Kes drags his billy cart from house to house, pile to pile. The old crate where he’d normally sit to race down the steep suburban hills is already full. He’s put a busted door over the top so his cart looks more like a wonky coffee table on wheels.

Out the front of number 12 there’s a box of books. He doesn’t want to stop too long because that’s the house where the lady went off one day and never came home. His mum used to look in every time they passed but if he even turned for a moment she’d say, ‘Kes, don’t stare,’ and hurry on. That was long ago.

The books are bound in the old style, fancy like leather, and they might be worth something at the market, cause it’s old stuff that people want. So he takes a quick look over his shoulder. There’s no sign of anyone at home. He darts to the nature strip, grabs the whole box, balances them on his door and quickly moves on.

When he’s home he checks his booty. He leaves the books from number 12 until last. The first ones aren’t that interesting. He writes prices in pencil on the inside covers – 50c for an old atlas, the same for a cookbook. There’s a dictionery, a book of Shakespeare, a bible and a book on flower arrangement. He’s pretty good at guessing how much people will pay.

He gets to the last three books. The first two are photo albums. In nearly every picture there’s a lady smiling. She’s very beautiful. At the back of one album he finds five loose photos. There’s one of the lady in a bikini at the beach. She’s smiling. Her eyes are covered by dark sunglasses.

He slips the photo into his bedside drawer. He doesn’t know why exactly. He thinks the lady looks too happy to be the one in the stories they say about number 12. That smile just sort of takes him in like there’s a secret between him and her. Besides there’s no harm keeping an old picture someone doesn’t want.

His attention returns to the albums. They’re an old kind with frame pockets cut into the grey blue card pages. He takes the other pictures out and puts them in a shoebox and writes ‘old photos – 10c each’ on the front. The albums are in great nick. They’ll sell for five bucks each at least. He writes ‘$10-00’ inside the cover. Always leave room to negotiate is his moto.

There’s nothing on the cover of the last book. Its pages are filled with dates and paragraphs written by hand. Kes glances at his bedroom door. His mum is over at Pat’s. His brother’s down at the school shooting hoops. Kes shuts the diary. Looks outside at the clothes on the line. Opens the book again. Flicks through the pages. Closes it. He walks to his window. The day is warming fast. He throws some darts at his board on the wardrobe door. He craves the words. The secrets between him and her. The bikini lady’s smile. He closes his curtains, sprawls onto his bed and begins to read.

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