Another Night in Mullet Town (7 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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Climate change 101

In Science

Mr Drake lectures us

on climate change.

‘Burn today, roast tomorrow,' he says.

Manx wonders aloud

how his dad

will make a living selling

batteries or solar

instead of petrol.

Mr Drake writes on the board

fish

coal

oil

and asks us to spend our weekend

writing an assignment

on ways to replace them.

Everyone groans,

except Manx

who leans back in his chair,

and says,

‘Tofu,

gas,

bicycles.'

Assignment done.

Weekend begun.

Paddling to Chile

When I get home from school,

there's a light on in the kitchen

and news on the radio

of interest rates rising.

Dad swears as I walk in.

‘Sorry, Jonah,

I was talking to the radio.'

We look at each other

and realise how silly that is.

I switch it off

and Dad plonks a handful of potatoes

on the table.

‘Peel them if you want mash,

or slice them thin for chips,' he says.

I take a sharp knife from the drawer

and begin hacking away.

He pours oil over a tray

and I arrange the slices in rows.

‘I called Suzy,

I mean your mum.

The Magna will be fixed

at the end of next week.'

Dad pulls the bulbs of broccoli apart and

gets a packet of frozen peas from the freezer.

He stands at the sink and sighs,

looking out to the backyard.

I remember the story he once told me.

‘I don't want you to paddle to Chile,' I say.

Dad laughs.

It's a deep, hearty sound.

‘That was ages ago,' he says.

Then he shakes his head.

‘Nah. I'll hang around.'

He tips the peas into a saucepan, and adds,

‘I want to see how you turn out.'

Last chance

Rachel lights the bonfire;

everyone stands back and cheers

as the flames take hold.

Patrick passes a joint to Rachel,

but she shakes her head

and glances at Manx and me

in our usual spot on the grass.

She runs towards us

as Manx opens a bottle.

‘Come on, Manx,' she says,

offering her hand,

‘swim with me.'

Manx holds up his beer and replies,

‘Maybe when I've finished this.'

Patrick shouts for everyone to watch

and runs along the pier

executing an extravagant somersault

into the lake.

Rachel turns back to us.

‘Last chance,' she offers.

Manx looks at Patrick climbing onto the pier

and shakes his head.

Rachel sighs and walks back to the bonfire.

She unbuttons her dress

and lets it fall

revealing a black-and-white one-piece.

She waves to Manx,

turns and runs along the pier

before executing a perfect dive into the lake.

I wish Ella were here tonight

instead of babysitting her neighbour's kids.

Maybe I'd have the guts to sit beside her.

Maybe.

Friday night flame

I hang with Manx

until all the bottles are empty.

He doesn't speak,

just keeps watching Rachel and everyone,

with their Vodka Cruisers, beer and weed.

‘I'm going up to the museum,' Manx says.

I stagger to my feet to follow,

but he holds up a hand and says, ‘Alone.'

I watch him walk to Lake Road,

where he turns right

instead of left to the museum.

Angelo's voice comes from near the bonfire.

‘Hey, loser.

Why don't you piss off with your caveman mate.'

Angelo drapes his arm around Harriet's shoulder.

She quickly moves away.

I can't help but smile.

Suddenly, Angelo reaches into the fire

and grabs a burning branch.

He jumps up and throws it

with all his strength at me.

It spins through the air

like an out-of-control missile

and lands a few metres in front of me.

I walk towards the branch, still burning.

Should I pick it up and return fire?

With my shoe, I grind the stick into the sand.

The flame goes out.

I climb up the bank

and leave them all

with the dying embers of the bonfire.

Welcome to Turon

I walk home along Lake Road.

Up ahead, glass smashes and a dog barks.

I run towards the sound

to discover the shattered door

of the Lloyd-Davis Real Estate office.

I look up and down the street,

but can't see anyone.

Scrawled on the front window are the words:

BACK TO SYDNEY SCUMBAGS.

The black paint dribbles down the glass

and drips onto the footpath.

In the distance I hear a police siren,

so I start running.

I'll return in the morning

just to see the look on Mr Lloyd-Davis's face

when he discovers the damage.

Maybe he's asked one too many old blokes

if they'd like to sell,

or he didn't offer them enough

and this is their way of answering.

Welcome to Turon.

Rooftop serenade

I stop running when I hear

the sad music

of someone's lonely weekend:

country guitar and vocals

of lost love and loneliness.

Turon: bachelor capital of the coast.

Men with names like Barney,

Stan or Ed crooning into their beers

and cursing the women

who left them.

Dad is perched on our roof

drinking a beer,

framed by the moon

and the plane tree.

The ladder is resting on the gutter.

I climb the rungs

and scramble onto the corrugated iron.

Dad reaches for my hand

and drags me to the apex

to take in the view across the rooftops.

‘Someone bricked the real estate,' I say.

Dad offers me a sip of beer.

‘That's nice,' he replies.

I count the number of empties in our yard

and figure he's been up here since sunset.

‘I'm sorry about your mum and me,' he says.

‘It's just a car,' I say,

thinking of Mum stranded in Balarang Bay.

Dad shakes his head.

‘I wish it were as easy as fixing an engine,' he says.

He touches me on the shoulder.

‘You'd better go to bed.

I'll stay up here

and keep an eye out for vandals.'

He's quiet for a moment

before adding,

‘If I see any, I'll offer them a beer.'

No hawkers allowed

Early in the morning,

the sky is slate grey

and the wind scuttles clouds

across the horizon.

On Lake Road

two boys ride skateboards

down the smooth bitumen.

Mrs King, wheeling her shopping trolley,

stops to watch them rattle past,

and I'm not sure

whether her expression

is one of fright or fancy.

