The venetian blind clasped tightly shut, held out the last of the afternoon light. A darkened room can be a place of rest and healing for a wounded soul. But Deidre found neither as she attempted to shut the world out with the blessing of sleep. The few hours she did manage to get each night gave her brief respite from the constant gnawing agony of loss. Every day since her husband's disappearance had been unbearable. She couldn't decide which was worse: losing her husband or not knowing why.
Deidre stared at the plaster rose at the centre of the ceiling as she traced the contours of the ornate pattern. She reminisced about the time when she and Mal had purchased the house in Excelsior St. Built in the early 50's; the house was typical of the architecture of that time with its carved timber balustrades and decorative plasterwork. She'd loved the house the first time they'd viewed it from the street. Their home had always offered warmth and security. Yet now it was a constant reminder of what she'd lost, and with the shocking events of that morning it had become a place of violence and terror.
Although her body was leaden with exhaustion Deidre's mind would not release itself from torment. In a state of delirium her thoughts kept switching between fond memory and painful reality. She thought of her husband holding her passionately. His tenderness and strength filling and completing her, and as suddenly as the memory came it was replaced by the jabbing truth of his absence. Deidre pulled herself up to sit on the edge of their bed. She looked about her, Malcolm was everywhere in the room. One of his flying shirts hung on a coat hanger on the back of the door. He always had a shirt ready in case he needed to leave early. He did this so as not to disturb her by rummaging through their closet as she slept. His reading books were stacked neatly on his bedside table, all of them partly read; he usually had several on the go at once. His bush hat perched on top of shoeboxes filled with family photographs going right back to when Andrew was born. Mal was always getting around to sorting them into photo albums.
In the two weeks since Malcolm's disappearance Deidre had experienced the extremes of human emotion. She'd ranged through shock and dismay to anger and desperation and from grief to tormented sadness. In this state every physical activity had become a challenge. On some days even boiling the kettle had felt like victory. On one occasion Deidre sat at the kitchen table for hours staring at the cabinets. Immobilised by grief, she'd felt herself sinking into an abyss. It was Andrew that pulled her out that day. If not for her son, she thought, she might have slipped off the edge. She had attempted to keep her deeper emotions from him. Her sense of protection for her son was intense and seemed to override all others when he was with her. It was when she was alone for any length of time that she found herself slipping down. Slipping into something sinister and darkly irretrievable.
She worried for her son. Until his run this morning he'd become recluse, barely going out of the house except for occasional trips to the airport with his uncle. It had been Colin's suggestion that Andrew dust off the model airplane and take it with him on their last trip. He'd not said a great deal that day but as she thought of it she noticed something stirring in him of late. It was as if he was stepping into a role her husband had vacated. He was after all, Malcolm Chesterman's son. Which was in stark contrast to his uncle. Malcolm had lamented for many years over Colin's inability to take responsibility for himself and stick to a true course. Colin's relationship with Malcolm had always been tinged with competition and jealousy. It was a constant source of tension between Malcolm and Deidre. Colin's sudden departure without explanation earlier that afternoon was typical, in Deidre's mind, of Colin's self-serving and self-absorbed behaviour.
Deidre heard movement outside her room. There was a gentle rap at the door.
Mom. Andrew enquired softly, are you awake?
Come in sweetheart, she said.
Can we both come in? He asked.
Yes of course, she replied. Deidre observed the way Jenni and Andrew entered her room. It was clear they had something to share. She was suddenly gripped by panic; did they have some news of Mal?
What is it? She asked with a surge of urgency.
We want to tell you something. Andrew faltered. Something we... We don't want you to… We don't want you to get upset.
Andrew, Deidre urged, for goodness sake, has something else happened? Do you have some news?
No, no it's nothing like that. He said.
Jenni stayed silent. This had to come from Andrew.
Mom. Andrew steadied himself. We think we know where Dad might be.
What do you mean? She asked.
We've been looking at the maps at Jenni's uncles and we think we know where he might have put his plane down. It stands to reason. Everyone was looking for a crash site, for evidence of wreckage or burnt ground. But he didn't crash. We think he landed the plane.
What makes you so sure? Andy, there was a whole task force out in search of your father.
