Timons Tide

Overview

Six years ago, Daniel's older brother, Timon, was killed, presumably in a drug-related crime. Timon had always been in charge, with Daniel as his faithful sidekick. But since his death, Daniel has been concerned that -- because he once failed to carry out a scary errand for Timon -- he may be responsible for Timon's killing.

Now nearly seventeen, Daniel is still trying to find himself and come to terms with all the changes of the last six years. Besides Timon's death, their ...

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Overview

Six years ago, Daniel's older brother, Timon, was killed, presumably in a drug-related crime. Timon had always been in charge, with Daniel as his faithful sidekick. But since his death, Daniel has been concerned that -- because he once failed to carry out a scary errand for Timon -- he may be responsible for Timon's killing.

Now nearly seventeen, Daniel is still trying to find himself and come to terms with all the changes of the last six years. Besides Timon's death, their father -- a charming, irresponsible Irishman -- has left the family for good, and their mother, Lisa, has remarried. Daniel's stepfather, Max, and Max's daughter, Ruby, have moved in with Lisa, Daniel, and old Aunt Jenkins. And then Timon reappears -- to Daniel, to Aunt Jenkins, and also to Ruby. What is Timon now -- alive, dead, or undead?

Daniel must untangle the mystery of Timon's death and the uncertainties of his own life, past and present, in this haunting tale that builds to a gripping climax.

