A door slammed downstairs and Tom winced. Since his Dad had brought the white Jaguar home, the erratic machine-gun fire of his parents’ arguments had burst through the peace he was used to.
‘Who do you think you are Frank?’ she spat at him. ‘The bloody Duke of Dunstall?’ His Dad hung his head, defeated from the assault.
Only one hundred people lived in Dunstall. There was a dusty main road, a pub on the corner, a grocer and a garage. The few who could afford cars had rusted Falcons. The sight of the gleaming white machine had drawn stares and goggle-eyed onlookers as Dad drove it home.
Later, his mother was ensconced in the sitting room, her jaw working hard on a bowl of chips. Dad appeared at his door beckoning, a light in his eyes.
‘It’s a stunner, Tom. You’ve gotta come and see. I got a big discount.’
It sat under the gumtree near the gate, its white body tinged pink in the sunset. The seats were upholstered in red calfskin, as soft as a baby’s cheek. The interior doors were trimmed with walnut. Tom scrambled inside, inhaling the scent of clean metal and leather.
‘It’s a beauty, Dad.’
‘Too right,’ he said, grinning widely. ‘You wanna go for a spin?’
Tom nodded and climbed from the back into the front seat. They cruised the dirt roads surrounding the property, his father braking for the occasional kangaroo or meandering sheep. The red dirt flew out from the wheels, coating the windows in fine dust. Tom watched rosellas and cockatoos swoop past, careening around the tops of the trees. An orange sun lowered on the horizon, surrounded by daubs of mauve and magenta.
Tom’s mother stood on the verandah with crossed arms on their return. She wore a grubby apron and her brows were knitted. Her flushed cheeks shone with perspiration. His father shot him a resigned look.
‘We’d best get inside’ he said, switching off the ignition. He reached over and ruffled his son’s hair before opening the car door.
Tom could not sleep. Silver shafts of moonlight pooled on the carpet from the window and he flipped from one side to the other. His mind was full of the car. On the ceiling, his eyes followed the patterns of glow-in-the-dark stars. He drummed his fingers on the wooden frame of his bed.
Pushing himself up, he swung his legs over the side and fumbled for his slippers under the bed. He slipped them on and padded out of the room. As he opened the screen door he was mesmerized by the enormity of the moon, a blinding orb suspended in indigo.
The car beckoned him from the corner of the yard, blue shadows from the tree rippling on its gleaming body. It appeared to glow, as if the moon had singled it out like an actor on a stage.
Tom walked towards it, noticing a silhouette in the front seat. He heard his rapid heartbeat and considered turning back. Yet something urged him on. High above in the gumtree, an owl spread its wings and rustled the leaves. Tom felt cold, his skin prickled.
In the driver’s seat sat a young man, his head tipped back. His eyes stared ahead, empty of expression. They were pale blue in the silver light. He wore what must have been a white shirt. It was stained black, jagged rivers of a viscous substance drenched the front. The man’s face was covered too, and it glinted wet in the light. There was a hint of red, and Tom realized it was blood. A hole the size of a small coin disfigured his forehead, and peering down, he saw a pistol resting against the man’s inner thigh, his fingertips still resting on the grip.
Tom felt a scream wedge in his throat. He was paralyzed, his feet weighted in the grass. Suspended in a miasma of terror, his gaze went to the back seat, the leather spattered with gore. He swayed, his vision dotted like television static.
Waking at dawn, the sheets were tight over his body. His mother’s furrowed face was too close, her rough palm stroking his arm.
‘Your father found you on the lawn. What were you doing out there?’
‘The moon. I went to look at the moon.’
After breakfast, Tom approached the car. He stood next to the driver’s seat. The sun was high, and the side mirror’s reflected light made him squint. He peered inside, seeing only soft red leather and walnut trim.
His Dad came up behind him. ‘I know what you’re thinking, son. You want me to take you for another drive, huh?’
Tom turned to him, shoving his trembling hands in his pockets.
‘No thanks, Dad. Maybe another day.’