How can he own the damage when he cannot see the fault?

Sydney summer blowfly buzzing lazily among the vertical blinds.

Tangled blinds.

Tangled thoughts.

Australia Day 1975, and he is sitting and dreaming of what he has become and what he wished for when once a boy.

It is hot as Mike Walsh jokes with Burt Reynolds on the TV trying to convince another American movie star how damn good Sydney really is.

The Midday Show is a cooling sauce to the baking oven he sits in.

‘I’ve been meaning to get down there for years.’ Burt mumbles in his best Smokey and the Bandit drawl. ‘Peter Allen keeps telling me how the kangaroos hop down the suburban streets.’

He blinks and tries to laugh at Burt and Mike but it is too hot.

His Sydney summer is a Western suburb with melting streets, sweating factories and red, rattling trains.

The beach and the Sydney Opera House is a postcard away and he cannot afford the stamp.

Queen Elizabeth’s smile mocks him.

Still a convict.

He would rather be a 1000 miles away but lost he is not.

Stuck, and a train goes past the sheet iron, back porch swirling the dust as it settles on the sleeping dog in the yellow yard.

A tennis ball wrapped with red electrical tape.

A boy’s Slazenger cricket bat leans on the red, brick dunny at the back.

Flies inspect the yellow grip and then fly back into the sanctuary of the shadows.

A younger fly loses its way and gets through a fraying hole in the porch, fly screen door.

Down a shrouded corridor, the hall carpet worn in the middle, like a path between sandstone rocks.

The little, black fly finds its way to the lounge room and a waiting sandwich.

Kraft cheddar cheese, Meadow Lea margarine and white Tip Top bread congealing together.

Next to the man’s tapping fingers, wedding ring, blisters and rough chewed nails catching cracks.

He just sits.

‘Don’t they know how hard I work?’

Dust on the silver picture frame of her and him.

Her.

Beautiful.

Brunette hair parted in the middle, then brushed back.

Daisy chains.

Kind smile.

Gentle heart.

Her grandmother’s wedding dress.

A teenage memory before her swollen belly emerged.

First child and still hanging on to gossamer strands of hope.

Their gorgeous baby boy shone, but the beer and the fighting stole her smile and broke her heart.

Another photo.

Two kids smiling shyly under a billowing dress during better times by the water at Sussex Inlet.

She, staring bravely and he, somewhere else.

Bingo and sermons at the Catholic Church.

‘Two fat ladies – 88.’

Priests fiddling with altar boys and altar wine.

Games of Monopoly and Scrabble.

A pack of cards.

Chipped Waterford crystal tumblers.

Cheap scotch.

Cheated lives.

Short smiles in the mayhem but trapped.

Seeing his father’s shadow in his angry, raging heart.

The old man had left his humanity on Yognju Hill, listening to his mate from Toowoomba screaming for his mother, as his blood warmed the apple trees lining the frozen Korean soil.

Passed on in the DNA.

Taking their hurt out on their women.

Brave men, scared, nasty boys.

Grandfather to father to son.

And this man’s last slap jolted her enough to finally waken her fierce feminine spirit as it shook him to his unholy core.

Then a closed fist into her right breast, where their daughter had suckled.

‘You fat, sad, gutless man.’ she said. ‘I loved you. I stood by you. Even when your sister said to run.’

Too many tears cried and how can a man love his family when he hates himself?

The well long dry and his last shred of pride gone.

Her gentle spirit battered by an open, calloused hand.

Memories, and his head drops to the Daily Mirror folded on the cheap couch.

Page three and a picture of a blonde in a white bikini holding a flag and a can of beer.

Australia Day.

Smoke and mirrors.

Vietnam.

Five hundred and twenty diggers dead and thousands more scarred for life.

Bringing the damage home.

Their weekly wage spent on greyhounds and horses, trying to win back a promise hidden by American lies.

Violence and horror burned into their young, weeping hearts.