Haunted by the thought that he may have been responsible for his older brother Timon's death six years earlier, sixteen-year-old Daniel struggles to come to terms with his own self-doubts, his new stepfamily, and the sudden reappearance of Timon in his life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This ghost story is haunting, but not entirely comprehensible. Sixteen-year-old Daniel thwarted his older brother Timon's drug deal six years ago. Timon was subsequently tied up and left on the beach to drown as the tide came in, and the reasons are unclear: was it because of the delivery Daniel never made on Timon's behalf? or because of mysterious beings with flat white faces suspected of murdering other children in their small seaside town? When police found Timon, his face had been eaten away. As Daniel contemplates his possible role in his brother's death and copes with a new stepfather and stepsister, and his mother's pregnancy, Timon mysteriously reappears. Is he a ghost? Or was he never really dead? As in British author Butler's previous gothic, The Darkling, motivations and logic remain tangled even at the end. The third-person narrative switches perspectives so often that it's hard to keep track of who is conscious of what set of facts, and many of the more dramatic subplots take place offstage (in one outlandish sideline, the stepsister gets pregnant by Timon and Daniel's absentee father). But for those who don't mind putting character development on hold, there are chills aplenty that fright fans will likely enjoy nonetheless. Ages 12-up. (June) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature
Although sixteenyearold Daniel March is trying to put the past behind him, guilt still fuels his nightmares. He keeps replaying the last hours of Timon's life, wondering what really happened to his older brother whose mutilated, faceless body was discovered on the rocky beach of their seaside town. Involved with drugs, Timon used Daniel—then ten years old—as an errand boy. But Daniel failed to make an important delivery, and Timon was brutally murdered. Or so Daniel thought. But six years later, when violent spring storms and high tides ravage the coast, Timon reappears. Butler enables the reader to suspend disbelief by masterfully creating an atmosphere drenched in fear and dread. Is Timon alive, a haunting hallucination, or the incarnate of evil from the depths of the sea? Some plot twists strain credibility (an affair between Daniel's alcoholic father and his stepsister, Ruby, leaves her alone and pregnant), and character motivation is at times unclear. However, horror enthusiasts will probably enjoy this dark, suspenseful tale. 2000, Simon & Schuster/Margaret K McElderry Books, Ages 12 up, $16.00. Reviewer: Ellen R. Braaf
VOYA
Sixteenyear-old Daniel is still struggling to get his life together six years after the brutal murder of his brother, Timon. His father is long gone and his mother has remarried. Life has some semblance of normalcy and happiness seems just around the corner when Daniel's mom delivers the news that she is pregnant. Daniel, however, secretly is wracked by guilt over Timon's death. Daniel had failed to run an errand for his brother that day, possibly bringing about his death. Daniel discovers someone lurking around the woods near his house, watching him and following when he goes to work. The stalker looks like Timon. But how could it be his brother? Timon is dead. Maybe he did not die... or is he one of the undead? This dark and ominous ghost story starts as just another teenage angst novel, but it is a tragic tale about a family haunted by guilt over the unsolved murder of a beloved son. The description of Daniel's family's seaside community is so strong that it almost becomes another character. As Daniel walks the damp streets and dark alleys of his community, the horror of losing his brother is reflected back to him. Timon's murder is haunting and horrifying. Daniel must find his way out of this darkness and survive. The ultimate reemergence of Daniel and his family whole after the tragedy will satisfy readers. Purchase this pageturner for your mystery and horror lovers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2000, Simon & Schuster, Ages 12 to 15, 192p, $16. Reviewer: Carrie Eldridge
KLIATT
It probably could be claimed that the British do ghost stories better than most. This is a sophisticated one, in the guise of a YA novel, filled with haunting images, psychological questions, and raw tension. Butler is also author of The Darkling, which may be familiar to you. The book begins with the harrowing scene of Timon's murder, as he is left to drown when the tide comes in over his trapped body. His family has lived with the horror of this sixteen-year-old's death for six years, a death that has also killed something essential in Timon's younger brother Daniel. Now Daniel himself is 16, trying to connect to his family, including a relatively new stepfather and stepsister, and to a possible new girlfriend. He does make some progress, but always crippled by his brother's death, feeling in some way responsible for the murder. A young man begins to appear to the slightly senile elderly aunt who lives in the household. Then he makes contact with Daniel, who comes to believe that this is his brother Timon, who must not have actually died. The more the brothers meet and talk, the more Daniel wonders about Timon: this is his brother, but is he really alive, or is he in some state between life and death? There is something menacing about Timon, a continuation of the way he was before his murder, manipulating people, lying. The boys' father, Val, is still alive, but has left their mother; and he too is charming and menacing, just like Timon. All this comes to a gripping climatic scene that will chill readers just as it is meant to do. Butler doesn't make the story easy for his readers. There are strange, enigmatic scenes, uncomfortable relationships, and an overwhelming sense of doomthat fill the pages, as Daniel tries to make peace with his brother and with himself. The vocabulary can be challenging, especially to American readers unfamiliar with the British setting. Still, anyone who enjoys the ghost story genre will like this book. KLIATT Codes: JS—Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1999, Simon & Schuster/McElderry, 186p, 99-19085, $16.00. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Claire Rosser; July 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 4)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Great Britain is the setting for this contemporary gothic tale in which Daniel, 16, is haunted by the tragic death of his older brother six years before. Timon's body, ravaged by the sea and unrecognizable, washed ashore miles from where he presumably drowned. It is assumed that Timon's fate was the result of drug-related activities but the details are a bit murky, as is the relationship between the two brothers. Daniel's mother and stepfather are trying to heal the sorrows of the past and they announce to the family that she is expecting a new baby. Slow to warm up to these changes, Daniel withdraws to his "hide" by the sea. Butler creates a dichotomous world once Timon reappears. The normality of school and family life soon take on an eerie twist when ghostly images appear to senile Aunt Jenkins and Daniel. The characters who appear from the nether regions of the sea are portrayed vividly and with imagination. This malicious squad of "Lockermen," who threaten to take Timon away again forever, are intriguing but their motives are insufficiently explained. The story comes to an exciting and dramatic climax when Daniel's stepsister is enticed to the sea by these rogues and he must rescue her. Extraneous characters and subplots further complicate the story, but it is essentially an evocative mystery that will appeal to most supernatural fans.-Vicki Reutter, Cazenovia High School, NY Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Kirkus Reviews
Confusion reigns in this quasi-supernatural tale of drugs, death, and despair. Still grieving the loss of his older brother, Daniel blames himself for Timon's killing. Was his failure to carry out a drug drop the cause of the murder? Living in a newly blended family, Daniel struggles to find his place in a dysfunctional household consisting of an aging and senile aunt, an embittered mother, a frustrated stepsister, and a friendly but distant stepfather. Longing to overcome the stigma of living forever in Timon's shadow, Daniel grapples with his attraction to Jane and his need to fit in with his new family. Suddenly, Timon, or what passes for Timon, reappears and along with him a multitude of questions about what really happened on the night of his "death." Butler (The Darkling, 1998) creates a compelling portrait of evil in the character of Timon, a boy whose self-centeredness is almost sociopathic in its intensity. But the suspense that makes the early part of the story so intriguing loses momentum as it proceeds. The sheer number of characters, each unappealing in some way, overwhelms the reader. And the conversations between Daniel and Timon are not credible, never addressing any of Daniel's real questions. English phrases and expressions are apt to seem stilted and confusing to American readers. Worst of all, Butler tries to incorporate too many subplots (Lisa's pregnancy, Ruby's affair with Lisa's first husband, Max's drinking, and Aunt Jenkin's psychological decline), most of which are inadequately addressed, leaving the reader frustrated and puzzled. All in all, this is an oddly disquieting mixture of the mundane and the supernaturalthatnever quite rings true. (Fiction. 12-16)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780689825934
  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
  • Publication date: 6/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Lexile: 590L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.87 (w) x 8.59 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Above the long ribs of sand the moon winked: a banner flying out from the wharf had flapped across it. There were so few lights on the river, so many dark windows, and the tide was out. The sand ribs were spread with their own granular moonlight, and pools of water, molasses thick. You could smell the sea. Half a mile away the cranes reared high above the dock.

