Authors: John Larkin
One moment. One pause. One whole new life.
Declan seems to have it all: a family that loves him, friends he's known for years, a beautiful girlfriend he would go to the ends of the earth for.
But there's something in Declan's past that just won't go away, that pokes and scratches at his thoughts when he's at his most vulnerable. Declan feels as if nothing will take away the pain that he has buried deep inside for so long. So he makes the only decision he thinks he has left: the decision to end it all.
Or does he? As the train approaches and Declan teeters at the edge of the platform, two versions of his life are revealed. In one, Declan watches as his body is destroyed and the lives of those who loved him unravel. In the other, Declan pauses before he jumps. And this makes all the difference.
From the award-winning author of
The Shadow Girl
comes a breathtaking novel that will make you reconsider the road you're travelling and the tracks you're leaving behind.
For my wonderful children Chantelle, Damian and Gabby, the brightest stars in the darkest night. And for Louisa, for helping me find my way back into the light.
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause
act 3, scene 1, lines 66â68
My name is Declan O'Malley. I'm seventeen years old. I come from a loving and supportive family. I go to a top-notch selective high school. I have the sweetest, most gorgeous and intelligent girlfriend in the world. And in five hours' time, I will kill myself.
I'd like to report that my death actually meant something. That I'd stepped in front of a bus to save a little girl who'd chased a much-loved pet onto a busy road. Or that I'd saved an old lady from thugs on a train, despatching them with a potentially lethal combination of kung-fu, karate and UFC â only the gang regrouped and stabbed me in retaliation. Or that I'd dived into the pounding
surf to rescue two naive but breathtakingly cute tourists, who'd quickly found themselves out of their depth â only to find myself quickly out of mine, my premature demise ever so slightly compensated for by my being posthumously awarded the legion of something-or-other for bravery, and both women eventually naming their firstborn and a small maple tree after me.
If only I'd lived as creatively as I died then my brief flicker of existence might have meant something.
As it was, my passing was neither glamorous nor meaningful. It was brutal. It was violent. And for the few unfortunate souls who had the misfortune of witnessing it, it was horrifying.
So soon I will be gone and quickly forgotten. Another tragic statistic. Oh, sure, my former school friends might raise a glass to me on the occasion of our twentieth school reunion, shaking their heads at the futility of my life, before spending the rest of the evening getting slowly wasted and bemoaning the futility of their own. This will be the final time that I will be remembered publicly. I may just as well never have existed.
But let's not focus on my death. There'll be time enough for that. Let's instead focus on my life, which will shortly come to its premature and bone-crunching conclusion.
It's late morning when I finally drag myself out of bed. It's Saturday and I've got nothing to get up for except my phone, which I check in a nonchalant manner. Though who am I kidding? When it flatly refused to beep throughout the night, I switched it to silent mode hoping to be pleasantly surprised by its winking when I woke up. Nothing.
I checked in at 6.00, 6.10, 6.23, 6.47, 7.00, 7.30, 8.05, 8.23, 8.56, 9.11 (not that I'm obsessed or anything) and at ten- to fifteen-minute intervals since. Nothing. Even factoring in delays, Lisa's plane would have touched down on Lantau Island about eleven hours ago. You could, I suppose, stretch out a trip back to Hong Kong Island to
a couple of hours max, but that's only if you're being picked up and the roads are gridlocked. But Lisa was taking the Airport Express, which â according to the omniscient Google â is quick and efficient and puts our own beleaguered rail network to shame.
So even allowing for Sydney-like delays and an out-of-season category five typhoon, Lisa would have been at her aunt's home for at least eight hours now.
She said she'd phone or Skype as soon as she could. Not only did she promise to text me from the airbridge or the baggage carousel in Hong Kong, but also from the departure lounge at Sydney. Yet my stupid phone steadfastly refuses to ring. I even try resetting it by taking out the battery in the hope that there's some sort of kink in the connection hosepipe and this will unblock it and I'll be inundated with a stream of messages. But no. Nothing.
I try shaking my phone and hurling it against the stupid wall, but this doesn't work either and I end up tearing my Bombay Bicycle Club poster instead. Crap! We went to that concert together. The last time we were happy together. Our last date. And the whole reason Lisa's been sent to Hong Kong, after her psycho kraken of a mother found out. She thought Lisa and I were going to a Christian rock concert (which, to be honest,
I've always thought of as an oxymoron) with Lisa's crusading buddies.
I sticky-tape the poster back together, hoping that this symbolic action of rejoining it and us will kickstart my phone. I try glancing at it out of the corner of my eye but again it refuses to flash. Useless piece of ancient crap. Maybe my throwing it at Bombay Bicycle Club has damaged it. I try resetting it again. Again, nothing. I hate the guy who composed the Nokia start-up theme. What a douche.
I slump on my bed and try not to think about Lisa and how this isn't her fault and how I won't get angry with her. Though she knows what a text or a call from her would mean to me. She obviously doesn't give a stuff about me anymore. Couldn't care less how I feel. She has a new life now and I no longer figure in it. Despite her tears, she's accepted The Kraken's decision and moved on just like that.
If only I'd known that The Kraken had confiscated Lisa's phone before she went through customs at the airport.
If only I'd known. Then I might have lived through the day.
