Charlie gazed out over Brew’s Pond.
His favourite spot was a eucalypt that had fallen during a storm. The great tree came to rest in the water, several metres from the bank. From land, the trunk was accessible only by a thick branch acting as a bridge. Charlie christened the timber isthmus Stick Point.
Charlie’s stepfather declared the woods a no-go zone. Despite the ban, Charlie spent most afternoons on the pond with best friend, David.
‘They could’ve asked if I wanted to go camping instead of telling me. I’m thirteen.’
‘It can’t have been all bad.’
‘There was one highlight,’ Charlie conceded. ‘The first night, we had Les’s homemade rissoles. Of course, Les called the biggest one. When tea was ready, I held the torch while he took them off the fire. There was a dead moth on Les’s rissole. I almost wet myself.’
‘Did he eat it? The rissole, I mean.’
‘Les only made one each so he didn’t have a choice. Mum took the moth off.’
‘I’d have put sauce on it, and given it to him. Would you like fries with your moth, sir?’
‘Don’t make me laugh,’ Charlie clutched his ribs.
‘What’s he done now?’
‘Nothing. I’m fine.’
‘It’s never nothing with Les,’ David insisted. ‘Show me.’
Charlie reluctantly lifted his shirt. A purple boot print branded his chest.
Although David had never seen Charlie’s stepfather in action, he had too often seen the results.
‘That’s for kicking his car?’
‘No. For telling Dad about the head stomping.’
‘How did Les find out?’
‘Mum. I heard Dad arguing with her on the phone.
‘I don’t understand why he keeps sending you back. He knows what’ll happen.’
‘Dad says he can’t do anything. Mum got custody, and he won’t challenge it.’
None of this was new to David. Charlie had been his best friends for years. David knew that Charlie’s father sexually abused him. He also understood why Charlie preferred that to Les’s physical and emotional abuse.
‘It’s simple,’ Charlie explained.
‘People see bruises, and they last for ages. What Dad does only hurts for a while, and nobody can see it. Besides,’ Charlie blushed, ‘some of it feels good.’
Charlie produced a bent cigarette from his pocket.
‘I can never find my matches in this coat,’ he said, pulling out a handkerchief in his the course of his search. There was a clink, as something fell from his pocket, landing on the stony bank.
‘Les’s precious Falcon badge. I found it on the roadside this morning.’
‘Are you giving it back to him? He might lay off you if you did.’
Charlie shot David a withering look.
‘Sorry, stupid thing to say. Still, you never know. That badge means a lot to Les.’
‘Yeah, it does, doesn’t it?’ Knowing exactly how grateful Les would be to have the little piece of metal back, Charlie knew what to do.
Stunned frogs provided a moment’s silence as half a dozen ripples spread across Brew’s Pond.
Copyright © 2017 Bronwyn Joy Hansen. All Rights Reserved. Image; Pond by London Road ([CC2.0] via Flikr])