River Gum - Chapter SixPosted by omnipredation on 2007.11.08 at 17:34
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Look what I got. Yeah. And there's four more chapters to post, too. I'll space 'em out a little. :)
Previous Chapter SIX Nat found that he did not need his uncle right away, and he acknowledged that even if he did need the man, he would be reluctant to give the clapperless bell a shake to summon him. Not only would such a summoning be unwarranted, he strongly suspected it wouldn’t work at all, and that old Teddy was pulling his leg with the clapper-less little bell. Instead of dwelling on things that for the moment overstretched his understanding, Nathaniel set about moving boxes from the couch, which he assumed was going to be his bed for the time being. Thankfully the boxes were light, and he was able to relocate them to other stacks and sweep aside old newspapers and piles of dust in order to clear away a space for him to relax. Unfortunately, no matter how many boxes he moved, more appeared to take their place and thwart his excavation. He would roll his wheelchair forward, pick up another and drag it onto his lap and move it aside only to find that another had taken its place on the couch. When he had moved half a dozen boxes, he noticed that it was a rather nice couch, and decided then that even if it took him all day to remove the boxes from it and its environs, he would do it and make himself a space in the lounge. Half of him trusted uncle Teddy’s promise, that he would have someone in to move the junk out of the way, but the other half disputed the promise and egged Nat on, spurring him to action despite his disability. He knew that when (or if) his legs healed he would be able to do more, but until then, he resolved to do what he was able. Another box – this one full of crockery, by the sound of it. Nat pulled it onto his lap and wheeled himself a few feet away and deposited it on a stack of similar boxes, all unlabeled. If “kitchen items” were to go into a designated area, he had yet to factor that designation into his efforts. Most of the boxes were plain brown cardboard, unlabeled, and thus without clues as to where they should be stacked. With that in mind, he paid no particular attention to those that happened to have a designation scrawled on them, simply hoisting them if he was able and moving them to other locations. The newspapers were another story. Most of them were falling apart and were crumpled beyond help, so he gathered them and folded them and stacked them in a corner created by a family of particularly large and heavy boxes. Finally, the couch was unearthed. “Phew. Wish it was lunchtime,” said Nat aloud. He examined the couch, which proved to be a plushy mass of plaid under the layers of dust. If he had a rag, he would have endeavoured to dust it, but there were no rags at hand, and no blankets either apart from the one that he had covering his legs in their obnoxious stiff casts. He resolved to sleep on the dusty and musty-smelling couch regardless, as it was better than trying to sleep upright in his chair. Then, to Nat’s great surprise, his uncle Teddy kept his word and returned late in the afternoon and wheeled him to the kitchen, having made honestly impressed noises upon seeing Nat’s progress with the boxes. “I’ll still have my man in. He does the garden work and sometimes lends a hand with heavy lifting. We’ll get those boxes up to the attic and bring down a bed for you. Sound agreeable?” Teddy asked. “Sure does,” Nat said, “but are you sure you need to go to the trouble of bringing something down when I can just sleep on the sofa?” “I won’t have it. I had myself a good think about it and realised I’ve been less than hospitable, all things considered. You’ll pardon me for being a bit ah, rattled, or shook up. I never expected to lose Oliver like that. Not that I expected to lose him at all, and neither did you, but murder…” Teddy trailed off and shook his head, parking Nat’s wheelchair at a long wooden dining table set up in the kitchen. “What do you mean? It wasn’t murder, it was an accident,” Nat said, craning his neck to keep an eye on Teddy as he fetched over a covered dish and loaded a trio of shortbread cookies on a passably clean china plate. There were towering stacks of dishes piled in the sink, and Nat twisted around the opposite direction, watching Teddy raid the fridge and return with a bottle of puply- looking orange juice. “Here, drink up. What I mean is this,” Teddy said as he whipped open a local newspaper. He opened it and fanned the pages, gesturing. “Look.” Nat looked, though at first he did not comprehend. The article’s headline read “Driver of van sought for questioning following hit & run.” Beneath that, “Man killed, child critically injured. Family offers reward for information leading to apprehension of