Another Night in Mullet Town (9 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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Payback

In the late afternoon,

Manx winds in the fishing line

and tosses the rod on the sand.

We look across the lake to Tipping Point.

Two men in fluoro vests are working

in Mr Beattie's yard.

One of them holds a surveyor's reflector,

while the other

maps the distance to each boundary.

‘Either Beattie died without anyone knowing,

or Patrick's dad offered him

more than he could resist,' I say.

‘Bastard,' is all Manx says in reply.

A familiar BMW pulls up on Lake Road.

Mr Lloyd-Davis winds down the window.

‘Hey, I want a word with you two.'

Manx and I stand

but, as I'm about to walk towards the road,

Manx grabs my arm.

‘Make him come to us,' he says.

Mr Lloyd-Davis strides down the bank,

pointing at Manx.

‘My son's friend just told me

you're the idiot who graffitied on my window.'

I can feel Manx tense beside me.

‘Angelo is a liar,' I say.

Mr Lloyd-Davis remembers who I am.

‘You owe me thirty dollars,' he says.

Then he steps up to Manx.

‘And you owe me the cost of a new door.'

He grabs Manx's arm and says,

‘You're coming with me.

We'll see what your father has to say about this.'

Manx wriggles out of his grasp.

‘Don't you dare touch me,' he shouts,

his face turning red,

a vein throbbing in his neck.

Patrick's father grabs Manx again,

but Manx pushes his hand away

and Mr Lloyd-Davis stumbles.

Swearing and still off-balance,

he swings a wild punch at Manx.

Manx sways out of the way

and hits Mr Lloyd-Davis once in the stomach.

He drops to his knees

as Manx steps forward to finish him off.

I jump between them.

‘No, Manx.'

Mr Lloyd-Davis springs to his feet

and takes a step backward.

‘That's it, kid. You're gone.

I'm calling the cops.'

Manx attempts to get past me,

but I hold him back.

I'm sweating and my voice breaks when I say,

‘Manx was only defending himself.

I'm a witness, sir.'

Manx relaxes, just a little,

so I seize my chance.

‘You … you threw the first punch.'

Mr Lloyd-Davis hesitates.

‘We don't know who damaged your property,' I say.

He dusts down his jacket

and walks back to the BMW.

When he opens the door,

he turns and shouts,

‘It's not over.'

He guns the car down Lake Road.

Manx and I don't say a word

until the sound of the engine fades.

Manx attempts a smile.

‘You know, Jonah.

You sounded like a twelve-year-old girl.'

I'm too scared to answer

in case my voice cracks again.

A special deal

We reach Manx's house

as the sun sets over Sattlers Hill.

There's still a few hours until the party starts

and we're both starving.

Manx's dad pulls up in the Holden.

He gets out of the car

but doesn't close the door.

‘I hear you've been causing trouble again,' he says.

Manx and I stand there

like ten-year-old kids

caught stealing milk money.

‘Lloyd-Davis and his BMW

pulled into the service station an hour ago.

I was already counting the cash

to fill that ugly beast.'

Mr Gunn grins.

‘Turns out hyphen-man

didn't want to give me money.

He prattled on about

broken glass and graffiti.

When I wouldn't give him

what was in the till,

he threatened to call the cops.'

Manx shifts uncomfortably next to me.

‘I said there was no crime in selling petrol.'

Mr Gunn laughs.

‘As he stormed out,

I offered him a special deal on new tyres.'

He looks at me and says,

‘I don't know what happened, Jonah,

but I'll say thank you anyway.'

He reaches back into the car,

picks up a package,

and offers it to us.

‘I imagine you boys are hungry,' he says

and slams the car door.

‘You can't go past fish and chips.'

He walks into the house.

Manx and I follow him

to eat our fill

and wait for the night to begin.

For my own good

Manx and I walk up behind Angelo

who's holding the esky.

He turns and sees Manx,

puts the esky down

and takes a few steps back

so the bonfire is between us.

Manx opens the lid

and pulls out our share.

Patrick and Harriet sit beside the fire

and ignore us.

I'm sure Patrick isn't telling anyone about his dad

being decked by a schoolboy.

We walk away

and set up camp on the grass,

away from the smell of Angelo

wearing too much aftershave.

Manx hands me a beer.

I glance across to Ella

sitting in her usual spot.

She's staring across the lake

and doing her best to ignore

the vodka-fuelled giggles.

Manx takes the bottle from me

before I have a chance to open it.

I look at him questioningly,

and he says, ‘It's now or never.'

He opens the bottle and takes a sip

looking across at the bonfire.

‘I'll keep watch,

just in case Angelo or Patrick

step too close to the flame.'

We both laugh.

Manx flicks his head towards Ella.

I'm dismissed, for my own good.

I reach down, take a bottle from our stash

and walk slowly towards her.

I'm not scared.

Not much.

Sand and swapping Germs

The walk across the grass

to Ella

takes a minute

but feels like forever

knowing she's watching

and I'm not sure what to say.

A few metres away,

I stumble

and accidentally kick sand onto her legs.

She laughs instead of swearing.

I reach down

to brush the grit from her tights.

‘This is how you treat a girl

who shares gelato with you,' she says.

‘Jonah kicks sand,' I splutter

as if that's an excuse.

I manage to sit beside her

without falling over.

Ella smiles and accepts

the bottle I offer,

taking a short sip

without wiping the rim first.

‘I know what you're thinking, Jonah,' Ella says.

I look to the lake to hide my embarrassment.

‘It's okay,' she adds, handing me the beer.

‘There are better ways of swapping germs.'

I nearly choke on the bottle.

Ten ways to share spit

A joint gets passed around

the group near the fire.

Patrick to Harriet to Angelo –

boy, girl, boy –

as if we're in year one again

and the teacher has directed

us to sit in formation.

