It takes a while for things to start. They can’t get the old recording equipment to work. The clerk, or whoever it is, plays with leads and cords and power points until it finally whirrs into action. It’s a huge room, with tall windows which let in far too much light and heat. I had stood outside with Des, before they called him in. He’s always looked older than he is, but today he shrinks back to a stooping nineteen year-old in a sagging suit and tie. Only four years younger than me, his supposed protector.
Des sits up in the box with the little railing. He pleads guilty to wilful damage of property. For ramming Stefo Pinnatori’s rusty truck into a packing shed. Guilty of being treated like shit for his slave work, squatting over squash and zucchini and capsicum and every other bloody vegetable for 14 hours a day. Trying to quit the work and the priced food and crappy shelter but being laughed off. Nothing he could do but teach the greasy fuckers a lesson.
The old bastard Stefo pretends he doesn’t understand the oath, won’t put his hand on the bible, laughs along with the family with his big red mouth. Des’s legal aid looks fresh out of year ten. Nothing the magistrate can do but put Des in the local gaol for a month and hand him a twelve hundred dollar fine. They lead him out as I watch uselessly from my pew-hard seat. Vince and Gino and Paul walk out with Stefo and his wife. Paul blows me a kiss, and I want to be sick.
Elsie drives me back that evening. I give Des a change of clothes and some books before I go. He smiles, but I can see his fear.
There’s a scene of his face, full of excitement and nervousness, when he would camp in the backyard all through the school holidays, loving the escape. Even in winter, he would plead to stay outside. Still, it was warmer up north.
Elsie and I make dinner and eat it outside on the cane chair. After dinner, I go into Des’s room and sit at his desk. I write mum a long letter, but I know I won’t send it. My eyes are dry around the edges by the time I go to bed.