When I look back to make sense of it, it sometimes seems as though it was all a dream. Yet two people are dead and others are left grieving, although for whom is uncertain. My own uncertain state of health continues to tire me out, despite the best efforts of doctors. In periods of remission I try to pierce through to the heart of it, unravel the skein of images and narrative. My temperament is to avoid any acceptance of the supernatural, the stuff of cultism, superstition, and yet, perhaps …

My own part in it? Was I an innocent, hapless, bystander sprayed with blood and regret from a passage of events underpinned by passion and urgent life? Or am I a cause of it, the tragedy, the loss, the death of my old friend, Eddie Varve, and the sinking melancholy of his wife, Judy?

For the umpteenth time let me recount what I know of the events of last year. I’m advised to write it down. Undoubtedly, this version will follow the others into the flames. But they tell me it may be helpful.

Start at the beginning they say. Easier said than done. Which beginning? When I first met Eddie and Judy on the ocean liner, Oceania, out of Genoa in 1951, all of us young, ready to match the challenges of a new land? That’s the long way around, a road I’ve travelled many times in these writings. Yes, we were friends for years, we worked in the Snowies together, and I was godfather to the child that died. That makes us more than acquaintances, but how close were we, how close is anyone to others?

Once I imagined she and I were close, but it didn’t work out, there was always Eddie. Perhaps her choice was not so easy to make but a choice had to be made, especially with a baby was on the way. Eddie was so proud, rushing to the priest to get married, assured, absolutely assured he was the father. I waited for another opinion, an alternative to be voiced, but Judy said nothing, except to avoid my eyes. I was the best man. They left Jindabyne for Sydney on their honeymoon and never went back. I followed briefly for the christening of the child, but not for the funeral shortly afterwards. I didn’t see them for years.

Perhaps it began when Frank Metcalfe moved in to the house beside Eddie and Judy down there on the Sydney Harbour waterfront. A difficult bloke undoubtedly, hard to take for long, but I found him fairly likeable, in a knockabout style. Was there any thing between he and Judy? Impossible to know for sure. I’m an unreliable witness there.

Sometimes when I was around for drinks or a party there was something in the way she responded to him, laughed at his jokes, and leaned against him that made me think. Once she caught me staring and looked back with a gaze that hit me with almost physical force. My glass plummeted from my hand. Oh yes, there could have been something going on there. It started me thinking about Jindabyne all over again.

Or perhaps it’s the tree that’s the centre of it after all, Unwilling as I am to even contemplate this kind of stuff, it has to be added to the ingredients. Too many others are convinced. Is there a sentience in such a life form, in a wide spreading, aged and gnarled, root-bound, giant, old Morton Bay Fig? Does it know anything, is it aware? More importantly, can it take revenge? This is the road to stupidity, the invention of that feral, loony, arborialist, a mate of Metcalfe. Gauser was his name, a right old hippie.

According to Metcalfe, he was well qualified, a doctorate in biology or such like, years of respectable scientific work before he dropped it all and went to live in a tree house up around Lismore. Too many hallucinogenic mushrooms or acid trips, if you ask me. We first met him, Eddie and I, when taking a stroll before dinner around the garden. He was there under the tree with Metcalfe, leather hat trailing feathers and fronds, brown and weather beaten as a nut, straggly grey hair and long beard, laying a confiding palm against the trunk, looking up at the huge old tree.

“Meet my mate Gauser; Eddie Varve and Rolo Montane.” Metcalfe did the introductions. He had the ever-present bottle of beer in his hand. “Gauser’s very impressed with our tree here. Says it’s ah, what did you call it, a locus tree? Very important to the whole area.”

He wasn’t taking it too seriously, and Gauser shook his head tolerantly as if accustomed to his disbelief.

