The office was filled with filing cabinets, but obviously not enough, bundles of documents tied together inside binders were piled on the floor and covered the desk. A faded blue cover with a huge wad of papers stuffed into it, had his name written on the label; Clinton Bloom. He stared at it and fidgeted, moving his knees up and down, with a certain nervous tension that had become so familiar he was no longer aware of it. His brother sat next to him, staring at the floor.
The Child Welfare Officer opened the door and stepped into the office, taking his seat behind the large desk.
"We've made a decision," he announced.
Clinton didn't stop moving his legs, his eyes fixated on the dossier and its white label with his name scrawled across it.
"Can you keep still?"
It wasn't so much a question as a command, an instruction. He was obviously irritating the man, spoiling his concentration, distracting him from the task at hand, but not in a good way. Clinton didn't react, he continued bouncing his knees. If anything, the motion became quicker.
"Stop it!" The man raised his voice.
Clinton's arm stretched across the desk and collided with the blue covered folder, sending the contents skidding across the table top, making Morgan jump and look up.
The Welfare Officer somehow regained his composure, perhaps shocked by the reaction he'd caused. Slowly he gathered up the loose sheets. As he did so Clinton read one of the reports, it was headed, "Reason for Return of Minors." There were fields with different entries in each: Behaviour Inappropriate, Unmanageable, Maltreated Cat, Caused Flooding.
Mischief moved them on in life, and moving kept them close. Morgan had Clinton, Clinton Morgan, and for both that was more than most.
"It's not too far," Mrs Macy announced.
Clinton was staring out the window as they drove along what must have been the main street. Faint lighting leant a warm glow, spotlighting a circle of sidewalk, occasionally allowing a glimpse of a building.
"Morgan!" he jabbed his arm into his little brother, stirring him awake.
"What?" Morgan rubbed at his eyes.
"We've hit the Wild West. A one horse town. With one main street."
Morgan peered over his shoulder through the rear window.
"Sweet Jesus! Look at that!" Clinton pointed, tapping a finger on the cold glass.
"What's it say, Clint?"
He turned his head, reading the billboard as they drove slowly past.
"Give yourself to Jesus and your sins will be forgiven," Clinton smiled, but Morgan didn't notice.
"There's a movie theatre!" Morgan gestured enthusiastically. "What's it showing?"
"Don't know. Can't see. Will you get off of me?"
Morgan sat back down on his side of the rear seat. They left the town behind.
The bright golden glow of the sun peeking above the low hill line behind the property heralded another hot day. The car slowed to a halt in a cloud of billowing dust thrown up from the parched dirt track. The farmhouse stood isolated in the landscape, framed by the rising sun. They peered out at their new home, taking in the faded weatherboarding, the barn and old tractor. The broken fence that no longer secured the paddock leant an air of abandon to the place.
Mrs Macy switched off the motor and turned back to address the boys.
"Well, here we are," she told them, like a full stop at the end of a chapter, underlining the decision that had determined their new start.
Morgan glanced over at Clinton, who said nothing, just nodded.
She opened the door and moved the seat, standing outside, waiting. Morgan slithered out from the back of the car, followed by his brother.
A man was watching all this from the porch of the little house.
Mrs Macy moved around to the back of the car, she had an air of fatigue about her. It had been a long trip and she was not looking forward to the drive back. She popped open the trunk as Clinton joined her and stood staring into the almost empty space. He reached in, pulling out the old suitcase, he needed both hands to manoeuvre it. Not that it was heavy, there was nothing more than a few clothes inside, it was awkward to lift free. He plonked it down on the dirt.
The man had not come to greet them, he still stood on the porch. Morgan looked at him, shielding his eyes from the rising sun, a quizzical expression on his face.
The clunk of the trunk closing startled the silence. Clinton followed Mrs Macy towards the farmhouse, Morgan moved next to his older brother. Neither boy had any thoughts about where they were or how they ended up there.
"Mr MacPherson?" She greeted the man with the question as she stepped onto the porch.
Clinton dropped the suitcase onto the wooden deck and looked around. The car stood in front of the barn, it's orange-brown paintwork mimicking the colour of the sun and perfectly matching the dried yellow grass. The picture conjured up a languid desolation, a stark contrast to the city they had left behind yesterday.
The man shook hands with Mrs Macy, looking from one boy to the other.
