Read A Mother's Story Online

Authors: Rosie Batty

A Mother's Story (21 page)

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He looked across the living room at me. ‘Mum. Normally it's me that hangs up on him, but this time he put the phone down on me.'

He looked confused and a little worried.

I didn't know what to say.

23

12 February 5.45 pm

As my car pulls into the gravel car park at Tyabb oval, I'm struck by what a glorious summer's evening it is. The sky is turning a stunning cobalt as the day slips away.

Some of the kids are practising in the cricket nets while the dads help out. I see Luke there, still playing. Then, as I get out of the car, I see Greg. He's taking part, helping the other dads and bowling to the kids. He looks relaxed and happy. I'm pleased to see him behaving normally. Luke is happy to have him there too.

Other kids are packing their cricket bags and heading to the car park to find their parents. I see Cameron there, one of the fathers from Luke's cricket team – he's trying to corral his three boys from opposite ends of the oval.

I see Mariette, one of the other mums. She's dressed to the nines, having attended the Mornington Cup earlier in the day. And there's Liam, my neighbour Therese's little boy. He's waiting by the picnic table, near the kid's playground, watching for his mum to arrive. I ask him if he is okay, if his mum is coming. Therese is never late. He answers, telling me that she's on her way, and sure
enough, here she is. I joke with Therese about how it's usually me that's running late, and we stand and chat for a while. I think how nice it is to be part of a community: to be known. This is my home now; these are my people.

I'm listening to Therese speak and watching out of the corner of my eye where Luke is and where Greg is.

Luke comes running over to me, his face flushed from an afternoon of cricket practice. He looks full of life. ‘Is it okay if I have a few extra minutes with Dad?' he asks.

‘I guess so,' I hear myself reply. ‘But five minutes is all. We've got to get home soon.'

I return to my conversation with Therese. After a minute or so, I'm suddenly aware that I can't see Luke or Greg. I interrupt Therese mid-sentence. ‘I can't see Luke or Greg,' I say to her. ‘Greg knows better, he's not supposed to take Luke anywhere.' I'm not panicked, but I am starting to feel anxious.

‘It's all right, Rosie,' Therese replies, looking over towards the nets. ‘They're over there.'

The nets are 50 metres away, partially obscured by a toilet block. From where I stand, I can make out Luke, in his yellow polo shirt, hitting balls as they come to him. He has a look of concentration on his face. Greg is bowling to him, out of my line of sight, obscured by the toilet block.

Therese heads home and I call Natasha to invite her over for dinner. While we're talking, I look away from the cricket nets for no more than twenty seconds. As I hang up the phone, I hear a scream. A man's scream. Guttural, agonised, primal. A scream of pure anguish.

Everything starts to move in slow motion.

Panicking, I run towards the cricket nets, where I see Greg hunched over Luke, who is lying limp on the ground. Greg is cradling Luke's head, rocking on his haunches, wailing.

Oh my God, I think. He's done a fast bowl to Luke and hit him in the head. He's knocked him out. The stupid bastard has knocked him out. He's really hurt him. He's really hurt him.

And my boy, limp in Greg's arms! My first thought is to get an ambulance. My boy is hurt. He needs help, and so I start running towards the clubhouse. Stumbling across the lawn, I punch at my mobile phone, trying to call triple zero. But in the panic, and with my head swimming, I don't have the coordination. I see Cameron and start screaming at him.

‘Luke's hurt! Luke's been hit! You have to get an ambulance here now! It's bad! I know it's really bad!'

I'm telling myself it's just a knock in the head. Stupid fucking Greg has bowled too fast and knocked him out. He's just been hit by a cricket ball. I repeat it over and over in my head like a mantra.

Greg is there, Greg has the situation in hand, my job is to find help.

I can't stand still. I don't know where to go. Every part of my being wants to be with Luke, to be holding him, tending to him and telling him everything is going to be fine. But I can't bring myself to go near him. I'm terrified to get close. Terrified to learn the truth. Somewhere, in the depths of my consciousness, I'm thinking that if I can somehow keep distance between me and the reality of what has happened over there in the cricket nets, then it's a truth I can deny. As long as I haven't seen it – it's not real.

My boy. My baby boy.

