Bounced from one bad deal to another, a boy who knows too much learns about life from an unexpected source.
DEAD PEOPLE DON’T MAKE JAM
Everything Is Everything Award
He hadn’t seen the hunter for at least fifteen years and now there he was buying bananas at a road side stall. He looked at him, tried to catch his eye, but the hunter was absorbed, looking for a bunch with the right amount of green left in them.
“Glen Robertson,” he piped up. The hunter looked up from the pallet and saw the younger man. A flicker of recognition crossed his face but he couldn’t remember, so he had to ask.
“I know I know you, but … you’ll have to help me out.”
“Glen it’s Kelvin…Kelvin Green.”
“Kelvin Bloody Green, of course mate, look at you. Well I’ll be stuffed. Shit, eh?”
They did all the it’s been ages, you look great, good to see you, what’ve you been up to, stuff.
The hunter asked, “How’s your Aunty?”
“Haven’t seen her since I bolted at seventeen.”
“What about your cousin? Gracie? Surely you’ve seen her?”
“No. Glen. It’s not like that anymore. I can’t go back there, not even in my mind. Those two are toxic.”
“Sure mate, sure. It’s OK, I understand.”
Auntie Yvonne assigned Kelvin to the sunroom. There was a day bed there and an old tea chest was turned on its side so his clothes could be stored.
“And make sure your shoes are kept well under the bed. I don’t want anyone tripping over.”
The sunroom was a closed in front verandah which had to be crossed to get into the main part of the house.
“Your mother’s a prostitute and a drug addict,” his cousin informed him the day he arrived.
“Yeah, as if I didn’t know that, Gracie,” said Kelvin. He was ten and street wise. She was twelve and intrigued. She hung around looking at him. “Stare off will ya. I don’t do tricks or bang up. Nothing to see here.”
Gracie had no idea what he was talking about but was keen to know about ‘tricks’ and ‘banging up’. Her cousin was like a new toy delivered by the welfare people out of a big grey car.
Aunty Yvonne didn’t think of him as a gift. Once again she was picking up the mess left by her wayward sister. The words ‘burden’ and ‘sacrifice’ were bandied around with no attempt to shield her nephew from her disgust at the ‘whole sorry situation’.
Kelvin knew how to be invisible and compliant. He had scars to remind him what happens when you make an appearance at the wrong time or when you say ‘no’. Aunt Vonnie was child’s play compared to his mum.
And he knew how to get on without love.
He made a new life for himself out on the verandah and at his new school. Gracie was easy to amuse and when he wanted peace from her girly ways he would shock her by reading out aloud from his latest horror novel, or he would start swearing. She would leave saying she would tell Mum, but she never did. She had learned not to stir the hornet’s nest that was her mother. The cousins shared a kind of bond; her fear and his hatred of the matriarch became an unspoken allegiance.
All that went pear-shaped when puberty changed them both. Kelvin was fourteen and Gracie sixteen and she had never kissed a boy before, let alone French kissed. She didn’t even know what it was. She assumed it was a one of those long romantic kisses done while in a tight embrace, like in the movies. What she did know was you had to be good at it or the boys would call you ‘frigid’. She didn’t know what frigid was either. Aunty Yvonne let Kelvin run wild but Gracie was fiercely protected. Weeks of nagging finally gained Gracie permission to go to a dance at the youth centre, where she reckoned she’d have to French kiss Roger. She’d never spoken to Roger, or held his hand or anything. She’d just said yes when her friend Alison arranged by proxy for the two to ‘go around’ with each other.
Out of fear of social embarrassment she asked Kelvin, “Have you ever French kissed a girl?” Not wanting to appear stupid she would try and weasel it out of him.
“You mean pashed,” he replied.
“Yes.” It was making sense, she’d heard the word pash before. “Forget it Kelvin, how stupid am I asking you. Of course you haven’t pashed a girl.”
“I have so.” Kelvin was right. His mother’s crazy junkie friend, Belle, used to tongue kiss him from time to time. Being a prostitute she followed the unwritten code of never kissing the clients. Despite all the sex with men she was desperately lonely and when she was high, which was pretty much all the time, she yearned to kiss a man. Kelvin was so cute, she would say, and when the self-loathing kicked in she would kiss him. Kelvin remembers it clearly, the slippery wetness of it all, the smell of wine and make-up. He also remembers his mother doing nothing to stop it, she would just laugh.
