Big Joe, The Sidelines, & A Million Dollars by Katrina Abraham
"Hey, little buddy?"
Joe liked the way he said that, if he had a big brother he would say it just like that, roughing his hair up and squashing his hat down over his nose. He squinted and drilled his boots into the dirt, the sun razor sharp and shimmering already. Bluey shot between his feet and into the saltbush. He’d be back later for some watermelon when it got too hot, his little tongue flick, flick, flicking. Fin’s ute took off across the paddock with all his gear sliding and scraping around in the tray. It was his last day and Joe would spend the rest of the holidays by himself, kicking about in the yard, scratching Bluey’s milky belly with a stick, checking him for ticks.
Fin had been painting the silos for two weeks now, up and down the stretch of road between home and town. He said the murals went for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres, nearly all the way to the city. He had mates to help him, they lived in a caravan and pulled it around behind them when they moved to new places. Later on, when Fin was done, he’d drive Joe down to the van and they’d eat their lunch together. Mum’s rissoles still warm from the pan, squashed between doughy slabs with the butter melting right through and making the bread yellow.
He’d been helping with the bits he could reach, filling in the stubby grass and the tree roots with his own brush and pots of browns and greens he shared with Fin.
"These are the important bits," Fin said, "the foundations. Good work little mate."
But he’d wanted to be on the platform as the boom waved and arced across the surface of the silo, reaching right up to where the metal capped the concrete. He imagined being as high
as they could go, painting the sky and the clouds. Fin had promised "next time buddy, you can work the controls and send us right to the top." Joe had studied Fin’s stubby fingers as they punched and pulled at the levers, so he would know what to do when it was his turn. Dad said not until he was old enough to go on the big rides at the show.
"So, a bit to go then", Joe thought.
"Alright lovey? Give your mum a hand, will you."
Joe reached into the basket and pulled out the damp balls of laundry while she pegged
them up. Dad’s massive King Gees pulled the wire down into a big sag, a giant’s pants next to Joe’s little denims. Mum’s NYC sweatshirt with the letters all peeled and faded, a towel with a picture of a lorikeet and the shirt Fin had worn the last time he’d stayed for dinner, blue paint still spattered up its sleeves. They'd all eaten at the table that night and Fin had talked about the murals, how he worked out all the pictures and how he could never get the colours off his hands. They melted into his skin and ran through his blood like a muddy river. Joe's mouth had dropped open when dad said stuff like "a waste of bloody time" and "glorified graffiti" but there was laughing in his voice as their beers snapped and hissed over the kitchen table.
"Cheers mate, appreciate the hospitality."
Joe had kept very quiet, making himself small so they’d forget about him and he could stay up late, listening to Fin talk about all the places he'd been and where he was going next. Dad just laughed and said “never bloody heard of it”.
Joe picked at the specks on Fin’s shirt. "Blue, like my good jeans," he thought. "Mum?"
"Hmmm?" Red and white pegs waggled at the corners of her mouth. "Come and see."
She took Joe’s hand and let him lead her across the paddock. Together they picked out the neighbours’ houses, the junked husks of years-ago cars, the smudgy sheep with dusty faces and then the bits he’d done.
"That’s my favourite spot right there, where the grass grows up against the side of that tree. You even got Bluey in. Good job sweetheart."
Joe leaned in against his mother’s legs, his head tilting into the soft crook of her hip. She fingered the damp curls at the nape of his neck, wispy and bleached summer white. He stayed to watch for a while as the boom creaked and folded in on itself, bringing Fin down to the ground. Then he scuffed back to the yard. It was coming up lunchtime.
Fin caught him by the back of his shorts and up, up he went into the tray of the ute with the brushes and the rollers and the paint pots, all the colours dribbling down in spongy crusts. They were going to eat their sandwiches at the van and he knew that Fin would say goodbye then. The sun prickled his eyes and made them hot. He rubbed at them and pulled his hat down, knees hugged in close as they slid and lurched with the dust puffing behind them in fat orange clouds.
“Hey, Big Joe. Would you look at that!”
The ute slowed as they took the corner and Joe watched them rising up ahead, two great silos stretching out and up and filling the landscape with their stories. Fin waved and whooped out of the window, his hair snapping about in dusty yellow strings.
“What do you think of that, eh? What do you think?”
And it was him, Joe, standing on the side of the road like a giant. As big as a house, as big as a skyscraper in a movie! And there was Bluey, eating watermelon out of a dish and the sky was so blue you couldn’t tell the difference between the painted sky and the real sky. He was wearing his good jeans, his hat was squashed down to his nose and he looked cool. He was AWESOME!
There’s no reprieve today.
Not cold enough, or wet
I’ve pulled the scratchy blanket round my chin and tucked it in
For ninety minutes.
My counterpart is here
All scarfed and hatted up.
And half way through,
gloved fingers sign the score so I can say well done,
well played, they’re on the run.
Her look says yoga, café, latte.
Mine says bath and book and brandy.
Chairs wrestle into stubborn sleeves,
laced up and shoulder slung.
We’re done til next weekend.
We share a nod and prayer for rain.
A Million Dollars
I saw it on the news, a woman in my town
in a house just down the street.
If it was me, I’d be quiet as a mouse about it.
A million dollars
Three quarters of a house in the city. Or a flat
with bedroom, scullery and shower
all crowded round the little lounge
and our two-seater, four moves old.
A million dollars
Something with a garage in the west, a yard, an hour on the train
to work. Four days instead of five.
Or two hundred and twenty thousand lattes,
at two a day that’s
one hundred and eleven thousand days of coffee.
Three hundred years (give or take) if I start today.
Or a country town. Far, far north of here
with acres and acres
of potatoes and mangoes and lettuce in the winter.
And a tree to sit under.
And still some left over
From a million dollars.