The Districts’ cricket clubhouse was a dark brick bungalow at the edge of a large suburban oval. Though the approaching summer would soon dry the grass to a stubbly hay and force spectators onto the marginally cooler cement verandah, on this spring morning the ground was still damp and green under Brian Gerrity’s shoes. Sliding his key into the door of the clubhouse, he smiled as the heavy weights of the lock shifted at his touch.
Months earlier the trusty deadbolt had been replaced by a PIN-pad system after Bev Hammond, the club’s match-day kiosk manager, complained about boxes of jelly snakes and packets of Twisties being lifted from behind the counter. The new electronic system had been the brainchild of their fellow board member Paul Selby, who used words like ‘synergy’ and ‘brand management’ and basically wanted to turn the clubhouse into a licensed bar. The rest of the board, blinded by his capped teeth and shiny new Prius, had voted in favour of the new security, while Gerrity made sure his objection was noted in the board’s minutes.
Vindication came not two weeks after the technology was fitted, when someone gained unauthorised access to the building. Flouting the new system, the perpetrator stole a twenty-four pack of Coke and took a rich dump in one of the boardroom chairs. With the entry code compromised the board hastily met in the change-rooms, where the stink wasn’t so bad, and voted to have a new lock fitted.
Gerrity felt a wash of familiarity as he stepped inside. He’d played for Districts for twenty-five years, and the clubhouse was his home away from home: the peeling lino kiosk his kitchen, the windowless boardroom his lounge, the display cases his memories. Unbeknown to the rest of the board, at his lowest the place had actually become home: during the cold May nights after Joanne kicked him out he’d slept on one of the battered couches with an open yearbook held over his face, turning the link-armed photo of his first Seniors team into a crinkled grey smear. In the boardroom the soiled seat had been replaced. Gerrity took the new chair, the only one that didn’t expel air from cracks in its vinyl the moment weight was lowered onto it. Though no-one else was around, he had consciously appropriated the ceremonial air he associated with the new cricket season—the smell of bore sprinklers on mown grass, the breezy sensation of untrousered knees—and he didn’t want to spoil it by sinking into a chair that farted. He settled into the new seat and exhaled with relief.
Gerrity didn’t know what he would do without the cricket club. He’d been a lover of the game from a young age, hitting a tennis ball against the shed with a plastic bat while in the house his dad captained the Aussies from his armchair. Gerrity liked to sit back with a coldie in front of the TV as much as anyone, but his preference was to be involved, to feel the solidness of the ball in his hands and the cut of the willow through the air. It was the classiness of the game that he loved: the perfection of its geometry; the devoted strain for the ball; the respect each team afforded the other, that harked back to a more genteel time. He’d never made it to any sort of professional or representative side, but he now felt this was a good thing. Instead he did his nine-to-five at the Department and in the evenings traded shirt and tie for the formal whites of the most beautiful sporting uniform in the world.
Their league had fixtures from mid October to mid April, and during the off-seasons Gerrity was untethered. This year had been particularly bad—all the time he was looking for a new place and begging Joanne’s sisters for her new phone number. Later, finally meeting with a lawyer, he had ached for a return to the simple life of meeting and coaching and keeping. A calendar tacked to the wall of his one-bedroom rental had the days to 16 October crossed out with a thick black marker, and now the morning had actually arrived he felt sick with excitement. Just two hours until the season opened with the traditional intra-club match. Sitting in his new chair, Gerrity could almost feel himself crouching deep into the warm grass behind the wicket, the faint rushing in his ears becoming the roar of an out. Turning to the sidelines to see Joanne under the eucalypts, clapping primly and smiling at him. It could happen.
There were voices in the main room. Max Hammond, chair of the board, appeared in the doorway first, his belly the exact size of a full-term pregnancy. The big man coached the under-18s, the most successful Districts team in the league, earning him the right to be chair. In reality the team’s success was due, Gerrity had calmly calculated, 49 per cent to the star bowler, Brent Ryland; 49 per cent to their best batsman, Robbie Miller (whose one-day average was a very Bradman-like 99.9); and only 2 per cent to Hammond’s coaching, which consisted largely of whooping like a demented crane every time Miller hit a six or Ryland sent the bails flying. Max Hammond smiled with one side of his mouth. ‘Morning, Brian.’