“It’s a bloody liability, is what it is, it’s a quarter of a million dollars in lost real estate prices, it should be cut down, is what should happen with it,” said Eddie in a torrent of angry words, staring balefully at the tree. He was known as a man with a short fuse. He didn’t have too many friends and that was understandable. Lots of business acquaintances but no friends. Anyone he did business with never became close to him. There was a hard anger in Eddie that had grown with the years. I noticed that whenever he saw Metcalfe his natural abrasiveness became ever more evident.

Gauser was surprised at the vehemence of Eddie’s response.

“Oh no, you can’t say that. You don’t know what’s here. A tree like this, you see, is a point of convergence. The energy lines crisscrossing here all go through it. Here you can see it. Feel the way the trunk is vibrating, come on put your hand here. Feel it?” Gauser came around and catching him off guard, took hold of Eddie’s hand and placed it against the tree. “There, give it a minute. You’ll feel it.”

Eddie snatched his hand back angrily, stumbling over the roots.

“Let go of me, you bloody maniac. What do you think I am, an imbecile? You want me to feel a bloody tree? If it was up to me I’d take a bloody chainsaw to it, so help me. It’s on my bloody property and it’s blocking the view, my view, do you hear? Damn hippy shit.”

He was right, to a point. The tree was on his property and it did block one of the most spectacular views of the harbour. Without the tree, from Eddie and Judy’s place you would have seen the Harbour Bridge in the distance, the westerly curve of the bay, the marina down by the water. With the tree, there was still a good vista, which ran to the east with the line of houses dropping down the side of the cliffs to the water and along to where the point disappeared. Across the water, distant cliffs and tree-lined development. It was a fine aspect, but it wasn’t enough for Eddie.

What he failed to say was that yes, it was on his property, but it was also on Metcalfe’s. It filled the corner where the properties joined, its bulk making any thought of fence or wall impracticable. A straggle of hydrangeas served as a boundary halfway down the gardens but after that there was a common opening near the tree which Metcalfe took advantage of to wander through to visit. “Without so much as a by your bloody leave,” growled Eddie in the early days.

“Don’t say that. Listen, in fact, if I were you, I wouldn’t even think it. You don’t know what can happen.” Gauser appeared genuinely upset and just a little frightened. “I wouldn’t stand too close if that’s the way you’re thinking. I wouldn’t.” Saying that, he stepped smartly out into the long light of the evening sunshine, looking upwards into the tree.

“Now, see what you’ve done, Eddie. You’ve angered the tree spirits. You’ll get woodworm in your furniture, I bet. And you’ve upset poor old Gauser here. Come on, mate, he didn’t mean it, let’s go have another beer,” Metcalfe was enjoying himself hugely, but Gauser was not a happy man. He spoke sternly to Eddie from a distance.

“Look, I don’t know you and maybe I don’t want to, but if you know what’s good for you you’ll be a bit more careful in what you say and do. Especially near that tree. It’s special, let me put it like that, and there are things you don’t know and can’t know. So just be careful.”

Metcalfe urged him up the lawn, throwing an arm around his shoulders, laughing. Eddie and I stood under the tree.

“Bloody, hippy bastard,” snarled Eddie. “Telling me to be careful, on my own property. Lecturing me about bloody trees, mumbo bloody jumbo, just the kind of idiot a guy like Metcalfe would have around. Gives me the shits. I’m getting a drink.”

“You shouldn’t let Metcalfe upset you,” I said placating. “He doesn’t care about that stuff, he’s only taking a lend of you. Don’t let him get to you.”

“What do you mean, ‘get to me?’ He’s not bloody getting to me or anywhere near me.”

I shrugged, and held up my hands.

“Nothing, nothing. I was only saying.”

He glared balefully at me before turning to storm up the garden, through the french doors and soon I could hear him shouting and yelling at Judy. I lingered under the tree, enjoying the stillness of the evening, the smell of the bark. It was an immensity, branches like huge pylons reaching out as wide as the tree was tall. I remembered someone told me that trees had a bigger presence beneath the ground than above, like the bulk of an iceberg is under the waves. How far would something as big as the fig stretch, I wondered? It must go on forever.

