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Authors: Bernard Beckett

No Alarms

BOOK: No Alarms
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Things I hate

 

I hate feeling stupid…

I hate everyone who thinks they’re better than me…

I hate posers…

I hate people who give in.

Sixteen-year-old Sharon’s had enough. School sucks and even in her repeat year, she just doesn’t get it. Her mother Kaz behaves more like a teenager than a mum, and Sharon gets left too often with her young brother Zinny. She wants out.

Along comes Justin who offers a way. His hand’s on the door to a glittery new world where the risks are high. But it’s a world that could pay for her wildest dreams. A dangerous world that could put an end to everything.

No Alarms
will speak to a whole generation of disillusioned teenagers – and reveal something to those who are not. A fast-paced, provocative story where Sharon has to find her own way through.

no alarms

Bernard Beckett

‘FOR CHRIST’S SAKE SHARON, it’s the third time I’ve called you.’ The voice came muffled through Sharon’s duvet. Third time? Bet it wasn’t. She slowly worked her way up to sitting and checked her watch. Eight-thirty. No chance of making spell one then. Only Geography. No point rushing, just to be late.

‘I’ll come up there and haul your sorry arse out in a moment.’ Her mother’s voice rose to a whine. A hard sound. Anything God, Sharon would bargain, just don’t let me turn out like my mother.

‘Can’t you hear me you lazy little bitch?’ Louder this time, the extra effort bringing a round of coughing; big throaty hacks, forcing the morning phlegm to the surface.

‘You shouldn’t smoke so much,’ Sharon shouted back.

‘Cheeky bitch,’ and another round of coughing. Sharon rolled over and searched her bag for her own supply, a pack of twenty, that was meant to last all week. One left. She lit it and waited for the hit. At least I know what’s killing me, she would say. Hate surprises. It wasn’t true but it shut them up, till they found something else that wasn’t quite right. Teachers, other people’s parents, friends who would turn into one or the other. There was a type.

Sharon looked across the room to where her reflection floated above the clutter of her dresser top. An empty cigarette packet,
deodorant that had run out, an empty perfume bottle from a younger Christmas, when it had seemed like a good idea to smell like someone else. Didn’t last. An empty jar, for coins, from the time when she’d decided never to spend change, as an easy way of saving. Didn’t last either. Ideas were easy.

She ran her fingers through dark heavy curls, trying to make them come alive. Her hair was always the last to wake in the morning. It wouldn’t be hurried.

‘I’ve eaten your breakfast,’ her mother called up. ‘Serves you right.’

‘Not hungry.’

‘Answer for everything haven’t you?’

‘Not what my teachers say.’

Sharon watched herself as she spoke. She wasn’t much to look at, just sitting there, never came out that well in photos, but it was different when she was talking. When she talked her mouth had a better shape and her upturned nose came alive, looking cute, not puggish. And her eyes, they did most of it, made you look at them, even when you tried not to. It was no wonder she couldn’t shut up at school, when talking made her look this good. She waited for something else from her mother, so she could watch again.

‘Hurry up. I need you to go to the shop for some milk.’

‘Thought you’d already been out.’ Sharon smiled and her reflection smiled back, like it was in on the joke.

‘Forgot it.’

‘Your problem then.’

Wednesday. A funny, not quite coming not quite going day. Free last though. Sharon swapped the long t-shirt she slept in for the crumpled uniform on the floor. In winter they got to
wear trousers but this was March, a time of badly fitting grey checked skirts. Another good reason not to trust people who said it was all for her own good.

‘How can being ugly be for my own good?’ Sharon asked out loud, trying just to watch her mouth.

‘What was that?’ from the kitchen.

‘Just talking to myself.’

‘Figures.’

Sharon walked to the mirror and rubbed at a small stain of something on her blouse, but the smudge only got bigger. Wednesdays.

‘You look like shit,’ her mother observed from her spot behind the kitchen table. Mum. Kaz. Blunt as ever.

‘Genetics,’ Sharon responded. ‘Nothing left?’ She checked the brown McDonald’s bag.

‘Got you a couple of hash browns.’

‘Where are they?’

‘Zinny took them outside. Probably given them to Lennox.’ The neighbour’s Alsatian.

‘Have one of these?’ Sharon took a cigarette from the pack on the table.

‘Get your own.’

‘Finished ’em.’

‘You should get a job.’

‘Look who’s talking. How come you’re up so early anyway?’ Somehow, despite having made it to McDonald’s and back, three blocks each way, Kaz was still in her nightgown, a black satin thing that made her look like a slut. Deliberate, probably. Her face was thinner than Sharon’s, the skin darker and holding creases around the eyes. Good eyes though, no doubting that.

