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Authors: Sherryl Clark

Bone Song

BOOK: Bone Song
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Bone Song

SHERRYL CLARK

Probably my whole class is laughing at me right now. Goody-goody Melissa McCardle in detention for three whole days after school. I bet they’re dying to find out what I did to get here too, but I’m not telling.

This room is the pits. And it stinks. I mean, it really stinks. It’s like two basketball teams have left all their sweaty runners in here to go mouldy, then thrown in a few banana peels and apple cores for good measure. There’s one tiny window high up, and the room only fits a dozen desks.

God, I’m sitting in the front row again. Why do I do that? I thought I’d cured myself
of the habit. Footsteps echo along the corridor. Two sets. There’s just enough time to throw myself towards the back of the room, school bag first, and reach for a chair. I miss. Of course. When the door opens, I’m lying flat on my face on the floor.

‘Miss McCardle, I presume?’

I recognise the voice straight away. It’s Mr Feibler, the PE teacher. As I hurry to get up, banging my elbow on a desk so hard I think my arm is going to fall off, all I see is his tanned, hairy legs and his tight, white shorts.

‘Yeah, that’s me,’ I mumble.

‘Here’s your cellmate. Deborah Lessing.’

‘Dobie!’ the girl behind him hisses.

Oh no, it’s her. Right away, I feel the water from the hose splattering me all over again, my threadbare T-shirt sticking to me, the boys laughing… The red haze rises up in front of my eyes. I take a few deep breaths,
trying to will it back down again. It’s got me into trouble once already at this school. I can’t afford to let it take over again. But I remember what Dobie did to me. I can’t stand the sight of her. This is going to be the longest detention in history.

I keep my eyes focused on Mr Feibler’s snow-white Nikes, because that’s safer, and listen as he runs through the rules.

‘I hope you’ve both brought homework to do, or at least a book to read.’ A snort from Dobie. ‘No talking, no leaving the room. Do either of you want to go to the toilet? Because I’ve got a basketball team to coach. I can’t be running backwards and forwards all afternoon. No? Right. I’ll check on you every half hour or so.’

He slams the door behind him and his footsteps speed up. He obviously can’t wait to get away from us.

‘Every half hour. Yeah, right. We’ll be lucky if he comes back at all!’

Well, she would know, wouldn’t she? Miss Deborah Lessing, who insists everyone call her Dobie and ignores the ones who call her No-brain. She spends nearly half her afternoons here in this room. I should’ve remembered that before I went berserk. It’s a double punishment, being here with her.

I sit down at the desk in the furthest corner and get out my maths homework. Count this as a blessing, I tell myself, a chance to actually get my homework done properly, in peace. Sometimes it’s nearly midnight before I get Mum settled in bed asleep. Homework, by then, gets done in a mad rush.

‘You’re not actually going to do work, are you?’

She’s sitting on the desk by the door, shaking a bottle of dark purple nail polish. I shrug. It’s none of her business. ‘Don’t talk to me.’ It snaps out of my mouth before I can stop it.

‘Oohh. Afraid I’ll corrupt you, sweetie pie? Too late, you’re already in here. In
the dungeon with Big Bad Dobie. All hope is gone!’ She sneers, making the rings and studs dotted around her face wiggle. When she sticks out her tongue at me, I see the stud through it and my skin crawls.

‘Just shut up and leave me alone.’ I turn my back on her so I don’t have to look at her ugly, studded face. She is such a weirdo, and she plays on it. She likes to put her heavy boots up on her desk to drive the teachers crazy. She’s been caught smoking heaps of times.

Everyone said she graffitied the wall behind the teachers’ car park with the words ‘School sucks, and teachers suck…’ Half the kids were busting to add their own list of what comes next, but the principal found it in time and got it cleaned off. What Dobie doesn’t know is that
I know she didn’t do it
. I saw some tenth graders spraying the wall, but she still took the blame. I wondered why, but it served her right. She had to pay for the cleaning, or her parents did. From what I hear, they’re revoltingly rich and she gets
heaps of pocket money. I hope they made
her
pay for it.