When they're out of sight

she draws a ratchety breath

before walking down the street.

I sit on a park bench

wondering how Saturday

can be so lonely.

Ella lives at number 62.

It has a Colorbond fence,

yellow curtains on each window

and a NO HAWKERS sign

on the front door.

If I knocked,

would Ella's mum mistake me for

a salesperson?

All I have to offer is myself.

Would she point to the sign

and slam the door in my face

long before I got anywhere near asking

if Ella could come outside and play?

A smeared masterpiece

I look across at the Lloyd-Davis Real Estate office.

The front door is covered in plywood

but the graffiti remains.

Mr Lloyd-Davis walks out,

sees me and whistles

waving an impatient hand

for me to come closer,

like I'm a stray dog

looking for a handout.

He wears a suit,

even on Saturday.

On his wrist is a shiny gold watch

that matches the chain around his neck.

He flicks his head

towards the graffiti

scrawled across his windows.

‘I'll give you twenty dollars to clean it,' he says.

I survey the splattered glass

figuring out how long it'd take me

and what I'd use to remove it.

Mr Lloyd-Davis mistakes my silence

for a challenge, and says,

‘Okay, thirty dollars

or I'll ask someone else.'

I look up and down the street.

There's not a soul about,

except Mrs King

resting at the top of the street.

‘I've hired a high-pressure hose.

If you use rags and eucalyptus oil,

it'll do the job,' he says.

I nod and follow him into the office.

He points down the hallway

to a bucket.

I set to work on the window,

soaking a rag and smearing the glass.

My reflection shifts from clear

to technicolour

and I soon learn

the more oil

the less effort.

I'm getting paid thirty dollars

to clear my nasal passages

with the strong scent of eucalyptus.

When the rags are much dirtier

than the window

Mr Lloyd-Davis hooks up the hose

and tells me to stand aside.

He aims the jet

at my smeared masterpiece.

The paint washes down the footpath

and into the gutter.

‘That's going straight into the lake,' I say.

He turns it off and sneers.

‘Someone else's problem, buddy.'

Dirty work

In the office,

Mr Lloyd-Davis counts the money twice

before handing it over

in five dollar bills.

I stuff it in my pocket

and turn to go.

He whistles again.

‘I want you to sign this,' he says,

holding up a slip of paper.

It's an invoice

for my services.

‘Tax,' Mr Lloyd-Davis says.

‘I'm making a claim for the bastard

defacing my window.'

I shrug and scrawl a name

across the dotted line.

It's not my signature

but he seems satisfied.

When I'm at the door

he calls after me,

‘If you know the culprit

there's another thirty dollars in it for you.'

I walk away without answering.

There's all sorts of dirty work

I'll do

and some I won't.

Magpie market

The car park is scattered

with rickety tables under umbrellas.

On display are the cast-off debris

of my town's backyard sheds:

a scatter of paperback crime novels,

an orange lampshade,

a child's plastic tip truck,

an empty fish tank,

crockery cracked with age,

videos of western movies

and too many empty photo frames.

I sit on a beach chair

and look after Mr Crewe's stall

of old tools and fishing magazines.

In the past twenty minutes

I've sold two magazines

and a claw hammer.

I watch the people from Tipping Point

dressed in white linen

wander from table to table

occasionally stopping

to touch a set of kitchen scales

or an old toaster

and asking how much,

even though

they have no intention of buying.

They're biding time

until they escape to the only cafe in town,

while the rest of us

show our desperation

by selling worthless junk to each other

in what passes for entertainment

on Saturday in Turon.

Batley's Cafe

Once a week

Manx and I would go to Batley's Cafe

where burgers used to cost $5.50

and came with fried egg,

beetroot and tomato sauce.

Chips cost a few dollars extra

and were smothered in salt

before being wrapped in wax paper.

The cafe was called Batley's

after the first owner

who built it in the 1950s

out of hardwood timber.

Mr Batley painted it vivid blue

because he reckoned it reflected

the colour of the sky.

A few months ago,

his grandson hired Mr Lloyd-Davis

to sell it.

The new owners

renamed it
Lake Road Espresso Bar
,

took out the old fryers

and replaced them with a charcoal grill.

Now the lamb burger

comes with tzatziki and salad

and costs $15 to eat in.

Chips cost twice as much

for half as many.

Manx and I haven't eaten there since.

The cafe is closed Monday and Tuesday

because everyone returns to the city –

or so the new owners think.

What would they know?

They only visit on the weekend

to check on the locals

left to run the place

for minimum wages.

The owners

spend their day

sipping an espresso,

talking on their phones

and watching the exotic wildlife

of old fishermen

wandering home from the lake.

Another planet

Patrick and his parents

sit at the front table of the cafe

under an umbrella.

I sit across the road

in the shade of a chestnut

and watch them.

Patrick's mum reads the paper,

while his dad receives a text message

every few minutes.

Patrick yawns and puts his feet

on the vacant chair.

‘Don't you have something to do?'

Mr Lloyd-Davis asks.

Patrick shrugs.

‘There's nothing to do in this dump.

Ever!'

He gets up and walks away.

Neither of his parents answer.

Patrick's dad orders another espresso,

while his mum picks at her salad.

A stray dog walks to the table

hungry for scraps.

It nuzzles against Mrs Lloyd-Davis's ankle.

She pulls a face

and says, ‘Gerald!'

He looks up and smacks the dog on the side.

The dog yelps,

more in fright than pain,

and slinks off towards the lake.

Mrs Lloyd-Davis wipes her ankle with a napkin

as I wonder which planet

these people come from.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
10.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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