Bevan left before Rick did, as usual. Rick liked to spend time by himself down at the river. While he liked to think of it as his own meditative, religious experience, he didn’t class himself as a spiritual sort of person. Well, not much. The tranquillity of the place made him feel peaceful, though, and it was a peace he didn’t readily get elsewhere in his life. By his own reckoning, staying down at the river for a couple of hours after spending a day or an afternoon with his mates who, admittedly, had a weird relationship, made his life pleasant, complete, happy. It takes time to get back into the swing of regular life after being away from it for hours and hours, doing something as quieting as fishing. Heading straight home to get back into the day’s obligations just didn’t sit right with him.
For a long time he’d thought that it had something to do with the fact that he is a single child. The others both had families to go home to that glowed with interaction. His home, while it was a warm, loving home, didn’t have the same interaction. His parents were both rather distant people who led unexciting lives, and somehow this managed to transmit itself across to Rick. He was a steady, reserved sort of person that emotions didn’t really affect. So, while a lot of people thought him to be an unemotional brick, he wasn’t: he just didn’t react the way that other people did, didn’t feel put upon by other people’s funks, be they good or bad.
The breeze started to get stronger as the sun sank below the hills to the west, and the shadows dropped in temperature, sharply in places, in concert with the mist coming up the river.
The bend covered in trees and thicker scrub that Bevan pointed out had really caught Rick’s attention and, ascertaining the time by referring to his watch, and working out that he probably had a few hours to kill before his parents would be really upset that he wasn’t home yet, decided to check it out. Having convinced Jack in previous times of moving to a new location, Rick knew that being in possession of facts was the best way to do things. Jack wasn’t a stick-in-the-mud, Rick reminded himself, he was just a dickhead and would argue for the sake of arguing, unless he knew that he stood to gain by it. He sighed and corrected himself: even if Jack knew that he stood to gain by it, he’d still argue. Rick grabbed his bag and had a long drink of water before he started out. While the bend didn’t look that far away, the river in these parts was deceptive. It wasn’t long before that he’d tried to reach a particular tree in a particular period of time, and hadn’t managed to do it.
It took him about another half an hour to get there because of the amount of crap he had to climb over and fight his way through, but he managed it. There were parts of the cattle track further along that were actually completely overgrown by noxious weeds and introduced vines, which he’d managed to get through without being bitten. The sheer amount of spiders in places left Rick breathless. Not to mention the low, but steady, increase in the hill up to the point of the bend. Once he got there, he realised that the bend was a bit of a high point of the river, and that further around to the west the river started to drop off again in one long arc. He could see for quite a distance, and could even make out the areas where dwellings started to cluster together again around near the next nearest township. That made it, Rick reckoned, a viewing distance of probably about twenty-five kilometres, which wasn’t a bad possie, all things considered. Around that side of the river the hills petered out as well, leaving a much more open tract of bushland. It was far more still at that spot, something which pleased Rick immensely. Right near the edge of the water there were several boulders and fallen trees among the reeds, but further out it was clear of any major obstacles. So far, so good. There was plenty of space for lounging around, plenty of trees to hang bags and other gear from, and an area not far away that was flat and open, that would be perfect for cleaning fish in. The trees were easy to climb, and the area caught some of the last of the afternoon sun, which made it an even better prospect for later in the year.
Rick threw his bag down underneath one of the gums and climbed it to as near the top as he could reach, and sat there just admiring the view. Pulling out a smoke, he lit it and leaned back against the trunk, legs either side of the branch he was sitting on. The tree was so tall and had so much foliage that he couldn’t very easily see the area below him, yet far to either side the river wound its way. The perfect spot, indeed, for nicking off from school, thought Rick. Nobody’d manage to find them down here!
He laughed to himself quietly at the thought of spending days down here and nobody knowing where to look. They could camp here and stuff themselves with fish, get pissed and have a great time, and nobody need know. He sighed again, happily. Yeah, this is a sweet spot alright.
Shifting his weight around carefully, lest he lose his balance and slip, Rick pulled out his mobile and sent a text message to Jack, telling him that he’d call him later. Then he stuffed his phone back into his dacks and headed down the tree, looking for all the world like a gecko heading down a rock face.
At the bottom of the tree, Rick set the timer on his phone to see how long it would take him to get back to his bike, and timed the walk. Knowing the obstacles now, the return journey to that afternoon’s fishing spot took him just longer than a quarter of an hour, going at a reasonable click—which, for anyone other than Rick, meant very fast. From there back to where the bikes were was another twenty minutes, and from there to town took him about ten. So, it was nearly an hour by the time he was home. Not an unreasonable journey by any means given the state of his bike.
Rick’s bike was inherited from his sister, who was much older than he was, and who had died suddenly when she was very young. Rick didn’t remember much of her at all, and had spent the majority of his life as an only child. Rick’s sister had hardly used the bike, but she had inherited the vehicle from their tight-fisted uncle, who probably got it when the first bikes ever went on sale. It rattled and shook and its brakes were shot, but it still managed to get him home quicker than he could walk, which was the most important thing as far as Rick was concerned.
He got home before his parents did, so the place was dim and cold. Rick went and closed up the house, turned on the heater, closed up all the unnecessary rooms and put the left-overs from last night’s tea on to warm up, and then called Jack while he started making a quick salad and dressing to go with the meal. Rick was proud of his ability to cook: he was far better at it than either his mum or his dad, which is probably why he could cook. He’d spent so long eating the crap that his parents served up to him that, as soon as he was old enough to be allowed free range in the kitchen, he started to take over. That, and the fact that his mum liked to butcher the fresh fish he caught by pouring all sorts of bought marinades over it that destroyed the taste of the fish. Rick’s parents didn’t mind. They got good food all the time and never had to worry about cooking. His mates knew that he cooked, but after eating one of his feeds even Jack stopped ribbing him about it; instead, he kept angling for an invitation to dinner.
Rick absent-mindedly cleaned and chopped up various items of fruit and vegies for the salad while he tried to convince Jack of the merits of moving to the next place along the river. He alternately chopped, sliced, and gesticulated while he talked about the beauty of the place and the way it was perfectly set up for what they wanted. He mixed the dressing, a simple one of yoghurt and mustard and dill, while he yabbered about how the place was hidden and about how it would be a perfect way to get away from everyone, knowing well that Jack’s huge family were often a burden to him. He did not, however, talk about the tranquillity of the place because he knew that Jack would just think that the whole thing was a ploy to get Bevan’s gayness into the place. At the end of all this, Rick leaned back against the table with his arms crossed and the telephone wedged in his neck.
‘Well. Whaddaya think of that? It’s certain to bring up the fish tally.’
Rick sighed as he listened to the response, eyeing the clock. ‘Well at least go and have a look at the place, orright? I’ll see yer tomorrer, I’ve gotta go.’ He paused. ‘Yeah, righto.’ And hung up the phone.
Jesus, Rick said to himself as he arranged everything on the bench with spoons so that people could serve themselves, that kid is just one big ball of shit. Don’t know what sort of shit, and don’t care, but it’s shit. God help us if anything major happened, he’d go psycho.
Just as he was putting the leftovers on for another spin in the microwave, Rick’s parents came home. Kicking off his shoes at the kitchen door, his father greeted him cheerily.
‘Fish tonight?’ he asked.