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Authors: J.C. Burke

The Red Cardigan

BOOK: The Red Cardigan
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For David Burke: writer, mentor, editor, friend – father.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

The Red Cardigan

ePub ISBN 9781742744780
Kindle ISBN 9781742744797

Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney, NSW 2060
http://www.randomhouse.com.au
Sydney New York Toronto
London Auckland Johannesburg

First published by Random House Australia 2004
Copyright © 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
Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

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.
A823.4

Cover design by Mathematics

Verse on ‘Part Three' from
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
(Part 6) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834).

Lyrics on ‘Part One' from
New Year's Prayer
by Jeff Buckley © 1998, used by permission of Sony Music. All rights reserved.

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

ARISTOTLE

 

She searches for the smell. She finds it – 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.

‘Your gran knows things, Evie.'

She nods.

‘Sometimes,' his voice drops to a whisper, ‘sometimes 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. ‘Are you okay, Evie?'

‘Yeah,' agrees Poppy. ‘You look kind of – weird.'

Evie sees Alex mouth ‘shut up', but doesn't care. She wants to go home. She needs to be alone. ‘I feel like I'm going to spew.'

Poppy jumps behind Alex. ‘What? Now?'

‘I think I'll go up to the office and see if I can go home.'

Alex and Poppy glance at each other.

‘Do you really think that's, um – a good idea?'

‘You're sounding like my mother, Alex.' Evie fiddles with the buttons on her cuff. It's best not to look at them. ‘I'm okay. I just feel sick.'

‘Want us to come to the office with you?'

‘I'll be fine. See you tomorrow.'

Evie walks briskly through a draughty corridor leading to the school office. ‘The 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. ‘Impulse 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 ‘cool girls' or, as Alex calls them, ‘the 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.

 

‘Thank god,' she sighs, closing the front door. ‘Home and alone.'

Thursday is her mum's university teaching day. If it wasn't, Evie would have stayed at school – 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.

‘Not again,' she moans. ‘Pleeease, not again.'

 

‘Muuum?' Evie calls from the laundry. ‘I can't find any socks and I need you to sign a note.'

‘Evie! Don't just chuck everything out of the clean washing basket.' Her mum sighs. ‘What do you want? Socks?'

‘There's none here.' Evie stuffs the clothes back in the basket.

‘Give me the basket. I folded all this stuff last night and I'm not doing it again.'

‘Come on, Evie,' her dad calls from the kitchen. ‘We've got to go.'

‘Okay, okay.'

‘Have you looked in the dryer?' her mother snaps.

‘No. I haven't,' she snaps back.

‘Hurry up, Evie. I've got a press conference this morning.'

‘Hang on, Dad. I'm coming.'

‘Here.' 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.

‘For 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.

‘What was the other thing you needed?' Her mother is fighting with the bag's zipper and isn't winning.

‘Evie, you've got to be more organised.' Now her dad's on the case. ‘You're in Year 12 next year. You know, final exams and all that stuff.'

‘Nick, be quiet,' her mum says. ‘Evie, did you say I had to sign something?'

‘Yeah.'

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, ‘Just 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.

‘Evie!' Her mother prises it out from her daughter's fingers, unfolding her secret.

‘What?' She watches her mother's expression slide down her face into her jaw. ‘You what? You left school at recess?'

‘Yeah.'

Evie reaches out her hand but her mother holds the note to her chest.

‘Were you – sick?'

Evie nods.

‘You didn't tell us that last night.' Nick has put down his briefcase and is walking towards her. ‘Are you okay?'

‘I'm fine.'

‘Sure?'

‘Yes, Dad, I'm sure.'

‘She 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. ‘Can we – um – go now?'

‘Sure you don't want to tell us anything?'

‘No, Dad. For the one billioneth time, I'm fine. Okay?'

‘Great.' He puts his hand on her shoulder. ‘The cardigan suits you. Doesn't it, Robin?'

‘Thanks, Dad.'

Her mother smooths out the note and hands it back. ‘Next time, I'd appreciate it if you called me. I thought we agreed you'd tell us if anything was … going on.'

‘I will. I just felt sick. No big deal.'

Her mother nods. ‘Good.'

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.

‘What?' Nick asks.

‘Nothing.'

