The confetti pieces of torn picture floated lightly to the carpet from Abby’s chubby tear-stained hands.
“It’s never gonna happen!”
Her lower lip, thrust out like a saucer, began to quiver again, and she clutched Dog-dog tighter under her arm.
“Come on Squirt”. Max pulled her towards his bedroom, where she could see Josie and Josh already waiting. She didn’t move.
“I wanna go beach Maxie!”
Max bent down to talk to her. “We all do, Abs. But the beach is a long, long way away, and Dad said he’s got to buy a new tractor, and you know that things have been hard on the farm this year.”
Josie came and stood in front of her with her hands on hips, little-Boss-Mummy. “Go watch Elmo, Abs. This is big-kid business.”
The air in Max’s room was thick with Josie’s anger. Josh, stoic as their father, studied the rain on the window. Max paced, deep in thought.
Their Dad was right, of course. It costs a lot of money to take four children and a father to the beach for a holiday, and there’s not only the travel costs, but where would they stay, where would they get their food from, and, most importantly, who’d look after the farm while they were gone?
“Youse’ve swum in the dam every other year,” their father had said. “Whatchers all need to go to the beach for anyway? There’s broken bottles buried in the sand, and needles that if you tread on them you die of AIDS. I don’t want that for my kids”.
Josie had fumed and screamed and crushed the plastic banana from the old fruit bowl. Josh was silent. Abby had torn up the precious magazine picture that she’d presented to him with so much silent hope.
And Max thought.
“Dad never changes his mind about nothin’!” Josie spat the words out.
“Yeah” intoned Josh. “Never.”
“That’s not true” Max put in. “When we was little he used to go down the pub and get drunk and swear at that Salvation Army bloke that was collecting the money, and every time they’d put plant a garden around the church he’d let the dogs in to dig it up at night, remember that?”
“Not my Daddy”, Abby slid in from behind the doorway. “My Daddy loves Jesus.”
“Shut up Abs” Josie turned round. “You’re too young to remember!”
“It’s true Squirt”, Max said. “When you was a baby Dad never ever went to church and he hated Pastor Eric, and once when Grandma bought us a Children’s Bible he ripped it up and put it in the fire.”
Abby looked up with round eyes. “But how…but now…what happened?”
Max saw it in his mind as clear as the rain on the window. His Mum praying. Her reading the bible in the toilet so his Dad wouldn’t see. The dug-up church garden. The mud on his Dad’s boots as he’d knelt down on the carpet at the front of the little church that first time. His Mum and his Grandma whispering in the kitchen afterwards. Their words didn’t mean much at the time.
They didn’t go to the beach that Summer. They didn’t complain. They swam in the dam and made sandcastles in the dirt, decorated with chicken feathers. They dragged the second-best towels outside and slathered their skinny kid-bodies with vegetable oil to sunbathe. They put on old records of Surfin’ Safari and they huddled together in the tool shed and prayed with the faith of children.
The sun shone for the harvest, and the new tractor was bought. The ploughing happened. Sowing and reaping; seed-time and harvest. They went back to school, taking Abby this time, and leaving manky Dog-dog at home in the cupboard behind their Mum’s old magazines and their dreams of the beach.
It was Max who discovered it first. He was hunting round his Dad’s office desk for a pencil sharpener and there they were. Brochures. From the travel agent in town, with nicely-printed-out prices for trains, lists of hotels in Sydney. Catalogues, with pictures of proper kid’s swimming costumes. Max smiled. His Mum had been right.
“The thing is with Bob,” she’d said, “is that if you want to persuade him to do anything, you need to let him think that it’s his idea in the first place”.
Max hugged the secret close to his chest. Dad had had an idea finally. He was taking his kids to the beach.
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