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Authors: Michael Costello

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BOOK: Season of Hate
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"Whippy taken one, two, three, safe," I declared. It was a lesson learnt. From then on we'd feed them
before
we even entered the pen. Eventually the chooks were ready and waiting for us and egg gathering would soon become second nature – the hens our pets.

 

 

"Stand still or I'll nail yer bleedin' feet to the floor," Nan threatened as we wriggled about while she tried to hold us in turn with one hand while dragging a wet comb through our hair with the other. We were that eager, we were up and dressed for our first day at our new school even before breakfast. "Never seen anyone as keen to get some schoolin' as you two," she added. Dad was already at the table fully dressed in his suit and tie for the surgery as we took our seats in our old school uniforms, complete with freshly polished shoes. Nan had declared the uniforms would have to do until she could get into town later that week to buy new ones in the school's colours.

"Well boys, excited?" Dad asked. We nodded enthusiastically. Not about the schooling, though I liked it better than Doug, but because all our holiday mates were there.

Nan waved goodbye from the top of the front steps as we strode on either side of Dad up Main Street, with our brown leather satchels on our backs.

Next door, Miss Bridget, one of the Walshe sisters, was cutting back a lantana bush that was strangling her roses. Her younger sister Miss Kitty had rarely been seen only talked about, or heard playing the piano when her sister was out working. They were both spinsters in their sixties. Barry had told us that his dad told him that no one ever saw Miss Kitty, especially of a day, because she was a vampire. She only came out at night to suck the blood of cats, after sticking her long fangs in their necks. That's why cats slept all day.

"'Cause they're too weak to do anything else," Barry maintained. And the ones that disappeared altogether, Miss Kitty sold to the new Chinese restaurant, "but only after she's sucked 'em dry of every last drop of blood and skinned 'em alive," he concluded.

"Good morning Miss Bridget," Dad greeted, tipping his hat. We hid behind his back, our heads peering out from either side.

"Mornin', Harry. Off to your new school, boys?" We froze, supposing she was a vampire as well. After all, she was Miss Kitty's sister.

"What, cat got your tongue?" she cooed, leaning over her fence to get a better look. We both recoiled, handfuls of Dad's pants twisting in our fingers. Dad slapped our hands to loosen our grip.

"No, just bad mannered is all. I apologise for their behaviour. What's gotten into you two today?" Dad asked. We had no words to explain. A smile came over Miss Bridget's face.

"They look so cute with those satchels on their backs, I could just eat them all up," she gushed. Doug and I shielded our faces completely behind Dad's back, fearful she might follow through with her menu selection.

"Say hello to Miss Kitty for us," Dad concluded, before giving us one of his disappointed looks, as we continued up the street.

"Bye boys," she called out as she waved, with a pair of sharp secateurs in her hand. I swallowed and exchanged a knowing glance with Doug, who was just as afraid. Barry was right, I thought.

Other neighbours were going to their gates and saying goodbye to their children before letting them walk to school. We felt like babies accompanied by Dad, when all the other kids our age and younger were allowed to go to school by themselves. Mrs Figgins was saying goodbye to Barry as we passed. Doug and I ran up to him and slapped him on the back. He was shorter than us with black spiky hair and large full lips that looked like someone had hit him in the mouth with a hot frypan. He'd lost a front tooth since we saw him last. We were all so pleased to be together again.

While Mrs Figgins told Dad how thrilled she was at having a doctor in the town again, in breathless whispers we filled Barry in on our brush with death at the hands of Miss Bridget. Then the three of us raced through questions and answers, catching up on everything we'd done since we saw each other last Christmas holidays.

Once Dad finished passing the time of day with Barry's mum, we bombarded him with relentless arguments as to why we couldn't walk to school together, just the three of us boys, as Barry's mum lets him walk to school alone, and Barry could show us around and after all, it was just up the road, and he could get to his practice earlier. He finally gave in to our whining pleas by the time he'd shown us across the Casuarina Street crossing. We were already on our way as he called out.

"And watch yourselves crossing the tracks. Look
both
ways. And come home together, all of you, straight after school. Alright?" Doug and I waved back as Dad turned toward home to get the car and drive to the surgery. It was only a ten minute walk from home, but Dad needed the car in case he had a home visit or got an urgent call-out.

We went past Poppie's motor shop on the opposite side of the road, now owned by the Girotti family from Sydney, but originally from Calabria. They were at the start of a younger wave of residents moving into our town and its surrounds. Usually immigrants, but also some city folk, or people from other nearby smaller towns who could see the post war growth potential.

Chapter Three

Inside the school gates, we stood out with our navy shorts and blue shirts against their grey uniforms. The children gathered around us like thirsty dogs around a summer puddle – all yapping at once, saying "g'day" and wanting to know all about us.

"What are youse doin' here?" one of the older boys from fifth class demanded. He was tall and solid for his age, the size of a small man, with Brylcreemed hair and a split lip.

"That's Steve Wood," Barry mumbled through the corner of his mouth.

