Authors: Gregg Dunnett
THE WAVE AT HANGING ROCK
Copyright © 2016 Gregg Dunnett
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 permission in writing from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance it bears to reality is entirely coincidental.
gracias y siento no haber
hablado de nada mas que
del libro en todo el
THE WAY MY dad killed himself was so funny one newspaper gave him a Darwin Award. That’s not a real award, it’s a joke. They give them to people who die doing something so stupid that it counts as a service to humanity. You know, eliminating their DNA from the gene pool. But the real funny thing was, everyone was so busy laughing none of them realised it was already too late. Because I was already here.
I was twelve years old when he did it. It was a Wednesday afternoon. Normally I liked Wednesdays since we finished school early, and usually Dad would take me to the beach. He’d read the paper for a bit and then fetch up in one of the bars down there drinking beer while I surfed. But things had already gone weird by then. That day we were in the garden, working on his latest project in the shade of the gum trees.
“It’ll be good. You and me being together in school,” Dad said for what must have been the third time that afternoon. He had his plastic goggles pushed up onto his forehead so his hair stuck up like a porcupine.
“Yeah,” I said, meaning no. I didn’t like the idea much. I’d been hoping it wouldn’t actually happen, but I knew just hoping wasn’t going to work for ever.
“Nearly ready for the test eruption.” He sounded so pleased with himself.
A couple of weeks before it had been a rocket made of plumbing tubes that was supposed to demonstrate pressure or something. It made an angry whistling noise like a boiling kettle as it sat on the grass launchpad, but when the needle on the compressor’s dial trembled into the red section, something sprung a leak and the rocket screamed sideways into the fence. Every one of Dad’s experiments seemed to centre on blowing something up. Most of them took out a fence panel or two.
“I bet you’ve never done something like this in science Jesse?”
“I told you already, we did it in like, grade two or something. In Geography.”
A shadow of doubt swam into his eyes but he blinked it away. “Well not like this you didn’t. This one is going to blow your mind.”
That afternoon we’d stirred chemicals together in one of the big glass bowls Mum used to make cakes on my birthday. We didn’t have a bunsen burner but Dad had improvised by using the camping stove. You couldn’t see any of this now though since it was hidden inside a giant model mountain made of cardboard and paper soaked in wallpaper paste. Dad had painted it the night before and I had to admit, it looked a bit more realistic now. I mean you could at least tell it was supposed to be a volcano.
“Course I might not get to teach your class, but if I do, that’ll be good right?”
Dad had given up his job a few months earlier and was retraining as a teacher. A science teacher, because he knew something about chemicals from the factory where he worked. He said he wanted to do something more worthwhile with his life. I could understand that I suppose. I’d been to work with him sometimes, it was like hanging out in a warehouse with all the stupid kids from school, but older. But even so I didn’t like the idea much. I guess I was worried what my mates were going to think of Dad becoming their teacher. Maybe he sensed that. Maybe that explained the experiments.
“Your little pals at school are gonna love this one Jesse,” he said. “None of the pussy shit demonstrations that your… what d’ya call him? Mr Carter? Not like the bloody limp-wristed crap he’s been showing you. Chemistry is all about drama! Elemental drama! Boom!” He demonstrated this by pouring a quart of something red and oily down through the neck of the volcano and replacing the plug. This was the lava.
“So, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll know what’s happening inside our model right now. What reaction is taking place? Jesse?”
I was torn. I didn’t want to encourage him. I didn’t want to look interested, but if we were done here soon enough there might still be time to get to the beach before tea. And there
something cool about your dad coming into your school and blowing away the boring science experiments we had to sit through. Literally blowing them away.
“Messy… Messy zinc?”
zinc Jesse. Little nodules of zinc cooled in water which have a greater surface area than zinc strips.” I nodded. I’d grown up with the garage filled with this sort of shit, ends of runs from whatever it was Dad’s work did. “And dropped into Hydrochloric Acid it produces what volatile gas?”
He’d told me so many times. It was just easier to say it back to him.
“Exactly. The agent which will give a little boost to our simulated eruption here.” He chuckled and then stopped suddenly.
“Did they use baking powder when you did this at school?” He asked. “When you did this before? They did didn’t they? I’ll bet they did. Well this ain’t baking powder son. We’ve got a little more power here to play with.” He gave the model a friendly pat and I just stared at it without any expression on my face.
It sat there on its plastic sheet, maybe four feet high, a little bigger than the garden table next to it anyway.
“I think we’re just about ready. Do you want to light her up Jesse?”
There was only so much enthusiasm I was prepared to demonstrate. I thought about how the waves were good that afternoon and how I was missing them.
He did a good job of keeping it from his voice, but I could see he was hurt. We’d put effort into this. Well, he had anyway.
“OK. Well get the camera. Stand back a little and get filming, and I’ll light her up.”
I did what he said, backing up till he was happy I’d be able to get the whole eruption in shot with the video camera. If I’d known how famous this video was going to get I’d have tried to hold it steadier.
“Happy?” I could hear my own voice on the recording later. It sounded reedy and thin. Sarcastic.
