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Last Summer - Kylie Ladd

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Published: 1st July 2011
Format: ePUB
RRP $14.98

Booktopia Comments

I have read a proof copy of this wonderful book. I read it quickly. I really wanted to know what happened next. How these people would cope. When I wasn't reading it - when I was at work - I kept thinking I should text the characters to see how they were doing... They had become such a part of my life. It was a wonderful feeling. A great thing for a novel to achieve. This is a warm, wise, entertaining and somewhat life-changing book.The Booktopia Book Guru.

Product Description

Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma - an all around good-guy, he's the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer's afternoon tragedy strikes ... and those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel of loss, grief and desire.

Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma-an all around good-guy, he's the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer's afternoon, tragedy strikes. Those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel about loss, grief and desire.

Told from the points of view of nine of the people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now. Marriage, friendship, family-all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page; their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.

Last Summer is a stunning novel about loss-the terrible pain of losing a husband, brother or friend-but also all those smaller losses that everyone must face: the loss of youth, the shattering of dreams, the fading of convictions and the change in our notions of who we thought we were. It is also about what comes after the loss: how we pick up the pieces and the way we remake our lives.

About the Author

Kylie Ladd is a freelance writer whose essays and articles have appeared in The Age, Griffith Review, Etchings, O magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Medicine, Sydney’s Child, and Readers Digest, amongst others. In 2006 she co-authored Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias (Michelle Anderson Publishing), and in 2008 co-edited Naked: Confessions of Adultery and Infidelity (Allen and Unwin).

She holds a PhD in neuropsychology and continues to work in public and private practice in this field.

Kylie loves reading, swimming, running, the beach, reading, eating, reading, her PC and reading. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, Craig, and two young children.

Her first novel After the Fall met with critical acclaim. Last Summer is sure to secure Kylie a place in Australia's literary family.



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Last Summer

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Powerful contemporary drama


from Sydney

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  • Deserves Multiple Readings
  • Engaging Characters
  • Well Written


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    Comments about Last Summer:

    By the simple act of telling a story a good book can carry a light into the dark and unexamined corners of a reader's life. The darkest of these unexamined corners is occupied by the single irrefutable truth of our existence, death. Left in the shadows this stark fact can take on all of the attributes of a nightmarish spectre. Left unexamined we may be left entirely unprepared when death intrudes upon our own lives. Something it will do, eventually.

    Last Summer by Kylie Ladd, begins with the sudden death of Rory Buchanan, captain of the local cricket team, a man in the prime of his life. We immediately enter the lives of those Rory left behind – his wife, Colleen, his sister, Kelly, her husband, Joe, and Rory's friends and team-mates, Nick, James and Pete, and their wives, Laine, Anita and Trinity as they, in their various ways, cope with Rory's death and face up to the fact that life does, and will, go on without him.

    Last Summer is told from the points of view of these nine characters with full chapters from one point of view only. This method of storytelling requires strong characterisation so that each individual point of view provides a unique perspective on the events. By choosing suburban Melbourne as her setting, and the cricket club as her focal point, Ladd has made things difficult for herself. There is much that is necessarily shared by all of these nine characters. They are all white, they are all moderately well off, they are all around the same age and they all have some connection to the game of cricket. This seeming difficulty turns out to be one of the novel's strengths.

    A writer's tools are sharpened upon their knowledge of human nature and as we read we discover that Ladd's tools are very sharp indeed. A lazy writer will accentuate minor differences between characters or lean upon ready to hand stereotypes but Ladd shies away from these. You will not find the ditsy blonde, the funny guy, the earnest one, the clueless one, Dopey, Sneezy or Doc… Ladd's characters are differentiated by their individual wants, needs, regrets and hopes, which are finely drawn. They are all at times funny, witty, stupid and earnest. This technique establishes each character's point of view with a force which is at once memorable and engaging.

    My allegiance to one character's point of view was invariably challenged on reading the following chapter written from another character's point of view. The effect was a broadening of my perspective. I was forced to examine events from different angles.

    Ladd overcame my complacency, too – I thought I knew these people and in knowing them, secretly despised them. But as I read, her characters revealed themselves in unexpected ways, now they met my expectations, now they exceeded them. I was given an opportunity to warm to characters I would ordinarily shun in life. This is no small thing.

    Last Summer is an entirely adult story. Here we find married people dealing with the consequences of a tragedy but having only the tools of ordinary suburban existence to aid them. The people described in Last Summer aren't philosophers, they can't crawl off to live in a barrel and ponder the meaning of life. After the funeral they have jobs to go to. That week the kids will have to be picked up from school, dinner will have to be made, as will the beds, and the laundry won't get done all by itself. The rest of the cricket season awaits, too. A new captain has to be appointed, the fund raisers still have to be organised and someone has to replace Rory as coach of the Kookaburras, the kids cricket team.

    The great internal strength we appreciate when reading Last Summer comes from Ladd's weaving together of what could be nine novellas. We feel compelled to read on not only for the realisation of one grand scheme but the conclusion of many secondary plots as well. The wonder of it all is how seamlessly Ladd combines these sometimes disparate threads.

