The silent majority
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 26: Stories for Today
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Melissa Lucashenko
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It is a truth universally acknowledged, Jo decided, that a bored teenager with a permanent marker is a pain in the bloody neck. And if it isn't, then it fucken well should be. For here came five-year-old Timbo wandering up the hill, his bare brown chest tagged with fat Nikko swirls saying CHILD SLAVERY – THE FINAL FRONTIER and BETTER CONDITIONS OR I RING DOCS. And in certain parts of certain cities that would be Indigenous art, Jo thought. Teach the lad to stand still and, people, we've got ourselves an installation.
Timbo beamed at her from beneath the number-three haircut that Kym gave all her boys until they were big enough to resist the onslaught of the clippers.
‘I got dadoos,' he announced.
‘I can see that, darlin.' Jo grinned as she drew the Mullumbimby Council's ride-on mower to a sweaty halt and killed its engine. She took off her hat, hung it on the scratched black knob of the gearstick, and mopped her forehead with her arm. Dollops of sweat flew sideways onto the newly shaven couch grass.
As Jo pulled Timbo closer, she used the bottom of her sweaty red singlet to remove a transparent snail trail from beneath his nose. For the thousandth time she was struck by her nephew's looks: perfectly feathered dark brows above the blackest of black eyes. Keep your pink-cheeked dugai cherubs, she thought; give me our kids any day.
‘What's ya tattoos say then, Timbo?' she asked. The child's forehead furrowed, and he traced the loud black ink of PAY ME A LIVING WAGE with his slender brown index finger as though he could take in the written word by osmosis.
‘It says...Tim Bone Walker.'
‘Ellen,' Jo yelled towards the white metal donger that was their home. ‘Stop tagging ya cousin! How many times?' The ink couldn't be doing his little body's immune system any good – not to mention who'd have the pleasure of scrubbing it off before his mum picked him up in an hour.
There was no reply from the donger, of course. Ellen would be on to a different art project by now, headphones blaring hardcore punk into her thirteen-year-old head and the tedious task of babysitting her cousin sidelined if not forgotten altogether. Josie frowned. She had lots more mowing to do, nearly all the Protestants, and maybe the RCs as well. She couldn't be looking after Timbo while she worked. That's what she was paying Ellen ten bucks for.
‘You go back and see what Ellie's doing, darlin,' she encouraged Timbo, ‘and later we'll go for hot chippies, hey?'
‘Fish 'n' chips?' Tim brightened. He was the Bruns co-op's biggest fan. Jo had shown him years ago how to lie on its splintery jetty, watching the water through the narrow cracks in the pale-grey timber. If you spat in mouthfuls of chewed chips you could always bring in the large school of wily bream that lived in the river. They came joyously to the clouds of potato, came in close enough almost to touch, but always refusing to bite for any misguided tourist who might chuck a line in. Lying prone in the sun there on the Bruns jetty was a meditation upon fish, and temptation, and on gullibility too.
‘Can we get dose little fish baits?' Timbo wanted to know. Fish bites.
‘Mmm, maybe. Or else just hot chippies – Aunty's broke this week,' Jo replied. ‘You go see Ellen now. And stay away from that road, all right?' When Jo had watched her nephew head safely towards the donger, she fired up the Honda again, pulled her hat down onto her forehead and surveyed the expanse of lawn she had yet to mow.
Before her lay one hundred and fifty years of dead white Mullumbimby.