He went out on to the veranda, sat down beside Kate and watched in silence as she poured the chilled ginger beer into the glasses.
“What’s the news?” he asked, slapping a mosquito off his leg.
“The council have announced that they’re dismantling the Anzac Hall and rebuilding it in Arcadia Municipal Park beside the Great War memorial. The hypermarket development will still go ahead, but at least the hall is going to be preserved now. It’s a compromise, I suppose. But a really good one, wouldn’t you say? It’s going to be used for community activities. Karate, yoga, art that sort of thing.”
They held each other’s gaze. Alan didn’t know what else to say. Kate knew he’d done nothing to support the campaign something he now felt ashamed of and yet, here she was, taking the time to share the news with him. And, of course, the council’s solution was the right one.
Compromise was good, he could see that now, and his mind cartwheeled in another direction as he thought back to some of the memorable events he had attended at the Anzac Hall over the years. If he was honest with himself, now that he gave it a moment of his time, a fair few of those memories were worth their weight in gold.
“The first time I ever laid eyes on Beryl was in the Anzac Hall,” he said quietly.
“At one of the dances?” Kate asked.
“No. Long before that. She was doing a song and dance routine.”
“For the annual talent contest?”
“Yeah. Her and a friend. Dressed up as dancing crocodiles! But her partner was hopeless and kept forgetting the steps! They fell over each other more than they danced!” Again he laughed, only this time more heartily. He took his hat off and laid it on his knees. “Crikey, what was the song ?”
“‘Tick Tock Boogie’,” Kate said, straight-faced. “I was the hopeless partner.”
They both chuckled.
“Sorry,” Alan said. “I didn’t realise.” His voice broke off and there was a longer silence this time as he thought about another Anzac Hall memory of his a more private memory: the first kiss he and Beryl had ever shared.
He had watched her all night dancing with other blokes, and he had felt shy about asking her to dance with him. He was scared that he’d be rebuffed. But then, when he eventually did pluck up the courage, they hit it off and she’d been his girl ever since.
As if reading his mind, Kate said, “You and Beryl had your wedding reception in the Anzac Hall, didn’t you?”
He looked at her and nodded. Halcyon days, he thought.
“I’m glad the council have found a use for it. Arcadia Park is a much better location,” he admitted.
“I reckon it was down to the youngsters fighting so hard for it,” Kate put in.
The corners of his mouth pulled upwards.
“Yeah, well, good on ’em for kicking up a stink.”
Alan wished he had been more encouraging to Jess about it and he made a mental note to praise her efforts when he saw her next. She was a great kid, and a real credit to Susanne, as Susanne was to Beryl.
The truth was, after Michael died, he had left all the parenting exclusively to Beryl. She’d done it all herself. And now, in their absence, he realised that he loved his family so much his heart ached. But he’d not shown them how much he loved them, and that was something he wanted to put right.
“I’m proud of our youngsters,” Kate said. “The only problem is, seeing them all so grown-up makes me realise that we are the oldies now, Alan.”
“I don’t know where the years went,” he responded.
“Out there,” Kate replied, nodding at the pineapples.
He drew a sharp breath. It was true he’d lost himself out there, and it was time to find his way back to the family. He sipped the ginger beer. That was delicious, too. He couldn’t remember when he’d last tasted ginger beer, and before he knew it there was a smile on his face.
“Good of you to come over, Kate. Any word from that talented boy of yours in London?”
“I’ve had a couple of
e-mails,” she said. “He’ll be back.”
“Is that right? To do what?”
“Oh, to be a jolly swagman for all I know,” she said with laughter on her lips. “Just so long as he’s true to himself and finds happiness.”
Alan took another long drink of ginger beer and stared up at the cloudless sky. He supposed that he wasn’t the only father to lose a child and feel lost because of it, and surely there were plenty of blokes who made the mistake of trying to suppress their emotions by refusing to allow themselves to hark back to the past. He knew now, however, that compromise was what was needed.
When she got up to leave, Kate asked if he’d like to join her and the family for a roast dinner the following Sunday. He declined but thanked her sincerely for the invitation.
“I’m going to be busy,” he told her, placing his hat firmly back on his head. “I’m having a new kitchen fitted for Beryl coming home.”