Authors: Honey Brown
Tags: #Fiction, #General
THE GOOD DAUGHTER
Honey Brown lives in country Victoria with her husband and two children. Her debut novel
was published in 2009 to critical acclaim and won a 2009 Aurealis Award.
The Good Daughter
is her much-anticipated second novel.
THE GOOD DAUGHTER
an imprint of
No coincidence that Zach Kincaid takes the bus seat next to her on the last day of first term, during the trip home, when there are only the out-of-towners left, the kids that stare glassy-eyed out the windows, not watching as he kicks his bag towards her under the seats – as though to herald his imminent arrival, all hail King Kincaid – and heaves himself up from where he is positioned dead centre in the back seat, not listening as he slides in beside her and starts with the taunts.
‘Bark for me, Beccy,’ is his favourite, and what he says after a moment of staring at the side of her face.
‘We both know you can do better than that.’
Rebecca closes the book she’s reading and drops it into her open school bag. She zips up the bag and pushes it with her foot until she feels it nudge up against his bag. She can smell him. It’s a familiar scent, as much in his clothes as on his skin. The Kincaid family scent. Fresh linen best describes it, but even that’s not right. It’s unnerving but not unpleasant. It stirs up memories of his house, the hushed rooms and dusted sideboards, clean carpet, the hum of electrical appliances. She hopes her family scent is well hidden under a layer of Impulse deodorant – none of the damp smells that no amount of airing can dislodge from the rooms of her house, none of the dog smells, the garage degreaser smells that seem to have worked their way into every porous surface within a one-kilometre radius of her father’s shed and into the weave of every cushion and every curtain in the house. If Zach can smell her, if he smells her as acutely as she smells him, she hopes it’s just the sweetness of the deodorant.
‘So, Rebecca, what are you doing over the Easter holidays? Anything exciting?’
‘I might come over and visit you – we could do something
He smiles, crooked teeth on show, top lip curled. Here on the school bus she can more than match his leering smile, always able to go toe to toe with him in a public place where she knows he can’t really do much harm.
‘I know you’re toyin with me, Toyer. All talk.’
Rebecca twists her lips and eyes him. Strange that it doesn’t seem to matter that, when broken down into separate pieces, his features are anything but perfect. Even when put together the picture isn’t great. An illusion really, his handsomeness, a trick of perspective: smoke and mirrors. Something only boys can pull off. Girls need at least one redeeming feature.
Rebecca says, fed up, bored already with school holidays, thinking she’s perhaps bored of Zach Kincaid, ‘You’re so full of shit. I bet if I touched you, you’d run a mile.’
‘You reckon, do you?’
She mimics his voice, widens her eyes, makes out he’s childish – ‘I reckon.’
He’s looking at her, his gaze going from feature to feature, over her hair, down her neck. He’s avoiding her eyes though, because to look into her eyes would be to confirm too much. She glances around the bus. No-one behind them. Couple of landed gentry swots reading further down in front of them. The kid opposite has got that zombie gaze, eyes fixed ahead, fringe stuck to his damp forehead, not liable to wake from his trance even if they did start making out.
Zach says, his voice lowered, words thick in his throat, ‘Let’s go up the back.’
He goes without looking at her, bending for his bag and staying bent, stepping into the aisle and sliding onto the back seat in one fluid movement. He slouches in the shaded corner, averts his face. Rebecca follows, holding onto the steel backs of the seats, tossing her bag in beside his.
She learns that up close he has a smell all of his own – not the family scent, a softer scent that clings to his skin, in his hair, strongest behind his ear where his hairline meets his neck. She finds out he’s unsure and nervous – his hands shake, he blushes, she can feel the pulse in his neck, his heart is pounding in his chest, and he squirms like a child when she unzips his jeans. He pales and swallows when she touches him. He whispers for her to stop, and she’s bemused –
She’s only touching him. But he clasps her hands, pushes them away, says
, like she’s handling volatile liquid. He seems to want to put an end to what was only getting started. When she won’t let her hands be brushed away he says,
, and bites his bottom lip.
It’s as though he can only bear the quickest glances down at what she’s doing. He breathes more heavily than she does.
She says to him, ‘You’re not going to kiss me, are you? It’s all right for me to kiss you, but there’s no way you’re going to kiss
‘Shit,’ he mumbles, ‘I don’t know …’
She tries to kiss him but he tilts his head to avoid it.
‘Someone might see us,’ she teases, then asks, ‘Would you kiss me off the bus?’
‘Don’t you think that’s really pathetic? It’s very clichéd, you know – good and bad side of the tracks, the fact that you’ll go to school and tell everyone Toyer sat up and begged for it, had to throw the poor girl a bone. Don’t you think I know that’s what you’ll say? If I was a rich kid like you I wouldn’t be so hung up on what people thought.’
He doesn’t answer.
For a while she looks at him, her hand still down the front of his jeans, the jolts from the dirt road coming up through the chassis, dust and sunlight mixing together in the air.