“I don’t believe you. You don’t even know what a French kiss is.”
“Yes I do.”
“No you don’t.” Her plan was unfolding.
“Whatever, Gracie. Think what you want.”
“Come on, show me. I dare you.”
“No way, Gracie. We’re cousins.”
“Cousins kiss. They even get married.”
Kelvin pulled a face.
“Come on. I’ll show you my breasts.”
Kelvin’s mouth dropped and he got an instant erection as only a fourteen year old can.
“Yes I know you want to. I know you climb up on that chair to watch me undress in my room.”
Kelvin blushed, but the guilt did nothing to reduce the hardness in his shorts. He rolled over on his bed hiding his face and his crotch.
“Come on Kelvin, French kiss me to prove it.”
Kelvin turned back over, placing his paperback horror novel on his lap. Gracie was sitting on the side of his bed. “Okay then. This is a French kiss.” He grabbed her shoulders, she closed her eyes and puckered up. He placed his mouth on hers and slid in his tongue.
Gracie sprang like a rat trap and launched into the air with a shriek. “You little freak,” she said as she wiped her mouth and spat. “You’re sick. Just like your sick mother.” She stormed off to the bathroom. She was wildly brushing her teeth and spitting into the hand basin when Kelvin appeared at the doorway.
“You didn’t know what a French kiss was did you?”
“Go away, you sicko.”
“No. You go and ask your silly friends, Gracie. Go and ask them what a pash is. You’ll find out. And when you do, you can come back and show me your tits.” Gracie turned and threw her toothbrush at her cousin. It hit the wall.
Kelvin went back to his bed. He tried to read away his erection with his book of grisly tales of corpses and ghosts. It didn’t work. So he went into the bathroom, locked the door and masturbated while he sucked on Gracie’s toothbrush.
That afternoon Glen Robertson, the hunter, appeared on the scene as he did from time to time. Kelvin thought it was odd. His Aunty was stiff and neat, the hunter was loose and untucked. Aunty Von would never admit to anything between them, but the man did sleep in her bedroom. Did she think her daughter and nephew were idiots? That evening on the verandah, Kelvin climbed up onto a chair to look through the transom window above an unused door to the Aunty’s bedroom. He saw the hunter humping her from behind. It was like a scene from a wildlife documentary and it didn’t arouse him at all. Kelvin was so startled at the sight of his naked Aunty, and the hunter’s hairy back and arse that he fell back off the chair. He quickly and quietly moved the chair to its correct position and crept into the kitchen to do his chore of washing up.
As Kelvin was wiping dry the plates, the hunter came into the kitchen. His face was flushed and he said, “Your Aunty’s not feeling too well. I’m going to make her a cup of tea and take it into her in bed. Do you want one, Kelvin?”
Apart from the hairy back and arse, Kelvin liked Glen. He was down to earth, no bullshit. He had served in Nam with Aunty Von’s husband, David. They were best buddies until a sniper bullet put a bloody end to that. Kelvin remembers his Uncle Dave only vaguely. Memories of homing pigeons and cracking Macadamia nuts in the bench vice in the workshop came to mind. The pigeon houses are empty now and strangled by choko vines. The bench vice is still there in the dusty workshop, but Kelvin hasn’t tasted a Macadamia in years. Someone told him the Hawaiians had stolen the best nut in the world and now they cost a small fortune.
The hunter made the pot of tea and took a cup to Vonnie in bed. He came back to the kitchen and poured two more cups. He asked Kelvin if he wanted a spoon of honey in his. Kelvin sat down at the kitchen table, it was rare someone being friendly in this house. Glen talked and talked. Kelvin had a second cup of tea and tried the honey again. He liked it. He liked Glen and his hunting stories; shooting deer for meat deep in the fiord land of New Zealand, taking out buffalo from helicopters up North, and hunting chamois for the leather. Glen said he was mainly down here in Tasmania to see Vonnie, but while here he’d have a go at bagging some fox for their pelts. Even though it was summer, you could still get a pretty penny with a clean head shot.
