Mr Meggs put down his Nike sports water bottle on the hall table and wiped his brow. Panting from his practice run for the local Kool Dads Keep Fit marathon, he could tell by the skateboard he nearly tripped over that Ginger was home from school.
He walked along the passage to the bedroom where Ginger was doing his homework. ‘Mind if I come in for a minute, son?’
‘Whatever,’ replied Ginger, scarcely looking up from the home-filmed snuff movie some of the immigrant children at school had told him about.
‘Your mother and I were thinking it was time I had a little talk with you about, er, well you know, about nature, about where, er, babies come from and all that,’ said Mr Meggs, looking embarrassed. ‘You’re getting a big boy now. Pretty soon there’ll be some young lass running after you and, well, you need to know the sort of thing that can happen.’
Ginger scowled. ‘Shit, Dad, we get that all day at school,’ he said. ‘Don’t you start.’
Mr Meggs cleared his throat. ‘Actually, son, there’s a bit more to it than that. You see, the fact is that ever since mum decided to go and live with Auntie Rhonda she’s wanted another little bundle of joy, a little brother or sister for you that Rhonda can relate to too. She says it’s her right as an out and partnered transitioning woman. The problem is that she asked me if I could, um, well help her, but I’m not getting any younger and…’
If he wasn’t getting any younger it wasn’t the fault of his costume. Mr Meggs was attired like a teenager, with a baseball hat on his bald head, shorts, sockettes, trainers and a baggy singlet with the legend Is that the truth or did you read it in the Herald Sun? across the chest. ‘Anyway,’ he continued, ‘Mum sent me a cutting from the paper that gave her the idea that you could, sort of’ – Mr Meggs flushed crimson – ‘stand in for me as a dad.’
‘Miss Plibersek in Sustainability Studies says dads are redundant,’ said Ginger. His father looked crestfallen, then fumbled in his Uniqlo shorts and produced a fifty-dollar note from his wallet.
It must have been half an hour before Mr Meggs tapped at the door again. Ginger, engrossed in an episode of Border Security, jerked his thumb in the direction of the bathroom opposite. ‘Thank you, Ginger,’ said his father. ‘You’re a real pal. Mum’ll be really pleased. She’s due any minute. I can’t wait or I’ll be late for the Better Parenting Class at the civic centre. I’ll leave this in a Safeway bag on the hall table for you to give her.’
‘What about me tea?’ called Ginger impatiently.
‘There’s some Ol’ Colonel Greazy’s Krispy Frozen Chicken Pieces in the fridge. Heat them up in the microwave.’
No sooner had Mr Meggs’s elderly Volvo made its clanking exit from the carport than Ginger heard the roar of motorbikes coming up the drive. Moments later two crash-helmeted figures strode into the hall. Ginger’s mum no longer looked the way he remembered her before she left, when she used to bake cakes all day and wear twin sets. Her once-permed hair had been shaved off and there was a purple streak bisecting the top of her head. She had a nose stud and a heavy round earring like a pirate. She was wearing bib-and-brace overalls and a purple T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan Marriage Equality Now! An arabesque of tattoos ornamented her upper and lower arms.
‘Thanks for doing this, Ginger,’ she said, peering into the supermarket bag. ‘I guess it was you and not your hopeless old heteronormative bigot of a father. Be proud you’ve struck a blow for justice for same-sex couples. And say hello to Auntie Rhonda, dear.’
Ginger’s mumbled greeting was answered by a deep grunt from the armchair where Ginger’s mother’s companion, cocooned in black leather and studs, had retired to peruse a Good Weekend profile of Naomi Watts she had discovered on the coffee table. ‘Come on Rhon, don’t start drooling over that now,’ commanded Ginger’s mother. ‘We’ve got to get to the clinic ASAP, bring it with you if you have to.’
The motorcycles revved up to a slamming of next-door windows and Ginger made his way to the kitchen to prepare his repast. While the frozen chicken pieces sputtered and hissed in the electronic oven he opened the refrigerator for a Big Macka Choc-o-Goo Milk-Style Nutritious Energy Drink. He was feeling a bit listless for some reason, and when he discovered the carton was empty slammed the refrigerator door irritably.
The rush of air sent a strip of paper next to the toaster fluttering to the floor. He bent down to retrieve it and saw it was a cutting from the opinion page of the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Time to end family taboos, writes Roz Ward,’ he read. ‘Helping LGBTI couples become parents is the responsibility of everyone in the new non-nuclear family.’ Scribbled on the margin in ballpoint in his mother’s hand were the words, ‘John, I want you to follow this up with Ginger. It’s about time he did something for the good of humankind. He’s old enough to be a father now.’
Something clicked in Ginger’s mind. ‘Crikey!’ was all he could say. ‘Crikey, I’m going to be a father! Wait till Coogan hears about this. This’ll really put me one up on him. He’s never been a father! Wait till I tell the guys. Crikey.’
‘Beep!’ replied the microwave merrily. Ginger extracted the steaming portions of chicken, which had turned into a kind of sludge of fawn and grey. The container was hot and he reached for his handkerchief to pick it up.
Putting his hand in his pocket he remembered the fifty-dollar note. An idea struck him. ‘I reckon I could do this on a professional basis. Fifty bucks a couple of times a week, Jeez. I’ll put a notice on the board at school. I’ll advertise meself on Facebook. I’ll call that lady that wrote the article. Just think how much money I could already have made…’
(The comic-strip character Ginger Meggs was created by Jimmy Bancks in the early 1920s.)
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Christopher Akehurst is a freelance writer
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