Authors: J.C. Burke
For David Burke: writer, mentor, editor, friend â father.
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The Red Cardigan
ePub ISBN 9781742744780
Kindle ISBN 9781742744797
Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, NSW 2060
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First published by Random House Australia 2004
Copyright Â© J. C. Burke 2004
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Burke, J. C.
The red cardigan.
For secondary students.
ISBN 978 0 75932 029 1.
ISBN 0 7593 2029 2.
1. Clairvoyance-Fiction. I. Title.
Cover design by Mathematics
Verse on âPart Three' from
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
(Part 6) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).
Lyrics on âPart One' from
New Year's Prayer
by Jeff Buckley Â© 1998, used by permission of Sony Music. All rights reserved.
What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.
She searches for the smell. She finds it â the sweet perfume of a Murraya bush in summer. It's the only memory of her grandfather and it's still exactly as it was. She is sitting on his knee in an old green kitchen. A loose thread hangs from his singlet. Winding it around her finger, she listens to him speak.
âYour gran knows things, Evie.'
âSometimes,' his voice drops to a whisper, âsometimes she knows things before they've even happened.'
Today, Evie turns this memory over and over, trying to hear each word as if for the first time. She needs to fill in the gaps, make sense of something she knows she cannot ask others. Somehow she understands dark times lie ahead. This is who she is. This is her curse.
At recess Alex watches her. âAre you okay, Evie?'
âYeah,' agrees Poppy. âYou look kind of â weird.'
Evie sees Alex mouth âshut up', but doesn't care. She wants to go home. She needs to be alone. âI feel like I'm going to spew.'
Poppy jumps behind Alex. âWhat? Now?'
âI think I'll go up to the office and see if I can go home.'
Alex and Poppy glance at each other.
âDo you really think that's, um â a good idea?'
âYou're sounding like my mother, Alex.' Evie fiddles with the buttons on her cuff. It's best not to look at them. âI'm okay. I just feel sick.'
âWant us to come to the office with you?'
âI'll be fine. See you tomorrow.'
Evie walks briskly through a draughty corridor leading to the school office. âThe walk of shame' the students call it. Shivering, she pulls her cardigan around her chest. The cardigan is crimson red and made from the softest wool. Her dad brought it back from Adelaide, last week. He'd picked it up at a vintage store near where he'd stayed. âImpulse buying,' he'd grinned. Evie never lets on, but she understands why he spoils her. It helps relieve his guilt.
Usually she feels good wearing the cardigan to school. Red is the regulation colour for jumpers at Goulburn Street Girls' High but Evie's cardigan is vintage. She saw the âcool girls' or, as Alex calls them, âthe CGs' eyeing it off at morning assembly. But now she wants to escape their prying eyes, in case they notice, too.
Outside, heavy black clouds sit low in the sky. Evie doesn't have to look up; she feels them crowding her space, sucking her air. She wishes she could push them away, up where they belong. But today she lacks the strength. It's all she can do just to keep it together.
âThank god,' she sighs, closing the front door. âHome and alone.'
Thursday is her mum's university teaching day. If it wasn't, Evie would have stayed at school â anything to avoid her mother's frown and pursed lips. It's been ages since Evie's had a bad day. She figures no one needs to know about this one.
She climbs the stairs to her bedroom, takes off her cardigan and goes to hang it over the chair. Hiding inside the shoulder seam is a tiny knot of hair. She pulls it out and holds it up to the light. It's the colour of dark copper.
A sharp pain strikes the back of Evie's head. She slumps onto the bed trying to catch her breath. Her throat is making a rasping noise that sounds like it's coming from the other side of the room. She buries herself under the doona. It's safer in the dark.
âNot again,' she moans. âPleeease, not again.'
âMuuum?' Evie calls from the laundry. âI can't find any socks and I need you to sign a note.'
âEvie! Don't just chuck everything out of the clean washing basket.' Her mum sighs. âWhat do you want? Socks?'
âThere's none here.' Evie stuffs the clothes back in the basket.
âGive me the basket. I folded all this stuff last night and I'm not doing it again.'
âCome on, Evie,' her dad calls from the kitchen. âWe've got to go.'