“Hey, why don’t you come with me tomorrow. I’m heading out early, going to whistle some up on a mate’s property not far from here.” Kelvin was in, he was keen to see a fox whistled up – he’d heard some kids talk about it at school.
They drank their tea and looked out the window. It was dark. “Kelvin, have you seen that apricot tree, next door? Your Aunty won’t let me go over and get some. She says the old woman makes jam with the fruit. I bet it all ends up falling onto the ground and rotting away. Hate that sort of waste.”
The next morning, the hunter shook Kelvin awake and they headed out. A rooster’s crow and the cackling of kookaburras signalled the start of day. Glen had a .17 rifle specially for fox shooting. It shoots flat for near on two hundred yards and only makes a match head sized entry wound into the potentially valuable fox pelts. Not known as a listener by his teachers at school, Kelvin took in every word the hunter said. After a lesson on safety, Glen let Kelvin use a .22 magnum.
They trekked along a fence line and down into a creek gully. The hunter talked about the rocks and the trees and how it was virtually impossible to shoot a crow. He said he learnt all this stuff from the school of life and the public library. He pointed out some mistletoe and talked about symbiosis. He pointed out some lichen as another example of the interconnectedness of life. Kelvin couldn’t quite grasp how the green and grey crusty stuff on the trees and rocks could be both fungi and algae. After a while they left the creek and pushed through some thick lantana and onto a cleared paddock.
“This is Neville’s back lot. See over there, that’s a massive rabbit warren. We’ll try and wake up a fox from the bush just to the right of that and then we can have some fun with the rabbits. The .22 magnum will be perfect. We’ll get some dinner and some skins.”
Their footsteps alerted the rabbits. The guard rabbits thumped the ground and scores of the pests scurried down into the numerous holes of the large warren. The hunter picked out two trees to use as hunting stands. If a fox was around it would be asleep in the bush down the hill a bit. He also explained why you don’t hide behind the tree but sit in the front of it and face the target.
“Most mugs think you need to hide behind something. A fox, or the enemy for that matter, see movement first of all. So when you stick your head out, you give yourself away quick smart. That’s why you sit in front and sit still. I’ll do the whistling. If you get a fox in sight have a shot. Don’t wait for me.”
Glen whistled with his mouth. Kelvin had seen a tin fox whistle before, Bertie Baker had one at school once. It looked like a little flying saucer and sounded like a screaming rabbit in a trap, so Bertie claimed. It was an eerie, sickly song. The hunter knew what he was doing and after a few carefully spaced refrains a bright red fox starting slinking its way out of the scrub. Kelvin had it in his sights and was about to squeeze the trigger when the hunter’s rifle rang out and the fox somersaulted backwards in the air.
Glen had shot it right between the eyes. The exit wound a tiny hole in back of the scalp, perfect for the furrier. Glen reckoned twenty five dollars for this one.
“If it was mid-winter it would fetch forty for sure.” This was all before fur became taboo.
The loud report of the .17 high powered rifle would have scared any other nearby foxes away, so Glen and Kelvin set themselves up for a bit of sport with the rabbits. The rabbits scampered away once again at the approaching hunters. But after sitting still for a while the vermin slowly returned to their grazing. You could shoot away like being at a carnival side show.
They must have shot twenty of the buggers. It was shooter’s etiquette to repay the land holder who allowed you onto their property by taking out as much vermin as you could. Most shooters left rabbits and roos to rot on the ground where they were slain. Not Glen though, he selected two rabbits with nice clean head shots and put them aside, they were dinner. They would skin them and the fox back at home. He went around skinning the remaining rabbits laying dead on the ground. He could do it with a quick snick of his knife and one easy pull, like the skin was a fur jumpsuit. Kelvin watched him do it at least a dozen times, but struggled when trying to emulate the task.
The hunter strung the rabbit skins and the two full carcasses onto a wire loop and slung it over his shoulder. “You carry the fox Kelvin, take him by the tail. We better head back. Look over there.” He pointed to the south. Kelvin saw the blue gum plantation that stretched to the horizon and the billowing clouds above. They got back to the ute and a cool wind with the smell of rain had sprung up. When they turned onto the main road some big drops started splattering onto the dusty windscreen.
