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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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The phone's off the hook because some reporter from Brisbane got our number and Titch answered when she called. Mum ripped out the cord and she was still shaking half an hour later. Kept saying, ‘Vultures,' over and over. A news van came up to the top of the driveway one afternoon, a satellite dish poking out conspicuously from its roof. I was up in my room and I saw it creep up, stay for a moment, then drive away. Dad sleeps most of the day, goes out to the shed late in the afternoon and stays there until late at night to listen to the cricket. Angus is out most of the time. Probably up in the mountains or out at the observatory, who knows.

In the mornings I collect the paper and take it up to my room. Dad's name is in there now, going from ‘a local man' to ‘council worker Robert Underhill'. They're still not calling him a suspect, because they can't, but it's clear the town's already made up its mind. Yesterday morning there was more graffiti, and again Mum and I scrubbed it off. The front of the house is slowly turning pink. Dad's not had to go back to the police station, but I know he's been suspended from work.
Investigation Pending
,
Court Dates, Legal Fees
. These are the snatches of conversation I hear. I spend nights awake, thinking about Dad sitting in the back of an ambulance with a ring of cops around him, thinking about the pig's head and its creamy white eyes, thinking about Buggs and Sasha driving past our house every night with empty spray cans on the back seat.

It's the fourth, maybe fifth day after the accident and I can't take it any more. I can't focus on music or books or TV. I'm being driven crazy with my own thoughts.

I check my watch. I can still make it. Dad's still asleep, and Mum's taken a day's tutoring a few towns over so there's no one to ask questions as I stash a muesli bar in my pocket and head out to the shed, wrench up the door and drag out Angus's old bike. He hasn't used it in a year. It's covered with dust and cobwebs. I get the bike pump and miraculously the flat tyres don't have any punctures. The brakes seem to work. I spend a little while cleaning it up and soon it's good to go.

It feels so much better to be outside again. I don't know why I haven't thought of using Angus's bike before. I used to be so jealous of him on this bike with its gears and proper grips. I ride up onto the main road and coast down the hill slowly, enjoying the wind in my face. Swing left just before the servo and climb up the small rise. No problems. I stop for a moment at the top and let the wind buffet my face. Okay, I think. I'm going to do it.

All morning I've thought about Nature Club. I haven't missed one all year, and today was going to be the first time. I've gone back and forth thinking about it. Would everyone ignore me? Would George Parry tell me to go home? Would Nancy still want to hang out? Nancy. I feel bad about running out of the car when her and her mum gave me that lift. They were so nice to me, and I didn't even say thank you. There's no way they'll be nice to me now. They'll know about Dad. But I just can't spend another day indoors.

By the time I get to Landsdowne my lungs and legs are burning. Even with the seat all the way down, the pedals are slightly out of reach, and I miss the gears a couple of times. Still, no more
Lightning Lady
. I check my watch and I'm only just late. I'm used to throwing my bike on the ground but Angus's has a kickstand, so I leave the bike upright by the gate. It'll be just my luck if it gets stolen. Then again, it'd serve Angus right.

George Parry's office is empty. I hurry up to the water tank, hoping I haven't missed too much. There's no one at the tank but I can see shadows in the greenhouse. My heart starts pumping again as I push back the plastic tarp door.

Everyone's there, bent over a row of seedlings. My feet crunch on the gravel and suddenly everyone looks up. I focus on Nancy immediately, her surprised smile seeming to appear before the rest of her. George Parry, somehow, is so involved in whatever he's doing that he doesn't look up.

‘Hey Clancy,' Nancy says too fast. ‘We're measuring seed vigour, then we get to do random sampling in the bush. In quadrants.'

‘It's actually pronounced
quadrats
,' says Glenn, any personal prejudice against me overridden by his need to be the most pedantic person in the room.

‘You'll know some of this, Clancy,' says Mr P without looking up, ‘but I don't have time to start again.' His voice is flatter than usual, the tone he usually reserves for when DD knocks something over during an experiment.

I hurry over to the group and Nancy shuffles over to make room for me. ‘Thanks,' I say.