"I don't want to drown," said Timon.

Five minutes' walk from here (if your legs were free for walking) people could be found in bars and bistros, and all the harlequin lights glittered. Voices spoke of wine and money. A taxi cruised for fares. Good times. Others begged from blankets, and their thin dogs scratched. But it was no use shouting.

"I don't want to drown. Kill me first, if you have to."

"Perhaps you won't drown. The rats may oblige you."

They worked hard with stakes and mallets. Three men, one hardly more than a boy. Plastic cords bound wrist and ankle. No one spoke after that.

At length the eldest stood for breath. He tugged the last stake and found it firm, then squatted beside the youth spread-eagled on the sand.

"The stars are out."

"I've learned my lesson. Let me go. Please."

"But you're missing the point, Timon. You are the lesson -- see?"

A length of tape stopped Timon's mouth. The man patted him on the cheek then, with a salt-damp palm. "You take care now. Be good."

He turned to go, and tramped over the sand. The others followed.

"Be careful -- don't lie too long!"

"Tide's turning!"

"Good-bye, Timon."

They shambled off, departing revelers. The daring of it all had made them a bit drunk. In the morning they would spew out the horror, and sitwith shaking limbs in front of the television, thinking of what they had done, waiting for news. When someone knocked at the door they would jump. They would not sleep. All except the eldest, and he would be thinking it was a pity, sure, how it was always the smart ones who tried to break the rules. But it passed off well enough, he would say. And Timon March won't be taking him for a fool again.

That was one way of imagining it. There were others, other ways of writing Timon's name in the dust. Daniel knew them all. He had lived and died them: felt the cold water lap his heels, the rats' scuttering feet. Timon had played a dangerous game and lost. But just what had he done, whom had he offended? There were answers to these questions, too many to sort out, and Daniel did not know how. Six years ago the tide had sluiced away his brother's body, pulling stakes from the sandbar like pins. By difficult currents it had been carried out to sea, and landed a good two miles away on a rocky beach. And there imagination lost its grip, for that story -- of police, inquests, reports -- belonged to other people, and in a thousand official forms they had told it. Timon's life was over. That was the point.

Daniel slid out of bed. He couldn't lie there any longer. He was getting afraid of the stillness, and what sleep might bring. It was now just four thirty. His cold nose prophesied a chill. He dressed quickly, two sweaters and Max's old weatherproof jacket. One finger slid the length of the banisters. The mood still clung to him as he descended. Something to do with water, and broken surfaces.

In the dining room everything lay as it had the night before, the remains of his mother's and Max's party. Plates were piled at the side, wine glasses paddling in blue candle wax. He saw the bottles, three or four of them -- the wine that made Max so talkative, and more so last night than usual. Last night, and something Max had said, teased at his brain. Later the cigarette smoke would bring on one of Ruby's air-freshening attacks, with windows open and a horizontal breeze. Daniel made a sandwich from yesterday's cold roast, and went to the garage for the fishing gear. He filled a plastic box from a writhing bucket of live bait, fed on some concoction best not pried into. The canal was just beyond the woods.

The closing of the door woke his mother, Lisa. "What was that? Max, did you hear?"

Max grunted, snored, and started drifting again. "Uh?"

"The door. I heard it close. Do you think someone's come into the house?"

He raised himself on his elbow. "Or gone out. Doors have that dual function."

