Archie hadn’t known what to do in the days since Rosie had died. Now, at least the waiting was over. Rosie’s daughter Nancy would pick him up any minute and take him on the long drive up to Delegant for the funeral. His own driving days were long gone.
Nancy was doing the right thing but only for fear of the town chatter if she didn’t. She could imagine it in the hairdresser: “You know they didn’t even bring old Archie up. He’s been Rosie’s only friend these last ten years!”
“What a load of rubbish,” Nancy thought. “Two geriatrics waddling around in that tin shed?” It disgusted her. He wasn’t family, he wasn’t her husband, just some kind of hanger on.
Fact was, despite the drive, nothing would save her from the hairdresser ladies. Everyone in town knew she was a stingy, mean hearted woman. But Nancy had her own reality and it served her well. Eighty miles she had to drive now. “God knows where the smelly old beast will sleep tonight. He better get a room in the pub. He’s not sleeping with us.”
As the car crawled the long curved roads through the foothills and up to the flat topped hills that often held snow, Archie prattled on about how her mother had been these last weeks and days, weaker and vaguer and then finally dead.
“Her own mother,” she thought. “How dare he.”
Archie did the talking, looking out the car window as the poplar trees flashed by. Funny how they followed the creeks, he thought, bit like thirsty tired giants, anchored in the low spots. The poplars were actually weeds, the whole area logged bare long ago for cattle, but they looked good. If you lived in the country long enough, the landscape changed so slowly you didn’t think about it much, you stopped seeing it.
Archie waffled about how close Rosie and he were. “Close enough for a bit of senile erotica,” Narelle thought, yuck! He was just after her money she reckoned. Funny thing was, Archie knew there was none. Narelle on the other hand had that secret hope relatives get around funerals, the magical inheritance moment. This ignored the fact that Rosie had lived in a tin shack behind the service station. If there was any money she hid it well. Of course, if there had been any money Narelle would have moved her closer, just to show her affection.
Now he was crapping on about some ring.
“She said I could have it, I guess it’s in the will. It’s not much, only important to us. That’ll be ok won’t it? He looked nervously at Narelle, she kept her eyes on the road.
“Not up to me Archie”
“It was just a joke between us. She bought it overseas, in Hong Kong.”
“Ha! She’s never been to Hong Kong. She’s never been out of the state!”
Archie ploughed on, not hearing the malice in her voice.
“It’s not worth anything, it’s just something for myself. I know she hard to get on with, but we had a few laughs, something in common, a couple of old farts.” He laughed to himself and looked out the windscreen.
They’d sometimes gone fishing together. Down at the creek out the back of town. If it was pension week they’d buy a bag of wine and sit by the water crapping on at each other about how clever they both were compared to every other fool, but knowing it wasn’t true, just fun. Then they’d walk home with the crickets jumping ahead of them in the grass. Back in the shed they’d warm up frozen meals in the microwave and watch TV. Or she’d tell stories like the one about the ring, how she’d bought it in a tourist shop in Hong Kong when she was there with some rich guy. She’d been pretty once, you couldn’t tell now. She said he could have it when she went.
The car climbed slowly. It got colder.
At the graveside he was the only one who shed a tear. After the burial they all went to the pub. Archie wasn’t invited, he just followed, squeezed grudgingly into a car with strangers.
In the front bar they milled around in separate groups, the town people and the city people, a couple of strays. They cast evil eyes at each other. At the bar next to him, someone Archie didn’t know had hold of the the will, a crumpled scrap of paper. “This’ll get ’em fighting.” He snickered to a woman next to him “Time to leave town I reckon.”
Archie took his chance, “Is there anything in there about a ring?”
The man looked at him sharply like he was a cockroach chasing scraps, then thought and held the paper out to him.
“I can’t read,” said Archie.
The man softened a little, looked him over, took pity at his age.
“No mate, no mention of rings. Suggest you take it up with the relatives.”
The relatives were clustering into tight groups, walls of harsh eyes.
“I wish I was with you, Rosie,” thought Archie.