By Simone Kerwin (based on a true story……..)
No-one in Wattlevale would have thought twice about seeing Harry Arnold’s familiar gait, as he headed up the short path to Tom Sheffield’s front door.
After all, the pair had been mates for decades. As it was, though, no-one did see him, because Harry had chosen a morning when most of the town was at the farmers’ market, to visit his old friend for a chat.
It wasn’t going to be their usual easy kind of conversation. In fact, Harry felt as though he was walking to the confessional, or the witness box. Grand larceny was on his mind.
It was time to tell Tom the story, the whole story, of one of the most shameful episodes in Harry’s life. He shifted uncomfortably on the doormat as he reached to knock on Tom’s door, grabbing his hanky from his pocket to swipe at the beads of sweat forming on his forehead.
For a moment, he wondered whether this was a terrible mistake. He worried whether it would change things between them. Should he just turn and flee (or, let’s be honest, amble) back to his ute and forget the whole notion of telling all?
But no, he’d promised Jean that today was the day he’d come clean.
“For goodness’ sake, I can’t stand this nonsense any longer, Harry,” she’d said in her straight-forward way. “Just get over there and tell him, and be done with it. Like a Band-Aid, as they say – rip it off and deal with what comes next. You’ve held onto this for too long, and you’re not getting any younger, it’s not good for your health. I’m sure it’ll be right.”
So here he was, sweating buckets and wishing he was anywhere else but at his best mate’s front door. He reached again to knock, but the door opened in front of him, and he almost stumbled forward.
“Oh, hello, Harry – this is a lovely surprise,” Tom’s wife, Val, greeted him. “The old fella’s inside. Come and have a cuppa.”
“Thanks, Val. I – ah – need to have a chat with Tom,” Harry said slowly.
Val, startled at his unfamiliar manner, looked closely at him: “You alright, love? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Is Jean okay?”
“Yes, yes,” he quickly reassured the cheery woman he’d known since she was a girl, “no worries.”
Val led Harry into the sun-filled kitchen, where Tom sat, bent over the newspaper, cradling a mug of steaming tea. His sun-browned face lifted, and his broad smile appeared, as he spotted his old mate.
“Harry! Have a cuppa? Val’s just made some scones if you’d like one,” he said.
“Not so fast, Thomas! They’re for the CWA stall at the footy this arvo. But I can probably rustle up a couple of bickies for you both,” Val said. Then, again taking in Harry’s demeanour, she set the biscuit tin on the table and excused herself to hang a load out of washing.
Harry eased himself into a kitchen chair and sat, wringing his large, work-worn hands as he wondered just how to begin. He pictured a Band-Aid being ripped off, and winced.
“Tom, I have to tell you something,” he said.
Tom smiled, as if about to joke with his friend, then, seeing his face, he thought better of it.
“It’s been on my mind for years, and I haven’t known how to tell you. I was stupid…just a kid…didn’t know any better…no, that’s not true, I knew it was wrong,” Harry stammered.
“Mate, spit it out,” Tom said, starting to worry.
Harry paused, teetering on the edge of what could be the final moment of his time as an upstanding Wattlevale citizen, before his criminal past was laid bare for all to see.
“Righto,” he said. “You remember that Graham Arthur footy card you lost when we were kids?”
“Ye-eah,” Tom said, slowly, remembering.
“I took it.”
Harry’s worst fears were realised, as his friend frowned deeply and failed to disguise his shock. Then Tom threw back his head and laughed.
“You are a classic, Harry! How long have you been worrying about that?” Tom said.
“It’d be worth heaps of dough now, and I took it from you, just because I wanted it….. took it from my best mate and kept it. Didn’t do me any good, either, ‘cause I felt so guilty, years later I got rid of it….just chucked it out.”
“But I told Jean about it when the grandkids were swapping footy cards, and it all came back to me. I’m so sorry, Tom. Can you forgive me?”
“Harry, mate. There’s nothing to forgive,” Tom said, offering the biscuit tin filled with Val’s famous Anzacs.
“Ah, by the way, do you remember that Kornies card of Serge Silvagni you thought you lost…?”