‘Max.’ Gerrity nodded as Max stepped aside for his wife. ‘Bev.’
‘Hello, Brian,’ Bev Hammond said brightly, sliding an apron over her head. ‘No problems getting in?’
Bev had been thrilled by the glowing numbers and merry welcoming beeps of the short-lived PIN system. She and Paul Selby had been the two to vote against the new deadlock, and she now claimed its heaviness made her wrist hurt.
Gerrity fixed a smile. ‘Easy as pie.’
Max settled into a chair, which raspberried as he lowered his right buttock. He pouted. ‘Nightmare, Brian. Absolute nightmare.’
Bev immediately looked concerned and Gerrity’s guts wrung in preparation for the sentiment that was sure to follow. For the past five months people had been dispensing sympathy and advice to him in grave tones, their expressions twisted as if they too felt his pain—it was like a cricket bat to the chest. (They weren’t far wrong.) They told him ‘These things happen’ and that ‘Some things weren’t meant to be’. He objected to the flimsy noun. His marriage had not been a ‘thing’; it had been meaningful, unlike their vague homilies. As if they knew this, the well-wishers tried to supplement their blather with touch. Men clamped his shoulder reassuringly and women had, unsolicited, hugged him, something that hadn’t happened since he was married. The foreign breasts pressed against him made him feel awkward and empty. He didn’t think he could bear the same performance from Max Hammond.
But as usual, Hammond was talking about himself. In September Brent Ryland had turned eighteen, which meant he could no longer ditch lethal spinners at the faces of knock-kneed teenage boys but would instead be joining the Seniors. Hammond’s lower lip drooped, showing aubergine gums. ‘It’s going to be a tough season,’ he moaned. ‘A tough season.’
Gerrity couldn’t help but agree as he heard clipped footsteps outside.
Paul Selby, self-appointed club marketing guru, environmental avenger and Seniors’ coach, stood surveying the room, thumbs hooked casually through his belt loops. This drew attention to the zippered area of his jeans, which were just a stitch too tight: when he stepped forward there was the tiniest hint of lumpiness, of weights rearranging behind his fly. Selby was built like a jockey and was as cocky as a game hen, visiting the houses of recently separated women in his easily identifiable low-emissions car.
‘Paul,’ Gerrity acknowledged stonily.
Selby strode over to the table and pounded his fists smartly against it. The sudden slam made Bev shriek a little in the back of her throat. ‘Big season! Best season!’ Selby announced, looking right at him.
‘I heartily agree, Paul,’ Gerrity said, trying to keep his tone even.
‘I’m glad you do, Brian.’ Selby glanced at the Hammonds. ‘Because there’s something we wanted to talk to you about.’
‘Of course,’ Gerrity said automatically, feeling sweat forming on his forehead. So they were going to be out with it. In front of the rest of the board, no less. Well, fine, he thought dizzily, massaging his collarbone. Not like it wasn’t a club issue. This was where he and Joanne had met in the first place; how the short-arse had got to know them. In fact, if Paul Selby was now fucking Brian Gerrity’s wife, and Gerrity strongly believed he must be, it really should go down in the minutes. ‘Bev,’ he began.
But Paul Selby deflated as the last Districts board member joined them: Tim Tynam, an excellent bowler but a complete idiot. With his wrists starting to deteriorate Tynam had been looking for a coaching position, but this was not a good idea. He was both a sore loser and a bad winner, and his cherub-like yellow curls and glossy Red Delicious cheeks made it difficult to take him seriously. The man was a giant baby. He’d be useless with the under-12s, who required the tight herding of a sheepdog, and the smart-arsed under-14s would rip him to shreds. All the other coaching spots were taken.
Not that Gerrity ever said any of this to Tynam. They all tried to avoid the sucking black hole of a conversation with Tynam.
Tynam nodded at them as he made his way over to the last empty seat. Two months previously, the seat in that same spot had cradled a turd. ‘How youse all going, all right?’
Max Hammond nodded but didn’t make eye contact. ‘I call this meeting to order. Bev, love, would you take the minutes.’