And so I run. I'm screaming as I run. Confused parents watch as I run in a blind panic, as far across to the other side of the car park as it's possible to go. Right over to the wire fence that separates Tyabb oval from the adjacent paddock. Beside a tree, under an oversized bush – I need to put as much physical space as possible between me and those cricket nets.

There I stand, watching the road in a state of panic, waiting for the ambulances to arrive. Moaning, rocking, willing this all to be a nightmare from which I will wake.

I call Therese, whose car I saw pull out ten minutes before. I'm not sure why. I figure she's close by, she can maybe help direct the ambulance. Where is that ambulance? Why is it taking so long? My call goes through to voicemail.

I call Natasha. ‘I don't think I'm going to be able to do dinner,' I hear myself say, fighting back tears. ‘Something has happened. It's bad, really bad. Luke's been hurt. I think I'm going to have to go to hospital. Greg is here. He's hit him in the head with a cricket ball. It's bad, Natasha. I'm scared. It's really, really bad.'

She tells me she is on her way and hangs up the phone.

A man drives into the car park in a black ute. I have never seen him before. Seeing me, he stops, winds down the window and asks if I am okay.

I tell him there's been an accident. My son. Hit by a cricket ball. His father is there. I don't know where the ambulance is. He offers to go and wait at the road to direct the ambulance down the drive.

Minutes pass, I don't know how many. Each one feels like an hour. I am pacing, cursing every second the ambulance isn't there. Finally, I hear sirens in the distance.

Natasha arrives and crosses the car park towards me. ‘What happened? Are you okay? Where's Luke?'

I have no words. She puts a comforting arm around me. I am shaking with fear.

I look across to Cameron, and he has returned to his car. He is herding his boys into the car, telling them to stay inside, to keep the doors closed. Why isn't he coming over here? Why hasn't he come to tell me it's all going to be okay? That it's just a knock to the head and all will be fine once the ambulance arrives?

I tell myself over and over that Greg would never hurt Luke. That Greg loves Luke more than life itself. That right now, Greg is over there comforting Luke, taking care of him. Like the time Luke fell off the monkey bars when he was little, and Greg bundled him up and took him to hospital. Or the time Luke fell as a toddler and hit his head on the corner of the coffee table, and Greg was there to comfort and calm him down and tell me to get ice. I will look back on this in an hour and laugh at how I overreacted. And yet, I cannot go near the nets.

‘What's happening?!?' I keep shouting at Cameron across the car park. ‘What's going on? Is Luke all right?'

I see the flashing red and blue lights of an ambulance as it races along Flinders–Mornington Road, then a plume of dust as it turns into the driveway.

The ambulance. I have something constructive to do at last. I will show them where my boy is, they will come and find that he is unconscious from a cricket ball to the head, and we'll go to hospital and everything will be okay.

I run towards them, frantically waving my arms, willing them to hurry up. As they drive towards me, they seem to slow down. ‘Over there!' I am shouting. ‘In the nets! My son! My son!'

As the ambulance drives past me, I collapse on the spot, my legs buckling underneath me, my body unable to cope. Natasha drops down beside me. She is urging me to stand up, to go to the ambulance. But I can't move.

‘Come on, Rosie,' she says. ‘We need to go and speak to the ambulance. To check up on Luke.'

But I want to leave the ambulance officers to do their job. I want to give them time to get to Luke and make everything all right. And so we sit, with the clubhouse between us and the cricket nets, and I am rocking and Natasha has her arm around me and I am numb.

I hear shouting coming from the other side of the clubhouse. And I am suddenly aware that the car park is full of police cars. I don't know where they have come from, and can't understand why they are there. Surely they haven't come to arrest Greg now. Surely they understand that the first priority is to get Luke into an ambulance and off to hospital.

None of it makes sense.

‘Come on Rosie, we need to speak to the ambulance officers,' Natasha is saying. ‘You have to get up.'

I know she is right but I still cannot move. My legs feel like lead. Natasha helps me to my feet and my first steps towards the clubhouse are tentative. I don't want to go there. I don't want to see.