‘Zinny woke.’

‘Children eh? Should have used a condom.’

‘Yeah, you laugh while you can, clever arse.’

‘Hey Zinny!’ His happy little face burst in through the front door. Fast enough, happy enough, to maybe one day escape this place. Only three though. Plenty of time. He ran headlong at Sharon and she scooped him up in her arms.

‘Couldn’t sleep in today eh matey?’

‘Lennox ate your breakfast,’ Zinny explained, showing her the empty bag.

‘Oh yes, and how did he get that?’

‘He stole it,’ Zinny answered, shaking his head.

‘I bet.’

‘I was bringing it to you.’

‘Yeah yeah, whatever.’ Sharon put him back down on the ground.

‘Shouldn’t you be going?’ Kaz reminded.

‘Free first.’

‘Again?’

‘We’re working a revolving timetable.’

‘You’re working a revolving reality girl. Go on, piss off, before I get another phone call from that stuck up what’s-her-name.’

‘Mrs Flynn,’ Sharon told her. ‘She’s Deputy Principal.’

‘Pain in the arse is what she is,’ Kaz said, and lit another cigarette.

‘I’ll tell her you said hi. Bye Zinny.’ She bent down and planted a slobbery kiss on his cheek. Then she leant over the table and kissed her mother’s forehead, swiping a second cigarette while she was there.

‘Later guys.’

‘You in for dinner?’ As she walked down the hallway.

‘Maybe.’

‘Better be. You’re cooking. Don’t you need your bag?’

‘Nah, not on Wednesdays.’

• • •

It must have rained in the night. The streets were still wet but there wasn’t a cloud left in the sky, like it was some trick nature played on people who got up late. Sharon walked back the same way her mother must have gone that morning. The houses quickly gave way to the first of the Fast Food joints, signalling the beginning of the city. Only not a real city. Just suburbs, with the gorse covered hills twisting each side of the valley like badly drawn margins. Out here the poor parts always had the odd nice house, like they couldn’t even get that right. Half-arsed is what it was. A woman who could have been Kaz hurried past, a child in one arm, McDonald’s breakfast in the other. Worth the walk on a Wednesday.

Sharon cut across the tracks to a park where she used to play when she was little. Not much of a park, just half a section, too small and steep to build on, with a battered slide and a swing with wonky foundations and a shelter that had been tagged so often you couldn’t read it any more. She sat down beneath the tree, where the ground was dry, and started on the first of her mother’s cigarettes. No point rushing. Spell two didn’t start till ten. Before that was just form time, where they checked up on absences. Wag form time too and most of the time they didn’t bother coming after you. A window of opportunity, put there
on purpose probably, so people like Sharon could stay enrolled, the way the law required.

She noticed him halfway through the second cigarette, standing in the gap in the iron fence, where she’d have to walk. Just standing. Not looking at her exactly but not looking away. Sharon stared, trying to make him stare back, but he didn’t look. He was wearing a big dark coat, the sort it was way too hot for, and his hair was cut short. Big guy, but stooped, like he was trying to look smaller. No one she recognised. Nothing special. People hung round here all the time. Only as soon as she looked away she felt him staring, then when she tried to catch him out all she saw was the movement of his head turning away. Most days, maybe any other day, Sharon wouldn’t have minded. She would have walked straight past him, elbowed him aside if she had to, maybe asked him what the fuck he was looking at.

There were houses round, people who’d look out if you screamed, who’d come running if they thought there was the chance of a fight. Sometimes though you get feelings, like there are signs up there, written too faint to be read, but there anyway, and you take them as warnings, because they might be. Sharon flicked the rest of her cigarette onto the wet grass and headed back the way she had come. As she was crossing back over the track she looked back but the man had gone.

• • •

Spell two was Maths, just as confusing second time round. Sharon had been going to drop it, do Tourism instead, but people talked her out of it. Maths opens doors, they said. She sat near the back, trying to make sense of the notes on the board,
wondering what would be behind doors like that. Not good things.

‘Alright,’ Mr Jenkins tried, looking round like he was hoping work might just happen, without him having to do too much. ‘As you can see from the notes this is pretty much the same thing as yesterday.’

Should have gone yesterday probably, or not gone today. It was never any good, trying to catch up halfway through.

‘Hey Lisa,’ Sharon whispered. ‘Got yesterday’s notes?’

‘Weren’t any,’ Lisa replied. Lisa was a first year but she sat down the back with the repeats, like she wasn’t proud she was bright.

‘Is there a problem there Sharon?’ Mr Jenkins asked. Typical, that he should zero in on her straight off.