Aunty Yvonne came out to the carport where the two hunters had pulled in. She looked into the back of the ute and spotted the kill. “Glen Robertson you’d better get all that carnage sorted out before I get back. I have to go to the bank and to the shops. You’ve got one hour. And remember what I said,” and with no attempt to keep this from Kelvin’s ears, “… I want you gone first thing tomorrow.”
“Yeah, righto Vonny. You know me, good to my word. I’ll be out of here at sparrow fart. Now, guess you won’t say no to some rabbit stew for dinner tonight?” The hunter winked at Kelvin. The rigid Aunt would have this man in her bed, and eat his bounty, but there wasn’t a skerrick of human warmth in her repertoire.
The hunter had a special knife for skinning the fox and he honed it razor sharp on an oil stone. “A sharp knife is less dangerous than a blunt one, always remember that son.” Unlike his rapid fire rabbit skinning, he took time and pride in getting the full pelt off the smelly fox carcass.
Kelvin watched it all. The hunter pulled some hessian sacks and a bag of salt out from behind the drivers seat in the ute. He worked quickly prepping the skins by rubbing them with salt, rolling them up and packing them into the sacks. The pure calm and skill of the hunter were mesmerising. Glen offered a quiet commentary of what he was doing and why, and what would need to be done later.
The southerly change brought a few big drops of rain but no downpour, typical summer huff and puff. The sky was grey and the wind blew cool and moist. Glen made sure the ute was hosed out and the bag of skins were well hidden. They dug a deep hole out the back to bury the fox carcass. Kelvin filled in the hole while the hunter stepped onto the bottom rail of the back fence to get a good look at those plump apricots in the neighbours yard. Much fruit had fallen already and was rotting on the ground. He noticed a plum and a peach tree, also in fruit.
“She’s not going to use all that fruit,” he said to no one.
A voice answered, “You’re right about that mate, she’s dead.” It was a neighbour hanging over one of the side fences. Kelvin heard the new voice and came over to join the hunter. A man about thirty or so, with noisy kids running around his legs, explained that old Joycie had died in her sleep two days ago.
Needing no more information or permission, Glen jumped the fence, picked off an apricot and took a bite. He moaned in pleasure. The young father watched speechless but smiled. Glen threw the neighbour and Kelvin an apricot each. “Here get stuck into these, they’re spot on ready.” They were sweet and full of flavour. Several more were thrown to the neighbour and he handed them down to his invisible but demanding kids. “Hey Kelvin, go and get some plastic bags from your Auntie’s kitchen.”
The plastic bags were filled with golden apricots, peachy peaches and blood red plums. The speedy harvest was shared with the neighbour.
The hunter, now gatherer, was climbing back over the fence when Aunty Yvonne arrived home. She was furious. She had plastic bags as well but as she pointed out she had paid for the contents and not stolen them. When she found out Joycie was dead she got even madder.
“How dare you steal off a dead woman?” she screamed later in the kitchen. She turned to Kelvin. “And you, yes you, just stood there and let him. What were you thinking young man, why did you not do anything? You’re useless! Just like your mother.”
Kelvin walked out of the kitchen to go lie on his bed on the verandah.
“Hey Vonn, back off love. It was my doing, all my doing. The boy is a great kid, don’t talk to him like that. You can’t expect a boy to step in and tell a grown man what to do. It is us who guide them.”
“Oh, great then. So you show him how to kill animals … and trespass … and steal!”
Yvonne sat at the kitchen table and shook her head. Since her husband had been killed in Vietnam, she was tired and over everything. She didn’t say anything of the sort, she didn’t have to.
“All this fruit was going to rot on the ground. And we’re going to eat rabbit for dinner. We have skinned everything we shot and I will use them all. I’ll even make you a fox fur stole if you want.”
“Don’t you dare Glen Robertson. Don’t you dare. And don’t change the subject, you stole from a dead woman. She was going to make jam with all that fruit.”
“Dead people don’t make jam.”
“I don’t know why I let you come here at all.”
“Yes you do, Von.” The hunter winked.
