Outside, he could feel the beer in the sunshine. Commercials made the comparison in the other direction, emphasizing which beer’s golden colour. For him, the light was full-strength.
“Jacob, isn’t,” Mr. Drewitt’s brother said. His handshake said all the things Mr. Drewitt’s did, only more convincingly. “Take those,” he said indicating to a case of beers with his chin.
Dave put the eski down and let himself in. Jacob jogged as best he could to catch up. The new arrival’s voice swelled quickly and reached the living room before they did.
Jacob arrived to see Dave release Mrs. Drewitt from an embrace. The handshake between the two brothers was longer than Jacob’s and Mr. Drewitt’s. Dave had to prove his superiority of age. Mr Drewitt his wealth. Jacob couldn’t tell who let go first.
“You just missed David Hussey taking a wicket. No, wait, here’s the replay.”
“That’s Michael. Michael Hussey, you dickhead.”
“Yeah, Michael. Who do you think I said?”
“Regular Richie Benaud, this one,” Dave said opening his eski.
“Karla, let Uncle Dave have the seat,” Mrs. Drewitt said.
The youngest Drewitt was not even going to attempt to convince them she was listening and slid from her place. Dave thanked her, called her sweetheart and dropped in to the chair like it had always been his.
“She just went upstairs.”
“Go get her. Tell her her uncle Davie’s here.”
Karla just made a face and slowly walked off.
“Where’s Bernie?” Mrs. Drewitt asked.
“Her mum’s. Gotta go there later and pick her up.”
“It’s okay. Things won’t be starting for a while,” Mrs Drewitt then stopped. “You’re welcome to stay of course Jacob. We just invited you early ‘cause, you know, young people are so busy.”
“Give him some ham, Simone. You eat ham, dontcha? It’s good ham. Same stuff we use up at the mines. Get him some ham, “ Mr. Drewitt said.
“I’ll take some too, Simone,” Dave said.
Mrs. Drewitt came back with two plates heaped with ham, chicken stuffing and coleslaw, which caused Mr. Drewitt to remark on her generosity. His wife said that they had plenty. Jacob knew he was outstaying his welcome, but he needed food to take the edge off the beer.
Dave ate everything with his hands, sucking flesh from the bones, peeling filmy chicken skin and quivering ham fat before slurping it down. His hands and lips were glazed like his food. His mouth stuffed pink and white he told his brother the ham was not bad.
“Simone, hon, I’ll have some too,” Mr. Drewitt said, turning from his chair.
“I thought you said you’d wait.”
Mrs. Drewitt fetched another heaped plate and handed it to her husband. Dave smirked at Jacob. It was a smirk which strained to say a lot while leaving room for plausible denial, a smirk which could only be made by greasy lips. Jacob didn’t know the right response for this moment, no look which neither accepted nor rejected that quiet leery claim. Even if it were true, it was there business. Jacob grabbed his can. It was empty. Unfortunately, the other two had noticed.
“Here have one of these. It’s a drink for heroes,” Dave said and snorted.
“Dad, Gilly’s smoking,” Karla said appearing behind her parents.
“Simone, can you deal with it?”
“I’ve told her before. She needs to hear it from you.”
“For fuck sake. I’m trying to eat.”
Mr. Drewitt dropped a chicken wing on to his plate and glared at his brother, who only shrugged and smirked again at Jacob. It was a smirk of camaraderie. “We’re not in this shit,” it said.
Mrs. Drewitt tried to hold a smile then said she had better check on the food. Everyone knew it was provided by the Drewitts’ company, but no one was going to deny her a moment of composure. Karla fell into his place and started to pick at the coleslaw with her hands.
“Hey Karlamello. That’s not cool ratting on your sis.”
“Yeah it is. She’s a bitch.”
“Uhh, she’s, you know, just being a girl.”
“I’m a girl.”
“A teenage girl.”
Karla tweezered some more chunks of coleslaw and sucked them from her fingers. She studied Jacob while she did this. It was not the expert gulp of her father. She was breaking him apart. Even then, she couldn’t get the parts small enough, so she had to keep looking at him.
“Hey Karlamello, why don’t you get Gilly to come down?”
Karla laughed with her fingers still in her mouth. It looked as if she was choking on them.
Dave asked what was funny, but Karla wouldn’t answer. When he could see he couldn’t get a response, his nostrils flared and his eyes sank and darkened.
“That was an LBW,” he said pointing to the screen.
“What? What?” Mr. Drewitt said returning to the living room.
“LBW,” he repeated when they showed the replay.
“Yep, yep, I think you’re right. Umpires.”
“What would you know? You couldn’t tell a wicket from a leg.”
“Ha, ha. Well, I remember, look, just. Hey Karla, get out of my spot.”
Karla slid again from the seat. The girl had to have a slinky for a spine. She looked again at Dave and laughed behind her hand. Dave was too busy arguing with the TV. After a few moments, he said to his brother, “So what happened?”
Looking back to see that his wife was still in the kitchen, Mr. Drewitt made the pinched finger gesture for marijuana and waved his hand away. Dave nodded nonchalantly. Remembering Jacob he apologised for his daughter.
“It’s especially bad when you’re here,”he said and started again on his food.
Jacob looked askance at no one. Now, they would know he was feeling uncomfortable. What could he say? He couldn’t agree that it was just weed, that he like them had tried. He couldn’t share in that lack of concern that only came with the authority of parenthood. Mr. Drewitt could be indifferent about his daughter’s harmless recreational drug use, but Jacob had to feign indignation, or at least approximate concern. Thoughtful words were needed. After all he was the one who had saved her. If he could pull her from a river, he could pluck her away from a joint – assuming a joint was what she used. Jacob used to use a bucket bong. Did teenagers till use them? Jacob reached for his can but it was empty.
“So what are you doing now, hero?” Dave said.
The Drewitts must’ve said something about the radio. They seemed so pleased ten years ago. It seemed like a detail a person would remember. He wasn’t a celebrity, granted, but he did something less ordinary. Most other people seemed to remember. Dave’s face, however, was blank.
“I’m still in radio.”
“Radio, huh? You should ask Mal for some work. Good money in the mines.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Then again maybe he wouldn’t handle it.”
Jacob was sure he wouldn’t. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than working up there – the heat, the sand, the constant grind of the machinery, the imprisonment of distance. It was the strange paradox of all that space. It looked so open, but where would you go.
“Actually, I might have something lined up with another radio station.”
He was sure he hadn’t said this to Dave before.
“Okay. Which one?”
It couldn’t be one of the commercial ones. Even Triple J seemed something this guy would listen to, or know of, which would mean he’d remember.
“There’s a Radio National?” Dave said to his brother, who shrugged and continued to shred the remaining chicken into fibres, which he placed into his meat padded mouth.
Dave only muttered the station’s name again and opened the eski. He handed a stubbie to Jacob.
“Drink up. We should celebrate. A hero and a star.”
The laugh that followed was an old version of the one Karla emitted earlier, a laugh that had grown muscular and surly with age, a laugh which needed feeding and which the owner was obliging by dropping bits of meat into it from time to time to say ‘hero’. That word nourished the laugh more than the food.
The only way to pacify it was a bit of self-deprecation, Jacob said no one listened to the station. Dave responded with a snort.
“You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen and done out on the boats. Fuck me, you have to be on the ball. All the time. Not just once in your life. All the time, mate. Isn’t that right, Mal?”
Mr. Drewitt nodded still following the game. He seemed poised ready to say something, studying every moment for something to call their attention to. Dave waved him away.
“I’ve got stories I can tell you.”