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114 • the graduation If the Town Hall was not “decked out” for the occasion, it was the next-best. A few balloons floating in the corners, regally attired ushers garnered from the crop of next year’s prefects—recently elected to office. The toilets had been spruced up, and an afternoon tea was promised in the foyer for when the event concluded. It should be made crystal-clear from the beginning that even though his eldest son was graduating, Jeremiah didn’t want to go. He had some serious drinking to do, and two hours off the afternoon would stuff the plan. Sure, he could belt it down fast afterwards, but it wasn’t the same as that steady drinking towards oblivion that has to start early in the day. But Holly was at him and at him. His eldest daughter. Nineteen, and the apple of his eye. She’d been running the house since her mother’s death. We can’t let Samuel go up there to collect his diploma without family to watch him, she pleaded. Then you go, Holly love, you go and leave me here. I’ve got things to do. Northam 115 t h e g r a d u a t i o n Dad! Don’t even try to pull that one on me. He knew she’d hide his drink. He was a big man with a violent past, and he’d been known to take it out on Samuel, but he’d never laid a hand on Holly. And he hadn’t been rough with his wife. Just the men—there was something he hated about men. His life had been a brawl with other men . . . of all ages, of all sizes, of all origins. His nickname was Ned because of his beard, though Holly called him Jeremiah Johnson, after the wild mountain man she’d seen in an American film. That was her dad—a frontiersman. Holly managed to keep her dad distracted and sober all morning, and then through lunch, and right up to the time he had to get their old Cadillac out of the shed. The car had been the pride of his life. It was over thirty years old now and run-down. The police in town knew it, of course, and often threatened to yellow or even red-sticker it, but they let it go because Jeremiah, drunken brawler that he was, was never known to drive drunk and never to hit women. These things counted big in a wheatbelt town where there were too many pubs and not enough work. And Jeremiah had been a hard and reliable worker for decades, and if he’d ever seen another man being belted, with the odds stacked against the victim, he’d wade in, overcome his hatred of all men, and lend a hand. The perpetrators, no matter how many, always yelped off, tails between their legs. Then when the victim offered Jeremiah a drink he said, No mate, it’s like the song, I drink alone, and then he’d be back to his corner of the bar, to down far too many. The law of Jeremiah even extended to cops. On more than one occasion over the many years, he had stepped in to look after a cop during a brawl—when it was unfair like that. On the other hand, when the cops had beaten a Nyungar elder, three of them around the poor bloke lying on the street trying to ward off their kicks, Jeremiah stepped in and told them to back off. They did, and rather than his suffering consequences, two of the young blokes involved were mysteriously transferred to a distant town. 116 j o h n k i n s e l l a That was Jeremiah, but that was back then, before his wife’s death. Now he rarely left the couch, and only Holly could get through to him. Samuel—the younger brother she idolized, with his aspirations to go to the city, to a university, and to “make something” of himself—felt angry and alienated and fearful around his father. The three of them climbed into the old Caddie. The car had been converted to right-hand drive, so though it stuck out as the only car of its type in the region, it also fitted in. Jeremiah had always wanted a left-hand-drive car, but it just didn’t work out that way. Samuel...


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