I was away for some time after that, part of my occasional pilgrimage to explore the fading significance of my memories and the chasm between now and before. It’s getting better; I walk around the old streets with only the occasional descent into bitterness.

It was early summer when I got back and learned that Eddie was sick and the tree was dying. I drove out there the day after my return. As I turned up the sharp, curving, driveway I noticed a ‘For Sale’ signboard planted in the middle of the manicured lawn.

Judy met me at the door, strained and tired. We had spoken on the phone and I knew what to expect but even so it was a shock to see how Eddie had wasted away. When I entered, he lay in a hospital-style bed propped up with pillows, asleep, looking haggard and gaunt, the skin stretched tight over his checks, eyes surrounded by deep, purple, patches, his breath shallow and difficult. Judy told me of his insistence on having the bed in the living room, overlooking the terrace with its wide vista.

Everything was designed so that he could be moved when prospective buyers came through the house. Then he was wheeled into a smaller room, before being returned when they had left. In recent days, Judy asked the real estate agent to stop sending prospective buyers to view the property. Eddie had sunk to a new, low, ebb. His doctors wanted him back in hospital where he had survived the full canon of tests, but he was adamant that he should stay home. A nurse was hired.

It was a puzzling affair; Eddie’s illness, a general wasting and enfeeblement that concealed its cause through the most inquisitive analysis high technology medicine could bring to bear. He was a much discussed phenomenon among the squadrons of specialists at St Vincent’s who in the preceding months had come to see him as a challenge. It was neither coronary nor cancer nor any of the other afflictions identified in the incremental bids for recognition put forward as possibilities. Practitioners of arcane specialities, the scope and nature of which became ever more esoteric, took the field as the more orthodox retired puzzled and baffled, like rejected suitors.

Inevitably a psychiatrist entered the list but was quickly ejected as soon as Eddie discovered the motive behind the innocuous questioning. There was nothing enfeebled about his temper, nor his opinion of ‘damned shrinks’ and the quality of his own unassailable sanity. Of course, this was early on when he was much stronger and spent longer periods awake. Now he appeared to be retreating into torpor, for all the world like a sleeping sickness but without apparent cause or cure. Despite drips and fluids, he was wasting away before Judy’s frantic worry.

I was sitting talking with her when Eddie woke, his wasted gaze sparking recognition as he raised a withered hand to clasp mine. Confused and weak though he was, his driven nature was still evident. Straight away he asked Judy how many buyers were coming through today. As she lied about how the real estate agent had mixed up appointments, he fulminated against all such incompetents.

“Couldn’t sell bloody water in a desert.”

His next query was about the arrival of a council inspector to inspect the tree at the bottom of the garden.

“Oh yeah, it’s dying, didn’t you know. Bloody thing is on its last legs, needs to be cut down, it’s a menace, dangerous. Should have been chopped up for firewood ages ago, would be gone by now too if the bloody council would do its job.” Eddie was fired up, hoisting himself up to peer out with unmistakable loathing out the windows at the huge tree. “And I won’t take any price for this house until they get off their bums and remove that, that thing, from my property. What do you think, Rolo, bloody thing must be costing me over half a million in real estate prices, easy?”

Soon afterwards the council inspector did arrive from the direction of the garden, a serious young man with pale eyes, a transient smile and an air of detachment. He had been down examining the tree and carried with him samples of bark and leaf.

“Well,” barked Eddie as soon as the young man entered. “When are you going to chop down that bloody tree? It’s a danger to life and limb. It’s been rotten for years.”

The young man was less than impressed by Eddie’s bullying bluster. It was fairly obvious that he didn’t like Eddie and that the feeling was mutual.

“That tree, Mr Varve, has been poisoned. It has been deliberately drilled and injected with cyanide. I’ve told you that before. It has been done in order to kill it. Now who, Mr Varve, would do a thing like that? And what could possibly be their motive?” He stood at the side of Eddie’s bed and stared at the invalid who glared back.

