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Harvey waded up the creek. The water rose to his waist and then stayed even. The stream kept widening. Wishing he’d turned over the pack, Perry worked hard to keep up. He decided to stop smoking. He felt awkward and out of place.
Hooking in a last long sweep, the stream opened into a lake completely surrounded by pine. A beaver dam spanned the mouth of the creek. It was all quiet.
Harvey crawled on to the bank, waited for him, then they walked along the forest edge to a rocky beach. Harvey helped him out of the rucksack, pushed it underwater and weighted it with a rock.
‘What do you think, brother? Didn’t I say it was nice?’
‘It’s fine. It is. Didn’t know there was a lake out here.’
‘Nobody knows. Farther out there are hundreds of them. This one’s not even on the maps. Dad and I named it Lake Peri. With an i, the old way. What do you think?’
‘Spectacular,’ Perry said.
‘Come on. Let’s swim then.’
They swam until midday. The lake water was cold and clean. The sun got hot and the mosquitoes, were back, breeding after the rain. Perry stayed close to shore, but Harvey twice swam to the far side, disappeared into the woods and came back. He drew up the rucksack and popped open two cans of beer.
‘Not so bad, is it?’
‘No. It’s great. Really.’
Harvey nodded. ‘I knew it. You only have to try it, that’s all. You should have come when we were kids. You know?’
‘Dad would have liked it.’
‘He was always a little … I don’t know, a little sad when you didn’t want to come. I don’t know. You know how he was.’
‘Anyhow.’ Harvey smiled.
‘Sure. It is fine. I like it.’
‘I knew you would.’ Harvey went out to swim again and Perry sat with his beer and watched. Later they ate cold meat and apples and had another beer. It was all right. Harvey seemed happy, tall and very lean and strong, and the air was good. Perry enjoyed it. For once, everything aside, he felt some sibling fusion. It was all right. It was a fine day and a fine lake.
They sat together with their beers and looked down on the beaver dam. Perry felt a little sleepy.
‘What do you think of that Addie?’ Harvey finally said. ‘She’s some super wench, isn’t she?’
‘You like her.’
‘Yes. She doesn’t have to say a word.’ Harvey lazily held up his can and the sun glittered off the wet aluminium.
Harvey closed his eyes. For a while he was quiet, toying with the empty can. The sun was very hot. ‘You didn’t have anything … You and Addie?’
‘No.’ Too bad, he thought. Some rotten luck.
‘I was just asking.’
‘No. She’s pretty young.’
‘I know,’ Harvey said. ‘You can never be sure, though. She likes you. She’s always talking about going off to the badlands with you.’
‘Dumb talk is all. Don’t know where she gets that stuff.’
‘She’s something, all right, isn’t she?’ Harvey said. He seemed relieved. ‘So maybe I’ll take her to Africa with me.’
‘Is she truly Indian?’
‘I’ve heard that,’ Perry said. ‘She’s always giving a different story. I guess she could be a quarter or half blood. You can’t get a straight answer out of her.’
‘Some fine half-breed,’ Harvey said.
Harvey smiled, his eyes still closed. ‘You’re a good man, brother. Did I ever tell you that? Sometimes I forget we’re brothers, you know? It’s a strange thing.’
‘We’re a little different, aren’t we?’
‘A little. Not so much as I used to think.’
‘Right,’ Harvey said. ‘Exactly. Anyhow, I just wanted to ask because you can’t ever be sure.’ He stretched in the sun. ‘I wonder if I can get her to go to Africa with me.’
‘Sure, no problem. Flash your funny eye at her.’
‘You’re a good man.’ He got up. ‘Maybe you should come to Africa with us.’
‘Maybe so. We’ll fish for alligators.’
‘Only in good cause. For truth and justice.’
‘Should we swim?’
‘Let’s swim in the stream.’
Harvey dived into the deep water behind the beaver dam. Perry waded in, feeling the way with his hands. The water was very cold and hard. The bottom was littered with the slime of the forest. He lay back and floated against the mud dam. Then he turned on to his belly and swam hard upstream, following Harvey, finally rolling on to his back and letting the current carry him back towards the dam. He opened his eyes and had the sensation of great speed, the grotesque pines sweeping overhead, a single blackbird splatting wings high.
The stream carried him down. He heard Harvey call. The sky was a blur and he was moving fast. Suddenly, as though it had been shot into veins by a needle, he felt fear. He fought the stream, righting himself, trying to stand. There was no bottom. The stream twisted him and he lost sense of proportion and distance, and he pushed towards the mud bed but it wasn’t there, and suddenly in a lush blur he was thinking again, coloured images, and he heard Harvey call, and lazily he called back and his lungs were as hot as white fire, filling like a balloon, and he was tumbling and thinking calmly that only a moment before the day had been fine, everything was calm and fine, then he felt arms surrounding him, straightening him, and sunlight flooded and blanched the images, and he was bobbing in the stream. Harvey holding him high, saying, ‘Drop-off, I called out to you.’
Perry blinked, staring into Harvey’s dull dead eye.
‘I called out. It’s a drop-off.’
He felt no terror. Harvey’s arms were strong and buoyed him high and the current raced all around.
‘All right?’ Harvey’s marble eye rolled. A shark eye. ‘You’re all right?’
He felt no terror but he was angry. He pushed away, and Harvey reluctantly released him, hovering close by. ‘You’re okay? Take it easy.’
Fighting back, Perry rolled on to his back. He was sick but he reached back and swam, kicked, thrashed for the bank. He smelled the hard water inside him.
He waded out, sat down, put on his glasses.
‘You all right?’
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