"You'll be wanting to get back, I suppose?"
It was the first time he'd moved. His voice gruff and unwelcoming. Mrs Macy offered a weak smile and nodded.
"It was a long trip," she replied.
A statement that might in some way excuse her immediate departure. She had fulfilled her mission, executed her responsibility, the brothers were now in the hands of their new foster father. She did wonder about the arrangement, but then it was not her decision.
They watched as she walked back to the car and opened the door. The motor chunked into life, grumbling at being disturbed. The car swung around, heading away from the farm, chased along the track by the dust.
They sat together at the table, silently eating breakfast.
"You'll sleep there," he told them, nodding towards an old sofa which sat against the timber wall.
Clinton looked across the room. It was bare apart from the table, an old armchair and a cupboard. The kitchen, if you could call it that, was an enamel sink and solid old iron stove. The place was like somewhere from another epoch, as if the pioneers had just arrived and thrown together the most rudimentary habitation.
"The facilities are out back," the man added. He poured himself another coffee from the tin kettle.
"Don't you have a bed?" Morgan asked.
The man leapt up, leaning over the table, and swiped his arm in a wide arc towards the youngster, slapping him hard across the side of the head. Clinton jumped to his feet, sending the wooden chair tumbling backwards.
"Don't give me no grief, boy." The man's rough unshaven face was staring straight at Clinton.
Morgan held the side of his head. It stung like hell, but he wasn't about to cry. Clinton glared across the table, but retreated in the face of the man's anger. His hands gripped the edge turning his knuckles white, as the rage coursed through his body. The man watched him closely.
"Get the fuck out!" He shouted at Clinton.
The boy turned, grabbing a handful of Morgan's t-shirt and pulling him up.
They sat together outside on the porch steps.
"You okay," Clinton asked, staring off towards the barn and broken fence.
"He's a crazy shit!" His little brother turned to look at Clinton, who didn't reply.
The brothers were sitting idly on the bench under the sprawling leaves of the large white oak, it was the one place offering shade. Across in the yard other children were playing. Morgan and Clinton were not too happy as they nursed their Pixie Stixs.
Clinton's eyes followed one girl as she ran around chased by a taller boy. She had on a white dress with red polka dots, her hair tied in pony tails with thin red ribbons. She reminded him of an advert which he couldn't quite remember where he'd seen it, publicising a drink or something. It was a faint memory, but this girl seemed to embody that same freshness, an ideal, something almost imaginary and out of reach.
He flicked his straw away like a cigarette end discarded on the ground. At that moment the tall boy, who was chasing his dream girl, approached.
"Mr Taylor tells us to drop litter in the trash can."
He was standing in front of the bench and was soon joined by the girl, who smiled at Clinton.
"You're new," she told him, as if that were not obvious.
He wondered if the only nice thing about this girl was her dress and how she looked.
"If you're new," the tall boy continued, "You won't know all the rules."
Clinton stood up. "No, I guess not," he replied, thinking to himself, are all these country hicks morons?
Morgan got to his feet, standing next to his brother and looking from the girl to the boy. Then he glanced at Clinton. "Let's go, Clint?"
"You better pick it up," the tall boy said.
Clinton walked over to where the Stix straw had landed and put his foot on it, grinding it into the ground. He stared at the boy as if daring him to do something.
"Clint, let's go," Morgan said again, but Clinton didn't move.
"I'm Alice," the girl said.
"You are?" Clinton had a sparkle in his eyes.
"Yes. And you are Clint?" She smiled again.
"Clinton. And my brother, Morgan." He looked at his little brother.
The tall boy moved next to Alice. "I'm Vaughan," he put out his arm.
Clinton looked at him, waited, then shook hands.
"How old are you?" Vaughan asked him.
"You?" Clinton replied.
Vaughan looked at Morgan, he seemed about to say something, but only opened and closed his mouth.
"You look like a goldfish!" Morgan joked and Alice giggled.
Just then they were joined by five more children, three boys and two girls. Everyone started talking at once.
"What you laughing at?"
"Are you living here?
"You got family?"
Neither Clinton nor Morgan enjoyed being interrogated by a bunch of local kids, but they were now centre stage and being jostled around amidst an animated circle. Vaughan seemed to take a particular delight in having all his friends there.
"We have to go," Clinton told them, and pushed through the small circle.
