“Whenever I got something stuck in my eye,” said Victor, “my mum would help me wash it out. I bet your mum was good at that sort of thing.”
Gary nodded. He slowly took his hands from his face, and looked at Victor. Victor leaned in and peered at his eyes.
“Hmm, yeah. Looks pretty nasty. But I think we can fix it up. You want to come with me and we’ll wash it out?”
Gary sniffed. He nodded. Victor stood and put his arm around Gary’s shoulder, and guided him back across the ballroom.
“Your mum sure seemed like a great lady,” said Victor.
The two left the ballroom, crossed the hall, and entered the fireplace room. Their footsteps echoed from the walls; it was the first time Victor had heard accompanying footsteps since he had entered the mansion. He looked down beside him at Gary with pity. Gary suddenly stopped; on the floor in front of them lay a black lollipop.
“You don’t eat the lollipops,” he said.
“No,” said Victor. “They smell like liquorice. I don’t like liquorice.”
“I don’t like it either.”
“Well how about that?” said Victor. “I’ve never met anyone else who didn’t like liquorice.” (This was not true.) “I always thought I was the only one.” (Also not true.)
Gary looked up at Victor with his one good eye, while shielding the other with his hand. He smiled. Victor patted Gary’s shoulder, and they continued across the room.
“We should start a club,” said Victor. “We could call it the ‘Liquorice Haters Club’, or maybe the ‘I’d Rather Eat a Dried Up Old Dog Poo Club’.”
A giggle escaped Gary’s mouth. He sniffed and wiped his nose on his forearm.
They passed through the dining room and entered the kitchen. Victor left Gary by the sink while he fetched a chair from the dining room. He set the chair in front of the sink.
“Hop up on here,” he said, patting the chair.
Gary stared at the chair, and then at the spout arching above the sink. Victor waited. Gary looked at the floor and began biting his thumbnail. Victor kept silent. Gary scrunched his brow and looked back at the spout.
“How did you catch the snakes?” he asked.
“The snakes?” said Victor. “The ones that came out in the sink here? Oh, well, I’ve handled a few snakes before. My cousin keeps them as pets. He showed me how to do it.”
Gary’s eyebrows raised.
“Pretty wild, huh?”
Victor caught a glimpse of a smile as Gary lowered his head. He waited. Gary winced and rubbed his eye. Victor took a glass and filled it with water; Gary stepped back and watched him.
“It’s all right,” said Victor. “I just need a drink.”
He drank and refilled the glass four times.
“You drink a lot of water,” said Gary.
Victor drank another half glass and then set it down. “Yeah, well, I drank a bit too much of your dad’s brandy.”
“He’s not my dad,” said Gary. There was a hint of offence in his voice. “He was my stepfather.”
“Oh. Sorry. Was he the vampire in the painting?”
Gary nodded. Victor returned the nod, with empathy.
“What happened to your dad?”
“He was in a an accident. He worked in the mines.”
“Oh, mate, that’s horrible,” said Victor. “I’m really sorry to hear that, Gary.”
Gary wiped a tear from his good eye. Victor sighed.
“He must have been pretty tough, your old man, working in the mines.”
Gary nodded. “Yeah, he was tough.” He looked up at Victor. “He used to play football.”
Victor raised his eyebrows. “Is that right?”
Gary nodded, and looked back at the floor.
“You like football?” asked Victor.
Gary nodded. “Yeah.”
“Who’s your team?”
“Oh yeah, the Saints. They’re a good team.”
Gary glanced at Victor. “I saw them win the Grand Final. I was at the game.”
Victor thought for a moment. “Wait… you were at the sixty-six Grand Final?”
Gary smiled and nodded. Victor’s eyes widened as he stammered for words.
“But… what… Holy sh**, Gary! You were at that game? Oh man!”
Gary laughed. So did Victor.
“How many more Grand Finals have they won?” asked Gary.
The smile faded from Victor’s face. “Oh… well, actually, sixty-six was the only one.”
Gary stared ahead, trying to comprehend the information. “They haven’t won since then?”
Victor shook his head, Gary dropped his. There was silence for a minute, and then Gary asked in a quiet voice, “What year is it?”
“It’s two thousand and nineteen,” said Victor.
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