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Authors: Ron Elliott

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BOOK: Now Showing
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The Territory drove off.

I went round to the driver's side, feeling in my back pocket. More money. A lovely orange twenty.

‘A dollar fifty,' said Robin holding it out to me.

‘When I go inside, start the car,' I whispered.

‘What?'

‘Start the car.'

I turned and he was standing behind me, waiting.

‘Ah, my man,' I said and stepped past him to go to the boot again. I shoved the money in my pocket. Robin didn't slide across the seat. She didn't start the car. She sat with her back to us, holding the feather flowers.

The petrol guy came a few more steps after me.

I tried to smile.

He smiled too. He smiled a bad smile that said you are so fucked, Zac. He came back to the boot letting his smile lick the air all around us.

I thought that I could still do it. Kick the boot and he thinks what the hell as it starts to come open and I dive in and bring up the rifle and say, cool and calm, ‘So who's smiling now, monkey man?'

But he put his hand on the boot.

‘All we've got's about sixty dollars.' I reached back into my pocket and brought out the twenty and ten and the fives and the coins. ‘Sixty-two, something.'

‘Is that right?'

I took off the hat and held it out to him.

He took it and said, ‘Well what we gunna do then,
mate?'

I grabbed the Snickers from the dash and pulled the cigarettes out of my pocket.

He took them but shook his head.

Robin was holding out the flowers. She still wasn't looking at me.

‘Sorry Rob.' I grabbed them and held them out to him.

‘For me? You shouldn't have. It's still not enough, is it?'

‘Um, we could maybe siphon out some petrol.'

He shook his head slowly. ‘I don't buy used petrol.'

‘Comic books! You like comic books?'

‘No, I'm a grown-up. I like your sunglasses.'

‘They're Wayfarers!'

‘Where'd you get them? Hawaii?'

‘They're Wayfarers! They're worth over two hundred bucks.'

‘No. I'd say they're worth about five dollars forty.'

‘Excuse me. Do you know Bill Mays?' said Robin to the guy.

He turned and looked at her but still not friendly. ‘Yeah, I know him.'

‘He's my father.'

‘So?'

‘So I'm sure he'd be glad to hear he owes you five dollars forty.'

‘Your father already owes everybody round here something or other.'

Robin's jaw tightened a moment, but she went on as tough as before. ‘Then five dollars forty isn't going to make much difference, is it?'

The guy seemed like he was about to keep arguing, but then thought of something. He nodded to her and squeezed my shoulder. ‘You're one lucky Hawaiian. Having someone big and strong to look after you.'

I shrugged off his hand and pushed past him to get in the driver's seat.

He said, ‘Your mother was a good lady. I was sorry to hear about ... Sorry for your loss.'

Robin nodded. ‘Yeah.' Then she said, ‘Let's go, Zac.'

I took off but couldn't get any traction. There was no spray of gravel and no burning rubber.

***

I didn't say anything. I drove into the modern outskirts of Kalgoorlie, which resembled the outskirts of Midland leading out of Perth. It was a sprawl that lasted for only six long blocks. Then we were in the wide streets of the city centre. There was a Dome and Asian takeaway in amongst the big hundred-year-old hotels with
Skimpy Barmaid
signs. Lots of Thrifty hire utes were driven by men in orange or yellow shirts. And then we were out the other side where there was a hill of grey rock going off to the right and a small hill where the pipeline ended. Past that were giant metal poppet heads – the things that haul gold miners and their gold in and out of the ground.

‘Down here,' said Robin, pointing to the left of the edge of town, where fibro houses sat on flat dusty blocks. ‘That one.' She pointed at a red wooden house with red tin roof and red tin fence. I pulled up in front and turned off the engine and started to open my door.

‘I'll be an hour,' she said as she got out.

‘Is this about the petrol station?'

She looked at the house.

‘The other car came. If it hadn't, I would have...'

‘I'll give them the invoice, and say hello. You should look around town. It's very historic.' She spoke like a computer. ‘It has the largest open pit in the world, right on the edge of town. Three and a half kilometres long and one and a half kilometres wide. When I left school it was six hundred and fifty metres deep.' Her back was to me. ‘There's a museum. The whole history of the gold rush and the continuing resources boom.' She started walking away.