‘My mother told me about boys like you. She said boys like you sleep with the sluts and marry the virgins and then sleep with the sluts again. But then my mother also told me educated women are a waste of space. So I don’t think I should take too much notice of her advice – what do you think? I bet your mother has warned you about girls like me.’
He’s not listening, his eyes are half shut and his hands are by his sides now. She touches him less self-consciously, curious, the first time she’s let her fingers feel their way over a boy’s erection. She knows he thinks she’s more experienced than she actually is, and in a way that makes her bolder.
‘You know what else my mother told me? She said no-one with money will ever want me. And you’ve got money,
. Aren’t you worried that being near me might whittle away your fat inheritance? Is this one hectare gone?’
‘Stop,’ he says, closing his hand around her wrist.
‘Wonder what sex would be?’ she whispers in his ear. ‘A whole 100 hectares?’
He bends forward and shoulders her away. He swears under his breath, his neck and back tense, and a shudder of what seems like revulsion ripples through him.
Rebecca senses her mistake, thinks perhaps she’ll never get the kiss she wants from Zach Kincaid, never get to know what it’s like to have his hand rest on her knee, or to hold his hand, or to have his arm possessively around her shoulders, so close to at least getting the kiss.
Years of setting up defensive strategies cause her to say, ‘Got a hanky? Or do you want to borrow mine?’
But as she goes to move he hooks his foot around hers under the seat. He gives her a sheepish grin over his shoulder.
‘I would kiss you on the bus, Rebecca.’
‘Out the front of school?’
Rebecca walks up the driveway towards her house, her school bag over one arm, her face screwed up against the sun. Dust from the bus drifts across the paddock. Up ahead, inside the truck shed, is the tilted bonnet of the Kenworth. Tools lay scattered on the concrete. She can hear her father whistling a tune.
‘Hey, Dad,’ she calls as she gets closer.
He comes out, dressed in footy shorts and a T-shirt, grease smeared down one leg, sweat mixing with the grime on his face and making his eyes and teeth flash whiter than they actually are.
He’s not your average truckie – no tattoos, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, isn’t overweight. He does have girlie calendars up all over his shed and a stack of porno tapes in the bedroom to rival most people’s conventional video collections, but that’s about the only thing. Without the grease and oil and wrench in hand, he’s geriatric. Fifty-five but looks about sixty-five. He’s got one of those sunken chests and has loose skin under his arms, hollowed-out cheeks and grey stubble. He needs glasses to drive, so looks a real treat heading off – thermos of coffee, tinted specs, driving this huge, buffed and gleaming burgundy Kenworth, chrome polished, all three trailers hooked on, the elaborate gold
in swirling print across the door. Bit of a let-down, really, when a greying man with bandy legs climbs down from the cab, slipping his bifocals into his top pocket, without even a deep voice to lend some authority to the package – a buoyant voice, high in his chest and always high in hope.
The dogs come slinking out to greet Rebecca, all six of them, heads down, tails sweeping the ground. The youngest dog – a German short-haired pointer – rolls onto its back in front of her. It lies perfectly still, front paws flopped, back legs splayed. She bends down and gives the dog a pat. It manages somehow to make itself even more prone; under its skin she can feel its nervous tension. As she pulls her hand away, the dog twists and jumps up, surprising her. It wheels around and crouches like a cat about to pounce, and in its excitement it springs up, nipping her on the cheek. Rebecca stumbles back. She puts a hand to the side of her face. Only when she looks at her fingers and sees there’s no blood does she smile.
Further down from the shed is the house, and there’s not a lot to say about it. It’s an indistinct grey-brown colour, limp curtains in the windows, a cluttered front porch, tin roof, grass sprouting from the gutters. The shed is more impressive than the house. It leaks less. Beside the house is the carport. It’s been caged in with reo and other odd bits of salvaged wire. It’s where the dogs are kept at night.
Rebecca walks inside the house and dumps her bag by the couch. Her father’s dirty dishes are on the coffee table and the TV is on. Flies buzz in manic circles around the room. Every window and door in the place is open. Flyscreens must have been a luxury the Kincaids didn’t think their rental property deserved.
On the kitchen bench are bags of groceries her father has brought home and started to unpack – good intentions, but ultimately distracted by the truck.
Bit of a health nut, her father, and it shows in the contents of the bags: fruit and muesli, yoghurt, grain bread – nothing remotely teenage-friendly. In with the groceries she finds the paper and the mail. She opens the bills and puts them on the fridge, takes the new chequebook out and sits it beside the fruit bowl in the centre of the table.
In Rebecca’s room everything has its place – queer, her mother called it: a person who lines up her smuggled stash of cigarettes so that they stand out like a sore thumb the minute you open the wardrobe door. Not that she can pilfer cigarettes from her mother’s packets any more. Lung cancer put an end to that. Within her space Rebecca likes to keep things neat. A shrink would probably say it’s to compensate for the disorder outside the room, the things that have happened in her life that were out of her control – her mother dying, her stepfather having a job that takes him thousands of kilometres away, her five-year-old half-sister drowning, her grandmother being a bitch, her grandfather being senile, these things and more. But she doesn’t necessarily think so; it feels to her as though she just likes things to be neat.