The System

Allora Queensland
Allora Township

Angus shuffled through a pile of bills and sent one fluttering to the floor.  His son Steve stood beside the dining room table, arms folded, watching him.  Every week Angus misplaced an important piece of paperwork.
“Told you it wasn’t far away.”  Angus held up an electricity account.
“You should have a proper filing system, Dad,” Steve said.  “One day the electricity will be cut off and you’ll wonder why you’re in the dark.”
“It’s you who’s in the dark, my lad.”  Angus tapped his nose, an obscure family joke.
Steve gave a brief smile.  “Let me buy you a three-drawer filing cabinet with suspension files and alphabetical tabs.”
“My manila folder is just fine,” said Angus, holding up a battered cream folder with various names crossed out and a succession of dates which finished at 1998.
“You’re damn lucky I haven’t forced you into owning a computer,” said Steve, stacking old invoices, “otherwise I’d make you pay bills online.”
“The only line I like is a fishing one,” said Angus, his mouth twitching at the corners.  He couldn’t resist adding “Just ‘cos you program computers doesn’t mean I have to like ‘em.”
Steve gave a good-natured harrumph and went in search of his mobile phone.  He gave a whistle and his dog Fancy raced in from the garden with her tongue lolling and eyes gleaming.  “Come on, girl, it’s time to take the old bloke shopping.”
Angus knew that Fancy had been foraging in the garden by the dirt clinging to her paws.  “Glad someone likes my little courtyard,” he said.  She placed a paw on his bony knee and he ruffled her ears.  “No treats yet.”
Before they left, Angus surreptitiously swallowed a blood pressure tablet.
They took Steve’s car and drove into town, parking on a broken two-hour meter.  At the shopping centre, Angus went straight to the rawhide-smelling pet store and bought a packet of dog treats.
“One hundred percent pure beef,” he read.
“You spoil the dog,” said Steve.
Angus jutted his jaw but said nothing.
At the next stop, Angus purchased postage stamps and talked with the postmaster.
“Steve’s going to make me a grandfather in a couple of week’s time.”  His thoughts strayed and he said quietly, “That will certainly change things.”
Steve tapped his watch and mouthed the word “Coffee”.  Angus knew he had just two minutes to pay the electricity bill.  He said to the postmaster, “Can’t miss out on my Café Bijou treat.”
Leaving the post office, they walked a short distance to the café, pausing once for Angus to catch his breath.
“When can we eat at a healthy place?”  Steve sounded like a five year old child.
“When I’m gone,” said Angus, taking off his sweaty Akubra and fanning himself.  The steps going into the café were uneven and he tripped.
“Steady.”  Steve offered his arm but Angus shook his head.
Café Bijou served a wide range of high fat, carb-loaded meals and well sweetened desserts.   Angus enjoyed the never-ending cups of coffee served by the eighty year old waitress Dita.  Her hands had started to shake but she didn’t spill their coffees.
“Dita, you’re a living treasure,” said Angus.  He took a swipe at her apron bow as she ambled away.
“Ah, ha,” Dita crowed, “you never could hit me backside.”
“Don’t know why––it’s broad enough,” said Angus in an aside to Steve, who hung his head and started tapping on his phone.  Angus handed the menu to him.  “I bet you’ll check which sandwiches have the least amount of red meat.”
“Do you have the slightest idea what cholesterol is?” asked Steve.
Angus ignored him and leaned over to take a newspaper off the top of a bundle.  “Same stories, just a different way of writing ‘em.  If sporting heroes stopped screwing up their lives, the media would be stumped for ideas.  Look, one of them died from a health-nut overdose.”  Steve rolled his eyes.
As they were leaving, the treasurer of the bowls club halted Angus in the doorway, asking for a donation for their sponsored charity.  Angus obliged but the chitchat got to him.  Shifting his weight from foot to foot, he said “I’m going shopping with my boy Steve.  He’s pretty busy these days.  Every moment counts.”  With apologies, he pursued Steve’s figure down the street, heading in the direction of the supermarket, his least favourite place.
Fancy had been asleep in the car but woke when she heard their voices returning.  They loaded the grocery bags into the boot.
“We’ve got time to look at a new filing system,” said Steve.
“Let’s do it another time.”
“It would help keep your records more organised, Dad.”
“It’s just how I like it,” said Angus and slipped a dried treat to Fancy.
Once on the road, they travelled in silence until Angus saw Steve glance at him in a melancholy way.
“The doc said my new pills are working just fine,” said Angus, aware that his illness hung between them, an unseen yet active enemy.  “I don’t have another appointment until next month.”
Steve nodded. “Good.”
Angus didn’t add that the surgeon had said he may not be allowed to drive again.
He watched Steve negotiate a corner.  “You’re a good driver, Steve.  Shame I never taught you how to drive a ute across a furrowed paddock.”
“I was too young.  Then the farm was sold.”  Steve toyed with the digital controls on the dashboard.  “You did more for me in other ways.”
After awhile, Angus said, “Can we take a different route home?”
“That sounds ominous,” said Steve but obliged by turning off the main highway.
The rural landscape was sparsely treed with very few farm buildings.
Without warning, Angus said “Stop!”  He asked Steve to pull over outside an old barn-like warehouse with an adjoining timber yard.
“I reckon we could make our own filing cabinet, don’t you?” said Angus.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Bright Cherry Walk Cafe 01