January 22, 2008

8PM at Geoff Derwent’s big brass door knocker. Bang, bang, bang.



“C’mon Mr Derwent, we’re off to Stawell.”


[Geoff, unsteady and peering at an unknown car in his driveway]:

“I won’t Layla. Look, I’m a bit crook. Today hasn’t quite turned out the way I wanted. How are you Layla? It’s a bit of a shock isn’t it?”



“It’s a knock back alright Mr Derwent. And we’re taking a lot of sledging. That’s why we’re going to Stawell. We’re going to Billy Vandenhoff’s house. His wife is back from Melbourne and they are receiving people.”



“You’re shitting me. We wouldn’t make it past the car park. I don’t know if you know Layla but I put a lot of niggle into Billy these last couple of days. Yeah look, we’ve sent a wreath and a card from the club. It’d be insensitive to push it any more than that.”



“Well, if you want the big day out at The Gift on Saturday, you’re going. Come on. You don’t need to change. Maddy’s in the back and he has a bottle to keep you oiled up till Stawell.”


Layla pulled a resistant Geoff by an arm down the steps to the car.



“Mom, this is Mr Derwent. In you pop Mr Derwent.”



“Good evening Mrs Parkin, we haven’t met. Move over a bit more Maddy. Now, before anything happens I need to discuss…”


But the car was already off towards that Western Highway, the two boys sucking their bottles in the back and Afsaneh’s Baha’i World Congress CD making them ever more inconsolable.



“This is a very bad situation, very bad.”


The boys mutely agreed. Geoff forlornly looked for Maddy then wiggled his emptying bottle. Desolately, Maddy tapped a six pack and went back to sucking. If it is to end here then wake me up when it’s over. Ominous.


They turned into a service station near Stawell. Geoff recognised the Secretary of the Victorian Athletic League, Gary Somter. He was waving them down anxiously.



“That’s… that’s Gary Somter. Now, I wouldn’t have expected to meet him at a petrol station.”



“I called him Mr Derwent. I said we would be going along to offer our sympathies and it might be an idea if he came too. He said he’d come if we all came together. We’re picking him up.”


Afsaneh stopped the car and Gary opened the back door saying “can you push up just a bit Geoff, you don’t mind if I tag along with yez do you? My son dropped me off and he’ll come back to pick me up later“. So, Gary got in, got his bottle and Afsaneh drove the tipsy morose to the Vandenhoff’s.


The boys, they arrived, they clambered out, they stretched and they sucked in some big ones. They eyed their destination and made their way towards it. Afsaneh rang the doorbell and nodded to Layla, the three guys were close behind, pre-admonished, palms in pockets and elbows out. Tense.


A young girl came to the door and shyly gave a gap for them to come in singly. They walked towards the crowded lounge room. The room was a good size and it was creamy and clean but with the twenty or so well-wishers it was oppressive, malignant and ready to pounce. Well, it was when the foreign five came into view. Layla and her mother passed through under the arch with a focus on finding Mrs Vandenhoff and by appearing to be purposeful and continuing to the kitchen got away with it for the most part. The men didn’t. They were three abreast, neither in nor out of the lounge room and peeping to all corners.


Mark Twoomey, a former footy mate of Billy’s, volunteered as spokesman for the pack.


[Mark Twoomey]:

“Ah that’d be right. Have a good, hard, look at these bastards, men. They’re here to make sure there’s no chance Billy might get up again. They’re here to bury him good and proper. Well boys, yez are in the wrong place. Billy’s still in Melbourne. Go ring the doctor. Take his word for it. But that wouldn’t do would it? Yez wouldn’t trust an honest person’s word. Yez would want to confirm it with the maggots eating his head.


Aw yeah, always the mongrel Quigley. And Derwent and Somter, ya pushed him over the edge with your bull dust. I’ve only one thing to say to you three bastards. And listen well, yez won’t have long to make up your minds.


The best thing yez could do for yourselves… is to chuck a yewey and walk straight out that front door. Then you’d only get your arses kicked. And if yez don’t, God help me, you’ll be shaking hands with Billy within the hour. D’ya hear me?”


And, for someone who wasn’t known for his industriousness, this was, clearly, not an idle threat. At least eight men peered around him. Many looked ready to relinquish their beverage if enlisted; the rest looked like they would bring the bottle with them.


“Let’s get out of here now while we can” inspired Geoff lowly to his sidelings.


[Maddy, stepping forward a stride]:

“No, we’re staying.


