Isaac dashed from his bedroom, looking smart in a shirt and tie, if a little overheated, and plugged his phone into one of the kitchen sockets to charge.
‘It ran out last night, just after I texted Tilly,’ he said. ‘I don’t think I’ll need it this morning.’
‘Guess it’s tough if you do,’ Cillian said, coming up behind him, and grabbing the kettle. ‘Love drains your batteries,’ he added with a laugh.
They were both heading out; Isaac to an interview at an IT company in Brisbane, Cillian to local restaurants and bars, hoping to find work. He’d resigned from his post in Yulara, deciding to stay in Springfield for now. Kate was glad, she loved being with him. He seemed to have the ability to keep her sadness at bay. They would often talk into the early hours, never a silence.
‘Good luck,’ Kate called to Isaac as he flew through the door.
Ten minutes later Cillian had gone to. It was the first time Kate had been alone since she returned, and a pang of sadness gripped her.
During the morning she caught up with emails, prepared lasagne for dinner, even vacuumed. But eventually the sound of the clocks, telling her that time ticks on and would stop for nothing, brought a lump to her throat.
She grabbed a tissue, and dabbed her eyes. However busy she tried to be, she couldn’t get Patrick out of her head.
When her tears dried, she headed round to Gus and June’s, hoping their company would help.
Once there, June handed her a glass of iced coffee and a slice of walnut cake. ‘There you go, Kate, get that down you,’ she said, studying her closely as if trying to detect her mood. ‘How are you, love?’
‘I’m getting there, June, thank you,’ Kate said, hearing the uncertainty in her own voice. ‘It’s a bit quiet at home today, though.’
June nodded, her eyes drifting to Granny Gertie knitting in the conservatory, the clicking of her needles travelling through the quiet. ‘Silence can be the devil at times,’ June said. ‘Too much time to think is never a good thing.’
Before they could lapse into conversation, the doorbell rang, and June put down her drink and rose. ‘I’m so sorry, Kate. No peace for the wicked, eh?’ she said with an unnecessary laugh, and headed for the front door.
Kate sat for some moments before noticing a fresh candle burning on the windowsill. She stood up, and neared the flickering flame, taking in the oranges and yellows dancing in a non-existent breeze.
‘It burns for my son.’ It was Granny Gertie, suddenly so close, so quiet, so small. ‘I wait, but he never comes home. I’m not sure he ever will now.’
‘I’m so sorry,’ said Kate, turning from the flame to meet her eye.
‘Have you got a moment to talk with an old lady?’ Gertie said, with a hint of a smile. She nodded towards the front door where June was deep in conversation with a man with a clipboard. ‘I think she’ll be a while – always far too polite to tell them to bugger off.’
Kate followed Gertie into the conservatory. ‘Close the door, dear.’
Kate did as she was asked, and sat on the edge of a chair opposite the old woman. ‘I’m so sorry about your son,’ she said. She didn’t know the circumstances, or like to ask, but for a candle to burn for so long, so bright, she knew it must have been a tragedy.
Gertie looked down at her own hands; tanned with a sprinkle of liver spots. Her pale eyes filled with tears. ‘I haven’t talked about him to anyone other than family for a very long time.’
‘Would you like to now?’ Kate asked.
Gertie nodded; a tremor in her hands. ‘Yes, yes I would like that. You’ve been through so much yourself, I feel you’ll understand.’ She paused for a long moment.
‘Whenever you’re ready,’ said Kate gently.
‘We were on holiday in Northumberland, a little caravan a friend rented out to us – just me and the boys. Their dad left just after Gary was born.’
‘His older brother was such a sensible boy, filled in for his dad - took his place.’ A tear rolled down her cheek, and Kate wanted to reach out and comfort her, but it was clear from her rigid body that Gertie wanted to go on undisturbed.
‘I suppose I lost sight of the fact he was only seven,’ she said. ‘I stood on the cliff keeping an eye on them that day from a distance. Despite it being a couple of coats colder up north, the boys didn’t seem to feel the chill in the air. It was early morning, nobody about to speak of. Then some fool asked me for directions. I don’t even remember where to. I turned my back for a minute; a moment in time that changed everything.’ She paused. ‘How could I? How could I have turned my back on my boys?’
Kate finally reached over and laid her hand on Gertie’s. After some time the old lady continued. ‘We hunted for him. The police came.’ A tear rolled down her cheek. ‘The only witness was a man with a dog, who knew nothing of value. And there was a jogger who’d passed Gary walking off with a woman in a green dress. He said the woman was telling Gary she was going to take him to Inala to be with his mammy. He was so little, such a friendly boy, far too trusting.’ The tear splashed onto her dress. ‘My older son was so busy catching crabs he didn’t notice.’
‘And does Gus remember his brother?’ Kate asked.
Gertie dried her tears on a handkerchief she’d taken from her pocket. ‘No, dear, Gus isn’t Gary’s brother.’
She shook her head. ‘It was five years after Gary’s disappearance I met my late husband and we had June. June is my daughter. Gary’s brother is Stephen.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, I just thought…’ Kate hadn’t heard June or Gus mention a Stephen, but then they’d only been surface friends up until Patrick’s death.
‘No harm done, dear. No harm done,’ Gertie said, patting Kate’s hand.
‘And Stephen, does he remember?’
‘Oh yes, Stephen remembers every moment of that day. He visits me sometimes, came on my birthday a few weeks back. He’s a troubled soul; never stops searching for Gary. It won’t matter how many times we tell him it wasn’t his fault that day, he will never forgive himself.’
Kate thought of Cillian. How he’d told her when she visited him in Yulara, that a day never goes by that he doesn’t think of his brother. She knew it was different to the pain of losing Patrick; the not knowing must be torturous.
‘Once we’d exhausted all hope of finding Gary in England,’ Gertie was saying now, ‘I borrowed some money, and Stephen and I came to Australia, to Inala, where we thought she’d taken him. There was a scheme in the late sixties where we could get cheap passage by sea and cheap housing. It was hard, but I felt sure I’d find Gary here. It was a ridiculous idea. The police said they had so little to go on.’ She broke off, her eyes faraway.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Kate said, taking the old woman’s hand.
‘There was no internet back then; a different time,’ she finally began again. ‘News channels were smaller. There wasn’t so much TV coverage.’
‘But you stayed here.’
She nodded. ‘There was nothing to go back to England for. At least here we could live in hope that one day we might find him.’
The coincidences of the two stories spun in Kate’s head. ‘You must never give up hope,’ she said to Gertie now.
‘I’m afraid my days are running out, dear,’ Gertie said with a wry smile.
They sat in silence for some moments before Kate asked, ‘Have you any photographs of Gary and Stephen?’
‘Of course, yes.’ Gertie leaned down and picked up a small album. ‘I spend many hours lost in these photos,’ she said.As Kate turned the pages, she knew the children were the same little boys in the photograph Cillian had. She wanted desperately to tell Gertie. Tell her so that she could blow out that candle, call her son, Stephen. But she knew she must talk to Cillian first.