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Authors: Georgia Blain

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BOOK: Darkwater
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Fact: Amanda Clarke was the most popular girl in her year.

Was she? It seemed as soon as I wrote a fact, I was uncertain whether it was solid enough to warrant that classification.

‘Who do you like best?' I always used to ask Joe, and pissed off with me for irritating him (I would hover in his doorway, refusing to leave until he told me), he would never admit what I knew to be the truth. He was in love with Amanda. They all were.

Her thick dark hair hung to her shoulderblades. Her skin was always tanned. Her uniform was shorter than any of the other girls', revealing long slender legs, an anklet of thin leather just above her left foot. At her throat she wore puka shells, white against the dark of her neck. Her family had money and she always bought the latest fashion; there was never a whiff of last year to her clothes. Her voice was husky. That was the real turn-on, and Sonia and I would practise, smoking cigarettes in the cave at the bottom of the waterfront steps, in the hope that we, too, would speak like Amanda.

And she had sex. Or so everyone said.

‘Do you reckon she really does?' Sonia would ask me, and I knew she fancied herself as the up-and-coming Amanda, so this matter of putting out worried her.

‘Joe says she does,' I lied. Joe told me very little.

Amanda lived two streets away from us. I had known her for as long as I could remember, but I had never really known her. She was a year older, someone Joe hung with, although probably when we were little that age distinction wouldn't have mattered as much. Her younger brother, Daniel, was in my year, but we were never friends. In primary school he was the only one in our class who didn't vote for her as school captain. She asked all of us, in a neatly written card that she gave out to everyone in year five and six. Inside was a short message followed by a long list of her attributes, virtues that were reiterated in the speech she gave a week later. She stood poised and perfect on the stage and didn't even need to talk. She was always going to win by a landslide.

In high school she only grew in stature. The pool was bigger now and the admirers increased in numbers, boys in her own year and those in the years above. They hovered around her, like insects, a low buzz wherever she went. It seemed everyone knew of Amanda.

Her father was a tax lawyer who drove a dark blue Mercedes, while her mother stayed at home, doing the shopping at the greengrocer's at the end of the street, or having her hair done at Francois Salon next door. I would see her, in her white slacks and brightly coloured wraparound top, opening the boot of the Volvo so that the bags of food could be loaded into the back, or ducking out of the salon to buy a pack of cigarettes, returning to smoke them under the hair dryer while she flipped through a magazine. According to Joe, she spent the rest of her days lying by the pool in her bikini or, when it was cold, on the long purple couch in the lounge room, reading paperbacks.

It sounded like a good life to me.

‘I think you might get a little bored,' my mother, Dee, told me when I mentioned that I wouldn't mind being just like Roxie Clarke when I grew up.

‘I don't reckon,' I said.

Dee, who also used to spend her days at home, started university a year ago. She was studying politics, and she spent most evenings at the kitchen table, head in a book, rarely glancing up as we attempted to do what she used to do: make dinner. When she wasn't studying, she was campaigning to save Greenwood Bush, waterfront scrub further down the peninsula. I didn't see the point. I went there with her once and it seemed like ugly bush to me, dense, impenetrable land that served no purpose, and there was a lot of that in our suburb.

‘It's pristine,' she told me. ‘If the developers took it, it would be gone. And this beautiful place, which is right on the water, would only be accessible by the people who owned it. You could never come here.'

‘I never come here anyway,' I answered, swiping at a fly that kept settling on my face.

‘Well, what if it was the waterfront at the end of our street? You do go there.'

My father, Tom, has a large building company. In fact, you could probably call him a developer. But as he had no plans for Greenwood Bush, he had, to date, said little about Dee's campaign.

He and my mother were never really friends with Amanda's parents, although he once asked Amanda's father Max for some tax advice, and Max and Roxie came around for dinner. It must have been about six months earlier. Dee was pissed off. She had an essay to finish and although she could trust Joe and me to cook dinner for ourselves, she didn't like to inflict our dishes on anyone else. In the hour before they arrived, she made apricot chicken, emptying tins of fruit in the baking tray with an angry shake of each can. Even Tom, who usually complimented everything my mother did (he loved her, he would say, shrugging his shoulders in mock helplessness) had to admit it was a failure. But he told her not to worry.

