Another Night in Mullet Town (2 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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Tattoos and hairnets

‘I've got no idea how you're getting to work

if the car's—'

Dad stops yelling

as I walk into the kitchen.

They both look at me.

Dad leans against the sink

wearing shorts, a t-shirt and

his trucker's cap, worn and sweat-stained.

On his forearm is the faded tattoo of a woman

wearing a red-and-white polka-dot bikini;

a dare when he was seventeen.

He reckons it's Mum when she was young.

Mum doesn't wear bikinis anymore.

She sits at the kitchen table,

still dressed in her blue uniform

after an eight-hour shift on the filleting line

at the SeaPak factory in Balarang Bay.

She looks tired,

her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail,

her hands cracked and worn from

wearing mesh gloves all day.

Mr Crewe told me

that every man in town sighed

and hit the pub

the day Mum married Dad.

She was the prettiest girl around.

My dad promised to give up

the interstate trucking runs for good

if only she'd say, ‘Yes'.

Eighteen years is a long time

not to keep a promise.

The sigh of a sea breeze

I wake in the night

to the sound of the television

and snoring.

I walk to the lounge room

and find the lonely flicker

of an advertisement

for WonderVac:

‘Five payments of $15.95 per month!'

Dad's asleep on the lounge,

one hand flung across his eyes.

When I was young

Dad told me

that if the day ever arrived

where he spent more time

with the television

than with his family

he'd fetch his surfboard

from the shed,

paddle into the ocean

and not stop

until he reached Chile.

I asked him how far that was.

He looked at me

with something resembling a smile

and said,

‘It's further than heartbreak

and somewhere past caring.'

On the side table is an empty beer bottle

and the Balarang newspaper

open at the employment section.

Nothing there but jobs

for kids leaving school

to become kitchenhands in cafes

or shelf stackers at the supermarket.

Dad has one boot on;

the other has been kicked across the room.

I don't know how he sleeps

with his feet above his head,

the blood running the wrong way;

as if blood ever gets a choice.

I gently remove his boot,

pick up the other and

put them both behind the lounge

where he won't trip over them

should he wake

and stumble to the bathroom.

I find the remote under the coffee table

and switch off the television.

The room darkens.

The only sound is Dad's heavy breathing,

the call of a curlew

and the sigh of a sea breeze.

This embarrassment

In the morning,

I walk to the bathroom

and stare into the mirror.

My reflection

is all long nose and full lips

and, when I smile at myself,

my teeth are too big for my mouth.

I've seen photos of Dad

at my age

and I can't tell us apart.

I cup my hands in the water,

splash it through my hair,

grab a towel from the shelf

and scrub my head dry.

My hair spirals at awkward angles.

In primary school, my friend Rachel

would gently pull each curl

and giggle when they popped back into place.

‘Like a spring,' she'd say.

Outside the bathroom window

a cat creeps along the fence

stalking a wren

nesting in the black wattle.

I open the window.

The cat leaps to the ground

and scurries away

as the wren adds another twig to its nest.

Dad snores from the lounge.

I take my embarrassment of hair

to the kitchen for breakfast.

Breakfast

I lift a bowl from the dishwashing rack

and wipe it on my shirt

ready for Weet-Bix.

Dad walks in, grunts hello

and sits down to tie his steel-capped boots.

‘The Magna's blown a head gasket,' he says.

He looks out the back window

to where the car should be.

‘How will Mum get to work?' I ask.

The door to their bedroom is closed.

Mum's still asleep –

or tired of arguing.

‘We're working that out,' he says.

‘Where you going today?' I ask.

‘Adelaide,' he answers.

I offer him the Weet-Bix

as if it's enough to get him

across the Hay Plain.

He shakes his head.

‘Steel girders, west,

bottles of wine, east,' he says.

‘And a chance to get drunk

in the middle of nowhere,' I joke.

Dad smiles, reaching for the pan.

‘Scrambled eggs, buttered toast

and the risk of a heart attack,' he says.

‘What do you think about out there?' I ask.

I imagine Dad driving the rig across the plain,

a storm cloud on the horizon,

flocks of cockatoos in the fields,

music on the stereo.

‘Whether the bloke driving towards me

is about to fall asleep,' Dad replies.

He stirs the egg mixture with a fork

and pours it into the frypan.

‘And how many miles

before I pay off the truck,' he adds.

‘I could get a job over the holidays,' I say.

Dad slides the spatula under the mixture,

flipping it before lifting the pan away

from the heat.

He tips the eggs on toast

and pulls back the chair before sitting.

I pass him the salt

and he smiles.

‘Work is forever,' he says.

‘Enjoy school while it lasts.'

The endless highway

I promise Dad I'll do the dishes

before Mum wakes.

He returns the egg carton to the fridge,

then leans down

and kisses me on the cheek.

His stubble grazes my skin.

I try to remember

how long it's been

since he's done that.

‘Go easy on your mum today,' he says.

He doesn't meet my eyes

before walking from the kitchen,

a duffel bag

slung over his shoulder.

I jump up from the table

and, at the window,

watch him wheel his pushbike

out of the shed

into the weak sunlight.

He checks both tyres

before throwing his leg

over the seat

and pedalling down the driveway.