    I would say Ladd is more of a listener than a talker. In Last Summer the author recedes allowing the characters to take centre stage. One can imagine Ladd in a room full of people finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation she may be having with you, not because she finds you dull but because she is simultaneously keeping track of the needs, wants and desires of everyone else in the room. It is this interest in people which enables her to construct scenes with large groups, and there are many in the book, without letting the reader miss out on a thing. Few writers understand the mentality of the group. Ladd does.

    Ladd's life beyond the page may give some insight into her interest in and knowledge of people. Dr Ladd has a PhD in neuropsychology, which is to say, she has made an extreme sport of voyeurism. Not happy with peeping through windows, she has taken to peering into the very workings of the brain. In laymen's terms, she is one smart cookie.

    It is clear on reading Last Summer, though, that Ladd is an artist, first and foremost. Her ability to reproduce the phrasing of a liar, to provide meaning with an action left half done, to describe the slow and painful progress of someone attempting to clamber over the ramparts of a wounded heart, these cannot be reduced to her professional interest in human psychology. We must conclude that an artist's instinct and craft is at work here, too.

    But having said that, Ladd does not offer us flights of fancy. Last Summer confirms Ladd's preference for the true. This is fiction which clasps fact's hand and will not let it go. Ladd's prose is understated, purposefully so, I feel. She knows she must keep quiet and not interrupt with fancy phrases or authorial interjections. She is aware how important it is to keep the line of her narrative taught. Last Summer is art cleansed of hyperbole, modern realism at its most unobtrusive.

    Ladd depicts her characters coming to grips with their loss and what it means in the midst of the chaos of contemporary suburban life. Our suburban life. Although we may feel invincible, we may feel that we have examined our lives, that we are prepared for any eventuality, more often than not, when tragedy strikes we find we are unprepared, hopelessly so.

    Last Summer caused me to reflect on life. On my life, too. How well do I communicate with others? How important are my relationships? Is this the life I want to be living? Have I made these choices or have they been made for me?

    Ladd reminds us that when death comes it is too late to ask these questions. We can't schedule time for a breakdown. We can't make things right by sheer will. By letting us into the lives of these people Ladd offers us an opportunity to make sense of a subject we shun, simplify or worse, mythologise.

    I read Last Summer quickly, greedily. I really wanted to know what happened next, how these people would cope. When I wasn't reading it – when I was at work – I kept thinking I should text the characters to see how they were doing. They had become such a part of my life. It was a wonderful feeling. A great thing for a novel to achieve.

    And even though Last Summer made me stare right into the unremarkable face of death, when I closed the book, and leaned back to think, I realised that the central theme of the book is not death but life – and how to live it well.

    My one complaint is that the novel moves too quickly and the end comes too soon. I would quite happily have lingered for longer amongst these characters. But perhaps that is Ladd's intent. Perhaps she wants to encourage us to get out and meet our neighbours in the flesh.

    Kylie Ladd is a strong, intelligent, subtle and wise new voice in Australian literature who is already being compared with Christos Tsiolkas, Malcolm Knox and Helen Garner. Last Summer is a warm, entertaining and somewhat life-changing novel which will be enjoyed, and re-read, by readers of Jodi Picoult, Ian McEwan and Colm Toibin.

    And to the five or six people reading this who know of my taste in literature and raise their eyebrows at such words of commendation I say, I mean every word. And to those who read Last Summer and find not what I have found, I say, look again.

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    They were making love when Rory died. They shouldn’t have been—at five thirty, on a weeknight, such things were practically unheard of, particularly since the twins were born. Nick had arrived home from work early, intending to quickly change and get down to the club for cricket training. Laine’s car was in the drive, but the house was locked and strangely quiet. It was weird coming across it like this, Nick thought. He was never home by himself—every night he came home to them, his trio of girls: Laine hunched over her drawing board or busy in the kitchen, Meg and Amy shrieking as they heard his key in the door, then hurtling down the hallway to throw themselves at his legs and squabble over who got to talk to him first.

    But this was good, he decided as he made his way to the bedroom and shucked off his suit. This way he could actually make it to training without being sucked back into the warm morass of family life. Nick rarely bothered with Tuesday training sessions. No-one did, except the guys in first grade, who had to go, but Rory had been pissed off after their team lost the opening game of the season, and told them all that he expected to see them there.

    ‘It’s all right for you,’ James had argued. ‘You knock off at three. What about the rest of us?’

    Rory shrugged. ‘Start early, like I do. Get yourselves a real job.’

    Nick caught James’s eye and raised an eyebrow. He loved Rory like a brother, but the guy had this us-them thing going on. Blue-collar versus white-collar: the ones who earned their living with sweat and heft versus those, like James and Nick, who he seemed to think sat in their offices and stared out the window or read the paper all day. Rory himself was a builder. He was also hard to say no to, thought Nick, looking around for his shorts. Any money, James was doing the same thing—had started work early, just as Rory had suggested, and was now checking his watch as he bundled his gear into his car and yelled to Anita that he’d be late home for dinner. Joe would be at the ground already, of course; not only was he Rory’s brother-in-law but he worked with him too. They’d probably knocked off together and shared a ride. And Pete would be there as well this season. He was finally playing in second grade with the rest of them, and was determined, Nick could tell, not to lose his spot.

    He was almost ready to leave when Laine came into the room behind him. She’d been for a run and was slick with sweat, earphones still blaring in her ears. ‘Hey,’ she said, removing them and pulling her light brown hair from its ponytail. ‘This is a nice surprise. What are you doing home?’

