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Authors: Christopher Currie

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BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
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I nod. ‘Aged in a vending machine for six months. Really develops the complexity of flavour.'

Reeve takes off his cap and puts it in his lap. ‘Working today?'

‘Sort of. Well, no. I was. I'm about to go home.'

‘You all right?'

‘Yeah. Just this…thing. The accident.' I still don't know how to refer to it.

‘Oh yeah. Right. How's your dad?'

‘He's okay.'

‘It's crazy,' says Reeve. ‘I used to play footy with CJ. He was a good guy.'

‘CJ?'

‘Charlie Jencke. You probably didn't know him. He was a year below me. Good winger.'

Reeve left school in year ten, which often makes people assume he's stupid, or lazy or something. He isn't either as far as I can tell. He's a nice guy, and funny. One of the few people I'd consider a friend, even though he's two years older than me. ‘Everyone thinks Dad had something to do with it,' I say. ‘Cause he was out on the road.'

Reeve shrugs. ‘Who knows what's what? It's just sad. And Cassie, Cassandra Whatsername. She was like, a freak. With her sport and school stuff and whatever.'

‘It is sad,' I say. ‘But some people…well, so, I was supposed to be working today but Raylene McCarthy—you know, with the twins? She comes up and says no one wants to shop at the Beauty Station because of me.'

‘Really? That's insane.'

‘I know. Eloise was there so she calmed it down. I would've clocked her flaky face otherwise. I feel bad for Eloise. I don't want her to lose business.'

Reeve shakes his head. ‘Those McCarthy twins. I had to pull one out of one of the public toilets once. He just climbed in and got his foot stuck.'

‘Shoulda left him there.'

‘Too right.' Reeve looks at his watch. ‘You heading off now?'

‘Yeah.' I don't want to tell Reeve about my bike, or the graffiti. Not that I don't trust him, but I know Mum'd be mortified if the spray-paint thing got around town. ‘Might be off work for a couple of days.'

‘Oh, right.' There seems to be genuine disappointment in Reeve's voice. ‘Well if there's anything I can do…'

‘Thanks, man. I'll let you know.'

‘Oh, hey, before you go.' Reeve reaches into his jacket. ‘Quiet day at the print shop. Tran let me make these.'

He hands me a small card. It says
Clancy Underhill: Vice-Deputy Beauty Consultant
and is surrounded by a horrible border of stock-image illustrated clowns.

Reeve says, ‘Only the flimsiest paper, of course. Only the least legible font.'

I laugh. ‘Finally I can begin my climb up the corporate ladder.'

‘Check it out, though.' He hands me another one. The same font, but this time
Reeve Lewis: Senior Executive Retail Law Enforcement Officer, Esq.
He's got jet fighters flanking his name, and below it, his mobile number. ‘Pretty sweet, right?'

‘Have you actually been handing these out?'

‘Not yours. That's a limited edition. But I've given out a few of mine. Gotta grow my brand awareness.'

‘You idiot.'

I'm about to get up when I notice Buggs's Monaro driving towards us. My stomach twists. The car slows down, and I can't see if Sasha is in there because the windows are up and they're tinted polaroid blue. There's an empty car space up ahead and I pray that the car doesn't stop. It looks like it's gone past, but at the last minute it swings in. The engine growls before it shuts off. I stuff the business cards into my pants pocket. ‘Can you stay here for one sec?' I say to Reeve.

‘Sure,' he says. ‘What's up?'

I don't answer. Instead I watch Buggs stoop out from the driver's seat, taking off his cap, smoothing back his hair. He comes towards us, leaning backwards as he walks like he's moving against a headwind. ‘Nice day for it,' he says, winking at me. ‘Got up early, myself. Couldn't wait to greet the day.' His pushed-down nose makes him look like a scared whippet.

‘Hi
Barnaby
,' I say.

Buggs picks something from between his teeth. Rubs the back of the hand over his harelip scar. ‘
Clancy
,' he says slowly, drawing out the A. ‘Strange name for a chick. Clancy Underhill. Not a great name.'

‘Better than Barney Pfister, anyway,' I say quietly.

‘That's the thing about names,' says Buggs. ‘They gotta lot of meaning to them. Like
Underhill
. In this town, that name means
shit
.'

