Steak knives for the caravan

Got these for ten dollars, says Peter, proprietor of our local post office. I have called when he is busy elsewhere. He has seen me arrive from where he is outside staking young nut trees. He quickly chases after me into the shop.
Plenty of time. No need to rush back to your post, Peter.

A pun to ease his embarrassment and my awkwardness. Wind’s getting up again, he says.

Last night there were gusts to 120 km shaking our little cabin in the woods. It’s a compact house which we like to call our cabin. A transportable, it was built in a factory and placed on site twelve years ago. When the wind blows like this at night it stirs as if it has further voyaging in mind.

Bits of broken tree are strewn across the Post Office drive. The winds have tossed a sprig of grey gum leaves, a trophy of chaos theory down like a gauntlet on the ferrous door mat. Peter need say no more. We are already united manfully in the battle against the elements. And a certain bending of the rules of duty are, it is tacitly agreed, are to be expected in the circumstances. It’s every man for himself in the fight against nature.

I have dropped in to pick up our shoes. I show him the red printed card, retrieved from our post box at the end of the road that cuts across our road. It feels good to be doing this. We are lucky to get a delivery in the bush. The card lets you know you have an item to collect. You have ordered it, you have paid for it but it seems like a gift.

Peter bobs down under the counter and surfaces with a large parcel to his chest. Too large, I fear. We are moved to put our heads down over the mystery item yet it is an uneasy moment. It is too big and too wrong not to be a type of rebuke. Neither of us can manage a word of banter.

We peer at each other over the barrier. The size of it on the counter our own brown paper Berlin wall. I read aloud the name on the parcel. He reads it aloud too. It is not my name. But it is similar. I point out that the addressee is lucky enough to have my surname as his first name. Apart from that I don’t know him from a bar of soap. It is the wrong parcel. Peter gets the picture. Not your name is it, he says after an owlish moment. I can see that he, too prefers, bargain bin reading glasses. His would do Woody Allen proud.

Peter then finds the correct parcel. It is much smaller and is the right shape to be containing two pairs of comfortable planet shoes. I can tell without needing to read the label that this one is our parcel and not someone else’s. Other people’s mail always looks and feels a bit strange. It is safely put out of the picture. Peter brightens. Yet there is some other redemptive business to be done in the nether regions.

Peter looks down, puts one knee forward and points to a brown trouser leg, as if preparing a stage bow. Got them from Vinnies. Cost me ten dollars.

Love Vinnies, I return. In fact, I love op shops full stop, I reply. Nothing wrong with recycling. We have bonded over the storm threat. Now we are recruited into admiring the trousers. King Gee khaki, still stiff with the dress in the cotton and shiny with the sanforising. I am aware that Peter is not a big man. There is something elfin about him at this point. Yet this is a serious trouser. I admire his industry and practicality. This needs no words. Besides, we are headed for agreement over bargaining and the battle to save the planet.

Work trousers, he says. Second hand but never been worn. Didn’t go looking for trousers. Went in to get a set of steak knives for the caravan.

He makes a little step forward on to his toes as if to dance.

Nothing worse, I say than a steak in a caravan without a steak knife. Takes the edge right off it.

Drives me crazy, he confesses. Of course, I found the knives I wanted.
Got a set for $2.50.

I point to the flouro top I am wearing. Two dollars in the same shop I tell him. Now we are brothers in the battle to stretch the dollar, save the planet and donate to charity.

It feels good to have the right parcel under my arm. Peter skips off, happily, his new trousers cracking, to return to his saving of the nut trees. I leave feeling happy to be in a right priced world where a man gets the right knife to eat steak in his trailer. And the right priced pants to tend his garden. Happy to be in on the bargain. Happy to live in the bush where the local post office is a place where such marvellous exchanges are possible.