‘Tell us the one about the kangaroo again,’ said Brodie, warming his damp socks by the fire. His feet were still inside them. The end of his big toe poked out the top of one of them. He didn’t care.
‘Not ’til you take your fuck’n feet away from them flames,’ said Grundy. ‘You’ll burn your toes off, you dopey bugger.’
Grundy was close to the fire too, like he always was, leaning into the glow so that his big face ended up hot and red and shining like a new bruise.
I’d heard the story before, and didn’t want to hear it again.
‘I’m getting some shut-eye,’ I said, and made as if to go.
‘Nah wait,’ Brodie said. ‘This one’s a fuck’n classic.’
‘I’ve heard it,’ I said. ‘I know it off by heart.’
‘Go on then, smart-arse,’ said Grundy. ‘Tell it. But with all the proper inclination.’
‘You mean intonation?’
‘Fuck’n smart-arse,’ Grundy said again.
‘Just this last one,’ said Brodie. ‘Then you can go.’
‘It’s not like you’ve got far,’ said Grundy. I couldn’t argue with that.
I sat down again, with my back against the barrel, watching the heart of the flames and letting my gaze get lost inside them, as if by sheer will and something magical about the fire itself I might be transported somewhere else, far away from these idiots, which was the only way I could listen to Grundy for one more minute.
‘He was a dopey bugger,’ said Grundy. He was into the story already, without changing anything of his posture or his tone or the cynical glare in his eyes. It’s how the story always started. ‘A right dopey bugger.’
‘He was on his way to his missus’ place,’ Brodie said.
‘Don’t jump the gun,’ said Grundy, as if we’d never heard it before.
‘Righto,’ said Brodie, and stretched out his legs again so that the soles of his feet were almost in the embers.
‘What did I tell you about them fuck’n feet?’ said Grundy.
‘Oh yeah, Jeez,’ said Brodie, and pulled them back.
‘Dopey bugger was on his way from Bridgetown,’ Grundy said.
‘What time was it?’ said Brodie. He asked every time.
‘No idea,’ said Grundy. ‘But it was fuck’n dark. Dark enough for roos.’
‘He was on the back roads too,’ said Brodie. ‘Gravel.’
‘He was. Too right he was. He was in a hurry. Wanted to visit the sheila he was rootin’ before he headed home to the kids and missus.’
‘Fuck’n dopey bast’d,’ said Brodie, breaking out into that laugh he had, with his big wide-open mouth like a clown at the show, and not a sound coming out of it. There was only one dopey bast’d around the fire that night.
‘So he gets to the sheila’s place,’ said Grundy.
‘Hang on a min,’ said Brodie, as if by clockwork. ‘You missed a bit.’
‘Oh yeah,’ said Grundy. ‘He almost killed himself swervin’ to miss a fuck’n roo.’
They both laughed at this. Grundy’s laugh began in his belly, like a belch, bubbling up into his gullet then bursting out across the fire, a gasp of noise and spit and wind. And Brodie, silent, his mouth wide open as his head flung backwards, his stubbled face pointing upwards to the tops of the silver gums and the stars beyond.
‘So, he gets to the sheila’s, and she’s in the fuck’n bath. There’s candles everywhere. Music. Food on the stove.’
‘What sort of food?’ said Brodie.
‘Pasta. The good stuff. The whole bit. “I didn’t expect you,” she says, not moving from the bath. “Clearly,” says he. Dopey bast’d.’
‘Dopey bast’d,’ said Brodie.
‘So he leaves. Quick as that. No quick root for him. Only, he’s locked his keys in his fuck’n car.’
‘He never has?’ said Brodie.
‘How many times have you heard this story?’ I said to Brodie, over the flames.
‘I dunno,’ he said. ‘A couple?’
‘Couple of hundred,’ I said.
‘Course you have.’
‘He’s locked his keys in his car,’ Grundy said, ignoring the both of us. ‘”What am I gonna do?” he says, rushin’ back inside to his sheila. She doesn’t move from the bubble bath.’
‘Bubbles?’ said Brodie.
‘Yeah,’ said Grundy. ‘Course.’
‘Can you do that?’
‘Course you fuck’n can. “How would I know?” she says. She’s a dopey bitch. Blonde. Good lookin’. Lovely tits. Too right. But a dopey bitch.’
Brodie loved this bit. I saw him, through the haze and the smoke, saw his eyes, saw them drifting off to some bath tub somewhere, a tiled bathroom lighted by candles, the woman lying in the water, waiting, not for some dopey bast’d who’s almost hit a roo, but waiting for Brodie. Stubbly faced Brodie with the silent laugh.
‘”Where’s your block splitter?'” says the dopey bast’d. “What the fuck for?” she says.’
Brodie laughed. Silently. Stupidly.
‘”For smashin’ my window,” he says. “What else?” “How will you get away with that?” she says.’
‘Tell his missus he hit the fuck’n roo,’ said Brodie, spoiling the punchline, like he always did.’
‘What’s the point of even tellin’ the story if you just jump in willy nilly?’ said Grundy, and from the look on his face he could have clocked Brodie right there and then. If he could be bothered. Which he never could be.
Brodie said nothing. Stayed quiet. Waiting. Waiting for Grundy to pick up the story. But Grundy waited too.
‘Come on,’ said Brodie, not for a minute believing that Grundy had finished for good.
‘Get those fuck’n socks away from the fire,’ Grundy said.
‘Holy fuck, they’ve started to smoke,’ said Brodie. Even Grundy laughed at this. Noisy, wet laughs, like a heavy smoker. Which he wasn’t. Because he hadn’t the money for it.
‘So he goes at his window with the block splitter,’ said Grundy. ‘How many times?’
Brodie was about to answer. Grundy raised his hand to stop him.
‘Fuck’n rhetorical,’ he said.
‘Rhetorical means, don’t speak,’ said Brodie, to me.
‘No it doesn’t,’ I corrected him.
‘No, but it’ll do,’ said Grundy.
Brodie was nodding. He hadn’t got a clue. His eyes were tiny, like a pig, and he had a pig’s head on him as well.
‘Three times,’ said Grundy. ‘Three fuck’n times.’
‘Three,’ said Brodie, grinning. ‘Three fuck’n times.’
‘Three fuck’n goes at the window of his own car,’ said Grundy again, laughing this time and losing the end of his sentence. ‘Fuck’n thing wouldn’t break. And he was stuck there. Sprung. With his blonde, dopey sheila.’
Now they were both at it, like they’d taken gas or something, or weed, laughing like it was the funniest thing ever. And Grundy was pointing at me, over the flames, with his swollen, knobbly, filthy finger.
‘You’re such a dopey fuck’n bast’d,’ he said, laughing again, like he always did. Which is why I hated the story. Why I hated hearing it, again and again. Because it was about me. And because every time he told it, he couldn’t help but point me out.
‘That’s fuck’n funny,’ said Brodie. ‘Funniest story ever.’
‘You’re no better off than me,’ I said, because it was true.
Brodie had moved away from the fire to pull his blankets and sheets of cardboard over himself and settle in for the night. It was cold, but Brodie had spent all that time warming himself by the fire, from the soles of his feet upward.
‘We didn’t end up on the streets because of no block splitter though,’ Brodie said, closing his eyes. He chuckled to himself. Silently.
‘Too right,’ said Grundy. ‘You dopey fuck’n bast’d.’