You’re lucky you don’t get a bullet

You’re lucky you don’t get a bullet

by Nick Milligan

The man, his son and his daughter step on the train two stops after mine. I can tell that, like most of the people that ride back and forth down this line, the man is much younger than he appears. His eyes are sunken, his cheeks prominent and his skin is dark brown and leathered. Drugs, like salt, have drawn the moisture from his exterior.

The three new passengers sit adjacent to me in a five-seater. In the seats behind them are two teenagers, who are across the aisle from me. The man nods at them in faint recognition. One of them says “hey” to him. The teenagers have tattoos and baggy denim jeans.

I know the teenagers are young, because earlier one of them said, “Man, Sundays are the best nights to go out, ay.”

His friend replied, “You just turned eighteen and you reckon you’re an expert.”

The son and the daughter aren’t in their seats long. They are dressed in clean clothing. Two indigenous cherubs. The girl about six, the boy about four. The boy is like a doll. Bright blonde hair, mocha skin and blue eyes. He holds on to one of the support poles in front of the train’s doors and swings around and around, woahing and wooing. His sister jumps about next to him.

“Sit down!” growls the father, his voice nasal and frustrated.

The children ignores him. The father turns and looks out his window again, his head turned away from me. The vacant fields, scrap heaps and cold factories are streaking and blurring in his backdrop.

There’s not much to see in and out of Maitland. Piles of metal. Abandoned, burned out cars. In the thick grass next to the line you see wild bunnies and hairs. They sit or fossick, bounding back and forth, always stopping to look up at the trains as they roll by. Only a metre from the crush of the heavy wheels.

One paddock has two kangaroo statues in it. I used to think they were real. But when the heavy rain fell and put the paddock under two feet of water, I knew they were fake. They stood there staring back as the train passed, submerged past their pouches. Frozen.

The man leans down in his seat and begins talking to someone, almost under his breath. His two cherubs continue to hop around the train, hiding and seeking, chirping and stirring each other. I figure out the man is on his mobile phone.

“What?” he hisses, keeping his voice down. He sits up straight in his seat, staring out the window again, listening to the unheard voice. “You fucken tell that…” he spits, before stopping to listen again. Then he whispers loudly. “You listen,” he says. “You fucken keep that cunt there. Fucken keep ‘im there. Don’t let ‘im leave.”

The man glances down, putting his phone away, and his son walks up to him.

“What’s for dinner?” asks the boy in his raspy, unformed voice.

“We’re gonna have some steak,” says the man, his voice calming, adopting the warmer tone of a father. “And some mashed potato. You like that don’t ya?”

The boy stares blankly.

“Can we have some?” asks one of the two teenagers sitting behind them.

The man turns around and grins, finding it funny. There are teeth missing from his smile. “Yeah, come along,” he says over his shoulder, with a chuckle.

The son calmly walks around his father’s seat and looks at the two teenagers, standing next to them in the aisle. Then he shapes his chubby fist into a pistol, extends his arm and levels his index finger at them.

“You’re lucky you don’t get a bullet,” says the boy.


N. Milligan. Copyright 2012.

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