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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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She gives me a weird look because my face must be scrunching up like it does when I let my train of thought run me over.

‘You okay?' she says. ‘You disappeared for a second there.'

‘Sorry, I was just thinking about something.' Full Disney princess voice. Bloody hell.

Nancy smiles again. ‘Nothing too serious, I hope.'

‘Just family shi— family stuff.' I've said the words before I realise they're out of my mouth. Why would I tell her this?

She throws the disc over her shoulder. ‘Family stuff's the worst. Take it from me.'

By this time we've reached the creek and George Parry's there with everyone else. A full nerd encampment. In my head, it's always
the nerds
, as if I'm not part of it, as if I'm not comfortable around them because they remind me so much of myself. Nancy will see this soon. She'll realise she's accidentally booked a one-way trip to the Geek Islands, and she'll want to fly straight home. I belong with people who make me feel slightly good about myself because they exist only as a collection of ridiculous details—science puns and double-denim and bowl cuts—and I can pretend I'm the cool kid.

I go over and stand next to Glenn, who tips his cap back, points to a tree and says, ‘Number one. The larch,' which I know is from Monty Python but today I ignore it. Nancy comes over and joins us, and George Parry starts talking about the day's experiment but I can't stop my brain now. My thoughts are tumbling around like socks in a washing machine. A little heart jump at the idea that Nancy would become
a friend
, soon cancelled out by what I know is reality, that when school starts up she'll immediately be adopted by the popular kids. Anyone from a town bigger than Barwen is pure gold to them, anything that suggests sophistication and glamour and all that Sex and the City bullshit they'll never have but eternally pretend they will.

‘That all make sense?' says George Parry.

Everyone nods, and Tom and Olive are already writing in their matching notebooks. I pretend to follow along, but I'm already hating today. Hating Nature Club, the one place in the world I thought was a purely hate-free zone.

10

I spend the rest of the day in my room, which isn't unusual in itself, but I can tell Dad's still home because I hear the shower going some time late in the afternoon. I assume he's on a late shift, but I don't hear his boots on the stairs or the sound of the car starting up. I hear Angus shouting at Titch downstairs, Titch screaming back, Mum trying to calm them down. It's super weird for all of us to be home at once, especially in the holidays. I try to block out my family—and my own swirling thoughts—by lying on the bed, under the doona, with music turned up loud on my headphones and holding a fantastically bad biography on Dolly Parton I got from the library way too close to my face so I can read it which is fine because there is no way I'm getting glasses on top of everything else. I'm listening to a playlist I've made called
Good/Hopeful Heartbreak
.

Some time around five pm, Angus bursts into my room.

‘Get out,' I say automatically. We have an agreement, my brother and I. Neither of us goes into the other's room,
ever
, and this way both of us avoid the inevitable destruction of our favourite possessions.

‘We gotta be downstairs.'

I pretend not to hear him. ‘I said
get out
.'

‘Seriously. You gotta be downstairs now.'

‘Fine where I am, thanks.'

Angus doesn't throw anything at me or punch my leg, which is usually his next move. He just goes, ‘Clancy. Seriously.'

This is when I know something's actually up. I take off my headphones. ‘What's going on?'

‘You just…you just gotta come downstairs.'

He walks out of my room and I throw on a jumper and slippers. Even before I get downstairs and walk into the lounge room, I know this has something to do with last night. I suppose I've been waiting for it.

Angus is on the big sofa and Mum's on one of the lounge chairs. Dad's in his recliner, slumped down. He's got bruises and cuts all down his legs. He looks up when I come into the room and…he's been crying. His eyes are all red and his hair's still wet from the shower. He doesn't say anything, just stares at a point somewhere over my shoulder. My heart starts going a million miles a minute. It's a scene so familiar—Dad, after work, crashed on the couch, wearing footy shorts and the threadbare singlet his old cricket team printed up for their end-of-season trip—but everything about it is wrong.

Angus says, ‘She's here, okay? So what's going on?'

‘Give me a second, mate,' says Dad, the first words I've heard him say for days.