A girl in her late teens and a floral dress opened the door and looked at Robin and then over her shoulder at me coming up the path behind.

Robin said, ‘Liz.'

‘Robin. What are you doing here?' It wasn't exactly a welcome. Then she looked at me and said, ‘Hi.'

‘How ya doing?' I smiled at Liz and ignored Robin.

‘Come in,' said Liz, when Robin didn't make any introductions. ‘You must have left early.'

‘Last night,' I said.

She led us up the passageway to the lounge room where another teenage girl sat on the floor with two toddlers and two babies and piles of nappies in front of the TV.

‘Robin,' said the other girl, excited. ‘Oh,' she said seeing me. Then, ‘You must have left early.'

‘Last night,' said Robin, beating me to it.

‘Hi everyone. My name is Zac. And I'm really, really glad to meet Robin's sisters.'

Robin dumped herself down on the lounge.

‘I'm Gail,' said Gail.

‘Liz,' said Liz.

‘Zac again,' I said and they both smiled while all of us waited for Robin to jump in. An American evangelical talked on the TV. You couldn't quite hear the words but you could see the urging.

Gail said, ‘Jade, say hello to Aunty Robin.'

One of the toddlers looked up at both of us and said, ‘Hello Aunty Robin.'

I gave a secret wave to Jade and she waved back.

Robin was fishing in her bag.

Gail and Liz looked at each other, wary.

‘I brought the invoice. That's why I came.'

‘Oh,' said Gail, disappointed.

‘It seemed important in your phone call.'

Liz turned suddenly to look at Gail who wouldn't meet her eyes.

Liz created a smile and said, ‘You could have posted it.'

Robin said, ‘I don't actually see why you need it. Couldn't Jack just show you a copy? I mean the stone's there.'

‘Yes, you're right,' said Liz. ‘I don't know why Gail bothered you.'

Gail said, ‘You've been?'

Robin said, ‘I went this morning.' She brought out the invoice. ‘So he sent it to the wrong place. How he got my address I'll never know, but it's hardly...'

Gail sat next to Robin, and said, ‘She wasn't thinking. In the end, she...'

Liz said, ‘It's because you're the oldest. That's all. We'll take care of it, Robin.' There was an edge to it under the tight smile.

Liz and Gail didn't look or act younger than Robin. They seemed like mums – like my mum and my mother's friends. They were competent and kind of wise and not very interesting. They kept sharing looks with each other that said there was stuff being unsaid.

I sat on another chair. The walls were painted green. There is possibly no good green colour you can paint a wall. I had a bad case of the munchies.

Gail rescued us all again. ‘Jack was saying round town that we hadn't paid him. And Doug and Terry ... Well, they want him to take it back. Admit that we didn't know. We can prove it was sent to the wrong place.'

Robin nodded. ‘That you pay your bills.'

Gail said, ‘We pay as we go.'

Liz saw me watching and I could see her getting ready to be mad with me because I was seeing things I had no right to.

‘A cup of tea!' I said, standing. ‘These damn Mayses girls don't even offer a man a cup of tea even though he's sawed the top off his car and driven the other Mayses all night to come here.'

Liz laughed.

Gail stood, socially aghast. ‘I'm so sorry. Yes. Tea.'

‘Or tequila would be good, and nachos. Too early?'

Robin sat looking at the invoice.

Liz said, ‘Through here, Zac. So, are you a university student also?'

I followed them through to the kitchen ruffling the not-Jade toddler's head as we went past. ‘No. Not me. I work for a living. I'm a full-time waiter. It's not a job, it's a career.'

‘Oh,' said Liz in that disappointed way people do.

‘You look like someone,' said Gail, like people also do. ‘Someone famous.'

Sometimes I say, how do you know I'm not? But this time I held my face in the angle that's best for seeing it.

‘Don't say it,' said Robin, coming into the kitchen. She was smiling, but before anyone could say Orlando Bloom or Paul Newman and finally google up James Dean and go, yes, you look like James Dean. Before they could do that, Robin asked, ‘Are the men at work?'

‘They're up north,' said Liz. She put the kettle on and went for cups, while Gail got cake out of an old round tin. It looked like carrot cake.