Mr P keeps working, hunched over a segmented wooden box filled with different seeds, telling us what he's doing, what we should be recording, but I'm too busy watching everyone else.

‘Now you can try it yourselves,' says George Parry. ‘If you go in pairs you can find a plot and start your measurements.'

Nancy grabs my hand and pulls me towards her. I smell perfume. ‘We'll go together,' she says. ‘Come on.' She leads me down the other end of the greenhouse, and when we're out of earshot of the others, turns to me, her eyes wide. ‘I'm so glad you came,' she says.

‘I had to take my brother's bike,' I say, then wonder why this is something she needs to know.

‘I had no idea about the…about your dad. I didn't know the
family stuff
was that. I'm really sorry.'

‘That's…fine.' She's apologising to me? This isn't right. I feel the urge to cry and laugh at the same time.

‘It must be horrible.'

‘I'm sorry I didn't thank you and your mum,' I say. ‘For the lift home.'

‘Oh, that's fine. Was everything okay? With the police?' She lowers her voice to a whisper.

‘Yeah, everything's…' Everything's what? Okay? Horrible? The same as ever? I push my finger into a seedling container, keep pushing until I can feel the bottom. ‘It'll be okay.' I try on a smile and my lips feel like they're cracking open.

‘Well, if you need to talk to anyone…'

I dig my finger around in the dirt, wishing I could follow it down to the centre of the earth and stay there. Why is it making me feel so sad that someone's being nice to me? I grit my teeth but the tears start to come out. My head's shivering as I'm trying to keep them in and then my whole body's shaking.

Nancy almost pushes me through the plastic flap and back out into the open air, moments before I break down, howling like a freak and I can't stop it because she's rubbing my back and somehow this just makes it worse.

19

When I look up, when I think it's safe to open my eyes again, Nancy's wearing sunglasses. We're sitting under a tree and my whole body feels emptied out.

‘Wow,' I say. ‘I'm so sorry you had to see that.'

She shakes her head. ‘It's good to let it out.'

I peer up through the branches of the tree and the sunlight scatters everywhere. I feel really, really lost. I've never cried like this in front of anyone, let alone someone I don't know. ‘Yeah,' I say. ‘I guess.'

‘We can stay here for as long as you need.'

I sit up and try to surreptitiously deal with all the horrendous fluids leaking from my face.

‘I'm glad you came today,' says Nancy. ‘I mean, it's fun, but Glenn keeps staring at me.'

‘It's so rare for him to see a girl he didn't download.'

Nancy laughs. ‘This is why it's better when you're here.' She leans back. ‘It's cool, though. Nature Club. I never had anything like this in Brisbane.'

‘It's
cool
?'

‘You've got no idea. I feel like some of the people at my old school had never seen a tree.'

I hold my eyes open like they need air as well. ‘Yeah, well I do like it. I guess that's sort of lame.'

‘Why?'

‘I just, you know, look around sometimes and think
Do I come here just to feel comfortable
?'

‘What do you mean?'

‘I make fun of Glenn and the rest of them, but at the same time I still think I'm not as happy as they are. I don't even fit in with the misfits.'

‘Why don't you think you fit in?' Nancy is holding a leaf. She's torn it up carefully so that only the central vein is left behind.

‘It doesn't matter. I'm just crapping on.'

‘No, it makes perfect…I get it, totally.' She spins the leaf spine between her fingers.

I go, ‘It's just my default setting, I guess. Feeling like I'm going in one direction while everyone else is going the other.'

Nancy doesn't say anything, just pushes the sunglasses up onto her head. There's a Chanel logo on the side, giant, so you won't miss it. Her blouse has lace swirling all through it in delicate, repeating patterns. It's amazingly nice and I know I'll never own anything like it. Everything about her is so shiny and perfect and what is she even doing here? She doesn't even realise she can do so much better. I notice I'm picking at the sole of my shoe where the glue has come off and whip my hand away like I've been burnt.

‘You okay?' Nancy's face has a look of soap opera concern.

‘Fine. Just allergies.' This, of course, makes no sense. I squint my eyes up at the greenhouse, hoping that Mr P will come out and tell us to get back to the experiment. There's no movement from the door.