Despite the unresolved look in Paul Selby’s eye, Gerrity felt excited as the five of them righted their posture and assumed their board faces. This was the moment he’d been waiting for all those cold, lonely months of winter. For the first time since May, the withdrawal of his wife’s love and his eviction to the portside suburbs were no longer the most important thing: cricket was the most important thing. With his arse in the new chair and the faint tang of disinfectant sharpening the air he felt refreshed, renewed. Gerrity almost didn’t mind if the bastard Selby was sleeping with Joanne, just so long as he could still play cricket.
‘As we all know,’ Max began, ‘it’s customary to begin the meeting with a nomination of the board members for the current season.’ Bev’s pen scratched against her paper. ‘Five are required, with each nomination to be seconded. I nominate Paul Selby.’
‘Second!’ Bev trilled, copying the name down.
‘Thank you, Max,’ Selby said. He rested his hands high on his spread upper thighs, framing his crotch. ‘I nominate Bev Hammond.’
‘Second,’ Max said immediately.
Bev blushed and printed her own name in the minutes, then nominated her husband. Selby seconded vigorously.
Gerrity looked over at Tim, who was unusually quiet. In past years he’d stumbled all over the procedure like an excited foal, seconding names before they’d been nominated, calling “Carried!” when it wasn’t his place. Tynam crossed his arms and stared down at the table. Pouting about not coaching, probably. After a moment Gerrity said, “Well, nominate Tim.” Bev looked at her husband as if for confirmation. Hammond nodded shortly. ‘Second.’
Silence fell again, drawing out longer this time. Gerrity looked around the table expectantly but couldn’t meet anyone’s eye. The scent of disinfectant bit his nasal passages and made his eyes water. He was beginning to get a bad feeling: the feeling of waking up alone in his bare flat; of meeting with the expressionless lawyer; of driving past the house on a Saturday night to see Joanne’s car missing from the garage. ‘Well, I know I can’t nominate myself.’
Paul Selby drummed his fingers against the table for a second and looked elsewhere.
‘Brian,’ Max Hammond began, leaning into the balloon of his stomach, which threatened to pop.
‘We wondered if you might want to take a break this season.’ Gerrity coughed. ‘I beg your pardon?’
Bev was no longer taking minutes. Her eyes were moist.
‘You’ve had a tough time of late. What with Joanne—leaving …’ Hammond faltered. ‘Maybe you need some time to yourself.’
‘I’ve had the whole bloody winter to myself,’ Gerrity responded, trying to keep his voice even. ‘What I’d like is to get back into it.’
‘Oh, we’d still like you to play,’ Hammond interrupted, as if Gerrity himself had suggested otherwise. ‘And coach.’
‘The under-16s are doing fantastically under your stewardship,’ Bev told him, reaching across the table and gripping his wrist. This too was an action women had been performing on him of late, and like their hugs it made him feel trapped. He pulled gently against her grasp and she released him, frowning a little.
‘Well, if someone would nominate me …’
Selby opened his mouth, paused, then spoke. ‘We just think you’d be more comfortable steering away from the board for a while.’
‘Why?’ Gerrity asked, anxiety eroding his tone into a yelp. ‘Why is that, exactly?’
Selby glanced at Tim Tynam for assistance but Tynam was still hunched over, hands buried in his armpits.
Gerrity could feel his chest pumping with shallow breaths. He knew what he would do if Selby forced the issue: he would confront him. Have you had sex with my wife? Have you had sex with my wife, you little shit-licker arsehole?
Selby let out a deep sigh and dropped his hands back into his lap. ‘All right, fine.’ He frowned.
‘Nominating Brian Gerrity.’
A grunt came from Tim Tynam. ‘I second.’
Selby sighed again.
Gerrity’s windpipe loosened with relief. ‘Thank you,’ he told Tynam weakly.
Tim looked up. ‘Next bit of business.’ His eyes were flat and still as dead grass on an airless day.
‘I want to coach a team this year.’
Opening the season with a barbecue and an all-age intra-club match had been Gerrity’s idea, and unlike Paul Selby’s whiz-bang security plans, this one was a success. That afternoon Bev’s troupe turned sausages while the two team captains, Selby and Max Hammond, stood at the side of the oval and picked names from an upturned cap. Gerrity tried to remain calm as player after player was selected, and finally Max waved the last slip and shouted his name.
Sagging with relief, Gerrity slid in next to Hammond as the team gathered. ‘Thank goodness for that, Max. I don’t know if I could handle being sidled out of another thing today.’
