Emma stood by the window of the caravan looking over the dry field at the distance. There was a chime as the text sent and she swore, jammed her thumb over the speaker and looked to the open door. Curtis laughed. She flipped her phone shut, slid it into her jeans pocket and breathed out slowly. The August sky was heavy, endless, and empty; she thought of a broken house a hundred miles and six months behind. The caravan was home now, parked up by an old sycamore on her Uncle Charlie’s land.
Curtis played guitar outside, feet splashing in a child’s paddling pool filled with empty tins of beer and the bloated filters of a pack of Regal King size. He laughed with Charlie and she smelled dope over the perfume of parched earth and cut grass. The stained net curtain moved like a prayer in a breeze warm as bath water. She closed her eyes and listened to the men. ‘That fucking house,’ Charlie said; the words crushed into a whisky-inspired mash. ‘You shouldn’t let ’em get away with that, man; burning your fucking house down.’
‘It was her house,’ Curtis replied. She heard him suck on a Regal. ‘Why should I give a fuck?’
The guitar rang a D minor chord; he could play as if he was born to it; that was why she’d first let him into her days.
‘Did she ever figure it out?’
‘Thick as fuck, isn’t she. You know that, mate. Anyway, they did me a favour; no way could I have done with a fucking child, no way on earth. Best thing ever happened to me, her losing that kid. I should send ’em a bunch of flowers.’ The D minor changed to a C, a chord filled with sunshine. ‘No problems now like. Doctor Naczk says that’s her insides done for kids.’
‘Aren’t you worried ’bout ’em coming back and finishing the job?’
‘Don’t you know?’ Curtis said. ‘Men like me live forever.’
Charlie laughed. ‘You hope, mate, you hope.’
Night spread quickly over the flat country and soon there was no sound but that of wheat scraping in the breeze like fingers of bone. Emma looked down at Curtis, sleeping outside. He was barefoot and shirtless and his long greasy hair hung over the back of the deckchair as he snored. She could not see Charlie. Blue and yellow stars filled the sky and she felt the earth’s dying warmth beneath the naked soles of her feet. Then she caught sight of Charlie, way off in the middle of the field, looking back at her. He was in his fifties, with short hair grey as a sour dawn and she’d known him all her life. She walked towards him, her bleached hair ruffled by the light wind. He said, ‘Do it?’
‘It was in his old phone,’ she handed him the number, scrawled on a cigarette packet.
‘You might not want to stick around for this.’
She shook her head. ‘I bought the ticket, I should take the ride.’
The light from an electric torch flashed over the high crop and Charlie lifted a hand and waved. ‘Used to have a dog on this farm, called it Sweep. I don’t know if it was bad company, something in his diet changed or what, but Sweep started one day killing chickens, then he’d kill anything he could get his teeth at.’ The lights were closer and she heard men’s voices. ‘I brought him down here on a length of chain, staked it out, shot him dead with the double-barrel. He was a friend once, I loved that dog, but when he turned I put him down.’ He nodded at the caravan. ‘Young Curtis there, he’d bring you nothing but bad luck your whole life.’
She clutched her belly with both hands and nodded. Two men dressed in leather jackets, their city shoes stumbling on the dirt shone a light in her face. She lifted her hand and pointed down the field. The shorter of the men nodded and walked on. Starlight shone on the blade he held.
Emma closed her eyes, and listened.