    ‘Trying to get to cricket. Rory’s panicking that we won’t win a game unless we train on Tuesdays as well as Thursdays,’ he replied.

    Laine laughed. ‘I’m guessing Rory wants a reason for a drink afterwards. He’ll probably have you in the nets for five minutes, then straight into the bar.’

    The thought had crossed Nick’s mind too. ‘Where are the girls?’ he asked.

    ‘Playing at Josie’s. Till six. That’s why I went for a run. If I’d known you were coming home early I would have stayed here and strewn myself naked across the bed.’ ‘I’ve got to get to training,’ said Nick, but he could feel himself losing interest in the idea.

    ‘Suit yourself,’ said Laine, fixing her eyes on his as she lifted her damp singlet over her head. There were small beads of sweat between the V of her bra, nestled against her breasts like jewels. ‘I’m going to have a shower and do my stretches, or maybe the other way around. What do you suggest?’ Rory would understand, Nick told himself as he followed Laine into the bathroom. He wouldn’t be pleased, but he’d appreciate that when marital sex was offered you didn’t turn it down. Nick did better than a lot of married men he knew, but still—no strings, no negotiations, his wife already naked and under the shower, her body blurred with steam and his own sudden lust . . . you couldn’t say no to that.

    Yet for some stupid reason it was Rory Nick thought of as he stepped under the water behind Laine. Rory, striding around the ground: issuing instructions, teasing, deciding who would bat and who would bowl, sending Joe off to practise his wicket-keeping . . . Rory, already tanned though it was only October, his long broad body permanently brown from the hours spent perched on frames, on new roofs, directing his chippies and sparkies and plumbers the way he’d now be calling out to the Yarra Yarra Cricket Club’s second eleven. You could never shut him up, Rory. If he was around, you knew he was there.

    Then Laine brushed up against him and Nick stopped thinking about cricket. He kissed her, tilting her head back out of the shower, hands snaking down her wet back to pull her hard against him. God, he loved her arse. He kneaded it between his hands, small and tight, the comfort and promise of familiar flesh. Laine had always been small: small bum, small waist, small breasts. It suited her, dovetailed with the rest of her personality—streamlined, contained, potent. In the last months of her pregnancy with the twins he’d hardly recognised her at times, the swollen flesh so unlike her usual taut figure. Thankfully, though the girls had left their legacy in terms of stretch marks on her thighs and a vulnerable lower back, Laine’s body had quickly snapped back to its baseline once they were born, as efficient as the rest of her.

    Now her face was against his neck as her hand reached between his legs. ‘If Rory complains that you didn’t show up, just tell him you were dealing with some ball tampering,’ she murmured.

    He clung to her as she fondled him, fingers silky and knowing. They didn’t have much time. Could he manoeuvre her to her knees, he wondered? Nick loved seeing her like that before him, looking up at him, mute, as she took him in her mouth. There was something about having Laine, lovely, bossy Laine, down there like that, servicing him . . . He started to apply some tentative pressure to her shoulders, but instead Laine turned around, backed her arse up into his crotch, then braced herself against the shower screen. For a moment he saw their reflections there: his dark head, greying at the temples, her bare back sleek against the hair on his chest. Then Laine urged him on, pulling him to her, and the image dissolved. Nick wasn’t entirely sure that the screen could take both their weight, but there was only one way to find out. He leaned forward and began to press his wet flesh into hers.

    The call came later, when he was drying himself. Laine had already left to pick up the girls, jumping out of the shower almost as soon as they’d finished, worried about the time. Nick had given up any thoughts of still making it to training, and when the phone rang he thought it might be Rory, ringing to rib him for his no-show, so he let the answering machine take the call. He couldn’t be sure through the bathroom wall, but the voice leaving the message sounded instead like James’s. Nick got dressed and was on his way to check when it rang again. At the same moment his mobile erupted, and then Laine’s, shrilling its own siren from where she’d left it on the hall table. Three phones ringing at once. Suddenly, something felt wrong. Nick snatched up the closest, his mobile, and it was James. James in tears, barely coherent, shouting, ‘Mate, mate, you’ve got to come down to the club. Something’s happened. It’s Rory.’

    The club looked all wrong for a training night. There was no-one on the pitch, though the sun still shone and the bowling machine laboured on in the nets, tossing bright red balls into the air. Two people moved in sequence just beyond it, and at first Nick thought they were players. But then, as he parked his car, he suddenly realised that they were ambulance staff, paramedics. He broke into a sprint.

    James reached him before he was halfway across the oval. ‘Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck,’ he moaned. All the colour had leached from his face. ‘He’s been down twenty minutes. They can’t get him back.’

