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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another in the Australiana series - though probably not as obviously so as others. A tale about sowing the seeds of doubt in a young child

They were on a tarmac, a grey black blanket of hard gravel and tar. There was a hanger of sorts, a massive tin and steel shed filled with indistinct shapes and a wide curtain of shadow that promised cool shelter. The boy could not have been more than five or six, legs protruding like knotted sticks out of stiff and flared khaki shorts, white hairless and fragile amidst the towering man made constructs. In the background there was the rumble of others going about the business of an airborne borne war.

The two men were with him, one his father, towered upward. Their faces were blurred by distance and the tropical sun that even in the early morning filled the air with a hard brilliant light, the men’s hair and shoulders hazed and haloed in the glare.  The boy could not look up for long before his soft brown eyes would squint and water and his gaze would return to four stout pillars of the men’s legs, neatly wrapped in hard pressed military trousers and the black unforgiving leather boots. A world of giants.

“Hey Mick, see what Uncle Karl brought you for your birthday!”

The boy looked myopically upwards, the army slouch hat catching on his shoulders and giving pause to his angle of sight. The two men looked down at him, beaming as the boy reached out to take the profered plastic gun belt, its carapace adorned with bright red bullets and in a pouch to one side, a glittering silver revolver.  “Thanks” he muttered, his voice barely audible with the shock of such a fine toy that was now his, his own piece of armoury in a world filled with the accruements of war.  He thought his heart would burst.

“So what do you say Mick?”

The boy started out of his bliss, looked upward at the frown on his father’s face. Even at five, he knew the feel of those calloused hands as a “clip around the ears” and the sting of the army web belt against his bare buttocks for more major infractions. He wanted to protest, to say that he had said thank you, he wasn’t rude or unappreciative but the terse smile on the visage that looked down at him was all for show and did not belie the steel meshed eyes that bore into his soul with an veiled warning.

“Thank you Uncle Karl”. He stuttered, clutching the belt firmly with one hand and the other he grasping the edge of the too large hat so he could better see the other man.

“That’s ok Buddy. Happy Birthday!. Now you can shoot some gooks, just like your Dad”

Both men laughed but somehow he understood that his father disliked the joke, was laughing out of respect. It confused Mick.

The man was friendly but spoke with a funny accent and his uniform was different, white and studded with gold whereas his fathers was all a brownish green with hard brown buttons that reminded the boy of chocolate buds his mother sometimes decorated cakes with. His father had said Uncle Karl was an Ameri-can and an officer in the air-force but it was just one more piece of foreignness in a world of strange and mysterious things. All he knew was that the man was different to them, from yet another country different to this bustling country they now lived in and someone his father inexplicably looked up to him while at the same time disparaging him behind his back.

Mick did not understand this duplicity, forever told to be truthful and honest then watching the adults behave in a total contradictive manner. Not having the words to put the concept into conscious thought he was never the less confused and retreated into the simpler world of muddled replies and shiny toys.

Uncle Karl must have been the kindly type as he bent down to show Mick how to buckle on the belt. Retreated into that muggy cocoon of solipsism that had become his buffer against an alien world, Mick brusquely replied that it was alright, he knew how it worked. Followed quickly with quick painful slap across his ears from his father.

“Its ok Jack” said the Ameri-can to Mick’s father “No harm done. No need to rough up the boy”

Jack, his father, laughed it off and gave Mick a hair tousle though the look in those silver grey eyes did not reassure the boy.  While the two adults wandered off to talk more privately, Mick sat in the shade of an idle halftrack and practice aiming and firing his new toy.  The occasional military personnel who passed made a double take, were waved off by the Ameri-can and so turned and finger gunned Mick back with wide grins. Mick stared back coldly and shot each one of them straight between the eyes.

Later on, in a disused corner of a large hanger they had to traverse to get back to the car park, Mick’s father stopped and squatted down to Mick’s level, digging hard as steel fingers into tha boys shoulder.

“That was rude back there Mick. Uncle Karl was just showing you how to use the damn gun. No need to shrug him off like that”

“But I did know Dad. The kids at school ….” Mick’s high voice with a concealed tremolo due to the pain of those steel digits in his shoulder started to explain.

“It doesn’t matter. Sometimes you need to shut up and stop being a smart arse. You will get a lot further that way”

Again the duplicity. Mick sunk back into his habitual confusion. If he broke something at home and blamed in on the ah-ma he would get a hiding from the dreaded web belt. If he lied about playing with the TV and inadvertently reset all the channels, he got a hiding. But now he was being told to lie to a stranger, a work mate of his dad. He had no answers and sunk into a morose silence as they made their way out of the sprawling air base, one hand clutching his belt and the other rubbing his shoulder which still ached with the ghost of those hard military hands.

Lost in thought, he wondered what if he really did not know, that perhaps there were some hidden functions or settings on the toy which in his hasty bravado he had repulsed. What if he didn’t really know? Fear crept into his confusion and Mick sat ramrod in the old Austin front seat, fighting back tears as the black sedan made its torturous way through the security gates and then the ubiquitous clusters of street vendors that roamed the byways. What if he didn’t know?

Submitted: October 31, 2020

© Copyright 2020 Paul R. All rights reserved.

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