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Authors: Catherine Bateson

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Being Bee

BOOK: Being Bee
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CATHERINE BATESON
grew up in a second-hand bookshop in Brisbane – an ideal childhood for a writer. She has written two collections of poetry and three verse novels for young adults,
A Dangerous Girl,
its sequel,
The Year It All Happened
and
His Name in Fire.
Her first prose novel for young adults,
Painted Love Letters,
was published in 2002 and was CBCA Book of the Year, Honour Book: Older Readers.
Rain May and Captain Daniel,
a novel for younger readers was CBCA Children's Book of the Year and the winner of the Queensland Premier's Awards.
Millie and the Night Heron,
another book for younger readers, was also shortlisted for the CBCA Children's Book of the Year Awards.

Catherine lives in the Dandenongs, near Melbourne with her husband and their combined family of four children, two dogs, numerous tropical fish, but, alas, no guinea pigs.

Other books by Catherine Bateson
Poetry
The Vigilant Heart
For Young Adults
A Dangerous Girl
The Year It All Happened
Painted Love Letters
The Airdancer of Glass
His Name in Fire
For Younger Readers
Rain May and Captain Daniel
Millie and the Night Heron
For Belinda Jane Chisholm
Contents

Guinea pigs rule the world

Kissing and knitting

The guinea pig letters

Harley and To Be

Nuclear families

The Jazzi-free weekend

Moving in

The Toasterpede

The dinner

Harley's butterflies

Running away

Coco

Guinea pigs rule the world

I didn't mean to shove Lulu, my guinea pig, at Jazzi, my dad's girlfriend, which is what she told Dad. I meant to place Lulu carefully in her hands but her hands weren't exactly where I expected, so Lulu slipped on to the floor of the cubby where she and Fifi are kept. I thought Lulu might have broken her back so I wailed quite loudly. Jazzi said she thought the noise was a fire siren and she nearly stepped on Lulu who was skittering around the cubbyhouse looking for cover.

‘It was all quite sudden,' Jazzi told my dad with a pinched look on her face. Scrabbling around after Lulu had put a big hole in the knee of her shiny black tights
and then she'd kind of plonked down on some straw soaked in guinea-pig pee, which hadn't improved her temper. I picked most of the straw off the back of her skirt.

‘Oh, Bee!' Dad said, shaking his head.

‘I do think the cage needs cleaning out,' Jazzi said, ‘and it does seem to be a job that Beatrice would be able to do. When I was her age I was allowed to have a puppy but only as long as I could look after it all by myself. And that meant cleaning up her messes while I house-trained her. I walked her every day, washed and brushed her, bought her food out of my pocket money and fed her. Cleaning out a guinea-pig cage is nothing.'

‘What was your dog's name?'

‘Pepi,' Jazzi said, ‘she was such a sweet little thing. I loved her.'

‘What happened to her?' I asked.

‘Oh', Jazzi looked down at her mug of tea, ‘you know, she died. It was an accident.'

‘What happened?'

‘She was hit by a car.'

‘That's really sad.'

‘Oh, well, it was years ago now, Beatrice.'

‘Still,' I said, ‘it takes time to get over these things.'

‘Well, it was years and years ago. Gosh, darling, how old do you think I am? I was your age when I got Pepi.'

I looked at her. You can't tell how old grown ups
are. They're either old or very old or sometimes very, very old. Jazzi had dark hair, kind of wavy, and there was this cool red streak in it. But someone had chopped the fringe so it looked too short and not very straight. She had dark eyes with shadows underneath them. She had two little creases on either side of her mouth which was all purpley with lipstick so it looked as though she'd been eating plums. Her earings were big silvery hoops, the kind someone not
very
old would wear.

‘Old,' I said. ‘You know, not very very old like Nanna, and probably younger than Dad, but still pretty old.'

‘Thank you, Beatrice!'

Dad laughed and passed her the plate of biscuits. They were special cream-centred ones but Jazzi shook her head and passed it back to him, missing out on me entirely.

‘You have to get used to Bee,' Dad said, passing me the biscuits. ‘She's a bit ... direct.'

‘That's what is lovely about children, isn't it? Their honesty.' Jazzi smiled at me but the smile only pulled up her mouth.

‘That's one way of looking at it,' Dad said. ‘Some of us wish they'd learn some tact. Bee, I think Jazzi is quite right. It is about time you took care of your guinea pigs yourself. Why don't you go down and make a start at cleaning up their cage?'

