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Authors: Nicole Trope

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The Boy Under the Table

 

 

The Boy Under The Table
Nicole Trope
Allen and Unwin (2012)
Tags:
FIC000000, book
FIC000000ttt bookttt

Tina is a young woman hiding from her grief on the streets of the Cross. On a cold night in the middle of winter she breaks all her own rules when she agrees to go home with a customer. What she finds in his house will change her life forever. Across the country Sarah and Doug are trapped in limbo, struggling to accept the loss that now governs their lives. Pete is the local policeman who feels like he is watching the slow death of his own family. Every day brings a fresh hell for each of them. Told from the alternating points of view of Tina, Sarah, Doug and Pete, The Boy Under the Table is gritty, shocking, moving and, ultimately, filled with hope. A harrowing glimpse into the real world behind the headlines, this is a novel of immense power and compassion-one that will not fail to move all who read it.

 

 

The Boy Under the Table
Niicole Trope
Allen and Unwin (2012)
Tags:
FIC000000, book
FIC000000ttt bookttt

Tina is a young woman hiding from her grief on the streets of the Cross. On a cold night in the middle of winter she breaks all her own rules when she agrees to go home with a customer. What she finds in his house will change her life forever. Across the country Sarah and Doug are trapped in limbo, struggling to accept the loss that now governs their lives. Pete is the local policeman who feels like he is watching the slow death of his own family. Every day brings a fresh hell for each of them. Told from the alternating points of view of Tina, Sarah, Doug and Pete, The Boy Under the Table is gritty, shocking, moving and, ultimately, filled with hope. A harrowing glimpse into the real world behind the headlines, this is a novel of immense power and compassion-one that will not fail to move all who read it.

The Boy Under the Table

Nicole

TROPE

The Boy Under the Table

 

First published in 2012
Copyright © Nicole Trope 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin

Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, London

83 Alexander Street

Crows Nest NSW 2065

Australia

Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218

Email: [email protected]

Web:
www.allenandunwin.com

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia
www.trove.nla.gov.au

ISBN 978 1 74237 927 2

Internal design by Lisa White
Set in 13.5/18 pt Minion by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed and bound in Australia by Griffin Press

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Mom, Dad and David who know how much this means
and
Mikhayla, Isabella and Jacob who mean everything

Contents

 

Tina

Doug

Tina

Sarah

Tina

Pete

Tina

Margie

Tina

Doug

Tina

Sarah

Tina

Pete

Tina

Pete

Doug

Tina

Sarah

Tina

Doug

Lockie

Acknowledgements

Tina

 

The boy was tied up under the table, scrabbling his way through an empty packet of biscuits, licking his fingers to gather the crumbs.

The kitchen was freezing; Tina could see the warmth of her breath in the air. It got like that sometimes in winter. The cold got trapped inside.

Her first glance had made the boy a dog, just a mongrel tied up to the table leg, but a second glance told the truth. People saw what they wanted to see. Tina hadn’t wanted to see the boy. She thought she had perfected the art of tunnel vision. There were a lot of things she didn’t want to see.

But she saw everything in the kitchen, everything.

She felt it too. The despair in the air had a familiar feel. Hopeless defeat. It came off the boy in waves and she had to hold on tight to prevent it knocking her over.

There was a thick piece of rope tied around the boy’s ankle and another thick piece of rope tied around his neck. Both pieces of rope were connected to the central table leg.

It was one of those old fold-down laminate tabletops that had been around in the 1970s. Tina came from a house with the exact same tabletop, although in her house it had been replaced with a stone benchtop that swept away the past and looked to a future of steel appliances and automatic vacuum cleaners.

The rope was short. The boy couldn’t have made it onto either of the bench seats alongside the table. Not without strangling himself.

The knots on the rope looked like they meant business. What did they call them—sailors’ knots?

They would not be loosened. They would not give way. The boy wasn’t going anywhere.

