Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 18

At daybreak Robert slipped from the bed, wrapped himself in a towel against the cold and ran down to the lake. The rising sun flung its shafts through the mist and wisps of vapour curled from the water. Five enormous black cockatoos flapped mournfully overhead, a heron announced its arrival with raucous honking, fairy-wrens inspected seed-heads on the tall grasses, a pair of indigo and yellow parrots displayed red bums as they shredded matching calliandros flowers, a whip-bird's rising whine and crack was followed by his spouse's chiu-choo reply, a large russet butterfly dropped to the path and lay on its side like a dead leaf, and the sun heaved itself over the edge of the mountain.

Red dragonflies chased electric blue, an insect flashed turquoise, a lone frog screeched, insects and hoppers sprang to life, monochrome trees became green, brown, blue, red and gold, dewdrops glistened on an enormous orb-web and a tear of incredulity at the perfection and variety of nature, blurred Robert's vision.

From a stand of tristanias twenty metres above and behind, Bart watched Robert throw off his towel to expose a body as perfect as the morning, dive from the bank and swim vigorously to the steps, where Michael had just arrived for a morning dip. Wrapped against the chill they warmed themselves in the sun, Robert enthusiastically recounting everything he'd seen. His voice carried clearly in the stillness.

Bart knew he shouldn't be eavesdropping, but couldn't bear to let Robert out of his sight. His love was an ache that engulfed his being. He couldn't look at Robert without wanting to shout his love, to touch and hold him.

'…you and John are the same age,' Robert was saying, 'but I'm four years younger than Bart. Won't he get bored with me?'

'I doubt it. After a while, though, when the novelty has dimmed, you'll both probably begin to wonder what it would be like to go with other men.

'Oh no, I'll never...'

'You're human – you will. But testing your charms on others is natural. How else can you be certain you've made the right choice? When it happens there's no need to tell each other because I'm sure you're made for each other. I've never seen Bart so cheerful. It's like a miracle.'

'But... wouldn't that be dishonest?'

'Yes, but why give each other heartache while you sort yourselves out? There's such a thing as too much honesty in a relationship. Living with a lover means sharing, protecting and considering their feelings. Telling him something that will hurt is not love, its stupidity. If you want to hurt him, then it's time to examine your relationship. You'll soon discover that sex with strangers is unfulfilling and pointless, not to mention dangerous. But people have to discover this for themselves.'

A lean body shot between them, diving into the water with barely a splash. Bart had heard enough.

'You great galah. You'll give me a seizure.'

Bart swam back to the steps, climbed out, grinned and shook himself.

'Get away! You're worse than a dog. Drown him, Robert. Breakfast in ten minutes.' Michael walked slowly back up the path while the two youngsters raced each other to the end of the lake and back.

After breakfast they climbed the mountain. At the base a magnificent stand of old eucalypts was the perch for a raucous squabbling of kookaburras, but most of the older trees were dead - bare bones above a canopy of tristanias. It wasn't a long climb, but treacherous. They followed the base of unscaleable buttresses, scrambled up onto the edge of a bluff then trudged up a scrub-covered slope to the top.

Windswept bushes, rocks, native bees and several hundred butterflies greeted them. In the distance, sea hazily met sky, hills and mountains poked from rolling land, and green valleys carried roads between narrow ribbons of trees. A railway cutting gashed through barren furrows where someone had failed to profit from a cash crop. On the horizon, Noosa Hill was silhouetted against a pale sky.

After John had pointed out the major landmarks, they reclined on the rocks.

'What do you think of the view?' John asked.

'I reckon...' Bart and Robert began together. Bart laughed. 'You first.'

'Well - I almost wish I hadn't come up. On the drive out here I thought we were travelling through forests. I felt excited about so much nature. But from up here you can see that virtually the only trees remaining are those on the roadsides. The private land has been cleared. Yours is the only property I can see with trees all over it. What were you going to say, Bart?'

'That I thought it was a great view.'

'Yeah, it is… but…'

'At last, a doom and gloom disciple for John!'

'You're right, Robert,' John said with predictable intensity. 'No one gives a shit about starving wildlife…'

'Roll up, roll up,' sang Michael. 'Watch the old man wallow in depression and tear out his hair! Guaranteed to frighten small children and dogs.'

Robert frowned and Bart gave a nervous smile, not sure how to react.

'Doesn't it worry you, Michael?'