    ‘Who is? Rory? What happened?’ asked Nick, as James bent over and tried to catch his breath. The season was only one game old. He wasn’t fit yet. ‘We were in the nets. Rory had just had his go, and he was walking back to the rest of us, pulling off his gloves, telling Pete that he was next and to hurry up so the young kids got a turn . . .’ James straightened up, his sandy hair spiked with sweat. ‘Then he just . . . collapsed. He sort of made this choking noise, and went down like a ton of bricks, straight onto the pitch. We all thought he was joking. I was standing there waiting for him to get up, but after a minute it wasn’t funny. Joe fell on him and shook him, and when he did . . . when he did, blood started coming out of Rory’s mouth.’ Nick was running again now, headed towards the huddled figures behind the nets, James sobbing and shambling in his wake. Rory was stretched out on the grass just beyond the boundary, eyes closed, white training shirt soaked in blood. A paramedic knelt beside him, pumping rhythmically on his chest as if trying to inflate it. Joe, also bloody, was cradling Rory’s head, mumbling, ‘Come on, mate, come on, mate. Don’t give up,’ but even as Nick watched he saw the pumping paramedic look up and exchange glances with his partner, shaking his head.

    To Nick’s right, a kid of fifteen or so who’d been standing with Pete cleared his throat and sidled over. ‘What’s gonna happen to him? Is he gonna be all right?’

    Nick recognised the boy. Davy, he thought his name was, recently promoted from the thirds. He was a good kid, keen, delighted to have this chance while most of his peers struggled on in the lower grades. Pete and he had batted together in the last match. They put on a partnership of thirty or so, and afterwards you couldn’t wipe the smile off the boy’s face, even though the team itself had lost. Two years ago he’d still been playing with the juniors on Saturday mornings.

    ‘I don’t know. I hope so,’ Nick replied, staring ahead. In the distance he could hear a siren. It seemed as if the poplars surrounding the oval had heard it too and, as the wind blew through them, leaned over to listen.

    ‘We called for assistance,’ said the second paramedic to no-one in particular. He’d set up a drip in Rory’s arm, and was concentrating intently on that rather than actually looking at any of the players gathered around. ‘He’s a big bloke. We’ll need some help getting him into the van.’

    The second ambulance roared through the gates (‘Home of the Roosters’) and into the ground. It pulled up beneath the poplars, brighter and bigger than the first, the full MICA works. This was serious. Two more paramedics leapt out, briefly conferring in low voices with their colleagues. Straightaway, one took over pumping on Rory’s chest, while the other three somehow slid a stretcher underneath him. They worked without talking, as synchronised as a ballet, heaving Rory up and into the maw of the vehicle in one seamless move. The MICA siren started up its wail, and they were gone again, Rory’s blood still wet on the grass.

    ‘Has anyone got onto his wife?’ asked one of the original paramedics, slowly packing up his gear now he’d done his bit. Nick looked over at James, who shook his head. ‘She’s not answering,’ he said.

    ‘Then you better go and get her and meet us at the Austin,’ said the paramedic. ‘Quickly,’ he added, as if they needed to be told.

    The poplars shivered in the afternoon breeze. Some of the guys from first grade had retreated to the boundary while Rory was being tended to. Now they wandered over, faces uncertain. ‘Can we do anything?’ one asked.

    Nick shook his head. ‘We’ve got it,’ he said. ‘I’ll go find Colleen. Joe, do you want to come?’

    Joe barely looked up from where he still sat on the ground, frantically punching numbers into his mobile. He shook his head. ‘I’ll have to tell Kelly. She’ll want to go to the hospital. We’ll meet you there.’

    ‘I’ll come,’ said James. Nick nodded, relieved not to be going alone. ‘Pete, can you pack up here?’ he asked. ‘Then call Laine and Anita—I don’t know when we’ll be home.’ He turned towards James. ‘Let’s go—we’ll take your car.’

    James grabbed his arm, the freckles on his pale skin standing out like scars. ‘Shit, Nick, just say Rory dies?’ Though he and James had spent half their lives together, theirs was a friendship usually delineated by handshakes, not embraces. Now James clung to him as if he were drowning. ‘He’s not going to die,’ said Nick. ‘Not Rory. Never Rory.’ Behind them, on the oval, he heard Pete tell Davy to turn the damned bowling machine off.

    Afterwards, what Nick remembered was her smile. Colleen’s smile, in that moment before he changed her life forever. A warm smile, open and welcoming and so completely unknowing. ‘Hi, guys,’ she’d said as she pulled the front door aside. Colleen had spent half her life opening the door to someone from the cricket club, passing on messages about sausage sizzles and subs due, or calming her husband down after selection night. ‘If you’re looking for Rory he’s at training.’ She paused, taking in their shorts and t-shirts, and Nick watched a flicker of confusion flit across her features. ‘Aren’t you meant to be there as well?’

    ‘You didn’t answer your phone,’ blurted James.

    ‘I’ve been out. I had to take Seth to the dentist, so I switched the mobile off. X-rays and all that. Why? What made you call?’ She was alarmed now, glancing from one to the other. James started to speak, but Nick interjected.

    ‘Something’s happened to Rory. He’s been taken to hospital.’ ‘An accident?’ asked Colleen, her auburn eyebrows suddenly dark against her skin. ‘Is he hurt? Oh God, and he’s meant to start the Magrees’ extension next week.’

    ‘Not an accident. Rory was batting in the nets, then just after he finished . . .’ Nick began, but Colleen wasn’t listening. She was screaming for her boys, looking for her handbag. ‘Seth! Toby! We have to go to the hospital.’ Car keys rattled in her hand as she called back over her shoulder to Nick and James, ‘You go ahead, I’ll follow you.’