‘Do I have to?'

‘Goodness, Bee. Yes, you do. I tell you what, if you clean out their cage really well, I'll give you a couple of dollars, okay?'

‘Well, who's a lucky girl?' Jazzi looked at me. ‘There's an offer you can't refuse!'

It was on the tip of my tongue to do just that. But I looked at Jazzi and Dad and saw they were holding hands, right near the biscuits, which probably meant they'd kiss each other soon and who wanted to be around for that?

‘Five dollars?' I said.

‘Two,' Dad said, giving me one of those looks that said
Don't push it, kiddo.

‘Four.' I narrowed my eyes the way baddies did in movies, right before they pulled out their guns.

‘Two dollars and fifty cents and that's my final offer. Otherwise you'll do it simply because they are your guinea pigs and I'm sick of cleaning up their mess.'

I knew when I was beaten.

‘You're a lovely dad,' Jazzi was saying as I went out the double doors to the backyard. ‘And it must be so hard, Nick, by yourself. I don't know how you do it.'

It was warm in the cubbyhouse. Fifi and Lulu squeaked when they heard me coming. They always did that. I took Fifi out. It was her turn.

When my mum was still alive, we had the
cubbyhouse set up as a real cubby, with a little table, two chairs and a shelf that held a teaset. I used to have tea parties there with my friends. I know, because there are photos that show us sitting at the table drinking tea from the tiny cups.

I stopped using the cubby after Mum died. My friends didn't come around as much. So when Dad gave in and bought me Lulu and Fifi, we decided that the cubbyhouse was the best place for their hutch, because of foxes and the cold. I knew they'd feel safer in the cubbyhouse, the way I feel safe in my bed in my own room. They'd look up at night, and there, beyond their little wire roof, would be the big roof and even a little window so they could see the stars. Dad and I took the table and chairs down to the op-shop. We put the guinea-pig food on the shelf and when I got a book on keeping guinea pigs, I kept that there too.

It took ages to clean up the guinea-pig mess. I put all the dirty straw and shredded paper in the compost bin and even swept underneath the hutch itself. When I'd finished, the whole afternoon had practically gone.

But when I went back inside, Jazzi was still there, fussing around in the kitchen.

‘Ah ha, the guinea-pig trainer returns!' Dad said. ‘Guess what, love. Jazzi's making us scones for afternoon tea. What do you think of that?'

‘Good.' Honestly, Dad made it sound as though
Jazzi was doing something absolutely marvellous. Nanna made scones for us lots of times and Dad just grunted or muttered about his cholesterol.

But Jazzi's scones weren't the jam-and-cream cholesterol kind. They were weird.

‘Savoury scones,' she said, dumping a plate in the centre of the table, ‘and they haven't quite risen the way I imagined. I'm not familiar with your oven, Nick.'

‘Delicious,' Dad said, immediately stuffing one into his mouth. ‘Such a treat, Jazzi!'

They were kind of disgusting, actually. There was something hot in them that burned my mouth and you just had butter on them, no jam or anything. Weird. I said that out loud. I didn't mean to be rude. I was just telling the truth.

‘You need to develop your palate,' Jazzi said.

‘Too many Macca burgers,' Dad said glaring at me, ‘that's the trouble. Sugar in everything these days.'

‘You eat Maccas!' I said.

Dad and I sometimes had Maccas breakfasts, when he'd slept in.

‘The convenience factor.' Dad made a strange face at me before turning to Jazzi and changing it into a droopy kind of smile. ‘We're so rushed sometimes.'

‘Of course, I understand,' Jazzi said and covered his hand with hers. ‘You just don't have time for all that. I love cooking. Always have. Even living by myself, I take
the trouble. Food is a celebration for the senses.'

I rolled my eyes. Jazzi's scones weren't a celebration for anything but the compost bin as far as I was concerned, but Dad gamely ate three of them. Three!

‘Now, darling,' Dad said when Jazzi excused herself to use the bathroom, ‘Jazzi might stay for dinner. That would be okay with you, wouldn't it?'

‘Who's cooking?'

‘She's offered to. I'm going to drive up to the supermarket and she's going to do us all a lovely stir-fry. You will try to be polite about that, won't you?'

‘I wasn't being rude, Dad, I was just being honest. I like ordinary scones the way Nanna makes them.'

