by Zirk van den Berg

His hands were like a vise. That was the first thing that struck me about Tom Rainsford. Forearms I couldn’t fit my two hands around, biceps the size of gammons, the shoulders of a primeval beast. Big grin.

“What are you drinking?”

He was a friend of my mate Daryl and we just happened to meet at a sports bar one Friday night. I’d heard about him – ex power lifter, sold insurance on the North Shore. He bought us drinks, asked about the weekend’s game. Tom was the kind of guy you’d be envious of if he weren’t so likeable. We had one eye on the TV in the corner, replaying some old game the All Blacks had won, munching on nibbles and throwing the odd comment out there, nothing out of the ordinary. One of the other screens showed the Evers-Swindell twins winning their gold medal at the Olympics, and talked turned to a new topic.

“Those girls seem so in tune with each other,” said Daryl. “I suppose being twins you have this special bond. I’ve heard sometimes if something happens to one twin, the other feels it.”

“I don’t know about that.” Tom tossed a peanut and caught it in his mouth. That bicep bulged like a balloon. “I mean, I had twin brothers. The one died and the other’s no more screwed up than any of us. They were quite small though, I’m not sure what age… still in nappies, but talking already. After Danny died, Joseph couldn’t talk anymore for a few months, but that was it. He’s perfectly fine now.”

I was curious, and emboldened by beer. Kids die of different things. They get a virus, some unsuspected congenital condition gets them or they choke on a chewable vitamin. I’ve heard all sorts. It’s good to know these things, so you know what to watch out for with your own kids. “If you don’t mind me asking, how did your brother die?”

“We were coming back from Mahurangi, us three kids in the back of the Land Rover. We didn’t worry about safety belts in those days. I was twelve and supposed to be looking after the little ones. But we’d been at the beach all day and I was tired, so I guess I just didn’t pay enough attention. Next thing Danny must’ve played with the handle and the back door swung open. You know those old Land Rovers had the spare wheel on the door, so it was quite heavy and he still had the handle in his hand, so it pulled him out of the cab. I grabbed onto him and yelled for my dad to stop. I braced myself as best I could and held on to Danny’s arm. He was dangling outside, behind the car. I don’t know what speed we were doing, but it took forever to slow down. Everyone was screaming and going mad. I held on as long as I could, but then… I just wasn’t strong enough. He slipped out of my grip. He fell and I saw him actually sit there on the road. Then the car behind us just…” Tom clicked his fingers. “He had no chance.”

Tom took the last swig of his beer. I didn’t know what to say. Daryl shook his head. “How do you deal with a thing like that?”

“You get over it.” Tom crushed the empty beer can in his one hand, squeezing it thin as a rope. “Hey, who’s buying?”

Copyright Zirk van den Berg 2009