He did what he had to do.

Following the Yanks to fight the dreaded, Commie curse.

Yet, for all the cheers and Saigon beers and Tet offensive screams, he is now alone.

For good this time.

She left with the kids back to her Catholic Mum and Dad, and they cannot understand.

‘Till death do us part. He will stop my love.’ Mum sighed without any conviction. The New Testament unopened on the sideboard behind.

A picture of Jesus and his shining sacred heart.

“But he will kill me Mum.”

The Catholic wedding vows mean nothing and she dare not tell the kids’ school.

Catholic prejudice oozes from the polished, wooden floors of the Nun’s office.

Christ’s message of love shrouded in black robes and a bonnet.

‘Who is that frozen, barren woman to judge?’

Vows of chastity to a God born in a Jewish desert far from the white, Australian sun.

More lies and baking hot sun.

Hot Sydney summer.

Nowhere to hide, but back inside.

And he can see one of his wife’s hairs on a cushion at the end of the couch as he tries to wish her back.

His throat tightens and a tear forms in his left eye that he dare not show to her.

‘A poof to cry.’ And he goes to the fridge for his first can of the day.

Drown the sentiment!

How does he ask for forgiveness when all his shallow promises became a single curse?

And the can of beer triggers the urge and he goes back to the pub and the long bar and tap beer, and his swollen, silly mates.

Schooner after schooner of Reschs Draught.

Where he forgets, and the blonde, brassy barmaid looks at him with forlorn longing, hoping that he may be different.

And she has seen his wife and the gold ring, but just maybe, he could be different to the man that slapped her last weekend.

Bruises fading under Best and Less briefs as she pours beer after beer to the noisy, lonely souls holding up the bar.

Easybeats screaming from the jukebox behind the pool table, where they are too pissed to hold a cue and play.

And finally.

Finally.

The manager calls time and he stumbles the dark, quiet mile home.

Then a fitful sleep in an empty double bed, the once crisp, white sheets, yellow and crumpled in a ball at his blackened feet.

Awake and up to cornflakes in a white bowl washed with sour milk.

Another morning shift at the Ford factory.

Lead hand, fitting bumper bars to Falcons he cannot afford.

Same job for fifteen years, with a tour to Saigon in between.

No chance of a promotion and he blames the foreman when he is pissed.

How can he own the damage when he cannot see the fault?

So a short train ride back to Lidcombe and home.

Repeat and repeat.

His heart rusting like the lock on his front gate.

Pushing and creaking.

Collapsing into his chair in his crumbling, mortgaged shack.

Watching the Midday Show.

His thinking jagged.

Urgent.

Fractured.

Swimming in fantasy trying to connect his brain to his heart but the thoughts don’t match the sentiment.

They jumble and collect in his chest like a jigsaw puzzle turned upside down on the tie dyed, shag carpet at his feet.

Round.

Bright green.

Her favourite colour.

Distracting.

The one bit of brightness in a room of soft noise and loss.

Bright, green flouro shag with bits of half eaten chicken Twisties and a melting chunk of Violet Crumble.

Ants peppering a wedge of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Fried food and lollies – a father’s attempt at sorry.

All mixed in with the smells of beer, sweat and Sydney, summer TV.

The echo of Don Lane, Bert Newton and the Tony Bartuccio dancers.

He has been reduced to TV dinners on a wood veneer stand, as he looks at a single school shoe near the door.

She left too quick to see.

And the anger rises with the blame.

There are no refuges in 1975 for men with hearts wrapped in barbed wire.

So back he goes to the pub and his mates.

To forget on Australia Day, 1975.

A few miles away a boy sits on the floor in his Grandad’s garage.

The cement is cool on his legs.

He is drawing hearts on the cement slab with red, blue and green chalk.

One for his Mum.

One for his sister.

And one for his Dad.

Need to read more?

One Day, One Life: P. 136-7. One Day One Life

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