I don't know why,

but I rush through the house

to watch him

turn onto the road

without checking for cars,

knowing that no-one is stupid enough

to be awake this early.

I imagine the smell of the sea

filling his nostrils

before he rides towards the workshop

to exchange a bicycle

for a lonely truck cabin

on the endless highway.

Balarang Bay

Whenever I miss the bus to school –

like today –

I ride my bike along Lake Road,

around Coraki Lake,

past Tipping Point

and into Morawa National Park.

I ignore the sign that reads:

HORSES AND BICYCLES PROHIBITED

and follow the track

watching for snakes

and swooping magpies.

I make it to school before the bell

if I pedal like a crazy

and forget the brakes

on the long downhill into town

past the billboard of bikini models

trumpeting:

WELCOME TO BALARANG BAY

MILES OF SMILES
.

Balarang is Aboriginal for

‘place of the swamp oak'

but the council

didn't want to put ‘swamp'

on the billboard,

so they chose bikini models instead.

They paid an advertising company

a truckload of cash

to come up with

MILES OF SMILES
.

Manx and I would have

accepted much less

and been closer to the truth with:

ACRES OF FAKERS

and the by-line:

WHERE THE UTE MEETS

THE MOBILITY SCOOTER
.

Manx told me he's planning

on getting a spray can from the local hardware

to do some creative dental work

on the models in the billboard

to show his civic pride.

My school

My school is surrounded

by a wire fence

and a stand of stringybark

that the council

is debating whether to rezone

for a new housing estate.

Each morning the buses bring

the hippie kids from the hinterland

and us southerners from Turon

into the main car park,

already filled with four-wheel drives

dropping off the locals

too lazy to walk.

Mr Drake, our Science teacher,

is on uniform duty

at the front gate

telling boys to tuck in their shirts

and girls to remove their lipstick.

The first rubbish bin

in the schoolyard

is decorated with red-lipped tissues.

I whizz past him on the bike

and he tells me to stop

and strap my helmet on properly.

Rachel walks through the gate

wearing a pair of trousers

instead of the tartan skirt.

When Mr Drake stops her,

she says,

‘Girls are the equal of boys

and should wear the same uniform.'

He says, ‘Well, you won't be allowed to class

wearing trousers.'

Rachel winks at me,

turns to Mr Drake

and, in front of everyone,

drops her trousers

to reveal her skirt underneath.

She hands Mr Drake the trousers

as the bell rings

and we all cheer

as Rachel strolls to class.

The only one that matters

I refuse to tell anyone –

even Manx –

just how much I like Ella Hurst.

Every period in Science

and English

I alternate between analysing the whiteboard

and Ella's long dark hair.

If there were a grade

for knowing the curve of her shoulders

and the grace of her hips

I'd get an A plus.

Sometimes I miss the teacher's question

and I'm sure my furtive glances

betray my thoughts.

Everyone likes Ella,

from the cool girls to the geeks,

yet she spends most of her time alone

reading a book

or watching the lunchtime football.

I'd have as much chance of scoring a goal

on the school oval

as I'd have of working up the courage

to talk to her.

How can it be

that the companion of attraction

is fear?

No matter how many words

there are in the English language for shy,

the only one that matters is

Jonah.

Caveman at the bottle shop

It's Friday afternoon and

Angelo, who's in year ten with us,

collects money from

a bunch of his mates.

Rich-boy Patrick

who lives at Tipping Point

doubles the stash.

Angelo presses the bills

into Manx's oversized hand

and says, ‘As much beer as you can buy.'

Manx is kitted out in a day-glo workers vest,

school shorts and his father's spare boots.

I reckon he's even smudged

some dirt on his forearms

just to complete the picture.

He walks like a draught-horse pulling a load,

his head pushed forward, chin up

and muscular arms hanging by his side.

His voice is a few octaves deeper than bass,

hands the size of boxing gloves,

dark hair sprouting from each of his knuckles.

The boys call Manx a caveman,

but never to his face.

Angelo calls out, ‘The cheapest, okay,'

as Manx turns and strolls into the bottle shop.

I follow him

and walk to where my favourite beer

sits in artfully arranged slabs.

I tap the carton three times and walk out.

Manx sees my choice –

it's not the cheapest.

Manx takes a cut of two bottles per dozen.

He always shares with me.

The latest model

For a while after we started high school

Angelo and I were friends.

He'd sit beside me and Manx on the bus

and tell us

about the caravan his parents

had set up in his backyard

and how on the weekend

they'd let him sleep out there.

He'd stay up as late as he liked

and watch things he shouldn't

on the laptop,

the caravan door locked tight.

‘I told them it was quieter in the van,

so I could do my homework.'

He'd lean over and dig me in the ribs.

‘I sure learnt a lot, Jonah.'

He'd invite me to sleep over

and, no matter how many times

I asked Mum, she'd say,

‘I don't trust that boy.'

One day Angelo came to school

with a black eye

and, when I asked him

what happened,

he mumbled about the caravan door

opening in the wind.

On the way home

he sat next to someone else on the bus

and told them he had a Nintendo –

the latest model.

He asked them if they wanted to visit

and never invited me over again.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
11.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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