Naked, Brave and Dusty

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Through a dense fog, I hear the splintering of timber. Voices. Male voices.

Something about ‘drifting away’.

I’m being wrapped in a blanket, it’s woollen, I can feel it against my skin. It’s warm.

Strong arms guide me toward my bed. More voices. ‘Cover the mirror’.

Why are these people in my room? What do they want?

I feel very light, and I see myself from a distance. A very comfortable distance.

I’m trying to decide. Do I come back or do I drift away? Drift away seems like an excellent idea.

I’m not asleep, but I’m not awake, either. I’m in that in-between place. It’s beautiful here.

~oOo~

When I awake, a day and a half have passed.

I’m feeling rested, and it’s quiet because almost everyone is off at work.

I take my time and bathe.

I look at myself in the bathroom mirror; I don’t look any different, but I definitely feel different.

I spend the afternoon quietly sitting in the garden listening to the birds and trying to collect my thoughts.

Eventually, my extended family begin returning to our large home.

The house is surprisingly quiet as the women prepare the evening meal.

The men bring in wood for the fire and go about the small tasks that men perform to keep a large house like ours running smoothly. There is very little of the usual chatter, and what conversation there is, is carried out in hushed tones.

It is not spoken, but everyone is thinking the same thing.

What happened, and how will it affect the fortunes of our family?

Even if they did work up the courage to ask, I would not know how to answer.

Quite simply, I don’t remember what happened.

I know that the experience almost cost me my life, and I know that I feel at peace.

Something passed between me and the mirror and even though I don’t know what that ‘something’ is I know that it was good. I know that our family will prosper and I know that I will come to be its leader, in the fullness of time.

Everyone is looking at me in a different way than they did before, and that is as it should be.

How the mirror came into our family and where it came from are two facts that are shrouded in mystery.

My favourite story? That it was enchanted by a gypsy princess.

The princess was captured by angry townsfolk who were upset about a poor crop yield, or something like that, and blamed it on the gypsies.

I guess people have always needed someone to blame.

One of my ancestors, who was a poor but chivalrous young man, rescued the gypsy princess.

She was a bit bruised, battered and dusty, but otherwise unhurt.

She took my young ancestor back to her caravan and gave him a good seeing to, which they both rather enjoyed.

She also gave him the mirror. Her enchantment meant that the mirror would respond favourably to any female member of his family who was beautiful, naked and brave.

I guess I was all of those things.

I know I’m not the same.

I dared to face the mirror, and that sets me apart.

My self-confidence goes all the way down to the tips of my toes.

I’m the same height, but I feel taller.

My thoughts are now full of answers, as well as questions. The future feels bright and full of possibilities.

Sometimes courage is its own reward, and outward beauty has very little to do with it.

I know that my daughters will be vigorous and wise. The experience with the mirror taught me that bravery overcomes all obstacles, but in the end, it is the love that comes from within that holds a family together, no matter how large or small that family might be.

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Painting by Alex Alemeny

Full Circle.

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“How do you get the bubbles into the beer?”

“No idea.” Joe’s answer wasn’t correct.

He knew exactly how they did it, he just couldn’t be bothered answering.

People talk to bartenders, all the time.

If you want to be good at this job you need to be well organised, thick skinned, reasonable at arithmetic and, like a psychologist, be a good listener.

Bartending isn’t a job, it’s a vocation — you are born to it. Joe is a fourth-generation practitioner.

His great grandfather started it all, and by an interesting coincidence, it was at this very hotel.

He fell into the job after serving in the Australian army during the first Boer War in South Africa. Australia was not yet a country in its own right; not yet a federation.

When he arrived back in Australia, he needed a job. A mate of his was working at the Lord Newry as a cook. By the time that Joe’s great grandfather arrived at the hotel, his mate had quit over the question of mutton. The owner liked the mutton to be severely cooked, whereas the customers liked the mutton to be less abused. The chef thought that the owner was an idiot and in the manner of all chefs since time immemorial, he let him know in no uncertain terms. There were expletives and the occasional flying object, and as a result, dinner wasn’t served.

By the time that Joe arrived on the doorstep the owner was still angry and still without a chef.

“Can you cook?”

“For myself, I can, but not for a room full of hungry drunks.”

“Then you’re no good to me.”

“Before you make up your mind, you need to know that I’m good at killing people and I’m good at pulling a beer. Being good at killing people might come in handy if things get rough around here, and a pub always needs a bloke who can pull a good beer.”

The owner gave it a bit of thought before answering.

“Fair enough. When can you start?”

“Now seems like a good time.”

“Away you go then.”

The owner could easily have changed his mind, so jumping straight in was a way to show that he was keen.

The job was never meant to be permanent; just something to tide him over until something better came along. ‘Tide him over’ turned into a family tradition.

Being a soldier helped. Crazy drunks were no problem, and customers who needed someone to talk to were just like soldiers filling in hours between moments of sheer terror.

Good listeners are a rare commodity in any walk of life.

Joe’s grandfather and the owner formed a type of friendship; a kind of respect.

Joe’s favourite story from ‘back then’ concerned a horse, a drunk and a pumpkin. All three ended up in the public bar during the busiest part of the day. The drunk was well known, but no one recognised the horse or the pumpkin. The horse was very well behaved considering the close quarters, and the pumpkin disappeared without a trace. Joe’s great grandfather was remarkably calm throughout. A lesser man might have panicked, and the consequences might have been deadly. He led the horse out through the front doors and tied it to a post close to the horse trough. There was a strong possibility that the horse had been stolen or ‘borrowed’ from somewhere nearby. Calling the police was always the last resort.

The pumpkin ended up on the tables of the poorest families in the area.

The rightful owner, while walking home, recognised the horse and led him home. The drunk bloke slept in the shed at the back of the pub. When he woke up, he didn’t remember any of the previous night. Someone worked out that the drunk bloke carried the pumpkin for more than two miles. He found the horse in a yard, about two streets away.

The drunk-pumpkin-carrying-horse-thief- story had been told many times at Joe’s family gatherings. No doubt, the story has been embellished somewhat, but no one seems to care.

The next logical step for any bartender is to own his own pub. It didn’t happen for Joe’s great grandfather, but his grandfather took his inheritance and built on it until he had enough to buy a Brewery lease, which was the next best thing to owning a pub in an era when Breweries owned most of the pubs in Melbourne.

Before he died, he had accumulated enough to buy a pub outright.

Joe’s dad was a gambler, and everything that the family owned went into the pockets of the local bookie.

‘Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations’, as the saying goes.

Joe was aware of all the stories, and some made him sad, and some made him glad, but mostly they made him wonder; what might have been?

Life had gone full circle, and here he was back at the Lord Newry Hotel. The area and the clientele had changed, Fitzroy Football Club had moved away, and into oblivion many years ago, so the Saturday game-day crowds no longer came into the pub.

Joe’s ‘listening ear’ was now employed on inner-city professionals, but people don’t change, no matter what their economic status. Love and money; the eternal source of happiness and pain.