    ‘You should come with us,’ said Nick. ‘No, that won’t work,’ she said distractedly, fishing through her bag. ‘I’ll need to drive Rory home later—with Seth and Toby we won’t all fit in your car.’ Nick looked at James. How to tell her that whatever had happened, he very much doubted that Rory would be discharged tonight?

    ‘Colleen, it’s serious,’ said James. ‘There was blood, and two ambulances.’

    ‘Really?’ asked Colleen, suddenly still. She glanced at Nick for confirmation, and he nodded. ‘Blood? He was bleeding?’ ‘Rory collapsed,’ replied Nick gently. ‘There was blood coming out of his mouth.’

    ‘Oh no, no, no, no,’ she moaned, and Nick was suddenly conscious of all her years as an A&E nurse. It was how she’d met Rory.

    ‘BOYS!’ she screamed again, panic driving her voice up an octave. When they didn’t immediately respond, she turned and charged into the lounge. Nick and James hesitated, then followed her. Seth and Toby were sprawled on the floor in front of the television, immersed in some PlayStation game. ‘Boys, didn’t you hear me?’ Colleen roared. ‘We need to go now.’ She yanked the console out of the wall, the television screen spluttering in protest. Though that had already got their attention, she then grabbed Seth, jaw still swollen from his trip to the dentist, by the scruff of his jumper and hauled him to his feet. Nick saw that she was shaking. ‘Now, boys, now,’ Colleen repeated. ‘We need to go NOW.’

    She calmed down a little during the trip to the hospital, even apologising to her sons as they huddled against her in the back seat.

    ‘I’m sorry, Seth,’ she said to the oldest, stroking his hair. ‘Mummy just got a bit of a shock. But it’s probably nothing. Daddy will be fine.’ Then she leaned forward to address James and Nick in the front. ‘Ulcers can make you bring up blood,’ she said brightly, trying to convince them as well as herself. ‘I’m sure it’s just a stomach ulcer.’

    Yet when they got to the hospital and she gave her name at the emergency department desk the staff reacted so quickly that Nick knew Rory wasn’t suffering from a stomach ulcer. ‘Mrs Buchanan?’ asked a doctor, materialising almost immediately by her side. Nick couldn’t help but notice the red streaks splashed across the front of his coat. ‘We have your husband in a separate area . . . If you’ll follow me?’ They all began to trail after Colleen, but the doctor turned and took her arm. ‘I think just Mrs Buchanan at this stage,’ he said, smiling politely at Nick and James. ‘Perhaps you could look after the children?’

    Toby, who was eight, burst into tears. Nick bent down to comfort him as Toby watched fearfully after Colleen’s departing back.

    ‘Come on, Tobes, we’ll get you something from the vending machine,’ he offered. ‘I’m sure once you’ve had that you can go in and see your dad.’

    But two packets of chips, a can of Coke and a Mars Bar later Colleen still hadn’t returned. James and Nick lingered on a faded couch in the waiting area, glancing up hopefully every time someone came into the room. Between them, Seth and Toby wriggled and complained, boredom replacing any anxiety they might have felt. After a while James got up and pulled his phone from his pocket. ‘This is hopeless. I’m going outside to ring Anita,’ he said. ‘What say I get her to come and pick me up, and she and I take the boys back to play with Will? You can wait here and ring me when you know something. There’s no point us all hanging around.’

    Seth and Toby were instantly on their feet. James’s son Will was one of their closest friends. They were also inseparable from their cousins, Joe’s three boys. Pete too had a son, Max, and the boys all played together in a junior team coached by Joe and Rory. Alone of the group, Nick had fathered only daughters. He loved his girls madly, but felt the lack sometimes when his own friends stood around after training or a game and boasted over beers of what their sons had said or done. ‘Sure,’ he agreed, checking his watch. It was just after eight. He was hungry and tempted to leave too, but he didn’t want to abandon Rory. They’d been friends almost all their lives. Rory’s family had moved next door to Nick’s when both the boys were only three. As children they had walked to primary school together, played tippety, kick-to-kick and releaso in the street, and were constantly in and out of each other’s houses. They had attended separate secondary schools. Rory was no academic, and was always headed for a trade—but they’d remained close.

    If he was honest, Nick had been surprised by that. By then he knew that he and Rory were different. He’d known, really, since the first day of school, when, terrified amid the rolling crowd at recess, he’d reached for his friend’s hand for comfort. Rory had squeezed but then dropped it, running off to play downball with some other boys. Nick had jammed his fists in his pockets, stung at the betrayal. He’d mooched around by himself after that, fighting back tears, but when the bell rang Rory reappeared at his side as if nothing had happened. As far as Rory was concerned, it hadn’t: he was Nick’s mate, but he had things to do, and if Nick had wanted to join in, he could have.