"At this time of day? Night, I mean! It's pitch black."

"Daniel has gone hunting, I expect, my love. He'll be down on the canal with rod and line."

Lisa had to admit this was likely: Daniel often went. "But what if someone's breaking in?" she persisted after half a minute. "Don't you think you'd better check?"

Max's head wasn't too good. He didn't fancy a wild goose chase, thanks -- creeping around in the dark with a poker.

Always supposing it was a wild goose chase. And if not -- well! Even less appealing. The hi-fi was insured, come to that. He changed the subject. "There's only one intruder in this house," he said, rubbing his wife's abdomen. He caressed it with a slight kneading motion, whispering in her ear, "And he's not going anywhere for the next few months."

"He?" she asked, prepared to be soothed this way.

"My intuition."

"Mmm."

He looked down at her in the dim starlight, thinking, I'm going to be a father again. After everything. Though he had no intention of leaving his bed, Lisa's appeal had made him feel chivalrous and protective. "It's hard to believe," he said.

"I know," she replied softly -- it was exciting to think they might be overheard. "I think it will be that way as long as it's a secret. Like our private game."

He hesitated. "When do you think we should speak to the children?"

"Soon. Not just yet. I mean, Ruby's bound to be upset, and Daniel..." Lisa wasn't sure how to put this. "To have a new brother or sister, and so unexpected -- it won't be easy."

"They may surprise you. It won't get easier for waiting."

"No, it won't. But let's have this time to ourselves first, Max. There'll be no other. Not for years and years and years."

He kissed her as her voice faded. "You are a wise old bird, Lisa."

"I know," said Lisa, and she promptly fell asleep.

An hour later Ruby was disturbed by the coughing from Aunt Jenkins's room. Despite everything Aunt Jenkins smoked in bed, and one day, Ruby was sure, she would incinerate herself and half the house, and Max would regret not fitting a smoke alarm, and Ruby would point out how often she had asked him to. But what would be the good of that?

Soon she was making tea, watching her hands go through the ritual of warming the pot, counting out the spoonfuls, and enjoying the regularity of that start to every day. But she screwed her face up at the smell of cigarette smoke.

By rising early Ruby gained a precious hour on her father's computer. The PC was her excuse, but the main attraction was the study itself: a windowless white-walled box, good for concentrating in. Max called it his asylum for one. Tea first, though. Her knock was answered by Aunt Jenkins's cracked cough of thanks. Ruby slipped the cup onto the table by the door without entering. For her father and Lisa, a tray on the carpet outside their room. The radio alarm was already provoking sounds of reluctant movement from their iron bedstead. Ruby wondered how much Lisa would be able to keep down this morning.

A year almost to the day since Max had moved her to this old mongrel house, and Ruby still could not get used to it. Its carpets and odd jutting walls conspired to knock her elbow, trip her feet. She could never remember where the light switches were, and found herself fumbling against the wall. In one alcove on the landing it seemed to her there ought to have been a door. Every day she was surprised at finding it bare plaster still. The Easter vacation had barely begun, but already she longed for her Hall of Residence, with all its predictable modern dinginess.

Ruby closed the study door behind her, feeling the wood swish snugly against the new carpet. The place felt secure at last, and she settled down to her psychology revision. The morning would be devoted to the libido, with psychosis penciled in for the afternoon. Ruby's head was awash with facts. Absorbed, she did not see the time, and (because the study had no windows) she did not see how dawn had crept up on this raggedly begun day, or how the wind had sucked the blossom from the cherry trees and sent it in a pink torrent past the kitchen. Or how dismal the sky was. By now Aunt Jenkins had padded down for her second cup of Earl Grey, and was muttering that winter had come again.

The fields were still in ruins from the spring storms. It was like that all the way to the coast. Last week the sea had overwhelmed the breakwaters, snapping the marina masts like daffodil stems. Where the city ran into the marshes people had been forced to climb roofs, or become bathtub gondoliers. For two days the wind came howling -- "with the voice of leviathan," as Aunt Jenkins put it. Some tried to reassure themselves with talk of cyclonic fronts and charts, but when they heard the wind rattle their doors or the explosion of a chimney pot on the slabs outside, they were afraid. Until at last the tide seethed back over black shingle, and the salt wind swept on to season inland soil.

