Nights for me were never about peace and rest, but of surreal images and a dull glow that I associate with my mother who always slept with the television on. Darrell Haagan had shown up one day without reason and left an impression on my soul that made me feel dirty from within.
The day I met Darrell Haagen my perspective of man’s origin changed. I no longer believe all men come from the same tree. I believe some men let their nightmares dictate their actions. I also believe that if we aren’t careful those same men will let the snakes take away our bones. Darrell’s presence is still with me although I am sure he is no longer here. I see him sometimes in my dreams, which frequently explode from the darkness – uneven, strange, oddly colourful. Sometimes when I wake I can still feel their macabre presence, and even with age and faith and knowledge that the shadows behind the trees don’t belong to dark creatures, I still cannot shake that foreboding itch that maybe I am wrong and that we aren’t alone in solitude.
I operate a law firm in the small town of Spirit Bay, in the North Island of New Zealand. The coast is battered and hardened by the world, much in the same way as the people who live here are; the weatherboard houses on the hills are scarred with old paint–blue and green and yellow–, and their gardens are scattered with car tyres used as plant pots and driftwood dragged up from the shoreline. The winter here is windy and the sky looks like a dirty, grey sea, but I dream less when it’s cold, and when it rains and water fills the fields, I feel as though the promise of better days walks next to me, one step behind the shadows.
One morning, after hearing the rattling of the tracks, I heard the train blow its whistle, but when I opened my front door in my slippers and carrying a mug of coffee, the sound was gone and all I heard was the wind rustling through the trees. My wife reminded me the train hasn’t run for fifteen years.
I went to my office early that day. I was drawing up the final details of a property contract for a local farmer by the name of Malcolm Mason when my receptionist called me from the lobby.
‘There’s a man here wanting to see you,’ she said. ‘He says his name is Darrell Haagan. He wants legal advice.’
‘Give me a sec,’ I said.
Darrell entered my office and pulled over the rubbish bin and sat down without asking. He was a tall man, with brown hair that rolled down his neck in curls, and his clothes hung off his body as though he were made of the same sticks that wash up on Spirit beach. He removed a pocket knife from his jacket and opened the blade with a fingernail. I watched him, dumbfounded, as he started carving a stick of wood.
‘Mr Haagan?’ I said.
‘I lied to your secretary,’ he said, his eyes on his work. ‘I wanted you to know that. I don’t think she would have let me see you had I told her the truth.’
‘How about you tell me what you want, then?’
‘I see things nobody else sees, Mr James.’
‘I see them at night when people are sleeping. Sometimes I see them in the day, but it’s not all common. I seen it maybe once or twice. I don’t think they like the sun.’
I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Darrell glanced at me. ‘I seen that look many a time, Mr James. It comes with the territory.’
‘I can call the police, if you’d like.’
‘Your father wants you to know he’s sorry.’
‘My father’s dead. Plus he’s never apologised for anything in his life.’
‘Maybe it took his death to see his failings.’
I watched a Morrison hearse drive up the street and disappear round a bend, the side window down, the driver pulling on a can of Coke. I picked up a paperclip and moved it between my fingers.
‘What do you think?’ said Darrell, his hand scraping the blade against the wood, shavings curling into the bin.
I let out my breath. I was just about done with the man. ‘What do I think about what?’
‘You want to go forgive him?’ When he turned his head, I saw his neck was sprinkled with cigarette burns that looked like worms.
‘I let you have your fun, now I want you to leave,’ I said, and dropped the paperclip on the blotter.
‘Ignoring the dead’s not going to make them go away,’ he added. ‘I learned that a long time ago.’
I picked up the receiver and dialled the reception and told my secretary to call the police.
‘Maybe,’ said Darrell as he carefully closed the knife and returned it to his jacket, ‘you should wake up to reality. He won’t go away until you make amends. Which means neither will I.’
Darrell put the wood carving on my desk. He snuffed at his nose and stood up. ‘We shouldn’t play games with the dead. But it’s your soul, not mine.’
He walked toward the door and then stopped. ‘Think about what I told you. I’m staying at a little place called Blue Rock. You know it?’ He stood there waiting for a reply he would never get. He pulled up his faded denims then walked out the door.
