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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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Just like every night!
I want to say, right before a raucous studio audience whoops and hollers and I stand there with my hands on my hips: the end of another successful episode of
Sassy Smart Girl Who Actually Is a Big Hit in the Romance Department, Despite What You May Think
. But instead I just shrug at him like
so what?
because it doesn't really matter. He was never going to see anything in that camera anyway.

‘I've gotta get something really quick,' he says. ‘Stay here, can you?' Before I can answer he bounds off into the bush, leaving me alone in the clearing.

Sasha comes out of the hideout. ‘Your brother's pretty intense,' she says.

‘That's one word for it.'

‘I was just talking to him and he got really angry or something all of a sudden.'

‘He
is
a psycho.'

‘I just asked him a question and gets all uptight and leaves.'

Fantastic. I knew Angus couldn't remain normal the entire time.

‘That…cubbyhouse thing,' says Sasha. ‘He actually stays there?'

‘Yeah. It's super weird.'

She's rubbing her arms again. ‘It's so claustrophobic. I couldn't stand it. I'm cold, are you cold?' She reaches out to touch my arm. ‘It's cold, right?' She rubs my arm slightly and I'm suddenly so far from being cold. My brain's going:
do something!
Throwing words at me like
alone
and
forest
and
cold
and
body
and
heat
.

‘It's nice though,' I say. ‘Sometimes, being just…here.' What the hell did
that
mean? ‘We should, um. Sometime…'
We should build a cabin and lie in front of an open fire and never leave
.

‘Yeah,' she says. ‘The air's nice. Like…newer than in town.'

‘I know what you mean.' I look at the goosebumps on her arms, white skin against her black T-shirt.

‘I'd like to spend time here,' she says. ‘Not, like,
here
, but somewhere out of town. Get away from it all or something, you know?'

My heart tears me up, punching my ribs like a cartoon boxer. ‘We should…hang out or something,' I say. ‘Some time.' And then I actually flinch, like she's going to attack me.

‘Yeah, cool,' she says.

My brain is so set up for rejection, my body so honed to receive disappointment, that I'm already formulating a lame apologetic response to Sasha saying no. It takes me a moment before I go, ‘What?'

‘I said that'd be cool.'

‘Really?'

‘Really. We could hang next week. Get a feed or whatever.'

‘Oh, sure, yeah. That sounds good.' I'm trying so hard to act like this isn't the single greatest piece of news I've ever received.

‘Get some Macca's maybe.' Sasha's talking so matter-of-factly. ‘I'll give you a call or whatever.'

‘It's a date,' I say, and somehow my voice isn't Disney princess and it doesn't sound desperate. This is the best thing in the history of the world and my heart blooms and not even the sight of Angus returning with a garbage bag in one hand and tent pegs in the other can dampen my spirits. I'd juggle a hundred pig's heads right now.
It's a date
, I think.
It's a date.

33

Someone's hammering on my door and I jolt awake, my heart already pounding by the time I've sat up in bed.

‘Get up!' says Mum. ‘Time to get up!'

‘Okay!' I look at the clock and it's already ten. ‘Okay.'

I hear her pounding on Angus's door and then Titch's, and she's shouting, ‘Is no one in this family awake?' For real, though, she spends half her life lying in bed ignoring us and then razzes us when we sleep in during school holidays.

I get up and run a brush through my hair and—like every morning—my hair refuses the offer. I strike a pose in front of the mirror, which I still haven't re-covered. I mouth
get the Barwen look
, pouting my lips into two botoxed creatures. I push my boobs together but there's no miraculous emergence of cleavage. Still a treefrog in singlet and boxers.

Sasha saw something in me, though. This is the thought that kept me in a good mood all of yesterday. I helped Angus set up his video camera again without complaint, listened to Titch tell me about the new skating film he wanted to buy, made dinner while Mum and Dad were God knows where. None of it mattered, because I had a date. I keep telling myself not to get too excited, to keep cool. It's not a
date
date, and anyway, why should I care what it is? She's hanging out with me, which I still can't believe.

