Before our births, void of choice, we became part of the story,
During our lives, with a choice, we can't escape the story,
After death, abandoned choice, the story continues to seep.
- Andrew Mansell

The Unruly Pelican

Sally Bowe

Keith and Bev began their dinner which Bev had prepared after work. The meal had varied little during twenty years of their marriage. Grilled lamb loin chops, mashed potatoes and boiled peas. Keith always smothered his meal with tomato sauce.

‘Brian,’ Keith screamed in between mouthfuls of potato, his patience running thin. ‘Get out here and eat your dinner. It’s getting cold.’ Keith looked to Bev. ‘I’ve had enough of this. You prepare a meal and that boy has no respect. I’ll go and fetch him.’

‘Don’t worry, love.’ Bev tried to calm Keith a little. ‘They’re teenagers, you know how they are.’

It didn’t take Keith long to polish off his meal and begin walking down the hall towards music he had never heard before. As he reached Brian’s room, West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys became too loud for his liking. What is this crap he kept thinking until he opened Brian’s bedroom door. Brain lay naked on his bed with David on top of him just as naked.

‘What in God’s name is going on here?’ Keith’s jaw dropped for a moment as he tried to comprehend. ‘You can’t be a faggot Brian, you’re my son. It’s your influence David, isn’t it. Get the fuck out of my house before I strangle you.’

David froze, too scared to move.

‘Now!’ Keith reminded him as he stared intently at the young couple in disbelief. He couldn’t hold the stare forever and lowered his head in disgust. Keith’s heart uncontrollable started to sink to the bottom of the ocean as he began to foresee the depths of despair. He thought of slamming the door but was trapped in slow motion. Instead, he gently closed the door and walked back towards the kitchen.

‘What’s up?’ Bev said with anticipation. ‘Is he coming to eat?’

Keith didn’t respond, he didn’t even look at Bev.

‘What’s got into you?’ Bev searched for a response but Keith silently walked through the kitchen and went outside to his work shed.

Bev got up and made her way to Brian’s room where she found him packing his overnight bag.

‘What’s going on, love?’

‘Nothing, mum.’  Brian spoke as he stuffed clothes in his bag. I’m going to stay at David’s until the trip.’

‘Well, that should be fine. What’s up with your father then? Something has upset him.’

‘Look, Mum.’ Brian hesitated, stopped packing for a moment and focused on his mother. ‘Mum, please don’t be sad or angry with what I am about to tell you. I’m attracted to boys. In short, I’m attracted to David.’

‘Don’t be silly, love. Don’t joke with me. I know your father can be hard to get along with but he loves you, all the same.’

Brian knew he was never going to make inroads into what he perceived to be his mother’s naive and closed mind. All she does is knit and go to church on Sundays. She’s stuck in her perfect ideals. What hope have I of changing this now?  He sadly concluded and said, ‘mum, I’ll be staying at David’s for a while.’

‘OK, love. Well you two don’t get up to any mischief then.’

‘Yes, mum.’ Brian sighed – and with David, was gone in a flash.

Two mornings later Keith decided to talk to Bev.

‘So where’s he staying?’

‘Oh,’ Bev said, pretending as nothing had changed since David left. ‘He’s at  David’s for a while.’

‘What’s the address?’ Keith was blunt.

‘Don’t bother yourself with him, love.’

‘He’s only sixteen and I’m bringing him back here. A good bit of discipline is what he needs. Maybe we should remove him from that all boys school. So, what’s the address, Bev?’

‘Six Avian Street, but don’t go Keith, let’s talk about it? In any case he should be here soon to pick up a few things he’s taking to Tasmania.’

‘Tasmania? What do you mean?’ Keith seemed surprised.

‘The school trip we paid for. You know, the one you said he needed to open his eyes to the world.’ Bev refrained from getting Keith wound up any further as she could see his face turning reddish.

‘Well, I don’t think we should let him go after what happened?’ Keith raised the volume of his voice a few levels.

‘What did happen? You haven’t spoken to me after you yelled at them.’ Bev wanted Keith to talk openly for a change.

He took a deep breath and lowered his head to it almost touched the table. In a voice of total embarrassment he spoke.  ‘I caught them naked in bed together. What else do you want me to say? Our son is a bloody poofter.’

‘Oh, my.’ Bev was taken aback.

‘Yes, Bev, ‘Keith said and looked up. With his initial embarrassment out of the way he gained in confidence. ‘I’m not sure how to even approach this. I’ve thought about buying him a playboy magazine in the hope, naked women would inspire him, or even taking him to a doctor for his disorder, you know, a psychiatrist. I think that’s what they’re called. Just don’t know Bev. Yesterday at lunch, Gary asked me how Brain was going and I was totally lost for words.’

Bev tried with all her might to think of something to say and eventually was able to respond

‘Let’s hope he grows out of it. What else can we do? Maybe it’s a phase he is going through? You know, teenagers these days, want to try everything. We still love him, don’t we? Let’s give him some time, love.’

‘I hope you are right Bev, I really do.’

