Wills was fully demented, and worse, now he owned a gun.
Ever since he had woken, or lurched from his drunken stupor that infamous Sunday morning, he had been going out of his mind.
Perhaps though, it wasn’t clinical madness, but a close relative to that, uncontrollable, raging, furious anger.
On the calamitous morning when Wills’s septic tank had exploded he had begun cleaning but very quickly tired of it.
First, he had had to find something to clean with, and since his housework was rudimentary at best, the best thing he had found was an old mop, with a dry as a biscuit sponge.
He took this and began working on the carpet in his bedroom, but very quickly realised that it was simply moving the dark matter around.
So then he had decided he better go to town and buy a load of new cleaning materials, but he didn’t want to attend the supermarket covered in grunge, and stinking in a way that would make people start looking at the soles of their shoes.
So he went to have a shower, but found that the catastrophic force of the ex…., actually, on this Sunday he still had no idea what happened.
But anyway, whatever had happened, there was no water.
Clearly some percussive effect had tripped the water fuse, or something.
He then decided he better call the water people and get someone to come out and fix it, but here he already had problems.
Firstly, who do you call?
And secondly, it was Sunday, so if he did get through, would they come out?
He sat on the couch on the deck, on the most clear place he could find, where he had been lying asleep, and scraped and wiped his phone as best he could, then called directory enquiries.
A computer generated voice answered and requested the name he was looking for.
Wills went to speak, but was back in the previous position of not knowing who to call.
With a furious grinding of teeth, he pressed the red ‘disconnect’ button and thought again.
While he was grappling with the problem of who to call, one coherent thought emerged through the mists, whatever had happened, whatever he had to do now to clean up and get the water back on, all of that could wait.
If he didn’t have a drink now, he would expire.
He went to the fridge and looked, but apparently he had drunk all the bourbon the night before and no doubt the freeloading attendees of the party had polished off any remaining alcohol after he had passed out.
He went back out and raked around in the ice tubs and came across a glass surface.
He pulled it out and discovered it was a beer.
Good enough, he twisted the cap and look a long, long, swallow.
Then he sat down and thought again.
He had had trouble with water before, a neighbour had run over the irrigation pipe that ran to Wills’s house when slashing a paddock, through which the pipe ran through.
He cast his mind back and thought about the day he and a young fella who worked for him at the time had gone up and fixed it.
Slowly his hungover mind restored the pictures of that day to his head.
He got up off the couch, and carrying his beer, went up to the highest part of his property.
There he discovered a noise of trickling water which lead him to the cause of the problem.
The water meter which connected his piping to the town system sat on the ground near the corner of the fence.
But as he homed in the ground became squelchier.
The last five metres or so of piping displayed the damage with stark intent.
The irrigation piping which carried his water had been blown out of the ground and water was cascading out of the now gaping maw of the pipe.
Wills stared at the thing and wondered what to do.
But the trek up to the meter had been worthwhile, as there was a phone number on the metal plate riveted to it.
Wills bent down and read the number.
He then typed it onto his mobile and pressed call.
An answering machine told him to leave a number if he had a water emergency and a member of the team would call back.
So he left his number, told them it was urgent, then stared for a while longer.
The numbers on the meter were whizzing around, reflecting all the water that was draining away down the hill and would eventually come out of his rates.
This was the first of the long succession of drains on his finance that this unholy Sunday would cause.
He knelt down next to the tap-meter assembly and saw a fly wheel, half submerged in the soil.
With difficulty he got his fingers under it and tried to turn it.
With further grinding of the teeth, he realised he would have to remove the baked hard soil from around the tap to turn it.
He walked back down the hill, ferreted about in his car port, found a rusty shovel and went back up the hill.
With difficulty, he loosened the soil.
Then with every sinew straining he turned the fly wheel to the off position.
The water slowed to a trickle and then stopped and the numbers of the meter stopped whizzing around.
‘Great’, thought Wills to himself, ‘at least that’s something.’