"I've seen him 'round on holidays," Doug whispered back.

"You know Doug and his brother Pat, from Sydney."

"We don't like city people," Steve declared, pushing his finger into Doug's chest. "Y've got tickets on yerselves. Think yer smarter."

We didn't have a chance of a reply, before he pushed Doug backwards. A mate of Steve's had got down behind Doug on all fours and Doug went crashing over him. Laughter broke out everywhere. I was trying to help him up, when he pulled his arm away and launched himself at Steve. Even though he was physically outmatched, that didn't stop Doug. He kicked him in the shins. It soon progressed into an all-out wrestle on the ground between the two of them.

"Fight, fight, fight," was chanted around the crowd of eager onlookers. I was trying to pull Doug away, while he was fully intent on finishing his opponent off. Punches were flying but few finding their mark. Steve managed to land one on the right side of Doug's nose, after Doug had ripped the pocket from Steve's shirt.

At this stage, the girls had joined ringside and there were cheers of encouragement from the rest of the boys. A good few were on Doug's side, I might add. I yelled at Barry to help me pull them apart. Raymond arrived at school at that precise moment and raced to grab Steve's arm. As we were scrambling about, the crowd mysteriously went quiet and parted as swiftly as Moses had parted the Red Sea. Storming toward us was this tall, slender nun, with strange rimless, blue-lensed spectacles. She went straight over to Steve.

"Get my cane and wait for me outside the classroom. And wash that grease out of your hair while you're at it," she directed with cool control.

"He started it," Steve spat out. She gave him an icy stare. He sauntered off, but only after giving Doug a hateful sideways glance. She then focused her attention on Doug and me. I swallowed hard and felt sure she must've heard me it was so loud.

"You two must be the McNally boys."

"Yes Sister," we said together, and in the confusion of the moment I also crossed myself. This gesture seemed to save both our necks. She gave a perfunctory smile.

"My name is Sister Mary Placid. Welcome to Sacred Heart Primary School. As this is your first day, I will forget your participation in this brawl – this once. I know Master Wood well, and have every belief he was the instigator. Do not let me catch you engaging in fisticuffs ever again. Not unless you want to join him in his punishment. Understand?"

We both nodded.

"Good." She squeezed Doug's cheeks firmly between the palms of her hands as she examined his face.

"No blood. Barry, take him to the wash shed and get him cleaned up; once Master Wood has finished getting that muck out of his hair." She then turned, faced the crowd and roared,

"You have one minute to line up for assembly!" Everyone scattered and faced the main weatherboard building in formation. A pretty curly-headed girl pulled me into my spot as Barry led Doug away.

By the time Doug and Barry joined the assembly, we'd finished the Morning Prayer, allegiance to the Queen, our free bottle of milk and were now marching off in pairs to the classrooms. There were a number of weatherboard buildings in the grounds, as well as a small brick office. Our line headed towards one wooden building that housed three classrooms. Outside the end classroom stood Steve with his hair dripping wet, holding the cane. As we filed past him he threatened Doug in a clenched-teeth whisper.

"I'll get you later."

 

 

We emptied our satchels then placed them on the pegs outside the second classroom before filing in. Barry led us to two empty desks up the back. Because of the size of the school, our third class was combined with second class.

The clatter of opening our desks and filling them with our belongings then dropping their tops shut, soon stopped as everyone waited in silence, listening for the number of strokes of the cane Steve would receive. One, two, three, four, five, six. He started it, but he didn't deserve that much, I thought. On hearing the clomp of heels coming along the wooden verandah, everyone stood to attention beside their desk. Doug and I couldn't see the door from where we were, but by deduction knew whoever it was must be our teacher.

"Good morning class," a female voice sang brightly on entering. It was Sister Mary Placid. She moved to the desk at the front of the room, tapping the cane gently against her leg. Doug looked at me. We mirrored the same doomed expression to the other realising that she was to be
our
teacher. She placed the cane on the desk.

"Good morning Sister Mary Placid," we all rejoined.

"Eyes front Dougal McNally." After a singsong of more prayers led by Sister, we were allowed to sit. "The two new boys, out the front and tell us a bit about yourselves."

Doug and I moved in front of her large desk and faced the class, while Sister made her way to the back of the room.

"My name's Dougal McNally. My friends call me Doug." As he hesitated and nervously pulled at the front of his pants to adjust himself, I jumped in.

"And I'm his brother, Pat, short for Patrick. We're twins, but not identical." Some of the class laughed at my obvious, nervous joke 'cept Sister.

"Please tell the class how it is that you've come to join our school." I took the lead, as Doug was always shy about answering questions, especially about himself.

"We used to come visit Nan and Poppie –" I began before she interrupted.

"You mean you used to come
and
visit your
grandmother
and
grandfather
. Go on."

"Well we used to visit them."

"Who did you visit?"

"Our Nan –" I caught her piercing stare and proceeded with more caution. "Our grandmother and grandfather," I corrected.

"Good, we don't use baby talk in this class. Proceed." I quickly gathered my thoughts.