Ella takes another sip,

then glances at the rim of the bottle,

and says, ‘I wonder how many ways

we can share spit?'

I wonder how many times I can blush

in the one evening.

‘Drinking out of the same bottle.'

Ella holds up one finger.

‘Sharing gelato,' I respond.

‘Getting a spray,' Ella giggles,

‘literally, from Mr Drake.'

‘Choosing the wrong toothbrush at camp.'

‘Choosing the wrong boyfriend at camp!'

‘Standing near Angelo when he sneezes.'

‘Getting into a fight with Angelo.'

Ella looks at me, meaningfully.

‘Kissing your auntie?'

‘Kissing.'

‘Kissing?'

‘Maybe.'

‘Soon?'

‘Later.'

‘Nervous.'

Ella passes me the bottle.

‘Don't be.'

Welcome back

Rachel arrives at the party

later than everyone else.

The circle goes quiet

as she approaches;

Angelo pretends to be very interested

in adding wood to the fire.

She stops a metre from the pier,

looking up towards Manx

sitting alone on the grass.

Patrick stands and walks towards Rachel

offering her the joint.

She looks down at it

for what seems like forever,

then turns and walks away

up the hill to Manx.

He offers her a beer.

She takes a long sip,

then holds the bottle up to the fire circle

as if choosing her preferred drug

and friend.

‘Hey, Angelo,' Rachel calls,

‘show us your best dive.'

Like the rest of us,

she knows Angelo is a poor swimmer.

Angelo hesitates for a minute

not sure whether to accept the dare.

Then he jumps up and runs across the sand,

taking his shirt off as he goes

almost stumbling in his haste.

Rachel looks across to me

and waves.

Another night in mullet town

Angelo runs too fast

and his somersault off the pier

turns into a smacking bellyflop.

Everyone winces

as he emerges howling in pain.

A few boys run to help.

He staggers from the water

his arms around the shoulders

of Patrick and a mate.

He coughs up water

and one of the girls offers him

a bottle of beer

as if it's the cure for all ills.

Ella stands,

reaches for my hand

and leads me away from the lake.

The moonlight

traces our shadows

along the empty streets.

An hour ago,

I was sitting with Manx;

another night in mullet town

watching the hyphen army prance.

‘Dad's out on his boat overnight

and Mum's staying with friends

in the bay,' Ella whispers.

She grips my hand tighter.

Our footsteps echo

past the shops

and the playground

where a lone swing squeaks in the breeze

and a seagull scavenges in the rubbish bin

below a blinking streetlight.

The more practice, the better

Ella opens the door to her house

and a single lamp

bathes the lounge room

in a soft yellow glow.

On the wall are pictures of Ella

in a series of school uniforms

from the age of six to sixteen.

She laughs.

‘Mum takes a photo

for the first school day of every year.'

I notice a cat sleeping in a lounge chair

as I stand in the centre of the room

wondering whether I should sit down

or run out the front door

as fast as I can

in fear of what may

or may not happen next.

‘Jonah stands nervously,' says Ella,

barely able to hide a smile.

‘Emphasis on the adverb,' I say.

Ella walks towards me.

I wrap my arms around her

and we kiss.

The cat jumps down from the chair

and pads into the kitchen

as if it's embarrassed

to watch the groping of such an amateur.

I close my eyes

and kiss Ella again.

And again.

And again.

We decide the more practice,

the better.

Every little thing

Ella leads me down a hallway

of cream carpet

past the bathroom with white tiles,

a shower curtain of bright sunflowers

and a set of scales near the vanity;

past her parents' bedroom

with a jumble of shoes

scattered across the carpet

and a pair of blue trackpants

hanging on an open wardrobe door;

past the spare room

with boxes stacked high in one corner

and an old computer on a desk

half-covered in a white cloth;

past the hallway cupboards

one door slightly open

an electrical lead trailing from a shelf;

and past a hallstand with a wedding photo

and a vase of plastic flowers.

All the while

I'm holding onto Ella's hand,

trying to control my breathing

and noticing every little thing

except the open door

to her bedroom

at the end of the hall.

Only one of us

I couldn't tell anyone what we did.

It wouldn't be right.

But now I know

that Ella's single bed

is covered in a tartan doona

and she has lots of pillows to share.

Although my arm tingled with pins and needles

as it stretched under her head,

I couldn't move for hours

as I watched Ella sleep,

a fine wisp of hair

across her face,

and a faint vein in her neck

pumping a silent rhythm.

I think of the hours

before she slept

and what we did,

from awkward to blushing

and back again.

Ella told me

she always slept with the window open,

listening to the hum of the ocean.

We both closed our eyes …

but only one of us slept.

That frozen moment

In the early morning,

Ella still sleeps beside me.

As my hand rests on the soft skin

of her stomach,

I feel the steady rise and fall of her breathing.

My heart is pounding,

yet my world has slowed.

At ten years old

I was obsessed with my BMX

and the time it took me

to bounce down the track

from the museum to the blackberry bush.

Manx borrowed some of his dad's house paint

and splashed a start line in the dirt,

and we hunted around in Mum's wardrobe

until I found a bright orange ribbon,

which we strung between two blackberry bushes

as a finish line.

For all of summer

we raced down the embankment

and cut across the paddock,

taking it in turns.

And every afternoon

we celebrated with hot chips

and a can of Coke from Batley's.

In all of my life

I never thought there would be anything

that would come close

to breasting that ribbon

and waiting for Manx to call out my time.

Ella rolls on her side

and puts her arm around me.

She's still asleep.

I close my eyes

and go back to riding downhill

as fast as I dared,

leaping over the dirt mound

my fingers tight on the handlebars

that frozen moment before landing.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
5.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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