It was the water shortage what gave Cocky the idea how to rob the place. You see, every night, the news would say which houses could water. Then at a minute to half past six, someone from every third place would sprint to hose their lawn like the thing was on fire. At least those that were home.

Trust Cocky to notice something like that. He was way cleverer than me. He tried to hide under his Iron Maiden t-shirts, but the rest of us knew he wasn’t metal. For a start, the shirt was always tucked in. His blond-tinted hair was kept short.

We were in my room when he told me. He was pacing back and forth like a real cockatoo in its cage. His blond highlights should’ve stood on end. That wasn’t why we called him Cocky. It was because he only had two fingers and a thumb on one hand

“So we just drive around and see who’s watering, and if someone isn’t and they should be…,” I said.

“They’re probably not home, so we can let ourselves in,” Cocky jumped in to finish.

“But how are we going to get around. You can’t drive.”

Cocky stopped and turned sharply. For a moment, I was back at school and had asked the dumbest question ever.

“Right. Sure. I’ll ask Mum now if I can borrow hers,” He put that bird hand on my shoulder. I thought he’d crack me like a sunflower seed.

“No one’s watering now, Shep,” he said and let go. “But pick me up tomorrow. I’m mowing a few places in Avalon Downs, Albion Street. Get there at about twenty past.” He waited a moment then added, “Wait until Lewis and the others hear about this.”

Word would get around. Words were hardier than weeds in the ‘burbs. Why he mentioned Lewis is a mystery to me. We never spoke to that guy.

As a way to find empty houses, Cocky’s plan was surprisingly good, but it just didn’t guarantee that we could break inside. Most of the time we had to settle for what we could nab from the carport. After a few days, I had two whipper-snippers in my closet, some trowels, spades and even a garden gnome under the bed.

Plus a lot of people left their dogs at home while they were away. I thought Cocky’s highlights were going to fall out when a blue heeler leapt up at the gate. Fucker threw its whole body at the posts. Gums peeled back. Eyelids too.

So, I wasn’t overly excited when he pointed to the last place. He should learn to drive, I thought. I was all ready to tell him, too. Maybe, not right then, but soon after, you know.

Anyways, Cocky’s head spun round ’bout ready to pop off, and shouted at me to back up. I crunched the gears like a first timer. Thankfully, no one was around.

“That place. That place has got to be empty,” he said.

Like the times before we left the car on the kerb. Cocky ran up to the letter box and pointed at the number. It was one of the ones we were looking for. A large rolled up envelope was wedged into the slit. A few smaller ones lay on the sand.

The carport was empty. A big island of grease lay in the middle. No dogs. No gardening equipment either, which was good ’cause I had no room for any more. Cocky unlatched the gate and we went in. The windows were black squares. No sound. God knows how long it had been empty. The most we were going to get were some stale cockroach turds.

Cocky moved along passed the sliding door to the bathroom window. It wasn’t barred and slid open easily. His curly tinted head ducked in followed by his Gunners’ t-shirt and board shorts. Then me.

Under the window was the bathtub. There was towel, piled in a damp fuzzy mound on the floor. The various bottles and tubes all had their caps off. The basin even had a five o’clock shadow of shaved hair.

I mouthed to Cocky, “What do we do?”

“There’s no need to whisper, Shep…”

Whatever else Cocky was going to add was broken by someone calling for Simon. I knew it couldn’t be either of us because it wasn’t either of our real names. The voice was old.

“Don’t piss about, Simon. I heard you. What are you up to?”

Now, Cocky mouthed something. I was too scared to tell him I didn’t understand. He slapped me on the shoulder and pointed to the window. I put a foot on the side of the bath and went to hoist myself up. The tiled wall didn’t have as good traction as the bricks and my foot slipped, so I came down in the bath. Cocky, the prick, pushed me aside and tried to escape.

“Simon, what the fuck is going on?” The voice was clear. Its owner was right there, in a pale blue office shirt, a cardigan the colour of red goon and smart black pants. Except he had this long beard, like a biker’s – prickly and grey. It must have equaled half his body weight. The clothes looked like they were held up on wires. What little I saw of his skin was pulled drum tight.

“What the fuck are doing to my bathroom, Simon?” He was looking at Cocky as he said this. “You think I got money to repair it.” He then disappeared from the doorway. A moment later he called out for a beer.

We were still standing in the bath. Cocky looked at me as though he was not just a stranger in this house but on the whole planet.