suspect.” “Is… is this about me? About us?” Nat asked sceptically, scanning the article. There were no pictures, just reappearing names, names that were unfamiliar to him. “No. Your ‘accident’ was not reported. This is either a plant, which you can thank your crafty mother for, or an entirely separate incident. I’m not sure which it is. But believe me when I tell you it’s very likely your brush with death was a deliberate attempt on your lives. In your father’s case, the attempt was successful. Eat some cake. Would you like some milk instead of the juice?” Nat shoved the paper away. “How can you be so calm about the idea that my father – your brother – was murdered? Do you even notice how mad that sounds?” he demanded, his voice heated and his eyes stinging with the need to shed tears. He denied them, rubbing his face hard and grabbing one of the cookies on his plate, biting into it to keep himself from saying anything regrettable – or worse, finding that he had started screaming and there was no way to stop. Teddy’s face relaxed into an expression of sympathy, his brows creasing in as he got out a glass and poured milk into it, handing it to Nat, who took a grateful gulp to wash down the cookie that polluted his mouth with crumbs and robbed his tongue of consonants. “I’m sorry, Nathaniel. I’m sorry, but there is more going on in this ugly world than you could ever imagine. There was a freak storm, wasn’t there?” said Teddy, and Nat could hardly bear his tone of understanding. He swallowed the rest of his cookie, which tasted like sand, and drank the milk carefully. It was fresh and cool and satisfying, and he set the glass down to nod. “Yes. How did you know? Nobody knew. It wasn’t on the radar or forecast or anything.” “That’s how I knew. I watch the weather. And I knew when my brother died. Being an only child, there’s no way you could understand the bond that forms between brothers. Especially brothers,” said Teddy softly, sadly folding the newspaper, “who were like your father and me.” “So you were watching the weather and the radar was clear,” Nat took a pause for another bite of another cookie, “and somehow you intuited that my dad died in a car accident in the rain?” He was aware that he sounded sarcastic, and that it was obvious that he very much doubted his uncle’s sanity. “You think me mad, don’t you?” remarked Teddy plainly. “A little, but it seems to run in the family, doesn’t it?” Nat countered. Teddy threw back his head and laughed, then topped off Nat’s milk, still chuckling to himself and wiping tears from his fleshy pink cheeks. Nat thought he saw the resemblance, then, between his father and his uncle, despite Teddy being short and overweight and suffering from an inability to comb his blonde hair, which was the exact same shade as Oliver’s had been. It was almost the same as Nat’s. Nat was going a bit red in the face as well, but from fury rather than mirth. He knew not if his uncle was laughing at him or with him, or maybe just at the absurdity of it all; that his life, that their lives, should have come to this grim standoff-style discussusion of his father’s death, as though the car accident had been somehow premeditated – “You are crazy,” Nat said, grabbing the wheels of his chair and pushing back from the table. He was too angry to eat, and the one and a half cookies he had managed to put away were turning in his belly. “Whoa! Hold up, hold up!” called Teddy, his expression shifting in an instant from amusement to concern. He chased Nat down easily and caught hold of the handles of his wheelchair, using his weight to drag it to a stop. “Let. Go.” Nat glared up at his uncle. “I’m not laughing at you, Nathaniel, or at your pain, which is surely as great as mine, or greater! You lost a father. You don’t want to hear about it – ” “Too right, I don’t!” shouted Nat, rocking the wheels uselessly and trying to tear himself free. “Please, Nathaniel. I’m truly sorry,” said Teddy quietly, and the softness of h is voice had a surprising effect, calming his nephew, who left off wrenching at the wheels to grip the armrests instead. His fingers drove imprints into the plastic, then relaxed. “Yeah,” muttered Nat, “me too.” “I won’t bring it up again,” Teddy pledged, steering the wheelchair back round to the kitchen table, parking Nat by his half-eaten cookie and the glass of milk. “Let’s just have a snack and put it out of our minds, shall we?” “Yes. We shall,” said Nat. Privately he wondered how he was going to be able to think of anything else, and he wondered if he was as mad as his uncle for entertaining – with a sweet, futile, vengeful hope – the theory that the madman had cooked up. In the days that followed, Teddy and Nat discovered they had something in common: they each had a fascination with the workings of the weather. Teddy promised to get Nat upstairs when he was healed and show