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Authors: Cathy Coote

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Innocents

BOOK: Innocents
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Copyright © 1999 by Cathy Coote

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

 

First published in Australia in 1999 by Random House Australia Pty Ltd.

 

Published simultaneously in Canada

Printed in the United States of America

 

FIRST AMERICAN EDITION

 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

 

Coote, Cathy, 1977–

    Innocents / Cathy Coote.

      p. cm.

    ISBN 9780802195906

    1. Teacher-student relationships—Fiction 2. Teenage girls—Fiction. 3. Seduction—Fiction. 4. Australia—Fiction. I. Title.

 

  PR9619.4.C66 166 2002

  823'.914—dc21                      2002021465

 
 

Grove Press

841 Broadway

New York, NY 10003

 

02  03  04  05   10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

 
 

M

y darling,

All of this is my fault.

I know you think you're to blame for what happened. You're wrong, my love. I've been guilty all along.

I hardly know where to start.

Start at the very beginning.

The very beginning seems so long ago, though. I'm hardly interested in it.

I suppose, at the very beginning, you must have seen my legs.

That isn't fair. I'm not for one second suggesting that my legs were what you were after.

There were legs
everywhere
. It
was
a girls' school. It
was
PE day. There were hundreds of us. We were, all of us, in netball skirts. They were horrible, scanty, red-pleated things, obviously designed by a pervert. They showed your bum when you bent over, so you had to wear little shorts underneath. The little shorts were called ‘scungies’. They were off-red, and looked the way the name sounded. We also had semi-transparent V-necked white shirts. Red trim pointed like an arrow at our bellies. I had a red hair-ribbon in my hair.

I was, as always, amazed at my ability to blend in with the masses of us. I kept assuming that eventually, inevitably, I'd be standing in a crowded place and suddenly everyone would start shifting uncomfortably and turning their heads at the smell of
other
. A ring of empty space would start to form around me as the people shrank away, and I'd be left standing on my own, irrefutably alien.

I dreaded that moment. My whole life was geared around avoiding it.

 

The recess before I met you passed like any other.

I met my friends for lunch behind the library.

I sat cross-legged on the grass, nibbling at my thin vegemite sandwiches. Before me, a row of girls perched on the rickety wooden bench. Those few stragglers—like me—who arrived too late to get a spot on the bench had to sit on the ground.

I would have preferred to sit in the shade. I hated to feel the sun on my skin. I was frightened of that pitiless, slow sense of burning, the creeping pinkness on the back of my neck. I never said so, of course.

Rachel always sat in the hottest spot she could find. ‘'S good for my tan.’

Tans were important. Tanned skin was
normal
.

The others made fun of Gothic Anita, the witch of Year Ten, with her talcum-powdered face.

‘Looks like a witch!’

‘Looks like Dracula! Stupid cow.’

So I squared my shoulders, and sat as I always did with the rest of the group. I laughed along with them, through my nose, contemptuously, abandoning my skin to the full light of the sun. It seemed like a small price to pay.

My skin meant very little to me, in those days.

‘Fuck, she's a loser!’ said Rachel in disgust.

‘I reckon,’ agreed Sally, opening her Mars bar.

King and Queen condemning a leper, they nodded towards Anita, who stood down by the fence that marked the boundary of the oval, sharing a surreptitious cigarette with a passing civilian.

We all agreed that yes, Anita was a loser.

Sally went on, ‘Look at that
crusty
she's with!’

Anita's friend on the outside sported a nose-ring, and wore a grubby poncho.

‘She's
foul
.’ I agreed, my voice one of six or seven chorusing confirmation.

I knew it was wrong to condemn a fellow freak like this. But I didn't feel guilty. I had to protect myself.

‘D'you know what she did at camp? Last year?’ Rachel asked Sally. Her question was interactive. It was meant to be overheard.

‘Oh—’ Eyebrows communicated silently. ‘… d'you mean … with Kelly?’

Rachel nodded significantly.

‘What?’ asked Laura, sitting on the grass next to me.

There was a conspiratorial silence.


What
? What did they do?’

‘They're
lesbians
,’ revealed Kara, leaning in eagerly from the end of the bench.

Slightly ruffled at this usurpation, Sally asked, ‘But d'you know what she
did
?’

My sandwich finished, I chewed my nails. I had a vague flash of a daydream, in which some power grew in me, so that I was able to dismiss their nastiness with polished indifference: able to turn my eyes blue like icy lasers on them, cutting through their babble with one diamond-edged remark.

Instead, I found myself sniggering along, slightly louder than the rest, to call attention to my surrender and maximise its worth.

‘Yeah,’ said Kara. ‘She got into Kelly's bunk and started to
finger
her, and Kelly didn't
mind
. She
liked
it!’

‘Yu-u-uck!’ I said, over three syllables.

‘That's
gross
!’

‘I
know
,’ Rachel said, popping a stick of chewing gum into her mouth. Rachel never ate at recess. She said everyone knew you put on more weight in the morning.

‘And Mrs Lamonde finds them and she goes, “What are youse doing?” and Anita goes, “Kelly's scared of the dark.”’ Kara really knew her stuff.

Anita, in the middle distance, threw her cigarette over the fence onto the path. She and her visitor laughed.

‘Fuckwits!’ said Rachel, examining her cuticles.

I nodded.

(This isn't much like your one-in-six-billion girl, is it, darling?
You
thought I was perfectly, instinctively original.

Once, in the car, you pulled over just to tell me, ‘I never know what you're going to say
next
!’ You were so excited! You stroked my cheek with your thumb, speechless with love and admiration.

You've no idea, have you?—how much I'd have given, just to be able to slide down into the barely conscious state in which the flocks of schoolgirls existed. They were like a swarm of bees. They all changed direction at the faintest whiff of pheromone. I'm convinced that most of them had no individual consciousness at all. When you're genuinely enthusiastic about netball, you don't need a sense of yourself as a distinct entity. A sort of share in the group consciousness, like a cable extension, is quite enough for all the thinking you ever need to do.)

We sat in an acrid, disapproving semicircle, all arms folded.

‘She's foul!’

‘I reckon!’

‘She's got a pet
rat
!’

‘That's gross!’

‘It lives in her
room
!’

‘Probably sleeps in her
bed
!’

‘She's a
freak
!’ declared Sally.

She was quite right. Anita
was
a freak. She made herself into a freak. She wouldn't have been like us if you'd paid her. She marked herself a freak carefully, thoroughly. She wore a size eighteen uniform on a size fourteen body. Her dumpy form always looked
wrong
in the school tartan, even after the teachers had confiscated her bracelets and rows of earrings, and made her tie her mottled, bottle-black hair back in a neat pony-tail. Her unstitched hemline always wavered far below her knees, trailing threads. Splotches of red paint from an Art class clustered over one hip. ‘She's had her rags today!’ ran the joke, every, every,
every
day, long after the stains had faded to a distinctly non-menstrual pink colour.

‘What's she doing
now
?’ Rachel asked, with weary disgust.

Elbows straight, Anita gripped the top of the fence, bending forwards. Her head and torso were outside school property. Her boots scrabbled for purchase in the wire mesh below.

‘Her legs are fat,’ complained Amy.

‘Is she fucken … leaving?’

‘She is!’

BOOK: Innocents
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