An excerpt from Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung
Dawn was one of Kevin’s favourite times of the day, second only to knock-off time. It was cool and quiet, and things hadn’t had time enough to go wrong yet.
From the far end of the house, where the bedrooms overlooked the servo and the main road, came the radio news theme. The strident jingle shattered the stillness like a chainsaw on full throttle. Six o’clock. Shit. The oldies were awake, and Kevin was running late. He scooped tea leaves into the pot and plonked two mugs beside it, then pressed the switch to re-boil the kettle.
Voices, the flush of the toilet, then his father appeared at the end of the hall. The fluoro flickered before flooding the kitchen in harsh light.
‘Standing in the dark, son?’
‘Mornin’,’ Kevin said, then slurped his coffee.
His father, dressed for work in shirt and overalls, walked over to the bench. ‘Forecast says rain.’ He peered out at the breaking day, as though expecting it to pour at any moment, but the only clouds were a pink-tinged band to the west.
‘And we might win the Ashes, too.’
‘Miracles do happen, eh.’ His father lifted the kettle to gauge its weight of water, then hit the switch, making it burble.
‘It just boiled,’ Kevin said with a grin and a shake of his head. Every morning, the same ritual.
His father glanced at the calendar hanging from a nail by the fridge. January, it said, underneath the blonde girl in perfectly ironed denim and fresh-from-the-box Akubra, the horse at her side looking slightly bemused. Thursday, with a red K penned in one corner of today’s square.
‘Your turn to open, isn’t it?’
‘Just heading down now.’ Kevin waved his half-drunk coffee in defence.
His mother came in, her blouse and jeans a worn, imperfect version of the rodeo queen’s spotless country style. ‘You had brekkie, son?’
‘I’ll wait for smoko.’ He wasn’t hungry, just nervous now they were both here.
‘Late night, eh?’ his father said.
‘Thomas . . .’ his mother said. She reached for the breakfast plates, her fingers long and calloused and tanned against the china. Kevin’s parents had the same eyes: crow’s feet in the corners, a permanent squint forged by years of living in sunshine, blinking against the memory of flies, alight with the humour that helped them persevere.
His father replied with a cheeky grin. ‘Just an observation.’
‘I was at Meg’s,’ Kevin said. ‘Watching some movie. Went longer than I expected.’ He blushed. They had had the TV on – the TV in her room. Some old werewolf flick, lots of howling, a couple having sex by a campfire. Their attention had been on other things. ‘I’ve actually been thinking, you know, maybe next time we go to Charleville, I’d . . . well, go check out the jeweller’s.’
They looked at him, expressions hovering somewhere between a resigned knowing and concern. It reminded him of when he’d bought the Commodore and his father had been all, ‘Yeah, it’s a great car but what about the mileage’, and his mother had said she liked the colour – white – and then got all worried because it had had only the one airbag.
‘What do you, um, think about that?’ he asked as the silence stretched out.
‘Meg’s a good girl.’ His father reinforced the statement with a squeeze on Kevin’s shoulder.
‘She is; we both like her a lot,’ his mother said. ‘And you can bring her around here to watch television any time you like.’
Damn, his face was as hot as a barbecue plate.