It is the holidays again and, home from my studies, I am sitting on my parents’ front veranda in my hometown. The sea breeze is in but gently and the purple bougainvillea is waving in the spring sunshine. Bandy arrives and walks towards me up the front path. We are both 19; we have grown to strangers already but we are bound by a childhood that seemed to last forever and is now receding like the tide.
Bandy tells me he is a father. There were complications and they flew his girlfriend by Flying Doctor to the city. She is only 17. Anyway, he and the boys are celebrating this afternoon at Bandy’s house. Why don’t I come over and have a beer and play some cards? I am genuinely impressed. Bandy is the first of my friends to become a parent. Of course I’ll come over.
When I arrive the boys are already well entrenched around a makeshift table in the smoky lounge room. There are cards, beer bottles and ashtrays. Young women, most of them partners of the men, are having their own party in the kitchen. They gaze at me with suspicion. They know I am not one of them any more.
By late afternoon there is a lull in the card playing and Bandy has become drunk and sentimental. He singles me out across the table for a talk about old times. Everyone knows I am here under his patronage. Without him I would be dead. One of the men, Mazza, has been growing increasingly antagonistic. When I win a hand he throws coin across the table; laughs as I pick it up from the floor.
“It makes you real proud when you have a baby,” Bandy says. “I would never have thought that I could feel this proud of Megan, you know?”
I start to say something but he interrupts as if struck by a solemn realisation.
He says, “I’ll tell you one thing.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I’ll never hit her again.” No one laughs and I realise it is not a joke. Suddenly looking up, and as if overcome by his own magnanimity, he adds quickly, “But then again, I am drunk.”
I go to the kitchen for a beer. The table of girls has also lost its humour. One of them, the one with a bandage around her head, is sobbing. Two others are hugging her and talking intently into her face. They don’t look up as I enter. Then I hear one of them say, “But think about it, Janet. If Mazza didn’t love you he wouldn’t have hit you over the head with the radio.”
I make excuses to leave and they are lame ones but no one cares. Outside it is now twilight. I walk away. The sea breeze is still blowing but I notice it has become colder.