First light found Daniel sheltered in a hollow, watching the grasses on the far bank flatten. A water rat had made him look up, a flock of geese. One fish swam back and forth, slapping against the keep net. Gradually Daniel had achieved a perilous calm: thought about Timon less, and Jane Garfield more, and wished she was sitting beside him. He looked along the line of twisted fencing leading the canal down to the city. What if Jane came walking along the towpath now? What would he say?

If Timon were alive he could advise him, as elder brothers do. Daniel loved Jane Garfield. Love of her drew him to think about the future: that must be good. But perhaps they did not have a future. One awkward kiss sealed nothing. One kiss -- and that was in the past, a cut flower fading. The way she looked at Gabriel Spicer sometimes made him doubt. She had promised nothing. And was he worth a promise?

Daniel tossed a handful of bait onto the water, and rubbed his fingers. If Timon were here he would advise him, perhaps. But Timon's advice might not be good to take. Timon's idea of a fast buck had got him killed. Why should he be luckier in love?

Timon had been seventeen when he died. Soon Daniel would overtake him. But still his brother seemed aloof, a source of untappable adult power and knowledge. And somehow Daniel was still that trailing child, the Velcro Kid, Timon's willing gofer. Nothing had changed, though everything was different. He ran the treadmill of the last few years in his mind. How Lisa had given up the band, and Valentine, his father, taken off at last. Then Timon's death, and the frenetic, empty time that followed -- until Max, a widower with a daughter, came to settle on their lives. There must have been something Daniel could have done to make it better...

There were a thousand things.

Coming home he looked in through the kitchen window. They were all sitting around the table, his family. Aunt Jenkins first, fanning herself with a copy of the Daily Mail. If she looked up now she would jerk back in surprise with a "Saints preserve us!" at the sight of his face against the glass, all streaked with dirt. Aunt Jenkins was easy to predict. And so were the rest. Lisa, capable and wisecracking like a sitcom mom, getting it all done. Ruby playing Ruby, with her cherry smile and Ryvita waist. And Max, a bit hazy around the edges this time of day, charmingly bathrobed at the table's head. A dad to poke fun at: but always loving fun, because a heart of gold was said to lurk thereabouts.

Daniel had one carp to show for his efforts. Max would work it out. "Three hours for one fish, price in the fishmongers, three pounds. You've been working for a pound an hour, Daniel! And unsocial hours too!" Lisa would not help. And Ruby would say: "But you do it for fun, don't you, Daniel?" Or perhaps: "I don't approve of blood sports." That was the trouble with Ruby. You could never tell which way she'd jump.

It would not be forgotten by anyone that all Daniel's gear -- the rod, waders, keep net, and the rest -- had once been Max's. Still were, strictly speaking (though Max never did speak strictly to his stepson). And this made Daniel want to turn back to the canal, numb his hands in the black water there, and feel nothing.

Aunt Jenkins left half the cup -- and when she opened her eyes the tea was cold. Everyone had gone, and she was alone. She did not think about how Max and Lisa had their work to go to, Ruby the library, Daniel school. She knew all that, but the important thing was they had left her alone, and the tea was cold, and before that it had been tasteless, like it always was these days. She would talk to Lisa about it. Her Tolly now -- there was a man who knew how to make a proper brew.

Daniel was the image of Tolly, had Tolly lived to see it. How proud he would have been! But Lisa had his chin and Timon had had Tolly's eyes, all yellowy gold. So Tolly was shared out, after all. That was fair.

It was past ten, and she still in her dressing gown. It would never do. What would -- what would anyone think, seeing her there? But of course no one would see her. There was no one to call her a lazy thing now. No one expected anything. Oh, this tea! She poured it straight down the sink. Another thing. Another thing. That young man nosing around the house, there was a thing. Several times she'd seen him from the corner of her eye. Max should call the police. Staring in people's windows -- and she still in her dressing gown. They could all be murdered in their beds, and no one the wiser.

The knocking at the back door roused her. Aware of the state she was in, Aunt Jenkins wondered if she should go up to her room to change; but there was no time, and she could not face the stairs. She unbolted the door.

"Hello," she said, surprised. "I didn't expect you home today. I'm not sure you should be here at all. Well come in, come in now you're here, you'll catch your death."

She turned about, all of a bustle, and put the kettle on again. She told her visitor to sit, to wipe the mud from his boots. Such a surprise! And she still in her dressing gown. It would never do.

