I Came to Say Goodbye, page 1
Also by Caroline Overington
Only in New York
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I Came To Say Goodbye
ePub ISBN 9781742741307
Kindle ISBN 9781742741314
A Bantam book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
First published by Bantam in 2010
Copyright © Caroline Overington 2010
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.
Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
National Library of Australia
I came to say goodbye / Caroline Overington.
ISBN: 978 1 86325 6 810 (pbk).
Kidnapping – Fiction.
Cover photograph © Getty Images
Cover design by Christabella Designs
For Jacqueline Samantha
and Steven John (Overingtons all)
This is a work of fiction. Every single character in this book is completely fictional and bears no intentional resemblance to any real person whether living or now dead. Nor is the book based in any way on any real life event or factual situation.
By Same Author
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Preview: Ghost Child
IT WAS FOUR O’CLOCK IN THE morning. The car park outside Sydney Children’s Hospital was quiet. A 27-year-old woman, dressed only in a dressing-gown and slippers, pushed through the front revolving door.
Security staff would later say they thought she was a new mother, returning to her child’s bedside – and in a way, she was.
The woman walked past the nurses’ station, where a lone matron sat in dim light, playing laptop Solitaire. She walked past Joeys – the room where pink and puckered babies lay row by row in perspex tubs – and into Pandas, where six infants – not newborns but babies under the age of one – lay sleeping in hospital cots.
The woman paused at the door for a moment, as though scanning the children. She then walked directly across the room, where a gorgeous baby girl had kicked herself free of her blankets. She was laying face down, the way babies sometimes do, her right cheek flat to the white sheet, her knees up under her chest. The white towelling of her nappy was brilliant against her dark skin.
The woman took a green, nylon shopping bag from the pocket of her nightie. It was one of those ones that had Woolworths, the Fresh Food People written across the side. She put the bag on the floor and lifted the baby girl from the cot.
The infant stirred, but she did not wake. The woman placed her gently in the bottom of the shopping bag, under a clown blanket she had taken from the cot. She stood, and looked around. There was a toy giraffe on the windowsill. The woman put that in the bag with the baby, too. Then she walked back down the corridor, past the matron at her laptop, through the front door and back into the hospital car park.
There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the evening news.
The woman walked across the car park towards an old Corolla. She put the shopping bag on the ground, and opened the car’s rear door. She lifted the giraffe and the blanket out of the bag and dropped both by the wheels of the car.
For one long moment, she held the child gently against her breast. She put her nose against the rusty curls on the top of the girl’s head, and with her eyes closed, she smelled her.
She clipped the infant into the baby capsule, and got behind the wheel of the Corolla. She drove towards the exit barrier and put her ticket in the box. The barrier opened and the woman drove forward, turning left at the lights, towards Parramatta Road.
That is where the CCTV footage ends. It isn’t where the story ends, however. It’s not even where the story starts.
I WAS OUT ON THE TRACTOR when a woman phoned to say I’d have to go into the cop shop and make a formal statement. I’d turned off the engine to take the call on the mobile and straight away wished I hadn’t.
I told her. I said, ‘I’m not sure I can do that.’
She told me, ‘You don’t really have a choice, Mr Atley. The case is coming up. The judge wants statements from witnesses. We also need your signature.’
I told her, ‘I didn’t witness anything.’
The woman, she said, ‘We’re not suggesting that you did. It’s more that the judge has got to make a decision. It’s your grandchild we’re talking about.’
I said, ‘I know what it’s about.’
The woman said, ‘Mr Atley, if you don’t make a statement, the judge will call you in, and you’ll have to do it on the stand. It’s not something you’ve really got a choice about.’
I said, ‘It was still a free country last time I checked.’
I put the phone back in my pocket. The next day, a bloke from the local police station, a fellow I knew, put his head through the open flyscreen, into my kitchen. He said, ‘Med, you there?’
I’d been making coffee. I held up the cup, meaning, ‘Can I get you one?’ He nodded.
I said, ‘Mate, I appreciate you making the house call, but I know what this is about. I already had a girl on the blower yesterday.’
He said, ‘Well, are you going to make the statement, Med? Because if you don’t, they’ll only subpoena you, which means you’ll have to go in, and take the stand.’