"We used to visit our grandparents each Christmas school holidays. Then when our grandfather died, we moved here for good – to help Nan." As soon as the word 'Nan' left my lips I froze and went red. I could feel even my ears were burning. Sister squinted at me through her blue lenses. She was not amused. Doug came quickly to the rescue.

"Our Dad is a doctor and he's opening a …" he pulled at his pants again as he looked at me to rescue him, but I hesitated for just a split second too long. Sister pounced in with the answer and now we both felt small and silly.

"He's opening what we call a 'practice', class. We also call it a 'doctor's surgery'. Isn't that good, class? We'll have our own doctor, rather than having to travel miles when we're sick." Of course it was a surgery. It was only our nerves that blocked our brains.

"You didn't mention your mother."

"Our mother's gone to Heaven," I added softly. Her face softened as she remained looking at us for a second before making her way back to the front of the room.

"Thank you boys. You may take your seats. And Doug …" she added in an aside, "the next time I see you rearranging your boy's bits, I'll cut them off."

"Yes Sister."

"Thank Doug and Pat, class." The class gave a little clap. With great relief, we took our seats.

"Second class, take out your writing books, and third class, prepare for a spelling test."

Doug looked at me and crossed his eyes, signalling his fear of imminent disaster, while we all opened up our desks and took out books and pencils. I was a better speller than him, only because I studied. Even so, I felt that this was going to be a long, long day for the both of us. And it was. The text books were the same but they had different ways of setting out work to the way we did it at Our Lady of Lourdes.

At lunchtime we kept our eyes open for Steve and his mates. Several of our classmates joined us in the shade on the seats around the big rubber tree. We checked out each other's lunches and swapped them around. When the old nun who was doing playground duty fell asleep while sitting under a tree, Steve and his gang came over our way. Just as they got about six feet away, they diverted their attention to the only Chinese boy in the school. He was sitting by himself.

"Ching chong Chinaman," they all repeated menacingly over and over as they pulled on the corners of their eyes to make them appear Asian. The boy was sacred and looking for a way to escape. Steve looked over in our direction.

"Ching chong Chinaman," I joined in and encouraged Doug to do the same with a sly whisper and a jab to his ribs with my elbow. "Say it. Otherwise he's gonna come over here and pick on us again."

"Ching chong Chinaman," all of us on the seat chorused.

Steve smirked at us then turned his attentions back to the Chinese boy. Just as he did, the old nun woke up, checked her watch then started to ring the handbell laying beside her for the resumption of school work. As we scurried back to class I couldn't help but feel relieved at how lucky we were to have escaped Steve and his gang's attention.

 

 

Keeping the news of the fight to ourselves and away from Dad wasn't likely to happen. By the end of the day, a small but noticeable bruise near the inside corner of Doug's right eye had formed. We thought our best course of action was to tell Dad ourselves and get it over with. He'd told us repeatedly not to get into fights, even with each other, and that "it was the better man who chose to walk away." We reckoned the only way Dad could say this was because he never had someone pick a fight with him. He said a lot of smart things, but not saying it was okay to fight if someone else started it, to us seemed like you were scared. Walking away only made it worse. They'd end up calling you a 'yeller belly'.

We decided we'd walk into town to the old dentist's, now Dad's new surgery. It was good to see on the way all the old familiar shops again. As we passed, some of the owners would smile and wave and we'd wave back. I ran my fingers over the letters of his brass doctor's sign,
DR. H. McNALLY GENERAL PRACTITIONER
, that he'd attached to the wall beside the surgery doorway.

We heard him unpacking tea chests in the back room. Doug just went in and owned up straight away like we'd practised, trying to emphasise we had no choice.

"What have I told you two about fighting?" We both shrugged our shoulders.

"Walk away," Doug mumbled, his chin nearly touching his chest as he tugged at the front of his shorts.

"You know how many men I've had to patch up because they've been fighting? Look at me when I'm talking to you. So bashed up and swollen, even their own mothers couldn't recognise them. Is that how you want to end up?"

"No sir. It's just that he start –" Doug began to explain.

"It doesn't matter who started it or what they said, you walk away and be the better man. Now if this ever happens again, God forbid, what are you two going to do?"

"Walk away," we both mumbled begrudgingly.

"You want to lift your heads and say that so I can hear you?"

"Walk away," we called out together.

Dad parted Doug's hair falling over his forehead then got out his little torch and pointed it straight into his eyes, one at a time. As he did, I remember seeing a sort of funny look on Dad's face. His eyes were practically grinning, while a small smile played across the rest of his face for the briefest of moments.

"No damage, but that's gonna be one hell of a shiner. Now let's go and see about getting you both new uniforms." Dad locked up and led us up the street – an arm around each of our shoulders, to Renshaw's Menswear.

My uniform was one size smaller than Doug's. We got pullovers as well in the school colours, as the cooler autumn weather was nearly on us. Mr Renshaw was pleased to see Dad, stating that he remembered selling him his first uniform.

BOOK: Season of Hate
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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