But when she looked back, the door was swinging open, the first specks of rain were gusting onto her bare legs, and she was alone. In the highest trees the wind was shaking out a confession. And Tolly Jenkins's wife sat down and nibbled at a biscuit, and wondered how -- if she had not imagined it completely -- any relative of hers could be so rude.

Copyright © 1999 by Charles Butler

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First Chapter

Chapter One Above the long ribs of sand the moon winked: a banner flying out from the wharf had flapped across it. There were so few lights on the river, so many dark windows, and the tide was out. The sand ribs were spread with their own granular moonlight, and pools of water, molasses thick. You could smell the sea. Half a mile away the cranes reared high above the dock.

"I don't want to drown," said Timon.

Five minutes' walk from here (if your legs were free for walking) people could be found in bars and bistros, and all the harlequin lights glittered. Voices spoke of wine and money. A taxi cruised for fares. Good times. Others begged from blankets, and their thin dogs scratched. But it was no use shouting.

"I don't want to drown. Kill me first, if you have to."

"Perhaps you won't drown. The rats may oblige you."

They worked hard with stakes and mallets. Three men, one hardly more than a boy. Plastic cords bound wrist and ankle. No one spoke after that.

At length the eldest stood for breath. He tugged the last stake and found it firm, then squatted beside the youth spread-eagled on the sand.

"The stars are out."

"I've learned my lesson. Let me go. Please."

"But you're missing the point, Timon. You are the lesson -- see?"

A length of tape stopped Timon's mouth. The man patted him on the cheek then, with a salt-damp palm. "You take care now. Be good."

He turned to go, and tramped over the sand. The others followed.

"Be careful -- don't lie too long!"

"Tide's turning!"

"Good-bye, Timon."

They shambled off, departing revelers. The daring of it all had made them a bit drunk. Inthe morning they would spew out the horror, and sit with shaking limbs in front of the television, thinking of what they had done, waiting for news. When someone knocked at the door they would jump. They would not sleep. All except the eldest, and he would be thinking it was a pity, sure, how it was always the smart ones who tried to break the rules. But it passed off well enough, he would say. And Timon March won't be taking him for a fool again.


That was one way of imagining it. There were others, other ways of writing Timon's name in the dust. Daniel knew them all. He had lived and died them: felt the cold water lap his heels, the rats' scuttering feet. Timon had played a dangerous game and lost. But just what had he done, whom had he offended? There were answers to these questions, too many to sort out, and Daniel did not know how. Six years ago the tide had sluiced away his brother's body, pulling stakes from the sandbar like pins. By difficult currents it had been carried out to sea, and landed a good two miles away on a rocky beach. And there imagination lost its grip, for that story -- of police, inquests, reports -- belonged to other people, and in a thousand official forms they had told it. Timon's life was over. That was the point.

Daniel slid out of bed. He couldn't lie there any longer. He was getting afraid of the stillness, and what sleep might bring. It was now just four thirty. His cold nose prophesied a chill. He dressed quickly, two sweaters and Max's old weatherproof jacket. One finger slid the length of the banisters. The mood still clung to him as he descended. Something to do with water, and broken surfaces.

In the dining room everything lay as it had the night before, the remains of his mother's and Max's party. Plates were piled at the side, wine glasses paddling in blue candle wax. He saw the bottles, three or four of them -- the wine that made Max so talkative, and more so last night than usual. Last night, and something Max had said, teased at his brain. Later the cigarette smoke would bring on one of Ruby's air-freshening attacks, with windows open and a horizontal breeze. Daniel made a sandwich from yesterday's cold roast, and went to the garage for the fishing gear. He filled a plastic box from a writhing bucket of live bait, fed on some concoction best not pried into. The canal was just beyond the woods.

The closing of the door woke his mother, Lisa. "What was that? Max, did you hear?"

Max grunted, snored, and started drifting again. "Uh?"

"The door. I heard it close. Do you think someone's come into the house?"

He raised himself on his elbow. "Or gone out. Doors have that dual function."

"At this time of day? Night, I mean! It's pitch black."

"Daniel has gone hunting, I expect, my love. He'll be down on the canal with rod and line."

Lisa had to admit this was likely: Daniel often went. "But what if someone's breaking in?" she persisted after half a minute. "Don't you think you'd better check?"