I sat at my desk in silence. I didn’t see my secretary standing in the doorway.
‘What was that all about?’ she said.
But how was I supposed to answer that? I saw Darrell through the window standing on the curb. He had lit a hand rolled cigarette with a plastic lighter. The wind was ruffling the curls on the back of his neck. He had the vague and distant eyes and the posture of a man waiting for a bus he knew deep down would never come.
I picked up the wood carving from my desk and turned it around in my hands. Opening the drawer of my desk, I dropped it in as quickly as possible, my hands unable to correctly push the drawer back on its hinges.
At lunch I walked across the street and ordered a hamburger and a strawberry milkshake from the cafe and ate at a picnic table out front under an umbrella scrolled with Coca-Cola markings. I tried to forget about what had happened, but I couldn’t get his face out of my head. I wondered where people like that come from.
I no longer felt hungry so I stood up and dropped the half-eaten hamburger and milkshake in the rubbish.
I woke up at 4 A.M and sat at the edge of the bed. I seldom dream of good things. My head is always full of what feels like carnival clowns and cement, always turning, always laughing. But my dreams that night were strange and in no way connected to my usual ones. The dreams were cloudy, without sound, like maybe a cinema whose speakers have been removed from the walls, and when I sat in the darkness I had a sense of inexplicable dread resting on my shoulders. Nights for me were never about peace and rest, but of surreal images and a dull glow that I associate with my mother who always slept with the television on. Darrell Haagan had shown up one day without reason and left an impression on my soul that made me feel dirty from within.
I turned on the light in the bathroom and showered until half past, the water stinging my face, my bones aching in the heat.
When I lay back down in bed Audrey, my wife, rolled over.
‘What is it, Lloyd?’ she asked.
‘I heard the wind through the window. It woke me up.’
‘You usually shower when it’s windy?’ She rested her head on my chest. ‘Why is your heart racing?’
‘Nothing. Let’s get some sleep. I’ll buy you a big breakfast in the morning.’
Next day I drove out to the Mason’s farm. Malcolm was walking out of his huge tin shed when I drove up the loose metal driveway. He wiped his hands on an oil-stained cloth and leaned against my window, his forearm resting on the window groove, the skin dotted with grease.
‘What can I do for you?’ he said, squinting in the sunlight.
‘I drew up the contract,’ I said. ‘I’d like to go through it with you, if you don’t mind.’
Malcolm seemed to think about this, but I turned off the ignition and stepped out before he had the chance to reply. The truth is that I didn’t have to see him personally. I could have simply faxed him the draft and asked him to come down to the office and sign it when he was ready. I still didn’t know exactly why I was out there, or what I was trying to achieve.
Malcolm walked me into his house and offered me a drink while I stood in the doorway of his kitchen. His house was modest and typical of the farmhouses in the area, perhaps the country. When he opened the refrigerator I could see the door was littered with photographs of his family, held in place with colourful letter magnets.
We sat on his back deck in the sun, and in the sky there were black birds igniting from the totara trees; I heard the sound of a dirt bike coming down the hills, heard the lowing of the dairy cows in the paddocks, and smelled manure in the air.
I sipped water from my glass as Malcolm licked his finger and turned the page on the contract I had given him.
‘You’re not going to miss this place?’ I asked.
‘What’s to miss? Farming’s old news, Lloyd. Real estate is where it’s at. Plus this town’s stuck like crap in a sewer pipe. Like my old man used to say, this place isn’t going anywhere.’
‘Where do you expect it to go?’
‘Forgive me, Lloyd, but are you trying to tell me something?’
‘It’s not my place. Thanks a lot for the water.’ I stood up to leave, but Malcolm followed me into the living room.
‘You don’t want me to sell, do you?’ he said.
‘I don’t think my opinion matters.’
‘No kidding. Maybe you and the rest of the town should bugger off and mind your own business.’
‘Malcolm, your farm is one of the most beautiful places here. I just don’t think the locals want to see their country turned into a wasteland for retirees. The ones buying your property don’t care for aesthetics, or the damage their lack of foresight brings.’
I made for the front door but Malcolm persisted in following me. It should have been over. It wasn’t. I heard the sound of rocks and stones crunching under my feet as I walked over to my Toyota Hilux.
‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ said Malcolm. I saw his face in the silver paint of the door. I tried to ignore him as I started to get into the cab. Then I felt his calloused hand touch my shoulder.
‘Get your hand off my person, please,’ I said.
‘I want a new lawyer.’
‘You think that’s going to solve your problems? Just get a new lawyer because you don’t like what you hear?’
‘I knew you were a bad egg. You’re Yvonne James’ son. The only reason you got any sort of education is because a priest pitied you and gave you an inheritance. Your father was an asshole and your mother couldn’t keep her pants on. You’re a joke, Lloyd. I know it, the whole goddamn town knows it, maybe if you thought about it a second you’d even know it. The only reason I hired you is because I feel bad for you.’
I felt my stomach drop and my veins itch. I balled my fist and thought about things that made me feel ashamed. I climbed into the Toyota and started the engine.
‘If you could bring the contract down to the office before Friday,’ I said, my eyes on the dashboard, ‘we can get all this behind us.’
Malcolm watched me back all the way out of the driveway, his hands at his sides, his face motionless, his words burning my cheeks as though he had physically slapped me, my humiliation and embarrassment making me feel like a child again.
I didn’t think I would see Darrell Haagan again, but I was wrong. Monday morning when I got to work I saw him across the street eating fried chips from an unwrapped newspaper stained with ketchup. His fingers were glossy with grease. When he saw me park in my rental spot, he licked all the fingers on his left hand and started walking toward me. I opened my door.
‘You’re making a mistake,’ I said before he could say anything.
‘That’s not a very nice way to greet someone.’
I was exasperated with Darrell, and I hoped he would just go back to wherever the hell people like him came from. The granules of salt on his lips glistened in the sunlight that fell through the clouds.
‘Your daddy came and saw me again this morning,’ he said. ‘He knows you ain’t happy working for that Mason fella. He says you shouldn’t be afraid anymore.’
I watched the newspaper Darrell had been eating from catch on the wind and blow against the side of the cafe, spattering ketchup.
‘Take a ride with me,’ I said.
‘Where we going?’
I ignored him and opened the passenger door.
The sky was mottled with clouds and their shadows marbled the hills as we drove across Gum Bridge and along the coast, and out in the Pacific the sky was as dark as coal. There were oystercatchers leaving footprints in the sand, and Caspian terns struggling against the wind.
‘I want you to listen very carefully,’ I said, my hands damp on the steering wheel. ‘I’m a lawyer. I have an image to uphold. I service most of this town. The people here are on the level, despite their petty crimes. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t belong here. I want you to leave me alone.’
‘Can’t do that, Mr James. Your daddy’s given me explicit instructions. He won’t let me sleep until you do what he wants. He told me he feels bad for making you hurt that man.’
My face blanched and I felt ants run down my sides.
‘What did you say?’
‘He told me when you were fourteen he made you hurt a man who didn’t deserve it. He says he’s sorry.’
I hit the brake pedal and struggled to pull the Toyota onto the gravel. Darrel and I jerked against our seat belts; the car swerving behind us blasted its horn.
‘Get the fuck out of my car,’ I said.
‘What I say?’ said Darrell, his face genuinely confused.
‘If I see you again I will hurt you, Darrell. My reputation and career be damned.’
I went back to my office and asked Ioana to find out as much as possible about Darrell. I told her I was taking the rest of the day off and to lock up when she was done. I bought a cooked chicken and a tub of coleslaw from the Four Square and drove home in a rain shower. Later that evening, when the rain had eased off, Audrey and I ate chicken on the picnic table in the garden while light from the setting sun fell through the totara trees like smoke.
After we ate I told Audrey I was going out.
I drove to the cemetery and visited a grave stained with grave moss. I stayed until the sky became dirty and the moonlight burned a dull yellow. Seeing the church light turn on and the back door open and a familiar voice calling my name, I walked quickly back to the car park and drove home while the dust blowing behind me resembled a brooding demonic figure I couldn’t outrun.
At home I sat down on the edge of the bed in the dark while I unbuttoned my shirt and Audrey stood in the doorway, the hallway light burning the edges of her figure.
‘Where’ve you been?’ she said.
