Though some would no doubt leave this detail out of their versions of the story, Grant did in fact tell Sue that he would be coming to town that Christmas. Braydon and Kassie both had parts in the Christmas pageant and he wanted to be there. It was all arranged quite politely, if a little awkwardly, with the kids buzzing about expectantly and nervously, in the days beforehand.
Yet for most of the town the first sign that Grant was back was the sight of his car coming down the main street.
Come, they told me, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum...sang his stereo, and everyone nearby turned and looked.
“It can’t be,” said Trish.
“He’s got a nerve,” said Ethel.
“Who does he think he is?” asked May.
“I know a few people who wouldn’t mind putting a few dents in that car,” said Bernie.
“He still owes me a hundred bucks,” said Rob.
Grant must have known that tongues would wag, but he did not seem to mind. A new-born king to see, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum, his stereo continued, unabashed through the open window.
“Thinks he owns the place,” said Kev.
It wasn’t exactly true. He owned half the house which he was driving to, and owned the car he was driving in, and had an equal share in the children he had come to see. That was as far as his perceptions of ownership stretched. But his window was open, which was a sure sign if ever there was one that he didn’t care at all about the townspeople who cared equally little about him.
“Do you reckon Sue knows?” asked Trish.
“Probably not,” said Rob.
“Typical,” said Ethel.
“Who does he think he is?” repeated May.
Her question was so pointed that none of them felt they could respond.
Our finest gifts to bring, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum, the stereo persevered. Kev bent down to pick up a weed. The car moved out of view and they all went back inside.
In the afternoon, the town was buzzing with the news. Newcomers, which meant anyone who had moved to the town since the second world war, who knew nothing of Grant or the reasons he had left town in 2008, had to have the whole thing explained to them, much to the delight of the Ethels and Mays of the community. The Kevs and the Bruces, meanwhile, served a clarifying role, correcting everything their wives had said and generally making the whole story more confusing than it had been at the start.
“No, you’ve got it wrong. He moved to Ballarat first.”
“No, it was Bendigo.”
“I heard he lived in a caravan.”
“In Warrnambool, wasn’t it?”
“No, that was after he moved into that hippy commune in Benalla.”
“Benalla? I heard it was Shepparton.”
“It definitely wasn’t a caravan. It was a bus.”
And so on.
The details, however, on which the community agreed were as follows:
That Grant, husband of Sue, father of Braydon and Kassandrah, had walked out on his family one day in early 2008;
That before leaving he had begun to go, to use the technical term, crazy, and had taken his craziness to various parts of Victoria before settling in Melbourne as a place where his craziness could pass unnoticed;
That the children had grown up with little or no contact with him;
That no-one had heard from him since.
That was the simplest form of the story. In more elaborate versions, Grant had started a cult; some said it was based around reading people’s energy through Thai massage, others that he predicted life events based on how people spoke while running. In other stories, Grant had had a vision of the Virgin Mary and had gone to live in the desert in obedience to her but had been stopped in Portland because his car wasn’t roadworthy. One recurring theme was that Grant’s mania had been of a religious kind. Most people also agreed that he was a loser.
Everyone, that is, except for Braydon and Kassie.
Go to Part Three
Last year I decided to write a Christmas story which I would post each day on my blog through all of Advent. The result was the story “The Gift”, which you can still read in instalments here if you care to look for it (just search for “The Gift” and it should come up easily enough). This year I have been slightly less ambitious and, admittedly, less organised, but I have inspired nonetheless to post a new story, in the ten days between now and Christmas. The story concerns a nameless country town, somewhere in regional Victoria, where an ill-fated Christmas pageant takes place. I know only a little more than you of where the story is going, as I am writing it only a few days ahead of posting it. But I hope you enjoy it and that it can help put you in the mood for Christmas, especially those of you in the Southern Hemisphere, for whom Christmas is a time of heat-waves and unexpected downpours, high fire danger and families coming together awkwardly at the end of an exhausted year.
Pageant: An Advent Story
In the years to come, opinions would vary wildly as to how it came about that Braydon broke his arm, Tayla ended up buried beneath several sheep and Kassie came to be sitting in the corner of the stage crying. Kim and Craig, both backstage until the last moment, observing it all, had their own ideas, but the cast and the audience – some hundred or so parents, grandparents, siblings and assorted other local well-wishers – also represented a wide spectrum of alternative views on the subject. Some – in particular Kassie – argued that it had been a mistake to ever let Braydon play the part of the star, while Braydon’s mother on the other hand insisted that it was in no way her son’s fault, a position made increasingly hard for her to maintain because her daughter and her recently reconciled husband took the opposing view. While she initially doted on her injured son as though he were a kind of wounded hero, the father took the more straightforward approach of saying, “Braydon, you were a dickhead,” a view which, in the end, even Braydon found himself compelled to accept.
There were, of course, those – you know the sort – who blamed every other circumstance or person possible and took what was, relative to the rest of the universe, only a small occurrence as an opportunity to cast allegations against everyone with whom they had experienced any degree of animosity. They could be heard, in the post-office or in the aisles of the IGA, saying, “Are you incinerating that I…” or, “Well, who was it then who put the frogs out? You tell me that?” And those with good sense tended to give such discussions a suitably wide berth, lest they too be drawn into decades of exponentially exaggerated local grievances.
On the whole, most people agreed that the pageant had brought the town together that year more than it had ever done before, and, once the differences of opinion about Braydon’s complicity had become, if not resolved, at least somewhat domesticated, his parents’ reconciliation stood as a living reminder to the town of the good which the pageant had done. Yet there were still those who insisted that the father’s return to town in mid-December had been the beginning of all the problems that had followed, and, though small, they were a vocal group – vocal enough that it seems worthwhile now to tell the story again from the beginning.
It is always hard to know where to begin such a story, intertwined as it is with so many generational disputes, shifting boundaries, properties changing hands, cattle grazing in the wrong paddock and general communal ambiguities blowing about in the municipal wind. Yet, since the accusation stands that it was Braydon’s father’s fault and that he should have left his whacko ideas in the city where he’d taken them all those years ago, it seems best to begin with the sound of his car driving down the main street, for the first time since 2008, Christmas carols blasting through the driver’s window, and a general sense of no-good-likely-to-come-from-this on every street corner that he passed.