‘Okay, okay, that's enough. Don't worry about being honest, Bee. Just be polite.'

‘But you always say...'

‘Shh, she's coming back.'

Jazzi came into the kitchen smiling brightly. ‘Everything okay, Nick?'

After dinner, Dad asked Jazzi if she wanted to go for an evening stroll. Dad and I often go into Sherbrook Forest. Sometimes you see lyrebirds and wallabies there. It's my favourite place in the whole world.

‘Oh, let's do that! I'll get my shoes on.'

‘Bee,' Dad said, ‘I wasn't really asking you. I'm sorry, sweetheart, but I was asking Jazzi.'

‘What? We always go together.'

I couldn't believe he'd just leave me behind like that. It's what my best friends Sally and Lucy do when they're sick of being a threesome.

‘Oh,' Jazzi said, ‘she must come, Nick. We can't just leave her at home by herself.'

So in the end I went too, but Dad and Jazzi talked too much and we didn't see even one lyrebird and only heard a wallaby as it thumped away from their voices.

‘This is one of the reasons I moved here,' Jazzi said. ‘On my afternoons off I often come up here to relax.'

‘It is beautiful,' Dad said and he moved closer to her as though he wanted to kiss her.

‘Look,' I said, ‘there's a big spider on that fern.'

They kissed later anyway and I had to pretend to be very interested in some little birds I couldn't even see properly.

They were still kissing when I came out of my room really late that night, to get a drink of water. The stirfry had been hot and made me thirsty.

‘Sorry,' I said, ducking my head and scooting around them.

‘That's okay, Beatrice, it's your house. Don't apologise.' Jazzi's voice sounded gentler and when I looked up at her quickly she even looked different, as though kissing Dad had softened her face.

She didn't stay like that. In the morning, when I went into Dad's room to get him to open the juice, she
shrieked as though I was armed and dangerous.

‘Nick, doesn't she knock?' she said, pulling the sheets up to her chin.

‘Bee!' Dad sounded angry. ‘You can't just barge in. You have to learn some manners.'

‘And can you turn the TV down a little bit,' Jazzi added. ‘It's up pretty loud for a Sunday morning.'

‘Actually, turn it off, Bee. You watch far too much of it.'

I didn't even know Jazzi was still there. It wasn't fair. They could have warned me, even if they'd left a note on the fridge: ‘Jazzi is sleeping over.'

I went outside and her car was there, all dusty and rusty and falling apart. It was one of those cars people write ‘Please clean me' on the back window. I hunched down beside it. It looked as if this car would be at our place a lot. I didn't like her. I didn't like the way she called me Beatrice.

‘It's such a lovely old-fashioned name,' she said, smiling down at me the day we first met. ‘I think I will have to call you Beatrice. Someone should.'

I didn't know then that she would end up kissing my dad in the kitchen, or staying the night in our house. If I had known, I'd have insisted she called me Bee, like everyone else.

I knew this wouldn't have happened if my mum had still been alive, and I scratched around in the dirt for a
while, feeling nearly sad enough to cry, but not quite. I was too angry.

They'd made me miss my all-time favourite TV show and they didn't care. They weren't even watching TV. They were just in bed, probably talking soppy stuff together. I scratched some of the dust off the bumper bar of Jazzi's car. Then I scratched a really small
Bee Rox
right down on the bumper bar where no one would see it. It looked cool. I did a bigger one and then drew an arrow to a smiley with pigtails. Then I drew a heart with
J Loves N
in it and an arrow through it. Finally I wrote
Guinea Pigs Rule the World!
right across the back window. I just got carried away.

Dad said later that it wasn't that he thought I'd committed a crime, it was just that he wanted to help Jazzi by washing her car for her and he didn't see why I shouldn't help, as I'd been the one to draw attention to the dust in the first place. But it was her car, so why did I have to help?

‘Because you are going to be pleasant and helpful, Bee, and not chase Jazzi away. I like Jazzi. I want her to be a permanent fixture in our lives and I don't want any bratty, selfish behaviour from you spoiling things. You're going to think of someone else first for once in your life. Do you understand me?'

I understood the words, all right. What I didn't understand was what I'd done. I wished that I'd
scratched ‘Guinea Pigs Rule the World' right across her car doors with something really sharp instead of just drawn it in the dust with an old blunt stick.

BOOK: Being Bee
10.87Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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