Kill Your Darlings’ First Book Club pick for March is The Everlasting Sunday by Robert Lukins (UQP). During the freezing English winter of 1962, seventeen-year-old Radford is sent to Goodwin Manor, a home for boys who have been ‘found by trouble’. Drawn immediately to the charismatic West, Radford soon discovers that each one of them has something to hide. Life at the Manor offers a refuge of sorts, but unexpected arrivals threaten the world the boys have built. Will their friendship be enough when trouble finds them again? At once both beautiful and brutal, The Everlasting Sunday is a haunting debut novel about growing up, growing wild and what it takes to survive.
They waited on Teddy’s return. It had been a week and Radford and West said nothing on the matter. Silence here, Radford concluded, was the truest act of loyalty.
The others, though, had begun to question his absence. It was during such an afternoon conference by the fire that Radford sought to put a short in the subject. All the close crew were there. Brass yawned. Lewis proposed some theory. Rich was in a generous mood and was attacking all with wads of chewed-up newspaper.
‘Who’s for the graveyard?’ Radford asked when it seemed that Lewis would never tire and Rich would find no end to ammunition.
‘Surely not again?’ Lewis said. ‘Too far. Too cold.’
‘I’ve grog,’ Radford said.
While finding his coat Radford worried that Victoria would not have left enough to legitimise the excursion but when he led the troupe outside and ducked to Snuffy’s room he found a third of the whisky remained. He returned to the tree shadows and they celebrated.
The same words, all the same, over and over – yet in the tedium there was now solace.
They marched out of the grounds with no concern of being seen. Lillian would object but not to any real degree and Manny would raise no complaint. So they passed between the ruins of the end wall and into the unprotected world, and as they went all except West fell into customary pairings and battles. He stayed a stride’s length behind Radford, who twice tried to slow. At each attempt the line of West’s shoulders would remain that steady yard in the past.
The cemetery gave itself away only by the very tips of a short dozen headstones and the two taller monuments now reduced to waist height. The perimeter railing was beneath pale ground though it was found by the underside of Lewis’s foot. He claimed one of its barbs had pierced his boot and Rich’s pretended sympathy came on strong, ending with them rolling about until Lewis struck his head against one of the ancient slabs.
They milled around making space in front of stones so that they could sit. The drink went around and each took modest sips. When it came to Radford the whisky aroused a vision of Victoria, and that in turn made him stare upwards into the afternoon to give an excuse to his watering eyes. He brought the neck to his lips a second time and made all the motions that were customary but stopped the flow of booze with his tongue. West showed no such modesty and the bottle gave up its contents in a messy, blubbing show; it was only the shouting of the others that brought it to a stop.
‘Jesus, go easy,’ Brass demanded.
West dropped the bottle at his feet, burying it in the ground. ‘Jesus, yes. You’ve uncovered my secret, I’m the Son of God!’ West said, going wild. ‘After all this time.’ He cast himself backwards and hard against a low stone cross.
‘Oh look,’ Brass said. ‘He’s gone all theatre.’
‘No, quite the opposite. I’ve gone truthful at last. I’m dead, don’t you see?’
Nobody answered but Radford walked towards him, putting a hand out. Brass turned away and finished the last of the drink. The others looked to Radford as if he might know what part of this was the joke.
‘The wake,’ West began. ‘It must begin. Ahem. West – he was a decent boy.’
Brass continued what was to be a slow walk, hands in pockets, to the far side of the cemetery.
‘Decent, yes,’ West continued. ‘Though not without fault. Ask the mother – though the mother of mankind’s saviour is going to end up let down, isn’t she?’
Radford asked him to stop.
‘And the father? Well, he kept his customary distance. Very hands-off, isn’t he? For the planter of the holy seed. But no, I’ve trailed off the point,’ West went on. ‘How did West die? Let’s say it was in the usual way. The usual, inevitable way.’
‘How did West die? Let’s say it was in the usual way. The usual, inevitable way.’