Reeve crosses his arms. ‘You got better things to do, Buggs?'

‘Not really, retard. You?'

Reeve just sits there, staring at Buggs.

Buggs laughs. ‘Yeah, should get going. Gotta lot of work on. Heading down to Bellie Park, smoke some cones.' He covers his mouth in mock-shock. ‘Ah no, you gonna arrest me for that?' He holds out his wrists. ‘Slap 'em on me.'

‘Piss off,' says Reeve.

‘Yeah, whatever. I'm not the one going to jail anyway. Hear the cops are on the trail of a murderer. Killed that kid and his missus night before last.' Buggs whistles. ‘Double murder. That's heavy.'

I can't say anything. Suddenly I see Dad in jail. Not in a cell, but out in the exercise yard. Orange jumpsuit and a scared look in his eyes. I can't get the image out of my head. My hands start shaking so I turn them into fists to make them stop.

Reeve stands up, drawing up his full bulk. He says, ‘Piss. Off.' It sound like he means it.

Buggs laughs. ‘Scary stuff.' He raises his hands like he's surrendering. ‘I'm gone. I'm gone. See ya in the papers.' He winks at me once more with his weird dog face. He gets back into his car, starts it up and reverses out of the spot with another growl of the engine.

Reeve sits back down next to me. ‘You okay?' he says.

‘Yeah. He's a douchebag.'

‘Massive. Don't listen to him, anyway. He's just winding you up.'

‘Yeah. Thanks for sticking around.'

‘Any time, Clance. You know that.' He checks his watch again. ‘Sure you're okay?'

‘Yeah. He's all talk.'

‘Okay. I gotta go. Time waits for no tan. A wise girl taught me that.'

‘You should listen to her,' I say. ‘Definitely.'

14

I'm still shaking as I walk up to the payphone outside the Cri. I know Buggs is just being a dick as usual, but I can't get the image of Dad in prison out of my head. The worst I'd thought up until now was that he might lose his job and we'd have to live off Mum's salary again like we did when Dad's council compo ran out last time. Mum had to keep going further and further out of town to get supply work, getting home after Titch had gone to bed. The first time I realised how close to being povo we really were. The first time I'd actually worried about it. For some reason, up until now the worst-case scenario hasn't yet entered my head: that Dad is actually guilty, that because he didn't do his job…because of him two kids are dead.

The Cri is officially closed at this time of the morning, but already the shutters are open and there are two grey-faced regulars death-gripping schooners.

The payphone is one of the last ones left in town, with a furry Yellow Pages hanging off the wall on a chain. I go to pick up the handset and it's then I realise I've spent the last of my money on the Big M and I stand there for a few moments listening to the dial tone as if it's going to tell me how to fix this. Mum won't be coming to pick me up for another four hours. Angus and I aren't allowed to get mobiles unless we pay for them ourselves, which makes times like this even worse. Angus won't get one because of some crackpot fear of radiation and government tracking, and all the money I earn goes towards saving for a car.

I lean forward and rest my head on the top of the payphone. It's probably covered with germs but at this stage I don't really care. I'll have to wait or walk home or ask someone for money and all I want is to be face down on my doona. Why isn't anything easy? I feel the tears coming on and they're bastards because the more I try to stop them the quicker they arrive.

‘Clancy?'

A familiar voice, and possibly the last person I want to speak to at this particular moment.

‘Clancy, are you okay?'

I keep my forehead pressed to the top of the phone, the dial tone transformed to a repeated bleep, urging me to make a decision.

‘Clancy?' A hand on my shoulder.

I lift my head up and there's Nancy. Behind her is someone I can only assume is her mum. They're both wearing dresses, proper dresses with properly nice modern patterns, the type you can't and never will be able to buy in Barwen.

‘Hello,' I say. ‘How are you both this morning?' For some reason, I've gone super formal, as if because they're both dressed nicely they'll want to speak like a Jane Austen character.

‘We're good,' says Nancy. ‘I just saw you in the phone booth here, and wanted to check…'

Wanted to check why I was leaning my head against something that has probably been vomited on twice in the last twelve hours? Bloody good question. I sniff and wipe my eyes with the edges of my thumbs, in the timehonoured tradition of people who have been caught crying and are trying to pretend they haven't been.