I said, ‘I realise that. I’m just not sure what I’m going to say.’
I said, ‘You don’t think lawyers have got quite enough of the Atley money?’
He said, ‘Then do it yourself, but make sure you do it, Med. You’ve got a grandchild out there. Decisions are being made.’
I said, ‘I’m grateful for the reminder.’
Later that night, I went out onto the porch. It was dark all around. I flicked the switch on the outdoor light. Not for the first time, I thought, ‘How do the moths get inside the lightshade?’
There’s an old table on the porch. I bought it for my wife back in 1974. It was the thing to have in those days. It had a formica surface, so cups didn’t leave a ring. I pulled up a chair, the only one left now from the set of four. Those chairs, that marriage, it’s all gone.
I sat for a while, doing nothing.
The dog saw me come out. She got up off her hessian bed, wandered over, wagged her tail. I bent down, gave her a bit of a rub along the spine with my knuckles. Her back leg kicked.
I said, ‘Alright, old girl?’
Kick, kick, kick.
I said, ‘Okay, old girl. Let’s see what we can do.’
I had before me a pad of white paper. It wasn’t anything fancy. I bought it from the newsagent. It was one of those lined pads with the pink gum across the top to hold the pages together. I had my old man’s Parker pen with me. I twisted the barrel and the nib came down.
The first words I wrote were, ‘Well, let me warn you now, Your Honour, this isn’t going to be Shakespeare.’
I wrote, ‘I can see you’ve got a problem here that you need to solve. You’ve got a grandchild of mine and you’re trying to figure out what to do.’
I wrote, ‘Police here have explained to me that you need a little background.’
I wrote, ‘It occurs to me that there’s a half-dozen experts out there, maybe more, who will be giving you their version of my family history. They’ll tell you what they think we are – kidnappers, child abusers, you name it. I’ve got no problem with that. Every man is entitled to his opinion.’
I wrote, ‘What I’m going to put down, it’s not going to be a theory, and it’s not just my point of view. It’s more going to be the nuts and bolts of what’s gone on over the past four years.’
I wrote, ‘My mate in the police force here, he says I ought to get a lawyer to help me get it right, but bugger that, I’m perfectly capable of putting down what I think.’
I wrote, ‘There’s been plenty of lawyers caught up in this mess already, and mostly what they’ve done is lighten our wallets.’
I wrote, ‘Much of what I’m going to tell you I haven’t said out loud to anyone before. It’s not going to be easy for me. Parts of it, I might even have to get my oldest daughter, Kat, to write down for me.’
I can promise you this, though, Your Honour. Everything I put down here – every word of it – is going to be true.
I WANT TO GET SOMETHING STRAIGHT off the bat, Your Honour. My name, it’s Med. Not Ned. Med. It’s short for Meredith.
Now, don’t bother telling me that Meredith is a girl’s name. It’s a boy’s name, or at least, it was, when I was born, and I ought to know. I’ve been asked about it often enough – every day, practically, since I was old enough to talk.
People say, ‘Ned?’ and I say, ‘Med’ and they say, ‘Med, with an M?’ and I say, ‘Med, short for Meredith’ and they say, ‘Meredith? Your name’s Meredith?’ like I might say, ‘Nah, just kidding’ and I say, ‘That’s right. Meredith’ and they say, ‘But Meredith’s a girl’s name’ like I might say, ‘Hey, hang on. You’re right, and I wonder why my mother didn’t think of that.’
It’s not a girl’s name. It’s a boy’s name, just like Kelly is a boy’s name, and I ought to know, because I’ve got a brother Kelly, and a brother Lindsay, who is known to us as Lin, and a brother Vivien, who is known to us as Viv. When I tell people that, they say, ‘Seems like your mum wanted a girl’ but we had girls. We had Patricia, known as Trisha, and we’ve got Edna, known as Ed.
Even so, there are times when I announce myself as Med – no, not Ned, but Med, short for Meredith – and I can see people thinking, maybe he’s had a sex change? If I’d had a sex change, I’d want my money back. They’d have done a pretty poor job of making me look like a woman. I’m not a big guy. I’m five-feet-four-inches tall, and I’ve got a beer belly, and a bald head.