‘They'll be too polite to say anything.'

Roxie was over-dressed. She weaved her way on heels that were too high, stumbling on the step that leads down to our sunken lounge. She reached for Max to steady herself and he made no move to help her.

‘What a simply divine place,' she told Dee, waving her hand in the air.

Dee said it was all Tom. ‘Frankly I find this lounge stupid. I don't see the point in having to step down when the level we were on was perfectly fine.'

Roxie laughed, throwing her head back so that her thin shoulder strap slipped slightly, almost revealing her breasts.

Dee insisted that Joe and I join them, although both of us wanted to escape out the back and watch television. ‘Joe's in Amanda's year,' she told Roxie, who looked at him vaguely, her bracelets jangling as she reached up for the Scotch that Tom was offering her.

‘Does she ever mention him?' I asked, wanting to see Joe squirm, and Roxie glanced across at me, her eyes failing to focus as she said that she hadn't realised I was in the same year as her daughter.

Dee just sighed. ‘Put some music on, will you,' she whispered in my ear. ‘Something loud enough to drown them out.'

And we were excused.

I woke later that night, as I often did when my parents had dinner parties, to the sound of Spanish music coming from downstairs. The guests would have gone. Tom would be leaning back against the leather cushions, drink in one hand, while Dee demonstrated the latest dance she had learnt in her class, the staccato rhythm of her heels against the slate floor, her hands clapping with the music.

In the morning, Dee was hung-over. She sat at the kitchen bench drinking black coffee and rubbing at her temples. When Tom told her she had only herself to blame, she snapped. ‘What was I meant to do? There was no point in trying to communicate with either of them sober.'

‘Max wasn't that bad,' Tom said.

‘He was an arsehole. I don't think he said a word to Roxie all night. He treated her like she didn't exist.'

‘They were probably just having a bad day,' Tom tried. ‘You know what it's like.'

‘They split up last year,' Joe mentioned. ‘He moved out to live with his secretary. Or at least that's what I've heard. But he came back after Roxie swallowed a bottle of pills.'

Dee told him not to leave his plate in the sink, but to rinse it and put it on the side. ‘And you shouldn't gossip about other people's lives. You don't know what's true and what's not.'

Fact: The police wanted to talk to five people in Amanda's year: her best friend, Kate; her old boyfriend, Stevie; Cherry Atkinson, Lyndon Hayes and my brother Joe.

That was a fact. Well it was as close to a fact as you could get. Of course we all heard it at school first; the rumours began as soon as the recess bell jangled out in the heat of the morning. Names were flying back and forth, but these five were the ones that everyone kept repeating as they drank at the bubblers or ate under the thin strip of shade from the awnings over the demountable classrooms.

With our uniforms hitched up as high as we could, Sonia, Cassie and I sat with our legs stretched out in front of us, trying to tan ourselves from the thighs down. Shading our eyes with our hands, we looked out across the oval towards the river, while Sonia relayed what her sister, Sal, had told her in the few brief moments they had talked after the bell went.

‘They were all called out of class first thing,' she said. ‘Apparently Lyndon was the only one who refused. He wanted a lawyer with him.' She opened her dark brown eyes wide with this last bit of news.

‘And what about Joe?' I asked.

It was Cassie who reassured me. ‘He'll be fine,' she said. ‘Of course they're going to interview those guys. I mean, they all go down to the waterfront together.'

She was right.

‘If anyone did anything–' and her eyes widened now – ‘I mean, it would have to be Lyndon.'

‘It's pretty strange that he wants a lawyer,' Sonia agreed. ‘Sal reckons he wouldn't budge when the police came to the classroom and called them out.'

I stood up, tossing the crumbs from my biscuits across the lawn in front of us. I thought I could see Nicky Blackwell in the distance, but as he usually hung near the teachers' car park, I wasn't sure. Shading my eyes against the sharpness of the sun, I watched until I was certain it was him.

