the river kiosk
Ronnie sidled over to the table wearing a whiskery half-smile with two forks and one knife in his left hand. His right held a can of beer. Fizzed up. Leaking onto his bare feet.
A little later he passed by once more, this time with the other knife.
Then he stood some small way off, just within speaking distance, looking to the river and grizzling with his free hand at the white whiskers that powdered his veiny red face.
Preoccupied with his thirst.
A mob of kookaburras raised their arcing bass and fundo crescendo from a high roost in an ancient redgum across the calm water and Ronnie looked over at our table and his eyes lit upon the unopened bottle of ten-dollar Riesling lying there.
In a moment he was gone and then was back with a bottle-opener, then again with a wine cooler which was too narrow.
This gave him some pause and he stepped back a little and consulted his beer.
The narrow second story verandah that wrapped around the two sides of the riverside kiosk had about ten small tables and only one other was occupied.
Ronnie was wearing the summer uniform of a sea-going commander and his shoulder tabs read ‘ Riverhire’.
From time to time he retired to the bar where he had spread papers on clipboards and upon these he busily notated various facts and notions and all the time he conversed confidentially on a small mobile phone kept precious by his ear.
His knees legs and feet were garbed for deep water. Espadrilles, calf length socks, white shorts.
‘I don’t work here you know,’ offered Ronnie all of a sudden and from close by and without any prompting. He was holding a battered metal cooler for the wine
‘I just like to help the lass when she’s on her own.’ He had refreshed his drink.
‘I live up the hill you know, on me own, mostly go fishing. Been a single bloke all me life.’
He sat with us uninvited. He drank. His smile flickered on and off. This lonely old alcoholic.
‘Young bloke up here blew up a swimmin’ pool the other day you know. Wouldn’t credit it.’
He put the bottle in the cooler. It was big enough for a magnum.
‘You’ll want a couple of glasses for that now won’t you?’ – and away he went again.
A yellow-eyed noisy minor flew down onto the table and scoped it for food. His brother hung upside down from a decorative lanyard tied around the verandah rail and they both called and were backcalled from their family of another half-dozen who scavenged around a triple row of dories stacked by the boat ramp.
A bearded crow sat in a tall eucalypt and cursed everyone and all around.
‘ Sparklers.’ He said and as he placed two glasses on the tablecloth.
‘ He made the bomb from sparklers, got ‘em at the local papershop. Grounded the powder off ‘em all, jammed the stuff into a coke bottle, stuck in a wick, lay it alongside the pool wall. Lit it.
Ronnie stood back and tested the level of his new beer.
‘Everyone knows who done it.’
David came by later. He was the yacht cub’s caretaker. His shirt had that writ on it.
David – Caretaker – Yacht Club.
The silver earring added little allure to his hard used face. Neck and head equally squat.
His small nose many times broken, thick arms thickly haired, his muscular legs chunked into steel caps. Watchfully eyed. Faded tattoos, antique and faint and hidden behind his highrolled shirtsleeves. Pictures of receptive women and their parts engraved at leisure in small barred rooms.
‘ Ten percent would be arseholes, the rest are ok.’ He was discussing the membership ledgers and he sat powerfully on an adjoining table, inviting nothing. Drinking.
This an answer to a question nobody asked.
Ronnie put his fresh beer down and cleared the table, a little unsteady now as he gathered the crockery. He took the plates and his beer away.
‘ Good little fisherman that bloke, ‘ said David, ‘ could hook a jewy as big as anybody around here, fifty, seventy pound.’ He nodded at the door the man had disappeared into. ‘ Likes the piss too much these days the silly old cunt. That’s one of his boats over there.’
He pointed at a small cabintopped motorboat moored fifty feet away. Listing to portside, undersides all green-bellied. Heavy in the water.
‘ Been here for thirty-five years he reckons and I don’t doubt It.’ – and with that he slowly eased himself away from the table and walked away
‘See youse around.’ he said.
Two tourists in khaki shorts and shirts were standing on a pontoon having their picture taken by a third. The woman was holding a fork in the air and they were both laughing. Ronnie, freshly refreshed stood at the railing looking down at the tableau. He rubbed his chin, he consulted his beer, then he wandered over as we rose from our table.
‘ Have a drink before you go?’ he invited, and together we walked into the kiosk where he asked the lass for another round – all around. She passed over three cans and gave Ronnie his chit to sign. Looking down at it he laughed and gestured for me to come over. The docket dated today and noted ‘Ronnie’ had marked upon it eighteen strokes. Eighteen cans.
‘ Doesn’t include the couple after breakfast out of the fridge either,’ he chuckled,’ been on a slab a day for about five years.
A little later he waved us off.
‘ Hope the little bastard hasn’t blown up yer car.’
We passed by the security-fenced compound that contained a hillside of boulders and forest and in the gloom there we saw David standing still and nearly hidden amongst the tall eucalyptus; he was gazing through the bars of their long shadows and at the glittering reach of riverwater beyond.