the incalcitrant son
The phone rang just as the family sat down for dinner.
8.00 pm on a wet Friday night and the old man heaved himself out of his chair with an implosive grunt and strode out of the kitchen to hear who had the judgement poor enough to disturb his dinner on this, the most sacred night of the week.
Six completed fifteen-hour days in a fatiguing succession of working in the tubercled damp of the Bondi Digger cellars feeding gas hoses into copper-bound 18 gallon kegs that fed beer into lines that sped the inebriant into the mouths of the battle-weary of two world wars and Korea and Malaya and Vietnam. Stacking the trays of fresh prawns and oysters destined for the top-floor director’s meeting, switching the keglines, cleaning the beerlines, transferring the beer feedlines, running the wine orders, managing the incinerator, taking beer deliveries, steam-cleaning all the cellar concrete, on call to all the club’s floors when the taps ran dry, moving pallets of bottles, rolling full kegs in and empty kegs out, watching the gauges. Running the daily wine cellar stocktake, stocking up the spirit bars three times a day, measuring each bar’s beer spillage, balancing empty spirit bottles to shelf stock and replenishments – every bar, all this every day, day after day.
His wife, his daughter and his only son all remained at the small kitchen table and watched their gravy congeal, feeling their blood thicken and they all eyed each other, nervy and mute – wondering which of them was betrayed this night.
– he walked back into the kitchen, walked in hard – and he picked up his dinner; his three lamb chops with gravy, a side of lightly buttered mashed potatoes, a cupfull of fresh peas garnished with a good pinch of mint and still steaming – and he took it over to the small flip-top bin that served as a garbage disposal.
Wherein he dumped it, and the plate, and the knife and fork, and finally the ironed serviette that had still hung quartered and virginal white about his thick and rapidly reddening neck. It fluttered down into the bin and lay there like a shroud on the abandoned meal.
Then he picked up the bin and chucked it out of the window above the sink, a modest aperture that had been paint-fastened stuck for the past thirty-five years.
Mother and daughter fled the room in quiet panic, unnoticed.
The father, Steve, resumed his seat at the head of the table and unscrolled a single sheet of writing paper. He placed it where his meal used to be and commenced to read what he had written there, what had been dictated to him during the phone-call. The litany. The score to date.
Friday the this,
Friday the that,
Friday the other,
A Monday here and a Wednesday there,
A rare coupling of Friday and Monday, a long weekend.
‘ Eighteen days in one term you rotten little bludger, ‘ breathed Steve to son Kevin.
A couple of Tuesdays, five Thursdays.
‘ I’ve got to take a phone-call from the school Boss on a FRIDAY to learn that all the dough I’ve been paying to get you to Uni to do God knows bloody what has been pissed up against the wall of the South Bondi Boardriders Club, you filthy little rotten mongrel kid! …
Kevin regarded his pared chop and considered an appeal; an escape from familial totalitarianism can be justified in the readings of Kant in his ‘The Critique of Practical Reason’ The right to act predates the right to vote to act. Time is just a framework.
Steve sat and glared at his son, he clasped and unclasped his big hands, he breathed deeply and slowly. Kevin waited. Silent.
A long pause here as the radio locked into a fifteen minute Brubeck piece and father and son looked at each other as two bottles of chilled Dinner Ale materialised from the fridge to the table. The air softened.
‘ I know what you’re thinking you little smart-arse’, muttered Steve, fading fast now and suddenly hungry. ‘ The six week strike we had last year was to protect our hard won working rights against the vile and sinister depredations of the capitalistic empoyers who had been emboldened by the new Liberal Government’s mandate.’
Rain pattered onto the sink and a wet breeze infiltrated the kitchen. Father and son sat deflated and silent.
‘ Two things sport, ‘ said Steve after a little while, ‘ you’re full of bullshit until you get to be thirty, and are you gunna eat that bloody chop or let it grow legs? ‘