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With the toddler seat empty, you roll pramlight down the highway.
After he slipped next-door with Megan and an open stubby, you took the invitation, clipped baby Rory into the harness and left the house.
All down the highway, Rory is springbounced and fateyed serious. You sing recriminations into the wind; the words spray over Rory’s head, tight-wodged behind the toddler seat and a stained yellow cushion. Out all afternoon at Bunnings, left with both kids again, and now it’s off on some jaunt.
Just like him, you think. Rolling down the highway, Rory thumps on the concertinaed hood.
There’s the seagull scent of fish and chips in the air. You see the Euclid exhaust system for the first time, gargoyle crouched on top of the tiles of the chippy. It’s a springhigh ride without Megan’s added weight, and the pram handle sits into your waist.
Remember what it was like when there was only one? Remember what it was like before Megan?
Up ahead is Mount Clarence, browburnt by the last bushfire and always grizzled, frowning. Lower down, at the top of York Street, the war memorial bisects a Foster’s lager sign.
Welcome to Albany, you say, and Rory turns, half-smiling. Your feet slap concrete alongside the highway.
Wheeling right into York Street, around the roundabout, pram arcing past banks, automated teller machines neverclosed to business, you count the four wheel drives.
One, two, threefourfive,
once I caught a fish alive.
Six, seven, eightnineten,
then I let him go again.
The wind no longer cuts into your jumper, and you are openmouth breathing into the steady roll of pram wheels.
Someone has rockwindowed the Centrelink office.
Friday night madness. And the starfish sprawl is ugly with black masking tape.
Pram wheels roll over the cross walk.
Inside Angus & Robertson you read gloss innuendo and flick pictures. It’s not until you see the cashier watching that you realise your purse is at home.
Oh you wally… words unfurl behind, taken by wind. Rory cranes on his fat no-neck. Such a daft, daft wally. Rory’s grinning a raw-tooth smile.
Up Serpentine Road two men in wet-weather-yellow rafter dance on top of a second storey extension. They are fixing tek screws into a tin roof. Flap flap chop go their coats, cutting against tanned thighs. It’s an uphill grunt and you are armstrained, elbows extended against the incline. Push, push, push… Baby Rory rolls a hand at a passing car and your heart breaks.
Good boy, you croon. Good one, Rory.
Rory after Rory Gallagher, his favourite Blues guitarist, straight out of the seventies and daggy as all hell. He convinced you by saying it was Irish and, anyway, it was his son after all.
At the top of the hill now and, looking back across town, you are flecked with smoke-breath of woodfires. Without thinking, you register and wipe colourless ooze from Rory’s top lip.
There’s an open stretch past the halfway house for the ACTIV crew, and an old place that’s been turned into units. A flatcapped man approaches, his body grey-coated, all buttoned up. You are suddenly serious: Mother pushing baby. The man in the cap goodafternoons with one forefinger raised to his cap. You feel saluted. Your heart opens wide, you want to turn round, sing hello, follow, laugh, dance. Pram wheels roll.
Inside you is a bubble and Rory is king-high, floating too.
Beneath a cool wattle canopy now, everything’s limegreen and sherbet-yellow. You hear footpads with nailscratch and, backward glancing, there’s a wolfish lumberer, slobbertongue lolling. This dog is huge and you are scared of dogs. You push faster with your head to one side, twisted like a doll’s.
It’s alright. Trapped beneath the wattles and a fearsome beast behind. You prampush faster, faster, out beyond the green shade of the wattle grove, easing a sense of horror.
Your face tilts and you cannot help smiling before looking back. It’s alright; the dog is pissing on a postbox.
We made it.
Baby Rory sunsmiles with a wrinkled nose; stretchedwhite gums where the teethbuds cut look swollen and permanently smiling.
Pram wheels roll off pavement and onto the black licorice of bitumen. There’s no path here and you matador cars that charge down this stretch of Serpentine. Just a couple of metres, and all that’s between you and us is the pram.
You fix oncoming drivers with the hairy eyeball, skewering them to ward off evil.
Pickled by two-stroke fuel, you see Leo, the school gardener, pushing a mower up his driveway. He gives a wave as you pass and pram wheels roll on.
It’s getting close now, your turn off. In the rear window of a parked car you read a sticker: International Geese Flight. You haven’t a clue what that means.
Down, down, down. Downhill with the pram front leaning, Rory’s weight ballast holding against the incline. Not for the first time, you imagine how there would be a headlongdash to save the child if you ever let go. Both palms are tight waxed cylinders gripping the plastic handle. This hill is so steep, you cannot imagine running fast enough.
A windchime in an upstairs window is a goldnecklace, dangling.
From Roseanne’s verandah, Sally the Rottweiler barks. It’s OK – you know each other.
Down. Down towards the pink fibro, you are on alert listening for next-door’s kids, wondering if Megan’s still there.
Probably won’t have noticed we’re gone. Pram wheels scrabble and you’re up onto the gravel driveway.
He emerges from the shed, says Look who’s here.
Megan calls, Hi Mummy.
He lifts the pram up both sets of back steps and tells Megan to show Mummy what she’s got. What do you think of this? he asks. His breath is beerbottled, cloying. The wood he holds is golden.
In the garden, a slide has been positioned beneath the almond tree. Next-door’s cast off. Already it is covered in blossom and you admire the slide, but Megan’s whining for the swing.
Not until I’ve got bolts, he says.
The whining eats in.
Alright, he says. Maybe we can use these.
While you unharness Rory, Megan follows him across the pinkpetalled lawn, one swing chain dragging behind.
You place Rory beneath the bookshelf where scrap paper is stored, take a sheet of paper and begin to write:
I am walking down the highway.
Pramlight, rolling down the highway.
Megan has come inside and slaps at Rory with a flyswat.
Stop that. Leave your brother alone.
Rory wants the swat and is tooth-bud raging, his face smeared with snot.
Megan bookgrabs, climbs onto a char, is holding a desk leg.
I read, she says, taking the dictionary of quotations, Roget’s thesaurus. This one, Mummy?
You remember it is Saturday – no cleaning has been done. Dishes are stacked orangebeaned and eggyellow from lunch. Frills collar the frypan along with his hangover.
The gut-heaving crash is Rory backwards, turtled on the floor. Screams fill the house.
I’ve got him, he says. First he drops the wash basket.
Another thing forgotten.
He soothes Rory, goes outside and brings firewood, returns to set and light the fire. It’s getting dark. Soon it will be dinner time.
I a hungry girl, says Megan.
The war memorial bisects the Foster’s lager sign.
Someone has rockwindowed the Centrelink office. Friday night madness.
Water’s running into the bath.
I do it, Daddy, says Megan. I do it self.
So much to do, and still you cannot leave it. Reading over what has been written, you suddenly know:
With the toddler seat empty, you roll pramlight down the highway.