She didn’t come up to see him off this time. The scarecrow figure shuffled along the path to the road with a sling-over bag and shoes two sizes too big. The boy reached the car, and with obvious effort massaged his burden into the awaiting boot. The driver gave him a smile through the rear view mirror.
A total of 6 more words were then spoken (seatbelt? yip. good? yip. let’s go) before the two were on their way, due north – 323 km away from their destination. The boy had one quick look behind and then fixed his eyes firmly in front of him, on the road.
The man checked the rearview mirror as he pulled into 5th, watching the nameless little town drift away in the distance. It was almost 4pm, which meant at least 2 more hours of driving before they would get there. They had been making good time.
He looked down at the boy, who at that moment was peering out over the fields. Every now and then he would raise his head in some momentary thought, blinking once or twice before falling back into the automatic stare one tends to get when driving down a country road. The boy looked up at his father, smiled and yawned, then leant his head back down against the window and resumed his half interested gaze.
“So – how’s school? What have you guys been up to?”
“Still opening the batting?”
“Nope. 3rd drop.”
“Two months mate. Work with me here.”
The boy considered this for a moment. He looked at the man and could recognize that his request was fair. What followed was a flurry of calculations of the various worth’s of his 12 year old school-yard anecdotes. Finally, after some time:
“Well – one thing last week was pretty crazy; Ms Holsby had a meltdown during silent reading. She just started ranting at Jimmy – properly going mental – he only pretended to fart, but she went crazy, screaming about rules and respect and order and stuff. Michael reckoned there’s something going on with her at home, like her marriage, or whatever….”
“That right? Well, it happens, I suppose.”
The boy handled a Fruit Burst bag until he found his preferred flavour. His face scrunched a little as he plopped it in his mouth.
“An old lady fell over at church the other day.”
The man shifted in his seat and revved the engine for the upcoming passing lane.
“Yeah. She was ok though. Priest stopped and everything.”
The man shifted again.
“She still take you there? For you to choose that. Hope she remembers.”
“It’s ok. I don’t mind.”
You could see on the boy’s face that he had never really considered his attendance as something he could have control of, nor had he ever really considered any other option. The Fruit Burst was entering that unmanageable stage, and the words that came out next were punctuated by smacks and chews:
“It’s ok usually. Sometimes I bring my book and read and that, or, I just stare at the pictures on the wall. There are some pretty strange ones eh. There’s one massive one at the front by the altar with the whole world in it, and all these angels coming out of the clouds playing flutes, and darkness at the bottom, and Jesus is walking over the world, but he’s huge and he’s got blood coming out of his hands and then…”
“Yeah mate, I’ve seen it. Trust me…”
The man shuffled uncomfortably again, pulling an old receipt for McDonald’s takeaway out from underneath his seat before scrunching it and flicking it away. A memory of another time peered around the next generic left turn. He shifted down to third…
“Do you believe in it all though Dad? I mean, do you think there is God and angels and stuff?…”
A sharper degree of risk was now permeating through the condensation drips on the corners of each side window, and one occupant more than the other was aware of it. The man cleared his throat, while the boy sculpted the Fruit Burst with the roof of his mouth.
““Well… look. All I know is, there is more than one way to try explain things. That’s all I’ll say. You can’t really know either way, can you.”
“So, you don’t think anything? Or just not that?”
There was a pause. Not a long pause, but a significant one.
Suddenly – mercifully – both had their thoughts broken in unison as they observed in a neighbouring field a large cow releasing a steady brown torrent of shit onto the head of its unwitting newborn calf. An appropriate amount of time, chuckles and distance passed before the conversation swung back to position…
“Mate, you can think anything you like – only if that’s what you want.”
The boy looked disappointed.
“But that doesn’t work – not really, anyway. We all have to know in some way, otherwise, where did it all come from? Something had to start everything else, eh Dad? You can’t just say things without meaning them.”
The man turned his eyes from the road to his son and smiled. The boy mistook what was meant to be affection for condescension. His nose flared:
“Well, if that’s what you think, who made everything then? You don’t even know, do you?”
The boy glared and moved to sit on his ankles. In that moment the man couldn’t help but enjoy the incredulous exasperation stuck on his son’s face; there was an echo reverberating around the car now, another time…
“Mrs Jones did. Mrs Jones made it all out of baker’s bread. Only took her 40 minutes on fan bake too, not 7 days.”
A small silence. Both tried not to laugh, for different reasons.
“What?! That’s stupid Dad, that’s so stupid – that is the dumbest thing. Who made Mrs Jones then? She can’t just have popped out of nowhere. Who made her?”
“Mr Brown did”
“And who made him?”
Several decades of minutes passed, and while the topic bounced around from place to place it remained a reasonable constant. They were at times equally amused, angry, frustrated and entertained by it. A time-out was called at a bridge 200 metres north of a BP service station, as sausage rolls became more worthy of discussion. They sat in relative silence, looking out over the roll of green in front of them.
“Mmpph. Haf anymor Coke?”
The bottle was passed over and the boy swallowed with a grimace, wiped his mouth and rolled his window down. He dangled his hand out in the direction of the little creek that was plodding underneath the bridge. His head leaned against the door, a faint smile passing over his face.
“It doesn’t really matter anyway – you know, about what we were talking about? It just makes me feel good, you know.”
There was a lingering stress on the ‘me’. The man looked at him and nodded.
“That’s probably all that matters anyway.”
They both looked on and chewed their savouries. A rabbit, startled by the sound of a backfire down the road, ran out from amongst the safety of some flax right in front of them and, scampering to avoid detection but cramped for space, ran straight over a small rise and – after making a comical show of running on air for a few seconds – bounced twice with a splash into the creek below. It was all fairly inelegant, but on some level both onlookers enjoyed the sudden spectacle, even if for slightly different reasons.
– HK, 24 / 6 / 2014