‘The garden,’ he says to Laney, and waves his arm in an arc across the yard where plants used to be, ‘feels big, empty.’
She looks up from the cat and glances around, then holds her gaze on him for so long that it becomes uncomfortable. She seems to examine him as though he is a puzzle she needs to understand.
‘The plants,’ he explains. ‘They’re all gone.’
Years ago, when their relationship was new, and they huddled together in the later years of high school, against sun-warmed brick walls, in classroom doorways, fingertips touching, even after they were married and after Sam was born, their minds met and there was understanding, no need for puzzlement. But right now, a distance lives between them, and grows by the minute. As though a line has hooked into him, and drags him quickly away. And he has no option but to go with it.
He aligns himself beside Laney and looks with new eyes at the cat that lies in the garden bed, hidden behind the water-starved row of lavender. The poor thing looks poised to run. Had it not been flat on its side, he might’ve thought it was still alive.
‘It’s dead,’ Laney says, and leans over to take a closer look. ‘Have you seen it before?’
She has a blasé tone to her voice. She’s doing that thing where she accuses him of something while she pretends she’s not. It’s a kind of trap. She usually uses it for things like missing cake. This is different. Does she suspect he killed it? If she asks why he did it, he won’t know how to answer. To see if I could revive it. I wanted to know if I would try. It sounds crazy. He closes his eyes. He feels her watch him, so opens them again. He’s sorry about the cat; he didn’t expect this feeling to linger. He’d given the cat mouth to mouth, for quite some time, and rubbed its chest, also for some time.
He turns to go inside.
‘We can’t leave it here,’ she says. ‘We need to bury it.’
‘Yes, you’re right.’
‘I’ll get the shovel,’ she says, and heads off to the garden shed.
He looks over the fence across Angie’s yard; their place is a mess. He should’ve made an effort to help them out in some way by now. Dust collects in the waterless pool. Weeds grow around its edges. It doesn’t look so new any more. Sometimes he can see children peer up Angie’s driveway at the pool on their way home from school as though something might be about to happen, but nothing ever does.
Laney comes back with the shovel and holds it out to him.
When he doesn’t take it, she rests it to the ground and leans on it. When it came to work, Laney usually did things herself. She’s making him do it. She must know he drowned the cat.
‘It looks weird,’ she says. ‘Its fur is strange, you know, as though it’s been in the rain.’
Maybe she doesn’t suspect it was him? He takes the shovel from her. She folds her arms around herself like a hug. He pokes the shovel at the hard ground.
‘Only it hasn’t rained, has it,’ she says.
He realises then that she will have seen the drum that he drowned the cat in when she got the shovel from the shed. Why didn’t she say anything about it?
He hears Sam’s voice near the house and looks up. Sam is on the deck.
‘I’ll get his breakfast,’ she says. She shows no sign of any reaction to the drum. She just turns and goes to Sam.
Will she tell Sam about the cat? That she thinks he did it? She wouldn’t. A pain collapses into his chest. He’s been feeling ill all morning. He might throw up. He drops the shovel and runs to the fence. Pain stabs his stomach and yesterday’s titbits project across the ground. He wipes his mouth with his arm. The stink disgusts him, that and everything else.
He goes back to the garden. A fly buzzes around the cat’s mouth and then comes to him, around his face. He tries to relax; he lowers his shoulders and swats at the fly. She wouldn’t do that to Sam. She might do that to him, though. Laney smiles at Sam. He’s so little. He stands still in his loose pyjamas. His face is intense as he listens to her. His hair is flat at the back and sticks up on top and when he turns and trots back inside, it doesn’t move at all. He’s like a cardboard cut-out of a boy; he used to be so bouncy, so animated.
Luke puts his finger to a front paw. It’s still soft and wet. The claw scrapes over his fingernail. He imagines the cat smothered under the earth. If it was still alive, it’d soon die under there.
He puts his whole hand around its pointed face. Its whiskers are firm and curl under his palm. The hairs in its ears are white and clean. He imagines it licking its paw and washing its ears.
A car starts over the fence and crawls down the drive. Sometime over the last three months, Ryan has gone back to work. Angie will be alone; she has no work to go back to. She put all her time into Lily.
Luke can’t bury the cat, not now; maybe later. He takes his hand from its face. There is no warm air there at all.
'...the terrible event in The Neighbour happens early and happens hard, leaving the reader in no doubt. When it occurs, it’s of such a horrific nature that its impact reverberates throughout the rest of the story. (I’m not the only one who had to put the book down to recover – see Sean’s review at Adventures of a Bookonaut.)’ — Devoted Eclectic'Once I was over that initial shock (one that had me put the book down for a moment), I was drawn back in as she slowly began unravelling personalities, mysteries and histories.’— Adventures of a Bookonaut'I won’t spoil the powerful impact of Luke’s transgressions by telling you what they are, but I can tell you that you won’t be able to put the book down. Julie draws on her background in psychology and sociology to render events with extraordinary authenticity’ — ANZ LitLovers