“Your Dad’s a pig.”
My head snapped up. A boy was sitting on the school fence, half-hidden in the deep velvet shade of a tree that grew just outside the grounds. I couldn’t see his face, but I saw the wink of a red coal being lifted to his lips, and then an indistinct smudge of smoke like an eraser dragged across a page of charcoal.
I glanced behind me. My friends hadn’t even noticed that I’d wandered off. I could be a drifter, sometimes, when wrapped up in my own private thoughts. But blundering into the unexpected dimness behind the sports shed was like breaking the surface of a winter lake.
I wrapped my arms tighter around my body and looked at the boy. Ray Tanner, I thought. Opaque smoke mingled with the shadows. The scent was pungent and sweet, unlike anything I had ever smelled.
“What’s it like, living with a pig?”
A deep flush worked its way over my neck. I glanced back again, realizing belatedly that the only teacher on duty was well and truly out of sight. I mumbled at the ground.
“What’d you say?”
“I said, he’s not a pig.” I looked up. Ray shifted, and his features assembled out of the dimness into a recognizable face. His eyes looked bloodshot.
“He busted me yesterday for riding home without a helmet. He’s the only cop in this town - doesn’t he have anything better to do than pick on school kids? A hundred bucks.” He swore and spit on the ground.
I picked at the hem of my skirt.
“He’s still not a pig.”
The words were soft, but stubborn. I could taste fear in my mouth, a metallic bloom at the back of my throat, but I could also taste anger. Ray Tanner didn’t know what he was talking about. He didn’t know how lucky he was to have been pulled over before he got sideswiped by a car and turned his unprotected skull to mush. He didn’t know that the man who booked him was only trying to protect him from something worse.
He didn’t know that behind the uniform, Senior Constable John Greigg was flesh and blood, just like him. He had a heart that beat and eyes that crinkled up when he laughed, and the warmest hug in the world. He could make waffles to die for. He would do anything for his kids.
He was my Dad.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said more firmly. “You don’t even know him.”
Ray Tanner laughed. He dropped the burned-out joint and ground it into the dirt.
“Why would I want to?” he sneered. “If he’s a pig, you know what that makes you? A piglet. Pammy the piglet. How’s it feel, knowing that everyone hates you cos of your Dad?”
I lifted my chin. Tears threatened. “I don’t care,” I said bravely. “He loves me, and I love him. And if you really knew him, you would too.”
Ray came closer and shoved one bony finger into my chest. “Piglet,” he said, thickly. I staggered back a step. His eyes, red-rimmed, looked lifeless, as though someone had pulled a plug on him and drained away everything good. All of a sudden, where anger and hurt had burned bright in my chest, there was only ashes. The soft, white ashes of pity.
Ray Tanner didn’t have a Dad like mine. He had a Mum who drank too much and lived on welfare, and a father who had taken off when he was four.
He thought he was angry with my Dad, but what he didn’t realize was that deep down, he craved a love like that. A love with boundaries. A love that cared.
That night after dinner, my Dad pulled me aside. He looked weary. “Roy Tanner,” he said to me, and my heart sank. How had he heard?
But he was pressing something into my hand. A white envelope. “I want you to give him this,” he said. “It’s been tough on him without his Dad. I don’t want to see him throw his life away.”
I opened it later, alone in my room, and something inside me overflowed. Warm tears, love for my father, sorrow for Ray – I wasn’t sure which. But I clutched that hundred dollars like a lifeline, and prayed that Ray Tanner would learn how to accept grace.
When the world hates you, remember it hated me first. John 15:18
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