By the time he pulls into the driveway it’s almost midday. Mum’s got the turkey in the oven and the heat has steamed up all the windows, so I have to make a hole in the glass with my sleeve to see. But I know it’s him alright. I can tell by the way he walks up the path and the look on Mum’s face when she opens the door.
He gives her a kiss on the cheek and chucks his bags down on the living room floor.
Hey big fella, he says, turning to me, hey buddy, happy Christmas.
He walks over and puts his heavy hand on my head. It’s warm and smells of smoke and leaves my hair all messed up.
Got something for you, he says, A Christmas present, mate. You wanna see?
I look to Mum, who’s still standing by the door in her Christmas apron, and then back to Dad who’s waiting for an answer. I nod my head.
Alright kiddo, you just wait there, eyes closed.
When he puts the cricket bat in my hands it’s heavier than I expected. Real wood, with a red rubber handle. Brand new, not a dent on it.
He stands back with his hands in his pockets, smiling that big smile he does when he’s in a good mood. Well whaddya think kiddo? Pretty neat right? Pretty bloody good? Wanna take it for a spin?
I don’t say anything, but I don’t have to, because Dad’s already halfway across the living room, pushing open the sliding door that leads out to the garden.
I look around for Mum, but she’s disappeared – back to the kitchen or to her room, I suppose – and so I follow him outside.
Out in the yard, the skies are grey and the grass is dry. A flat soccer ball sits by the fence and three old cricket stumps lie toppled over in the dirt. The yard’s smaller than our old one, but Dad doesn’t seem to notice.
Still got ‘em I see, he says, pointing to the stumps. Been practicing have ya? Training up while your old man’s away. Well we’ll see what you’ve got.
He takes each stump and shoves them into the dirt, driving them down with his balled-up fist like a hammer.
Alright, batter-up kid. You’re up first. Let’s see what this thing can do.
I walk over to the wickets with my new bat in hand. I haven’t had a hit for a year or two, not since I quit school cricket and started up grass hockey, but Dad doesn’t know that. I spread my legs wide and place the tip down on the dirt, like he taught me. The bat’s too big for me, heavy and strange – a man’s bat – but there’s no time to think about that because when I look up, Dad’s already started his run up – slow at first, then fast and mean all at once. The green tennis ball comes flying down the yard and I know before I’ve even swung that I’ve missed. The ball goes whizzing past and he laughs.
Watch your grip, he says, jogging over. Got to get it nice and firm, spread your hands, like this. I look to where his big hands are tight and red on the rubber and nod my head.
Through the kitchen window, I can see Mum watching, the telephone pressed to her ear, and I wonder if she’s talking to Granny or Aunty Sue and when everyone will be here for Christmas lunch.
Overhead the skies are getting darker. I hope it won’t rain.
He hands the bat back to me and walks to the other end of the yard. This time, when the ball comes down, I swing hard and connect. The ball bounces off the fence and almost hits the window and I see Mum jump back from the glass, her hands raised above her face.
That would have been a goner! Dad says, no doubt. Would have caught you out if we had a fielder. What about your Ma, she can have a catch. Good hands on her from what I remember. He turns to face the window. Hey Joy! I can see you in there. You coming out or I do have to drag you?
He looks at me and laughs, his eyes black in the middle and white and wide on the outside. Suddenly I feel as though I need to shit, but I don’t dare move, not with the bat in my hand and Dad already setting himself up at the other end of the yard.
Up above, the storm clouds are gathering, casting dark shadows across the grass. But when the first drops start to fall Dad doesn’t even notice. He’s rubbing the tennis ball on his jeans like he’s a pro, his face pale, hair wild. Somewhere in the distance a siren sounds and I hear the first grumbles of thunder. I think about Mum, about how much she loves a sunny Christmas – how it rained last one and the one before and how this year all she wanted was a real turkey and for the sun to come out and shine on our new house. Our new life.
Thunder breaks and all of a sudden the rain comes pissing down. From the back door Mum shouts run and I do. I look over my shoulder to where Dad’s standing in the yard. He smiles at me for a moment, then starts to run too, racing me to the door – me out in front and him behind and all the while Mum screaming us on. When I get inside the rain’s coming down so hard I barely hear her slam the door, the sound of the lock slid in tight. Barely feel the bat slip from my grip, her hand pushing me back. Barely see him standing on the other side of the door, the glass fogged up from the turkey in the oven and the rain outside. But when I turn around I see it all. Her, standing wide-eyed and dry, facing him through the glass. The cricket bat raised high above her head, like at any moment she might strike.
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