I’ve also got a fairly big beard. Sometimes I think that’s why people keep thinking I’m saying ‘Ned’ when I’m saying ‘Med’. They hear Ned, because they are thinking ‘Ned Kelly’. I suppose that’s fair enough. That is the kind of beard I’ve got. A bit shorter, a bit neater, but yeah, pretty close to that. My youngest daughter, when she was little, she always reckoned I looked like a garden gnome. She had in mind the one that holds a fishing line over the pond in what was her grandma’s garden. I had to tell her, ‘That can’t be me. That’s Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs.’ It made no difference to her. She still said it looked like me, and I suppose that’s fair enough. I’m not saying I’m grumpy. I am saying I’m not normally the one that keeps the party alive.
Anyway, the long and the short of it is, my first name is Med, and my last name is Atley, and if this is the year 2009, then I’m 59 years old, because I was born in 1950, the fourth of eight kids.
This probably won’t count for much in terms of the matter at hand, but for the record, my old man, Jack Atley, served in World War II. He was a cook. I’m not a bad one. Like most blokes in those days, he had a bride picked out before he shipped out. Her name was Catherine Mary McCarthy, and she was from the little town of Forster, on the NSW Central Coast, and he married her in 1946.
The house I grew up in still stands. It’s a two-bedroom weatherboard. It used to have a loo at the end of the back porch but Dad put up some wood one winter to bring the loo indoors. Two bedrooms might not sound like a lot but it was enough for us.
People say to me now, ‘Oh, are you from Forster? I know that area.’ What they mean is, they know it now. They know the McDonald’s on the freeway and the Coles and the Kmart on the outskirts of town that were not there when I was a boy. They know the Pirate’s Cove caravan park, and Moby’s Retreat, down at Blueys, where a two-bedroom fibro beach shack will set you back $700,000, and that’s if you can find one that hasn’t been bulldozed to make way for some units. They don’t mean Forster as I remember it, farmland and fishing boats.
There were three schools in town, the State, the Catholic and the Church of England. Mum was Catholic – her name was Catherine Mary. What else was she going to be? – so us boys, we went to St Charles, and the girls, they went to St Clare’s.
Of the eight of us, there’s six left. Greg, who was Daryl’s twin, died when he was five. Nobody explained what happened. All we knew was he had fits. Today, we’d say epilepsy. Greg’s buried at the lawn cemetery in Tuncurry. I’ll be honest and say I don’t really remember him. There is a photograph. He looks like Daryl, only a good head taller. Funny that he was the one who didn’t make it.
‘The other Atley that is gone is my sister, Trish. She got the big C – cancer – in the breast, before she was even married. She fought it off, and had two children. When it came back the second time, it was in the bone. She wasn’t old, only 47, when she died. That was just a few years back. She went to the crematorium. She had two teenage kids. I tried to talk to them at the funeral. It wasn’t much use.
After school the girls went into a typing pool. Daryl, Lin and me, we were apprenticed out as labourers to blokes that Dad knew in town. This was the late 1960s. There were triple-fronted brick veneers – the orange ones, with venetian blinds – going up on subdivisions. That’s what we built.
Dad’s dead now. Like Trish, he got cancer. Last time I saw him was on the cancer ward, with his head back, and a hole in his throat. He wrote a note for us. It said: ‘I’d kill for a smoke.’
Mum’s still alive. She’s 87, and the hearing has just
Until a few years ago, she was still living in the house where she’d lived with my old man. Then one night she fell on the way to the loo and it was morning before Edna went around and found her, still cheerful.
‘Don’t worry about me!’ she said, when Edna was helping her up. ‘I was fine. I just lay down and had a bit of a sleep. No point fussing!’
I didn’t think Mum would want to go into an old people’s home. I know I wouldn’t. But when Edna put it to her: ‘Why don’t we find a place for you, Mum? Somewhere nice and closer to town?’, Mum said alright.
She’s been there a few years now. The smell’s not great, but the place isn’t bad. They have a fake fire and some budgerigars. Mid-morning, the nurses push all the old ducks down the corridors in their mobile beds and crank them up, so they can watch TV.
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