“Ahh, bullshit. Whatever’s wrong doesn’t matter, what’s important is that it’s dying and should be removed before it falls on someone and kills them.”

“Well, you’re wrong there, you see. The tree has been damaged, and yes, it may prove to be fatal but that’s a long way off. Whoever did this didn’t do a very good job, not on a tree that size. So if someone did it to, say, increase the value of their property, then they’re going to be disappointed. Because I’m going to do everything I can to save that tree from whichever greedy bastard is behind it.”

“Here, watch what you’re saying. Better be careful, Sonny Jim. I’ll have my lawyers on to you before you can say greenie.”

And so it went on, before the young man took his leave in a filibuster of threats of legal actions, writs, lawyers and dire consequences for his advancement from powerful, if unspecified, connections at the council. None of which appeared to intimidate him. He took a series of photographs of the view from the terrace before exiting around the side of the house.

The interchange had left Eddie drained and he soon afterwards slipped back into his almost coma-like sleep. The nurse bustled around him, adjusting drips, re-connecting various electrical monitors and taking his temperature. I took the opportunity to take a walk down to the bottom of the garden where the tree cast its huge shade in the hot midday sun.

There was no doubt about it, the tree was dying, its enormous branches stripped of all but the sickly remnants of foliage, brown and yellowing leafs in sticky mounds around the base and tumbling out on to the neatly mowed grass. They stuck to my shoes as I moved around the trunk searching for signs of attack. And there they were, a series of holes in groups of three bored into the bark, girdling the massive fig. A dark syrup flowed from them, acrid and bitter. There were a total of 17 clusters of drill holes. I counted them, circling the tree. Looking up through the branches I could see the sky through the denuded limbs. Below there was a sense of something terribly wrong; no insects, no busy columns of ants or spider webs or any of the minute scurrying that is usually found around such a huge tree. It was as if the ground around it was already dead.

“Bloody professional job, that, whatever else you’d say.”

 Frank Metcalfe swung down the slope from his house, trademark beer in his hand. “Cyanide they used, absolutely deadly, there’s no hope. At least Eddie will be pleased. How is the old bastard today?”

“Not good. The council inspector has been around, upset him. He’s had a bit of a relapse.”

I can’t say Metcalfe was the kind of bloke I’d spend much time with but he had a forthright manner that gave the impression that he’d give a no nonsense answer to a question.

“Bloody little shit he is, that inspector. He better watch himself is all. Still, nothing much he can do about it, can’t prove a thing can he? Come on up the house, have a beer, it’s bloody hot.”

I declined, preferring the dappled shade of the tree. I sat down on one of the long snaking trunks. There was something wrong about it all and I decided to get to the point.

“So which of you did it?” I asked. “For the life of me I can’t see it as Eddie’s style.”

“Oh, you can’t. Which means it’s down to me. Well, you’re wrong, I can tell you because you’re a mate of Eddie’s. It was a neighbourly thing. His idea, I just helped him out.”

The story, as it came from Metcalfe, was that Eddie had become determined to move from the house where he and Judy had lived for so long. It had become an obsession with him and because he was the type of man he was, the cost of the view obscured by the tree had become a sticking point.

One night when he was around at their place, Metcalfe said that if Eddie felt so strongly why didn’t he just get rid of the thing. He mentioned that he’d cleared many paddocks in the bush himself. It was then Eddie proposed they join forces and get rid of the tree. As Metcalfe told it the operation was not that difficult, he did the drilling and Eddie pumped in the cyanide.

“Mind you, I reckon we could have gone in deeper, is all I’m saying, I’m actually thinking of giving it another dose, only what with that young bastard snooping around it’s too risky.”

We sat quietly for a while, my thoughts travelling outer reaches of logic. I had my own version as to what prompted Eddie to put some space between himself and Judy and their neighbour but it was not for sharing.

