Story postcard – wet as mangoes (3)

“It’s not good man. Droughts, fires, floods … getting worse.”

“Maybe we … nick what’s underground … ship it out …”

“Ha ha … run for it …”

“That’s the fat cats … “

The door begins to slam, its thrashing getting faster, bashing the chat away.

Jacobus stands up, voice loud. “Hey guys I know. I’m going to set up a church and become a prophet.” Laughter ricochets around the room.

“Hey, where you going to get the shiny suit?” Hansie yells back, his torch spotlighting his father.

“Agh …” Jacobus turns, waving a hand dismissively over one shoulder. “Can you get yourself over here … help … with …”

Rudd joins the rush, his hands adding to those shoving the stove hard against the door, while Jacobus pushes it from above, both palms flat against the dark wood. At last the pounding stops, leaving only a tight whistle. Everyone goes back to their seats, and Tonderai throws another log on to the fire. Outside rain taps on the windows, dotting across the roof.

“Anyone know any songs?” Marybelle asks brightly.

Laughter stutters awkwardly. Rudd sees heads shaking. Not many choristers in this lot he thinks, but even as he does, someone begins to sing. He knows immediately that it is Bernard, trying again with the song Rudd hoped wouldn’t come back. The words reach him in surges, like an old radio with poor reception, carried now by two voices, the other frail and familiar. Fred.

“Sweet banana … A … B … C … D…”

Rudd’s body stiffens as the song grows. It nails him back to his childhood.

 “A … B … C… D…”

He sees his father, in his chair in front of the TV. Starts with the news. Beers on the table next to him. Rudd watching through the gap in the door as he sits and drinks. Drinks and sings. It’s this song. Some old Army song from somewhere. This one, always this one, and the drinking would be worse. Cowboys on the screen. Loved his cowboys. Mother in her chair. Rudd off to his bed. Then comes the shouting. The crashing. Some nights he couldn’t even listen.

Now he can’t block the song. Can’t turn it off. It swirls around him, smelling of beer. His heart pumps.

“Sweet banana …”

He forces his eyes up off the floor. Forces himself to look at Fred, at his hand with its half-eaten biscuit beating time. Forces himself to look at Bernard, proud of his song. Neither man his father. He looks away, breath stabbing in his chest, short and sharp. He battles to calm it, to bring himself back from the violence. He breathes deeply, slowly, and raises his eyes again.

“A … B … C… D…”

He looks around the room. His eyes rest on Simi, and then Marybelle.

Marybelle knows this song, but all she wants is to be happy. Singing anything works for her.

He looks back at Jacobus, but cannot see his expression in the dark. Nor can he hear him singing. He knows Tonderai is silent too.

“A … B … C… D…”

Slowly, as the rain sweeps back, the song sinks away into the night, the old voices weary. Gradually Rudd steadies.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023

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