‘Okay,' says Angus. ‘I'm just—I don't know—worried.' It's weird to hear him talking quietly.

‘Darl?' Mum looks over to Dad, who doesn't meet her eyes. I can see the baby-white of his scalp between the wet spikes of his hair.

‘Can you sit down, Clancy?'

‘Where's Titch?'

‘He's in his room. He…can you just sit down, please. Now.' She puts on her forceful teacher's voice. I sit down next to Angus on the sofa. ‘Your dad's been involved in an accident,' Mum says. ‘Yesterday. On the highway.'

‘Jesus,' is all I can say.

‘I'm fine,' says Dad in a monotone. His eyes are still fixed on the back of the room.

‘The car okay?' says Angus, and I punch him in the arm. ‘I mean, shit. As long as
you're
okay.' He tries to catch Dad's eye. ‘That dickhead Buggs was shouting something about you. When we were driving back last night.'

‘Angus!' Mum glares at my brother.

‘Shit,' says Dad. ‘Shit, shit, shit.' He puts his head in his hands.

Mum gets up and goes over to him. ‘It's okay, darl.' She rubs his back, going around in circles, and it's the only sound we can hear.

‘Anyone else hurt?' says Angus.

‘I don't want to talk about it,' Dad says. ‘Don't know why we're all here like it's a bloody courtroom.'

‘Bob,
please
.' Mum stares at him like she can make him look up, but he doesn't. ‘I want them to hear it from you, rather than from someone else who doesn't know what they're talking about.'

My pulse hammers my temples.

‘It's nothing,' Dad says. ‘It's fine.' But then he lifts his head. He looks so faded. ‘Actually, it's not fine. It really isn't.' His eyes suddenly look so dry that I close mine, rubbing them. He says, ‘I was in…involved in an accident. I'm fine. But two people died. Two…young people.' He scratches at his singlet and a moment later a patch of red appears, just below where his old nickname,
Tucka
, is printed. ‘I was working. Out on the highway. Traffic control. These two kids. Not kids, but…your age, teenagers. Driving.'

Now I'm just staring at him like,
holy shit.

Dad rubs his eyes and his uneven breath tells me he's about to cry. ‘They went past me. There was a grader. They didn't…' He starts to sniff violently. He notices the stain on his singlet. ‘Fucker won't stop bleeding.'

I remember the red smear I noticed on Dad's work shirt. I steal a glance at Angus, who looks just as confused as me.

‘I was on duty,' says Dad. ‘That time of night, there's only one car every half hour. We'd closed a lane. They just shot through. The grader's this huge bloody truck and of course you can't hear anything when you're driving it. These kids in the car, they clip it and go off the embankment. You can't…' He stands up. ‘I need a drink.'

Mum says, ‘I can put some dinner on.'

‘Not hungry,' Dad says. ‘I'm going out back.' He stands up, looking unsteady on his feet. His bowed, hairy legs.

‘Darl, can you just stay for—'

‘Nah, I gotta go.' He staggers out of the room and we hear the back door bang its familiar triple-rattle.

It feels like it isn't real, like it's a dream or I've fainted or something. My brain can't catch up.

‘What the hell?' goes Angus. ‘What happened? Why's he bleeding?'

Mum smooths down her pants. ‘The main thing is he's fine.'

‘So these kids in the car,' says Angus. ‘They didn't
run into
Dad. He let them through? They went straight into this grader?'

‘It's very sad, yes.' Mum keeps nodding her head.

‘So why's he look like he's been in a car crash? His legs all cut up and shit?' Angus's voice is back to usual, the tone that means he thinks he knows better than everyone else.

‘He tried to help them, Angus. The car went off the road. He tried to get them out of the car.'

We hear the grumble of the shed's rollerdoor from the backyard. The whack as it slams back down.

‘Which way was it facing?' I say.

Mum's mouth wavers. ‘Which way was
what
facing?'

‘His sign.'

Mum sighs, her lips making a
pah
sound before releasing the air. Her sound. She doesn't answer.

‘Was he telling the cars to stop or go?' I've got tears stinging my eyes.

‘I don't know, sweetie.'

