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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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I wonder if Mum knew about my bike already, but how could she?

‘Can you both sit down?'

‘Where's Titch?'

‘He's in bed. He…Can you kids sit down please?
Now
.' Mum's put on her forceful teacher's voice, pretending we're both in primary school, which I normally hate, but this time I just do what she says.

Angus sits down next to me and says, quietly, ‘What's going on?' and it's weird to hear him talking to Mum without his usual pissy tone.

‘Nothing,' she says. ‘Nothing.'

And of course neither of us believes her.

We sit there in silence for a while, which is nothing unusual for our family except normally we're saved by the blare of the TV. Mum keeps playing with her hands, checking her fingernails like they hold all the secrets of the universe.

‘We were driving home,' I say eventually. ‘Some of those dropkicks outside the Cri, some of them were shouting at us. I didn't hear what it was.'

‘Something about Dad,' Angus says.

Mum goes, ‘Right. I see.'

‘Those dickheads are always shouting though.'

‘Language!' Mum snaps.

‘Where's Dad?' I say. Something like dread shivers down my back. ‘Has something happened to him?'

There's a flicker in Mum's face, a rift in the mask of composure. ‘He's fine,' she says. ‘He's fine.'

Angus leans forward. ‘Where is he?'

‘Out in the shed. He's fine.'

I sigh. ‘Seriously, Mum. What the hell?'

I know something's really up when she doesn't pull me up for swearing. ‘Everything's fine,' she says, hoisting up her fake smile. ‘I'm sorry I snapped.'

I stare at her. The amount of time we all spend not talking to each other, it's insane.

I say, ‘You made me ride all the way out to get Angus just because of
nothing
. You get us into the house and get us to sit here like a bomb's about to go off, and you won't tell us why.'

‘I'm sorry,' she says. She goes to stand up. ‘I'd better get—'

‘I lost my bike,' I say. ‘Because of you, I lost my bike.'

Mum sighs. ‘I just don't have time tonight, Clancy.'

‘What?'

‘Not everything's about you,' she says. ‘You and that bike.' She shakes her head and stands up.

‘The hell with this,' says Angus. ‘Thanks for wasting my time.'

This is when Mum would usually explode. Instead, she just walks out of the room.

6

There are containers of frozen soup in the sink so I take one out and microwave it and eat it watching TV. Everyone's in a different room, as per usual. I can't really concentrate. I keep wanting to hear the shed door roll up, the back door swing back and slam and Dad's footsteps come clomping in. Eventually, I realise this isn't going to happen so I wash up my bowl and spoon and open the fridge and take a swig of milk straight from the container. I smack my lips, but there's no one around to hear it. Just me, the blare of a bad sitcom, the aftertaste of watered-down dinner.

I know tonight means another day petering out without resolution. Our family, basically, is like a bad sitcom. Reality resets.
Join us tomorrow for another madcap adventure of simmering tension and broken dreams! Only on
The Underhills
!
Sometimes I think the only thing holding us together is the fact we all share the same last name, as if we're just in it for the letterhead.

When Angus went off to uni it was a bit different. Mum thought it was maybe a fresh start, so she tried to make us eat together at the table each night, like a
real family
. It disintegrated pretty quickly, though. Dad's weird work hours meant he wasn't there half the time, and Titch's feral-pig eating style was nearly impossible to put up with. Which left just me and Mum; the worst possible scenario. She'd think it was Serious Bonding Time and start to use phrases like ‘just us girls' and ‘a really nice chat', an obvious lead-up to questions about sex or my period or drugs (no, yes, yes) like we were best friends.

There's no way in the known universe I will ever be friends with my mother. I know girls who have Mum Best Friends. I see them every Saturday morning at the shopping centre. Matching tans, matching hair, matching T-shirts that spell out, in sequins, DRAMA QUEEN or ZERO TO BITCH IN 2.5 DRINKS. Skankle-Dee and Cankle-Dum.

Whenever we'd eat together, Mum would always lean forward with her fingers steepled, like
I wish to broach a subject with you, Clancy
, as if we were in the United Nations (‘Now, Estonia, I know other countries your age smoke marijuana, and it's fine to experiment, but I want you to know the dangers…').

