Another Night in Mullet Town (6 page)

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
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Flowers

Ella finishes her beer

and holds the bottle up to the light.

‘We used to live in a town out west,' she says.

‘The only thing they cared about

was football in winter

and whether the river

was running in summer.'

She makes to throw the empty

at the wastebasket near the wall,

but instead places it

on the desk between the

tape dispenser and the stack of bills.

‘One night, the elder brother

of a boy in my class

took his mates out for a drive

with the prettiest girl in town.'

Ella looks at me.

I don't know if either of us

want her to keep talking.

‘He had too much to drink.'

She sighs

and stares at the bottle on the desk.

‘The boys died;

the girl ended up in a wheelchair.'

She shakes her head at the memory.

‘The town tied flowers to the tree,' she whispers.

Her lower lip starts to quiver.

‘They should have cut it down with a chainsaw.'

I hop up from the chair

and put my hand on her shoulder.

She wraps her arms around me

and we stay like that

until the tree, the flowers

and her old town

disappear from view.

Faraway stars

After saying goodbye to Ella

at her street corner,

I walk past the lake.

Manx sits on a wooden chair on the verandah

with his feet up on the railing.

‘I missed you at lunch,' he says,

and grins.

‘We played force-em-backs on the oval.

Every time we kicked the ball over the fence

that turd Patrick

would tell Angelo to fetch it.'

I look at the swarm of bugs

shimmering on the lake.

‘We should be fishing,' I say.

‘Nah, I'm hungry now.

And Dad's left me a pot of stew,' Manx says.

I think of Mum in Balarang Bay,

Dad on the road

and the empty kitchen waiting for me.

Manx jumps off the chair

and opens the screen door.

As he walks down the hallway, he calls,

‘I'll bring a bowl for both of us.'

I hear the clatter of cutlery

and the sound of an empty saucepan

tossed in the sink.

He returns with two steaming bowls

and hands me one with a spoon.

The stew tastes rich and salty.

‘I was going to make Vegemite sandwiches,' I say.

Manx laughs.

‘You should've invited Ella over,' he winks,

‘to show her your skills in the kitchen.'

We both stare across the lake

to the lights of Tipping Point twinkling

like faraway stars.

Bluster

The next day,

we line up for an excursion

to the planetarium

on the north side of Balarang Bay.

Thirty students crowd

onto the bus in a finely choreographed

pecking order:

nerds and dweebs at the front,

try-hards and wannabes in the middle,

loudmouths and dudes up the back.

I'm last on the bus.

Angelo holds a spot for Patrick

in the back row

behind Rachel and Harriet.

Ella sits alone

a few rows in front of them.

Surely I can slink in beside Ella

and no-one will notice?

She moves over to give me room.

I grip the handrail

but, just as I'm about to casually

slide beside her,

Manx whistles and calls me down the back.

Ella looks up.

I avert my eyes, walk past her seat

and take my place beside Manx

in the sweat-soaked bluster

at the back of the bus.

Daylight robbery

With all of year ten crowded

into the planetarium shop

there's too many people

for the person behind the counter

to keep watch.

Patrick and Angelo

stuff as many chocolate bars

as they dare into bulging pockets

and confidently walk out.

If there was a law against smirking

they'd be caught immediately

but no-one notices

except me and Manx.

He follows them to the cafe

where they scatter their bounty on the table.

I watch Manx sit down beside them

and see their faces change.

No matter how many times

they shake their heads

nothing persuades Manx.

His dad is friends with the owner.

Patrick slides the chocolates

across the table to Angelo

before walking away

to buy a coffee.

Angelo packs his pockets again

and returns to the shop

where he refills the racks

without anyone noticing.

Patrick sips his coffee

and talks to all the other boys

before we return to the bus.

On the trip back to school

it's just Manx and me in the back row.

All of the usual suspects

gather around Angelo

and the rich boy

a few seats in front of us

and, when Manx isn't looking,

Patrick turns

and waves a handful of chocolate bars

in my direction.

Cowards

The next day,

Angelo and Patrick don't have the guts

to face Manx and call him out

about the chocolates,

so they target me instead.

Patrick spits at my feet

as I walk past the basketball court,

and Angelo says he saw my mum in town

and wouldn't mind having a go himself,

even if she is old.

I want to punch Angelo

but what good would that do?

Patrick hurls the basketball at me.

I duck and it bounces off the wall.

Angelo catches it

and stands in front of me,

holding the ball close to my face.

My heart is thumping.

‘Careful, Angelo,

Joany might cry,' says Patrick.

Angelo feigns to toss the ball at me.

I knock it from his hands

and he reacts by throwing a punch

that bounces off my shoulder

and hits me on the lip.

I put up my hands

expecting a volley of fists,

but Mr Drake's voice interrupts

from the top of the stairs.

Angelo sneers and

calls me a coward

before we're both hauled off

to the principal's office,

to sit in uneasy silence

outside her door.

I taste blood on my lip

and wait for the inevitable questions,

wondering if I'm any good at telling lies.

A misunderstanding

If you can't tell the truth

it's better not to say anything,

so in Ms Wilson's office

I play dumb

and shrug my shoulders

time and time again

like I have a nervous tick,

while Angelo bullshits

about a misunderstanding.

He's happy to apologise –

right now,

in front of the principal –

where no-one else can hear him.

Wilson buys his bluff.

