Pam knelt on the gardening pad and dug deep enough to prepare the ground to plant the rose bush. As she broke up the soil her fingers touched something round and hard; she kept digging and brought it up to the surface. It wasn’t a pebble or a small piece of rock as she initially thought. She dusted its surface, but not wearing her glasses, she didn’t inspect the item any further and put it in her pants’ pocket.
A burning sensation on her back made her uncomfortable. It was 7:00 am, but because of the unrelenting sun of the Australian mining town, it was already hot. By midday, the heat would probably hit its peak, reaching around 40 degrees Celsius.
She went back to the kitchen, had a glass of water. and rinsed the object in the sink. She reached for her reading glasses and inspected the item carefully.
It was a locket.
She opened it and discovered a picture of two mature people. The man's scanty whitish hair, the woman's timid smile, and the picture’s faded tint of sepia intrigued her. She analyzed their features in detail. In spite of being an old photograph, she clearly distinguished their Asian aspect.
Pam, her husband Robert, and their son, Bob, had been living in the small mining town for over 10 years. In the beginning, she wasn’t sure if it was a smart idea to move to such a remote place, but for Robert, being in the police force was a good move. He’d get better pay, housing was provided and their son would be raised in a country-style way of living, away from the dangers of big cities.
So far it had worked well. Bob finished high school without major problems and was attending university in Perth. Pam worked as a librarian at the local school and Robert ran the small police station.
Life was good.
She waited until Robert came back from work.
“Hi, honey,” Robert said, throwing his police hat on the hall table.
“Hello, darling,” she said and kissed him.
Despite all the years they’d been together it felt so good to kiss his lips. “You had a good day?”
“Yeah, the usual. Parents complaining about their kids’ bikes being taken from their front yard, a squabble between neighbours because dogs cross their property. That kind of thing. What about you?”
“Fine, I planted new rose bushes this morning.”
“Look what I found buried in the backyard,” she said as she reached into her pocket
He came close and took the locket from Pam’s hands. He observed the object carefully, brought a shaky hand to his forehead, and leaned against the wall.
“What’s wrong, honey,?” she asked.
“Nothing,” he said when he could breathe.
“What do you mean nothing? You almost passed out. Have you seen this locket before?”
He couldn’t articulate a sentence.
“Please Robert, you’re scaring me.”
“I buried the locket a few years ago.”
“ Why did you do that?”
“I did it for Bob.”
“It’s a long story, Pam.”
He walked to the sofa and sat, head down, hands on his knees. The humming of the air conditioning filled the room and he swallowed hard. Pam stood in front of him, arms crossed over her chest, tapping her right foot impatiently.
“Please, take a seat. You’re making me nervous.”
“Am I?” She could feel her brow furrow.
“I’ll tell you everything from the beginning, but I want you to listen carefully, because this is about, Bob.”
She sat in front of him, watching his face.
“You remember the party his friends threw for him when he turned 18,?” he said.
“Yeah. I wasn’t here because we had a shopping trip to the city with a couple of girls from work.”
He stood and paced the floor. “ As a birthday present, Bob’s friends hired an exotic dancer from Perth.”
“What? Did you know about it beforehand?” She raised her voice.
“No, I didn’t. Calm down and listen, honey. The dancer was a young girl from Thailand. She had been in the country for a short while and was saving money to bring her parents here someday.”
“I don’t see how this girl’s story is related to the locket,” she said.
Losing patience, Pam squirmed on her seat.
He continued. “I left the boys on their own and went for a beer. The girl hadn’t arrived yet.”
“So, you never saw her?”
“Later. I was finishing my second beer when Bob came into the pub huffing. He was out of control.”
He came close to her and touched her shoulder. “He told me the girl was dead.”
She covered her mouth with both hands to stifle a scream.
Robert walked to the window and gazed at the back yard. The red bougainvillea they planted 10 years ago stood as a silent witness to his despair. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.
“Tell me, what happened.” Her voice trembled.
“Bob and the boys did some drugs. So did the girl. Maybe it was her first time and she overdosed, I don’t know. They tried to revive her, but they couldn’t. She was about Bob’s age.”
Pam couldn’t stop a guttural sound from escaping her mouth. “Oh, God, poor child.” She left the room sobbing.
Robert collapsed on the sofa.
Taking a short walk in the garden, Pam composed herself and found her way back to the living room. She sat beside Robert and looked straight ahead to avoid his eyes.
“What happened next?”
“When we came back from the pub, the girl’s body was lying on the floor in Bob’s room.”
“What did you do with her?”
His chin quivered. “We did what we had to. We buried her.”
“Oh, God. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Who are you? You got rid of her like a piece of trash? You’re a police officer, for Christ’s sake?”
“It was the only option to save Bob.”
“I couldn’t take her to the hospital for an autopsy. He had sex with the girl. The coroner could’ve traced her death to Bob. You understand now?”
“No, and I never will.”
She scurried to the spare room. Her head spun, a dull pain took residence in her heart and she collapsed on the bed.
She got an old album from the bookcase. After turning a few pages she found the pictures she was looking for: Bob’s third birthday, his first day at school, he standing beside his three-wheeler bike. All of them showed a little boy smiling at his mother’s face. So many pictures, so many memories.
The next morning, as Pam opened her eyes, bright rays of sunlight filtered through the curtain. It was the first time she slept in the spare bedroom. She missed having Robert’s warmth by her side.
The smell of fresh coffee permeated the kitchen. “Morning, honey. I have breakfast ready.”
“Thanks, I’m not hungry. I’ll just have coffee.”
He poured a cup and gave it to her. “Tell me about the locket,” she said.
“I found it under the rug in the living room the next day. I didn’t know what to do with it. I wasn’t thinking straight and I buried it in our backyard. That was stupid. “
“So, you planned not to tell me about this, ever?”
“What was the point, love? I didn’t want you to go through hell like I did.”
He took her hands in his. “I’m so sorry honey. I love you.”
“Where is she buried?”
“In the old mine site. No one goes there.”
Pam took the locket and opened it. It seemed like the old couple was looking straight into her eyes. “They must’ve been her parents,” she said with empathy.
He nodded in agreement.
“Take me to her burial site. They would like to be close to their daughter,” she said.
Early the next morning, the sun was already out, warm and pleasant. They knew its sensation would be short-lived because in a couple of hours the harsh Australian heat would be almost unbearable.
They drove to the old mining site in silence. Both deep in their thoughts. What would parents do to protect their child? Pam wondered. She gazed at Rob. His brow furrowed.
“We’re almost there.” He said, his demeanour utterly sombre.
After a couple of minutes, Rob stopped the jeep and got off. She followed him until he stood in front of the group of stones beside a Jacaranda. The tree with his blue trumpet-shaped flowers, fern-like leaves and fragrant timber was common on the Australian bush.
Pam reached for his pocket and took out the locket. She knelt under the tree and dug with both hands the reddish dirt, still soft after the rain the day before. Rob knelt beside her to help.
After they dug the small hole, Pam put the locket in it and covered it up.
“We should offer a prayer,” she said.
As they went back to the car, Pam gazed at the Jacaranda tree once more, but tears occluded her vision.