The rest of the day was spent preparing rabbit stew and making jam. The hunter asked Kelvin to get a pen and some paper. Glen drew around the boys hands to get a pattern for some rabbit gloves. “You shot the lion’s share of those rabbits young fella, so you should benefit from your handy work. Nothing like a pair of fur lined rabbit skin gloves for the winter. Especially a Tassie winter.”
Gracie came into the kitchen, called the rabbit stew gross, begged some money from her mother and left. A seventeen year old boy was waiting outside in a car with a fox tail hanging from the aerial. Yvonne began bossing Kelvin around, giving him orders. It was clearly punishment to compensate for her lack of control over Gracie. The hunter told Kelvin they would wash up together, but he just needed to have a word with his Aunty first. He took her into the sitting room and asked why?
“He is just like my sister, quiet and sneaky. I don’t trust him.” The hunter didn’t pursue it, he knew all too well the deep pain inside Yvonne. She was damaged, unable to see beyond her own misery. He would be content with coming and meeting his obligation.
Glen Robertson and David Hindmarsh promised each other to look after family if one of them managed by sheer luck to survive the war and the other didn’t. Glen was the lucky one, and to his word, he looked out for Dave’s widow and daughter. He sent money when he could and he tried to visit every six months. Yvonne, accepted the money and, on his visits, spread her legs in mock gratitude.
That’s sort of how it played out. She would admit to no one, not even herself, that she was strangely attracted to the hunter. And what haunted her even more, the unthinkable secret, was she was planning on leaving her husband anyway when he returned from Vietnam. Then he went and got shot, becoming this ghost beyond judgement, the local hero never to be spoken of badly. Her dead husband, lest we forget, had never been her true love. Her marriage to him, when she was way too young, was at the time the only way she thought she could escape her crazy family. Yvonne’s younger sister, Kelvin’s mother, escaped as well. Only she chose the back of Harley Davidson motorcycles to escort her away from the hell of an abusive father.
After rabbit stew and a jam tasting, Kelvin went to bed. He heard his Aunty and Glen making their noise in her bedroom, he didn’t bother looking this night. He fell asleep and dreamed about some aliens that were watching Earth. He was watching them with a special telescope that had been given to him by an ‘uncle’ who was fucking his mother. This dream uncle looked like the bank manager in town and the dream mother looked like his real mother whom he now only remembered from photos. Aunty Vonn refused to take him to visit her in prison. It was one of those disturbing dreams where the places and time and people shift in and out of realness. Where the whole episode is spread over periods of sleep and awake but marinated through with a distinctive but unsettling flavour. There was something hot and sickly sweet about this one.
Kelvin was woken by a car pulling up outside. He heard a car door close and footsteps. Gracie quietly opened the front door with her key and stepped in. Kelvin pretended to be asleep but she still came over to his bed. She knelt down and looked at his face. He resisted opening his eyes and he could smell stale fruity wine on her breath. She touched his face and whispered, “Kelvin. Cousin Kelvin.”
He opened his eyes and she leaned in and kissed him, her tongue sliding straight into his mouth. He pushed back but she whispered it was OK, she just wanted a kiss. He feared his Aunty waking and finding them, and so he let her go, letting her probe his mouth. She had lied about wanting only a kiss. She edged her way onto his bed, undressing herself. Her exposed breasts finally gifted to him. He became erect despite knowing the wrongness of it all. It was his cousin. The kiss before was a silly power game, this was much more. He could masturbate thinking of her, but she was just mind matter and never thought of as a real prospect.
Naked she slipped under the covers and straddled him. She guided him into her. Her wetness was a shock and a pleasure at once. She had the power now. Grinding her hips, all the while smothering his mouth with hers. Her quiet moaning, confused and excited him. Was she hurting? Crying? It sounded different to Aunty Yvonne when the hunter thrusted into her. Gracie’s mouth tasted like Belle’s, from all those years ago.
He was transported back into the dirty unit with his mother and her crazy friend. Belle, dressed for the night and leaning over him, lips painted to entice the customers. Her breasts, two flesh domes pushed up and out above a tight red lace bra worn as a top. Her short skirt and stockinged legs. He came inside Gracie. She kept grinding harder and faster and in shame he squirmed and tried to push her off him. She laughed and held him down, not stopping until she was herself ready. When she stopped she exhaled loudly and slumped upon her cousin for one quick moment. Then she quickly got out of the bed, gathered up her clothing and slipped away.