Then he returned to his feculent couch and grappled with his problems.
He still wanted a shower before he went to town, so all he could do was wait till the water emergency team called back and then arrived to fix it.
Waiting was something Wills liked.
Waiting meant he could just drink and wait for someone else to do something.
He finished his beer and then searched around in the ice tub.
He found a can of bourbon-cola mix, and began drinking that.
The phone rang, he answered, and the voice identified himself as Ian from the Litmus Bay Council water team and asked what the problem was.
Wills told him as best he could what was going on, the water escaping, the tap he had turned off, and the meter now stationary.
Ian replied, “OK, that does sound like there’s something going on. I’ll come out as soon as I can”.
Wills replied with a terse “thanks”, gave him the address and then went back to waiting.
He had finished his can and found another, the last if his longer search in the ice tub had been anything to go by.
And so he waited.
Eventually he heard the sound of a motor vehicle on the road, it turned into his driveway and he went out to greet it.
The vehicle bore the council insignia and a man in work clothes emerged from the vehicle.
“Mr Wills”, he said questioningly.
“Yes”, replied Wills.
“I’m Ian, from the water team, would you like…,”
Ian stopped talking and his nose wrinkled in distaste.
He looked around at the near perfect brownish-black circle of filth encompassing Wills’s world and asked the question that already, upon only the second asking, he was growing to hate.
“What happened here?”
Wills ground his teeth.
“I don’t know.”
“Oh”, said Ian, he looked as if he was about to make a light remark, but something in Wills look stopped him and he recovered conversational ground.
“Er, would you like to show me the meter?”
Wills nodded and then gestured for Ian to follow him up the hill.
With a greatly relieved look of someone who was heading away from faecal ground zero, Ian followed Wills up the hill.
At the meter they stopped and looked.
The council man bent down and felt in the trench the pipe had previously occupied, he moved along, pulling up tattered pipe as he went, till he came to the point where the pipe was intact and disappeared from view into the ground.
He straightened up and was about to ask Wills again what had happened, but reconsidered.
However, what he had to tell Wills, he knew wouldn’t go over well.
Wills, sensing an announcement was coming tried to get in first, “Can you fix it quickly? I need to have a shower, and then go into town”.
Ian stopped himself from agreeing volubly that if anyone on this damn Earth needed a shower it was certainly Wills, and arranged the words he had to speak in his head.
“I’m sorry Mr Wills, but it’s not up to me to fix it.”
“What?!”, said Wills.
This smacked of Wills having to do something, and pay for it, himself.
Ian sighed inwardly, “Well, although we don’t know what happened here, the damage is on your property, inside the fence line. If the break was on the other side of the fence, it would indeed be a council issue, but as something happened to the pipe here”, he pointed to the offending area, “I’m afraid you have got to fix it yourself.”
Wills’s eyes bulged.
For the second time that morning he felt hard-done-by, by someone, the interview with Sergeant O’Driscoll was the first, but at this point could think of anything to say that really express his feelings accurately.
“Fuck”, he said.
Ian did his best to shore up the breach, “do you know how to fix it?”
Wills eyes bulged again.
This seemed to him a dig at his manhood.
He then made a mistake that would dig himself ever deeper into the mire, he was rude to someone who could help him.
Ian had in fact been going to offer to help, as long as it was kept quiet.
He had often in the past, particularly with elderly residents, made the offer to fix the damage, even though it was on the resident’s side of the property line, if the resident would pay for the materials.
This offer was always leapt upon with gratitude, and Ian had gone to town, bought what was required and quickly fixed the water supply interruption, then gone on his way, with his bosses none the wiser, and the residents happy.
But Wills gave no thought to anything but venting his feelings, he burst forth, “Yes, I bloody do know how to fix it, now get the fuck off my property, since you’re as useless as tits on a bull. I’ll be writing to the fucken council about you, you fucken slackarse”, said Wills.
