Walking up the hill from the river, I noticed a man standing off to the side of the carpark taking photos through a flower pot.
‘Hi,’ I said, and he waved back. He was dressed head to toe in olive green, with a black Midas cap.
Fred walked up to a big tree with a large branch sawn off and hugged it.
‘Hide, Daddy,’ he said, and I laughed. ‘Where are you, Fred?’ I said. Our games of hide and seek are completely nonsensical.
‘No Daddy,’ said Fred, agitated, pointing. ‘Hide up there.’ He wanted to stand on the sawn off stump of the branch, because I normally lift him onto any tree stump we see and he loves it. We call them ‘treetops’ and he often stops up there to eat a pack of sultanas or something. I explained to him that he couldn’t get up there, and the tree was too big to climb. With uncharacteristic ease, he seemed to accept this refusal of his wishes and ran off to look at something else. The man in green had wandered closer to me and I noticed his outfit was made entirely from polar fleece.
Polar fleece pants are the true mark of a Featherston man. As I do whenever I see them, I thought about how comfortable they must be: tracksuit pants but snugglier. But then, as always, my mind wandered to all the piss dribbling around in there, resisting the plastic fabric before slowly soaking in. I imagined the separate pile for his clothes at home: Dad’s stinky washing. I imagined him pulling down the pants in relief and squatting on the toilet, taking a big stinking meat-rich shit. There’s something vulnerable about polar fleece pants and elastic waistbands; something that denies the validity of the female gaze, the importance of appearing attractive, the definition of pride. Polar fleece pants are at odds with my idea of masculinity, but perhaps, they’re more masculine than I can imagine. They’re beyond me; I’m just a pretender, like every other idiot who doesn’t understand polar fleece pants, or hunting, or fishing or keeping this kind of thinking to yourself. They’re just pants, after all. They’re the right pants for the right sort of man.
‘Hi there,’ I called, and the man nodded back.
‘What are you looking at?’ I asked.
‘Just picking up after the idiots who leave rubbish around here,’ he said, waving the plastic pot disgustedly. I realised he was holding a pair of binoculars, not a camera.
‘Oh,’ I said.
‘I’m keeping an eye on my friend’s farm over there,’ he continued, pointing at the crazy mountain over the other side of the river, which ended abruptly as a sheer cliff, like the world had been ripped open. I had been marveling at a tree growing on the cliff while we were walking up from the river; its roots visible and hanging in the air, grasping around in nothingness. I now noticed the grassy hill was dotted with little white sheep, getting about in single file on little tracks cut into the near vertical slope.
‘That’s a steep farm,’ I said.
‘It is steep,’ he agreed, and lifted the binoculars back to his eyes, this time without the flower pot.
‘Some meatheads shot a few of his sheep last year,’ he said, scanning the mountain.
‘That’s terrible,’ I said.
‘Oh, there’s some real pieces of work out there,’ he said, pulling down the binoculars and fixing his gaze straight at me.
‘They bring in these new gun laws and they make it nearly impossible for law abiding citizens, but it won’t change a thing for these idiots,’ he said. ‘They just do what they want anyway.’
I thought about it for a moment. ‘That’s the problem with all laws, isn’t it?’
‘What’s that?’ he asked.
‘Oh, just that people can do what they want anyway, if they’re not scared of getting in trouble for it,’ I said weakly.
‘Meatheads,’ he said.
I turned to monitor Fred, who was walking around on the circular patch of grass that the river carpark looped around. He was angrily calling Tess – ‘TessAYY, TessAYYY!’ – who was snooping around a van with its boot open. I whistled, and she came gambling out, licking her chops, looking suspicious. Fred returned to his happy wandering.
‘Nice dog,’ said the man.
‘Thanks,’ I said.
‘I used to have one like that, little foxie. Great dogs,’ he said.
‘She’s a bit naughty,’ I said. ‘Is that your van?’
He shook his head and resumed scanning the mountain with his binoculars. I resumed watching Fred, who was spinning around in circles in the sun. I took out my camera and took a photograph.
‘They’re worried about people getting killed,’ he said, the private world of binocular vision perhaps reminding him of what he had been angrily mulling over before I’d approached him.
‘I told them, if I wanted to kill someone, I’d use explosives, not a firearm.’
‘I worked with explosives for fourteen years, so I know what I’m doing,’ he said.
Fred was running in circles around another car parked on the grass, which had its door open.
‘I’ve got four shotguns on my property and I’ve never killed anyone,’ he said.
‘And I wouldn’t…’ he said, trailing off, ‘…unless it was under… extreme circumstances.’
‘Sure,’ I said. Fred was still running in circles around the car, but the door that had been open a moment ago was now closed.
‘Is that your car?’ I asked.