    Nick had learned after that to share Rory. Rory led; he followed—but then so did everyone else. People were drawn to his friend, looked to him for decisions and direction and inspiration. There was always a crowd of kids around him in  the schoolyard; later, it was a group of girls at the beach or  guys at the bar. Nick realised it had been good for him to have a friend like Rory. Naturally a bit of a loner and a pessimist, Nick was prone to doubting himself, to bouts of feeling detached or disconnected. Rory pulled him back into  the world. As a member of Rory’s circle he was always included, always part of whatever was going on. And Rory, for all his popularity, was never fickle. Perpetual captain of the lunchtime footy team, he always picked Nick first for his side, though there were six or seven others in the grade who would have been a better choice. Rory would handpass to him if Nick hadn’t had a kick in a while, and push him forward for things that Nick wouldn’t have considered himself. Once, in grade six, their teacher had asked for a volunteer for an inter-school public speaking competition. ‘I think Nick should do it,’ Rory had called out from the back row. ‘He knows lots of stuff.’ Mrs Walters had ticked Rory off for not raising his hand, but she chose Nick anyway. Nick had been horrified by the idea, but when the day came he was surprised to find that he actually enjoyed it. It felt good to be up there, with everybody listening and the safety net of his speech carefully written out before him; it felt good when they all applauded afterwards. Somehow Rory had known that. Nick had gone on to do debating at high school, then after uni became an education officer at the Melbourne Museum. He loved the work, and sometimes wondered if he would have ended up in the role if it hadn’t been for Rory, rocking back on his chair in Mrs Walters’s classroom, singing out when Nick had remained silent. Maybe, but maybe not.

    In spite of all that history, their friendship might have petered out at the end of primary school if it hadn’t been for cricket. Rory was growing up faster than Nick. At thirteen, he was already a head taller than him, an advantage he’d maintain for the rest of his life. He had hair under his arms and straggling above his upper lip; he claimed to regularly sneak a can of his dad’s Vic Bitter out of the fridge to drink in his room. Then, too, they’d been sent to different schools. Nick went to Melbourne Grammar in the city, all striped ties and compulsory chapel; Rory was at the tech just three streets from where they still lived as neighbours. When they saw each other on the weekend Rory talked about people Nick didn’t know, or things—beer, pot, sex—he hadn’t tried. Nick had nothing to report in return. It might have petered out, except one day Rory’s mum called over the fence to Nick’s. They didn’t do much sport at the tech school, she said, which was a shame when Rory was so good at it. She’d talked to her husband and they’d agreed that he should join a club, to channel his energy and lessen the time he spent hanging around Northland with a group from school. Yarra Yarra Cricket Club in the suburb next to theirs was looking for members for its junior team, so she was going to sign Rory up. Would Nick like to come along? She remembered them playing out in the street together for hours when they were younger.

    Nick remembered too: the golden dusk and the way the ball disappeared into the twilight; taking turns to watch out for cars. Though he eschewed sport at school, he went along to Yarra Yarra with Rory and found that he liked it. Cricket suited him. He enjoyed its gentle rhythms, its focus on the team rather than the individual. Nick wasn’t much of a batsman—the helmet was too heavy, and felt like it was always falling into his eyes—but he could bowl OK, and he was quick in the field. Rory could do it all, of course, but Nick held his own, and he came to look forward all week to those summer Saturdays. They’d ride their bikes to the ground, Rory balancing his bat across his handlebars, then train together in the nets for an hour or so before the others arrived. That had been Rory’s idea. ‘How can I just go out and play if I haven’t got my eye in?’ he’d asked. Rory liked to win, and he was prepared to work to make sure that he did.

    James Barton had joined them in their second season of juniors. He didn’t know anyone at Yarra Yarra but was so keen to play that he’d looked up the local clubs in the phone book, then taken himself around to each until he found a spot. Such initiative impressed Nick deeply, and for a while he was a little in awe of him. Rory was more taken with James’s batting, which was as good as his own. James and Rory opened together that year, waddling out to the crease like penguins in their too-big pads, imagining in their own minds that they were the Chappell brothers.

    Nick grew to like James. He was friendly and easy to get along with; he didn’t so much barge into Nick and Rory’s friendship as gradually expand it to make room for himself. James liked Nick too, but he was mad about cricket. He followed every test match and knew the stats of every player in the Australian team; he’d been taken to the G one Boxing Day and hadn’t stopped talking about it since. After the under-fourteens finished on Saturday mornings, Nick and Rory would head home for lunch or pick up some fish and chips if they’d saved enough between them during the week, but James would stay behind to watch the seniors. They were really good, he told them. They bowled fast, with spin, and could hit the ball right out of the field. For want of anything better to do, Nick and Rory began to hang around and watch too. After a few weeks the first-grade coach spotted them and asked them if they’d like to carry the drinks out at tea. Then sometimes, when a north wind blew and the ground baked under the January sun, one of the players would call out, and Nick or Rory or James would sprint to the middle with a water bottle. On such occasions the coach would buy them all a sarsaparilla and a packet of chips after the game, but Nick didn’t do it for that. He loved sitting on the boundary, waiting to be called. He loved the way that players ten or twenty years older than him knew his name, their quick and grateful ‘Thanks, son’ ringing in his ears as they readjusted their gloves and he trotted back to the pavilion. He loved being part of the team.