Ian, hurt, at this savagely voiced response, walked back down the hill, got in his car, and drove away.
“Fuck, Fuck, FUCK,” said Wills.
Now that he thought about it, he actually wasn’t quite sure how to fix it.
But part of his persona, stemming partially from the sign “builder” on the side of his car and partly from being simply a man, wouldn’t allow him to admit not knowing anything.
He trekked back down the hill again.
He fished in the ice tubs, but it only confirmed that he was out of booze.
No water and no booze.
He decided to go into town anyway, buy whatever he needed to clean, buy whatever he needed to fix the pipe, and mostly BUY A LOT OF BOURBON.
But even here he faced a hurdle.
He opened his car door and then realized that he was going to irreparably stain the interior of the car.
He went back up to his bedroom got some cleanish clothes out of the wardrobe, carried them downstairs and outside.
Then he made use of the only water still available on his property and had a rudimentary, at best, wash using the water in one of the ice tubs.
He soaped himself and for a brief moment enjoyed them feeling of being naked outside, but quickly the issues of the day overcame him and anger consumed him once more.
Wash done as best he could, he got a bucket, tipped some water over his head.
Then he dried himself and put on his cleaner clothes.
He grabbed his keys, went out to the carport, got in and started the car.
He reversed up to the road and was just backing out when he heard a horrendous scraping and realized that he had backed into the letter box, but with reflexes slowed by alcohol, he continued his reverse curve and by the time he jabbed frantically at the brakes, the mail box had scraped along the side of his car, denting the panels deeply nearer the rear, and removing the paint closer to the driver’s door.
Wills erupted from the seat and examined the damage.
“Fucking, fuck, fucking, fucking….”, he trailed off into a spluttering fury.
Another hole in his money opened up as he contemplated the repair bill from the panel beaters.
He kicked savagely at the letter box to remove it from the area and then with already uncontainable rage flooding his system drove to town.
Like a St Bernard in the Alps he arrowed in on the bottle shop.
Whatever happened he was going to make sure that his booze supplies were secured first.
He jumped out and walked in.
Again he was conscious of the patrons and staff wrinkling their noses, his meagre wash nowhere near removing the smell, but he didn’t care.
He grabbed a trolley and filled it with bourbon bottles and cans of spirits and mixer.
With that teeteringly full he went back to the checkout and got out his credit card.
Studiously ignoring the blanched look on the face of the checkout staffer, he handed over his card, which the staff member took as if she wished she were wearing surgical scrubs, ran it through the machine and handed the docket over for Wills to sign.
He did so, then trolleyed his load out and filled the car with booze.
That done he went to the supermarket.
Now adept at ignoring the noses of those he passed near, he found the aisle containing the cleaning materials and got a selection that he hoped would do the job.
That loaded he then sat in the driver’s seat and wondered what to do about the pipe.
It was a rural irrigation system, but did that mean he had to go to the Rural supply co-op to get the materials?
Or would the local hardware shop provide? And if so, would they be open on Sunday?
Well, soon find out.
He started the engine and drove to the large chain hardware supply house.
It was open, so Wills went inside and looked for someone to ask.
Not surprisingly, most of the staff members suddenly found jobs of absorbing interest to do down any other aisle in which Wills wasn’t.
However with perseverance he cornered a junior with slow reflexes and asked him if they sold irrigation piping.
The junior, named “Josh” if the embroidered name on the top pocket of his shirt was to be believed, gave ‘thanks’ to an almighty god and replied, “Yes, we do, and it’s outside, come with me.”
He led Wills rapidly out a side door, then took what Wills thought an overly insulting, enormous breath of fresh air, then said, “how much do you need?”
Wills didn’t now, but replied, “About five metres, I think.”
He then described the damage up near his meter and Josh began to scrabble in amongst some large rolls, then a thought struck him, “what sort of pipe is broken?”, he said, poking his head back out from the pipe supply area.
Wills reared back.