“Get him a beer…Simon,” I said.

The demand echoed again from further down the hall. Cocky stepped out of the bath and I quickly followed. He grabbed a can from the fridge and handed it to the old dude who exchanged it for an empty.

“I don’t know, Simon. Sometimes I think you just got shit for brains.”

The can made a crisp metallic crack that even sounded cold. A little bit of beer gobbed out. God, I wanted one but I didn’t know if I should ask. I didn’t know the old dude’s name. Cocky was Simon. Who was I meant to be?

I must’ve been staring too long at the can because the old dude was eyeing me across the top. No, eyeing isn’t the right word. I could just feel those dark patches of his on me.

“Connor, what is with that fuckin’ long hair of yours? My Simon might have shit for brains but at least he has a good hair cut.” He tilted the can up. What didn’t make his Adam’s apple bob up and down dribbled through his beard. Mission accomplished, he handed it to Cocky and asked for another.

“I’ve had a tough day,” he said and leaned back in the armchair. There was so little to him he was almost completely flattened out.

Cocky came back, a second beer in his bird-hand. I wondered if he was trying to prove something to me holding it like that. The old dude didn’t notice and snatched the drink away.

He sucked the new bud of foam from the top. After a quick mouthful, he put it down and reached into his pocket for his pack of cigarettes. Once one was lit he returned the pack, patting it down a few times as though it was his secret, and his alone, to smoke.

“Simon, beer,” he said.

“It’s at your feet…Dad,” Cocky said.

“Reach it for me, mate.”

I stared at Cocky,hoping that in the whites of my eyes he would see, “What the fuck are you doing? We’re going to end up in this nutter’s fuckin’ shed. In bits.”

“There’s mail outside,” was all Cocky said.

That was my chance. I offered to go. I ran back down the corridor thinking it was the way out and came to the bathroom again. That towel had grown in the time we were away. Swear to god. I spun round, headed back and turned right. Finally, the front door. I was out. The keys were in my pocket. If Cocky wanted to play – whatever the fuck he was playing – with the grim reaper’s alcoholic uncle, he was welcome to it.

Suburb s here are all the same and Avalon Downs was the most same. Kids whose battle had escalated from toys to fists, guys in a suped up Falcon, beating down the houses with techno, one lonely kid watering his parents’ lawn. Under all that was a thick slab of quiet, fixed solid to the ground. No hum, no woosh, no squawks. Everything totally fuckin’ still.

I left the keys where they were and collected the mail. The big envelope required a bit of work to get it free. The ones on the ground had gone yellow.

The old man was still sipping that beer tenderly, the pink of his lips now visible. Later, I always meant to ask Cocky what they talked about while I was gone, and I always forgot. Cocky took the mail, which he burst open with the index finger of his bird-hand. The old dude again didn’t comment.

Cocky started with the larger ones. They were car magazines. Cocky put them on the dark blue carpet, flecked with a galaxy of ash and grit. I took an unwanted issue.

It hit me before I got to the first article. Simon had to be coming home soon. With a father like this, God knows what the son would be like. He’d probably inherited the beard but had the build to pull it off. Probably had friends called Dog, Blue or Maggot. The old dude had to be nuts to mistake a person like that for Cocky.

Cocky opened a smaller envelope and said, “Bill.” I lent in and whispered, “Simon.”. Cocky rolled his eyes at me and continued

I repeated Simon’s name. Cocky dropped a couple of letters on my lap. I didn’t recognise the names at the top.

“Bill,” Cocky said much louder than before and tapped the letters on my lap. I snatched his hand and threw it aside.

“That was great that time we went on the bikes. Remember in the pine forest,” Cocky said after a pause, first looking at me then the old dude. We’d never done that.

“Or that time you took me shooting. That was awesome. We should do that again sometime, Dad.”

Somewhere deep in the purple pits of his eyes the old dude was giving it thought. Somewhere down there was an image of him and Cocky shooting, like father and son.

“Remember when you taught me to drive?”

“Yeah, and you were no good,” the old dude said and removed another cigarette.

The old dude would’ve agreed to anything. Cocky could’ve said, “Remember the time we robbed a bank, or flew to the moon or played a gig with Cliff Burton.” Simon wasn’t coming home. Like I said. Cocky was way cleverer than me. He just wasn’t metal.

“Get us another,” the old dude said and shook the can. “I’ve had a tough day.”

Ryan Scott, October 2010