The windows on the Toyota were fogged up when we left for work the following morning. I have no idea how many possums we caught that day, my mind completely distracted by Charlie.
When we arrived home that evening, I was relieved and slightly surprised to find the truck was exactly as we had left it, nothing broken, nothing taken.
Charlie was nowhere to be seen, which both relieved and disappointed me.
We had lamb chops that night, I remember because that is one of my favourite meals. I was busily gnawing on a bone when Charlie knocked on our door.
Sue showed him in. Again, no eye contact. I found this hard to deal with, but there was nothing I could do about it. Charlie eased himself onto the couch, the ever-present beanie clutched between his hands. Formalities were exchanged, tea brewed.
“Possum ” Charlie drew the word out, seeming to savour the sound of it.
“Do you think I could do it?”
“Well, sure, if you know how to find your way around the bush, and get your fitness up.”
The words had no sooner left my mouth than I regretted them. Charlie was a big man and apparently no stranger to violence. I hoped like crazy he didn’t take offence to my slight on his fitness. Much to my relief, he didn’t even seem to notice.
“So you think I could do it?”
“Sure,” I said, you’d have no problem”. Charlie’s face registered the briefest of smiles.
“Is there much work doing possum monitoring?”
“Well, yeah, work comes and goes, but if you live simply it will give you a living”. Charlie stood up, crushing his beanie in his right hand. I knew he wanted to say something, but he just stood there, staring out the window.
“Would you like to come and have a look at what we do when we check our lines tomorrow?” I asked, trying to second guess him. He looked down at me, his face expressionless.
“Yeah bro, wouldn’t mind”.He seemed a little tense, I could tell he was feeling a bit awkward.
“I can’t pay you anything”, I said, but would appreciate your help. Charlie smiled, this time it was for a few seconds. “That’s all right bro,” he said, making his way to the door, “I don’t mind giving you a hand”.Charlie was gone before Sue could give him his cup of tea.
A vehicle pulled up about an hour after Charlie went back to the stump to smoke. I recognised the red Ute, it belonged to a dry stock farmer named Greg. We’d been parked on his place before Charlie ‘asked’ us to move. We heard Greg talking briefly to Charlie before he came over to the truck. The moment I opened the door, Greg burst in, not even bothering to take his boots off.
“Catching many possums?” he asked, glancing through the kitchen window at Charlie.
“One or two I said, but nothing to write home about”.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, “they do that”.He hadn’t heard a word I said. Beckoning him to the lounge, I offered him a seat.
“Look,” Greg said, not even bothering to sit down. “I can’t stay long, I just need to have a quick word with you”.
“The missus told me you’d moved, how come?”
“It was Charlie’s idea,” I said, “He’s keeping an eye on the place for us while Sue and I are out working”.
Smirking, Greg walked to the kitchen and had another quick look through the window. He came back into the lounge, his voice just slightly above a whisper.
“Look,” he said, “Having Charlie keep an eye on your truck is about as clever as letting a rat guard some cheese. Mark my words, you're in for trouble if you leave your truck here”.I got that horrible sinking feeling they talk about in books.
“Well, thanks for letting us know,” I said, “ But I can’t move the truck, I don’t want to offend the guy”.
Greg shook his head.
“Well don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. You can park the truck back at my place, or take your chances here, it’s your call. Anyway, I got to go”.
And with that he left, leaving his muddy boot prints, and me feeling miserable. Greg strode past Charlie, pretending not to notice him, jumped in his Ute and took off down the road in a pall of dust.
I went to the kitchen to grab a glass of water. I could see Charlie sitting on his stump. He looked ominous, brooding, I wondered what he was thinking.
“At least,” I thought, “He’s coming with us tomorrow, it will give me a chance to think.”
Charlie suddenly looked up, catching me staring at him.
“What time in the morning bro?”
“About 6, would be good.”Charlie nodded and turned to face the road, giving me a chance to slink back to the lounge.
We sat up reading until just after dark, it had been quite a solid day. Normally that meant a good night's sleep.
But not that night.