“There’s different sorts?”, he replied.
Josh sighed and told him of the different categories.
“High and low pressure, above meter and below.”
For what seemed like the hundredth time that morning Wills grappled with a real life problem that couldn’t be delegated to someone else while he drank on his deck.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Josh sighed theatrically and then replied shortly, “OK, tell me fully what the problem is.”
So Wills gave him chapter and verse, the meter, the pipe, where the break was and how long the damage to the pipe stretched for.
Josh turned it over in his mind, eventually deciding that he just wanted Wills and his smell away from him, far way from him.
“OK, I think it’s best that you get high-pressure, above meter pipe. That stuff handles the highest pressure, and even if you install it in a low-pressure area, it can contain any flow that is required.”
Wills nodded, he didn’t care, he just wanted to be home with the water fixed, drinking on his deck.
They grabbed the pipe and the connector rings that were part of the fix and went into the checkout.
Josh handed Wills over to the staff member behind the till with, again, what Wills thought unnecessary alacrity, then evaporated to another part of the store.
Wills paid, ‘more fucking money’, he thought, then manhandled his pipe and connectors out to the car.
He struggled with the load, but eventually fitted in into the rear of the cab, among his bottles of booze, and bulk cleaning materials, then started the engine and drove away.
Now despite his bizarre start to the day, Wills mood was swinging around to ‘good’.
He had his booze.
He would fix the pipe, have a shower, clean his bedroom at least, then go back to doing what he did most after-party Sundays, sitting on his deck drinking.
So in the end it was a shame for Wills’s fortunes that as he drove away from the hardware store, he was pulled over by the police.
Wills looked in the rear view mirror as two policemen got out of their car, and began to walk toward him, with looks of slight astonishment on their face.
The policeman on the passenger side, caught the whiff of drying sewage which still coated that entire side of the vehicle and began to veer away as he worked toward the front end of the car.
The other officer, stared at the dents and paint scrapes on the driver’s side as he slowly moved up into Wills’s field of vision.
Wills tried to be casual, but already felt the sinking feeling of a man driving a vehicle that shouldn’t really be on the road.
He waited in his seat until the officer blocked out the sun and spoke, “Excuse me sir, have you been in an accident this morning?”
Wills replied, “Er, well, not really, um, that is, I haven’t had a real accident, I hit my letterbox as I was leaving my house, um, I was in a bit of a hurry.”
The policeman took another long look down the side of the car at the dents and scratches.
“A letterbox did this?”, he asked, sceptically.
Wills tried to control his temper, “Yes, a letterbox, did this. As I said, I was in a hurry.”
The policeman took a few slow nods.
“So there’s no chance we’ll get back to the station to find that a motorist has reported being hit by a car, a twin cab ute, like this one, which then drove off without stopping? There’s no chance of that?”
Wills ground his teeth and tried to respond in a controlled fashion.
“No”, he responded, “I have a lot to do today and I just wasn’t watching closely enough when I backed out of my driveway.”
The policeman nodded again and then said, “do you realize your blinker and taillight were smashed?”
Wills hadn’t actually, he had simply kicked the offending letterbox in question and then driven off.
“Uh, yes, is that a problem?”, asked Wills.
“Well, maybe, but leaving that aside for the moment, perhaps you can enlighten us as to what is coating the entire other side of your car? I thought it was mud, but my partner pointed out that it hadn’t rained around here for a while, so…. ?”, the policeman trailed off leaving the question hanging in the air.
Wills ground his teeth again.
“Uh, yeah, well, I’m not too sure myself. I had a party last night at my place, and I think someone may have done this for a laugh.”
The officer raised his eyebrows.
“You must have some pretty peculiar friends. I wouldn’t be laughing if someone had done this to my car. And you still haven’t answered the question, what is it, if it’s not mud?”
Wills felt the pulse in his temple begin to pound.
He had hoped to get through this without having to explain, but there was no escape now.
