Fiction

The red esky

Jack Arnett was digging in a fence post when he saw it. A flash of red through the waving wheat grass. He tucked his pants into his boots and waded through the dry. As he got closer he saw that the object was an old esky and that the grass was flattened in a metre-wide circle around it. He wasn’t sure what could cause an indentation like that: the stalks all snapped at right angles against the earth.

The esky itself was large and red with a white trim. It reminded him of beach holidays with his mother, her frizzy perm caught in the breeze and one hand raised to block the glare from her eyes.

The red esky was sealed closed. It had silver electrical tape wound around and around it. He bent his knees and lifted it against his chest. He made an involuntary hrmph sound. It was heavier than he thought. As he pushed through the grass he was sure that he heard a silver tinkle. Coins. Maybe old coins. Rare coins. The breath left his lungs. His chest tightened. Money. He was sure. It was filled with money.

 

Sally Arnett surveyed the esky as her husband put it down in the centre of their living room rug.

“Maybe we should call the police?” she said.

“You think?”

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

Jack didn’t reply, but instead pulled her to his chest and held her for the first time in months. She felt the quick thud of his heart against her cheek. Then he released her, turned away and went back outside. A moment later Sally heard the echo of his hammering resume. She pushed the esky with her foot. It didn’t budge. She leaned down. Sniffed. The edge of a scent crept through the gaps in the tape. Rot. Decay. She straightened, grinning. She listened to podcasts with her earbuds in while she did the chores. She’d sweep to abductions, mop to mass shootings, scrub to strangulations, dust to disappearances, bleach and wash and hang the laundry down the line to strings of serial killings.

Sally took a step away, and then another. Heady, dizzy, sparkling with excitement she went to do the ironing.

 

Little Lucy Arnett crawled along the carpet with her tongue out and bottom wagging. She liked to play Puppy or Kitty or Mouse. But today she was Big Dog. Big Mean Dog like the one that had barked at her and clanged on the fence and made her jump last week when she went into town with her mum. She picked up her baby doll in her teeth, shook her head and growled, then tossed it away. Dead now.

She rounded the corner and there in the middle of the rug was a big red box. A present. She crawled over to it, panting, and took a long doggy sniff. She pressed her ear to the red plastic. Something snuffled inside, shifted its weight. Lucy giggled, heat rushing to her cheeks. She spent the next hour exchanging growls and grunts until her mother called her away.

 

At lunch they sat around the kitchen table, eyes alight. They ate white bread sandwiches with bologna and cheddar and iceberg lettuce and goopy white mayonnaise.

“Did you hear anything last night?” Jack asked.

“No,” Sally said. “Nothing. Why?”

“Woof,” Lucy said. They ignored her. They had decided not to engage with the animal play.

“I was up on the roof yesterday, unclogging the downpipes,” Jack said. “View of all the fields. Wasn’t there then.”

They looked over at the esky in the middle of the carpet.

“Must have come in the night,” he continued.

“What are you thinking? A truck came and dropped it off?”

“Maybe. Or… a plane. A light plane.”

Sally snorted. “We would have heard that.”

“Grrrrrrrrrrrr… rof!”

“It’s probably just someone’s picnic,” Sally said.

“Or beer.”

“Rof-rof-rof-rof-rof!”

“Should we open it?” He could already hear the satisfying rip of the tape pulling free.

Sally nodded. “After we’ve eaten.”

They gulped down their lunches yearning for money and corpses and big hairy monsters. When they were done, Sally placed the plates in the dishwasher and Jack wiped the table and Lucy killed her baby doll again. Then they surrounded the esky, eyes gleaming.

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