My work pants are by the door so I throw them on and slip into a comfy jumper and pad down the stairs. Titch is just ahead of me, swaying on his feet, still sleep-drunk, and I pretend to fall on him from behind, grabbing his shoulders so he squeals. We get downstairs and Mum and Dad and Angus are already there, sitting around the dining table, which has been cleared of its usual layer of junkmail. In fact, the whole kitchen is cleaner. Mum's put out coasters and placemats and there's a pot of tea and plunger coffee and a fresh thing of orange juice as well as a heap of toast.

All I can say is, ‘Whoa.'

‘Sit down,' says Mum. She's got her fake smile on, but her voice is lighter than usual, like she's really trying.

Dad's wearing a new polo shirt, still with shop creases. ‘Hi kids,' he says.

I glance at Angus, who just shrugs at me.

I take a seat. We haven't had a breakfast like this in ages, not since Titch's birthday. Usually, everyone just races to eat a bowl of cereal before the milk runs out.

‘Coffee,' I say, grabbing a mug. ‘The old java. Pappa Joe's Roast. Cuppa char.'

‘Just a sec,' says Mum, putting her hand on mine. ‘I need to just say something before we start.' She straightens her fork, which already seems straight enough. ‘You all know it hasn't been easy this past week, with all that's happened.' She reaches over and squeezes Dad's hand. ‘But there's certain things we need to face, to work out together.'

Dad goes, ‘I know we haven't all been…the closest recently, but we're still a family. I feel like we've been drifting away from each other lately, and I don't want that to keep happening. There are some things you have to do alone, and some things are better when everyone's together.' He gestures at the table like
you can all start now
.

All us kids put toast on our plates without saying anything. It feels like Mum and Dad are about to tell us they're getting a divorce or one of them's only got a month to live and they're going to say it's not our fault and that they still love us and we'll always have memories to cherish and they're dulling the hurt and years of future therapy with some fried morning food. Nobody even says anything when Titch pours himself a coffee.

‘I was involved in an accident recently,' Dad says. ‘I tried to deal with it myself. I thought
why would I trouble my family with this?
This just made me sad and it made me angry with myself.' He looks at me. ‘I've realised recently how important it is to be there for one other.'

Mum dabs at her eye with a tissue, part of the inexhaustible supply that lives in her sleeve, ready to be pulled out like a magician's scarf.

Dad laces his fingers in front of him. I picture him in a courtroom, in the witness stand.

‘I was—for God's sake, have some food before it gets cold—I was out on traffic duty. A Wednesday night. Well, a Thursday morning, really. Out on the highway. They're upgrading the lanes, a long stretch, so only one was open.'

He looks over at Titch, who for once seems to be listening.

‘It's my responsibility to direct traffic flow coming from town, to tell it when to stop and when to go. It's nearly two in the morning and there's been no cars for an hour. My back's nearly locked up from standing so long.

‘I'm…I'm looking up at the sky cause they've moved all the equipment down the road, around the bend, so there's no lights around and the stars…' Dad looks down at his plate. ‘I wasn't paying attention. This car comes screaming out of nowhere, it's on me in an instant. But still, I think it's going to slow down. I wave the signal sign at them, like
hey, what are you doing
? but they don't see it or maybe my sign's around the wrong way. I don't know. I don't remember. And then the car's past me and I hear this…
bang
!' Dad slaps his hands together, making us all jump. ‘The worst sound. Out there in the middle of nothing and it's like all the thunderclaps you've ever heard, saved up just for this.'

Dad takes Mum's hand again. ‘These two kids. Just older than Clance. Just children. The boy, Charlie, he's had his licence for three days. He runs the car straight into the back of a grader. That's a big truck, Titch. Like a really big truck.'

Titch nods. Four slices of toast lie untouched on his plate.

‘I tried to help them,' Dad says. ‘They'd clipped the grader right on the corner and gone down the embankment. I run over and it's like I can't run fast enough. My back's seizing up as I'm running and then I'm climbing down the slope, trying to get to the drivers side door.'

Dad puts his hands over his face and lets out a big sigh. ‘I just want you all to know the story. I want you all to know I did everything I could.'

