A Hard Act to Swallow

I didn’t know what to say.  There was an awkward moment as my father held out his hand, gripping a small, plastic object; expecting me to receive it with gratitude. ‘Here’, he said.  ‘I found this.  I thought you might want it’.  Let it be said that there are few people who’d spot a piece of plastic and think instantly of their first born, but here we were.  I leaned in and saw the object in question was a guitar plectrum.  My father can’t play a note so, in one respect, it was unsurprising that he’d want to get rid of it.  But this wasn’t any ordinary guitar plectrum.

It’s been about thirty years since I lived in Tyabb.  And yet, to this day, when I visit my father, he has some item he claims is mine that he’d like me to take with me when I leave.  Over the years, I’ve learned to become suspicious. There was a broken novelty cheese knife in the shape of a pineapple.  It was only later as I attempted in vain to do some damage to a block of Camembert that I realized that I’d never owned a cheese knife.  That, rather than returning my possessions to me, my father was dumping his rubbish.  

More recently, there was a Garfield coffee cup with my name on it.  Time had dissolved the once-vivid image of everybody’s favourite lasagna-quaffing cat so that barely an outline remained.  My name, too, had faded.  Letters that were once whole were now mere fragments. Inside the cup had a rusted brown veneer, suggesting the cup had been in regular use over the past thirty years. But now my father wanted to return it.  As he tucked it under my arm, I was speechless.  Whether I was in shock or simply unable to speak with all the freshly cut cheese in my mouth was hard to say (which, frankly, is always the case with a gob full of Camembert).

But the plectrum was different.  Rather than some random piece of rubbish that my father had all of sudden decided he no longer wanted, there was every chance this plectrum was of genuine historical significance. But if it was the plectrum I was thinking of, he really ought not be giving to me.  He ought to be giving it to my brother.  After all, he’s the one who suffered most.

My brother and I played in a band.  There was an old train caboose next to the house that we’d turned into our practice space.  It was tiny.  How six of us fitted, I’ll never know.  Our ears are yet to forgive us.  But it was there that we rehearsed every week.  I hope this doesn’t sound immodest, but it became so that we were the second best band on the entire Mornington Peninsula behind the legendary Stumpy Gully Stompers (they were untouchable). Technically speaking, we were probably third; the Stumpy Gully Stompers were first, daylight was second, and we were third.  Our nearest competitors were a fair way behind – Greg and the Barn Burners played local square dances, which were aptly named, and no real threat.

For hours on end, we’d kick out the jams, entertaining local livestock and low flying aircraft. Then we’d take a break and sit around, preparing set lists and planning world domination (or, at least, the part of the world that didn’t already belong to the Stumpy Gully Stompers). It was during one of these band meetings that it happened.  

My brother was somewhat distracted.  This was not particularly unusual.  As the rest of us argued about which of our awesome songs we should open with as we attempted to stun the audience with our potent mix of musical chops, high-octane rock and punctuality, my brother amused himself by flipping his plectrum up from his thumb and catching it between his teeth.  This activity, he thought, excused him from having to contribute to the debate over our opening number.

Perhaps it was my fault. As my brother continued to flip his plectrum up from this thumb to his teeth, I called out his name. Surprised, he reacted with a sharp intake of breath at the precise moment the plectrum rose to the level of his mouth.  Caught, the plectrum was sucked into my brother’s mouth at which point he then proceeded to swallow it.  There was a moment of panic, followed by uncertainty.  Should we ignore it and hope for the best?  Or did we need to see a doctor?

Perhaps unwisely, we consulted my father.  He nodded sagely and insisted that the plectrum be retrieved.  Whether he thought that it posed a risk to my brother’s health and safety or, perhaps, we only had one plectrum and needed it to continue our musical pursuits, I couldn’t say.  Not content to let nature run its course, he made my brother eat half a loaf of Tip Top high-fibre bread.  After about half an hour, my brother returned to the practice room to advise that the danger, as well as the plectrum, had passed.

I asked my father whether the plectrum he was the plectrum.  He swore it wasn’t, before offering me a loaf of Tip Top high-fibre bread, ‘just in case’.  I’m not sure what to do with it.  Perhaps I should put it next to the decrepit Garfield mug. Or maybe I could donate it to our school to put on display together for some kind of plaque.  They’d be lucky to have it.  The band would, of course, reform for unveiling ceremony before we’d cut the ribbon with a broken cheese knife.  Perfect.