Lucy’s hurting. It breaks my heart.
She comes over, all warm smiles, to pick her boys up from where I’m staying the night, just outside Charter Towers. Her ex-husband is camping in the bungalow until he sorts his shit out. It’s been his turn with the kids for a day or two. He’s vanished for the moment, while Lucy’s here. Everything’s still raw, it’s easier that way.
The boys are tiny, like her. Gorgeous, like her. Lucy sips wine and tilts her head, looking into space while one of them saddles up beside her, and strokes his hair in a way that seems small, that fools everyone. That, really, fools no-one. Her pain is the elephant on the back patio. Nobody knows what to do, so they say nothing and act like it’s not there.
That touch, it’s all loss and love. Every inch, every sigh. Lucy lets her hurt release through her fingertips, to be soothed by her child.
I ask if the boys play sport. They’re so small.
“This one does Karate,” she scruffs his hair. “The other plays soccer.”
“That’s great,” I say. “Any activity is gold.”
Their dad, not big himself, has been playing badminton with them for days.
“Who wants a kick?” I boom, to break the underlying mood.
The boys bounce and leap and yelp “Me!” and ask “How? I can’t help but like them lots. Anyone would. They’re the best little men, polite and unafraid.
“Keep it simple,” I tell them. “Watch the ball as it hits your boot and swing!” They do, and laugh and bash into each other and love it.
Down my end, the bloke who’s place this is lines up on me. We laugh and bash into each other and, beneath the banter, go hard. He slips an elbow into my ribs. I stop his leap by crushing his toes. I throw him in a tackle. His arm comes up and fairly smacks my jaw.
Soon, he gives up, not letting his family see I’ve hurt him. Ex-Army boys hold that shit in.
One kid is obviously better than the other at footy, so I tackle him, then lift his brother off the ground when he picks up the bouncing ball. I spin them both like yoyos, then get the pill and give them the ol’ baulk and weave, get the odd kick in, and again tackle them into the air.
The skies turned black an hour ago. It’s been raining hard and warm in the tropics for a while. Me and the boys pretend not to notice how wet we are. The ex-husband stays in his bungalow. Lucy watches us with a big smile, and rimming eyes.
Her sons are her victory, and, she may not feel it now, but she is theirs. Lucy can’t help her hurt and loneliness, even if she’s already conquered the world. If they were mine I’d be so damn proud!
“It sounds like you’re having fun over there!” the neighbour calls.
The rain falls and falls. No matter their mood, everybody smiles. The boys, wide-eyed, full of life, chase the slippery ball.