The hunter only came back one more time. It was winter and he had a pair of rabbit skin gloves for Kelvin. Since the night of the stew and the jam and the sex with his cousin, life had got worse. Aunty Von had started dating the bank manager. He was neat and tidy and smelled of Old Spice aftershave. He chewed mints and liked to join in on putting Kelvin down. And Gracie, she totally ignored her cousin, except for calling him disgusting or useless.
Kelvin heard his Aunty talking to the hunter. “You can’t come here any more, this has to be the last time.”
“What about my promise to Davo?” he asked.
“You’ve done that, I need to move on.”
Kelvin heard his Aunty and the hunter doing it one last time. Her stifled moans betrayed her plans to be settled with a man in a suit. But she had to do what she had to do or everything would go to shit, she told herself.
Glen said goodbye to the boy. “Come and see me when you can. We’ll go pig hunting and eat bacon.” But New South Wales was a long way from Tassie, back then anyway.
The hunter had owned the bush block out the back of Port Macquarie for many years. He told Kelvin about it all those years ago – clean country, he said. He had since built a cabin and was now living there full-time, his international hunting career now just pictures on the wall. He still did some tripping about but he was maybe in his late sixties, Kelvin figured. Glen’s invitation at the roadside fruit stall didn’t need much thought. Kelvin was cruising up the coast running away again, this time from a woman with a kid that was not his. A kid he was expected to support but not to discipline. You’re not his real father, she would say. He was also running from the sticky web of Sydney and a growing hunger for cocaine.
The hunter needed to run a few errands and get some more supplies in town. He drew a map on the back of an envelope he found in the ute’s glove box and he told Kelvin to go there and make himself at home. Kelvin found a bottle shop on the way and bought a case of beer and a bottle of rum. Nothing like alcohol to kick a drug habit.
The hour or so he had to himself at the hunter’s place was good. It was off the highway, in the bush. The birds were singing and the trees made a dappled calming light, good for an edgy soul. The place was not locked, as Glen had said. The cabin consisted of two rooms; a living area that incorporated kitchen, dining and lounge areas, and a bedroom which Kelvin had a quick peek in at. It was rustic and cluttered, but inviting and comfortable. Kelvin cracked a beer as he loaded a six pack into the fridge.
Everywhere there was evidence of activity. The hunter, as always it seemed, was a busy man; painting landscapes, carving wood, sewing leather, and chipping arrow heads from chert. A slow simmering crock pot of meat and vegetables and herbs was filling the cabin with a homely aroma. On the verandah pegged out skins were drying, and a tub of twigs were soaking. Kelvin wandered to an outhouse where a compost toilet and shower were set up. There was no back wall to the outhouse, and you could sit and study the falling away of gum trees down the slope of the land, and through the forest pick out a distant horizon of weathered rock and blue grey bush.
The lounge back inside was covered with a hotchpotch of pillows, rugs and clothing. Kelvin cleared a space and lay down. He flipped through some National Geographic magazines which were piled upon a tiled mosaic coffee table. The story of moonshine-making folk up in the Ozark Mountains had him drifting off to sleep. The hunter arrived with two arms full of supplies, Kelvin woke and followed his host back outside to help unload the ute – he knew about pitching in.
“Hey, Glen. Is this the same truck you had all those years ago?”
“No, it’s not. It’s the same model and year though. Keep buying the same thing. I sort of know how they work and how they don’t work.”
The hunter had also bought a case of beer. Most of what was needed to be said had been covered at the fruit stall and they were happy to sit around and listen to the radio. They drank some beer but left the rum alone. The hunter cleaned the rifles and sharpened the knives for tomorrow’s pig hunt and Kelvin wrote in his diary and started on a novel he had bought from an op-shop back in Taree. The stew turned out to be wallaby and they each had a bowl.
It was an early start the next morning. The pigs were way up the valley in State Forest. They would need to butcher any kills on site and backpack the meat out. The hunter gave Kelvin a 30/30 bolt action and he carried a .243 for himself. They were both scoped and sighted in. The hunter explained his one shot method for sighting in a rifle. Kelvin was impressed with the genius of it and it made sense, since “Ammo’s not cheap, you know. Even when you pack and crimp it yourself.”
