The Day Before by Viki Blaik


24th April 1957

Doggie

The old man hoists a sugar bag onto his shoulder and exits the store. He is pencil thin, his hessian trousers are held up with a rope belt and leather braces, his cuffs drag on the ground. Doggie faces towards the town clock, it’s late. He doesn’t like being out past mid-afternoon; preferring the cocoon of his corrugated shack, he’ll turn on the wireless and close the door to the night noises.  He keeps a straight posture till he mounts the Maicoletta. Doggie’s bag of provisions are held between his legs, he idles the motor and counts off the supplies: Log Cabin tobacco, rollie papers, cans of bully beef and beans, packets of Saos, Billy tea and two bottles of Bundy. There’s enough to keep him warm for the next week, enough to silence the guns and dull the smell of mud and decay.

Doggie rides along Main Street; the sandstone Cenotaph has yellowed, he remembered when it was new in 1928, he remembered women cleaning around the steps, wearing loss in their eyes and grief on their faces. One of the local squatters erected the monument in memory of fallen sons. Doggie’s sister Kathleen said, ‘Nothing from the government of course’.

Best We Forget.

24th April 1996

Lins

The love story came to an end and like all endings it has left a space. It’s been a month since she died, he doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere without her. The RSL sent flowers; he knew it was prompted by Allen his cousin, the local branch president. It was a nice gesture. The wilted stems remain in her cut crystal vase.

Family are pushing and pulling him in all directions. A daughter in Sydney wants him to live with her and that is not on the cards. Another daughter wants him nearer and a son wants to take him fishing, why all of a sudden the interest?

Allen might be right suggesting he join other returned servicemen, share a few beers, toss some coin on two-up and stagger home full, to a place that’s lost its homeliness.  He’s not interested in listening to war stories. He wasn’t ever interested; his job required repair and the salvage of aircraft and occasionally remains of crew, no heroics, no derring-do. His war was one of yearning for home and longing for his bride.

The day belongs to the true diggers, men who faced the bullets, enjoying each other’s company and skirting around the truth.

He’d think about tomorrow, set the alarm and see how he goes. If he went it would be for Allen’s sake.

Lest We Regret.

24th April 1987

Allen

The body has shrunk; he stands stooped, supported by walking sticks to keep him from toppling. The suit swims on him, the medals have dulled, the boots replaced by Hush Puppies. He can smell mould and suspects silverfish have nibbled on his slouch hat. No one will notice; that is no one of importance. He is satisfied by the reflection and his preparations for tomorrow. Anzac Day is the most important day of the year. 

Allen undresses and stands again in front of the mirror, his underwear slightly discoloured, his singlet fraying with a couple of patched holes. His socks are brand new and that gives him a lift. He takes a long hard look, he vaguely sees a twenty year old lad, bean pole thin with tan marks on his legs and arms from farm work in the western New South Wales sun. His hair is a raven black and he possesses a lop-sided smile with the straightest teeth his family could not account for. He is a leg spinner and with his cousins Lins, Athol and Charley they meet up for matches at Louth and regions beyond Bourke. Lins named their team the Darling River Cameleers, on account of their camel diet during the Depression.

Allen’s heart is strong, as strong as the day a Sikh corporal carried him from Changi prison, his nakedness folded into thick brown arms. Oh how he wanted to kiss that man, he sobbed a stream of bless yous.

Allen crosses himself; his faith has given comfort and surety. His family have given him unquestioned love. His is a good life, a long life with no regrets.

Lest We Forget.

24th April 2021

Athol

He’s made it to the ton, an official message from the Queen’s representative and a nice letter from Vets Affairs arrived a week after the event. He was given a big whoop party at the aged care facility, no grog allowed but he has a stash in his room. Athol is lucky, he’s got all his marbles, can hold a competent conversation even with his squealing hearing aids. He doesn’t require incontinence support, walking aids, soft food or dietary supplementation. His bowels have never let him down, regular as clockwork. All in all he’s a specimen to behold and he jokes with some of the old ducks that he’s a stallion. They laugh with him and say things that they would never repeat to their families. What’s a flirt or two between friends, the truth is friendships are not lasting in this place.

A package arrived with the letter from Vets Affairs, it was his unclaimed medals, there was a reason for them remaining unclaimed but at his age no one seemed to think they needed to consult with him. Take for example the expectation for him to be paraded around tomorrow like some museum piece.

Athol twiddles his thumbs, he’s told the matron he’s not going to the dawn service or any other function. He doesn’t have a problem with the sentiment but why change his life time habits now?

He was the first and the youngest in the family to enlist; he didn’t look over his shoulder when he left for Egypt. He’d heard Charley was in Tobruk but by that time Athol had already been sent to the Pacific campaign. He didn’t write home and didn’t know what happened to Lins and Allen. Somewhere along the line his mother died and his sisters married.

The plan for tomorrow is to sit in his room; the giggle box and radio silent. He’ll have his meals in solitude, go over memories and he will raise a few glasses of whiskey to Lins, Allen and Charley.

Rest and Forget

24th April 1965

Charley

‘Lay me out for a week before you slide the lid over. I don’t want to scratch my way out of the box.’

The nurse checks his pulse and temperature. She smiles the soft look of pity only the young possess. She doesn’t understand and when he thinks about it that’s not such a bad thing.

‘Do you think I’m in for it?’

‘Well put it this way you won’t be marching tomorrow.’

He sits looking out from the fourth level, grateful for the treatment at Concord Repat. There was a time he never thought he’d march again but a lot has happened since those thoughts strafed his mind.

There are a couple of older men sharing the same room and they all have recurrent ailments following their service. There isn’t much chat about where they’ve been or what they saw. It goes unsaid.

He’s had fifteen admissions since coming home. Not counting a lengthy recuperation in an English countryside mansion. That’s where he met Georgie; she pulled him from the darkness and pain and the never ending pus. That’s why he’s back for number fifteen to clean up his calf or what’s left of it… perhaps.

Georgie lifted his spirts, even to this day. She fought hard for him to keep that leg but he agonised over which way to go. Lins and Athol said get a stump; it’s fashionable these days, along with eye patches, rubber ears and all sorts of add-ons. Allen said it would be an act of self-butchery to voluntarily give up a limb.

Lins and Athol are right.

This admission he’s going to ask to have it off. Georgie will come around, probably she’ll be relieved. Allen will be cheesed off but it’s alright for him, he’s still intact. Lins and Athol will raise a glass for a limb long past its cricketing days; he can stand in at stumps.

Next year he’s going to march the full distance.

Blessed the Intent

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