Another Night in Mullet Town (11 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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The sun comes out

All day at school

the boys crowd around Patrick,

like seagulls arguing over an oily chip.

At one point,

Angelo puts his arm around Patrick's shoulder

as though they're back in kindergarten.

He leads Patrick away from the canteen,

down to the back fence,

near the janitor's shed.

I watch from a distance.

Angelo keeps looking around

as if checking for teachers.

They disappear behind the shed

and, a few minutes later,

a faint wisp of smoke

marks the spot.

I can't see them

but I bet they're talking

about Friday night

and what Patrick saw

while he hid in the dark.

A few minutes later they return.

On the stairs,

Angelo bustles past me

his eyes bloodshot,

his voice slurred.

He calls me ‘Loser'

before following Patrick to English.

I look down at Patrick's shoes –

black and shiny

expensive leather –

while the rest of us wear canvas.

I turn away from the classrooms

and walk deliberately

down to the janitor's shed.

The bell sounds

for the start of class

as the sun finally comes out.

Sweet and simple

Behind the shed

are scuff marks in the dirt,

except for one small section

near the fence,

which is smoothed over.

Too easy.

I dig down and

find a metal case with a green lid

and inside a stash of pot and papers.

Suddenly, a crow calls from the gum tree.

I look up quickly,

but there's no-one around.

I jump over the fence

and make my way down to the bay

past the old man

wheeling a shopping trolley,

the shop assistants

drinking coffee under the cafe umbrellas

and a young mother holding the hand of her child

who sees a dog and points,

squealing with laughter.

All the while,

I keep my hand in my pocket

touching the case,

its smooth metal surface cool.

I cross at the lights

and walk along the foreshore,

until there's only sand, pelicans and me.

A lone sailing boat rocks on the tide,

the halyard banging against the mast

as a seagull lands on the boom.

I take off my shoes and socks,

roll up my pants

and walk into the shallows.

The water laps against my knees

as I take the case out of my pocket

and hold it flat in my palm.

I so much want to throw it

as far as my anger travels

to make Patrick pay.

But then a thought arrives

so sweet and simple,

I can't help but smile.

The gull wheels in flight

and hovers overhead

expecting food.

My plan

In the afternoon,

I take my bike from the shed

and pedal faster than usual

through the swamp track

and around to Tipping Point.

The sun reddens the cliffs

as a southerly arrives on cue.

At Tipping Point,

I cruise down Patrick's street

and pray that the BMW

isn't parked in the carport.

I'm in luck.

I rest the bike

against the newly painted picket fence

and tentatively walk up the front stairs

whispering to myself,

‘Please don't be home,

please don't be home,

please don't be home.'

My knock is loud and assertive,

the opposite of how I feel.

The sound echoes down the street.

Next door a dog barks.

I knock again

and the dog threatens to wake the dead.

I walk downstairs,

open the double gate to their driveway

and wheel my bike down the concrete path

just enough so I can still see the length of the street.

I wait, my fingers drumming on the bike seat.

The dog next door

gets bored with my presence.

I wait ten minutes.

I wait twenty minutes.

I wait thirty minutes.

I look at my watch

as often as I look down the street,

until I hear the BMW turn the corner.

I take a deep breath

and ride

nonchalantly out of the driveway.

Patrick and his mum

look surprised

to catch someone leaving

as they're arriving.

Patrick's mouth hangs open

like a laughing clown at the sideshow.

His mum winds down the window,

and I say loudly,

‘Sorry, wrong house.'

It's easy to look guilty;

there's no need for acting,

just a hurried pedal,

back to where I belong –

the poor side of the lake.

All the way home,

I tell myself

my plan to save Manx

will work.

The rich don't always win.

Shimmer

I text Ella and arrange to meet her

at the end of the pier.

She sits down beside me

on the hardwood landing.

Our legs dangle over the edge

as we watch the shimmer of bait fish below us.

Ella reaches for my hand

and I look at the ring on her finger:

a single stone of jade on a silver band.

I touch its smooth surface.

‘My grandmother's,' Ella says.

Clouds scud across the horizon

and a jet takes off from Balarang Bay

wheeling north towards Sydney.

‘I've never been on a plane,' I say.

Ella smiles and kisses my cheek.

‘It's like the world is in freeze-frame,' she says,

‘and you're above it all, watching.'

The wheels of the plane

contract into the fuselage

and a single light blinks on the wing.

Mr Huth strolls along the sand,

carrying a rod and an esky.

He puffs on a pipe

and the acrid smoke

drifts towards us.

‘My parents won't be home for hours,' Ella says.

She stands and pulls me to my feet.

We walk off the pier.

‘I like your parents,

even though I've never met them,' I say.

‘You almost met Dad.' Ella grins.

I remember stumbling around her bedroom

trying to get dressed,

my stomach churning,

my knees shaking.

‘Are you
sure
your parents won't be home for hours?'

Ella laughs.

‘Positive!'

A clattering sound

In the cool of the evening,

I arrive home to find Dad

loading garbage bags into the truck.

He walks into the bedroom

and returns with a suitcase

attempting a smile

that he can't quite manage.

‘I'm going to camp at the workshop,' Dad says,

‘now Suzy is home.'

He pushes the screen door open

with his boot

and struggles through with the suitcase.

The door bangs shut

with a clattering sound.