“So what’s in it for you? You don’t strike me as the type who’d go to such trouble for a neighbour. It won’t get you any more real estate frontage.”

“Well, you know, Eddie’s not a bad bloke, but he gets himself into some terrible states. I reckoned by that stage he couldn’t back out. If the tree was disposed of, then he’d have to move. I didn’t mind that option, it had possibilities.”

A movement caught his eye and he turned towards the house. Judy was on the terrace, looking our way. She stood for a while before going back in.

“And Judy, what about her?”

There was a pause while he continued to stare up at the terrace.

“Dunno mate, dunno,” he said reflectively.

Thus time the silence grew dense and lasted a long time.

“Course you know what my mate Gauser says. He reckons Eddie’s going to be very sick because of the tree. He reckons its malevolence is making Eddie sick.”

He tried to get a laugh in there but it didn’t work. He circled around out into the sunshine.

“And what about you?” I asked, following. “How come you’re not affected?”

“Ah mate, I took off, didn’t I, same as I advised Eddie to do. ‘Get out of here, mate,’ I told him. ‘There may be nothing in it, but why take the chance?’ I’ve seen a bit of the old black fella’s stuff Gauser was on about. Sometimes it’s bullshit, but sometimes it’s not. I took meself and the daughter up to Carpentaria for six weeks. When I came back, sure as hell, Eddie’s sick. So I hightailed it back out of here again. Just got back a week ago.”

Again the silence grew between us. I felt confused, there were too many conflicting stories. Metcalfe didn’t strike me as the superstitious type.

“And you told Eddie that if he didn’t leave he’d get sick?”

Metcalfe looked around at me.

“Look, I don’t particularly care whether you believe me or not, but you were here when Gauser warned him. It wasn’t me that planted the idea in his head, if that’s what you mean. Either way I reckon the only way Eddie’s going to get out of this is if this bloody stump dies first.”

It was my turn to study him inquiringly.

“You’re saying?”

“It’s a two man job, especially now with that inspector around. We should try to hurry it up, give it a second go, only this time with a bit of explosive. You’re a mate of Eddie’s.”

I shook my head.

“Don’t get me involved. I’d leave Eddie’s illness to the doctors if I were you and besides I reckon this tree will outlive the lot of us.”

“Well, don’t take too long about it, that’s all,” he called after me as I headed back towards the house.

When I came in the glass doors from the terrace I was just in time to see Eddie being wheeled out the front door by paramedics. Judy stood by fretting. He had suffered a massive stroke almost as soon as I left the room. I drove Judy to the hospital, trailing behind the ambulance. The doctors tried to reassure us but it was clear they were at a loss concerning his condition. More tests were scheduled, of course, and another line of specialists was summoned. An obviously puzzled doctor shrugged his shoulders maintaining that from all the vital signs Eddie appeared to be simply sleeping.

Over dinner I told her Metcalfe’s theory and somewhat to my surprise she agreed with it. More to the point she told me Eddie was also convinced.

“I was there when Frank told Eddie about what Gauser had said. It was shortly before Eddie became ill. I know it sounds silly but the way Frank put it seemed awfully convincing and afterwards Eddie became sick. When he came home from hospital the first time, he was convinced that the tree was out to get him. He wanted to go away but became too ill and the doctors advised against it.”

“But you surely can’t believe …”

Her look was sorrowful and puzzled, grey eyes with a calm at their centre that had defied the years.

In the days that followed I tried to understand what it was that made the three of them accept a world of influences and connections that was more suitable to Save the Forests shock troops. Was it me, was I missing something in all these arboreal connections? Or were they caught up in some kind of hysteria, frightened by currents of purely human emotions that attached themselves to the fate of the tree.

Some days later when I called in to the hospital to visit Eddie he was showing signs of a revival. A nurse was checking his chart when I walked in. As I drew near to the bed his eyes flickered and he woke. The nurse checked his pulse and went for help. I found myself staring down into the eyes of my old friend, eyes filled with blazing awareness and fear. His grip on my arm drew me down beside the bed.