Nancy clears her throat. ‘Do you, um, do you not have many friends here?'

‘What?'

‘In Barwen. It feels like, maybe, it's hard to make… real friends somewhere like this.' She shrugs, her shiny hair shaking and I think of Mum steepling her fingers at the dinner table, hoping to
have a chat, just us girls
.

‘What do you know about it?' I say.

‘I just…I don't know.'

Why am I even talking to her about this stuff? Someone I've only known for five minutes. Something in my stomach turns over. ‘You don't know anything about me,' I say. I hear the cop laughing at Dad, saying,
sure he knows the drill
.

‘No need to be defensive,' says Nancy. ‘I'm just trying to be nice.' Her face is all scrunched up like,
it's not my fault you're a crazy bitch
.

‘Yeah well thanks for trying to be my friend, but I'm just fine, actually.'

‘Which is why you're still crying. Clancy, I—'

I dig my nails into my palms. ‘Don't pretend like you know me. You come here thinking you're better than everyone just because you're this
amazing
person from the city.'

‘I never said that.'

‘You find this country freak you can buddy up to just so you get a good story for your friends.' There's kind of a warning signal going off in my head but also a louder angry drone that has built up for so long I can no longer deny it. ‘Everyone thinks I'm this fucked-up weirdo with no friends who can't talk to people or have
relationships
just because I don't want to dress up like a slut and give out handjobs every day.'

‘Clancy, I—'

I'm still talking, and it's all coming out. ‘I don't get my self-worth from getting attention and I don't go to parties because I don't get them and somehow it's my fault that I can't do all this stuff. Everyone's expected to like the same things and enjoy dancing and getting your eyelashes curled and being so fucking happy about it all.'

Nancy holds up her hands like someone in a reality show. ‘Forget it,' she says. ‘Sorry I took an interest.'

‘You
took an interest?
Sorry I wasn't a good enough hobby for you.'

‘Jesus. No need to be a bitch about it, just because you're going through some stuff.'

‘You don't know shit about what I'm going through. Fuck you and your fucking sunglasses.' I jump up and the sole on my stupid shoe bends back and nearly trips me over. ‘Fucking hell!' I kick the ground over and over and over until my big toe stings and I've started crying again.

I look back at the tree and Nancy's gone. A noisy miner breaks the air above me, shaking a branch as it takes off. My face burns. I can actually feel my pulse high up in my cheekbones and I hate the world just a little bit more, just that extra sour amount. Nancy will have gone back to the greenhouse and when someone asks
where's Clancy?
she'll just twirl her finger at the side of her head, like
bitch be crazy
and everyone will laugh and I'll never be able to come back to Nature Club ever again.

And part of me knows I've been the world's biggest idiot, getting angry at Nancy when she's done practically nothing wrong. But, really, what is everyone's obsession with knowing everything about me? Why can't people just mind their own bloody business?

I hobble off towards the front gate because I've probably broken my toe. This is good, I think. I'll just go home, go to my room, and never come out. I'll order pizzas and get them slid under the door. I'll read books and sleep and listen to music until I die of boredom and then the coroner can examine my body and talk into her little tape recorder and say
what a fucking freak. Glad I didn't have to know her
.

20

Every time I pedal harder I hear my breath huffing in my ears. I'm not going home. I need to be nowhere. I need to have no one around me. I need space. As I come back into town I skip the skate park, loop around behind it and follow the river until it disappears through the weir and back into the bush. I come up past the tennis courts and follow the road that leads to the hospital, turning off onto the highway at the last minute. Flying down the slope, wanting to lose control.

I hear the scream of a semi-trailer behind me and try to ignore it. Fuck this particular trucker. Then he blares his horn and I instinctively swerve onto the road's shoulder and the second after I feel a rush of wind as the truck passes, kicking up dust and diesel and the smell of livestock. I watch the back of the trailer and the cloud swirls back at me and I get a big lungful of dust and grit all in my eyes. I cane the footbrakes and my toe hammers out a big bolt of pain.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
5.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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