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Shamus McColl held the penny in his hand and grinned at his two mates. "Come on you two stupid Australians, are you ready?"
"Who are you calling stupid, you Irish bastard. This is our country and we're the ones who call people stupid, even if it's not true." George Moss slappShamus on the back and nearly knocked the penny from his hand.
"Yeah mate, you should know that by now." Brian Bennett joined in the fun.
"You're the one who's stupid, doing this for the last thirteen years without a miss." George dived into his pocket, searching for the elusive penny.
"To be sure, you love it as much as I do, George. Hurry up the bell is about to chime." Shamus looked down at the murky water of the Yarra running under Princes Bridge.
"I reckon if we dredged the river we'd make a fortune." Brian reached into his pocket and found a penny.
The sound of the first chime of the station clock rang, and each man stood ready with their coin.
"Here's to a happy birthday to our darling daughters may life treat them well, and a fine St Patrick's Day to both of you to be sure."
"Yeah," said George, poised ready with his coin. "And a fine St what's-his-name's day to you too, Shamus." On the third chime the friends hurled their coins into the air and watched as they turned over and over only to disappear into the water.
After leaning over to see the splash, George turned to the others.
"Now that bullshit is over, let's go and have a drink. At least St Patrick's Day is good for something."
They nodded in agreement and put their arms around each other's shoulders. The three friends stepped onto the road. The screech of the brakescaused them and others to look up as a truck came bearing down. It was over in a blink of an eye. It hit them full on. George, being first in line, felt his legs snap before he was thrown up and into the windscreen. Brian and Shamus fared no better as both were hurled into the air and smashed head-first onto the road.
White faced, the driver leapt from the truck as bystanders rushed toward the stricken men. Blood was already seeping across the road as a spectator turned each of them over.
He looked at the shocked driver. "Shit, they're dead. All three of them."
Clasped in George's hand was a gold necklace he had bought for his daughter that very morning.
A policeman, hearing the scream of tires from his corner post outside the railway station, came running up the road. Standing over the bodies he bent down looking for some identification then frowned as he looked at the people gathering around the scene.
"Anyone see what happened?" he appealed to the crowd expecting no answer.
"I did," said a woman.
The policeman noted how her hands trembled and her face had paled. "Well," he said, waiting for her to compose herself.
"I come here every St Patrick's Day to wait for my husband after the march. He never misses you know."
"Yeah," said the policeman, shaking his head. "But what happened?"
"Well, those gentlemen are here every year. They seem to carry on some sort of ritual. The Irish man seemed to be the one who started it."
"Ritual?" The policeman looked puzzled.
"Yes, something to do with their daughters' birthday. They throw a coin into the water and wish them well."
"But the accident, lady? What happened?"
"Well they were joking about something, threw their coins into the water, put their arms on each others shoulders and stepped onto the road. That truck seemed to swerve toward them. It hit them. The noise of the screeching brakes terrified me. I thought I might be hit too. It was terrible, terrible."
"Do you know them personally?" A stupid question he thought but he had to ask.
"Not exactly but I have spoken to Mr. Bennett several times over the years. He was usually first on the bridge and often we had a chat while he waited for his two friends. The Irish gentleman would come next and Mr. Moss was always last."
"Oh, what did he tell you?"
"Well it seems he and Mr. Moss are close friends. They seemed to work together. Mr. Bennett was a postman you know?"
"No, I didn't know," said the policeman. "Go on."
The woman liked being the centre of attention and eagerly gave him the information.
"Well it seemed Mr. Bennett and Mr. Moss became fathers on the same day; that is St Patrick's Day in nineteen twenty-one. He often laughed about the incident. They went to the hotel and on their way home saw the other gentleman looking as if he was about to throw himself off the bridge. Mr. Bennett stopped him, but the man was amused by their reaction. It seemed he was only trying to retrieve a penny he'd dropped."
"A penny?" said the policeman in disbelief.
"Yes, it seems the Irish gentleman had also become a father the same day. He wanted to carry on a ritual his father had done, by throwing a penny over the Shannon River in Ireland when he was a boy."
"Well after the Irish gentleman told them what he was doing, he invited them to join in the ritual seeing as they were all fathers on the same day. Mr. Moss thought it was a great idea so they did."
"Let me get this straight," said the policemen. "These two men met a total stranger throwing a penny into the river and joined in."
"Yes. It seems they liked the idea of wishing their daughters a happy birthday and decided to do it every year. They all became friends, or so Mr. Bennett told me."
"I see. Did Mr. Bennett mention their families?"
"Oh yes. They all went on picnics together down the beach. Their children played together, their wives met each other for morning teas. It's a shame it's all going to end. Friends are so important in this time."
"Right," said the policeman, looking at the identification that each man held in his pockets.
"George Moss, Brian Bennett and Shamus McColl. Jesus, I hate this part of my job." He sighed as he wrote the details into his notebook and nodded to the ambulance men waiting for his instructions. They loaded the bodies into the back and drove off, leaving pools of blood running into the gutter. It was going to be a sad night for three families.
Princes Bridge 1946
Twenty-five year old Meg Bennett stood waiting patiently for Iris McColl and Val Moss to arrive. Meg was delighted to renew their meetings after six turbulent years. She looked at the scene below and could see little change from those unstable war years.
The river looked the same, the people looked the same. Even the path following the river down to the Botanical Gardens hadn't changed, except for the last remnants of an air raid shelter dug into the grassy bank. The mood of the people had certainly changed since peace was declared. Some with glee, but many with sadness at the thought of loved ones who would never return.
What had changed was their outlook on life. Meg had endured the full spectrum of love, friendship, betrayal, redemption and tragedy in those years. It wasn't all bad or all good. In fact, she had experienced a love she'd never thought possible. Meg was now the proud mother of a young son who gave her such joy, she thought she would burst. Meg thought about Val and Iris, and how they'd also experienced life in its most brutal form. Iris's faith held her strong, but Meg had thought she'd lost Val's friendship forever.
Iris came rushing toward her; with Val by her side. Meg was surprised as Val had never been early in her life before. They both possessed a look on their faces she'd not seen since the war began. Meg noted Val's hair was now back to its natural color and cut short, something that suited her. She still held a magnetism that was guaranteed to attract straying male eyes. The change was noticeable in Iris too. She was no longer the naïve Catholic girl afraid of her own shadow. She was confident now, but still caring. Her eyes showed optimism strong enough to survive after facing life in its rawest form.
When they reached Meg, Val took her hand. "Ooh, we're here at last. I'm so glad we're all back together again," she said. "I thought it would never happen. I thought our friendship was dead forever."
"So did I," said Iris. "You can't tell how happy I am to see you both reunited."
Meg nodded enthusiastically. "It's been six years of pain. I guess we all made mistakes we're not happy about, but they're all forgotten and we're together. That's all that matters."
"But it's thanks to the both of you," said Val. "We must promise never to be parted again."
"We won't, I promise," said Meg quickly. "And we have another action to renew. Are you ready?"
"I am," said Iris excitedly.
"Me too," said Val, reaching into her purse.
The girls stood there with a penny in their hands waiting for the station clock bell to chime three.
"Now," said Meg. Together, each girl threw in their penny and watched as they fell to the surface of the water and disappeared.
"I'm so happy. You have no idea how much I missed that," said Iris gleefully.
"Yes we do," said Meg. "Do you have your wishes?"
"Of course. Do you think we'd forget them?" Val reached into her handbag extracting a piece of paper.
"I have mine," said Iris, holding her note high.
"Then let's see if the loose brick is still there."