By E L Gill
Ken’s youngest, Olivia, decides the fresh air will do him good, that staying home because he did his back in three weeks ago is no excuse for not supporting Nelson’s “big day” of school sport. She’s right, though she’s wrong about the carnival’s significance if she thinks three-legged races count as a sport, and she is definitely wrong if she thinks he is going to join in the Family Relay.
Instead, Ken picks a spectator spot and waves at Nelson when his daughter points him out, the five-year-old’s mullet tied back, missing tooth a match for Ken’s own, his shirt a nicer, duck-egg-blue than most color factions these days but missing the vitality of…well, whatever Ken had, which was surely better.
Olivia presses him into the race, of course—just like her mother, hair as flaming as her temper—and Ken goes along with it for a quiet life, though the noise of the field contradicts that. Then the whistle sounds and Nelson’s off: acing the running start, fast as a swift before passing to Olivia, who hops, a flamingo in aerobics gear, one arm windmilling, and then it’s Ken’s turn, taking the egg and spoon in trembling hands. He starts slow, but he makes it to the change over, and now the crowd is cheering so loud his hearing aid statics out, and Nelson takes the spoon for the last part, but he trips, and the gasp as he hits the ground is audible, and his arms fling out to protect the egg, and next moment, Ken is there beside him, forgetting his back and his creaky knees and his hernia, forgetting he’s seventy next month, caught up in the moment and a memory of being six, of running on the grass out back at the farm, balancing an egg from the neighbor’s chooks on a stolen silver spoon, with his mate Gabe racing next to him and Laura—whose fiery hair got chewed on by a horse that morning, ha—lovely Laura laughing and cheering him on, her younger brother bouncing in her arms, the sun shining, and Gabe swerving so that Ken nearly falls, but he doesn’t, his feet take him over the line, and he’s so focused on the egg he doesn’t stop until he runs into a discarded grain sack, and the egg arcs beautifully as it falls, cracks on hessian, and explodes in yellow glory—and all that’s in the past, but Ken remembers with a grin, an aging man with gappy teeth and wrinkled cheeks, beaming like he just saw his grandkid for the first time, and maybe he did, because he’s smiling at Olivia and Nelson like he hasn’t in years, and the youngster is up from his tumble, knees scraped green, pride poked, and he’s the perfect size to tuck under Ken’s arm, and their feet stumble over the finish line, and their two hands together make sure the darn egg never falls.