off his amateur observatory. True to word, he had his man in and a bed brought down from the attic chambers, of which Teddy hinted there were many, and mysteriously cluttered all. A professional was brought in to repair the lounge’s ensuite bathroom, and the boxes, so neatly and labouriously stacked, vanished completely in a short span of time. The musty couch on which Nat had slept his first night had been pushed aside, and a table with stereo and amplifier and an old but large television appeared and were set up for Nat’s convenience. “I’ve got satellite, though it doesn’t always work,” Teddy explained, sweating through his white dress shirt even after he had shed his jacket. Summer was having one last brave go at it, and the house was seething with heat, but still Teddy insisted on doing his best for Nat; he was crouched on the floor connecting the satellite receiver to the DVD player attached to the television unit. “Which means premium weather channels for us, when we can get them. Maybe by the time I get this hooked up – ” Teddy gave a grunt and nearly toppled over on his side as he twisted a plug into place and switched the receiver on, “ah, there we go! Maybe the sun’ll be out, what do you think, Nathaniel?” “It might, but more important – ” “What’s more important than sunshine!” “You should really start calling me Nat, seeing as how I’m allowed to call you Teddy,” said Nat, unable to help a smile. Teddy had grown on him considerably after their inauspicious and awkward first day, but despite Teddy’s insistence on Nat using the informal version of his name, sans even the title of “uncle,” he had not yet got into the habit of calling Nathaniel by the preferred abbreviated version of his name. “Blast it, that must be the twelfth and fiftieth time you’ve told me,” grumped Teddy. He hooked his finger in his jacket and pulled it over, fishing his sticky notes and sparkly pen from its depths, and began to write, muttering to himself. “Remember – to call Nat – Nat.” “See, was that so hard?” asked Nat with a grin. “What? Oh. Oh, well, no; these notes are so much more effective than my poor old memory, though,” said Teddy as he stuck the note to his sweaty forehead. It soaked through and stayed a moment as Teddy crossed his eyes, seeming surprised that sweat alone could cause it to remain plastered there when surely his perspiration should have caused it to fall off. Thankfully his surprise needn’t linger overlong, for the neon blue sticky note peeled itself away and flopped down Nat’s uncle’s nose and fell off his face. “Slippery as a memory, those notes,” said Teddy sadly, picking up the soggy paper and t hen his dripping self. He squatted and collected his jacket and then pushed the TV’s power button as he dropped himself over onto the plaid sofa, which groaned in response to the tremendous sigh he emitted. “Looks that way,” Nat replied, amused by his uncle’s antics. “Catch,” said Teddy, tossing Nat the remote control. “Catching,” Nat said as he extended his arm and caught the device. “So what channel’s best?” “There’s at least three stations I pay for on the premium package that are devoted solely to weather forecasting. Three times three times three more are news with weather reports and forecasts thrown in. D’you like news with your weather?” “Depends on if it’s good news or bad news,” said Nat wryly. “Ah hah! I thought so; you’re a connoisseur, then… you’ll want local news 9 for your appetiser – a meal of channel 121, perhaps, and for dessert, and to complement the earlier flavours, our national report on news 2, showing at six daily,” said Teddy gleefully, gesturing at the telly, which was playing some silly series of cartoons for the set-upon who craved nothing else. “So you’re an epicure of weather stations.” Nat thumbed the remote button down several stations, setting it to channel nine just as Malina Campbell the meteorologist walked on. “Oh, I like her. She doesn’t have a face that can lie to you,” Nat remarked. “Hm, I quite agree. And before long, my boy, I’ll have you schooled into a proper gourmand to rival myself. Well, in tastes, that is. Preferably not in girth!” laughed Teddy good-naturedly as he patted his considerable belly. Nat chuckled along, secretly thinking that his uncle wasn’t really that fat, though he could stand to gain (or rather, lose) by laying off the sweets. Malina was cheerfully announcing that the dog days of summer now lay across most of the kingdom with rising but moderate temperatures, and that finally a break in the rain was expected – though how long the break would last was anyone’s guess as they headed into September. Good news, all right. Nat and Teddy heard out the rest of Malina’s report in a companionable silence; thus an easy accord began to build between them that was far easier on their hearts than they might have expected. Chapter Seven--->