Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dad’s Boy

This short story was written about my childhood experiences with my Father for the ABC National Rural Short Story Competition. Of course, the year I decide to enter was the year they decided to terminate the competition due to a lack of funding. It has since been published in our small rural newspaper.

My shiny black leather shoes are resting on the edge of the truck’s cold bench seat. I cautiously stretch my small legs in an attempt to drop an ankle over the rim to sit like a big girl. Not a chance. I am wearing my sensible lace-ups, double bows lovingly tied by Mum in near darkness. I don’t want to scuff the glossy shoe surface as I can see myself in their reflection. At almost four years old, I’m off to help Dad on the freezing morning milk run. We sit silently, and our rapid breathing produces heated hazes of damp vapour condensing in the early morn clouding the interior of the windscreen. Dad wipes it with crumpled newspaper; there is no demister in the old girl as he fondly calls the lorry.

Dad’s boy they call me, though I am the second of his two daughters. The tomboy shadow persistently tagging along behind as my weather-beaten, craggy-faced giant of a Dad strides about our backyard feeding chooks, tilling the vege patch, and chucking papers into the ancient incinerator until billowing black belches of smoke mask everything around us. His large calloused hand holds my soft plump fingers tight. Dad’s boy is safe from harm; she’s with her Dad. I am his diminutive companion for all tasks, though my big sister always tells him I’m a nuisance and annoying.

After weeks of whining, begging and beseeching, finally I am deemed old enough to accompany my former cow-cocky father on the four am milk run. My sister, who is eight, has outgrown these adventures. In fact, she never really, truly enjoyed the daring moonlit escapades. She is such a girl.

Mum woke me up when the stars were still shining bright, winking at me. Now, I am bundled so deep in thick, warm layers of clothes all I could manage was a penguin shuffle to the truck. Dad hoisted me like a plump package into the passenger seat, and now I sit entranced by my reflection in my black shiny shoes and the steam flowing from my mouth with every breath.

“All set petal? Gunna give your old Dad a hand with the milk cans?” In the darkness his shiny eyes twinkle as he turns the key. The engine splutters once, twice, a third time grumbling at this cold early morning start, until at last she catches with a shake and a rattle. We are off, waking the slumbering neighbours with a clatter and a clank as we roll down the bitumen road through the sleeping country town, before heading into the gloomy fog of the rural farming area. Cluttered houses on the quarter acre block give way to barbwire fences and hazy shadows of dairy cows as the dawn sun slowly crawls its way above the horizon, darkness still holding most of the land in its gloomy embrace. We turn up dusty tracks, rattle over rusty metal cattle grids, and turn into ramshackle timber sheds where the daybreak milk rumbles through monstrous milking machines as they sigh and groan with lives of their own. Giant metallic robots rhythmically sucking at the udders of placid caramel coloured Jerseys whose long-lashed chocolate brown eyes blink slowly, sleepily at me through the morning mist.

“See you got yourself an offsider today. Looks a bit on the scrawny side to be of any use!” A decrepit moth-eaten hat shades the farmer’s gnarled face whilst the sun weakly struggles to break the fog’s hold over the frost-covered paddocks. The stench from his hand-rolled cigarette wafts past as I smother a cough. Dad’s boy is tough and the smoke is weak compared to the bilious fumes from our backyard burnings.

“She’s stronger than she looks. She’ll be right.” Dad winks at me as the old man walks away. His laconic voice echoes back through the stillness of first light.

“Wanna cuppa? Just brewed fresh.”

“Nah, better keep moving. Don’t want the offsider to fall asleep on me.” Dad smiles at me to take the sting from his words, his white teeth glisten brightly in the new day’s sunshine. He heads to where the tall silver cans sit sealed, waiting, and hoists one effortlessly onto his broad shoulders, “Petal, stand by the back of the lorry you’ll have to help me haul it on.” I stand to attention, Dad’s boy ready for service. He lumbers to the rear of the old girl, drops the can to stand for a minute on the ground as a solitary sentinel. Opens the flaps, ties them back with frayed rope.

“Ready?” He looks at me, nods curtly and grips the hard metal lid. I squat, grab the cold clammy bottom ready to help with all my childhood strength. Effortlessly the can flies upwards into the back. Who would have thought those big tin things full up of fresh milk would be so light? I jump for joy as Dad goes to get the next one and the next. I am Dad’s boy, and I am telling my sister she is a nuisance and a Nancy girl.

We churn off down the dusty road towards our next stop. My black lace-up shoes are covered in mud, scuffed and dull. I don’t care. I am Dad’s boy.


Seana Smith said...

A really lovely story, took me back in time there with you. Enjoying a visit to your blog via the Fibro. now off to read some more.

Life In A Pink Fibro said...

Beautiful story and such gorgeous writing! (PS: Look out for Country Style's Short Story competition - was on in April this year, but maybe next year?)

Thanks for Rewinding at the Fibro.

Jo at BIG Kids Magazine said...

Such a gorgeous story. My little girl is 18months old with two older brothers, but she is the one following him outside lifting and sorting and helping and sighing. Very beautiful read. Love to know if your sister is still 'such a girl'! Love it.

Anonymous said...

Dropping in from Rewind to say hello. Very enjoyable short story. Thank you.

Madmother said...

Sadly my sister passed away at age 19. But yes, she was a "girl" right up to her death.

Thanks for visiting.