I focus on my algebra, trying to ignore the sharp smell of nail polish. Why am I wasting time thinking about a loser like her? I’ve got more important things on my mind. Like how I’m going to get home before Mum. Or if I don’t, what am I going to tell her? She’ll freak out if I tell her I got detention.
Don’t call attention to yourself.
She must’ve said it a million times.

The algebra problem blurs on the page. I blink hard. What time is it? Have I only been here for fifteen minutes? Maybe I’ll try English instead. Ms Rogers has been reading
Wuthering Heights
to us in class. She must think most of the kids are too dumb to read it on their own. She’s probably right. Now we have to write a poem inspired by the story. I hate this kind of thing. I like to write my poems for myself, not for any stupid teacher to criticise. I close my eyes and force myself to imagine the moors, the wind and the dark trees.

‘Hey, you’re not writing that for Roger Ramjet’s class, are you?’ Dobie leans over me and I smell sour cigarettes on her clothes.

‘What if I am?’ I curl my arm around my notebook.

‘You could write one for me. I might even pay you.’

‘Get stuffed. Why can’t you write your own?’

‘Nah, poetry’s not my thing. I like songs better.’

‘So write a song! Just leave me alone.’

She strolls back to the desk by the door, humming, and dumps her bag down, rummaging through it. I peek over my shoulder, even though I couldn’t care less what she’s doing. She’s flicking through a scruffy notebook, a purple pen in her mouth. She keeps humming the same stupid tune over and over, scribbling every now and then.

She’s put me off writing poems now. I’d rather stab her with my pen to get some silence for a change. I go back to algebra, trying to focus on solving the gigantic problem in front of me but it seems like a big mish-mash of letters and numbers that just won’t make sense. Once upon a time, I used to be a superstar at maths.

It’s her fault I can’t concentrate. How am I going to stand being here with her for three whole afternoons? If I’m lucky, this’ll be her last day. I ask, ‘How long are you in detention for?’

‘Huh? Oh, a week this time, I think. I don’t know, I lose track.’ When she sees my face fall, she says, ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’

‘Why are you here so often? Why can’t you just…’

‘Behave? Conform? Be a little goody like you?’

‘I’m not a goody. I… I have to…’

‘Be Mummy’s little girl?’

‘No! Anyway, what’s wrong with getting on OK with your mother?’ For me though it’s more like mummy-sitting half the time.

She laughs, but it sounds like she’s choking. ‘Hey, that’s why I’m always here. So I don’t
have
to go home to my mother.’ Her face darkens, she looks away. ‘Forget I said that. Go back to your homework,
Goody
.’

Before I can respond, she opens the door and leaves.

I hope Mr Feibler comes back, finds her gone and gives her more detention. It’d serve her right. But somehow I think she wouldn’t care at all. Whatever. Not my problem.

My problem might be to get through these three afternoons without killing her.

Of all the people who had to get detention this week, why did it have to be smarmy Melissa McCardle? That’s my space, even if it is smelly and small. I’ve got pacing down to a fine art, ten steps up, ten steps back. It drives my mother crazy, especially when I do it in the hallway in my big black boots while she’s backstabbing someone on the phone.

Mind you, there’s one kind of gossip Mother hates. The stuff about me, my latest
shenanigans
, as she calls them, in an effort to make them sound trivial. I try to time it so that I manage to get into trouble again just when she’s relaxing, thinking that I’m going to behave for a while.

I pace the dark echoing corridor outside the dungeon, ten steps each way, but it’s not as much fun when there’s no one to annoy. Goody McCardle probably hopes I’ll skip out, that
Feeble
will come back and I’ll be in even bigger trouble. To tell the truth, I can’t be bothered. It’s only Thursday but I feel like the week has been about ten days long already. I’m so tired.

That tune is still in my head; little bits keep adding themselves. I have to write more of it down but I’m not going back in there with Goody. She’s always so well behaved, it makes me sick. Her and my mother would love each other. She wasn’t happy when she saw me arrive. Why was she on the floor? What a loser.

I slide down to the tiled floor and pull out my notebook again. I’ve almost got the refrain right. And one line
Bring a bell and ring it
just for me
. But the next line won’t come so I stop trying to force it, just let the melody run. Goody would probably say I should write more poetry then the song lyrics would develop more easily. What would she know?