“I think it’s shit from my septic tank”, he said.
The officer raised his eyebrows and reared back slightly, “Shit…., from your septic tank!, …., is that what you said?”
So Wills gave the shortest explanation he could of the events of the morning.
The officer, and his partner would had now joined him, listened saucer-eyed to his account.
Once he’d finished, the first officer looked like he was about to say something, Boy, did he want to go into this a lot deeper, so he leaned in to ask Wills another question, then seemed to catch a whiff of something and gave a small sniff.
He narrowed his eyes and sharply changed conversational tack, “Party last night, eh? Did you have a lot to drink?”
Wills heart raced.
He then lied, “Oh, no, few bourbos and coke, not a lot.”
The policeman nodded and then said, “Oh good, well, we’ll just give you a breath test, then you can get on your way.”
He returned to his car and leant in through the driver’s window, then returned with the kit.
He held one end down toward Wills and said, “Just count up to twenty into the tube at the end”.
With racing heart Wills did so, after about the count of seven the machine gave a small squeak and the officer took it away, saying “thank you.”
Then there was a longish pause whilst all three of them waited, then it gave four squeaks and the officer turned back toward Wills with a lugubrious sigh.
“I’m sorry sir, you’ve registered a positive breath test, it’s 0.11. I’m guessing you must have had more than a ‘few bourbos and coke.’”
Wills rage intensified.
He did not need this.
He got out his licence and handed it over.
The policeman wrote out the ticket, including a court attendance notice and handed it back.
Wills, threw the paperwork on the passenger seat and then, and this was truly the sign of a man with no cognitive function operating, went to turn the keys in the ignition.
Quick as a flash the policeman said, “What do you think you’re doing?”
Wills, much slower, realized that he couldn’t drive away with the police watching so stopped his turning of the keys and looked dumbfounded at the police.
“Mr Wills”, said the policeman, “you’re over the limit. You will have to find other means to move away from the area.”
Wills dropped his head, then replied, “but how am I going to get home?”
The policeman looked at him again, and with a slight shaking of the head, replied, “That is up to you. But you’ll have to make alternative plans.”
Wills swore inside his head as violently as one can.
With very bad grace he got out and turned to lock the car.
He tried to get straight in his head what to do, how could he get the piping home, more important, how could he get the vital booze home?
He was trying
“Also, you can’t leave your car here. Well, you can, but I wouldn’t advise it, you’re close to the edge of the road, and your car could be hit.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?”, yelled Wills.
“I don’t know”, replied the policeman evenly, “normally, me or my partner would move your car away to a safe place, but I’m not, and I’m strongly guessing he’s not, prepared to get in that car.”
Wills stared around wildly, looking for someone or something to blame.
He was apoplectic with fury, he wanted to smash the Earth and everything on it.
Wills got home four hours after that.
The intervening hours had done nothing to reduce his rage.
His first thought following the DUI ticketing had been to wait till the police drove away, then sneak out of town at the wheel of his car, but that thought was quickly quashed by the realization that if caught again he would lose his licence right there on the side of the road, and those cops had given him the disturbing feeling that they were going to wait around the next corner to see if he tried driving anywhere.
He then thought he would just get in a cab and go home, but this was quickly followed by the realization that he had to get his pipe materials home, and more importantly, the precious booze.
While the booze would fit in the cab, he was sure the pipe wouldn’t.
He then momentarily thought of waiting till he was under the limit, and driving on, but quickly dismissed this thought as unworthy.
God knows how long it took to get from 0.11 down to 0.04, but he wasn’t spending it sitting by the side of the road in his car.
He wasn’t going to wait anywhere if waiting meant not drinking.
Eventually he hit on the idea of a tow truck.
That done, he called the auto assist organisation of which he was a member, but they had been unwilling to help as it wasn’t an emergency, his car was on the side of a main road, but wasn’t blocking traffic.
They did however give him a number for one of the local tow companies and said “you can call them but they will charge you full rate”.
