George was on his way home from an interview with a construction firm. It was the first interview he’d had in over 37 years and he had to admit, he was rusty. What did diversity and inclusion have to do with laying reo and pouring concrete? He’d been given ‘voluntary’ redundancy following the merger of LH Kirby & Sons with a conglomerate that was buying up all the work along the northern sprawl out of the city and unsurprisingly, squeezing all resources to maximise profits. He didn’t need the money, but after 18 months spent excavating then backfilling his backyard, he decided it was time to return to the workforce.
To remain ‘in the game’ as he put it, he woke at 04:35 each weekday, donned his work gear, fed Henry his green parrot and meandered to the shed where he kept a bar fridge full of supplies for work lunches and smokos. Cranking the pie warmer on the bench was his first task for the morning, then he’d walk the length of the drive to the front lawn where the rolled-up paper lay waiting in its blue plastic sheath. To make up for the lack of banter, he’d turn on 3WAWA and listen to Robbo and Jonno talk about the traffic, sport, weather and the latest political and or celebrity scandal.
As soon as the sun rose, with the first light piercing through the eastern shed window, he’d sigh, stretch, say ‘another day another dolla’, pop a pie in the pre-heated warmer and step out of his shed, or site office as he called it, to start work for the day. Without a crew to manage, he only had himself to blame when shit hit the fan, like that time he cracked a pipe running from the outdoor dunny to the main sewer, but the upside was, he could take all the credit when things went right, like all the other times he’d dug without hitting an underground service.
Shovel in hand, he’d carved out progress each day on the hole that was encroaching the colour bonded perimeter on two sides, the third spared because of Bernice’s roses. What started as a search for the rumoured buried lotto win of the man who’d previously owned the house but died with nothing but the house to his name turned into a much larger task— it gave George a reason to wake up each morning. A month into the dig, he’d resigned himself to the rumour being unfounded, but what the hell was he going to do with his time otherwise? And so, he dug. He dug Monday to Friday and occasionally worked overtime for half a day on a Saturday, dipping a little more into his savings for ‘payment’ when he did so, and treated himself to a Sunday roast at the Royal. Evenings were quiet. Henry’d get a feed and George would scrape together a meal for himself from at least 3 different tins for variety –chopped tomato, champignons and butter beans into which he’d throw in slices of fried sausage. That’d be it for the night, bowl of dinner in front of the telly until the next workday.
George’s project took an unexpected turn on an otherwise unremarkable day 15 months into his dig. Henry had been fed, his pie was in the warmer, Robbo and Jonno had bantered, and George had been digging nonstop since morning smoko when his last scoop before lunch made the clinking sound of steel on concrete that reminded him of the sound just before he was sprayed with sewage the one time he’d uncovered anything other than broken bricks, dirt or tree root. He stepped back to avoid a mess and was pleasantly surprised when nothing happened. Closer inspection of what he’d hit revealed the metal edge of something, and so for the rest of that day, he continued to dig with a renewed commitment to the project which now had a glimmer of its initial purpose. His digging got closer to the edge of the no-go zone, and still, despite the meter or so of the metal visible, there was no end yet in sight. George was faced with a choice that became increasingly urgent— the more he uncovered, the greater his discomfort and the clearer the answer; he began scooping up spadefuls of dirt into his gaping hole. He estimated it would take months to backfill, but there was no fortune large enough to make him disrupt the neat row of roses where he’d scattered Bernice’s ashes.