As we round the corner of the clubhouse, we are met by a paramedic. She seems to panic when she sees me. She knows my name, but I don't know how or why. ‘Rosie, you need to come with me, you need to move back, back behind the clubhouse,' she is saying. And I look at her, confused. There's nothing wrong with me. Why is she tending to me? Why isn't she in the nets tending to my boy?

‘What are you doing? Why aren't you with Luke?' I begin.

She cuts me off. ‘You can't be here, Rosie, you need to move back.'

Why are the police trying to arrest Greg now, of all times? Why aren't the paramedics in the nets with Luke?

If they arrest Greg now, I think to myself, it's just going to antagonise him and it won't be nice for Luke – here in public, at the cricket ground, in front of his friends. Luke will be embarrassed. So I start shouting at the police. ‘Leave him! Just leave him! This is not about him! It's about Luke. Just let the ambulance get in there and help my boy!'

There is more shouting. I am forced to return behind the club house. I turn momentarily, and that's when I hear the gunshots. Two distinct cracks ringing out in the night air. I freeze on the spot. My mind
seems to seize up. Because you can only take in so much – your brain can only process so much.

I hear a voice, I don't know whose, and it is saying, ‘They've shot Greg, they've shot Greg.' And I am hit by a force I cannot describe. I slump to the ground. There in the grass, by the clubhouse, I sit, unable to speak, unable to move. Mariette hands me a cigarette and I smoke it.

*

At some level I know that the police are going to come and tell me that Luke is dead. I know it with a certainty but at the same time I refuse to accept it. I'm not in denial so much as being drip-fed by my mind, allowed to process only the bits of information that it feels my body is capable of dealing with. In the confusion following the shooting, police are running everywhere.

I look up to see Constable Topham. He kneels down, puts a hand on my shoulder and asks if I am okay.

‘Paul!' I say, relieved to see a familiar face. ‘There's been an accident. Some sort of mistake. Luke's hurt and they've shot Greg.'

He looks at me gravely, clearly being careful to choose his words. I look at him, confused.

‘It's not looking like that, Rosie,' he eventually manages. ‘There's pretty strong evidence to suggest it was no accident. He had a knife.'

I hear the words but am not able to process them. But what about my boy? My baby boy.

Shaking, I pick up the phone to call my friend Ben. I get his answering machine. ‘Luke's really badly injured,' I say. ‘Call me.'

And without anyone telling me, I know. I know that Luke is dead. Of course he is dead. He has to be dead. There is no other possible outcome. I feel numb.

Two police officers approach.

‘Don't tell me,' I say, before they can speak, staring beyond them. ‘You can't tell me. You have to tell Ben.'

I call my parents in England. It's early morning there. ‘Luke's been killed. Greg has killed him. You need to come.' The words spill out of me. I don't remember their response.

I ask about Greg and someone tells me he's been seriously injured. ‘Just let him die!' I say to no one in particular. ‘For God's sake, just let him die. He won't want to be alive.'

A policeman called Wayne comes and sits down next to me. He puts a hand on my shoulder, a gesture of tenderness that I remember to this day. He didn't know me, but he knew enough to know not to speak. What words do you even use? At a certain point, he convinces me to get up from the ground and go and sit in the back of the police car. He explains we are all witnesses to a major crime, and as such, we all have to be kept separate until our statements can be taken.

I don't know how long I sit in the back of the police car. A matter of hours. My phone keeps buzzing with a barrage of texts and phone calls until eventually the battery goes flat.

I sit there thinking I should cancel the work appointments I had scheduled for the next day. And then I think how, in a matter of minutes, I have become one of those people; one of those horror stories. I've joined those ranks – of the mother whose three little boys were driven into a dam by her husband, of the mum whose little girl was thrown off the West Gate Bridge. I am one of those worst-things-that-have-ever-happened stories. That is my life now, it is my journey and there is nothing I can do to turn any of it back.

At some point, I need to go to the toilet. Wayne explains he has to escort me, and so he walks me into the clubhouse. As I enter, I am met with a wall of blue uniforms. Police seem to have materialised out of nowhere. There are plain clothes, uniformed and high-ranking officers, and I look on, bemused. What are they talking about? Why have they
gathered in such numbers? Why, when Luke and I needed police to protect us, could we barely muster their interest, but now, when it is too late, there is a small army of them? I feel my hackles rise.

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