‘That’s enough,’ Radford said, this time finding force and taking West’s hand rather than waiting for it.
They all remained silent for some time, West alone smiling. The drink was gone and the break in weather seemed without purpose. All flames had been snubbed, all close to being lost.
‘Have you seen the starlings?’ Radford asked abruptly.
Out they came again to Winter, muddying its carpet. All they seemed to want was to tease with their actions. If only they were to declare themselves, to show their colours. So little was wanted from them, just a handshake, some understanding.
Winter would send all its weary messengers. Every last animal would soon have to decide – it could not go on in this way.
The boys stood in wonder, for above them the sky was breaking apart. It seemed to Radford exactly how a mirage might present itself. The starlings had lifted from their roost and swarmed into a molten object which oscillated above the horizon, making impossible shapes. They were a snake, a heart, a firework. The flock breathed with a lone purpose and it was this unity that struck him. That all these beaks and breakable wings could come so close to disaster yet make a song so sweet. It made its way into his pulse, rising and falling as the colony moved closer or away.
The boys stood in wonder, for above them the sky was breaking apart.
‘Seen this before?’ he said as the formation turned into a long arrowhead and aimed itself at the setting sun.
There were a few shaking heads.
‘Mad.’ Rich looked to Lewis.
‘I’ve seen it,’ West said. His voice had softened. ‘Years ago with my parents in Devon. My father used to take us with his caravan to Slapton Ley and we’d go for these awful walks.’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s called a murmuration.’ West ran his hands through his hair. ‘A man at the park told us. I haven’t thought of that word since I was eight. I made him spell it out – how on earth has that stayed in my head?’
They stood as silhouettes in the silver distance and the birds continued unaware. Radford knew it was no scheduled performance, just a happening of instinct. He put his arm over West’s shoulder and it was not shrugged away. The birds did not collide, nor were they led hopeless into the ground, yet their flight took place as if under a leader’s direction. They were just getting by and that was some good spell.
They stayed until the light failed. The flock separated in a sudden gesture and they were once again mere birds in trees. As the boys made their way back Rich was the first to notice blood. Starling bodies lay across the snow as Radford had seen with Teddy but now others had come to some sicker end: their bodies had been maimed and the dark blood beneath formed uneven streaks. The cold hadn’t done this.
West took one carefully in his hands. ‘What has happened to you?’
The other boys stood around and peered in. Lewis pulled at West’s sleeve.
‘Some animal,’ Brass said.
West continued to stare into the thing while the others began to fidget. The wind rose and made sharp to Radford their exposure. They were right to be afraid.
Starling bodies lay across the snow…their bodies had been maimed and the dark blood beneath formed uneven streaks. The cold hadn’t done this.
‘Come on, we’ll be stuck,’ Lewis said with a measure of urgency.
They moved away in the direction of home and nothing more was said. They made quick time to the house despite the dark and when they came into the dining room they found Teddy eating soup by the fire.
After tea Radford came upon Lillian in her kitchen, a cigarette at her lips. He went for an apple from the basket.
‘Come here,’ she said and placed him by her side, digging in with her hip.
‘It’s just an apple.’
She took a cigarette from her bib and gave it to Radford. He waited as she struck a match and the two of them insisted on quiet, the only sound the hustle of air between them.
‘Teddy’s back,’ Radford said.
They continued puffing and when another boy appeared in the doorway Lillian snarled at him until he left. She stubbed out against the basin.
‘Thank you, my son. What you did for Teddy, your help.’
He read forgiveness in her face.
‘You help,’ she said and silenced his disapprovals. ‘I see it. I witness all in this house and I see you help West. You help Teddy. This is a kind thing you do.’
‘I don’t do a thing, Lillian.’
‘You are there.’ She held his wrist. ‘That is no small affair. You stay. It is not as common as you must think. And it is Lil, please, my love.’
She brought him close and he shut his eyes, falling into a standing dream. She stroked his ear, his brow. She ran her fingers through his hair until he lost all feeling.