We gather at that great teenage social hub: the train station. It's kind of like the launch pad for all the high schools within a twenty-kay radius. There's an equal mixture of schools and groups, all of us trying to climb the social hierarchy and impress each other on the way up. There are the Reeve Road High students, who don't belong with the rest of us. They're okay when they're together, but put them alongside those of us who have somehow obtained social skills and they look about as comfortable as a bogan at the ballet. They could give you a quantum analysis of their bus's atomic composition or design a rudimentary hydrogen engine, but a lot of them would struggle to hold
a conversation with the driver. And then there's us: Redcliffe Boys' and Grosvenor Girls'. Technically we may not be as smart as the Reeve Road students, but we get invited to parties, generally wear our pants at a socially acceptable height, and are coordinated enough to swing a baseball bat at PE without decapitating the teacher, catcher or the guys in the outfield. We even have emos at our schools. Straight-A emos. I'm kind of going that way myself, allowing my hair to fall insouciantly over one eye, proving to the world that I'm almost too cool to be allowed out in public, at least without my stylist.
I'm standing on the platform with the early-morning sun on my face. I'm an hour early but I'm waiting for this girl I like and, as the year has progressed, I've learnt to give her a bigger and bigger window of time to arrive. I've already let two trains come and go without me. It's Monday morning and I'm not going to start the week without seeing her.
âHey, Toke, 'sup?'
Chris and Maaaate approach. Chris is South Korean and Maaaate is ABC (Australian-born Chinese). They call themselves bananas: yellow on the outside, white in the middle, and reckon I'm an egg: white on the outside, yellow in the middle. We've been tight since year seven.
Chris lives with his mum just up from the station, while Maaaate's a full-on westie. He has to get up at six to make all his buses and trains, but he reckons it's worth it. Or at least his old man does. Maaaate's dad puts all his hopes and dreams into Maaaate and Maaaate's older sister who's doing medicine at uni. Maaaate, though, is struggling. He's smart enough but he's never going to be a neurosurgeon or a physicist. He might study economics or science which is okay, but that's not what his old man has in mind. But even economics or science will be a struggle for Maaaate. The disappointment from home is starting to weigh on him. He's piling on the weight and kind of withdrawing. He's not really into anything apart from FIFA and Call of Duty. I'm going to have to keep an eye on him or he'll wind up shutting himself off in his room, gaming, eating pizza and calling it a life.
Chris has got it all together. He's topping our year in everything including sport, which is kind of unfair. He's also so good looking that he makes the rest of us look like the result of an industrial accident. All the girls think he's hot. Not that he seems to notice. The bastard has the audacity to be humble, too. A-hole.
We give each other a complicated handshake as if we're from the hood. Seriously, though, no
matter how much we try to act like lads â or how provocatively we wear our hair â we wouldn't last ten seconds in the LA projects. Then again, I doubt that the Crips or Bloods would cope too well in an exam situation with us.
The girls from Smith Street High and Grosvenor hug each other but we're guys and that's not allowed so we start with the baiting instead. Remembering a news article I'd read in the paper on the weekend, and ignoring the NorthâSouth divide, I open the batting.
âHey, Chris. Shouldn't you be locked away in a Pyongyang lab with some weapons-grade plutonium and a centrifuge, trying to build a massive weapon for His Shortarseness?'
âSupreme Leader has a
weapon,' replies Chris. âOr at least he thinks he has.'
We laugh and talk about short man syndrome, about overcompensating, about how the North Korean people are eating bark soup and grass but can look up with pride when they see a home-grown ballistic missile passing overhead. We solve the world's problems with ridicule and humour like the intellectual radicals we consider ourselves to be.
And then there she is strolling along the platform. My IQ is immediately halved â all I can think about is her. She's walking a little
awkwardly this morning and I wonder why. Does she play weekend sport? Is she into equestrian and had a fall? Is she a gymnast and strained her back? I don't know. I won't know. I'll never know. I've had this huge crush on her for almost a year now and all I know about her is that her name is Lisa Leong. And although we've glanced at each other a few times, for the whole year I've spoken a grand total of zero words to her. I'm normally confident around people â even girls â but when it comes to speaking to Lisa, I have about as much backbone as a jellyfish.
âGive it up, Toke,' says Maaaate. âEven if by some miracle you somehow manage to develop the power of speech around her, her parents wouldn't let her date a
âDon't be so racist,' I reply without once taking my eyes off her.
âIt's not racist if
say it,' says Maaaate. âI tell you, her parents wouldn't let you within a kilometre of her.'
Chris looks over at Maaaate. âHow do
know her parents?'
âNot really,' replies Maaaate. âBut we used to go to the same church and last year her mum went psycho when she found out she was dating this guy called Justin â'
I don't know who Justin is but I hate him.
ââ and he was Chinese
Christian,' continues Maaaate.
âI'm kind of a Christian,' I say, defending my Italian-Irish-Catholic heritage.
âYou're kind of a douche,' suggests Chris.
I look at Lisa standing there all alone, in her Smith Street Girls' High uniform. If she's got any friends I haven't seen them. She's usually by herself. She's all glasses and bookish but I see her. I see beyond her sadness â and she seems to have too much of that hanging over her.
I want to race over to her and wrap her in my arms and ask her if she's okay. But that is never going to happen because right now our relationship is perfect. She's the perfect girlfriend and I'm the perfect boyfriend. And I'm certainly not going to ruin that by actually talking to her.
But I did and destroyed both our lives.