‘I went to the cemetery.’
‘It’s not a bad thing to remember our past, Lloyd.’
‘Mine is.’ The window was ajar and I could hear crickets and moreporks in the garden.
‘You would have made a great priest,’ she said.
I removed my shirt and dropped it on the floor and said, ‘All that is another world.’
‘You did everything you could have done. You chose to be a lawyer. I think that’s admirable.’
‘I grew up in a bad place, Audrey. I think Father Patterson made it more difficult for me to accept reality.’
‘Father Patterson tried his hardest to get you away from your birth parents. He had all the intentions of following through with his promise.’
‘He was an old man when he adopted me. He never thought about what would happen after he died, and as a result he left me to fend for myself in a family that never wanted me. He made me see the best in life, just so I could then see the worst of it. Do you know what’s it like to grow up believing so much in something only to see it shatter all before the age of eleven? Then to find out that your real family is physically and emotionally abusive? That your dreams and promises of becoming a priest was just a fantasy? I feel as though I’ve lived two lifetimes.’
She sat down next to me and I felt her warmth radiating off her body. I hadn’t visited Father Patterson’s grave in three years. My real father had been cremated and given to his family in Rotorua. The last thing I heard was that they threw his urn in the rubbish. I probably wouldn’t have done any better.
I lay on my back and Audrey lifted my arm and put my hand on her face.
‘When are you going to realize that not everything you touch turns to ash?’ she said. ‘I’m still here. Always will be.’
Though I went to bed early that night I couldn’t sleep. I got a call just before midnight. I rolled over and answered it. Constable Dan was on the other end, explaining that an old client of mine had been pulled over for speeding.
‘He’s sitting in the cell. He keeps asking for you.’
‘Is it just alcohol?’ I asked.
Audrey rolled over and put the pillow over her head. I picked up the phone and went into the next room, closing the door behind me.
‘That’s what he’s getting picked up on. If I were to guess, he’s probably more related to a pharmacy than a human right now.’
‘I’ll be right down.’
‘Maybe it can wait until morning.’
‘Not a chance,’ I said. ‘I don’t want you or anyone else down there talking to my client without me present. Especially considering his state. You got it?’’
‘Yeah, you’re real drag sometimes. You know that?’
I dressed in the dark and drove out to the police station on Gilbert Avenue. My client was waiting for me in the visitor’s room when I arrived.
‘What’s going to happen to me?’ he asked. His eyes were heavy and puffy, bloodshot. I didn’t bother opening my briefcase, and although my words were directed at him, my eyes weren’t.
‘They’re going to book you and you’ll probably be free to go tonight. You’ll have a hearing, but I don’t recommend defending it. You’ll get a fine and they’ll take away your license for probably three months.’
‘Man, I need my license,’ he said. ‘Flynn’s going to do me in. I’ll lose my job.’
‘You should be lucky. You could be getting a six month suspension.’
‘You gotta get my license back, Lloyd.’
‘There’s nothing I can do. You tested positive on both the breathalyser and the blood test. They caught you doing 140km/h. That’s not including the obvious meth in your system. You should have made sure you weren’t playing solo in the symphony before you put down all your cards.’
I knew he watched me as I stood up and walked out of the holding cell, but I never looked back. I walked down the corridor and found the constable in the green room drinking coffee from a paper cup.
‘You’re not going to get him out of this one,’ he said.
‘I know,’ I replied. The room had one light and the bulb hummed, and the electric light produced twisted shadows on the walls. I sat down at the table and the constable sipped his coffee.
‘You ever heard of a guy called Darrell Haagan?’ I asked.
I tried to wipe the sleep from my eyes.
‘Something bothering you?’ he said.
‘Yeah. Being awake.’
The constable drank the last of his coffee, stood up, and dropped the paper cup in the rubbish bin.
‘Darrell Haagan came into my office the other day,’ I said, my hands on the table, palms down. ‘He said he talks to ghosts or spirits or whatever. He says he wants me to forgive my father or he won’t go away.’
‘He’s harassing you?’ said Dan.
‘He’s got a habit of showing up. He carved a wooden figure in my office in front of me.’
‘I can’t put out warrants on woodworkers, Lloyd.’
