It's dark already and I'm out here again, talking, telling the story to the quiet night. Maurice Stubbs listening to his own voice, like every other night this past year, with the verandah sinking and the house alive with solitary noises the way it always is when the sun's set on another day and no one's come to ask the questions they're gonna ask sooner or later. I just sit here and tell the story as though I can't help it. There's always something in the day that reminds me, that sets me off all hot and guilty and scared and rambling and wistful, like I am now.
This morning I found Jaccob down at his boundary fence drunk as a mongrel again, and I carried him up the hill to his place and lit him a fire, fixed some food, cleared away the bottles and that shoe he leaves around, and I left him there in that big old house before it drew breath and screamed my name. An old man like me can lift him now, for God's sake. He's always drunk or silent and skyward as a monk. There's only me and him left, but he doesn't speak.
So I'm the teller. But why don't I keep my mouth shut? Why? Because someone has to hear sooner or later. Because the bloody dreams don't go away. Because today I saw a real estate agent sniffing around across the valley at the girl's place. Because I'm alone, I'm alone here on the farm, the carrier of everyone's memories. So when the dusk comes, in that gloaming time of confusion when you can't tell a tree-stump from a kangaroo, an owl-hoot from a question in the night, the dark begins to open up like the ear of God and I babble it all out, try to get it straight in my mind, and listen now and then for a sigh, a whisper, some hint of absolution and comfort on the way.
This is what I remember, but it's not only my story. It happened to Ida, too, and Jaccob and the girl Ronnie. It's strange how other people's memories become your own. You recall things they've told you. You go over things until you think you can see the joins, the cells of it all. And there's dreams. I have these dreams. Dead people, broken people bleed things into you, like there's some pressure point because they can't get it out anymore, can't get it told. It's as though the things which need telling seep across to you in your sleep. Suddenly you have dreams about things that happened to them, not to you, as if it isn't rough enough holding down your own secrets. I don't know how it works – I'm no witchdoctor – but I know I remember things I can't possibly know. I'm not mad. Not yet.
They call this valley the Sink. Well, they did when I was a young man. From my verandah of an evening you can see mist on the dark sheen of the swamp and the river-bend below. Ducks spatter round the old white bridge. Frogs come on with the sound of marching. The jarrah forest takes the westering sun as a prick of blood on its brow. There's still only three houses. On the stony pasture across the valley there's the little house surrounded by fallen fences where no one's lived since Ronnie, the girl. Weird thing is, I got to like her in the end, but everyone likes the helpless and the vanquished. To the left, on the slope just up from here, Jaccob lives in the limestone place that's been there nearly as long as I remember. We used to call it the Minchinbury place. God, how I hate that house. Jaccob's chimney smoke rising like a spirit against the gloom. He'll be sober enough to start drinking again by now. Since the day we dug a grave and drove to the hospital, the day we sat together like friends and drank half a case of Japanese scotch and talked and talked it all out, we haven't said a word to one another. It's a year.