Andy, sweetheart I know how much you want him back. I do too, but this is fanciful. He's gone Andy. He's gone. Deidre choked on these words as she spoke them.
No mom, he hasn't gone. He's missing. And there's a reason.
What do you mean? Deidre asked. How do you know?
I have a feeling. He replied meekly.
This stopped Deidre. How often had she had that feeling? How often had she explained it away as an irrational response, typical of a wife despairing the loss of a husband? How often had she wished with all her might that it were true?
Jenni broke the silence. Mrs. Chesterman as strange and as hard as this is to say out loud, we think he knew he wasn't coming back.
Deidre was shocked out of her contemplation at the audacity of this suggestion. She took a moment to order her response; tears held in check by a sheer force of will.
Don't you think there has been enough hurt and heartache? My husband would never abandon his family. If there is anything I know it is this.
She could hold on no longer as she placed her head in her hands and sobbed. Andrew immediately regretted their decision to confide the theory. Saying nothing they sat either side of his mother in the darkened room and held her as she cried.
Deidre settled. Jenni found a box of tissues and held them for Deidre as she recomposed. Andrew turned on the sidelight. The room filled with a soft glow. They sat without speaking for some time when Deidre looked at Andrew with a resolve that surprised him.
Where do you think he is? She asked.
He could see his mother wanted a straight answer. We found a small airstrip at the foot of Mt Warner. Of course we can't be sure but it's the closest thing we've got. It's about a two-hour drive and a ten-mile walk to get there. We're pretty sure Parks and Wildlife sealed off the track that takes you in there. He explained.
Yes I know it. She said.
You do? Andrew replied in disbelief.
Yes, your father had to fly in there during the fires of 95. I helped him load and unload supplies for the fire fighters. We all pitched in, it was a big time for the whole district. We were lucky in Arkefield. There were towns in the plains district north of Mt Warner that were ravaged by the fires. Many homes and lives were lost that year. So yes I know it well. She said.
Jenni and I want to go up there first thing in the morning. Andrew suggested to his mother.
They waited for Deidre, unsure of her response.
Is there room for one more? Deidre asked, surprising them completely.
Jenni was the first to respond. Yes Mrs. Chesterman, of course.
Deidre went on to explain that whether there expedition was folly or not, she wanted to seize the opportunity and take action. Waiting and not knowing had taken its toll. She wanted to hear more about their ideas and the reasoning that had led them to their conclusion. As they discussed and shared their thoughts with Deidre, Andrew's heart surged with love and admiration for his mother. He had underestimated her capacity and her courage. It felt right that she should be included and he kicked himself for setting her up as an obstacle to their plans.
By early evening they had eaten a light meal and made ready for the trip. Andrew checked the weather forecast and although mild weather was predicted he knew they should take precaution by carrying wet weather gear. He prepared a light pack with water for two days, a first aid kit and some essential survival gear, which included his bush knife, flint and salt tablets. Jenni and Deidre would also carry a light pack with their own wet weather gear and some food and water.
By 8pm they'd heard nothing from Colin when the phone rang. It was Detective Earnshaw. He ensured Andrew the police were making regular patrols of the district and they should be assured of their safety. Nothing had yet come of their investigations but he promised to let them know as soon as anything broke. Andrew did not mention their plans to the detective. He also made no comment about his uncle's strange and sudden behaviour. Although he knew it was in some way connected to recent events he had no intention of implicating his uncle.
Andrew relayed the detective's conversation to his mother and Jenni.
No news. He said.
And nothing from your uncle? Deidre enquired.
Well then we should bed down if we're going to be up at 4.00. You can have the spare room. She said to Jenni. I'll make the bed up for you.
Andrew's already done that. Jenni replied.
The two women paused for a moment. Oh good. Deidre said. Well I'll say goodnight and see you both bright and early.
Goodnight Mrs. Chesterman.
Night mom. Andrew said as he kissed her on both cheeks.
Andrew showed Jenni to her room. He wanted to say more than goodnight. He wanted to tell her how grateful he was for her friendship and support. There was much he wanted to share but the knot between his stomach and throat would allow him no more than a simple, 'see you in the morning'.
As he returned to his room Andrew wondered what the next day would bring. At last he would be taking action. The prospect of what he might discover both thrilled and terrified him.