âHave you looked in the dryer?' her mother snaps.
âNo. I haven't,' she snaps back.
âHurry up, Evie. I've got a press conference this morning.'
âHang on, Dad. I'm coming.'
âHere.' Evie's mother thrusts a pair of socks in her face.
Evie hops to the kitchen trying to put the socks on while
her mother stuffs things into her school bag.
âFor godsakes, Evie. Sit down and put your socks on properly.'
If there's one piece of public knowledge in the Simmons's household, it's that Nick Simmons, Evie's father and Executive Producer of Radio News, cannot under any circumstances be late for a press conference.
âWhat was the other thing you needed?' Her mother is fighting with the bag's zipper and isn't winning.
âEvie, you've got to be more organised.' Now her dad's on the case. âYou're in Year 12 next year. You know, final exams and all that stuff.'
âNick, be quiet,' her mum says. âEvie, did you say I had to sign something?'
Evie takes the note out of her pocket. She has folded it, just to show the dotted line where a signature is required.
She points, âJust sign there.'
Nick is walking to the front door. Evie picks up her bag with one hand, still holding the note firmly in the other. Her mother takes the corner of the note but Evie won't let go. She tugs at it and Evie's grip tightens.
âEvie!' Her mother prises it out from her daughter's fingers, unfolding her secret.
âWhat?' She watches her mother's expression slide down her face into her jaw. âYou what? You left school at recess?'
Evie reaches out her hand but her mother holds the note to her chest.
âWere you â sick?'
âYou didn't tell us that last night.' Nick has put down his briefcase and is walking towards her. âAre you okay?'
âYes, Dad, I'm sure.'
âShe looks okay to me. Don't you think, Nick?' Her mother's knuckles turn white as she crumples the note in her hand.
Evie looks at her shoes. âCan we â um â go now?'
âSure you don't want to tell us anything?'
âNo, Dad. For the one billioneth time, I'm fine. Okay?'
âGreat.' He puts his hand on her shoulder. âThe cardigan suits you. Doesn't it, Robin?'
Her mother smooths out the note and hands it back. âNext time, I'd appreciate it if you called me. I thought we agreed you'd tell us if anything was â¦ going on.'
âI will. I just felt sick. No big deal.'
Her mother nods. âGood.'
But Evie knows her mother doesn't believe her.
She holds her breath until she's out the gate and in her dad's car. His press conference has saved her from answering the full encyclopedia of questions her mother was probably busting to ask. She knows how they begin and how they end. And the tone, the suspicious tone! Doesn't her mother know how obvious it is? Evie shakes her head.
âWhat?' Nick asks.
Her father's actions and words have slowed from the morning's rush. It's not that he's relaxed â she knows that by the way he wipes his hands on his pants leaving a smudge on the fabric. This is him trying to act cool and unfazed, always conscious of his role as the middleman.
âSo what have you got first?' he asks, reaching back for his seatbelt.
She watches his grip on the steering wheel tighten. âAre you, um, working on anything yet?'
âWell, I have to start on ideas for my major work.'
âOkay.' He clears his throat and slowly says, âAnd what are you thinking of?'
Evie must choose her words carefully. Not enough time has passed. She knows he still hurts. Don't they all.
âWell,' she swallows. âI'm still desperate to do a composition of portraits. You know I've always wanted to do that for my major work. And I â¦ I still think I can.'
âAlex has offered to be my subject.'
âThere's just one proviso.'
âThat I don't include any zits on her face.'
âBut that's texture.' He laughs a bit too loud. He can't hide his relief.
âDad! Alex'd die if she heard you say that.'
âThen don't tell her.'
âWhat's Al doing for her major work?'
âPhotography.' They say it at the same time.
âJinx,' laughs Evie. âDad, it's Alex's cheekbones. They're so angular. They're like these rocks jutting out of a cliff face, and her eyes are really deep set. They'll be tricky but I reckon â'
âDarling, it'll be great seeing you draw again.'
âI'm not sure Mr Powell or Mum agree with that, Dad.'
He doesn't reply. Evie stares out the window, watching the rows of terraces fold into one another.