The hunter was still light and quiet on his feet. He pointed out some wild goats and a feral cat on the walk. The plan was one pig each, ideally two shots only needed. The best kill zone for a pig was discussed the night before, as was the size and sex to be targeted. It was to be a stealth mission—there was pesky neighbour on one of the ridges who had caused some drama in the past. When they passed near his place the hunter pointed it out through the scrub.
“That’s cockhead’s place,” he said. Being July, the citrus orchard was in full fruit. “We’ll skirt by on the way back and pilfer some grapefruit.”
The hunter knew the land well and as predicted the drift of wild pigs, at least a dozen, were rooting around in a dry creek bed. Downwind and from a safe distance two shooting positions were silently selected. The hunter’s plan, talked about on the walk in, was for Kelvin to take out the biggest sow first. The hunter would then pick off another. “I’ll be ready son, don’t you worry, and take your time. The most important thing is to get into position without ’em knowing we’re here. Then pick your Jenny and wait till you get her lined up right for the kill shot.”
As always Kelvin excelled at being invisible and silent. He had been trained well by an explosive mother, a cranky Aunt, a turbulent cousin, and a demanding de facto. There were others as well. It had been a life-long sequence of damaged females. Maybe that’s what he was running from. Here in the bush it was just Glen and some ugly pigs – safe haven.
He moved slowly to his assigned spot. It was a clump of trees about thirty metres from the prey. He sat at the base of a larger tree and waited to slow his breathing. He noted the hunter was in his spot. Kelvin slowly raised the rifle, propping his elbows onto his knees. The pigs were oblivious as they pushed their snouts into the dark soil. It was clean country, lots of worms for pigs to eat, but not the sort to infect their gut or succulent muscle.
As he scouted the drift for the right sized sow he noticed two rabbits in between him and the pork. They too were unaware of the alien presence—humans with high powered rifles. Kelvin remembered the two rabbits they had eaten back when the hunter had taken him fox whistling, the day they made jam—apricot, plum and peach. The same day when his crazy cousin Gracie mounted him in bed. Was that incest? The shame of having sex with his cousin plagued him ever since. More than the act was the unthinkable knowledge that he wanted, even ached, to do it again. His dreams of fucking her from behind like the hunter had done to his Aunty were hard to stop. Even when he was with other women, he thought of his cousin. He remembers how he thought about Belle when Gracie humped him. Ever since, Gracie had replaced Belle to become the image in his mind when he was doing it with other women. Had she screwed with his head so bad that he’d see her forever? He hated this lust for his cousin. His fantasies about her evolved into rape, even violent rape. He would never tell a soul but he had thought of killing her. Karma it would be – justifiable homicide. She was the one who wanted the French kiss. She was the one who gave him his first experience of sweet smothering female wetness. He was just a boy and camped out on the verandah-come-bedroom – unwelcome. Meat.
He picked out his sow and waited for her to turn sideways to expose the ribs encasing her heart. Oblivious to her fate, she obliged. With his eye to the scope a wedged tail eagle swooped down and silently plucked up one of the rabbits in the foreground and flew off. The rabbit left behind kept on eating without any reaction at all. Kelvin looked over at the hunter, he had seen it too. They would talk about that later over a rum for sure. The pigs also ignored the eagle and rooted on. Kelvin re-sighted his sow, aligned the cross-hairs on her sternum and fired. She dropped – all gravity, no life to resist. The mob of swine jolted to attention. The head boar squealed and grunted just as the hunter’s .243 hollow point bullet tore apart another sow’s heart. The drift now bolted for the scrub. The boar who’d roared ran a tight circle around his dead mates and propped and squealed to the sky. Glen stood and squealed back. It was a clear as a bell warning to the boar to fuck off, if you want to live and root again. It eyed the hunter and took off.
The two sows were skinned and butchered. The heat and smell filled the air and brought in the flies. It was all part and parcel of life and death. Kelvin had seen in the cabin the good use to which porcine fur, leather and bone had been put. It all made sense. Minimum waste, take what you need, use as much as can and get out of there. Build a cabin of your own and eat bananas when you feel like stopping by the roadside. Read what you want. Don’t let women screw you over.
