We were packing up the trailer and preparing to leave Kings Creek Cattle Station when one of the other passengers, John, the lone Australian on the bus and a retired farm implement dealer, called out, “Grab the mints from the icebox, Mike.”
I had already checked the fridge and knew that it was virtually empty, save for a small plastic container that was sitting in the butter bay. I noticed it a day earlier when we filled the fridge with the ingredients for that night’s dinner and this morning’s breakfast. Without examining it very closely, I assumed that it was an air freshener – some sort of deodorant stick for a fridge. These must be the “mints” that John’s referring to, I reasoned, so I grabbed them and delivered them to John who was standing beside the trailer that housed our backpacks and the travelling ice chests.
The look on John’s face told me that I had done something incredibly stupid. I had no idea what it was, but the joke was almost certainly on me.
John turned to the ice chest, then looked back at me, and finally at the “mints” that I was holding in my outstretched hand. Time seemed to stand still. Like a comedian pausing for the audience’s reaction, John just stood there with his hands on his hips. He made no attempt to take the “mints” from my hand. If he was the Archie Bunker of this little sitcom, I was definitely the Meat Head.
“What?” I asked. “What did I do?”
John didn’t say a word. Instead, he took a deep breath, and with his John Wayne-like gait, he ambled over to the kitchen door. I watched from a safe distance as he grabbed the big chrome handle on the old-fashioned fridge. Just as I was about to say “it’s empty,” he reached further into the fridge and opened the enclosed freezer compartment. Seconds later he slammed the door shut and headed back towards me with a pack of frozen ground beef in his hand. He held the package up to my face as he brushed past on his way to the trailer.
“Mince, my boy. This is mince.”
My Aussie vocabulary is growing by the day, one painful lesson at a time.