Max's head wasn't too good. He didn't fancy a wild goose chase, thanks -- creeping around in the dark with a poker.

Always supposing it was a wild goose chase. And if not -- well! Even less appealing. The hi-fi was insured, come to that. He changed the subject. "There's only one intruder in this house," he said, rubbing his wife's abdomen. He caressed it with a slight kneading motion, whispering in her ear, "And he's not going anywhere for the next few months."

"He?" she asked, prepared to be soothed this way.

"My intuition."

"Mmm."

He looked down at her in the dim starlight, thinking, I'm going to be a father again. After everything. Though he had no intention of leaving his bed, Lisa's appeal had made him feel chivalrous and protective. "It's hard to believe," he said.

"I know," she replied softly -- it was exciting to think they might be overheard. "I think it will be that way as long as it's a secret. Like our private game."

He hesitated. "When do you think we should speak to the children?"

"Soon. Not just yet. I mean, Ruby's bound to be upset, and Daniel..." Lisa wasn't sure how to put this. "To have a new brother or sister, and so unexpected -- it won't be easy."

"They may surprise you. It won't get easier for waiting."

"No, it won't. But let's have this time to ourselves first, Max. There'll be no other. Not for years and years and years."

He kissed her as her voice faded. "You are a wise old bird, Lisa."

"I know," said Lisa, and she promptly fell asleep.

An hour later Ruby was disturbed by the coughing from Aunt Jenkins's room. Despite everything Aunt Jenkins smoked in bed, and one day, Ruby was sure, she would incinerate herself and half the house, and Max would regret not fitting a smoke alarm, and Ruby would point out how often she had asked him to. But what would be the good of that?

Soon she was making tea, watching her hands go through the ritual of warming the pot, counting out the spoonfuls, and enjoying the regularity of that start to every day. But she screwed her face up at the smell of cigarette smoke.

By rising early Ruby gained a precious hour on her father's computer. The PC was her excuse, but the main attraction was the study itself: a windowless white-walled box, good for concentrating in. Max called it his asylum for one. Tea first, though. Her knock was answered by Aunt Jenkins's cracked cough of thanks. Ruby slipped the cup onto the table by the door without entering. For her father and Lisa, a tray on the carpet outside their room. The radio alarm was already provoking sounds of reluctant movement from their iron bedstead. Ruby wondered how much Lisa would be able to keep down this morning.

A year almost to the day since Max had moved her to this old mongrel house, and Ruby still could not get used to it. Its carpets and odd jutting walls conspired to knock her elbow, trip her feet. She could never remember where the light switches were, and found herself fumbling against the wall. In one alcove on the landing it seemed to her there ought to have been a door. Every day she was surprised at finding it bare plaster still. The Easter vacation had barely begun, but already she longed for her Hall of Residence, with all its predictable modern dinginess.

Ruby closed the study door behind her, feeling the wood swish snugly against the new carpet. The place felt secure at last, and she settled down to her psychology revision. The morning would be devoted to the libido, with psychosis penciled in for the afternoon. Ruby's head was awash with facts. Absorbed, she did not see the time, and (because the study had no windows) she did not see how dawn had crept up on this raggedly begun day, or how the wind had sucked the blossom from the cherry trees and sent it in a pink torrent past the kitchen. Or how dismal the sky was. By now Aunt Jenkins had padded down for her second cup of Earl Grey, and was muttering that winter had come again.


The fields were still in ruins from the spring storms. It was like that all the way to the coast. Last week the sea had overwhelmed the breakwaters, snapping the marina masts like daffodil stems. Where the city ran into the marshes people had been forced to climb roofs, or become bathtub gondoliers. For two days the wind came howling -- "with the voice of leviathan," as Aunt Jenkins put it. Some tried to reassure themselves with talk of cyclonic fronts and charts, but when they heard the wind rattle their doors or the explosion of a chimney pot on the slabs outside, they were afraid. Until at last the tide seethed back over black shingle, and the salt wind swept on to season inland soil.

First light found Daniel sheltered in a hollow, watching the grasses on the far bank flatten. A water rat had made him look up, a flock of geese. One fish swam back and forth, slapping against the keep net. Gradually Daniel had achieved a perilous calm: thought about Timon less, and Jane Garfield more, and wished she was sitting beside him. He looked along the line of twisted fencing leading the canal down to the city. What if Jane came walking along the towpath now? What would he say?