But Wills just wanted to be home, so he rang the tow company and they heard his story and said they would come out.
An hour after that they had arrived, but then a new problem arose.
While the tow truck driver was just, that is by the most microscopic margin, prepared to bring himself to touch the front end of Wills’s car to attach the straps and bring it up onto the tray of his truck, there was no way on this wide Earth that he was having Wills sit in the cab with him for the ride home.
Wills tried to cajole him into doing it, with the promise of cleaning the seat when they got home, he indicated the cleaning materials he had purchased in among the booze and pipe in his car, but the tow truck driver wasn’t having it.
He then tried to get the driver to let him sit in the cab of his car for the trip, but the towie had been even more adamant, “The cops see that and it’s my tow licence, pal.”
Eventually Wills relented and figuring at least if the vehicle gets home, his booze would be there, he better take what he could get.
So he watched as the towie rigged things up and then dwindled off in the direction of Wills’s place.
Then Wills went to call a cab to take him home, a cabbie agreed, but as soon as he pulled up, his nose began to wrinkle and he, like the tow truck driver flat out refused to have Wills in his cab.
Wills argued with him, but there was no way, and eventually, with a “Sorry, mate”, the cabbie drove away.
Wills was going to try again, but Litmus Bay only had one cab company, and he didn’t think he would get anywhere fast there.
So he realized that he would have to walk.
It wasn’t technically a long way, six kilometres or thereabouts, but he was hung over and severely dehydrated already, so knew this walk wouldn’t be fun.
It was everything he dreaded, made worse by having to walk past the police indeed breath testing just around the corner, and by the tow truck driver waving to him on his return to town.
He limped onto his property and went over to the car.
First things first, he filled the fridge with booze, then opening one container, began, rather unwisely, drinking it and then got his various purchases out of the car.
He had a drink of water from one of the other ice tubs, but still felt like death.
He then went automatically toward the kitchen sink to get enough water to quench his thirst, when he remembered the broken pipe.
So contenting himself with another scoop from the ice tub, he gathered his materials and headed up the hill.
Once there he dug into the ground to unearth the intact end of the pipe.
With that exposed he realised the ragged end needed trimming and with a growl of frustration, realized he didn’t have anything to cut it with.
He walked back down to the house, rooted about in the car port shelves and found a rusty hacksaw.
He went back up the hill and cut the pipe.
He lined his new piece of pipe up, and put the connectors in place and screwed them on.
Now splicing in a new piece of irro pipe is a fairly straightforward process, but there as a few fine tunes that are crucial.
If he hadn’t been rude to Ian the water man, he would have known that you have to screw your connectors on with absolute plumb precision, the slightest cross-threading, even by just a few degrees, will stop the seal forming and water will squirt with gay abandon from one, or both of your connectors.
But Wills was in a hurry and already near demented with the frustrations of the day, and so he screwed the connectors on, then unwisely buried the pipe again with a few shovel strokes, turned on the flow with the fly-wheel at the meter, then went back down the hill.
He walked into his kitchen and turned on the tap.
A small trickle emerged, convulsed with periodic spitting bursts evidencing air pockets in the line.
“Turn on at least one tap in your house, before you fix the pipe” would have been another thing Ian would have told him.
He watched for a minute or two, realized there was a problem, then went out and back up the hill.
He saw as he approached water oozing from the ground where his two connectors were bedded.
He turned the water off, grabbed his shovel, reunearthed the pipe and connectors, unscrewed everything, and then repeated his previous repair process.
Then turned the water on and headed back down the hill.
This time the flow from the kitchen tap was better, but still he knew there was a leak in the line.
Back up the hill, and once more through the motions of repair.
It wasn’t till the fifth cycle of unscrewing and rescrewing that he finally brought a measure of furious patience to bear, and lined the threads up nicely.
He went back down the hill, turned on and was finally satisfied.
The pressure was good enough, and he certainly wasn’t going to walk back up the hill to do it again.
