!"
THE mother and the two girls walked out from the court, through the small crowd of curious people who stood about in the court- yard. Two photographers raised their cameras, perpetuating the grief, and turned and hurried away, their only worry the deadline.
Margie was weeping and Meg walked with her arm about her, her own mouth a tight straight line.
"He was none of those things," Margie's voice was blurred in her weeping. "He couldn't have planned that murder like they said. They said he was evil. He wasn't, was he?"
"No," Meg said. "He wasn't. He
was just someone who couldn't beat - life."
The mother walked on, the coro- ner's words still burning in her ears, knowing he had been wrong because he had never known her son, knowing, too, that she had only known him in death, that he had been lost and she had failed him. She walked out of the courtyard and down toward the tram, toward the silent, empty, desolate house that would forever hold the echo of him, to be heard above the dripping taps, the running lavatory, the movement of the rat, and the weeping in the lonely bed-