‘Nah.’ He hesitated a moment, deciding whether it was worth making anything of. He decided not to and looked away. Good man.

‘So, there’s a couple of pages in the book, starting at 183. A bit repetitive I’m afraid but worth it. Once you’ve got this bit it’s with you for life.’

Like a disease. Sharon looked back at the blur of numbers and letters on the board. Maybe I’m just immune, she thought.

‘Come on Sharon, book out.’

‘Sorry, forgot it.’

‘Oh, never mind. Here, have this one then.’

Answer for everything haven’t you?

‘I haven’t got any paper either.’ His moustache twitched at that. His hands went to his hips and the beginning of a frown appeared.

‘You know, if you’re serious about passing, and I really think
you should be, then…’

‘Here, borrow some of mine,’ Lisa interrupted. No one needed another one of his lectures.

‘Thanks.’ Sharon waited for Mr Jenkins to walk away then opened the book. She spent the next ten minutes just copying out the questions, pretending to be working through them like everybody else.

‘Hey Sharon.’ It was Madeleine, sitting two desks across. Madeleine hated her, no doubt about it, same as she hated Madeleine. Sharon couldn’t remember why. It didn’t matter anyhow. Every day there were new reasons. Like now. She’d be trying to be funny for sure, impress one of the guys up the back, who she was always flirting with. Except most of the time they’d be half asleep and would miss the show. ‘What did you get for number seven?’

‘Fuck up pog.’ Not too loud but loud enough for Mr Jenkins to come sniffing, looking like he felt obliged.

‘How are you going there Sharon?’ Picking on her again.

‘Alright.’

‘Let’s see then.’

‘Here.’ Sharon moved her hand off the top two lines of her book.

‘That’s just the example off the board.’

‘They’re all the same mister,’ Sharon said. Why couldn’t he just go away? Easier for both of them.

‘Well let’s see one more.’

‘I think Mark wants you.’ Mark, a clever boy who always sat nearest the door. His chubby hand stuck up in the air but he wouldn’t yell out. Never did.

‘What is it Mark?’ Mr Jenkins asked, not moving.

‘Finished.’ Typical.

‘Next page is homework. You can start that now if you like, or work on your investigation. Okay Sharon, first one here. Do that for me.’

Why did he have to say it so loud? Now everyone was listening in. And she couldn’t do it, that was the thing. They’d all be listening and they’d think she was thick.

‘Well it’s just like this one isn’t it?’

‘Right. So?’ He wasn’t leaving.

‘Come on Sir.’ Sharon lowered her voice, hoping he might get it. ‘I can’t do it. You show me one.’

She was being reasonable. She knew she was. It was his job to explain. Still she could tell it wasn’t going to work out, and she wouldn’t be able to back out either, not without looking small. It was so stupid.

‘Come on Sharon, what’s X?’

‘A letter?’

‘And in this case it equals?’

‘Dunno.’

‘Of course you do.’ He thought she was being a smart arse but she wasn’t, not yet. She looked at the paper but couldn’t see a thing, just numbers and letters, randomly set across the page. It wasn’t fair, the way her brain did this whenever the pressure went on.

‘Seven?’ She guessed.

‘That’s right, and Y is eight. So to get Z, it’s just seven squared plus eight squared, square root the answer. Easy enough?’

Sharon nodded, not understanding.

‘I don’t have a calculator.’

‘Borrow one, or just leave them in this form. Later, for the
shorter length, you subtract instead of add. Any questions?’

‘Nah.’ He knew she didn’t get it. At least he’d tried though. So had she. Best to leave it there.

‘I’ll be back later to check.’ Stupid.

‘Just mine?’

‘It’s not a punishment. I just want to make sure you’re on the right track.’

‘Why do you always pick on me?’ Sharon challenged. ‘Last year Ms Lamont left me alone.’

‘Yes, and here you are again.’ He couldn’t resist that one. They never could.

‘It wasn’t her fault.’

‘I know that.’

‘I did better with her.’ Another hand went up, somewhere across the room, and Mr Jenkins took his excuse.

Sharon looked at the work again. Hard, if she’d had a calculator, impossible without. She’d almost bought one, at the beginning of the year. She stood up loudly, pushing down on the chair so it scraped against the bare floor, and walked over to Mark. He was a soft touch, ever since she’d caught him that time up the river, going for it. Now all she had to do was look at him and he blushed.

‘Here, give us the answers,’ she demanded.

‘What for?’

‘So I can check them for you. What do you think?’ She snatched at his book but he was still holding the other side and the page ripped.

BOOK: No Alarms
8.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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