Dusty went missing yesterday. I always felt sad seeing the Lost posters fluttering on the telephone poles, imagining the poor creatures stumbling through the island’s wilderness or flattened by the side of a road. However, I always took comfort in the fact that that would never be Dusty. I’d taught him to bring in the newspaper and sit beside his water bowl when it was empty. But here I stand, taping him to the pole over Coral the cat who's been missing since March. Even the smartest can get lost.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find him.” Harry hands me another piece of tape. The adhesive clings to his fingers, an uncomfortable residue.
I shake my head.“No, we won’t. Lost things are never found on Christmas Island.” He gives a sort of grimace, as if in pain.
Harry walks me home, soles slapping the pavement. Trees rise up on either side of the asphalt river, reaching towards a darkening sky. When we first moved here, I found them ominous, these solemn, whispering trees, but now they wave at us as we pass. “They warm up to you,” Harry had explained, “the whole island does.” Birds call back and forth, making sleeping arrangements for the night and the gentle beating of the waves is ever-present, the alternate city hum.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” We’ve reached the turnaround point.
“Yeah.” He spins around on his heels and heads back into Flying Fish Cove, the Island’s closest thing to a town. I watch until he disappears, the twilight folding itself around him, a hazy cloak. As I walk home, to our little hut in the trees, I call Dusty’s name.
“How are you feeling?” Mum studies me from across the table with her intense psychiatrist stare. A limp bok choy escapes from her chopsticks.
“Fine.” I drop my eyes to the Chinese takeaway, begging her not to believe me. No Kai, you’re not fine. Then I would let myself cry and curl into her lap. But she wipes her mouth and leans back in her chair.
“Alright then, keep your secrets.” I smile sadly. She’s too tired. I can hear her turbulent day at work rushing around in her head. Soon the fat droplets will fall, smudging the ink of our lives. I don’t want to hear them right now, the stories from her clean, white room in the detention centre. I don’t want to hear about the suffering of others; I just want to wallow in mine.
“I finally got Karim to tell me about his mother.” I stare past her, at the obsidian glass. “Their boat was sinking, but they could see the shore.” We are reflected, mother and daughter, together and alone, flung from one detention centre to another in an endless migration. “His mother cared very deeply for him, but her love was irrational, as love often is.” We are displaced people, displaced by the need to help other such displaced people. “She so desperately wanted her son to reach Australia that she grabbed his pregnant wife and threw her overboard, then followed her into the waves.” I let my head fall into my hands. How can I complain of a lost dog or fractured friendships when my mother is unable to sleep because of the horror they experience?
“Mum,” she stops talking. I am stupid and selfish. I will always complain. “I can’t do this right now. A therapist shouldn’t need a therapist.” I don’t meet her eyes, instead I peer past her, out into the garden searching for a wagging tale and two familiar, glowing orbs.
“Well we made it! I can tick ‘boring graduation’ off the bucket list.” I give Harry a sideways smile.
“Now onto the next phase, one of smelly dorm rooms and over-passionate professors.” The absurdity of my statement causes his face to crease like a napkin.
“You can’t be over-passionate!”
“Yes, you can! Your dad!” He bursts out laughing and soon I join him, encouraged by memories of last year’s Christmas Crab Club. Mr Wei jumping up and down in time to the clicking of his slideshow had attracted exactly two members. Even after the innumerable field trips and presentations I would never appreciate the crabs as he did; the pervasive clacking of legs, the disconcerting, red, bestial shapes moving towards the ocean like a great wave of blood. Their “world-famous migration” had given me nightmares. I open my mouth to explain how aggressively asserting your own passion does not help anyone find theirs, but Harry cuts me off.
“Oh god, do you smell that?” He screws up his face in disgust. Dead animal, the breeze blossoms with the stench. It’s lying on the side of the road which glistens in the afternoon heat. My fringe sticks to my sweaty forehead as I shade my eyes. Some sort of possum? No, it’s too big for that. White and black fur, suddenly I’m running. Don’t let it be- it is. We stare down at Dusty. He lies sideways like he used to on hot days. Blood clings to his muzzle and his stomach is bloated, like a billowing storm cloud. Harry gags. “Oh no, oh god, poor dog.” I move to pick him up, I want to bury him, but Harry stops me. “You’ll get sick. He’s been here for a couple of days. Get your mum, the car and some garbage bags. We shouldn’t touch him.” The ground undulates under my feet. A glacial numbness spreads from my chest. Dusty will never know I found him. He’s a different kind of ‘lost’ now, one that lacks hope and future. I want to pat his ears, soft, like dryer lint, but I listen to Harry. He always knows what to do. The trees calmly watch us sprint past, our frenzied haste, barely a ripple, they’ve seen far worse.