    And that was what kept him playing now, Nick reflected, as he waited for news on Rory. He’d never tell his friend, but he was long past the stage of caring if they won or lost each week. Nick preferred to win, of course, but that was only for Rory’s sake and the mood at the bar afterwards, never for any personal satisfaction. It was second-grade cricket in the eastern suburbs—what did it matter? No, what kept him turning up was the team: Rory and James, his childhood friends; Joe Richardson, dragged into the sport almost as soon as he started going out with Rory’s sister and every bit as competitive as his brother-in-law; Pete de Luca, their token wog boy, who’d drifted over to the game when his knees got too fragile for soccer. Cricket gave them a reason to be together in the same place every week, and with something to do. It also let Nick be a bloke. Being at the club was different to being at home, surrounded by all things female. It was different to being anywhere else, really. There were other men at his work but only ambitious young graduates, serving their time before they moved up into management, or public service types, there for the predictable hours and the super- annuation. None of them would anymore tell an off-colour joke or linger for hours over the details of a match than they would start juggling the skull collection used to teach school groups about evolution. When Nick ran into one of them at the photocopier or in the tearoom they’d chat for a minute about their weekend or a new grant, but the conversation quickly dried up. In contrast, at Yarra Yarra someone always had something to say.

    Laine had asked him once, early in their relationship, what he and his friends found to talk about for so long on the evenings they lingered at the club and came home to find their wives asleep. It wasn’t anything much: on a selection night they’d discuss which players were in which team, and after a game they’d recall who’d made runs or a duck or sledged the opposition. They complained about the umpires, analysed how the other grades were going, argued over the way the ball bounced on the new turf wickets. Occasionally the conversation turned to their home lives, but then veered quickly back again. How are the girls? someone would ask. Good, Nick would say, and that was all that was needed. They had spent years chasing or watching balls together, sharing taxis, flats, hangovers; had attended each other’s weddings and thrown up at each other’s buck nights. They didn’t need to say much when they talked. They understood each other. ‘Nick! Nick! What have they done with Rors?’ Kelly’s voice interrupted his thoughts as she charged into the waiting area. Nick glanced behind her for Joe, her husband, but she was alone. He stood up to greet her and saw that she was trembling.

    ‘I don’t know what’s happening, Kel. I haven’t seen him since I’ve been here, and no-one’s come out to tell me anything.’ ‘Have you asked?’ she cried, and he shook his head, embar- rassed. He’d assumed the staff were busy and he’d find out in due course, but now he could see how that looked to Kelly. She turned without a word and strode to the desk.

    Seconds later Kelly was being ushered down the same long corridor that had swallowed up Colleen. Her face awash with  fear, she glanced back over her shoulder at Nick, still sitting impotent on the couch, and he found himself thinking for about the thousandth time how striking she was: tall, like her brother, with the same dark-blonde hair, navy-blue eyes and olive skin. They were close, she and Rory, unlike most brothers and sisters that he knew. He’d often seen them drinking beer together after a game while their kids ran around, Kelly’s white teeth flashing when she laughed or took another mouthful. Between them they had five boys, all so similar in appearance that at the end of a day at the club Kelly sometimes joked that she’d better make sure she took the right children home.

    The Kelly that returned twenty minutes later was a different woman. This one didn’t laugh or shake her hair back over her shoulders. This one shuffled, and sobbed, and seemed at least half a foot shorter. Nick didn’t recognise her at first as she came down the corridor, clutching at a rail. But then she called his name and he ran to her, heart hammering as he caught sight of her tears.

    ‘How is he? How’s Rory?’ he gasped, but for a minute Kelly was crying too violently to speak. Instead she just shook her head, eyes screwed shut. Then she leaned into him as if she would otherwise fall, her wet face pressed to his neck just as Laine’s had been only a few hours earlier. Nick felt her shoulders heave and fall, the unfamiliar warmth of her heavy breasts against his chest.

    ‘Rory’s dead,’ she said into his neck. ‘Dead. Dead. Rory’s dead.’ It had been an aortic aneurysm, according to the doctor who followed Kelly out: a weak spot in the artery wall that had suddenly ruptured, spraying blood throughout Rory’s body. There was very little they could do. If the defect had been identified earlier it might have been corrected via surgery, but once it had burst . . . The young man shrugged, reluctant to elaborate.

    ‘It couldn’t be sewn up?’ asked Nick, dumbfounded. ‘Unfortunately not,’ replied the doctor. ‘The aorta is the largest artery in the body, and by the time Mr Buchanan was brought here he’d simply lost too much blood. The MICA officers thought they’d got his pulse back briefly in the ambu- lance on the way, but, even if they’d been able to maintain that it’s unlikely he would have survived. It all happened too quickly.’ Against Nick’s chest Kelly shook uncontrollably.

    ‘We tried to revive him for over an hour . . .’ The doctor’s words trailed away. ‘It all just happened too quickly,’ he repeated helplessly.

    Nick struggled to take it in. ‘Would Rory have felt anything?’ he asked. ‘Did it hurt him?’ The doctor hesitated. ‘We don’t know what people with this condition experience,’ he finally answered, though it was obvious to Nick he knew all too well. Nick was glad Kelly couldn’t see the man’s face, and he fought the impulse to put his hands over her ears.

    Nick had more questions, but a nurse disturbed them. She needed the doctor’s signature on some form; he took the opportunity to excuse himself from Nick and the still- sobbing Kelly, touching her briefly on the arm as he left. For a moment Kelly continued to cling to Nick, then he felt her take a deep, shuddering breath. At last she looked up, drew her hands wearily across her face and stepped back. ‘I have to be with Rory,’ she said, then added, as an after- thought, ‘and Colleen.’ She paused, thinking hard. ‘James took  Seth and Toby back to his house, didn’t he? To play with Will?’

