Reuben opened the front door and let himself in. He dropped his briefcase on the landing and climbed the two steps that led into a large room that comprised the entire upper floor of the house. A small kitchen in one corner. A semi-circle of lounges. The room was empty. The glass sliding doors that lead to the verandah closed.
Reuben turned and called down the stairwell. There was no reply. Fontana was not at home. Strange, he thought. Not usual.
After changing in the bedroom, he climbed back up the stairs, walked through the quiet room and over to the sliding glass doors. An afternoon sun streamed through the eucalyptus trees that shaded the verandah and the ocean glittered and boomed in the near distance. Reuben stood quietly, gazing at the soft afternoon panorama.
A surf would be a fine thing he thought. But where was the little woman?
There was a note by the radio. It read briefly:
My dear Reuben – there is something inside the range hood, it is bleeding, there is blood on the cooktop. Please fix it. I’m across the road at Holly’s.
Three splashes of dark blood did indeed colour the ceramic surrounds of the cooktop, and an examination of the filter directly above betrayed the possible source.
There, small jelled coagulates had formed into miniature stalactites on the stiff netting, and a faint odour of corruption hung sourly about the fixture.
Reuben removed himself to the Chinese liquor cabinet that held several bottles of his favoured dark rum and calmly measured himself a reasonable belt, then added a little ice and a splash of cola. A moment for reflection. Whatever it was must have entered through the flu.
The only way into the flu would be from the cap and the part of the flu that exited through the roof tiles rose four feet to said cap. The lower section that led down to the range hood added another four feet. A narrow well eight feet deep thought Reuben. A well situated on the roof of a two- story house, itself built on the side of a steep hill and with a putrefying corpse at its bottom.
And no possible chance of dinner at home tonight, or tomorrow, or ever again given what would surely be his wife’s horror at learning that something had expired in her chimney.
The solution, had thought Reuben before picking up the phone, lay in choosing the right man for the job. Hence the call to Mick Rundle, a professional pig shooter from Bourke down in Sydney to have his skin cancers scraped off. Mick picked up the call in the public bar of the Iron Duke, an off-duty triage nurse by his side. Both of them happy.
‘So, what you up to then?’
‘On me fourth schooner and waiting on a feed.’
‘Fancy coming up tonight?’
Reuben heard a woman giggle.
‘Not the way things are lookin’ at the moment.’
Alan Parker was Reuben’s immediate neighbor. He was an athletic thirty-five year old who drove away the mosquito swarms that infested his dilapidated weatherboard home in the evenings by playing on his piano, execrably, an interpretive medley of Burt Bacarach compositions.
Alan was a noted local bodysurfer who also grew a potent strain of marijuana amongst his tomatos and was at regular times rendered unintelligible, particularly when smoked up and fully focused on a particular task at hand. The previous year Alan had to be rescued by the local police who were obliged to commandeer a cherry-picker to pluck him from the denuded crown of a two hundred year old Norfolk Pine that shaded his house after his enthusiasm for pruning the lower branches over generated. Once on the ground and covered in sap he further confounded the constables by speaking in foreign tongues.
‘Happy to, happy to,’ Parker burbled when Alan approached him over the fence, asking for assistance, and in a moment he was racing through his tomato patch and the vines that festooned all the sides of his house to disappear into a thicket of rampant growth in his backyard.
Reuben waited, noting with no little interest the attractive, rust-coloured flowering buds topping out of a substantial number of Alan’s mature marijuana plants.
In another moment Alan was back, burdened with his ladder, and after negotiating the dividing fence he leant it up against Alan’s gutter and almost ran up the rungs. Barefoot and brown, his face lit with delight, like a seaman up the ratlines he climbed, humming a Bacarach number.
The ladder was long and elastic. Some of the rungs were constructed of woven hemp whilst others were made of old tomato stakes bound with gaffer tape. The vertical ladder components appeared to be made of semi-cured cane.
Reuben stood back and decided to leave Alan to it.
‘Neither Heaven’s light or a comet clean firin’, could light wherein that poor beasty’s lyin’.
Alan’s happy head hung over the guttering.
‘You’d be wanting a torch then do you, Al?’ Asked Reuben after a moment’s thought.
The torch was fetched and handed up and Alan scampered out of sight over the roof rise. Reuben lent tiredly against the ladder, which slowly warped inwards.
‘Curled in old death, eyes dulled and unclear. Hurl the pointed haft or it will lie there all year.’
Alan was back, still with the grin, one arm black from the accumulated grease off the flu sides, eyes a little glazed.
‘You reckon on using something like a spear now, Al, right?’
Later that evening.
Alan and Mick stood around the coals and passed a fat joint back and forth.
‘Alors, mon ami, c’est bien?’ Alan had decided on French.
‘Yeah mate, whatever you say,’ replied Mick as he picked up a rusted tong and turned the headless possum over on its back. Dinner looked like a burst football with its blackened and shrunken claws four-postering a wide and scoured belly. Both men oblivious to the stench of burning fur.
‘As soon as we singe the hairs off the bastard we can crank up the fire a little,’ said Mick as he took a crackling draw of the joint and poured half a bottle of sweet soy sauce into the possum’s cavity. Then he threw in a handful of garlic cloves, gave it all a tickle with the tong.
‘Should cook up a treat, my old son. Haven’t had a feed of possum since I was a kid.’
‘Muy bene hombre’, replied señor Alano. ‘Est magnifico¡ Com este ¿’
‘Yeah, sure. Pity though Reub couldn’t stay, he doesn’t mind a barbeque.’
Reuben and Fontana sat at a small table in the window of the Happy Sun Eat-in or Take away Chinese. She had ordered sweet and sour chicken, her favourite, and as they waited Reuben scribbled on a napkin.
Replace range hood .. $375
Replace filter unit .. $210
Clean and disinfect cook-top .. $150
Labour .. 3 hours at $75 per
‘Mick says it’s just like wild boar,’ he said disconsolately as he wrote, wishing himself elsewhere. ‘Just a few less intestinal worms. Quite gamey.’
Fontana maintained a righteous silence.
‘Better than the bloody cat we’re going to eat here, in any case.’
First published in Kurungabaa.