(C) Julie Boyd 2010
I wonder if a pelican’s saliva is poisonous? The question danced across my brain as I looked down at the large, healthy-looking fish- a mullet, or a bream I’m no expert – but definitely not a baby snapper – that had just been dropped at my feet. My dog took matters into his own paws and, taking a flying leap into the waves breaking on the shore, landed right on top of another one, much to his surprise, while my fish’s almost audible sigh of resignation signalled that it knew it wasn’t going to make it back out into the golden evening surf.
Oi, Jonesy, do you reckon a pelican’s spit is poison? The young man jogging towards us stopped.
‘Why? Geez, that’s a little beauty. Did you catch it? What did you say about a pelican’s spit?
Well a pelican dropped it – might have been Warren, he flew past before. He’s such a guts that he was probably overloaded and thought he’d give us some dinner. What do you reckon? Would you eat it?
Not unless I was desperate – and I’m not. Got meself a new job. The kids are stoked. Bloody hot at Mur’bah but. Gonna be worse tomorra by the look of that sunset.
As he jogged off I decided to leave the fish for the seagulls who were squabbling around us like teenagers at a mall. Wandering towards home I spotted one of Jonesy’s boys playing on the beach. He was building a sandcastle but left that to come and pat Jorge-dog for a bit.
Dad’s in a good mood, Sammy.
Yep, got a new job so we‘re havin’ fish n ships for tea tonight.
Oh, a celebration, that’s great.
Yep. Fish n ships are only sometimes food, but I like ‘em. Dad wants a new car.
Sam’s dad had done it tough over the past five years since I first met him. Then, he was a young bloke who’d been left with three little boys to care for. Sam was only one, his brother Joey was four and the eldest boy Jakey was six. I never asked what happened as their mum used to come and visit and there were always blues. You could hear the yelling and swearing from my place. Often as I’d walk past I’d see Jonesy sitting on his front step, head in his hands. I’d just say g’day and keep going. Until one day I could hear them all at the bus stop. He was trying to get Jake ready to catch the bus to school and from the gist of the language that was somewhat discernable between swearwords, Jake wasn’t too keen. The other kids were crying and Jonesy was kicking anything and everything except the kids. I grabbed Jorge-dog, raced around the side of my place then sauntered casually across the road as if on our way to the beach.
G’day, guys. You off to school, Jake. Do you want me and Jorge to take the others home while you get him organised, mate. No hassles. We can stay till you get back. A flash of relief on Jonesy’s face was at odds with a nah thanks, too much trouble for you.
No worries, mate. We’re only going to the beach. You’ve got your hands full. It’s ok for neighbours to lend a hand occasionally, you know. We’re good. C’mon kids, who wants to take Jorge’s leash and we’ll see Dad back home.
Grabbing one kid in each hand we started off. I wasn’t planning to go into the house but the kids kind of dragged us in. It was chaos. Not wanting to offend him by trying to clean up, we cleared a space on the floor and played with some Lego until their dad came back.
From then on, there was the occasional meal or scones or biscuits for the kids that I’d just drop in. After I tipped her off, the woman who owned the only restaurant in town (actually a cafe behind the local servo) occasionally dropped some leftovers over to them with a Take ‘em, mate- we’d only have to chuck it all out. Jonesy’s reluctance to accept help and his determination to do the right thing by his kids was in sharp contrast to another single dad who lived just up the road and spent every day lying around drinking and smoking with his mates, then sent his six-year-old daughter, in filthy clothes, over to the restaurant to literally beg for food every night. Jonesy would never ask for anything, and was very reluctant to accept what he saw as charity. It all made for a delicate dance.
So here we were five years down the track. The kids were all at school. Doing good too, their dad would say proudly as he sat with his mates on the side of the dead-end street where they live, having a drink and cheering the boys on as they played a game of street cricket; occasionally yelling at the idiots who would drive far too fast down the street. But the kids had long experience of ducking out of the way, grabbing the bin they used as a wicket, then setting up again in one smooth motion after the car went past.
This morning there was more yelling at the bus stop. I looked over to see that Sam was putting on a bit of a performance, clearly not keen on getting on the bus. Instead of Dad though, it was Jakey who was there in charge of his brothers. As we walked across I called out everything OK, Jakey? They all stopped yelling at each other as he turned to me and said I’ve told Dad to call me Jake now I’m at High School.
OK, mate, sounds good. Have a good day, kids. We’ll check you on the beach tonight.
As we continued down the street towards the beach I noticed Jonesy’s old car parked on the nature strip outside their house sporting a sign saying ‘Will swap for a camel, or some timber for our new house’. I thought I’d seen him in a new four-wheel-drive last night. I guess the kids were in for another surprise tonight.