People like her really bug me. She always sits quietly, passes tests, does her homework – like it matters. What does she think this stupid school is going to teach her? At least they had music and art at that pathetic private school my mother sent me to. Here they don’t even have enough money to buy decent computers. Mother Dear would say I brought it on myself. But being expelled is no big deal. Not really.

I hear footsteps but I don’t move. It sounds like
Feeble
, and it is. He bounces along in those tight shorts and Nikes like they came with a free bottle of Viagra. A bit sickening on someone as old as him; he’s at least thirty.

‘Aren’t you supposed to be inside the detention room, Ms Lessing?’

Gee, so witty. He should know that sarcasm is lost on me. ‘I think I was disturbing Ms McCardle.’ He arches his eyebrows like he’s expecting something more.

‘I believe I was breathing her air.’

‘You know the rules. Back inside, hurry up.’

‘Jeez.’ I get up and he opens the door for me, waits until I step inside and then slams it behind me.

Goody turns her back on me, which suits me fine. I sit down at the desk by the door again and try to hum my way back into my new song but it won’t work. The main thread of it has gone. Just as well I wrote down all the notes. When I get home, I’ll lock my bedroom door and get my guitar out. With a bit of luck, Mother won’t even notice I’m there if I don’t go down for dinner. Nancy always hides a pile of leftovers for me in the back of the fridge. Now that’s pathetic – the only person who cares about me is the housekeeper.

I’m bored. Usually I wander around the school and amuse myself. The things I’ve overheard by hanging around outside the staffroom are pretty amazing. I know everything that goes on in this school; who’s got problems at home, who’s in trouble…
Why
is
Goody McCardle in detention? She’s usually too busy licking the teacher’s shoes clean to make trouble. Suddenly the question is burning a hole in my brain.

‘Hey, Goody, what did you accomplish to end up in this luxury accommodation?’

‘Huh?’ She gazes at me with bleary eyes.

I try again. ‘How come you’re in the hole with me? You kill someone?’ I bare my teeth at her but she’s not fooled that it’s a smile.

‘None of your business.’

‘If you didn’t kill anyone, maybe you… slept with the principal and Mrs Gregson found out? She’s sleeping with him too, you know.’

‘Don’t be so stupid.’

‘Don’t stop there, throw me some real compliments. How about dork-brain or pea-brain, or maybe…’ I screw my face up, pretend I’m thinking hard, ‘No-brain.’

She turns bright red and I know she’s heard the other kids call me that. No big deal. I’ll get them all back one day. Maybe I’ll post all their private miseries on the notice boards around the school. I bet everyone would like to know that Robbie Wilson still wets the bed, Mandy Foster left school last week because she’s pregnant and Jason Benbow’s mother is an alcoholic.

Goody’s turned her back on me again and, for some strange reason, that irritates the hell out of me. ‘If you tell me why you’re here, I promise I won’t tell a soul. It’ll be our little secret.’ All that gets me is her middle finger jerking over her shoulder. ‘I’ll tell you why I’m here first then.’

‘Why? I don’t care. It’ll be for some dumb reason, like that boring graffiti.’

I sniff and shake my head. Why
had
I taken the blame for that one? It hadn’t even been clever.

‘Actually, that wasn’t me, thank you very much. If I was going to paint words on
the wall, they’d be a lot more original than that infantile attempt.’

‘I know,’ she said.

What does she know? I change the subject to stir her up. ‘Have you written a poem for me yet? Can I see your notebook?’

I walk across the room and lean over her.

‘Go away!’ She huddles over her notebook. For the first time I hear something in her voice – is it panic? Shall I push her harder or back off? I can’t decide.

The door opens. It’s
Feeble
.

‘Pack up your stuff, girls, you’ve got a reprieve for today. I’ve got to take Jamie to the hospital – broken wrist, I think.’

Before I can open my mouth to say anything, he’s gone, running down the corridor. Shit. I’ve got no money to eat at the shopping centre. I’ll have to go home. I feel sick.

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