So we went back to kind of normal—dinner whenever, in front of the TV—but then Angus came back from uni and him and Dad went at it harder than ever, Dad thinking Angus had failed, Angus thinking Dad was being too hard on him. I feel for my brother, really, because I know he wants to do better, but at the same time he's such a shithead and makes such shithead decisions.

I lock the front door and go upstairs. I see light under Angus's door and stop outside it for a moment. I want to knock. I want to know what he thinks about what happened tonight. I want him, actually, to reassure me it'll all blow over and be fine by the morning. I stare at the old
X-Files
poster on his door, telling me The Truth is Out There, hanging above a picture of a nuclear preparation pamphlet he cut out of his Study of Society textbook. You can still see the Ninja Turtle puffy stickers around the doorknob, stuck so fast that Angus couldn't prise them off and had to paint over them.

The door suddenly swings open. ‘Whaddya doing?' Angus says. ‘Trying to listen in?'

‘No,' I say, sounding suddenly guilty of doing exactly that. ‘But you should probably put your tinfoil helmet on in case the government is recording this conversation.'

‘I never did that.'

‘I saw you wearing it.'

‘Piss off.'

I have a sudden thought. ‘Can you drop me at Landsdowne tomorrow morning?'

‘Nerd Club? Isn't that just weekends?'

‘School holidays, genius.'

‘Get Mum to do it.'

‘Don't think she'll be in the mood.'

‘No way. That old pedo'll try and talk to me.'

‘Just drop me off.'

‘It's fine for you. Mister P doesn't get hard for little girls.'

‘Get over yourself, Spangus.'

Mister P
was George Parry, a scientist who'd worked at the Research Station for as long as anyone could remember. He's run Nature Club forever, never been paid, put up with ungrateful turds like Angus for years. He
is
a weird guy, but really nice. Just because he doesn't have a girlfriend or a wife people have always said he was up to something sinister, but he's just devoted to his job. Passionate about passing on a love of nature. To be fair, though, he does look quite a lot like a pedo.

‘He always tries to get me to come back,' Angus says. ‘Like I'd want to hang out with a bunch of little wieners counting grass stalks.' He puts his hand over his mouth, pretending he's said the wrong thing. ‘No offence.'

‘Dickhead.' Nature Club is one of the few things in life I actually enjoy, and he knows it.

Angus reaches behind the door and lifts out his backpack.

‘Where are you going?'

‘Getting out of this nuthouse.'

‘For good?' My voice cracks. I have this thing where I sound like a Disney princess sometimes and I hate it.

‘I'm just going out.' He goes to push past me.

‘What do you reckon's up with Dad?' I say, blocking his way.

‘No idea,' he says. ‘Probably buggered up another job.'

‘I'm sure it's nothing, though. Right?'

Angus shoulders me out of the way. ‘Piss off, Pantsy.'

‘What about my bike?' I say, hanging onto him the way I used to when I was little. Making him drag me along. ‘Why do you think Buggs and that were yelling at us?'

‘The hell should I know?' Angus shakes free of my grip and tramps down the stairs, giving me the finger over his shoulder.

My mouth feels furry all of a sudden and I can taste the minestrone mixing with the milk in my stomach. There's no light under Mum and Dad's bedroom door and I hope this means Mum hasn't heard us. She's probably listening to the radio anyway, curled up on one side of the enormous bed that belonged to her mum. The bed she's so often told me will one day be passed down to me, and I tell her there's no way I'm going to sleep in a bed that two generations of my family have had sex on.

I go into my room and perform my patented kick-the-door-closed-and-face-plant-onto-my-do on a manoeuvre. It's how I end most days, and I stay there, nose pressed into the salmon-coloured acrylic, for as long as it takes to forget the day I've just had. Tonight, I stay there for probably twenty minutes. Before long my face starts to tingle from either too much or too little blood flow, but I stay there until I can make some sort of sense of what's happened in the past few hours.

