We hope you enjoy this short At the Edge excerpt from “Boxing Day”, by Perth writing Martin Livings.
Boxing Day / Martin Livings
It was early morning, but already the ground was starting to shimmer with summer heat, the reds and browns of our sun-scorched property running together like melted paints. Dad sat on the verandah in his favourite chair, the wicker one that was coming apart, and watched the procession of cars approaching up our driveway, the road so far away that it wasn’t even visible from the house. I stood on one side of the chair, Pete on the other, though Dad couldn’t see him, nobody could, not anymore. Nobody but me.
Dad smiled, that tight, expectant smile we all knew too well; not a smile of amusement, but of pleasure, the pleasure of violence on the horizon. He smiled that smile before he punished his children, or his wife for that matter. And he smiled it every year on this day.
“They’re coming,” he said, his voice husky, and took a deep swallow from his can of beer, already his third for the new-born day. He reeked of it. I breathed it in, tasted it. Tasted things in it that I’d never tasted before. Promise. Hope. “We can start soon.”
Yes we can, Pete said in his cold, silent voice. I had to stop myself looking at him standing there, smiling at my dead twin brother, nodding to him. Not when Dad was there. Only when we were alone. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, though. He looked like he always did, like me, only a boy; a strong, tall, entirely satisfactory boy. Unlike me. He looked good, fifteen years old and in his prime. Not like he’d looked at the end, thank heaven. I couldn’t have taken that, not for a whole year.
Had it really been a year? It seemed like yesterday. It seemed like a thousand years ago. Anything but a year, twelve months, three hundred and sixty five days.
I watched the cars draw closer, my heart racing. Dad was right. We’d start soon.
Less than two hundred people lived in Blair, and most were related to me one way or another. Uncles, aunts, cousins, second cousins, once removed, twice, three times. The town census and my family tree were basically the same thing. But our family was the trunk of that tree, and that made us top of the food chain in Blair. Poppa Michael was Dad’s father, but he was old and couldn’t remember much of anything anymore, so Dad was in charge. Sure, the Mayor went through the motions, but nothing happened without Eddie Blair’s say-so. And Eddie Blair had three daughters including me, who were irrelevant to his wishes, and one shining son. Pete.
The first car pulled up, and Uncle Albert and Auntie Doreen climbed out. They opened the back door, and four of my cousins spilled out into the dirt. Two girls and two boys. The boys looked excited, and a bit scared. The girls just looked bored. I didn’t blame them; every year I’d felt much the same. Not this year, though. Albert nodded at Dad, who nodded back. Then he headed around to the side paddock to start setting up. More would join him soon, with sledgehammers and star pickets and ropes. Many hands made light work.
Every year, the day after Christmas, the family would gather here. The women brought food and grog, and immediately joined Mum and us girls in the kitchen. Our job was to keep the menfolk fed and watered for the day. And the men… the men did what men did best. Ate. Drank.
I glanced at Dad’s hands. He’d already bound them with thin strips of cloth, blood stains visible from previous years’ bouts. He was a deeply superstitious man, used the same strapping every year, wore the same clothes; his dark blue shorts and his white singlet, which was also spotted with rusty brown stains, some faded by years of washing, others fresh. The cloth on his knuckles was as close to protection as he was willing to offer. Fucken faggots and their fucken pillow gloves, he’d spat when watching a boxing match on the telly. What’s the fucken point?
Dad was a man of few words, and a lot of those words were fucken. If Pete or I or Evie or Mary ever said it, though, we’d get a clip around the ear, if we were lucky. Sometimes it was a fist to the side of the head. Sometimes more.
Sometimes much more.
Dad finally got out of his chair. I saw the hesitation, the slight flinch of pain that rippled across his forehead. I tried not to smile.
He’s old, Pete said, standing right next to me now, the summer morning air chilled by his presence. Old and slow and weak.
I didn’t react, couldn’t. Death had made Pete a bit cocky. Which was ironic, considering how he’d died.
We walked around the side of the house, Dad and I, and watched the rings being constructed. Blairs all, by blood if not by name, bashing steel pickets into the dust, deep enough to hold the ropes that would be slung around them like spider webs, ready to catch unwary souls. All the same as last year, and the years before that.
This year, though, this year was going to be different. This year was going to be the last.