“This is not a joke,” says my mother. “Your father is furious. Your elder brother says he didn’t take it and your younger brother says he didn’t take it, so that only leaves you.” I don’t answer. I can hear my father clumsily slamming drawers in the bedroom. My heart pounds. I spring past my mother and bolt out of the room. “Bring it straight back!” she shouts after me down the stairs.
I rush through the backyard, through the gate, across the lane and into the woods. I come to the trickling creek and I run in it, splashing, so no tracks will show. Around the bend I clamber up on the bank. Above me, the trunks of two dead trees have fallen against the rising ground. I squeeze in between them. A cave of sorts has been dug into the earth behind the trees. At the back of the cave sits a mass shrouded in newspaper, on a platform of stones. I crouch in front of this and snatch the newspaper away and huddle against the clammy wall. Upside down my old man’s head gapes with unfocused astonishment. The corners of his pale lips are bruised dark, from hour-long manipulations to shape his open mouthed surprise into and affable grin or a clownish grimace. His low, broad forehead is scratched from its passage through brush and bush.
I gape back at him in wild, feverish distraction. My arms are lashed about my chest, squeezing. A dark bug buzzes in the hot, dim air. Suddenly a great decision strikes through my tumult, like a wedge driven into wood—a single stroke that will spread with time into a great angle far from its point of impact.
I seize my father’s head. I squirm out again between dead trunks. I swarm, slithering, down to the edge of the bank and jump in. With my father’s head tucked under my arm I set off splashing up the creek, away from our house, towards the deeper, sun-crowned woods and the great unknown world beyond them.