Although it was summer and the day was coloured bright, she rubbed at her arms as if she was cold, kept her face down, away from mine. Her tears bled into her make-up as she held in a breath, her eyes closed. The sky faded to night slowly then, the dusty orange-glow making the trees look like black cardboard cut-outs against the sky. We sat on the roof of my house, our legs hot on the tin, and we watched the world settle, the lights along the streets. I put my arm around her because there was nothing else I could think of doing. Her head fit perfectly onto my shoulder. Her soft sounds perfectly onto the breeze.
‘Why’d they do it?’ She asks. ‘To me.’ Stutters as she inhales.
My brother and I got there first, the cicadas buzzing like bushfire up in the canopies and the smell of cut grass all around. We watched the house, rested into car seats that melted to our skin, the windows rolled down full but only letting more hot air into us. My brother touched the steering wheel every now and then, just to tell me how hot it was, and we talked about when we were kids, playing backyard cricket. How the Great Dane next door would eat the ball if it went over the fence. Fucking dog.
The front of the house looks like we’re seeing it through water, like what I imagine a mirage to look like. My heart gets faster and when I look down I can see it beating, nudging at my T-shirt. My brother pushes his fist against my leg, winks at me.
‘You alright, man?’ He asks.
Dean, all red hair and freckles (so many that he looks too tanned), and Greg walk up in the side mirrors, reach through to unlock the back doors. They settle in behind us, make the car shake, and they speak distantly about the heat. As if that’s what’s on our minds. A shadow moves across the window of the house. Dean asks if they’re in there now. My brother spits onto the dusty road.
‘Fuck ‘em,’ Dean says, and Greg nods, focussed on the house.
My body feels heavy, slumped into the burning seat.
‘Fuck ‘em,’ my brother repeats, pulling himself out of the car quickly. We all follow, stomping heavy and clenching our fingers into tight balls.
Dean yells from the backyard something I can’t understand. He’d chased the second one through the kitchen, must have caught him. My brother yells in response. The TV is speaking loud, trying to sell something over the painful groans.
‘You shouldn’t a’ hit him so hard,’ I say to Greg.
The glass from the coffee table is shattered, spread across the blood and carpet. His hair is clumped together and sticking to his forehead, the three of us standing over him. Dean’s talking again outside, but not to us. The fat one tries to get up, his arm shaky, unable to lift himself off the floor. He winces at the movement, then rolls onto his back. Sounds like he’s choking on water. I can see a tooth caught in a pull of the carpet.
‘Shit,’ I say. ‘You shouldn’t a’ hit him so hard.’
Something crashes outside, we run to help.
On plastic chairs by the water tank, the mosquitoes, I sit opposite my brother, Mum in the kitchen window making salads. A plane drags it’s sound across the sky, way out above us. My brother stares at me through narrowed eyes.
‘Duke was his name,’ My brother says. ‘The Great Dane.’ He forces a smile, his fingers pushing harder into the side of his beer can.
The wind waves the heads of the age old trees around us. The sound like whispers, brushing across town.
It’s night when the police lights are flashing across my mothers face, her hand covering her mouth. Her tears shining in red and blue. My brother stands in front of me, arms crossed, talking over the steel gate. His white singlet stained with dirt. He offers his hands as if they’re weapons, no resistance. We sit side by side, like we used to on old family trips, in the back of the police car and watch home disappear, the dog chasing us along the street, like he always used to. Before we fenced him in.
She looks as if her tears haven’t stopped since I last saw her, as if she’s continued to apply make-up to her tired eyes while crying. She whimpers when we make eye contact, sucks in deep breaths. My brother nods to her, says ‘it’s okay’. She clutches crumpled tissues in her palm, pushes and rubs at her cheeks. Another officer puts his arm round her, makes her sit down on the waiting bench.
The cop writes what I say into notes in a room of stale colours. I tell him that Greg shouldn’t a’ hit him so hard, but they deserved it. For breaking into her house and doing what they did to her. Because she’s only small and a woman and she couldn’t fight them off. And no one should ever do that to a girl. No one should ever make a girl do that. I say how the fat one was who she said did it, how he held her down and struggled with his belt and took his pants off. He shouldn’t have done what he did.
The officer shakes his head, looks at me with sad eyes.
‘Alright’ He says.
‘Okay’ He says.
In the room they’ve left empty around me, the clouds edge slowly across the gap of sky. A glint of sun peeks through the meshed wire of the window and spreads a thousand V shapes across the wall, like awkward smiles. A black bird hits heavily onto the glass and is gone again, just as quickly as it came.
My brother shuffles his feet, up and down on the lino, pulls at his fingernails as if his hands have nothing better to do. Dean sits next to me, his head down, the sun gone from his expression. Greg taps his foot, echoing down the hall. A high pitched noise scratches from a radio in another room, followed by voices speaking in numbers. The shined shoes of two officers double tap down the hall to us, one holding a clipboard with a sticker on it. The older officer, sky blue eyes looking through his thick glasses, he says:
‘He’s gonna’ live, but you boys messed him up pretty bad.’ Then he hesitates a second. ‘The other one’s not too bad, few broken bones.’ The older officer says that he’s taken a statement from her, got her version of events. Greg’s foot stops tapping. The echoes fall silent.
With an officer holding her arm, she shakes her head when she sees us. She’s still crying, saying ‘no’ and ‘please’ to the blue uniform. The officer leads her towards us, her trying to cover her heat filled eyes and drained face. She scans across us, her eyes squinted, her lips shining under the humming light.
‘I’m sorry.’ And her lips stick together as she speaks. She holds her fingers as if she can think of nothing better to do. Her hair looks slept on.
‘I’m so sorry.’ She says, looking to the officer, her eyes begging. He stares ahead, refuses to look at her. Her frightened eyes fall back to us, her teeth together.
‘They didn’t do those things,’ she says. ‘Those two boys, they never did it, y’know?’ She adjusts her bra strap under her shirt. Dean looks as if he’s pushing his eyes into his head, he sniffs. Greg looks up the hall, away from her. My brother stares her down. She says sorry. Her fingers grip onto the shirt of the officer. She says sorry to me.
‘They never did rape me,’ she says. ‘I’m so sorry.’
The wind has a hesitation which confuses the birds and takes leaves from branches. I watch this, sitting on my roof in the summer afternoon. Listening. My mother cuts vegetables in the kitchen and says nothing. She cuts more onions than she’ll ever need and hides her tears. She still makes enough for my brother. I catch my finger on a roofing nail and suck the blood away, watch the streetlights turn on one by one, the grey clouds making it happen earlier than normal. The flicker of raindrops unsettle the dust on the tin and leave marks all around. They settle, as the day, and wait for the clouds to clear away, and my brother to return home.