Her father's actions and words have slowed from the morning's rush. It's not that he's relaxed – 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.

‘So what have you got first?' he asks, reaching back for his seatbelt.

‘Art.'

She watches his grip on the steering wheel tighten. ‘Are you, um, working on anything yet?'

‘Well, I have to start on ideas for my major work.'

‘Okay.' He clears his throat and slowly says, ‘And 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.

‘Well,' she swallows. ‘I'm still desperate to do a composition of portraits. You know I've always wanted to do that for my major work. And I … I still think I can.'

Silence.

‘Alex has offered to be my subject.'

‘Really?'

‘There's just one proviso.'

‘What's that?'

‘That I don't include any zits on her face.'

‘But that's texture.' He laughs a bit too loud. He can't hide his relief.

‘Dad! Alex'd die if she heard you say that.'

‘Then don't tell her.'

‘As if.'

‘What's Al doing for her major work?'

‘Photography.' They say it at the same time.

‘Jinx,' laughs Evie. ‘Dad, 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 –'

‘Darling, it'll be great seeing you draw again.'

‘I'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.

‘So, what's the big press conference about?'

‘Bob Garling, the Commissioner of Police, is making an announcement.'

‘I bet that'll be earth shattering.'

‘They're increasing the number of uniformed police on public transport.'

‘Bit late for that.'

‘Well, yes and no.' He toots at the car in front. ‘Come on! The police have to be seen to be doing something.'

‘Do you think it would have stopped that girl from being raped?'

‘Who knows?'

As Evie gets out of the car, her dad leans over and squeezes her arm. ‘You're our most precious possession you know? We just – worry, if you …'

‘I'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.

‘That's such a cool cardi, Evie.'

‘Yes, you can borrow it.'

‘I don't think red's my colour,' Alex says, her face turned upwards, her mousey hair squashed under the creases of her neck. ‘I think powder blue with beads is more me. Don't you?'

‘What are you after?'

‘Can I wear it to Taylor's party next weekend? Please, please?'

‘Are you going to Taylor's party?'

‘Well, I'm thinking of it.'

Evie lets go of Alex's chin and starts sketching some lines.

‘How about you?'

‘No.' Evie doesn't look up.

‘You're not even going to think about it?'

‘No.'

‘Come on! It's been ages since you –'

‘No,' Evie looks at Alex. ‘Okay?'

‘Okay.'

‘But you can borrow my blue beaded cardi. It looks much better on you.'

‘Thanks. Sorry if I was –'

‘Forget it, Al.'

As Mr Powell makes his way to their desk, Evie feels her throat tighten.

‘How's it going, girls?' he asks, looking straight at her.

‘I think I'll start practising a front view.'

Slowly he nods. ‘Okay.' He has said nothing about Evie resuming her portrait study. ‘There's interesting light and tone from Alex's cheekbones. I'd work with charcoal first.'

Mr Powell takes a step, stops and turns back. ‘I want you to write out your ideas for the series, Evie. This time, I want to know exactly what you're doing. Comprendo?'

‘Yes, sir.'

As he walks away Evie leans over to Alex, pretending she hasn't felt the weight of his words. ‘Do you think his jeans could be tighter?'

‘Well, 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.

‘Is there a problem?' He directs the question to Evie.

‘No, sir.' Evie's skin burns.

‘Good,' he nods, his eyes fixed on her face. ‘I'm sure you'd agree you've wasted enough time this year?'

He walks away.

‘Bastard,' Alex whispers.

‘Hmm?'

 

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.

‘Dickhead,' she mutters. ‘Dickhead, dickhead.'

Evie senses Powell's dislike of her. After ‘the episode' – that's what the school counsellor called it – Powell told her mother he thought she was an attention seeker. But Evie knows the truth. He's in trouble – 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 ‘the 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 ‘the pin' she sees the girl for the first time.

‘Stop, Mummy,' she screams.

Her mother slams on the brakes and Evie jerks forwards in her seatbelt.

‘Look, Mummy, look, Mummy. That girl. She's got blood on her. She's hurt herself.'

‘Where? Where?' Her mother is opening the car door.

‘There. 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.

‘Hi, Evie.'

She hears the familiar voice. That's the other thing about ‘the 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.

BOOK: The Red Cardigan
4.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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