the last beer
My father put off his heart surgery for a month
so he could attend Mildred’s funeral. There had
been an issue with his heart value for two decades
but it had recently become worse. The doctor
advised against delay while also saying there was
no great risk. He drove up on the Wednesday.
I couldn’t get off work until Thursday, the day
of the funeral. An afternoon funeral I caught
the train that had once been called the Central
West Express but was now just called the Dubbo
train. It was running almost an hour late by the time
it got to Orange and I had to get a taxi straight to the
church. Dad was already in the front row looking tired.
I sat with him and talked quietly for ten minutes. He hadn’t
slept well - ate something that didn’t agree with him.
The funeral marked the last connection with his parents,
his mother’s sister, the farm that was his second home
growing up. I could sense his grief, silent but consuming.
Through the service he followed the process, familiar
as the drive over the mountains. Afterwards we went
to Carol’s for tea and cake. Dad and a few of the men
had a few scotches. I talked to Carol about how I remember
coming to their old orchard as a kid and watching the apples
being packed in the large old shed. There were always
fresh crisp apples back then - another time.
The next day we leave the motel early, after a big continental
breakfast. Dad drives the first leg down the Mitchell Highway
to Bathurst. We drive past the Lucknow Pub, no need to stop
these days. Out of habit I count the number of times we cross
Rocks Creek - the new road has cut the number by two. We
don’t stop at Bathurst but Dad does turn right and does the obligatory
ap of the race trace. For the first time I remember he keeps
to the speed limit over the top of the mountain. We stop
at Lithgow for fuel and he keeps driving. Up Mount Victoria, the car
struggling, I begin thinking in metaphors - one mountain too many.
I suggest I take over the driving, soon he say, we’ll stop for a drink.
Finally he pulls into the car-park at the The New Ivanhoe Hotel.
Of all the pubs between Sydney and Orange this is probably
the only one I can’t remember stopping at with him. But today
he is out of the car and stretching and waiting for me so he can
lock up. Inside the bar is smoky and he orders a scotch for himself
and a beer for me. He asks for the water, measures a little
into glass and settles back on the stool. I sip my beer slowly,
he finishes his scotch and looks at my still almost full glass
and says he might might join me in a beer. We clink glasses,
to you health I toast and we finish our beer. I won’t be the same
now he says looking around as we turn to leave the pub. I get
in the driver’s seat and drive down the mountains into Sydney.
A month later he goes into hospital for his operation. I walk
next to the trolley as he is wheeled into theatre. The last words
I say to him when I am told I can go no further is that I will
buy the next round of beers. He does not regain consciousnessafter the operation and dies two days later.