Day over, job done, two men sitting on a verandah drinking beer, talking. Old friends. Nothing hidden.
Old surfers. Brothers.
‘Last night,’ Tony says, ‘he walks in and over to the cupboard, pulls it open and goes straight to the stash – no fucken please, no fucken thank you – pulls out a bag and rolls something fat enough to choke a big dog.’
Tony takes a moment with his beer: cold it is with rivulets of condensation wetting his calloused palms. Five hours just done reefing out all manner of virulent growth from the hard clay around the septic tanks. Shit begets shit.
Tony wears his never-ending pain like a martyr suffering silently at the stake. Diabetes, Ross River virus, and now a sharp and intrusive ache about where his liver lives.
Ned is his younger brother.
‘Doesn’t earn enough to buy it, lives in a unit so he can’t grow it, comes by every other day and smokes what he doesn’t own.’
‘Used to be like that myself, ‘Tony’s mate says, ‘couldn’t work without some smoke in me. Fire one up at eleven, start writing, give it two hours and go again – head down and hammering out the words. Knock off about midnight, not even hungry.’
Tony’s mate has a daughter who owns a Border Collie named Pippa. Born happy was Pip. They live just up the rise and the dog wanders down ten times a day for a biscuit. I feel her nose in my hand before knowing she’s there. Such a trust in her eyes, like a grandchild’s.
‘Three years it took.’
‘To finish the thing.’
The trouble with stubbies these days is that the breweries decided to put ring-pulls on the bottles as caps but forgot to print how to use them instructions on the bottle. Tony struggles with his second.
‘But that’s ok because good smoke gives a man focus – down the line vision – all he needs is another one every two hours all day, plus coffee.’
Tony smokes half-a-pack of tobacco a day. The martyr’s lungs are choked. This as well. The poor suffering bastard.
‘But now that I’ve finished with it I’m smoking just as much and sitting in front of the box watching whatever is flickering.’
Six weeks without rain up here and the neighbour’s cattle are on dry feed. Of the six creeks between this ridge and the nearest town five are dry. Animals who never come near the roads are being knocked over by the dozen on their way to water – but never a crow. The sly black bastards. They feast on the road kill.
Tony finishes his second beer, gets up and smiles.
‘Ok for next week?’
We walk up to his car which is parked under the shade of an ancient crooked limbed Durobby.
This old friend. This lonesome survivor.
He drives away.