    Nick nodded. ‘Can you ring him, and let him know what happened?’ she asked. ‘The boys can sleep there the night. I’ll stay here, with Colleen, or take her back to our place if we have to leave. But tell James not to tell the boys what happened. Let them enjoy themselves. I’ll bring Colleen over in the morning and we can talk to them then.’ At the thought of it she was sobbing again, eyes blurred like wet ink.

    ‘What about your parents?’ Nick asked gently. ‘I tried to ring them, but they didn’t answer so I drove to their place. I thought I’d bring them with me, but there was nobody home. They’d been talking about going down to the caravan this week, and there’s no phone on there . . . of course, Mum wouldn’t ever hear of getting a mobile, though we told her she should, just in case something ever happened to Dad. It was Dad we were worried about! He’s the one with the weak heart, not Rory.’ The usually unflappable Kelly was babbling now, her mind going in a hundred different directions. Nick had never seen her like this. Normally, nothing got to her; she was always in control—not in the tense, white-knuckled way of some women, but with a genuine grace and ease. He’d seen her when her children were younger, at social functions or after a game, baby balanced on one hip, toddler holding onto a leg, the oldest boy, Hugh, shrieking for her attention. And somehow she’d give it to him, and soothe the baby and ruffle the toddler’s hair, all the while still holding her glass of wine, talking and laughing. Kelly was always laughing.

    ‘I’ll have to call Joe, and tell him too,’ she went on, staring unseeingly over Nick’s shoulder. ‘He stayed home, to be with the boys.’ She swallowed. ‘God, the boys. It’s their sports day tomorrow, and Rors said he’d drop in after he knocked off from work. There’s this father-and-son three-legged race, and Rors was going to partner Darcy so Hugh could go with Joe . . .’ Not knowing what else to do, Nick pulled her to him and kissed the top of her head, though she was easily as tall as he was. Kelly relaxed against him for a second, giving in to the moment with a faint whimper. Then she pushed herself out of his embrace, turned and headed back to Rory.

    The call Nick made to James was brief. He could tell James wanted to hear more, talk more, was shocked and scared and hungry for details, but Nick couldn’t give them. He just wanted to go home now, to kiss his sleeping twins and get into bed next to Laine and close his eyes against it all. He rang her from the car park, breath misting as he spoke. It was a cold night for October, which probably meant it would be clear and fine tomorrow. Nick had stumbled out there thinking about Rory, only remembering as he looked around that he’d come with James: his own car was still at the cricket club, parked where he’d left it nosed up against the oval.

    Laine answered on the first ring. James had got in touch with her once he was home, but at that stage nobody knew what had happened. She listened as Nick went through it all again, and told him she’d be right there. ‘Don’t be silly,’ said Nick. ‘The girls must be asleep by now—don’t get them up. I’ll catch a cab to the ground so I can pick up my car.’

    ‘I don’t want you driving, and I don’t want you in a cab,’ Laine said. ‘The girls never wake up anymore—they’ll be fine if I leave them for half an hour. Don’t move. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’

    Nick hung up, knowing he should have insisted she stay there, but suddenly too desperate in his need to see her to argue. There was nowhere in the car park to sit down, so he went out into the street to wait for Laine, shivering a little beneath the faded city stars. From here he could see the full length of  the hospital, stretching out for blocks up the Heidelberg hill. Nick felt numb, dislocated from his life. His phone rang, but he reached into his pocket and turned it off without checking the screen, thinking as he did of all the calls now being made between the houses of their friends and to the clubrooms; all the questions and the disbelief, all the tears and grief yet to come. Rory dead? But Rory was bigger, more alive than any of them, with his builder’s frame and his booming laugh. Rory held them all together, kept them in his thrall. Not Rory. Never Rory.

    A siren sounded nearby. Nick thought of the MICA van, and wished he’d been with Rory when he died. He wished he’d cradled his head, like Joe; wished he’d got into the ambulance at the ground and ridden with his friend to the hospital. Why hadn’t he? He couldn’t remember now, but imagine if Rory had actually been revived during the trip. He would have woken up with just the paramedics. Nick hated himself at the thought. He should have been there. Rory had never liked being alone.
    Kylie Ladd

    Kylie Ladd is a freelance writer whose essays and articles have appeared in The Age, Griffith Review, Etchings, O magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Medicine, Sydney’s Child, and Readers Digest, amongst others. In 2006 she co-authored Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias (Michelle Anderson Publishing), and in 2008 co-edited Naked: Confessions of Adultery and Infidelity (Allen and Unwin).

    She holds a PhD in neuropsychology and continues to work in public and private practice in this field.

    Kylie loves reading, swimming, running, the beach, reading, eating, reading, her PC and reading. She lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, Craig, and two young children.

    Her first novel After the Fall met with critical acclaim. Last Summer is eagerly awaited.

    The Booktopia Book Guru interviewed Kylie click here to read and recommends you follow Kylie on Twitter - click here

    Visit Kylie Ladd's Booktopia Author Page

    ISBN: 9781742375014
    ISBN-10: 1742375014
    Audience: General
    Format: Paperback
    Language: English
    Number Of Pages: 344
    Published: 27th June 2011
    Country of Publication: AU
    Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.3  x 2.6
    Weight (kg): 0.46
    Edition Number: 1