Hammond’s look was so full of concern that Gerrity had to force laughter. ‘Only joking. Only joking.’
Over at Paul Selby’s bench Tim Tynam stood with his arms crossed, a faint smile tightening his round cheeks. He should be pleased. That morning the board had named him the new coach of the under-16s, four votes to one. It wasn’t clear why a peevish Paul Selby had voted against; probably because Tynam had thwarted his plan to have Gerrity kicked off the board. It had needled Gerrity to vote for the change, but if these bastards with their faux-sympathy were going to wrest one of his club positions from him under the guise of ‘concern’, let it be the one with the least glory. The under-16s were crap.
Selby’s men won the toss and fanned out across the oval. Hammond offered Gerrity the fourth batsman’s slot and gripped his shoulder as he sat on the bench. ‘You were a brave man today, Brian.’ Gerrity didn’t want to turn around for fear there would be tears in the chairman’s eyes. ‘A very brave man.’
‘Well, you know, the board’s very important to me.’
Hammond squeezed him harder. ‘To give up the coaching, though.’
‘No-one’s in charge of the under-12s yet.’
As if sharing the vision of toothy preteens swinging bats into one another’s faces, Hammond sucked in a breath and gave Gerrity a final reassuring slap. ‘You’ll be fine.’
But he wasn’t. As soon as Hammond moved off Gerrity took the opportunity to turn his head against the cramp in his shoulder and saw what Hammond’s wide frame had blocked: his wife, Joanne, standing in the shade, floral dress lapping against her thighs. Just as he had imagined. She was watching the action on the field. Forgetting the painful twist in his neck, Gerrity stared. Stared as Jo took a step forward. Stared as she reacted and clapped. Stared as she set off around the perimeter of the oval for where Paul Selby stood, frowning into the midafternoon sun. Gerrity stood up.
A seventeen-year-old leaving the field scowled as he dodged around him. ‘Jeremy isn’t out,’ he muttered.
Gerrity looked at him blankly.
‘You’re not batting yet,’ the kid squeaked. He put a hand to his face before anyone saw, but Gerrity recognised the proud kid bowled for a golden duck in the very first game of the season, and he sympathised. Right now he felt about the same way.
He was distracted by cheers from the fielders as Jeremy also left the pitch, his bat held shield-like in front of him. He shoved it at Gerrity. ‘Tynam’s a dickhead,’ the teenager seethed, and stomped off towards the change-rooms.
Gerrity took the bat and looked over at Tim Tynam, who was gazing at the other side of the field. As Gerrity watched, the bowler pressed his hand to his mouth, then held the palm in the air. Gerrity looked across the oval, confused. For a second he thought the gesture was aimed at Selby, who had his hands in the pockets of his jeans and his crotch thrust outwards. When Selby didn’t react, Gerrity shifted his gaze two metres over to where Joanne stood, so pretty in her summery outfit it made his heart hurt.
Jo had a hand to her own chest. The fist was closed tightly, as if gripping something precious. She was staring back across the oval at Tim Tynam as if he was holding the Ashes high above his head.
For a moment the ground seemed to move under Brian Gerrity’s feet. He swayed a little and put his foot out to steady himself. This step taken, he kept going, moving automatically over to the spot where two young men had just been bowled out, cuckolded in front of the entire club. Taking up his position, Gerrity felt oddly calm. The spring air was soft at his cheeks and the sun warm on his forehead as he hunched into the bat. It was a beautiful day for cricket.
Tim Tynam was still looking over at Joanne, and when he finally resumed his concentration he seemed surprised by the appearance of the new batsman. Gerrity gave him a lizard smile and ground his bat into the dirt.
Tynam’s first ball was wide and Gerrity didn’t flinch. The wicket-keeper belted off to retrieve it and Gerrity saw Tynam’s Adam’s apple bob uncertainly in his throat. Good.
The next delivery was perfect and as it loomed in his vision Gerrity was overtaken by grace. His dance down the pitch was elegant; the arc of the bat perfect. A ringing crack sent the ball back along its trajectory, and there was an echo as it connected with Tim Tynam’s nose, turning it into a glorious crimson spout. Gerrity’s gliding follow-through felt like freefall.
He hadn’t felt so good in ages. It was even better than taking a shit in Paul Selby’s chair.
© Brooke Dunnell