Angus, next to me, nods his head. ‘That's rough, Dad,' he says. ‘That's bloody rough.'

Dad goes, ‘So people have already said stuff about me. People who don't know anything about what happened have already made up their minds. Some have made their feelings more than clear. I don't want you to listen to any of that. It's bullshit.'

I think about the collection of pink-stained scourers I had to pile into the wheelie bin, the stench of paint thinner coming off them like a cloud.

‘I've talked to the police,' says Dad. ‘I've told them the truth about everything they've asked.' He rubs his head. ‘I will most likely have to go to court.'

‘Behind bars?' says Titch, his forehead creased with worry.

‘Not behind bars, little man. I just have to tell a judge what happened. I was a witness to the accident. So everyone can know what happened. It's important for my work to know, and the families of the kids. The Jenkes and the Lamaires.'

Jesus, I think. What if one of
us
had died?

‘Are you up on, you know, any charges?' says Angus.

Mum gives him a look, but he says, ‘What? I want to know.'

‘Well, your dad and I talked to a lawyer yesterday,' says Mum. ‘She said it will all depend on the families. It's been delayed because of the Jenckes'…beliefs.'

‘What beliefs?' says Angus.

Mum goes, ‘They're Christian Scientists.'

Normally, this would be where I roll my eyes. Scarfies, we call them, because all the women always tie their hair up with little scarfs. The same white blouses and long skirts. To be honest, though, I was always a bit envious of not having to pick out an outfit every day.

‘They have to do certain…examinations before all the details can be worked out,' Mum says. ‘So we're not really sure.'

The autopsy, I think. The Jenckes probably didn't want their son's body looked at by doctors. Was that the same religion?

‘Anyway,' Mum says brightly. ‘We've got Clancy's friends coming for lunch in a little bit, which will be really lovely.'

Angus gives me a look like
you have friends?
and I mentally credit him a middle finger.

‘But I've got to get my Shield Achievement,' says Titch, as if any of us has the first idea what this means.

‘We're getting through this as a family,' says Mum. ‘And that means doing things together. This lunch will be a lovely chance to meet some new people. That's why I—that's why your dad and I—wanted to get everyone together now. To have a chat.'

‘To make sure you were all bloody awake,' says Dad.

‘Who's coming?' says Angus.

‘Clancy's friend Nancy, her mother Carla and Reeve Lewis, Clancy's friend from work. Is Reeve bringing someone, Clancy?'

‘I, uh, don't know.' A tiny sense of dread tickles my stomach. I'd actually forgotten about the lunch. My brain has an annoying habit of removing useful information from its reserves and replacing it with, usually, quotes from
Futurama
. The lunch. Would Nancy and Reeve even get along?
Would
Reeve bring someone? Why hadn't I thought about all this?

Angus mimes a blowjob and I kick him under the table, hard; things returning—briefly—to normal.

‘Anyway,' goes Dad, ‘this food's getting cold.' He gives a sort of half-grin like
we've still gotta eat
, and we all agree.

34

I see Nancy's mum's car turn into our driveway at eleven-thirty, which seems a little early, but Mum doesn't seem worried.

‘That's the time we agreed on,' she says. ‘Carla and I.'

We've finished breakfast in usual Underhill formula-one-pitstop time and I'm helping Mum wash up. Angus and Titch have miraculously disappeared in the manner of immediate repulsion that oil and water share with boys and domestic responsibility. Through the kitchen window we both watch the car—which is so clean the sun flashes off it—roll towards us.

‘She's bringing an Italian casserole,' says Mum. ‘Can't remember the name of it, but she was making it when I talked to her this morning.'

‘You talked to her this morning?'

‘Yes. That okay?'

‘Why wouldn't it be?'

I dry my hands. I don't know why it bothers me that the two mums have talked before me and Nancy have.

Mum rushes out to the porch to meet them, but I hang back in the doorway. Nancy's mum has a big pot under each arm, lids encased in tinfoil. Nancy sees me and waves, a bunch of red bangles falling to her elbow.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
9.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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