“It’s the tree, Rolo, the bloody tree is killing me. I tried to kill it and now the bloody thing is killing me.’

“Now Eddie, this is silly, it’s morbid nonsense put into your head by your neighbour. There’s nothing to it, you’re a civilised man, you can’t believe in this witchcraft.”

“No, you’re wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. I know it now. I thought it was just an excuse to get me away from Judy, but he was right about the tree. I should have listened to him and got away, but I didn’t. I stayed on and went down to check on the poison everyday. That damn tree is killing me.”

No matter how wrong-headed his explanation might be there was no denying the fear in his eyes. More to reassure him than anything else I told him of Metcalfe’s theory and his proposed course of action. Immediately he clutched at the straw, shaking with the intensity of his pleading.

“Do it, it might work. You see, you know it too. Do it. I know what he is and what he’s trying to do but he knows about this stuff and it could happen to him too. If he wants your help you must do it. It’s that bloody tree or me.”

A doctor hurried in to the room, followed by the nurse who inserted herself between me and Eddie who was becoming more incoherent and distraught. Another nurse appeared at my side and I was efficiently moved away from the bed.

“Do it, Rolo, d’you hear me, for the love of God, Rolo, do it.”

His voice faded behind the door and soon afterwards the doctor came out. Eddie had sunk back into his moribund state unconscious. The doctor was clearly puzzled and was on his way to report to the latest specialist in charge of the case. He asked some perfunctory questions before walking away, almost shaking his head.

That night I phoned Frank Metcalfe and agreed to his scheme to destroy the tree. Why? I’m still not sure – a lapse into primitive responses, an unstoppable compulsive regression, desperation to help an old friend. Take your pick; I’m not defending the motives or sense of the action. On some level, I went along because they believed in the tree’s curse, Eddie, Judy and Metcalfe, so its destruction just might be enough to break the spell, confound the autosuggestion that appeared to be capable of killing.

“I was just packing to go away again. I’m having dreams about the bloody thing,” said Metcalfe. “But if you’re game.”

Later at the house Judy became agitated when I told her.

“What does Frank say, is it safe? He said he would never go near the tree again. He was going away to Port Macquarie, he has a house beside the beach there and it’s a lovely spot. He could be far away from here. Wait, I’ll come down with you.”

I persuaded her to stay at the house, the fewer people around the tree the better.

Metcalfe was waiting for me at the bottom of the garden, his voice sibilant in the almost pitch darkness beneath the tree. The night was warm and still, filled with the sound of distant cicadas and the mewing of fruit bats in other trees. Nothing stirred in the branches of the giant fig, through which I could see the sparkle of stars.

By the dim light of a small torch he explained the plan. The drill was an old-fashioned hand driven tool with a very long wood drill-bit. He was afraid the noise of a power tool would attract unwanted attention at this hour of the night. The explosives were in small wads of plastics with inserted fuses and trailing wire.

“I’ll drill right through to the centre,” he said in a whisper. “Last time we didn’t go deep enough, I reckon. This time I’ll blow the bugger’s heart out.”

It was hard going. I held a pencil torch by the light of which he found one of the existing holes, and manoeuvred the long drill bit into the entrance. The extensible drill bit dug slowly into the flesh of the tree as Metcalfe strained turning the handle. His breathing became heavy with the strain. After some minutes he hauled the drill out.

“There, jam one of those packets in there.”

With some fumbling I managed to stuff the wad of explosive into the enlarged hole and poked the charge home with the help of a ramrod, for all the world like loading a canon or a musket. Detonator wires trailed from the hole and were gathered together at a switch box. We drilled and primed seven charges in an hour, circling the trunk.

“There, that’ll stuff the bugger,” panted Metcalfe as he gathered the wires, twisting them into a cable before attaching them to the charge box. We stumbled over the roots backing up into the garden, sweaty and covered in the resin that poured from the tree, covering everything in a sticky coating. It smelled pungent and acrid and horrible.