âSo, what's the big press conference about?'
âBob Garling, the Commissioner of Police, is making an announcement.'
âI bet that'll be earth shattering.'
âThey're increasing the number of uniformed police on public transport.'
âBit late for that.'
âWell, yes and no.' He toots at the car in front. âCome on! The police have to be seen to be doing something.'
âDo you think it would have stopped that girl from being raped?'
As Evie gets out of the car, her dad leans over and squeezes her arm. âYou're our most precious possession you know? We just â worry, if you â¦'
âI'm fine, Dad. Okay?'
Evie holds her breath and looks up to a clear winter sky
that goes on and on. Today is a new day. She feels certain she'll be left alone.
Evie and Alex sit together in art class. Evie is holding Alex's chin, tilting it backwards and forwards, looking for an interesting angle.
âThat's such a cool cardi, Evie.'
âYes, you can borrow it.'
âI don't think red's my colour,' Alex says, her face turned upwards, her mousey hair squashed under the creases of her neck. âI think powder blue with beads is more me. Don't you?'
âWhat are you after?'
âCan I wear it to Taylor's party next weekend? Please, please?'
âAre you going to Taylor's party?'
âWell, I'm thinking of it.'
Evie lets go of Alex's chin and starts sketching some lines.
âHow about you?'
âNo.' Evie doesn't look up.
âYou're not even going to think about it?'
âCome on! It's been ages since you â'
âNo,' Evie looks at Alex. âOkay?'
âBut you can borrow my blue beaded cardi. It looks much better on you.'
âThanks. Sorry if I was â'
âForget it, Al.'
As Mr Powell makes his way to their desk, Evie feels her throat tighten.
âHow's it going, girls?' he asks, looking straight at her.
âI think I'll start practising a front view.'
Slowly he nods. âOkay.' He has said nothing about Evie resuming her portrait study. âThere's interesting light and tone from Alex's cheekbones. I'd work with charcoal first.'
Mr Powell takes a step, stops and turns back. âI want you to write out your ideas for the series, Evie. This time, I want to know exactly what you're doing. Comprendo?'
As he walks away Evie leans over to Alex, pretending she hasn't felt the weight of his words. âDo you think his jeans could be tighter?'
âWell, you've got to admit, he has got a cute bum.'
Evie slaps Alex. She squeals and Powell spins around, striding back to their desk.
âIs there a problem?' He directs the question to Evie.
âNo, sir.' Evie's skin burns.
âGood,' he nods, his eyes fixed on her face. âI'm sure you'd agree you've wasted enough time this year?'
He walks away.
âBastard,' Alex whispers.
On the bus home Evie stares out the window, replaying his words in her head. Why did he have to remind
everyone? is all she can think. It's invaded her headspace, leaving little room for any other thoughts.
âDickhead,' she mutters. âDickhead, dickhead.'
Evie senses Powell's dislike of her. After âthe episode' â that's what the school counsellor called it â Powell told her mother he thought she was an attention seeker. But Evie knows the truth. He's in trouble â in trouble for not being aware of what was going on in his class that day. And for that, he'll never forgive her.
As the school bus reaches a corner known as âthe pin', Evie turns her head away. It is a habit or, as Evie feels, a necessity. She hates seeing the little girl standing at the corner. What does she want? Why is she still there after all these years?
Evie remembers sitting in the back seat of her parents station wagon. She is four years old. As they approach âthe pin' she sees the girl for the first time.
âStop, Mummy,' she screams.
Her mother slams on the brakes and Evie jerks forwards in her seatbelt.
âLook, Mummy, look, Mummy. That girl. She's got blood on her. She's hurt herself.'
âWhere? Where?' Her mother is opening the car door.
âThere. Right there.'
Evie remembers pointing so hard her hand ached and she remembers her mother's head frantically twisting around trying to find the girl.
Rubbing her hand as if it still aches like it did that day, Evie sneaks a look out the bus window. She's not there.
She hears the familiar voice. That's the other thing about âthe pin'. It's where the Wolsley College boys get on the bus and that means Seb Granger. Evie and Seb were at preschool together and had a kindy wedding. Her dad still teases her about it.