‘I was just trying to call Mum for a lift and then realised I didn't have any money.' I shrug, like
you know how it is
, even though I'm one hundred per cent sure Nancy doesn't know how this is. She has probably never used a payphone.

‘Oh, well do you need a lift somewhere?' Nancy has on sunglasses that reflect my face back at me.

‘Absolutely,' says Nancy's mum. ‘It's Clancy, isn't it. I'm Carla, Nancy's mum.'

‘Yes,' I say. ‘I mean, yes, that's my name. Not yes that's
your
name…' My brain's like
just stop talking
. ‘It's nice to meet you.'

‘We're just on our way home ourselves,' Carla says.

‘It's fine,' I say. ‘Thanks, though.'

‘Nonsense,' says Carla. ‘It's no trouble.'

I don't even know where Nancy lives, but it's probably straight out of an architectural magazine. Heated floors, cooled walls, whatever it is rich people have to make their lives easier. There is no way they're going to see
my
house. ‘I'll probably just walk,' I say, as another fat tear sneaks up on me. I wipe it away and my hand comes back smeared black. Bloody makeup.

‘Oh, sweetie,' says Carla, in the type of caring voice that makes me want to instantly hug her. ‘Let us give you a lift. Looks like you're having a tough day.' She smiles at me, and her face is just so damn
nice
.

Nancy takes my hand and I feel myself toppling over softly, like that moment a burning candle becomes more melted than solid.

‘These are times I break out the emergency chocolate,' says Carla, and I laugh, even though this is the height of fridge-magnet humour.

We walk to their car, and Nancy's got her arm around me, basically holding me up. She makes us fall back from her mum a bit, and she whispers to me, ‘Is everything okay?' and I nod in reflex but she goes, ‘Actually really?'

I go, ‘Just a headache that won't go away.'

‘Oh, right,' she says.

I sniff back a bunch of cry-snot, making a disgusting noise that would probably embarrass even Titch. ‘Sorry.'

‘Don't worry about it,' says Nancy, and immediately I imagine her filing away this interaction as a hilarious anecdote to report to her city friends, posting it to her Facebook group
Weird Things This Psycho Country Bitch Does
. There is no way my snot sounds are going viral. Maybe they already knew about Dad. Maybe they're just looking for fresh gossip. Would they know already, though?

‘You read the local paper?' I say, trying to make my voice lose its waver.

‘Not really,' she says. ‘It any good?'

Suddenly I'm ridiculously relieved. ‘Hell no,' I say. ‘Everyone loves it but there's never anything in it. It's all ads and crap. And there's this puzzle page? The crossword's called the
Chronicle Chrossword
, you know, with a ‘C H' on both words, and it's so easy but people think it's super hard. My grandpa used to do it every day and he always said he was
brain training
, but they always have the same clues which is bullshit, and anyway his liver rotted away so his brain was the least of his worries.' I do a fake laugh, realising too late I'm doing nothing to dissuade Nancy I am not an emotionally challenged bogan. ‘Anyway,' I say, ‘don't read it.'

‘Duly noted,' she says.

We get to the car and it's a brand new rental, with paper covers still on the floormats.

‘The school hired it for me,' says Carla. ‘I'm paranoid I'm going to back it into a tree or scratch it on something. Silly, I know.'

I smile, but I'm thinking about a car speeding past Dad on a midnight backroad, his reflective vest fluttering in the whipped-up wind.

‘You're up on the hill?' Carla says. I nod, wondering if I should just direct her to a completely different house in the neighbourhood. But, for some probably psychologically telling reason, I don't want to lie to her. I tell her the address.

The car is so quiet as we drive. I love the way the outside is sealed off. In Mum's car—or worse, Angus's ute—the world is always blaring in as hissing wind or the rumble of tyres on the road. This car is a futuristic capsule. I stare out the window and say as little as I can until we come to the street that runs off mine.

My tears have disappeared by the time we turn down the top of my driveway, and I'm feeling calm enough to think that maybe the day could improve. This is when I see the police car. Parked neatly in the driveway, clean white and blue, painfully obvious against the faded colours of our yard. There's the image of Dad in his orange prison jumpsuit, his hands gripping grimy iron bars.

BOOK: Clancy of the Undertow
5.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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