Morgan followed, but, whether intentional or not, pushed one little girl too hard. She fell backwards, losing her balance and ending up sitting hard on the ground. Morgan stopped and looked down at her.
"Why did you do that?" She asked.
"Because you were in the way," he replied.
The other children snickered, but Clinton gave his brother a hard look. The girl just sat there.
"You're stupid and you fell over!" Morgan stared at the girl on the ground.
The little girl began to cry as the other kids moved closer. Alice reached out a hand and pulled her up, brushing off her dress. Morgan and Clinton watched the scene.
"I'm telling on you," the little girl told them, without actually looking at the two boys.
Clinton grabbed hold of Morgan and turned away, pulling him along.
The little girl sat at the kitchen table. Alice had brought her home, she was still upset and her mother knelt down next to her, brushing a hand gently through her daughter's hair.
"Did something happen, darling?" She asked.
There was no reply, but her mother was patient, she knew her daughter, but even so she was a little anxious.
Turning to Alice, she asked: "What happened?"
Alice looked from one to the other before answering. "It was the new boys," she replied.
"What new boys? I didn't know there was any new family had arrived in town."
She was puzzled. This was a small town, everybody knew everybody, and she would of heard about something like that.
"I don't know," Alice continued, smoothing her pretty dress with one hand. "But I haven't seen them before."
"What are their names?" The mother's attention was now focused on Alice.
"I don't rightly know, Mrs Adams. The older one is called Clinton and his brother, I think he said Morgan."
"Clinton? And where does this boy live? How old are they?"
Alice looked a bit flustered at being bombarded with all these questions.
"I only know he's called Clint, I mean Clinton. I guess they're about the same age as us."
Mrs Adams turned back to her daughter. "Did these boys hurt you, darling?"
"Yes, mummy," the little girl replied, thinking that now she could have her revenge.
"What did they do?"
She told her mother how they threw litter in the yard and wouldn't pick it up when Vaughan told them to. Then they pushed her on the ground and made fun of her.
"Everyone was laughing," her daughter explained with a tearful look in her eyes.
Mrs Adams glanced across at Alice, as if to seek conformation, or an admission that she had been laughing.
"Not everyone, Mrs Adams," Alice told her. "Just the younger ones were giggling.
"You don't know who these boys are, or where they live?"
Both Alice and the little girl shook their heads.
Mrs Adams pulled up outside the old MacPherson farm. She looked around at the deserted and dilapidated place, it was some time since she had been there, but still it was hard to believe Mr MacPherson had just let things go.
She turned to her daughter, "You want me to speak to the boys' father?"
"I don't want him to push me again. He should say sorry."
Turning off the motor she opened the door. "Come on then," she gave Melissa a weak smile.
The door opened as they climbed the porch steps and the rough looking figure of Mr MacPherson eyed the new arrivals. He didn't speak, but gave a nod of the head and pulled open the screendoor, inviting them in. Morgan and Clinton were seated together on the old sofa. Melissa stuck close to her mother's side, but managed an evil stare in their direction. The three of them sat at the wooden table and he listened as Mrs Adams explained what had happened. He didn't interrupt, just looked across at the brothers with an angry glare.
"I'll deal with this," he said, standing up and removing the belt from the loops of his dirty jeans. "Stay here."
He turned away and crossed the room to the sofa, bending down and grabbing a hold of Clinton, pulling him to his feet. He marched the boy into the bedroom and closed the door. Morgan sat like a statue, frozen to the sofa. The silence suddenly broken by the loud thwack of leather and muffled cries. This continued a moment, until the door opened, and Mr MacPherson marched Clinton back out.
"Stand there." He pushed the boy against the wall.
He strode over to the sofa, roughly dragging Morgan up by his arm, and pushed him into the bedroom. The door closed with a thud. Then silence, followed by the sound of rapid smacking and crying.
He had Morgan stand next to his brother and made both boys look at the little girl. Morgan still had tears falling down his cheeks as he apologised.
On the porch their foster father turned to Mrs Adams, "They won't bother you again."
He watched them walk across to the car and drive away.
Melissa turned to her mother. "I'm sorry he got a walloping."
"Well yes, but he shouldn't have acted the way he did."
Mrs Adams glanced back into the rear view mirror, but all she saw were the billowing clouds of dust.