If Timon were alive he could advise him, as elder brothers do. Daniel loved Jane Garfield. Love of her drew him to think about the future: that must be good. But perhaps they did not have a future. One awkward kiss sealed nothing. One kiss -- and that was in the past, a cut flower fading. The way she looked at Gabriel Spicer sometimes made him doubt. She had promised nothing. And was he worth a promise?

Daniel tossed a handful of bait onto the water, and rubbed his fingers. If Timon were here he would advise him, perhaps. But Timon's advice might not be good to take. Timon's idea of a fast buck had got him killed. Why should he be luckier in love?

Timon had been seventeen when he died. Soon Daniel would overtake him. But still his brother seemed aloof, a source of untappable adult power and knowledge. And somehow Daniel was still that trailing child, the Velcro Kid, Timon's willing gofer. Nothing had changed, though everything was different. He ran the treadmill of the last few years in his mind. How Lisa had given up the band, and Valentine, his father, taken off at last. Then Timon's death, and the frenetic, empty time that followed -- until Max, a widower with a daughter, came to settle on their lives. There must have been something Daniel could have done to make it better...

There were a thousand things.

Coming home he looked in through the kitchen window. They were all sitting around the table, his family. Aunt Jenkins first, fanning herself with a copy of the Daily Mail. If she looked up now she would jerk back in surprise with a "Saints preserve us!" at the sight of his face against the glass, all streaked with dirt. Aunt Jenkins was easy to predict. And so were the rest. Lisa, capable and wisecracking like a sitcom mom, getting it all done. Ruby playing Ruby, with her cherry smile and Ryvita waist. And Max, a bit hazy around the edges this time of day, charmingly bathrobed at the table's head. A dad to poke fun at: but always loving fun, because a heart of gold was said to lurk thereabouts.

Daniel had one carp to show for his efforts. Max would work it out. "Three hours for one fish, price in the fishmongers, three pounds. You've been working for a pound an hour, Daniel! And unsocial hours too!" Lisa would not help. And Ruby would say: "But you do it for fun, don't you, Daniel?" Or perhaps: "I don't approve of blood sports." That was the trouble with Ruby. You could never tell which way she'd jump.

It would not be forgotten by anyone that all Daniel's gear -- the rod, waders, keep net, and the rest -- had once been Max's. Still were, strictly speaking (though Max never did speak strictly to his stepson). And this made Daniel want to turn back to the canal, numb his hands in the black water there, and feel nothing.

Aunt Jenkins left half the cup -- and when she opened her eyes the tea was cold. Everyone had gone, and she was alone. She did not think about how Max and Lisa had their work to go to, Ruby the library, Daniel school. She knew all that, but the important thing was they had left her alone, and the tea was cold, and before that it had been tasteless, like it always was these days. She would talk to Lisa about it. Her Tolly now -- there was a man who knew how to make a proper brew.

Daniel was the image of Tolly, had Tolly lived to see it. How proud he would have been! But Lisa had his chin and Timon had had Tolly's eyes, all yellowy gold. So Tolly was shared out, after all. That was fair.

It was past ten, and she still in her dressing gown. It would never do. What would -- what would anyone think, seeing her there? But of course no one would see her. There was no one to call her a lazy thing now. No one expected anything. Oh, this tea! She poured it straight down the sink. Another thing. Another thing. That young man nosing around the house, there was a thing. Several times she'd seen him from the corner of her eye. Max should call the police. Staring in people's windows -- and she still in her dressing gown. They could all be murdered in their beds, and no one the wiser.

The knocking at the back door roused her. Aware of the state she was in, Aunt Jenkins wondered if she should go up to her room to change; but there was no time, and she could not face the stairs. She unbolted the door.

"Hello," she said, surprised. "I didn't expect you home today. I'm not sure you should be here at all. Well come in, come in now you're here, you'll catch your death."

She turned about, all of a bustle, and put the kettle on again. She told her visitor to sit, to wipe the mud from his boots. Such a surprise! And she still in her dressing gown. It would never do.

But when she looked back, the door was swinging open, the first specks of rain were gusting onto her bare legs, and she was alone. In the highest trees the wind was shaking out a confession. And Tolly Jenkins's wife sat down and nibbled at a biscuit, and wondered how -- if she had not imagined it completely -- any relative of hers could be so rude.

Copyright © 1999 by Charles Butler

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