Brian was petrified to go back to the house while his father was home. He waited nearby at the local milk bar until Keith drove past. Although Keith had driven off to work, Brian still felt anxious and didn’t knock on his front door. Instead, he quietly unlocked the door and treaded softly to his room. He quickly grabbed what he needed but before going he heard Bev close the flywire back door. Curiosity got the better of him and he made his way into the kitchen. His mother was outside putting washing on the line. He watched her for a while and began to feel as if he needed to hug and kiss her goodbye. She turned around and he ducked down beneath the window sill not to be seen. He felt like a burglar in his own house and crawled on hands and knees dragging his belongings with him to the front door. He carefully made his way out, unnoticed and off to school.

He met David at the front gate and they spent the whole day in the library, as today was a curriculum day with no classes. Fortunately, Mrs Wright the library teacher didn’t mind the boys company and allowed them to study and talk quietly until the excursion bus arrived late afternoon.  Mr Smythe, the excursion organiser, allowed Brian and David to be first seated up the front next to the teachers’ seats. Over the next hour or so they nervously watched the rest of year eleven board the school bus. Most of the boys were too excited about the trip to worry about teasing Brian and simply sat down, except for Chris, who told Brian that it would be the last trip that he would ever go on.

‘I hope I share a cabin with you, pretty boy.’ Chris nastily smiled. ‘I’ll give you more than you want.’

Brian looked the other way, pretending not to hear.

Brian didn’t mind the bus trip, as he wasn’t continuously teased as compared to school where he was forced to spend all his breaks in the library. On normal school days, he always waited near the teachers office and closely followed his teacher to the class. He was scared shitless to go to the toilet block, only sometimes going during class when he was desperate and sure no one else from class could capture him there.

As the bus made its way to station pier, Brian had a flashback, he remembered in year nine when his head had been flushed in one of the boy’s toilet bowls. His teachers had a fair idea of what had happened but Brian was reluctant to speak, as he was threatened to expect more of the same if he lagged the other boys in. David was the only one who helped him dry his hair. It was the first time he really noticed David.

The Spirit of Tasmania dwarfed those that stood before it. Although dusk beckoned, the red hull of the boat was illuminated by the powerful flood lights that surrounded Station pier. Before allowing anyone on the boat Mr Smythe performed a head count, for which he came up one short, baffled, until Mr McLeod whispered in his ear, that he better count himself as well. Brian felt like he was entering an apartment store rather than a ship as an escalator moved everybody on deck. Mr Smythe showed the boys to their cabins. To David’s excitement, he had been paired with Brian in a twin cabin with a porthole view. Brain was also relieved but offered no emotion although he sweated profoundly. Everyone then made their way to the eatery located near the stern of the boat.

‘Don’t you boys eat too much now,’ Mr McLeod said as a formality. ‘Go easy on the ice cream. Just in case it gets rough out in Bass Straight, we don’t want you all getting sea sick. When you have eaten, you are all welcome to view our departure from Port Melbourne on the port side. After that you may watch a movie at the cinema located just near our cabins or you can simply retire to your cabins if you wish.’

Brian and David both scoffed down battered flake and chips, closely followed by two servings of vanilla ice cream with chocolate topping.

Not a breath of air bothered the bay that night. Brian placed his arms over the port side hand rail and rested his chin on his wrist. He watched the bright lights of Melbourne and its suburbs slowly dissipate leaving flickering stars and moonlight to sparkle on the dark waters below.

David looked down and thought about jumping. This tightened his chest muscles and made him light headed. He imagined how cold the water would be and if he should dive like a swimmer or enters the water feet first. He became breathless for a moment, lost from the crowd of boys around him. David then slapped him on the shoulder, scaring him as if he really were just about to break the surface of the water below.

‘What are you up to?’ David calmly asked.

‘Have you ever thought of jumping?’ Brian responded.

‘No.’ David was surprised by this question. ‘I don’t think so. Why?’

‘Sometimes I do.’ Brian lifted himself higher on the handrail triggering David to instantly pull him back down.

‘Don’t be an Idiot. What are you trying to prove? We’ve got what we always wanted. A room for two with no one able to burst in upon us.’ David held Brian tightly.

‘Yes.’ Brian looked down at the water. ‘For tonight, but what about all the other nights? What about all the other days? What about all the abuse?’

‘Hey.’  David smiled. ‘Snap out of this. It doesn’t matter what others say or do, what matters is us. Now come on, let’s skip the movie.’

‘It does matter to me.’ Brian shifted his focus from the water to David.

‘I know. We have to get through this you know. Come on, let’s go. Let’s just cuddle. I know you’re not in the mood for anything else.’

They snuggled together and fell asleep a few hours later while Sweet Sixteen by The Furies played on David’s portable radio.

Next morning, when daylight was still a dream, Brian was the first to rise. He kissed David on the cheek, got dressed and made his way up on deck.  An early morning mist gave the sun a faint silhouette like appearance as it began to project, dim, but adequate light, allowing Brian to be able to make his way along the port side towards the stern. At the stern Brain looked down but was unable to see the water beneath the mist. Flapping wings startled him and he looked up to see a pelican in flight. He wondered if the pelican noticed his existence as it majestically flew past, just out of his reach, clearing the mist around him for a moment. How was a creature of such unruly proportions allowed to fly, he pondered in awe. He craved the pelican’s freedom and decided that he too wanted to fly away and be free. He left this story on deck and disappeared into the mist.

Andrew Mansell, 2005.  ‘3 of 7 from the Seven Ways series.’


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