‘When I was a kid my father, my real father I mean, gave me a wooden car my grandfather carved. It was one of the only things he gave to me with genuine care. This Darrel guy made one right in front of me, and I swear it looked exactly the same. How would he know about that?’
‘It’s not like toy cars are a rarity,’ said the constable. ‘He’s probably just a bloke who’s angry that you’re working on the Mason farm contract. Lord knows there are a few unhappy folks in town. I’m sure you already know that.’
On Wednesday I woke at sunrise. It was a calm, poetic morning, the bellbirds in the trees singing their dawn song, their notes disjointed, and the sky was cold with strips of white clouds. I cooked scrambled eggs in a frying pan on the electric stove in the kitchen, and the sun made morning shadows across the linoleum floor. I put half the scrambled eggs on a plate and put it in the refrigerator for Audrey and ate the other half at the dining room table while I watched birds move across the sky like torn paper. I turned on the heater in the Toyota and drove to the CBD where my law office is located. Ioana was sitting at her desk when I came through the front door with two steaming coffee cups in my hands. I set one down in front of her.
‘I got the report on this Darrell Haagan fellow,’ she said, not looking at the coffee. She slid a yellow folder toward me.
‘Thanks, Ioana. You’re a star.’ I took the folder into my office and locked the door behind me. I lowered the blinds and switched on the lamp by the desk and sat on the swivel chair. I was silent for a while, unsure what I was doing or why. I took a sip of coffee and rolled the chair up to the desk and opened the folder.
If I had said his file was underwhelming it would have been an overstatement. His file was thin and incomplete. Ioana had included two photographs and at first I wasn’t sure why. The first photograph was of him as a child. His hair was blonde, his eyes bright, his features soft. He was shirtless and in a pair of shorts and he was standing in front of a tractor tyre and the trees in the background were tall and in full foliage. The second photograph was starkly different. He was an adult in this photograph, but I did not recognize the man as the same man who walked into my office, nor did he bear any resemblance to the child Darrell. His eyes were dull, green, his skin tanned under the sun, his features hard and sharp. I read through the report thrice. The final paragraph confused me. I picked up the telephone.
‘Why does it say Darrell went missing in 2003?’
‘Because he went missing. Some people go off the grid.’
‘People do it all the time.’
‘Maybe. But he didn’t even change his name.’
‘Not that we know of. All we know is that he didn’t give us the name he changed to.’
Ioana was right, I concluded, and hung up the phone. But something bugged me and I couldn’t understand why. Usually people give out fake names, not the names they are trying to run away from. I dropped the folder in the bottom drawer and decided the enigma that was Darrell Haagan wasn’t worth my time, and I didn’t want to dwell on things that didn’t appear to make much sense.
I kept the blinds on my office window half closed, and the muted afternoon glow made deep shadows on the furniture. A client, Mike Brogan, was telling me how his wife had kicked him out of his house and wasn’t letting him see their four year old son. I stood up while he was speaking, his eyes watching me, and opened the window and looked at the courtyard of the office building. The banana trees and cabbage trees were whipping in the wind, and the air was laced with sea salt, a result of the toiling waves at Spirit beach.
‘I think you might want to look at getting a lawyer who specializes in child cases,’ I said.
‘But you’re my divorce lawyer,’ said Mike, his eyes remaining on me. ‘This is part of my divorce.’
I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket, but I ignored it.
‘If you ever want to see your son again, Mr Brogan, I really think you should take my advice.’ I sat back down in my chair and opened the first drawer of the desk.
‘You really think there’s a chance I won’t see him again?’
I gave him a card of a friend in Hillsborough. Mike looked at the card and his eyes saddened.
‘There’s no one local?’ he said.
‘Not really.’ The telephone on my desk rang – it was linked to the reception, so all calls had to go through Ioana before they could ever get to me. ‘I can’t help you anymore, Mr Brogan. I think you should strongly consider calling that lawyer. The sooner you do, the better.’ I started drawing stick figures on my legal pad while Mike Brogan stood up and left my office. The telephone on my desk called again. I picked up the receiver.
‘What is it?’ I said.
‘Your wife’s been trying to call you. She says someone’s out at the house. Says he’s a friend of yours.’
‘A friend of mine?’
