Thunderpoint; whenever I hear that name, whenever I think of that place, it sends my brain into a tailspin. I feel the reaction throughout the whole of my body. So when Carrie suggests we go there, it’s hard for me not to shout out loud.
I take a big chunk of my beefburger and push a few fries in as well for good measure. There’s no chance of answering her now. I make this clear by pointing at my bulging mouth. She nods and takes a smaller, more dainty bite of hers. We eat in silence, me biding time; her thoughtful.
Finally looking anywhere but at Carrie, I say; ‘I don’t think that’s a good idea’.
She moves her plate out of her way, leaning both arms on the table, hands clasped together, pushing her weight forward towards me. She means business. She’s not going to take no for an answer.
‘Ben, I know you think you’re protecting me but this is something that I really need to do. I feel it will help me to come to terms with what happened, help me to move forward.’
‘Carrie, we all know what happened. How can going back to that place, reliving it, help?’
My eyes drift away through the restaurant window, I watch as a woman runs into the arms of a man and they peck on the cheeks. I can feel the excitement of their silent words as they greet each other. I wonder if I ever seem that relaxed to Carrie, or am I the one who is constantly tense. Is it me she feels the need to help?
As if sensing my mood she reaches a hand across the table and clasps mine; ‘Ben, we both need this; please say you’ll come with me’.
My eyes flicker up to hers, all pleading with me, then they fix on our joined hands. ‘Why can’t you let it go? It was ten years ago.’ It’s me pleading now.
‘You know why. He was my brother. Ben, I really want you to come with me, I think it would do you good as well, but if you can’t, then I’m still going. I have to do this.’ She says this with a finality that says I have to make my decision and I know I can’t let her go alone. Tom was my friend but he was Carrie’s brother. I don’t know how this will affect either of us.
‘I’ll come.’ I say wearily.
On the drive over to Thunderpoint, Carrie starts talking about Tom, reminiscing about his overlong blonde hair, how their mother would constantly complain that he should get it cut, and how Tom would smile up at his mum and say: but the girls love it like this, mum. Carrie smiles, ‘They did as well. He was so popular. What happened Ben? Why did nobody help him?’
I lean back on the headrest of the car and rub my palms over my face, feeling the need to escape the car. Flee from Carrie, flee from the guilt, leave everything behind. I thought this was over. No that’s not right, I hoped it was over but I lived every day wondering if it was going to come back. Maybe she’s right and this trip will help. I hope so.
‘I can’t answer that for you sweetheart,’ I say through my hands, unable to look her in the eye. ‘It all happened so fast. One minute Tom was larking about with the rest of us, the next he was in the water and the current was too strong for him. It took hold of him easily because he couldn’t swim. Everyone said the same thing, that he must have slipped on the fallen tree trunk and lost his footing.’
I can see him now, floundering. By the time some of us had jumped in after him, it was too late. I don’t think Carrie blames me, but I do wonder sometimes.
‘But that’s what I don’t understand,’ she continues. ‘He was so terrified of the water, he never went near it because he couldn’t swim. It makes no sense.’
She’s pleading with me, wanting me to make everything right. She knows I was there and she wants answers, but I just can’t give her them.
‘Maybe we should turn back Sweetheart,’ I say to her. ‘This is just going to upset you even more.’ I put my hand over hers on the steering wheel trying to give her some comfort, but she just stares ahead rigidly at the road which is fast turning into a dirt track as we get closer to Thunderpoint.
‘I have to go Ben, I have to say goodbye to my big brother.’
We travel on in silence. The sky is heavy; hung with thick dark clouds matching the brooding atmosphere in the car.
When we pull into the empty car park, the only sound is the car tyres crunching over the gravel. Carrie shuts off the engine. ‘Ready?’ she asks.
I take a deep breath and nod.
As soon as we shut the car doors the first fat drops of rain begin to fall.
‘Have you got a coat?’ I ask.
‘No it’s ok, I don’t need one.’
‘Carrie…’ I try to reason with her. The sky is unleashing torrents of water and we’re about to get drenched, but she snaps back at me…
‘No Ben! I don’t need one! Forget about getting in the car and going home. We are here and we’re going to do this. Or at least I am. Now are you with me, or not?’
I hold my hands up in a defeated gesture. ‘Ok. Ok. Come on.’
We walk up the path towards the trees, at least we’ll get some shelter there from the rain. As we walk, Carrie puts her hand in mine and I feel how vulnerable she is. I squeeze her hand and hope I convey some comfort and not the incredible tension that I am really feeling.
Walking this well-trod path that ten years ago I knew so well, my heart starts pounding in my chest so loudly, I feel certain Carrie must be able to hear it.
We arrive at the top of the hill and looking down, the river is gushing its way past us.
Carrie turns to me, her hair plastered to her head. ‘Over there,’ I say to her silent question.
The fallen tree is exactly as I remember it. It could have been yesterday. She loosens her grip on me and starts to walk slowly over to where I pointed. I follow her, glad of the deluge; it’s giving me a feeling of cleansing.
Carrie stops by the river’s edge and touches the tree trunk. She starts walking forward as if she’s going to walk into the river. The rain is flowing down her face diluting her tears. I reach out and gently catch hold of her arm. Her dress is saturated and moulded to her slim figure. I put my arms around her, she is so skinny. She feels so much like Tom did. But this time instead of pushing, I pull her close.