• caseytonkin

Gammo

Mary clattered her cutlery when the bell rang.

“All bloody hours of the whole bloody day,” she said to her husband Greg and daughter Joan, both of whom were mercifully sitting expectantly around the dining table.

Mary and Greg Harrison bought what they affectionately call the Golf Curse when Joan was still wearing nappies. It would have been the perfect blend of work and home since a perfectly normal house was attached to the Turantoola Links in a perfectly normal way except for the open service window adjacent to the dining room designed so they wouldn’t miss any clientelle. The family started to schedule their meals around when people were least likely to come, but the interruptions still occurred.

Mary was greeted at the window by the most recognisable face in the northeastern region of Western Australia’s mid-south. His long hair, pasted to his forehead by a limegreen bandana, was the colour of peeled bark. Stubble grew around a faint scar on his cheek. He had eyes like the sky.

“Gammo!”

“G’day, Mare. Was just driving past when I saw the undies on your line out back.”

“They’re Joanie’s.”

“At any rate, thought I’d best drop in and offer a little hanging-up tip. You see, if y—“

“You dropped in because you saw my daughter’s underwear hanging on the line?”

“I was really only meant to be passing through.”

Mary reflected on this. “Well, I’m glad to see you, whatever the pretense.”

“You didn’t hang up them undies?”

“They’re Joan’s.”

“Don’t much look like they belong to a seventeen year old.”

“She’s twenty.”

A voice worked its way from the dining room, “They’re suck-in undies for tight dresses.”

“She says they’re suck-in undies for tight dresses.”

“Yeah I heard. Anyway, the trick with hanging up clothes is—”

“What makes you such an expert at the underwear of seventeen year olds at any rate?”

“Forget not that we were once that age ourselves, Mare. A combination of faded memories and imagination are plenty enough for me to reason the likely underwear worn by creatures of all ages and makes.”

Mary gave him a stern look before laughing. Gammo followed suit.

“Have you time for something to eat? It’s an odd hour I know, but there’s plenty of tucker if you’d care to join.”

Gammo looked up at the sun.

“For you, Mare, I’ve always time.”

“As long as you see my daughter’s underwear, I s’pose.”

“Because I did, not in order to.”

They laughed again.

“Come on round the side, I’ll let you in.”

Gammo strode past the first tee off and under the barepiped veranda shaded by green plastic mesh. Mary turned the deadbolt and swung open the dangerous screen door (Joan cut her head on its handle one summer dusk while running inside to get an apricot). She held it open near the hinges while Gammo stepped past plastic yellow cricket stumps.

They hugged just inside the door. His coarse shirt smelled of tobacco and dust.

Mary ushered him the three paces to the dining room. Greg rose when in sight.

“Old mate Greggers, it’s good to see you again.”

“Likewise, Gam.”

They shook fervent hands and each clasped a shoulder. Joan waved from behind her plate.

“If you keep the undies at the back you can hide them with your shirts and pants. That way no one gets to see those beige monsters.”

“They’re utilatarian,” said Joan. “But I see your point.”

Gammo smiled and patted her at the base of the neck. He sat down as Mary shuffled a plate of schnitzel, peas, and carrots under his nose.

“What are you doing with yourself that requires such utilatarian undergarments?”

“Joanie’s still at uni—”

“—and she can speak for herself.” Joan sat up straight. “I’m doing a Bachelor of Pataphysical Science.”

“They offer that at the Boran tech college?”

“No, but they do in Sydney. I’m home for break.”

“That seems about right. What’s the course structure?”

Mary interrupted while clearing Greg’s plate, “You know, Gammo spent some time learning pataphysics, Joanie.”

“Oh only half a semester. Did spend some time with one of the supposed leading pataphysicians of the twenty-first century though.”

“Who?”

“Billy Straters.”

“The William B.R. Straters?”

“That’s right. He told me the BR stood for ‘bloody ripper’.” Gammo laughed as his eyes left Joan’s and got caught on the landscape oil painting on the wall above her head.

“How’d you meet each other?” Joan asked.

“Picking potatoes at a commune in the southeast.”

“Well that’s encouraging.” Joan was pushing her peas with a fork when her mother slid out the plate.

“You know, Gams, I thought of you the other day,” Greg said.

“That I did not know.”

“I was on the eighth fairway when one of the blades jammed. You’d be surprised how often the mower gets jammed on fucking grass.”

“Greg,” Mary warned.

“Right, so I climbed down to check the bugger out – just needs a little care and she’s right as rain,” he winked at his wife after this aside.

“I could always have a look at it if you want,” Gammo said, “I’ve made my way around a few mowers in me time.”

“We’ve had the same damn thing since I was a kid, Dad’s too stubborn to let anyone help,” Joan said.

“You know,” Mary joined in, “if it’s really such a big issue, we’d be able to just buy a new one. Wouldn’t strain the budget too much I don’t reckon—”

“That’s not the bloody point.”

“What is?”