We crouched in the deeper shadow beside the hydrangea bushes. I held the pencil flashlight while Metcalfe fumbled with the cables.

“Careful with that light, keep it covered, I just know that bloody council inspector is sneaking around,” he muttered. “Ok, ready? Once this blows we’ll skedaddle up to my place.”

In the dark my nod was invisible but both of us were eager to get the job over and done with. I heard him click the switch to detonate the explosives and instinctively covered my ears against the explosion – but nothing happened. A misfire.

Metcalfe muttered angrily.

“Here give me that bloody torch.”

He examined the connections and the battery level. Jiggled the wires and threw the switch again. Again nothing. He started up a steady swearing and made to get up. I grabbed his arm. “You can’t go over there, anything might happen. You could be blown to bits.”

“And what do you bloody well suggest? We call in the bomb disposal squad?”

“Wait a while, at least until morning so we can see our way around.”

“That’s great, good thinking. Maybe we can ask the inspector to help us. He’d love that … Here, what’s that?”

We both heard Judy. She was calling from the terrace, indistinctly. I rose to my feet.

“I better go see what it is. There may be something wrong, Coming?

I sensed the shake of his head as he crouched, intent on the wiring, the torch between his teeth, fingers busy at the connections.

“Frank, Frank!” Judy called.

I walked up the lawn and met her coming down, a lighter shade against the dark.

“It’s Eddie, he’s dead, the hospital just rang. He’s dead. Where’s Frank?”

We felt the explosion as a dull thud. A splintering crack as darkness moved. A cry split the night as one of the huge limbs of the tree crashed to the ground.

“Frank?” Judy screamed.

A drift of acrid smoke came up from the dark.

“Metcalfe, are you all right?” I called. There was no answer. Judy cried again and stumbled past me. I called after her but she was gone into the smoky dark. I followed and immediately crashed into a curtain of thrashing leaves and branches. I flailed through trying to make out shapes in the dark, calling after her. I became aware of flashlights and voices coming from the edge of the cliff, their beams haloed in the smoke. Metcalfe was right, the inspector was nearby. He was the first to reach the body, crushed beneath an enormous branch that had torn loose from the shattered trunk. The harsh light of the torch picked out Metcalfe where he had been knocked to the ground. His bright holiday shirt was stained with blood seeping from his broken chest. Judy stumbled through the broken branches to collapse on top of the body, holding and beseeching him and crying bitterly. In his hand was the detonator box. He had gone in to check the explosives and they finally ignited. He should have known better with his experience of explosives.

The ambulance came, police too and for a while the area at the bottom of the garden was a set piece of spotlights and officials. Metcalfe was taken away under a sheet. Judy and I were questioned and told to come to the police station in the morning to make a statement. The council inspector gathered up the utensils, the drill and the left over detonators. He appeared to take no satisfaction in proving his suspicions right, although he looked at me steadily, speculatively, before he turned and trudged away into the greying dawn.

A doctor at the scene accompanied Judy and I back to the house where he gave her some pills. I try never to take them. Later I sat with her looking out on the terrace.

“They’ll have to cut the rest of it down now, won’t they? Eddie would have been pleased,” she said. She was composed and calm, in the way people are before shock hits them.

The aspect through the windows had changed, a wider dawn where a large part of the giant tree had fallen away. “It won’t make that much difference either, not to the view, not to anything.” She looked at me. We had little else to say.

After a while with the sun burning away the mist from the water I stood to leave. She came with me to the door.

“You’re hurt,” she said, touching my arm.

It was a scratch, across my forearm. Nothing, no pain. I hadn’t realised it happened.

“Come over here and let me fix it, should I call a doctor?”

It was only skin deep, nothing serious and when she wiped with a damp cloth there was very little blood. But it was oozing a peculiar, dark, liquid. I sniffed it, touched it, and tasted the tip of my finger.

It wasn’t blood.

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