For as long as I can remember

Dad has been away for days at a time

on some forgotten highway,

but it still felt like he was around.

I go to the kitchen,

open the fridge

and take two beers from the shelf.

I carry them out to the front step

and sit down,

twisting the tops off the bottles.

When Dad returns from the truck,

I offer him one.

He watches as I take a deliberate swig

and sits down beside me.

‘You're too young to drink,' he says.

I take another swig

and reach across with my bottle

to clink it against his.

We drink until it gets dark

and the streetlights flicker on.

The bicker of blackbirds in the casuarina

mark the hours.

When Dad gets up to leave

I tell him I know where the workshop key is hidden

and I promise him he won't be alone,

that I'll visit most days.

He kneels down and cups his big hands

around my cheeks.

He nods his head

and I know,

just like me,

he's too afraid to say anything more.

Coming ashore

In the early morning light,

I take the kayak from Manx's front yard

and silently carry it to the lake

casting it and myself adrift.

Against the breeze

I slowly paddle

towards Tipping Point.

I've chosen the kayak

instead of my bike

because Manx owns it

and I'm doing this for him

and for me.

Last night, Rachel gave me Patrick's number

and I've texted him

to meet me on the beach,

or else.

I smile to myself

at the implied threat

knowing I have nothing to lose;

despite Patrick's two word response,

I'm sure he'll be there.

The sun shines on the row of houses

along the point,

each one a mansion of pastel colours,

well-tended gardens

and insufferable neatness.

I think of my dad

setting himself up in the workshop:

a large room with one crusty window,

Peachy whining at the door,

the smell of oil and grease in the air.

I think of my mum

working overtime

to pay off repairs

to a second-hand car.

The kayak glides easily onto the sand.

I step lightly

along the bow

before dragging the kayak ashore.

Stand up

‘What do you want, loser?'

Patrick's voice

comes from the shadow of a tree.

My spine tenses.

‘I've got your dope, Patrick.'

He steps forward and grins.

‘So?'

He shrugs.

‘I can get more where that came from.'

I turn and stare across to Manx's house,

my silence

inviting Patrick to think

all the wrong things.

He steps in front of me.

‘So?' he repeats.

I look him in the eye.

‘I'm not going to smoke it.'

My voice is measured and relaxed,

even though it's not how I feel.

‘I've hidden it,'

I glance towards his house,

hoping he'll take the bait,

‘somewhere that will prove

embarrassing for you

if it was found.'

He steps forward and grabs my shirt,

his face a few inches from mine

and spits out,

‘I'll beat the shit out of—'

‘No you won't,' I interrupt,

‘because if you do,

the cops will be the first to know

where the dope is.'

He loosens his grip

and steps away.

A vein pumps in my temple,

but I keep my voice quiet, calm.

‘I've added more dope,

enough for the cops

to lay charges.'

He raises a fist,

but I don't flinch.

‘Think about it, Patrick.'

He spits at my feet,

his face flushed with anger.

‘Here's what you can do.

Convince your parents

to drop the charges against Manx.

Tell them it was too dark,

tell them you were mistaken

and you're not sure it was him anymore,

tell them anything you want,

and I promise you, the dope

will stay hidden forever.'

I take a deep breath

and step forward.

‘Or you can

spend today

trying to find it.

But if Manx is charged,

I'll ring the cops

and you'll be in deep shit.

Your choice, Patrick.'

His shoulders slump.

He looks back towards his house.

I remember Mr Lloyd-Davis

outside Batley's Cafe

and the way he spoke to his son.

I almost feel sorry for Patrick.

Almost.

‘You have to stand up to him sometime,' I say.

I walk slowly to the kayak,

step aboard

and use the paddle

to push myself away from the sand.

Floating gently in the shallow water,

I glance towards Patrick's house:

the green lawn,

the wide double-glazed windows,

the diving board and swimming pool.

Then I turn and paddle back to Turon,

the sunlight bright on Manx's shack.

A pact

The Holden isn't in Manx's yard

so I take a smooth round stone

and toss it onto the roof.

A second later he swears

and comes barrelling through the door,

almost tripping on the front step.

I can't help but laugh.

He runs towards me

and grabs me in a headlock,

pretending to punch me again and again.

I squeeze free –

neither of us can stop laughing.

‘You're always fighting someone,' I say.

‘Only those who deserve it,' he answers.

We walk across to the lake and sit on a log.

Manx slaps a mosquito on his arm.

‘It's the swamp and those mozzies

stopping you from having

rich neighbours building next door,' I say.

‘Nah,' he says.

‘People like you and me, Jonah,

we drag down the price of everything we touch.'

I think of Ella and me,

the simple pleasure of holding hands

and the honour of Manx

not letting Rachel get caught.

I shake my head.

‘You're wrong, Manx.'

I look towards Tipping Point.

‘Let's make a pact,' I say.

‘In five years' time,

you and I will be sitting here,'

I look meaningfully at Manx,

‘drinking the beer
you
bought,

and we'll count off the residents

at Tipping Point.

I bet none of them will be the same ones as today.

They'll all move out

bored with the lake,

the sunsets,

and the salt of the ocean.

They'll return to Sydney

or build an even bigger house

further up the coast.

We're as permanent as gold.

They're as temporary as …'

I try to think of the word.

‘… as paint?' Manx grins.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
5.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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