Lance and Arthur

 by Iris Carden


Lance sat at the table with a dozen or so of his closest friends. He didn't actually like any of them, but it was called “networking”. Everyone would get together and pretend they did not detest each other, because each of these people could be of use at some time.

The next carafe of the house red arrived. “Hmm,” he observed, swirling the liquid in his glass and sniffing carefully. “Chateau cardboard, vintage...” he sipped delicately, “about last Thursday, probably lunchtime.” Beside him the blonde woman, who'd already had several glasses of chateau cardboard, laughed uproariously. No-one else laughed, they'd heard the joke too many times before.

Arthur sat by a small fire in the dry creek-bed. This was his home, and always had been. It had been his father's and his grandfather's home – going back long before there was a town around the creek – long before there were any people but his own. The Government people had come many times to tell Arthur he needed to live in a house – and he had many times told them this was his home. Eventually, they had stopped coming. That had been when he was young. Now that Arthur was old, and the campfire did not always keep away the aches and pains brought on by cold winter nights, he wondered what it would be like to sleep in a house.

Things had changed in Arthur's home. Further up the creek the young men gathered. It wasn't corroboree, and it wasn't just to camp. It was to drink. They drank day and night, beer, and wine and even methylated spirits. One of the local shops kept metho in the fridge to sell cheap to the young men and even the boys. Arthur grieved over the young men. Some of them had gathered around him when they were little to hear stories of the ancestors, of the dreaming times. But now, they were not interested in their history, their people, or the dreaming. Now, there they were, drinking poison, with bodies still alive, but empty eyes that showed they were dead inside. Their dreaming was strange dreams from strange drink. So many times, Arthur had told them stop drinking, but they had said “Go away, Uncle”, and had said many bad things to him, and thrown rocks and bottles at him. Each time, Arthur had come back to his camp, and grieved over the young men.

Lance swayed a little, regained his balance, and fumbled for his car key. He really should upgrade, he thought, to a car with one of those smart keys you didn't have to take out of your pocket. The blonde, who'd thought his joke so funny, had still not been drunk enough to go home with him. Just as well, he actually hated her, the bitch. For some reason, getting in the car seemed more difficult than usual. One the third attempt, he managed to do up his seatbelt.

Arthur was going to try one more time. Surely the young men would listen if he kept trying. These were the boys he'd passed the stories, the traditions, the lifeblood of his people to. They had to listen. He could have walked along the creekbed – but he was an old man, and while the creek twisted and turned, the road was straight and so shorter. Thinking only of what he would try to say to the young men, Arthur was not paying attention to the road. He did not see a speeding black car with no lights on.

The first Lance realised anything had happened was the thump. Then a second thump as a body hit the windscreen. A face filled his vision – a face frozen in a picture of absolute surprise – and then in slow motion slid down the front of the car. There was another bump, bump, as the car went over something on the road.

“Bloody drunken Abos,” Lance muttered, “they're all over the road, and you can't see them in the dark.”

He continued driving home, wondering how much it would cost to repair his car.