“If you’ll let me get to it, then I’ll tell you.”

“You’ve the floor, Greg ol’ buddy.”

“Right. So I hopped down off me chair and knelt down at the—”

“I hope you turned the engine off first.”

“I turned off the engine, hopped down me chair, and knelt down at the blade where the jam was. It was, unsurprisingly, a nice thick wad of grass,” Greg held up one of his hands to demonstrate the size and thickness of the aforementioned grass wad.

“So I cleared out the wad and I was using my thumb to wipe off the leftovers from the blade when my whole hand instinctively recoiled.”

Mary winced.

“I was swearing – ‘fucking this’ and ‘bloody that’ – as I went to put my thumb up to my mouth but before I could offer myself that childlike relief, my attention was caught by the single blade of grass riding the crest of the glob of blood pooling in my thumb wound. What was so striking about this blade of grass was its wholeness. Grass doesn’t get cut clean, it’s torn apart, ripped from its earth-connected remains like a botched beheading. And the other pieces on my hand looked as they should, marked by the heavy blade’s indiscriminate, jagged cut. Except the lone piece in the blood wasn’t like the others. It was as clean as if it had been gently plucked from its home. It occupied its perfectly vertical space so that it faced straight up. You know, I saw myself in that blade of grass – part of the earth, of the rhysomic structure of all humanity, connected via thought yet each one individual. I saw how easily I can be ripped up and discarded by the blades of death. I saw that, like the grass, my purpose may be unknown to me, and how I shouldn’t concern myself with whether or not I’m occupying space on the 11th fairway or outside Parliament House because one day I’ll just be part of a discarded pile decomposing in the sun. Anyway, me thumb starts throbbing proper and I swore again, shook it, sucked away the blood and spat out the piece of grass, and rubbed my hand in the dirt to cover the wound.”

The family’s silence was accentuated by the distant pinging of well-struck golf balls.

“That was a nice epiphany there, Greggers.”

“Thanks mate.”

“I do have one quick question, though, and you’ll have to excuse me if I missed something.”

“Go for it.”

“You said you thought of me?”

“Oh, yeah, right. Well, I hopped back in my chair and was about to turn over the engine when a monster dollop of birdshit hit the windscreen right in front of me face. So I stuck me head out to get a look at the culprit and, low and behold, a whopping great big cocky was flying past on its bombing run. How could I not think of you and Gilly when I see one of those squaking creatures?”

Everyone laughed.

“That reminds me, actually,” said Gammo. “You wouldn’t happen to have an apple, would you? I’d like to head out and give Gilly a little feed before we head on.”

“You’re moving on so soon?” asked Joan.

“Well, after I give you all a little something to remember me by, of course.”

A grin moved around the family. Truth was, a gift from Gammo was better than anything Santa could dream of dropping down a chimney, and everyone knew that Gammo always came bearing gifts. For people he liked, these were treasured memories and possessions, and Gammo was fond of the Harrisons, but his presents for those on his bad side were much worse than a lump of coal.

“Apples are on the bench, grab what you need,” Mary instructed.

“One should be plenty, I reckon,” said Gammo as he walked over to the fruit bowl. “I’ll be right back,” he said as he produced a knife from his pants pocket and started carving wedges out of the pink lady.

Joan went over to a window overlooking the carpark and watched as the tall, long-haired man called Gilchrist the cockatoo down from the biggest gum they’ve got. The bird glided down onto an outstretched arm and shared an apple with its master. When the apple was finished, core and all, Gammo bent down to the massive wooden trunk on a custom trailor attached to his roadbike. She watched as he opened its lid which left a warm golden glow on Gammo’s face. He reached in, picked something up, placed it on the ground in front of the trunk, closed the lid, and slid the padlock back into place. She went back to her place in the table while Gammo walked his way back across the carpark.

Gammo backed his way through the screen door clutching a strange velvet under his arm. He plonked it down on the dining table.

“Now, before I do the reveal: have you got a map or an atlas?”

Mary answered, her eyes not leaving the covered object in the middle of the table, “There are some of Joanie’s old school atlases in the study.”

“Perfect. Joan, would you mind heading in there, grabbing the atlas and giving it a good once over? I’ll be there in a minute, just after I sort your folks out.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Joan. She stepped away from the table and walked around the corner to the study, taking one last look at the object on the table.

“Now,” Gammo said to Greg and Mary, “what I’m about to show you is unlike anything I’ve come across. This object, and I wouldn’t dare make such a claim without knowing its truth-value, will change your lives. Do you think you’re ready for such an occurrence?”

“For the better?” asked Greg.

“I reckon so,” said Gammo with a wry smile.

“Alright then, let’s go for it.”

With a flourish, Gammo lifted off the cover to reveal an inert crystal ball on an ornate wooden stand. He uttered a phrase that stirred, from within the ball, a whirling orange energy that grew from apparently nothing to fill the whole ball with a comforting glow.

Mary and Greg stared transfixed as Gammo got up from the table.