It had rained for three days solid, in some places the creek had already burst its banks; she’d waited for nightfall, a night with no moon. No-one can say how spectacularly unsuccessful the launching was, no-one was there on that dark night to bear witness. Though the remnants of the canoe were found the following day wrapped crazily around an overhanging branch almost a kilometre downstream, there is little point speculating on how much of the journey was made on the surface as hoped and how much of it tumbling in the putrid waters beneath. The body itself outdistanced the canoe by a kilometre and a half and was recovered two days later wedged between the root of a tree and the grey mud of the bank. It wore, ridiculously, the uniform prescribed; the rabbit skin hat still held in place by a chin-strap, the jacket still neatly buttoned.
    I was asked into town to sign some papers and I drove there dazed and shaken. Patterson himself seemed genuinely upset. It was, we both knew, a strange and futile end to a strange and futile saga. Little was said, little could be said; I saw the body, identified her as Jodie and drove back home with the image of her blood-drained face and quiet closed-forever eyes before me.
    The rain wouldn’t stop, it came down in endless thin silver ropes, pelting the roof and bursting out of the gutters; it was washing everything, washing everything clean, the whole sad sorry story, across the paddocks and ruins, from trickles to rivulets to the creek into the far-off sea. That night, as I sat down at my table and prepared to break the news to Michael, I knew, at last, that my days here were done.
    Michael! Mad, bad, cockeyed Michael! That it should all come to this! All the twisted lines of our journey, the scratches, the cuts, the bruises, were marked on her face. But serene, so serene, ghost-white and pure. Michael! Oh Michael! That it should all come to this!

I loaded the car up with beer from the pub in town and pulled the table up that night to within arm’s reach of the fridge. Empty cans littered the table, the rain drummed hard on the roof. Hours passed, they could have been years. I couldn’t write to Michael, there were no words to fix the image, wrap it in sympathy and carry it safely to him: six screwed up pieces of paper lay strewn across the floor. I raised myself unsteadily from the table, stood at the back door and looked out at the rain. It had already washed the gravel from the path leading down the back to the creek and the paddocks beyond lay shrouded in darkness and damp. She’d have passed by here, just down there at the end of the path, beyond the murky shaft of light, where I could hear the sound of the boiling, rushing water even now. Was she standing, head held high as instructed, or already tumbling, groping, lost? I’d have been sleeping, the rain on the roof. And she passed by softly: I couldn’t have heard.
    I took up the lamp, put on my coat, and walked out into the rain. I made my way down North Court and trudged to the top of the mountain of rubble that overlooked the Square. It was a lake now, a low lake of muddy water in which a few persistent gorse bushes still stood. Nothing to suggest the summer evenings of suffused orange light, the clinking of glasses and the hubbub of talk; those long magical evenings now a lifetime away. Grey sky, grey mud, grey water, drenched by an unending rain. I walked down the eastern side of the hill towards the few houses that still stood, miraculously, north-east of the Square. My boots were caked with mud, my steps were leaden. Thick weeds, gorse and thistle had long ago claimed the streets; they slapped at my thighs, tore at my flesh and wet my trousers through.
    I walked into the loungeroom of an empty house; it reeked of dogs, bird droppings and damp. A bird flew out the window, leaving the echo of its flapping in the room. I remembered Michael, and our meeting in the abandoned house on West Court all those years ago. Flies buzzed in zigzag patterns around the broken light fitting and the dogs stretched and yawned on the burnt-brown lawn. That summer was the worst, the paddocks around us were dead grass and dust; the streets melted, the gardens withered, a heat shimmer wobbled and distorted everything in the middle distance and beyond. Days on end spent waiting for night, nights on end spent dreading the days, we cowed beneath an open sky, hugging the walls and shadows, listening with one ear cocked to the distant rumblings whose source we could still not name. He was her father, I was in love with her, all my words were servant to these truths.
    I trudged back home, my boots and the shoulders of my coat soaked through, and lit a fire in the grate. Steam rose from the boots on the hearth and the coat flung over the chair: it hung below the ceiling like a cloud threatening rain. Rain, rain, everywhere the rain. It battered the roof and dripped with an insistent rhythm into the saucepans. I sat at the table and gazed again at the objects assembled there: a piece of glass from a broken beer bottle, a chipped house brick, a charred rabbit bone. I arranged and rearranged them on the table before me, imploring them to tell a story, to reconstitute themselves into a whole. But they remained stubbornly themselves; inert, mute, adrift. So are these few reliquiae all that I have  salvaged from the ruins of those years? Small things, absurd, earth-encrusted things. Had I not come back to dig them out they would still be sleeping peacefully where they should be, in the all-forgiving earth.
Later that night I awoke in the chair; the fire was cold, a heavy pounding in my head. I’d woken with her image before me again, the cold white face, the matted hair, her stomach so flat that it almost looked shrunken; the great fertile hump she’d been carrying, gone. I caught Patterson’s eye; he half-shrugged. The baby hadn’t been found.
    With that image before me I couldn’t sleep, and I spent the next hour or more outside gathering up old bricks and rubble, anything I could find, to make a low dyke across the backyard which I hoped would save me at least until morning. The creek down there was spreading now, bits of rubbish floated past and the stench was unbearable. Across the paddocks the puddles had swollen into lakes, the labyrinth of rabbit warrens flooded; the rain lashed the dead grasses furiously. I lit the fire again and pulled the blanket tight around me, so many things clawing at my head. The tangled barbed-wire and splintered wood wrapped around a tree; Jodie, growing ever-flatter in my mind, a cigarette paper laid out on a slab, white and so insubstantial that a mere puff of breath might blow her away; the tiny blue-grey bundle of flesh tumbling in the filthy waters, God knows, still tumbling now past Konagaderra, Wildwood, Bulla to the Bay and on into the soundless sea.

Yes, I came back, only fools do that, to live among these ruins in a slapped-up shack of leftovers. And for my foolishness I’ve become the only witness to the final act, last spectator in an empty theatre, last left squinting when the lights come on, the only one to take the final image out into the street. You’re the only one of the old group we could find, said Patterson, as if for that I should be pitied. And probably I should.
    The earth can only take so much rain and as the night wore on I felt itgulping ever-closer to its limit. The bridge was gone, my car was drowned; I was on an island surrounded by a sea of dirty water. I arranged the objects on my table again. I emptied the saucepans and mopped the floor. I couldn’t sleep. I opened a can, lit the lamp, pulled the table up by the fire and wrote.