'Annoy? Yes. Worry? No. Humans are just doing what's natural. Breeding and taking the easy path. If you offer birds cheese they'll make gluttons of themselves and never bother to dig out another grub. Eventually we'll come to our senses. If we don't, nature will castigate us until we are knocked into line. Meanwhile, I intend to enjoy myself while trying not to make things worse. At least we aren't breeding.' He smiled at their frowns. 'Cheer up; you're too young to get bogged in a mire of despair over something you can do almost nothing about. If everyone does their bit then things will improve. If they don't, it won't. It's as simple as that. It's pointless to ruin your enjoyment of the minute because things could be better. Of course they could! Accept what is and work from there, is my motto.'

The evening meal left them sprawling in the lounge listening to a Vivaldi mandolin concerto. 'Why haven't I heard this before? It's brilliant! It goes on and on like a train sweeping me to... somewhere exciting. Bart's got some great discs too.'

'Thanks to our hosts.' Bart turned to Robert. 'The first time I met John was when he and Michael took me to a Mozart piano recital. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Michael, I've often wondered… why did you invite me?'

'Blame John. I'd been raving about the sweet young thing who jogged along the Riverside Bikeway every evening as I was taking my constitutional. He told me to check you out.'

'You mean?'

'Yes. It shames me to admit it, but I hadn't twisted my ankle. I could have driven myself home. You wisely refused to come inside, so I insisted you let me shout you to a concert.'

Bart burst out laughing and Michael changed the subject.

'What sort of music do your parents like, Robert?'

'Romantic stuff. Beethoven, Debussy… pleasant enough if you're in the mood, but it's just sounds going nowhere I reckon.'

'How perspicacious. You're like me – need something intelligent – Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach...'

'You pompous ass!' John turned to the others. 'When I met him he liked pop-music.'

'Only for dancing. I still love dancing, but John's too old.'

'Not too old! The music's always too loud.'

'That's what I said, too old. I made a lot of money out of pop.'


'As a stripper.'

'You? A respectable accountant?' Bart was stunned. 'When?'

'I started when I was twenty-two and gave my last show on my fifty-first birthday.'


'Yes, I was bald by then. Wigs and dim lights fool audiences.'

'How'd you get into it?'

'I was in London, needed exercise, joined a gym. Eric, one of the trainers offered me a week's wages for half an hour's work - a fun wrestling demo at a Ladies Night. So I've something in common with you two… wrestling. We donned muslin shorts and had a bucket of water thrown over us, rendering them transparent. They'd been stuck together with water-based glue, so fell apart as we wrestled. We ended up jiving with the audience; dozens of raucous women. It was a riot. After that I used Eric's agent. When I got back to Australia I did Hen parties… Mum's Fiftieth Birthday, Farewells, private showings in motel rooms, specialty nights at restaurants…'

'Don't you miss it?'

'If I haven't looked in the mirror for an hour or two I sometimes fantasise I'll do it again. Actually, it's an enormous relief not to have to worry if I've got a pimple on my bum or my butt's sagged another notch.'

'You were very tolerant, John.'

'I'm not above selling my lover for twenty pieces of silver.'

'Wasn't it forty?'

'He wasn't worth that much.'

A friendly silence descended; two thinking of their life to come, and two of what had gone, never to return.

And what are your plans, Robert?'

'I haven't any… unless...'


'I can't stop thinking about this house and how you and Michael designed and built it. I'd love to do something like that. You know, be an architect maybe. It's the buildings I like studying most in Art History. And… I wouldn't mind being a stripper.' He blushed at the confession. 'I always imagined you had to have a special sort of hard character. But if Michael could do it…'

'What does teacher think about that?'

'It doesn't surprise me. You should see his wrestling gear. I wouldn't let him wear it in front of the headmaster.'

'And who shows so much leg in the playground that the girls all have the hots for him?'

'Get Michael to give you a few hints, then you can earn enough to keep us in luxury.'

'That's an idea. I'll look out some old costumes. Those friends I told you about are coming tomorrow evening and, if you dare, you can put on a show.'

Robert's heart lurched. He looked at Bart.

'Go for it. You'll floor 'em.'

'You're on!'

'How's your mother, Bart?' Michael asked. "Left your father yet?"

'She'll never do it. I telephoned her this afternoon; we'll pick her up at Roma Street on Saturday morning. She'll be glad to get away from Toowoomba for a few hours.'

'And then it's down to the Gold Coast for Robert's debut as a wrestler?'

'Debut and finale I expect,' laughed Robert. 'We'll let you know how it went.

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