‘Just call her, Lloyd.’
I dialled my home number and waited for Audrey to pick up.
‘There’s a man out here.’
‘I don’t know. I think he’s been drinking. I don’t like the way he looks at me. He says he’s an old friend of yours and said I would know who he is. I asked him to leave.’
‘Is he still there?’
‘He’s sitting on the picnic table in the garden.’
‘I’ll be right over.’
I picked up my jacket from the back of the chair and walked to the reception where Ioana stopped me before I could leave.
‘Malcolm also called,’ she said. ‘He’s coming down at 3:30 to sign the contract.’
I let out my breath. ‘I’m sure you can handle that,’ I said.
‘You’re not happy about it, are you?’ she said.
‘Financially, this is the best deal I’ve ever had in my career.’ I put on my jacket. ‘This is the sort of contract every small town lawyer wants. You’re saying I don’t look happy? I’m buzzing with excitement.’
As I drove home I tried to think about whom was at my house terrorizing my wife, but I knew I was merely kidding myself and that I knew exactly who it was. As I drove up the driveway, Audrey opened the front door and watched me park under the lemon tree.
‘He’s round back,’ she said.
I walked round the side of the house. Darrell Haagan was sitting on the wooden table, his legs crossed, his eyes distant, a hand rolled cigarette smoking between his fingers. He looked up at me and smiled.
‘Mr James, how nice of you to join us.’
Darrell flinched as though I had struck him. ‘How is it possible that you are treating me like this?’ he said.
‘You have no right to come to my house,’ I said. I felt the veins on my temples pulsing. ‘We are not friends. You are not welcome here.’ I took my cell phone out of my pocket and started dialing the police.
‘Sir, I should certainly not be doing that if I was you,’ he said, and took a long draw off the cigarette, the paper at the end crisping into embers. ‘I’m trying to keep all this civil. I don’t want to make this any harder on you than it already is.’
‘I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.’
‘Your daddy told me a lot more than just wanting you to forgive him.’ His eyes twitched. He ran his tongue over his lips. ’I know about that man you and him buried at the back of the Mason farm.’
I clicked the cancel button on the cell phone and slipped it into my pocket. I looked toward my house, then I moved toward Darrell. He nodded and dropped his cigarette on the grass.
‘He told me he made you hurt that man with a ball peen hammer,’ he continued. ‘You specifically put out your daddy’s cigarettes on his neck. You remember that?’
It was something he said that made my chest and back burn with a heat that felt as though came from an acetylene torch. I looked at the scars on his neck. I hadn’t realized I was perspiring until I had to wipe the sweat from my eyes.
‘You gotta remember something like that,’ said Darrell. ‘Lord knows I remember. Your daddy wants you to forgive him for what he made you do to me. I was angry a long time. But I’m a changed man now, I swear on my life. I don’t hold anything against you. I’m just doing the solid work of the other side now.’
I tried to loosen my tie. ‘We buried you,’ I managed to say.
‘You did,’ said Darrell. He used his thumb to strike the flint on the plastic lighter, and he held the flame under his hand for a moment, then let the flame go out. He gestured wildly with his arms as if he were in a theatre production. ‘But there was this sudden light out in the Pacific. I had memories that weren’t mine. I think the spirit of a Maori chief brought me back. I see his face when I look in the mirror. I can’t even remember what I looked like. Are you listening?’
My body felt weak and tired and my vision was blurry. I remember sitting down on the picnic table as Darrell walked out the gate, and Audrey then running across the lawn toward me. That’s what I thought had happened, anyway. Audrey told me a slightly altered version, one that involved me falling head first into the picnic table.
In the living room she washed the cut on my forehead with water and a cotton wool bud. She then dripped iodine on it and put a strip of gauze over it.
‘We should go see Dr. Robinson,’ she said.
‘I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.’
‘Did that man hit you?’
‘What the hell is going on?’
But I didn’t answer her.
