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Jul 26, 2016



Jul 26, 2016

in & a :toxx:

Jul 26, 2016

Sin bin
1433 words

The untreated pinewood splintered, miniature waves of torn up wood frozen mid-crest in the wake of the weathered steel body. Target after target along the row shook in equal and opposite reaction to the steady stream of whirling axes. The smell of hops hung pleasantly across a mix of sawdust, hay, timber, and sunscreen. Close enough to the breweries to be worried, far enough away for everything to be above board.

Matt watched Kelvin toss the hatchet. The others were either buried in conversation about refixing mortgages or checking their phones. Matt often found himself observing, rather than participating these days, present but somehow divorced from that deep well of friendship and warmth they’d come to tap.

They were there out of collective obligation, something between inertia and guilt binding the group of late thirties men together and hurtling them into their current awkward dabbling in outdoorsy masculinity. The eight had been in each other’ orbits for some twenty years, friendships, trios and acquaintances coalescing into “the group” at high school and then university.

They took turns, marvelling encouragingly at what were on paper pretty average-to-poor throws. Axe heads glanced off the target board or thudded in around the circumference of the target - not even flirting with the bullseye.

Kelvin was always good at herding them, and he’d been working hard to find events that worked for everyone. Between the eight of them, they were responsible for fourteen children who needed bedtime stories, nappies changed, school lunches made, or teams coached. Partners with varying levels of familiarity with the other partners.

So they were here, in the 24°C late morning sunshine, standing in a small grass patch next to a carpark next to a brewery, amongst a makeshift axe throwing venue’s hay bales, folding tables and enthusiastic ‘axe-perts’.

Matt wanted a beer desperately. Or rather, Matt wanted to be two beers deep and in tune with the moment. It’s not that he needed it to function socially - but with Kelvin and co. he wasn’t sure he knew how to be around them without a couple pints. Alcohol was the one constant throughout those twenty-odd years, the little eddies that their mismatched rafts occasionally swept into and circled for a couple of revolutions before rolling back into other riffles and runs.

And they were mismatched. Matt and Kelvin studied roughly the same subjects at school, got similar degrees, went into the workforce, even got married around about the same time - but as they aged and ran in different circles their politics and priorities shifted. Pretty soon they were raising families in different cities and didn’t know each other anymore.

Someone thrust an axe into Matt’s hand and patted him on the shoulder, guiding him over toward the throwing line. Still wanting a beer, still trying to figure out whether he even liked his friends anymore, he just wanted it done. He was never particularly coordinated, getting a cricket ball to go straight up the pitch always took a lot of focus - and the last time he’d bowled one of those he was in high school.

The weight the axe gathered, even on the small backswing over his shoulder, took Matt by surprise - shifting his weight to the right a bit to compensate. He wasn’t in it to win it though - just to get back out of the spotlight and into the background. There was something regressive about hanging out with the friends you had as a teenager, old patterns, old instincts come to the fore.

Matt let rip, overcompensating for the weight of the axe and sending it high and off kilter, soaring clear across the small lane divider and into the top left of the neighbours' target - startling them visibly. There was a noticeable dip in the ambient hubbub as the blinders came off, all eyes were on him. A beardy young man with youth pastor energy was next to him firmly telling him that the rules were there for a reason, while Kelvin gave him a pained “why you gotta gently caress this up, bud?” look.

Something long rotted and hollowed finally split under the weight it was holding back, a husk masquerading as a support beam. Matt let out what had been threatening to roll down the mountain every time they got together over the last five or six years. It came out more petulantly than he intended.

“You know what, gently caress this. I didn’t even want to be here.”

He walked, hot blood thundering, out past the axe-pert still trying to eke out some semblance of authority. Out past the other six, only some of whom had actually noticed something happened. Out toward the breweries.

Sitting in the sun, halfway through a hop-forward pilsner with a smooth honey malt profile and clean bitterness, Kelvin sat down. He pushed a fresh pint toward Matt and took a sip of his own.
“What the hell, Matt?”

He could sense the other six at the bar, sneaking furtive glances and giggling like they were watching their mate being told off at school. Turns out drama was also a constant alongside the alcohol, and they loved it.

Matt exhaled, finding his feet at the crease, taking a moment to gather himself. Trying to focus on the fleeting thoughts skipping up the pitch and give at least one of them a good clip. The move out of town, his kids not growing up alongside theirs like everyone else’s, the depression, the giant gaps between catch-ups so that each one feels like it needs a round of introductions.

“I just... I’m sorry man. It’s just been a bit of a poo poo time lately - I don’t feel like I see you guys enough but when we hang out it’s some weird poo poo like axes or tramping or whatever. I need to be able to blow off some steam, have a couple drinks and talk poo poo - you know?”

Not a textbook return, maybe a lucky edge in there, but serviceable. Kelvin took a beat, then looked Matt in the eye with a seriousness that he’d only seen a couple of times in the course of their friendship.

“You know what happens when we drink though. We need structure, or activities, because if we sit ‘round and drink and talk poo poo - we talk poo poo. We spend hours rehashing the oldest loving fights, and we don’t have enough regular contact to take the bad with the good - it’s just all bad if we’re on the turps. Jack nearly decked you in the McDonalds last time we went out.”

Matt wanted to argue, but he couldn’t. He was still sore about being booted out while Jack stayed. Kelvin continued, more gently now.

“Listen, I get it. It’s hard to find time to let all the poo poo we deal with go for a couple of hours - but we’ve got to do it without opening old wounds. I don’t like axe throwing, but it’s somewhere we can all get to at a time when we’re all free. All eight of us are available maybe twice, three times a year? I don’t want to spend the rest of the year having gossipy loving lunches about whoever lost their poo poo this time, you know?”

Matt nodded. The answers weren’t entirely satisfactory, there was a truth there he’d been scratching at for a while. “The group” wasn’t the same group anymore. The eight kids that met and grew through their formative years together grew into people that would make unlikely friends with each other today.

But at the same time, that thing that gave them inertia, the spark that kept them together regardless was something he instinctively wanted to protect. They’d been through break-ups, sickness, ailing parents and more together.

“I’m sorry man... I mean, I guess you’re right but it kinda sucks. Like, I wish we weren’t like this but...”

“Yep. But we are.”

The other six had drifted over, tired of spectating and sensing that Matt’s hostility had dissipated substantially. Matt gave a mixture of downward and upward nods, based on how aggrieved or unconcerned each might have been about his outburst.

They sat awhile, around a table with only a couple beers, a few cokes and a kombucha. It was a different vibe to the usual Sunday sessions, but it worked for what it was. Matt figured the only way to settle into the new equilibrium was to lean into it.

“If we cut through the carparks, there’s a track up to the ridgeline up the back of the hill there - maybe half an hour if anyone’s keen?”

Jul 26, 2016

In. Gimme a pic.

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