‘Did he tell you which way?'

She shakes her head.

‘Jesus,' says Angus. ‘Jesus.'

11

I have dreams full of flying knives and wake up early all knotted into my bedding and the air smells like too-ripe fruit. I untangle myself from my sheets. There's something deeper to the smell, an unfamiliar chemical edge. I've left my window open a crack and I realise the smell's coming through it. I pull back the curtains and it's only just light, but already there's something not quite right with the front yard.

One of the sleepers that line the sides of the driveway is off-kilter and then I see the glint of something red right below the window and I shank a breath because it's my bike, its frame mangled up, the front wheel bent at a mad angle. It's been run over, clearly. More than once.

I throw on a jumper and run downstairs and when I open the door I realise quickly the chemical smell is fresh paint. All along our front wall, partially covering one window, someone's sprayed
MURDRER
.

My heart falters and I want to be sick. I bend down until the nausea passes and go down the front steps and over to my broken bike. It's covered with dew and there's big scratches in the paint.
Lighting Lady
is finally dead. Even though so many of my waking hours have been spent devising ways to destroy her, the reality isn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped.

Buggs, or his dipshit crew. My bike must've fallen off right in front of them when we went past the Cri the other night. I turn around and see someone's sprayed a skull and crossbones next to
MURDRER
. I get a weird thrill when my brain goes,
maybe Sasha did it
. She wouldn't have, though. She would've stayed in the car while Buggs and them tagged the house and dragged my bike up the yard. She would've just stared at her reflection in the adjusted rearview mirror. The idea that she's been so close to me, though, is exciting and horrible at the same time.

I step back and put my bare foot on the slimy clingfilm wrapped around our morning paper. I sit on the front step and unwrap it, carefully peeling back the sticky layers of plastic. The thin tabloid of the
Barwen Chronicle
unfurls and there, on the front page, are two giant words:
Highway Tragedy
. The accident would've happened after yesterday's paper went to print, but they've wasted no time making up for it. There's never any real news in the
Chronicle
, so when there is they go all out.

There are two pictures below the headline and it shocks me to recognise the unmistakable colouring of our school photos, that awful mottled grey background. We only had them taken a few weeks ago, before we broke up for summer. The driver was in year twelve and I only knew him by his face.
Charles Jencke
. Blond, good-looking. He was on the footy and swimming teams and he had an acne streak that ran down from his fringe to the top of his cheekbone.

I don't need to read the caption under the other photo. Everyone knew who she was. Everyone knew Cassandra Lamaire. Top of the class, top of the school. She was always in the paper. The front page for science camps and academic medals. The back page for athletics carnivals and trips to state championships for middle-distance running. Always
Olympic hopeful Cassandra Lamaire
. Barwen royalty in the way Buggs and his family could never be.

‘Shit,' I say under my breath. I skim the article for Dad's name but it isn't there. There's a quote from the mayor saying how two lives have been ‘cut short too soon'. A few lines from the police about road safety, about an ‘ongoing investigation'. I flick through the rest of the paper, but can't see any mention of Dad. Thank God. Buggs knew, though. His uncle was a cop, but even if he wasn't, gossip works so fast in Barwen that Buggs would've found out soon enough. It'll be all over town by the middle of the day.

‘You shouldn't keep the door open.'

I swing around and Titch is there in his awful Spongebob pyjamas that Mum can never convince him to throw out. ‘Get inside,' I say.

‘
You
get inside.'

‘Why don't we have some breakfast?' I get up fast to block his view but he peers past me.

‘Why's your bike all bashed up? Dad'll be steaming.' He grins.

‘Doesn't matter. Let's go inside.' I put my hands on his shoulders but he doesn't move. His body is solid pudge, honed to deadweight perfection by a life spent in pursuit of sugar.

‘Why's it smell weird?'

‘It doesn't smell weird. Get inside.'

He tries to step out and I block him again.

‘What's out there?'

‘Nothing.' We're in an official grapple now, and I know my stick-figure frame is no match for him so I pinch his arm and when he lets go of me I knock him over.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
8.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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