Dad probably
did
bugger something up. He's on thin ice with the council as it is. After his back went they really wanted to fire him; instead they stuck him out in the middle of nowhere on roadwork crews. Traffic duties. In pain most of the time, probably. I heard him talking to Mum about it. Night crews were incompetent, he said. Got bugger all done, just stood around big machines drinking spiked coffee while he stood a couple of hundred metres up the road with a stop/slow sign to spin.

How the hell am I supposed to get to Nature Club tomorrow? No bike, no Angus, no Mum. I could drive, but Dad never lets me practise. I have to wait nearly half a year to even sit the learners test, which is ridiculous. Angus drove when he was sixteen, and there's pictures of Dad on
his
dad's property driving a tractor when he couldn't even see over the steering wheel. Plus, Dad used to be in a motorcycle gang—Angus got him to admit it one night after a couple of beers—so he doesn't have a leg to stand on. I'll just have to ask again tomorrow, or at least threaten to take the car keys until my demands are met.

God. Another day. Same as this one.

I finally push myself up off the bed when I can't actually feel my face, and get a headspin when I stand up. I stare at myself in the mirror and notice a purple tinge beneath my eyes. Lying on the bed has pushed my hair up on one side so it looks like I have an even more wonky oblong head. Just one of my many fun physical faults. I get my towel from the hook behind the door and drape it over the mirror so I can get into my pyjamas without having to accidentally catch a glimpse of myself in my underwear.

I climb into bed and I've just got comfy when I realise I haven't brushed my teeth, closed my door or turned out the light.

Every. Damn. Time.

7

The next morning‚ as predicted, Mum's pretending like nothing's wrong. She knocks on my door at some insane hour and says ‘Brekkie's up!' in her primary-teacher-happy-storytime voice. I know instantly what sort of morning we're in for. Mum's rubber band of stress has snapped and she's back to Happy Housewife.

‘Morning, sweetie.' My door opens and Mum's head pokes in. ‘Time to get up.'

As usual, my limbs have attempted to achieve cold fusion with my doona and I spend some moments working out which way is up.

‘It's getting late, Clancy. Even for the holidays. You want to enjoy the day, don't you?'

‘
Want
and
expect
are different things.'

‘Toast's about to pop. Got some of that jam you like.'

‘Mum.' I raise an arm as a surrender flag. ‘I will get up if you promise to take me to Nature Club.'

‘That today, is it?'

‘Yup.'

‘Well, I don't know. I do have some…things to take care of.'

I roll over in bed, finally freeing myself from the doona. ‘I won't even bring up my missing bike,' I say. ‘I won't ask anything about what happened yesterday.'

Mum looks at me intently, and I wonder if I've crossed a line.

‘Be ready to leave at nine-thirty,' she says. I've chosen my bargain wisely.

My body, trained to move nowhere except deeper into my bedding, refuses my brain's orders to get up. I lie there for a few more moments, feeling—I'm pretty sure—like a mountain climber psyching themselves for a final push to the summit. Something's nagging at me, though, beyond my usual tiredness. Thoughts of last night.

My hair's stuck down to my forehead and I realise I've had night sweats again, the first for ages. A deep uneasiness somewhere in my stomach. What
did
happen to Dad last night? Buggs and his mates might be rolled-gold douchebags, but even they must have had a reason to go after Angus and me so hard.

Eventually, somehow, I find myself seated comatose at the breakfast table. Titch is across from me, his face centimetres away from a slurry of neon cereal, hoovering it up with his open mouth. Angus leans against the kitchen counter holding a steaming mug. His new thing is herbal tea, basically thirty bucks' worth of twigs and dirt he ordered from a crackpot ‘health' website. He'd told me the tea was meant to ‘increase stamina', after which I wanted to know exactly zero per cent more.

Mum's rushing around like we're all running late, which we aren't. She puts a cup of coffee in front of me.

‘Where's Dad?' I say.

‘Sleeping.' She says it forcefully, the way she does where you can actually hear the full stop at the end. She folds her arms, like
the Mother's decision is final. No correspondence will be entered into
.

And I don't have the energy to challenge her.

Angus throws his mug in the sink and says, ‘I'm gorn.' I go, ‘Big day at the sperm bank?' Titch snorts and Angus hits me on the back of the head.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
10.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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