‘Fly in,' said Gail.

‘That's right,' said Robin.

‘Back on Friday week.'

Robin sat at the kitchen table. I went over to Gail and let her see me steal the first piece of cake.

Gail said, ‘With the way gold prices are they've been talking about getting their old jobs here at the mine. They're going back into the old mines and open cutting.'

Liz said, ‘Doug says Dad could get a job.'

Gail said, ‘He's not interested.'

Robin was. ‘Is he prospecting?'

Gail said, ‘You know Dad. The big strike.'

Liz said, ‘Doug says, it never works, chasing that big strike. You can count on a wage and that's not too shabby.'

Gail said, ‘Especially if you've got a family to think about.'

The kettle whistled. Liz poured the hot water over the tea bags. Gail gave me the plate of cut cake and I put it in the middle of the table.

I tried to catch Robin's eye, but was invisible to her. I sat down and took more cake. Very moist carrot cake.

Robin finally asked, ‘When will he be back?'

‘Doug?'

‘Dad.'

‘We don't see that much of him,' said Liz.

‘Sometimes he pops in. When he's in town. You know Dad,' said Gail.

‘No. Do you?'

Liz and Gail both blinked at Robin, then blinked at each other.

Gail said, ‘I'll see if the kids are all right.' She went into the lounge.

Robin looked at me and I smiled at her. But she didn't smile back and kept looking at me, until I took my cup of tea and more cake and went into the lounge room.

Gail had picked up a baby and had her on her hip as she watched the toddlers make gouges of texta colour on a blank page. I smiled and nodded to her and pretended to be amazed at the glory that is children and watched the cartoons now on the big plasma screen. I was listening to Robin and Liz in the kitchen.

Robin said, ‘Why wasn't this sent to him? Is he paying any of it?'

‘Don't worry. We'll pay.'

‘That's not what I meant.'

‘Gail shouldn't have phoned you. We'll pay for it. You don't have to worry about anything. We'll keep doing it.'

‘No, it's no trouble. I'm happy to help. Just a little drive. But Dad really should have. He should.'

‘Anyway, not your problem.'

‘Okay. Well, we better get going, I suppose.'

‘Have some cake.'

‘No, bit early.'

‘For your friend.'

‘No.'

‘Well...'

Chairs scraped on the floor. Then Liz said, ‘You didn't even come to her funeral. For that, I will never forgive you.'

When Robin came out, Gail said stay for lunch but Liz shook her head and Gail gave Robin a kid's drawing. I said I loved their cake. Liz said lovely to meet me. Gail said I should be a male model or an actor. We all said goodbye at the door and went out into the glare of the sun and a pale blue sky that filled nine-tenths of everything.

When we were in the car, I said, ‘Are you okay?'

‘Drive.'

‘Some things were said.'

‘Drive, Zac.'

‘Driving.' I put it into gear and drove in a wide arc of gravel dust.

Robin carefully folded up the texta drawing from her nieces and put it in the glove box.

I stopped at the crossroad, my flicker flicking right on the road that would lead all the way back to Perth.

Robin said, ‘Stop.' She was looking the other way at a sign saying Leonora.

‘Stopped,' I said.

She had a paper in her hand. It was the invoice. She must have scooped it up with or under the drawing. Maybe we needed to go back and deliver it, to either angry Liz or skittish Gail, her teenage middle-aged sisters. Robin turned the invoice.

‘You still want to go camping?'

‘Um,' I managed.

‘I know a spot. A good spot.'

‘Maybe.'

‘Left.'

Sometimes she does that. ‘Going to Kal.' Huh? ‘Don't go back to Perth. Go left.' You what? I can never predict it. She suddenly jumps into another direction, without warning and without explanation. I think on Planet Robin she's part of a constant game of dodgem that I can't see or understand. Like conversations between sisters.

***

I drove up onto the highway leading out the other side of town. Our mobiles lost their range about five K out.

The country got flatter. The spindly trees had red-stained trunks. There were pale mounds of weathered dirt, one-person mines from one or a hundred years ago. Every now and then you'd see the body of a long-dead car, wheelless, glassless, paintless rusted shapes of the history of cars.

BOOK: Now Showing
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