There was still the odd convulsive spit indicative of the odd air pocket, but these lessened as he watched, so he declared the job done.
Next Wills turned his mind to the next part of the day’s unfun tasks and thought he better begin cleaning.
But then his mind rebelled and he instead decided that he was going to have a proper shower and get fully clean.
Dusk was falling now and his plan to clean up and then drink on the deck throughout the afternoon was twelve hours delayed.
He was buggered if he was going to start cleaning now.
So he went into his bathroom and turned on the shower.
He stood there with his hand in the flow, but after a minute or so he realized that the water wasn’t getting any hotter.
It never took this long.
“Fuck”, said Wills to himself.
He turned off the shower and went down to his laundry and put his hand on the hot water system.
He looked down at the metal grille at the bottom and was not surprised that the diffuse blue glow that told him the pilot light was on, was absent.
“Fuck”, he said again.
The explosion of the morning, and its subsequent percussive wave damage to the water system had blown out the pilot light.
“Fuck”, he repeated, and then went out to get his cigarette lighter.
What happened next, truth be told, wouldn’t have happened to someone even remotely circling sanity.
But that day Wills had woken, still drunk, covered in shit.
He had then had his interchange with Sergeant O’Driscoll which had begun the steady rise of his fury.
Then a few drinks, followed by the run in with the letterbox, had continued the process.
The drive to town including a drink driving charge, followed by having to pay for the tow truck, then walk home, had increased his anger load.
Multiple trips up the hill to fix the water pipe had done nothing to help.
Now the hot water system was out and Wills would have thought it the last straw, but there was more yet.
The pilot light was out, but the gas was still on.
Anyone with a remotely useable sense of smell would have known that the laundry was full of gas.
They would have turned the gas wheel to ‘off’, then opened a window to vent the room.
But clearly, Wills sense of smell was hardly useable, the blast of this morning was still ‘fresh’ in his nostrils, where some of the debris still lodged.
Plus he was still drunk, or at least hopelessly hungover.
And finally, horrendously impatient to get in the shower and wash the filth off his body.
So, he removed the metal grille, took out his cigarette lighter and clicked it into life next to the small metal tube where the pilot light usually burned.
The room went up in a ball of blue flame.
Wills was blown backwards across the laundry and the back of his head collided at pace with the jutting sill of the window that if he had opened would have avoided all this.
The flame burned his eyebrows off his face and also provided a service he needed, but could have done without it being so painful, namely cauterising his nostrils of all hair and faecal matter still lodged there.
The flame caused a secondary explosion of the incandescent bulb on the ceiling and this caused the fuse to trip and the power ceased flowing into Wills’s house.
Wills slid down the laundry wall like a thrown wet sock and measured his length on the floor where a gentle tinkling rain of glass from the bulb came down and settled on and around his unconscious form in the now pitch black laundry.
Literally and metaphorically Wills’s lights had gone out.
Franco Veletta was a stereotype.
He knew this because his children and older grandchildren kept telling him so.
However, it wasn’t barbed, vicious stuff.
All his descendants admired and looked up to him, and this was evidenced by their regular attendance to his home on Lasseter’s road most Sundays for long lunches, and their willingness to help him whenever he asked.
He had come, like so many others from the poorer areas of the Mediterranean, to Australia to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
Once the work on that mighty project had been completed he and his wife Delia had followed the harvest trail around the country, picking fruit and vegetables.
One summer he had happened upon a nut farm outside Litmus Bay and worked torrentially hard for the season.
The owner of the farm, impressed by his nuggetty strength and willingness to slog on through the rain and the weekend if required, had offered him a permanent post as farm labourer.
In a short time he had ascended to farm foreman and was organising many of his former colleagues from the Snowy Mountains to visit for the harvest and work the season with him.
Then the other nut and fruit farmers in the area heard of his abilities and began asking Franco if he could organise teams of pickers for their farms.
