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Edition 55

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Fiction

Bad breath

RUMBA WONDERED WHY his parents were taking so long. He was both elated and anxious because he could keep drinking until he heard their car come up the driveway but was worried they might know that he broke into the science lab. Bloody Charlie wanted to light the Bunsen burners because he said they would be able to see better and the torches they brought might have been too bright and would attract attention. Because this was the first time they had done anything like this, they left in such a panic he thinks they left the drawer that housed the scalpels open.

Could be worse – at least he had the scalpel. When Charlie asked him to get rid of it, he made out to throw the scalpel in the creek on their way home. While Charlie was having a shit in the bush, Rumba found a piece of wire and that was what he threw in the creek. Charlie, being his best mate, trusted him.

The boys had left each other at the corner of Charlie’s street. Charlie had said he was going home to nurse his hangover. 

Rumba hid the scalpel in his dad’s shed. He knew no one would find it because his dad rarely touched anything in the shed these days, other than the fridge handle and a beer. Rumba remembers stories of how his mum and dad used to grow most of what they ate and even entered their produce into competitions. What made people change? he wondered. Rumba got the scalpel out of its hiding spot and held it in his hands. He ran his thumb over the blade and found out the hard way it was sharp. He put his cut thumb to his lips and tasted the salty liquid. He was getting used to tasting his own blood lately.

Rumba could hear the pigeons still settling and cooing in the tree out the back of the shed. He remembered watching them build their nests and how crap they were at it. Some birds are really good at building nests. He also used to watch swallows making their nests under the veranda. Swallows had it worked out; they made perfect nests. The pigeons just sort of threw sticks in a pile and hoped their eggs wouldn’t fall out. 

There are also other birds that will only eat nectar or a certain type of insect. He remembered feeding seagulls one day when they went on a rare family outing to the beach. He remembered putting a dried-up piece of dog shit in some bread and he and his brother laughing as one of the seagulls gulped it down. 

The boys teased the seagulls: ‘Hey shit breath, no one is gonna kiss you tonight.’

‘Imagine when he has a shit tomorrow and a dog shit comes out, he is gonna freak for sure.’

Rumba remembered the day well. He loved it when they did things as a family and his dad didn’t have to go home as soon as they got there because he wanted a drink. 

He recalled there was always one seagull that puffed up its feathers and arched its neck to try and scare away the other seagulls. While this seagull was doing this, the others were eating. Admittedly they were eating shit in bread but, hey, they were eating and this puffer seagull wasn’t.

RUMBA CRACKED ANOTHER beer and drifted back to thinking about the pigeons. So pigeons, seagulls and other birds eat anything, and are shit at making nests. However, they seem to survive. He thought that if one day there was no nectar or insects for the other birds that they would die. Whereas the pigeons and seagulls would probably eat them and any other shit that was thrown at them. He also thought about how adaptable the seagulls were. What did they eat when only Aboriginal people lived in Australia? And when did they learn to read? They had an uncanny ability to find out where any Kentucky Fried Chicken store was and, even more strange, where they could find anyone on the coast in Australia that had just bought hot chips.

So Rumba often considered himself like the pigeons and seagulls of the world: he was a survivor, he didn’t do things well and he took whatever shit was thrown at him. He also realised that, like the shit in the bread, the things thrown at him at times were disguised as something good, but were actually shit coated in sugar or bread or whatever.

It was about this time that he heard the car pull up in the driveway. He threw down the last of his beer and ran into the house to start watching television with the rest of his family. As he walked in the lounge room, his younger brother told him he stank. 

He replied: ‘I can fix that with deodorant, but you’re ugly and you’ll have to put up with that for the rest of your life.’ 

His brother punched him and ran away. As Rumba got up to chase him, his parents walked in the door. His dad spotted him and said, ‘In the kitchen now. We need to talk.’

Rumba got up and slowly walked to the kitchen, where his mum was putting the kettle on the stove and his dad went out the back. Rumba looked at his mum quizzically. She said, ‘Getting beer.’

Things were going from bad to worse. His mum and dad were fighting more, his father was drinking more, his mum was worrying more, he was drinking more and his family was falling apart.

He wondered if his life was the same for others, better than others or poorer than others. Sometimes he’d think this, but would see the kid from number forty-five, the kid in the wheelchair, and wondered if the kid thought he had a rough life – or did he think he was lucky because he had a wheelchair? The kid couldn’t walk but he may not have the same problems as Rumba and his family.

At this point a beer bottle was slammed down on the kitchen table and connected to it was the arm of his father.

Before he looked at his father, Rubma thought he might go down to number forty-five tomorrow and make friends with the kid in the wheelchair.


From Griffith Review Edition 55: State of Hope © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

Griffith Review