Mark Twoomey eh? Yez are a big bag of wind. You listen to me now. Me, and these two gentlemen, are here to pay our respects to Billy’s family. And that’s what we’ll do. I’ll put me hand up that none of the three of us have covered ourselves in glory these last few days. Jeez, we were a bit harsh to Billy maybe. But we didn’t wish him harm. C’mon Mark, how many times have we had at it on the footy pitch. When we crossed the white line we got stuck into it alright. But what happened on the field stayed on the field. Cept maybe the broken jaw, that was bad, I’ve never gotten over it. But at least I went to the hospital to check up on him. Yeah, we’d belt seven shades of shit out of each other and have a beer later. This episode, Billy dying, it’s really made us sick. This is all we know how to do to put it right. If we take casualties because of it, well, it’s still the right thing to do.


Now, c’mon boys let’s go through.”


[Peter Vandenhoff, Billy’s older brother]:

“Tell you what Mark, leave them through. These boys must have balls as big as boulders to rock up here tonight. Come in and have a drink.”


The two sides maintained their fighting posture briefly before dissolving into a telepathic truce. Maddy cheerily accepted a bottle from Peter and introduced himself, Geoff and Gary to most of their former adversaries.


Mrs Yvonne Vandenhoff materialized from the kitchen with a plate of sandwiches, closely followed by Layla and Afsaneh each balancing a plate of sarnies and an armful of paper tissues.


[Yvonne Vandenhoff]:

“Geoff, Gary, Maddy, I’m so glad you’re here. God bless you all.”


Yvonne Vandenhoff laid down her plate and received some words of sympathy and a hug from each of the men. Then, with an inclusive sorrow, she addressed them as a trio.


[Yvonne Vandenhoff]:

“Layla asked if I would mind if you came along and it was such a good idea. I wanted the air to be cleared. Billy knew all of you and, despite the silliness of the last few days, he wouldn’t have wanted any on-going bad feeling. It was completely unforeseeable what happened. It’d be nice if we could all get through this in solidarity. I feel a little better with you here, that’s for sure.”



“Well said Yvonne. I should have brought Mary along as well. The whole family will be at the service on Friday though.”



“Mark, give us a hand will yez? I’ve got four slabs of VB in the boot.”


So, Maddy and Mark, big bears that they were, went off to do some heavy lifting. There were, of course, plenty of footy people to subsume Geoff. And plenty of Stawell Gift people to earnestly admire Gary’s nuanced arguments concerning outstanding issues for the Victorian Athletic League.


Maddy and Mark were the gun guys though. They were orators and actors. They retold their stories combat-style. At one point, to elaborate on a yarn, Maddy held Mark in a headlock and was weighing down on him. Mark would surface his red head to correct a biased point or to provide an alternate account. Or the time when Mark had a hand and his knees on the back of a knelt-down Maddy. All to wobbily grab a pretend footy lobbed in by a spectator. They’d be sore later but were having a hearty time. Of course, they were pissed beyond pain or problem.


It was turning into a long night for Layla and her mother. Every now and then Layla had to feign enthusiasm as a happy mourner would indulgently and verrry slowly, in the style of Maddy and Mark, animate a distant heroic and crafty Gift memory.


The local newsman turned up, took some pictures and got some colourful, as well as unfathomable, take-away comments.


[Stawell ex-footy player]:

“No worries at all mate, there’s nothing in it. We’re like THAT here we are, like THAT.”



“Like what mate?”


[Stawell ex-footy player, holding his hand higher showing a prominent pointing finger and what remained of a middle finger]:

“Like THAT I told ya.”



“Look, are ya saying yez are close or so tight that yez might as well be merged into one?”


[Stawell ex-footy player]:

“Not funny mate, not funny. Lost it knuckle-up cutting wood with an axe. What I mean, mate, is that we are like lower case aitch… h h happy to be h h here in the h h house. And we’re a bit taller than them too.”


The men mourners had to be separated eventually and pushed further apart and have their good-byes said for them. Gary, Maddy and Geoff bounced into the back of the car. The hard work of the evening was over. They were all full up to pussy’s bow and, thankfully, there was no more beer to have to deal with. It was a job well done. They were euphoric and noisy. Gary was heartily farewelled at the service station and stranded to wait for his son.


There was sleepiness and security in the car as it ran back along the Western Highway. The meditating tones of Afsaneh’s Baha’i World Congress CD took hold. The boys in the back, too tired to throw any more personality, took a shining to a number of the, now familiar, tracks. Most popular went to ‘God is sufficient unto me’. Maddy pummeled a dramatic bass depth while Geoff provided an overarching harmony. The Parkins in the front were ragged tired and quickly came down from their initial amusement; Layla, pragmatic, bedded into a blanket whilst Afsaneh, politely peeved declared “Open your window Layla, it smells like a brewery in here… I think” and then ejected the CD and, with it, the inebriated din.


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