Kelvin watched the hunter carefully and butchered away as best as he could. Glen told Kelvin he was a quick learner. “You have to be,” Kelvin replied. “Don’t you?”
They wrapped the skins and meat in newspaper and hessian and packed it into their back packs. They walked back the way they came with the warm flesh heating their backs. Kelvin thought about the hunters sweaty and hairy back, and his naked Aunty. He belched.
They dropped their packs and rifles when they got near the pesky neighbour’s place. The hunter pulled some plastic grocery bags from a side pocket in his backpack and handed a couple to Kelvin.
“Grapefruit time,” he said.
Kelvin followed the hunter to a battery hooked up to the white tape surrounding the orchard. He disconnected it and they stepped over the make-shift electric fence. The orchard had all sorts of citrus; lemons, limes, oranges, tangelos, mandarins and grapefruit. And there were varieties of each. The hunter had said grapefruit but he was collecting and instructing Kelvin to collect varieties of all the sorts on offer. They worked quietly pilfering.
The hunter broke the silence, “Kelvin. Here comes the owner, mate. Don’t panic, I’ll deal with him.”
The landowner got to within about twenty metres and called out, “Hey!”
“Good morning, Henry. Beautiful day again, how you been?”
“Git the fork off my proparty, you derty barsterd.” The accent was South African and thick.
“That’s not very neighbourly, Henry. I thought I’d save you the trouble of having to deal with a whole heap of rotting fruit.”
“It’s my froot and you are tresparsing. Drop dose bargs and leev now.”
“So you’d rather this fruit just rot.”
“It’s my proparty and I’ll do wartever I wont weeth it. Now fork off or I’ll call the police.”
“Say g’day to Roger for me when you do that will you, Henry.”
“You think you are so smart, don’t you? You think you can just wark enyware you like.”
“I like to run it by the Beripi mob first, you know the indigenous owners of the land. They don’t seem to have a problem with me hunting and gathering, especially the exotic stuff.”
“I’m calling the police now, you forkin cunt.”
“Well he knows the way up here, that’s for certain. Say hi to Marjorie for me Henry, will you?”
Henry spat on the ground and turned and walked away. He was swearing to himself as he retreated to the farmhouse.
The hunter turned to wink at Kelvin. He noticed that the young man, who had been silently watching the interchange, had his hunting knife tightly clenched in his hand and was breathing heavily and staring hard at Henry as he walked away.
“Whoa! Kelvin.” said Glen. “Are you OK?”
“I want to kill him. I want to stab him in the heart … and … ” Kelvin was trembling.
“Sure mate, sure. It’s OK, I understand. Now just breathe easy son. Just breathe.”
Kelvin dropped the knife and stood motionless. The hunter bent down, picked up the knife and placed it back into the sheath on Kelvin’s belt. He put his hand onto his shoulder and told him again it was OK.
Kelvin dropped to his knees and held his face with his hands, he was still trembling and now began to sob. The hunter sat down next to him and let him just be for a while.
The hunter pulled out a mandarin and peeled it. “If you did kill him, you know, I would be OK with that. But it could get messy.”
“When you’re ready son we’ll go. No rush. Henry won’t ring the cops. The sergeant is having an affair with his wife, Marjorie, and Henry knows it. He’s too weak to do anything about it. All Afrikaner bluster, he is.”
Kelvin began to calm down, his breathing coming back to normal slowly. He apologised again. They ate some mandarin and the fructose helped put things back into perspective.
“I can’t believe I wanted to kill him, Glen. I’ve never felt like that before. I am so sorry.”
“Hey buddy no need to be sorry. I know the feeling, it’s natural. And guess what? You didn’t do it. And you want to know the good news?”
“What’s that,” said Kelvin shaking his head to rid himself of the last dreg’s of murderous intent.
“You don’t have to kill people like Henry. They’re dead already.”
Kelvin smiled. He stood and grabbed the plastic bags of fruit by his sides. “And dead people don’t make jam.”
“Or marmalade,” added Glen, the hunter.