Even though we have now been living at their house for four long months my relationship with my in-laws is fine. In fact, considering we’re experiencing major delays on the building of our house, and have just increased our brood to four, and are cramming ourselves into their house and severely impacting on their way of life, things are going remarkably well. But there is no denying the tension that ebbs and flows.
Reservoir Mother In Law rearranges all the dishes in the dishwasher every time I stack it and she does this so loudly that I am aware of it even if I am in the furthest room in the house, or down the street buying milk. In turn I leave my dry clothes on the clotheshorse for days on end, in the corner of the living room, so that it’s the first thing she sees when she gets up in the morning. I also leave cupboard doors open and put the tongs in the dishwasher when she’s not looking because I know this drives her crazy.
Reservoir Father In Law makes a point of announcing that my kids only ever misbehave when I’m around. I, in turn, encourage the kids to fill his fish tank with gravel and hide his reading glasses.
They both also take a certain glee in proclaiming that Reservoir Mum and I are bad pet parents by walking our dogs several times a day, touring us through their turdless backyard and comparing it to how turdfull our backyard used to be. To combat this I take a dump under their lemon tree once a week and watch from the kitchen window as one of them scoops it up with a shovel and reaches again for the dog leads.
These are the steps we must take to maintain our sanity and while I have been under the impression that we’ve been harnessing the appropriate air of ease to ensure we remain fast friends I’ve noticed, of late, that there is a strange intent lurking behind Reservoir Mother In Law’s smile. I’m also aware that Reservoir Father in Law is kind of… simmering. And this is why my ears prick up as he breaks the silence with, ‘If you want to make someone disappear, you know, that’s not the way to do it.’
He’s driving us out to Kev’s joint in Diamond Creek. Kev – a relative of the in-laws – is storing all our belongings in his shed while our house is being built. He’s been ringing regularly to check on the progress because, I imagine, he wants to clear his shed of the wall to wall cardboard boxes ASAP. He’s also been waiting for the two slabs of Tooheys Red I promised him but I’ve forgotten to deliver every single time I’ve gone out there. It might be that I’m being overly sensitive but it seems to me that Kev gets a little less courteous every time I turn up empty-handed.
We’re heading out now because a whole row of boxes has fallen over and we need to do some restacking. Reservoir Father In Law has the radio tuned to some decomposing station like 1278AM and we’ve just finished listening to a news report detailing a common kind of murder – a man killed his abusive son-in-law in a fit of rage to avenge his badly beaten daughter.
‘I’ve always said this to the missus,’ he continues, ‘that if you’re going to kill someone, there’s no point blowing your top and going off half-baked. You have to be properly prepared.’
Everything suddenly feels a tad stuffy and so I wind down the window a smidge and try to change the subject. ‘Hey, I went to Big W yesterday expecting to spend up to thirty-five dollars on a box of Huggies Newborns but… ’
As usual he ignores me effortlessly and says, ‘I’d have no problem killing a deadbeat but there’s no point going to jail and ruining your life in the process.’
‘…there was a special on… a clearance… and I was lucky enough to get two boxes for only seventy dollars…’
After he points out that I actually did pay thirty-five dollars for each box, he pulls off the Ring Road onto the Greensborough Highway and says, ‘I’d take my time with it. I wouldn’t say anything to anybody. I’d keep my temper concealed. Late at night I’d knock on his door and shoot him dead in his own house… while no one else was around.’
Suddenly I’m sweating and I have no idea why and then it occurs to me, as the moments pass by, that the scenery around us is changing. It seems leafier than I remember. The foliage on the side of the road is dense.
‘This doesn’t look like the way to Kev’s,’ I say.
Reservoir Father In Law drives for another moment without making a sound and then says, deadpan, ‘There’s more than one way to Kev’s.’
‘I think I read that on bumper sticker,’ I say, searching desperately for levity.
‘If you look at the stats,’ he says, ‘thousands of people go missing every year. There are probably hundreds of thousands of cases going back a hundred years. The authorities just wouldn’t want to know about another missing nutbag. They’ll go through the motions, sure… but you just have to keep your mouth shut…’
In my mind’s eye Reservoir Father In Law morphs into Ivan Milat. He’s standing in front of a fireplace holding a rifle and a hunting knife. Behind him, on the wall, is my mounted head. I can’t keep diverting my insecurity any longer:
‘But… let’s just say you did knock off this wife-basher… you’d have to be one of the major suspects…’
‘If there’s no body, there’s no case.’
With a bump and a semi-fishy we leave the sealed road. The sounds of dirt flicking through the car’s undercarriage makes me think of cold and lonely earth and dead skin and we’re surrounded by trees and I can’t believe that I can feel so isolated and vulnerable in a world that houses seven billion people. ‘But even Ivan Milat got caught,’ I spit out. ‘And he was good at killing. He was well practiced…’
When Reservoir Father In Law says, ‘Never hide a body in bush land,’ I take it as confirmation that at the very least I will not die today and I am overwhelmed with relief, ‘because it’s only a matter of time before it’s found.’
I do my best to not ask the obvious question but when I focus on the song being played on the radio I realize it’s The Eagles classic ‘One Of These Nights’ and it is so eerily apt that I seriously wonder if he switched the mode to CD while I wasn’t looking. When I hear the lyrics one of there nights… I find it impossible to stop myself, ‘Where would you hide the body?’
‘The ocean,’ he says, before I’d even finished asking.
I know my mouth is hanging open and that I’m barely breathing and that my left shoulder is pressed hard against the passenger door but I also know that I am just about beyond correcting my posture or pretending that I’m not freaking out. I take stock of what I know –
- Reservoir Father In Law is of Italian decent.
- He sometimes quotes The Godfather
- He has a massive boat called ‘The Bar Crusher’.
- He takes it to his holiday house in the quiet, isolated, costal town of Mac Beach every other week.
- He has access to hundreds of kilometers of deep, unknowable ocean
- In his lifetime he has done a lot of concreting.
- I have been living in his house for four months with no respite in site.
- I can be a massive pain in the arse.
It doesn’t matter how I connect the dots – the picture I get is always the same. I suddenly feel panicky and ill. The following exchange occurs between us without pause, rapid-fire:
‘You might get pulled over as you drive the body to the ocean.’
‘Never been pulled over in eight years of driving to the coast.’
‘Divers might find the body…’
‘Fish and ocean life would decompose the body before anyone could find it.’
‘It would float! Bodies float in water.’
‘Only because of the gases. You puncture the stomach and it sinks like a stone.’
‘Holy fucking shit!’
As we pull into Kev’s long drive-way in the middle of the Australian Bush The Eagles sing Comin’ right behind you, swear I’m gunna find you, one of these nights and my mind presents me with an insight into the psyche of my in-laws. I see the RD-free life – there is no clotheshorse in the living room, no tongs in the dishwasher and every cupboard is closed. There is no gravel in the fishpond and there are always reading glasses at easy reach. In the world free of RD there is no shit under the lemon tree.
The intent behind the smiles and the simmering is now clear. They want me to disappear. And they have the means to do it.
As the car slows to a halt I look up to see Kev standing only meters away. He’s wearing blue overalls and is holding a pickaxe. He waits for the engine to idle and stop and then bends over until his nose is touching the passenger side window and yells, ‘Have you got my Tooheys Red?’