Put the kettle to boil. Toast in the toaster. Eggs, bacon and beans in the pan. Then the juggling act, sweeping the beans and the liquid eggs away from the bacon and each other. Bacon spits. Eggs hiss if you press them with the spatula. Beans are serene; they simmer. Then the kettle joins the chaos, bubbling and spluttering, a decisive click 'off', and the water subsides into subdued agitation. The toast is up. Onto the plate and smother it with beans before it cools. Scoop up the bacon and the eggs, make sure they're not runny, and onto the plate with them too. Call the boy, but the boy is here. Make him a tea, then sit him down and point him to his plate, he's too sleepy to find it himself. He's eating? Good. Make yourself a coffee. Sit down opposite the boy, and don't forget to say,
“Good morning, Tim.”
Tim looked up, bleary-eyed, and mumbled an answer. I had thought that kids were supposed to be up early and full of energy and that it was only in the teenage years that waking up became a daily ordeal, but Tim was born with the body-clock of a teenager. The manners and appetite of a teenager too, I thought, as I watched him shovel food into his mouth.
As I leaned back in my chair, Tim muttered, “I don’t want to go to school” into his mug.
I sighed and asked him, “Are you sick?”
“Then you have to go.”
“But it’s ANZAC day. We’ll just have to sit in assembly for half the day. I’m not going to learn anything if I do go.”
ANZAC day. I’d forgotten. A cold, numb feeling sank into me. ‘Lest we forget’; and I had forgotten.
“Tim, ANZAC day is important.” I snapped. “You have to go.”
“But it’s so boring…”
He looked away, the little defiance he’d mustered seeping out of him. He knew he’d done something wrong, though he didn’t know what. Poor kid.
As we drove to the school I did this awful thing my mother used to do to me; I made small-talk, for the whole trip. Tim replied with short, tortured answers while I blabbered on. I can’t help it, sometimes I just talk.
At work I slip into the blissfully mind-numbing mediocrity of completing tasks set for me by others. Journalistic filler pieces for a minor newspaper. Heavenly unimportance. Although it frightens me sometimes, when I realise that there are people who read my fluff pieces about overly strict under 10's soccer coaches, and emu eggs laid in the Canberra Zoo alongside articles describing the situation in Egypt, and make no distinction between them. I used to think that people would know what was important, storing away articles of consequence in their minds. I know better now.
Australian Officer killed in Afghanistan.
And people were talking about Paris Hilton’s hair, and their uni exams, and Christmas. I remember people complaining that they had to see their parents for Christmas, and there was Tim, never going to see his father again.
His loving wife and son are distraught over this sad loss.
And no one even read it. No one cared. No one.
I still have that article, entitled ‘2 Dead and 4 wounded in Afghanistan’. After they told me that he was gone I searched the papers for it; it wasn’t front-page news – they didn't want it publicised too much – but I knew it had to be there somewhere. When I found it I carefully cut it out, like I used to cut out pictures for my scrapbooks as a child, and I hid it away in the box where I keep Ted’s letters. The ones he wrote me when we were still in school.
It was the most sanitised article I’ve ever read. Not a word said about how he died; only that it was in the service of his country. As though that was all that matters. As though it defined him. When we buried him I finally accepted that he must have died in pain, and I think that was when I lost my grip on God. The idea of God.
Most people seem to either believe in some religion or other, or in science. I don't think I have any belief: only disbelief. All I can manage is vague doubts about everything, and I find that I miss God. I suppose that's strange. Everyone I know seems to be confident in their belief in one thing or another; mostly Christianity or atheism. I don't believe: I reminisce. People who turn against their faith generally seem to do so vengefully, vindictively, but I still feel a certain fondness for the blissful conviction of my teenage years. I envy people who can believe in things wholeheartedly. I have this tendency to subscribe to bits and pieces of things which demand absolute obedience. I tell atheists that I'm agnostic and Christians that I'm Catholic. I suppose they'd all hate me if they knew. And then there's poor Timmy, raised on the principles of, well, of confusion, really.
He turned out alright, at any rate. Tim inherited the easy-going disregard of his father. Neither of them ever needed any of it in the way that I do.
When I arrived at the school to pick up the kids that afternoon Timmy and his friends were playing soldiers. Chasing each other around and holding up their hands as guns. 'Pow pow, bang bang bang! I got you! You're dead.' I watched Tim tumble dramatically to the ground, like a recount, or a premonition. His friends stopped for a moment, laughing at his antics as he cried out;
“Go on without me! Blow those Turks to pieces!” then collapsed in the dust.
The moment had passed and the boys ran off in all directions, chasing and laughing and shouting. Tim clambered to his feet, grinning, but with sudden nausea I pulled him away from the game and headed to the car. I wanted to tell Tim that war wasn't a game, and that fighting wasn't fun; that death isn't funny.
All I managed to say was that he'd gotten his clothes dirty.