Tina began to breathe in a little of the boy’s despair. It crept up her spine and tingled at her neck. Right now she wasn’t going anywhere either. Her first instinct had been to run. When she had recognised what was tied up under the table she wanted to run screaming from the house, but she knew enough to wait and keep her mouth shut. She was in real trouble. Panic was stupid.

A rancid sweet smell filled the space. Tina wrinkled her nose.

The boy was skinny to the point of nothingness and dirty enough to be an animal. His lips and fingers were tinged with blue. His breath formed puffs of cloud in front of his face. His huge watery blue eyes met hers for a moment and then darted away.

The man smiled down at the boy and gave him a pat as though he were, in fact, greeting the family dog. The man’s nondescript face was enveloped in a smug grin.

‘See what I have here?’

Tina heard the unspoken words as though the man had shouted them aloud. There was no reply worth making. Instead she swallowed a piece of the boy’s despair and stared at the wall.

His body had become a statue as soon as the man’s hand made contact. He was perfectly still on his bed of newspapers. When faced with attack most animals instinctively know to become motionless. If you didn’t move and you didn’t breathe it was possible that you would not be seen. The boy’s skinny ribcage filled with stale air while he waited for the hand to leave his head.

Tina held her breath as well. If the man did more than pat the boy she would have to do something. She would have to do anything. There are some things that cannot be tolerated. If he did more than pat the boy Tina would not survive. She was completely sure of that.

She looked away from the man and the boy and tried to convey the idea that the only thing she was interested in was her twenty dollars.

Twenty dollars, twenty whole dollars, twenty precious dollars.

Those were the words she kept repeating in her head, hoping they would blot out all the other words making a grab for her attention.

The man looked back at her, almost daring her to ask about the frozen starving child under the table. Wanting her to ask?

Tina met his stare. She was here for her twenty dollars. That was it.

The man nodded at her. He had chosen well. Tina could see him putting her into the harmless category. She was someone who wouldn’t make trouble. If you want someone to keep your secret, pick the person who has more secrets than you.

He was right. Tina knew now that she had made a mistake with the man. If she got out of the house it would be a bonus. If she got out unscathed it would be a miracle. Her best hope was silence. Silence and acquiescence. If she did make it out the only story she would have to tell would be the one about her own survival. She would be quiet and she would acquiesce, agree, comply, assent, concede and concur with whatever the man wanted.

‘Fuck you know a lot of big words for a kid,’ Ruby had said. ‘How come you didn’t just stay in school? What are you doing here anyway?’

Tina had shrugged her shoulders like she hadn’t been asking herself those questions ever since she packed her bags and headed to a place she could lose herself in.

On the day she left she went to the station because trains took you away and she needed to be away. She got on a train waiting for a plan to form, waiting for an idea to take hold, but her thoughts were trapped in anger and grief and she could not get past these emotions. So she sat on the train and stared out of the window and let the click clack of the rails decide for her. The train passed through station after station and each time the doors opened Tina leaned forward and looked for a reason to get off the train. Each time she let the doors close again without leaving her seat. Then the train stopped at Kings Cross and when the doors slid open the platform was teeming with people. In the warm gust of air that blew into the train Tina heard a woman laugh. The woman laughed loud and long and Tina got off the train, wanting to find the woman. Wanting to find the laughter. She found herself in the Cross instead and she roamed the streets that never emptied, feeling lost. Safely lost.

So she stayed.

Her lack of money kept her there and her desire to disappear from a life she could no longer live meant that she stayed longer than she should have. Not that anyone, anyone at all,
should
ever stay in the Cross.

Nothing shocked Tina anymore. Ruby’s words and her red leather mini had shocked her at first. Ruby’s sallow skin and the sores on her arms that she scratched at constantly but always covered with makeup had drawn her eyes. She had felt a jolt of stunned recognition at seeing the real deal. She had forced herself to look at her shoes so she could pretend she hadn’t seen.

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