‘Dare you.' Cassie was grinning, and I knew what the dare was. I had to go over and talk to him. I had promised them both I would do it next time I saw him alone, and in making the promise I had felt safe, knowing he was rarely by himself.

‘Not today.' I looked at both of them in the hope they would let me off.

They shook their heads.

It was not that I didn't want to speak to him. I did. More than anything. But on that day the news of Amanda and my worry about Joe were making me edgy, and it didn't feel right to be thinking of Nicky and myself.

I headed towards him, hoping he would be gone by the time I crossed the oval. Sonia and Cassie were watching me, waiting for me to fail at the test, and I stuck a finger up at them as I walked, feigning a confidence I didn't have. He paused, aware now that I was heading in his direction with the apparent purpose of talking to him, and uncertain as to who I was. As he smiled just slightly, there was a foolish instant where I thought I might fall, collapsing down onto the dry earth, the bindies burning into my hands, arms and legs while above me the sky swirled and swooped in a great racing arc of clear bright blue.

But of course, I didn't. I looked at him, waiting for me to speak and I gave him a smile. As he cocked his head to one side, confused, I said I thought I'd seen something, there in the river, and I pointed to the low metal railing that separated school from water.

‘It looked like a shark.' I kept my eyes wide in mock alarm, and he crossed his arms and smiled wryly.

‘And you were coming to warn me? In case I decided to take a swim?'

‘Nah.' I kept my expression serious. ‘Just thought you might want to take a look. In the name of science.'

He grinned. ‘Aren't you Joe's sister?'

‘So?' I replied, momentarily surprised that he knew, because although he was in the same year as my brother, they weren't friends.

‘I reckon I once played in the sandpit at your house.' He was looking me up and down, his grin widening. ‘With you.'

‘Never owned a sandpit.' I shook my head decisively.

‘Isn't he one of the kids being interviewed by the cops?'

I stared straight back at him. ‘They're interviewing all her friends.'

‘I heard that.' He flicked at a fly, and then looked at me again. ‘What's your name?'

The bell rang, announcing the end of recess and a return to the classrooms where we would sit for hours under a slow ticking fan.

I was surprised at how quickly the break had come to an end. ‘Do you know if they're out yet?'

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘I'd guess so. The cops spoke to them first thing.'

As the second bell jangled harsh, I raised a hand in farewell and ran back across the oval, the excitement of actually having had a conversation dampened by my desire to find out if Joe was okay. I had meant to do it earlier and now that there was no time, I wished I hadn't allowed myself to be distracted.

‘I'll see you in a sec,' I told Cassie and Sonia, cutting off their attempts at questions.

I headed to where some of the seniors were clustered under the shade of a few large gums.

‘He's gone home,' Sal told me. ‘They all have.'

I didn't understand.

She was walking away, and I followed her, knowing it was only a matter of moments before their teacher put her hand on my shoulder and told me to head to my room.

‘Are they expelled?'

Sal looked surprised. ‘I don't think so. What makes you ask?'

I wished I'd never spoken. I could see it now. She was so eager and squeaky clean, and she'd lean down the classroom row to her friends, all with neat ponytails, pressed uniforms and shoes and socks rather than the standard (although officially unallowed) JC sandals. ‘Did you hear they've been expelled?' she would say, and then the words would fly, spreading like an oil slick across the burning asphalt, shimmering in the heat.

I ran towards my own class, just making it to the door before Miss Ingleton, who took me for English, closed it.

‘I need to go home,' I told her, and she looked at me, concerned. I leant a little closer, aware of everyone listening. ‘Please,' I said. ‘I'm worried about my brother.'

‘He's okay,' she told me. ‘He just took Kate back to your house because her parents were at work.'

I liked Miss Ingleton. You could trust her to speak to you as though you were a human being.

‘He's not in trouble?'

She stepped with me just outside the door, telling the class to get on with their work. The last line of shade had gone now and the cement burnt as I shifted my weight from foot to foot. Out on the river, a white sabot tacked its way slowly down towards the end of the peninsula, barely moving in the stillness of the day. I wondered why anyone would want to go out sailing in this kind of heat.

BOOK: Darkwater
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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