Home > The Last Anniversary(5)

The Last Anniversary(5)
Liane Moriarty

‘What do the police have to say about this?’ asked Jimmy, in a more formal voice than he’d been using previously. ‘I assume you notified them when you found the baby?’

She spoke confidingly to mollify him. ‘Actually, they weren’t very interested in the beginning. They didn’t think it was all that mysterious. The Munros were behind on their rent. People are abandoning their houses all the time these days. Often they go in the middle of the night. They’re abandoning their babies too.’

‘But normally they leave the baby at a church or on somebody’s doorstep. They don’t just leave a baby sleeping in the house.’

‘Alice had asked Rose and me to go around for a cup of tea,’ said Connie. ‘I guess she knew the baby would be found.’

‘But the kettle boiling! And the cake waiting to be iced!’ Jimmy regained his former enthusiasm as he defended his scoop. ‘And you said there was an overturned chair and blood stains on the floor!’

‘The sergeant at Glass Bay Police Station said he’d be more interested if there was an actual body on the floor. I also think he would have been more interested if it was my father reporting it, not me, but Dad doesn’t really get off the island much. My father isn’t well. He was gassed twice in France. He’s a bit…as I said, he stays on the island most of the time.’

She had been going to say her father was a bit soft in the head, but then she realised that wasn’t relevant, or any of Jimmy Thrum’s business, for that matter. Although for some reason she wanted to tell Jimmy all about how her dad had been even stranger since Mum died, and how worried she was about Rose, who seemed to be going a bit barmy too.

She continued talking. ‘Anyway, the sergeant did come out eventually and poked around the house and scratched his head. He said they weren’t necessarily blood stains on the floor. You’ll have to see what you think, when we go over to the house. It sure looks like blood to me. He said he’d come out and have another look sometime next week if the Munros still haven’t turned up. He seems convinced they’ll be back to get their baby. I understand he’s pretty busy, and I think he thought I was just a silly young girl. And people think it’s such a bother to come out to the island. You’d think we lived on the moon, it’s so inconvenient.’

‘I don’t think you’re a silly young girl.’

‘Thank you.’

Their eyes met and they both looked away and shifted awkwardly in their chairs.

‘It’s worth the inconvenience,’ said Jimmy suddenly. ‘This island. It’s so beautiful. You’re so lucky to live here. I don’t know why people don’t come here for picnics.’

Picnics. Exactly, thought Connie. Picnics will be the start. Then Devonshire teas.

There was a sudden kitten-like cry from down the hallway and Jimmy looked up.

‘That’s the Munro baby?’ he asked, as if he was surprised by the coincidence of talking about the baby and it actually existing as well.

‘Yes,’ said Connie. ‘My sister will pick her up.’

But the baby kept crying and crying, and after Jimmy and Connie looked at each other for a while, Connie got up and found Rose sitting upright at their mother’s sewing machine, staring out the window, her face immobile and empty. She jumped when Connie said, ‘Can’t you hear the baby?’ and answered, ‘Oh, sorry, I was just doing some sewing.’

‘It might help if you had some fabric then,’ answered Connie, and thought, There is something quite wrong with that girl.

Connie scooped up the baby, who stopped crying and began making hopeful sucking movements with her mouth to indicate she was hungry. Babies were really no problem to look after, thought Connie, as she carried her back into the kitchen. Any fool could do it.

‘Jimmy, I’d like you to meet our little Enigma.’

But Jimmy didn’t even glance at the baby. Instead, he fixed his eyes carefully on Connie’s forehead and said, ‘I was just wondering. Well, I was wondering if you had a fellow?’

Not any more I don’t, thought Connie Doughty, and hid her smile as she buried her nose in the sweet folds of the baby’s neck.

5

(Excerpt from ‘The Munro Baby Mystery’, a DL-sized brochure printed in four colours on celloglazed 150 gsm stock and handed to every visitor to Alice and Jack’s house on Scribbly Gum Island, Sydney, Australia.)

Welcome to the mysterious ‘frozen in time’ home of Alice and Jack Munro! Look, be intrigued, but please do not touch! It’s vital that we preserve our historical integrity. This home, built in 1901, has not been touched since teenage sisters Connie and Rose Doughty stopped by for a cup of tea with their neighbours on 15 July 1932. They discovered the kettle about to boil, a freshly baked marble cake waiting to be iced, and a tiny baby waking for her feed–but no sign of her parents, Alice and Jack Munro.

The only clues that violence may have taken place were a few drops of dried blood on the kitchen floor and one upturned chair. (Please do not attempt to look under the chair.) The bodies of Alice and Jack have never been found, and over seventy years later their disappearance remains one of Australia’s most famous unsolved mysteries.

The sisters, Connie and Rose, took the tiny baby home and reared her as their own child. They named her Enigma–you can guess why! Connie, Rose and little Enigma (now a Grandma Enigma!) are all still residents of Scribbly Gum Island, as are Enigma’s two daughters, Margaret and Laura, and their families.

Note: For obvious health and hygiene reasons the cooling marble cake you will see during your tour is not the original cake but actually a freshly baked one, made to Alice’s delicious original recipe. Enjoy a complimentary piece after your tour!

6

Grace Tidyman is dreaming. Her eyelids twitch irritably. It’s one of those frustrating, muddled dreams.

Aunt Connie is really cross with her. She’s pouring Grace a cup of tea from her blue china teapot and snapping, ‘Of course I’m not dead! Where did you get that idea?’ Grace is floundering, trying to remember why she thought such a thing. Suddenly, to Grace’s horror, Aunt Connie puts down her teapot, throws back her head and begins to wail with a scrunched-up face like a baby. Grace puts her hands over her ears even though she knows she’s being very rude, but she can’t bear to hear that gruesome baby-cry coming from Aunt Connie’s mouth. The sound keeps going on and on and on. ‘I’m sorry!’ screams Grace. She feels angry, astonishingly angry, with Connie. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings! I thought you were dead!’

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