And so Franco Veletta prospered.
Delia had given birth to two children, in less than permanent accommodations, and had another on the way when Franco came home and announced they would be staying permanently due to his work on the nut farm.
Delia was happy, and then made the tentative suggestion that they may start looking for a house of their own.
At first Franco had been a little surprised, he had never considered that they would ever be earning enough money to own a home in this great new land, but slowly the idea bore fruit and few seasons, they had enough to put a deposit on a piece of land on the newly subdivided Lasseter’s road.
So now Franco worked even harder.
When not at work at the nut farm or organising picking teams around the district, he was down on his land, building a house for his family.
The building was largely concrete, another part of the stereotype, but there were reasons, it was cheap and it was strong.
Franco Veletta valued a strong house.
Partly because it tolled an unconscious bell inside his head, clanging to tell Franco that a strong house made for a strong family.
And partly because life as a boy on the island of Malta had brought home to him the need for walls stronger than dried mud.
Gun feuds were common there.
Rarely did a year pass without a feud building to the “pressure-release” stage and the olive groves would resound with the crack of shotguns being fired into the wall of someone’s house.
But these feuds rarely led to bloodshed and just as commonly a feud would fizzle out when a new, greater, grievance against someone else, usually richer, would see the former feuders huddled over a table in the local bar, discussing plans to make the new target sorry.
These plans almost invariably lead to another night’s creep through the olives in a new direction and more gunfire at night.
So Franco built a house with concrete walls 150mm (six inches) thick.
As his children grew to adolescence they worked with Franco, mixing cement and in time the house was structurally complete.
The skills learned by the boys who helped led them into allied trades and he had two plasterers and a bricklayer among his offspring.
His children did though point out to Franco that his house, while strong, was ugly, and so after consultation with Delia, he attended the hardware store and got some advice on cladding the walls with a more attractive finish.
Weatherboard was chosen, installed and then painted.
Not only had Franco built a strong house, but it had the “luxury” of cladding and paint.
With the hours spent building his house now available for him to disperse Franco added to his immigrant stereotype by opening up the land behind his home to vegetable gardens.
By the time the events on Lasseter’s road were starting to liven up with explosions becoming de rigueur, his gardens extended for two hectares, and what Delia didn’t use to feed the hoards of grandkids, Franco would load on his small truck and sell at the farmer’s markets in Litmus Bay each Thursday.
Franco was happy, he had succeeded like so many immigrants to Australia had, by eternal hard work.
Now 65, he considered ten hours a short day and still worked either for wages on the farms about, or in his gardens, seven days a week.
How he came to be connected with the events at Wills’s house were largely due to the increasing irrationality of Wills’s actions.
He rarely complained about the noise of Wills’s parties, simply lying down with Delia in their bed behind their thick concrete walls was enough to damp the noise.
But if he had a beloved baby grandchild in the house on a Saturday night, and the child and its parent were having trouble sleeping, then Franco would be out of the house and clumping down the road.
He exuded a natural authority, and Wills was quite frankly a little scared of him, so the music would be turned down.
Although Wills would bluster to the young women at the party after Franco had left, he ensured on a “Franco visit night” that the music volume stayed down.
But apart from that the noise didn’t bother Franco all that much and on more than one night he had got out of bed and gone down to the gardens and got on with some work, squashing slugs and checking for snails.
Sometimes he would do some heavy work that was better performed in the cool of the night.
He hadn’t heard the explosion of the septic tank this Sunday morning, having been working his stall at the monthly tourist market, but had arrived home in the late evening and had definitely noticed the smell.
Like all gardeners he had a sensitive nose and so the stench wafting down the hill from the hill occupied by Wills had hit him with the force of a hammer.
He had parked his truck round the back of his house and was unloading various bits of his stall paraphernalia whilst running over in his mind what on Earth the smell could presage, when he heard the faint pop of the gas explosion in Wills’s laundry and he decided he better go and see what it was.
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