Angelo even has the gall

to offer me an outstretched hand.

It takes me longer than it should

to shake,

even with Wilson's prompting,

so I look like the guilty one.

We walk out of her office.

I remember when Angelo asked me

over to his place

all those years ago,

before Patrick arrived.

‘You're nothing

without your stupid mate,' Angelo sneers.

I fake a smile.

‘I'll ask Manx about that,' I say.

His cockiness disappears in an instant.

I shrug and stroll away

protected by Manx,

yet again,

without him being anywhere in sight.

Two particles

I spend all of Science

trying to work out how to apologise

to Ella for not sitting beside her on the bus.

Mr Drake drones on about chemical reaction

and the possibility of fusion,

while I think about the chance

of Ella and me coming together,

like two particles

in the test tube

of Balarang Bay High School.

I wonder how long Drake

can balance those glasses

on the bridge of his nose?

Is he defying gravity

or does his nose have an unsightly bump?

I laugh, despite myself.

Everyone looks at me

and Drake asks,

‘What's so funny about hydrogen sulphide?'

He waits for my answer,

still looking over his glasses.

Manx says, ‘Something that smelly

is no laughing matter.'

Ella wags a finger at me

as if I've been caught doing something I shouldn't.

I'm forgiven.

I hope.

Before I speak

I get home from school

and Auntie Trish's car is parked outside.

Mum's in the kitchen

washing lettuce at the sink.

I can smell roast chicken in the oven.

‘I thought we'd have a treat, Jonah,' she says.

I toss my bag in the lounge room

and help set the table.

‘How's things?' she asks.

Got into a fight with Angelo,

talked to the girl of my dreams,

stole some of Dad's beer,

lied to the principal at school.

But I can't tell her any of that.

‘I've been doing overtime,' she says,

‘to pay off the car

and keep out of Trish's way.

The sooner the Magna's fixed,

the quicker I can come home.'

No matter how much Mum talks

I can't bring myself to answer.

She places the salad bowl

in the centre of the table

and, with a tea towel and oven mitt,

she removes the chicken

and puts it on a serving plate.

Handing me the knife, she asks,

‘You want to carve, Jonah?'

I shake my head

and wonder how long I can last

before I speak.

Stories

After dinner,

we sit together on the verandah

listening to the seagulls

and watching the bugs satellite

around the streetlights.

Mum goes inside

and brings out two bowls

of strawberries and ice-cream.

‘I could sprinkle icing sugar

over them, if you want?' she asks.

‘It's sweet enough,' I say.

I imagine Dad is eating

a hamburger and chips right now

in a dingy roadhouse

with a line of trucks parked outside

and another three hundred kilometres to drive

before he can sleep.

Every spoonful

makes me want Dad here, beside us,

with nowhere to go

but back to our kitchen

for another helping of ice-cream.

‘What are you thinking, Jonah?' Mum asks.

I swallow hard.

‘Tell me again

how you and Dad met,' I say.

Mum looks pained.

‘It's just a story, son,' she answers.

I shake my head.

‘It's our story,' I reply.

The invasion of the hyphens

Friday morning on the bus,

Manx says his dad

is taking on a tyre repair franchise,

which amounts to a few dozen spares

stacked behind the besser-block toilet

with a billboard out front

advertising four tyres for $500.

Bargain.

Manx's dad says it'll give him

something to do

instead of scratching his arse,

while sitting behind the counter.

He reckons business might improve

with people moving here

from the city.

He calls it,
The invasion of the hyphens
:

too many last names,

too much money

and no sense of value.

Manx reckons we should

take a fishing knife to the rubber

of every BMW in town.

Those tyres cost a bomb.

For that sort of cash,

Manx's dad would do house calls.

I'm not great with a fishing knife,

but I'll keep watch for Manx

to help the Gunn family business.

Shaking

Manx and I hop off the bus

and walk to our lockers.

Rachel runs up from behind,

throws an arm around each of our shoulders

and swings between us.

‘Friday is my favourite day,' she says.

Manx blushes and looks away.

I wonder if Rachel notices.

‘Vodka Cruisers to celebrate the weekend.'

She looks at me and winks.

‘Who's going to jump in the lake first?' she asks.

‘Not me, too cold,' I say.

She digs Manx in the ribs.

‘Looks like it's me and you, Manx,' she says.

Manx mumbles under his breath.

‘Come on, Manx,' Rachel says.

‘Don't let me swim alone.'

‘What about Patrick,' Manx mutters.

Rachel lets go of our shoulders

and stands with her hands on her hips.

‘Are you jealous?' she says.

Manx bites his lip.

It's not often he's lost for words.

Rachel smiles again.

‘I'll jump if you do, Manx,' she says.

She turns and walks up the stairs.

Manx reaches for the key to his locker.

His hand is shaking.

Sharing the stash

At lunchtime, word is passed around

of a session starting at the lake

tonight at sunset

and Manx is enlisted, as always,

to buy the beer.

Rumour has it

that Patrick

bought a stash of dope

and is willing to share it with Manx

in the interest of peace,

although I'm not stupid enough

to believe that includes me.

I don't want their dope anyway.

All week Angelo's been sucking up to Patrick

and making snide comments at me,

like the scratching of mice in the ceiling.

Manx promises me an extra bottle of beer

because,

as he explains it,

the more beer we drink

the less for sharks like Patrick.

BOOK: Another Night in Mullet Town
3.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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