Dad’s brand-new bulldozer squatted like a big red dinosaur beside the river. He loved it. He oiled and polished it daily, kicked its steel tracks to ensure they were sound and pampered it like a pet pony.
I loved the bulldozer too but I wasn’t allowed near it. ‘Keep away from that bully,’ Dad warned me twenty times a day. ‘It’s not a toy; it’s a powerful machine, far too valuable and dangerous for you to muck about on!’
But Dad couldn’t protect it 24/7. Like today, he was entertaining Grandad. I said I was going to catch some eels but it was just an excuse to sneak off and play on the bulldozer. I climbed into the cabin, bounced on the spongy seat and turned the steering wheel as if I were driving.
Nervously, I pressed the starter … just a little bit. I wanted to hear the motor cough, but instead it roared like an angry tyrannosaurus. Grumph! Aargh! Growl! It belched black smoke, the tracks clanked, the blade lifted, and the bulldozer rumbled down the bank towards the creek. Frantically, I kicked the brake pedal, but the bully just kept sliding down the embankment. I jumped out of the cabin to save myself. The bully lurched on until, with a final gurgle of boiling bubbles, it came to a stop under the water.
I pondered my next move. I’d done some seriously stupid things in my life but this was top of the parade. Dad loved that bulldozer. It was his baby and I’d drowned it. I was in deep trouble.
I retrieved the eel I’d caught. Yes. I hadn’t told a total lie. I really had gone eeling, but only to catch one to take home. Dad loved a feed of eel fried in garlic butter. Maybe he’d forgive me for drowning his dozer if I …
I thought of running away to Why-kick-a-moo-cow. I didn’t know where it was, but I was certain it wouldn’t be far enough. Dad would find me wherever I went. With a last despairing look at the spot where the bully had disappeared, I started for home … very slowly.
* * *
Dad and Grandad were at the barbecue table eating burnt sausages and drinking ginger beer. I decided to be totally honest and tell Dad the truth right up front. I took a deep breath. ‘Dad,’ I started.
‘What’s that?’ interrupted Grandad, squinting at my eel. He put his glasses on. ‘Ahhh!’ he laughed. ‘It’s a tiny little eel. I haven’t seen one that small for years.’
‘It’s a metre long, perfect for eating,’ I defended.
‘Nonsense,’ laughed Grandad. ‘That eel is so small it could be a worm.’
Again, I opened my mouth to tell Dad about the bulldozer, but Grandad hadn’t finished. ‘When I was a boy,’ he continued, ‘I caught much bigger eels than that. I hooked a monster once. I tried to drag it out of the water but it wouldn’t come. My dad and his five brothers helped me pull for three hours before its head came up. Its eyes blazed like fiery craters. It twisted and turned, smacking its jaws like a humungous anaconda. Then it flicked its tail, knocked us all head-over-tail, barked a couple of times and disappeared back into the river.’
Grandad sipped his ginger beer. ‘That,’ he said, ‘was a real eel.’
‘Yes, Grandad,’ I agreed.
Once again, I started to tell Dad about the bulldozer, but he stopped me.
‘Your Grandad’s right,’ he said. ‘Eels aren’t what they used to be. I caught one once, right where the bulldozer’s parked. I had an unbreakable line that was used for towing warships off the Great Barrier Reef.
‘I looped the line round a strainer-post, baited a tractor hook with a leg of mutton, tossed it into the water, and went home for lunch. When I returned, the line, the fence posts and all the wires for two kilometres had disappeared. That was a big eel.’
Dad and Grandad looked pleased with themselves. They nodded, clicked their glasses together and slurped their drinks. ‘Now,’ said Dad. ‘You wanted to say something?’
I took a deep breath and started.
‘That big eel,’ I said. ‘It’s back. I’ve been trying to catch it for ages. This morning I was determined. I made a line from the bulldozer’s steel towing cable, attached a crane hook, baited it with a dead sheep and tossed it into the river …’
‘Yes?’ chuckled Grandpa expectantly.
Dad stopped smiling when I mentioned the bulldozer. ‘You shouldn’t have touched the bully,’ he growled.
‘I waited for two hours before I saw it coming up the river,’ I continued. ‘It was longer and wider than a freight train. When it flicked its tail, tsunami-sized waves washed up the riverbank and flooded the paddocks. It opened its mouth, barked like claps of thunder, and swallowed the sheep and a thousand litres of water in one great gulp, then turned and swam back downstream.’
‘And then …’ grinned Grandad.
‘And then …’ snarled Dad.
‘It was so strong that it dragged the bulldozer down the bank and into the water. It was unbelievable.’
‘That’s a biggie,’ grinned Grandad.
But Dad wasn’t grinning. He took a deep breath. ‘You are joking … aren’t you?’
‘N … n … no,’ I stammered. ‘It really happened. I’m just pleased that eels aren’t as big as they used to be.’
Fingers clenching and unclenching, Dad rose. I remembered Why-kick-a-moo-cow … and ran.
* * *
It’s nearly dark now. I’m up a gum tree on the hill behind our house—waiting!
Dad and Grandad rescued the bulldozer with the old tractor. I heard it roar and saw the clouds of black smoke when it started … so it’s alive.
The sun’s sinking below the horizon. I’ll be fifteen in five years. Can you leave home when you’re fifteen?
Grandad’s gone. Dad’s back at the barbecue table. He’s waiting. We’re both waiting.