That night it rained hard and there was lightning in the horizon. I took my raincoat and drove out to the Mason’s farm. I crossed the old bridge over Gum River which was boiling with rain-water, and I parked up hard against the storm drain and opened the bull gate. I took the Hilux off the drive and into the mud and between huge kauri and totara and pine. I drove faster than I should have and the Toyota slammed hard against the wet earth as I went over the uneven terrain. I stopped the vehicle, put it in neutral, and pulled the handbrake. Taking from the glove box a lantern torch I put on my raincoat and walked toward a bank cut into the side of the cliff. The sound of the rain ticking against the raincoat was loud and it sounded as though someone were throwing stones at a sheet of plastic. I pointed the torch at the ground, the beam of light misting with water. I took a spade from the bed of the Toyota and started digging wet earth, the blade muddy and dripping with earthworms and insects. I dug for an hour but found not what should have been there.
I then drove to the Blue Rock motel. It was situated on a hill that overlooked the beach and the Pacific and I could see the capping of the waves in the wind and rain. I double parked and walked under the awning, peering through the windows of the lighted rooms, the drainpipes overflowing.
I then walked to the reception. It was empty. I stood under the electric light and the rain streamed down the glass door and the windows. I sniffed and wiped the rain water from my face. I opened and closed my hands at my side. I walked around the wood counter and opened the registry book and turned back the pages three weeks. I ran my finger down the pages. I saw a light wash over the reception. I stood against the wall and looked out into the car park and saw the lights of a car turn off and a figure step into the rain and run to the awning. I thought I recognized him.
I sprinted to the room and I grabbed the door before it closed. I balled my fist and drove it into the back of the man’s head and kicked the door shut behind me.
‘You moved the body,’ I said, my breathing heavy. I used my foot to turn over whom I thought was Darrell, but the face that looked up at me was not the deeply tanned one I was expecting.
‘You can have my wallet,’ the poor man said. ‘I got a gold bracelet in the drawer. You can have that too.’
‘I don’t want your things.’
‘I don’t have anything else to offer.’
I drove aimlessly in the rain, unsure whether I should turn myself into the police, or if I should leave town. I had paranoid thoughts, and my body was hot and sweaty and my skin was tight over my bones. The storm out in the Pacific was close and I could hear thunder rolling across the sky. The wipers couldn’t keep up with the downpour.
Lightning bloomed. I saw a face staring at me in the centre of the road. I turned sharply and the Toyota slid across the road and I hit the storm drain so hard my body hit the seat belt, then the vehicle flipped and I saw the rain smearing against the back window of the cab before the glass shattered. I heard the metal of the vehicle deforming as it crashed against the ground, my hair whipping against my skin.
I lost consciousness for several minutes. When I came to, I could hear one of the front tyres slowly ticking round. I unhooked my safety-belt and crawled out of the cab while blood dripped down my fingers from a wound on my upper arm. I limped toward the road. The man I had swerved was still standing there. He looked over at me.
‘Why are you doing this?’ I yelled. ‘What happened to you wasn’t my fault.’
‘I know it wasn’t your fault,’ said Darrell. ‘You were just a kid.’
‘Leave me alone.’
‘Your father wasn’t a very good man, was he?’ he said.
‘It’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.’
‘He ain’t never going to leave me be, is he?’
‘Probably not,’ I said. He didn’t say anything for a while.
‘I don’t see no reason why more people got to suffer for this man,’ he said.
Then I saw him take a pistol from his jacket and put it against his head and pull the trigger.
We all have demons in our past that we try to erase, or at the very least attempt to forget. Many of us are very good at stuffing them in chests and cupboards, but just as putting a fork in a drawer never makes it disappear, the demons we hide merely become unseen. I spent a long time trying to forget the things that happened to me as a child. Darrell Haagan made me realize that it’s about as effective as hiding behind a piece of paper. I think maybe we are all children at heart, damaged by things we have had to do or things over which we have no control, and we spend a large portion of our lives trying to correct it out of some sort of dissatisfaction at letting something other than ourselves take control of our thoughts. There are some images in life you can never get out of your mind. In my youth I would sit on the sand at Spirit beach, the moon dripping silver into the water, and I would think about the nightmares that kept me awake at night. One day I stopped going to the beach because one day I stopped trying to dwell on things of which I have no control. I stopped trying to forget and tried to understand, and to some extent I’ve been able to live without the static noise of my upbringing, but the image of Darrell Haagan’s head exploding in the rain is one that will stay with me until my end.