Through the viewfinder I watched as he gave an awkward smile to the camera and knelt down. We’d left a hole in the side of the model to light the burner. He reached in and grimaced as he struggled to open the valve for the gas. After a while you could see the frustration on his face.
“What is it?”
“My hand’s too big to turn the gas on. Get over here Jesse and help me.”
So I walked back over, gave Dad the camera and stuck my own hand inside the volcano. I felt around for the valve, a little knurled wheel that sat at the back of the stove.
“Got it? Can you feel it? Don’t open her right up, just a quarter turn. We only need a small amount of gas or we’re going to have a real explosion on our hands.” He chuckled again at the thought of this.
I could feel my knuckles sliding against the glass bowl as I turned it. If I’d been paying attention I might have noticed that was wrong, it had slipped out of position, but I didn’t notice. I pulled my arm back out.
“All yours,” I said, walking backwards to keep the camera pointed on the action.
He picked up the lighter and lit up a long wooden taper. He spent an age trying to get the orange flame to bite into the wood but even though there wasn’t much breeze, it kept blowing out. Dad gave a grunt of frustration. Finally he gave up and just stuck his hand back inside with the lighter poised.
I shrugged. “Let’s do it,” I said.
You can probably guess it didn’t go according to plan. Dad was aiming for what they call a Hawaiian eruption, it’s also known as a fire fountain eruption on account of how the red hot lava shoots up in the air like a firework show. They’re predictable eruptions. They get the name from the volcanoes in Hawaii where they bus tourists up to watch like it’s a show. But what he got was a more explosive eruption, on account of all the gas. Or maybe it was more like a bomb. But then some volcanoes do go up like that. They’re unpredictable. I told you, we did it in geography.
Anyway, whatever he wanted to happen, he didn’t even have time to pull his arm out before the whole thing just went boom.
If it hadn’t been for that glass bowl he might have got away with just losing his arm. But the bowl wasn’t even oven-proof, let alone dumb-ass home-made volcano-bomb proof. The bowl blew apart, great big shards of curved splintered glass. One piece flew out and hit the trunk of a gum tree close to where I was standing. They found another piece on the front driveway, it had cleared the whole garage. Most of it hadn’t been able to go anywhere though since Dad’s chest was in the way. It just lacerated him. His white singlet turned red instantly. Some of the glass pieces stuck in him, some of them went right through, just as easy as they had through the cardboard. I filmed the whole thing, steady as you like. Didn’t turn off the camera until I’d got my dad pitching forward, dying hugging his stupid volcano, right in the middle of my frame.
IT WAS OUR neighbour who called the ambulance. The one with the broken fence. He must have heard the explosion since he looked through where the panel should have been, a pair of shears in his hands. Then he saw my old man, slumped down, surrounded by more blood than it seemed possible could ever be in one human being. And of course half the blood wasn’t blood at all, but fake lava made from red paint and oil. And he dropped the shears so they nearly stabbed his feet and he said “Jesus fucking Christ.”
The police said they released my video to the press to warn of the dangers of homemade science experiments, like it was a problem they faced a lot. It was bullshit. They released it because someone decided it was fucking hilarious, or someone got paid, probably both. I saw it on the TV news from the hospital bed they put me in, not because I was injured, just for shock or something. The presenters did their best to look sombre but their best generally wasn’t very good. They never played the whole thing, you just got to see Dad’s enthusiasm for his shit model and hear my whiny voice whinging about it, and then the tape got blacked out when the thing went up. Because of that it got played everywhere, on all the networks, they printed stills from it in all the papers. Big photos of Dad, somehow they got hold of my school photo too and printed that. For a while the angle they used was about what a terrible tragedy it was, but then this newspaper gave Dad his Darwin Award and it was like that freed everyone up to have a good laugh.
I went to the funeral from the hospital. Photographers followed us to the cemetery and then stood behind some trees taking pictures all the time. It was like some celebrity had died. Like Dad was a legend, not just the stupidest fucking man in the whole of Queensland. Probably the whole of Australia. The priest kept looking over at them and scowling like they shouldn’t have been there. But everyone else at the funeral wore this expression that said you might not be laughing right now, but you had to admit it was a proper stupid way to go.
When I got to go home the photographers were outside my house too, camped out like they weren’t going anywhere in a hurry. We never really spoke about it, but I always figured that’s why Mum made us leave. Not just those photographers, but the whole thing. It was the most exciting thing that ever happened in our street, and she thought she’d always be remembered as the widow of the fucking idiot who blew himself up for a school science project. So what happened next, in a way, was the weirdest thing of all. A week after I came home Mum told me to pack a bag and then we were on a plane heading for London, England. We were going to stay with some family she had there. I’d never met them, I’d always thought of them as the sort of family who sent cards every birthday and Christmas but you never had to meet. Jeez did I get that wrong.
And we never came back to Oz. Mum sold the house and used the money to buy a campsite on the coast in mid Wales. That’s Wales, as in the shitty little country stuck on the side of England, not New South Wales. Not somewhere half decent like Sydney. I don’t expect you to make any more sense of it now than I did at the time. But when you’re twelve you don’t exactly get consulted in these things. When you’re twelve and your dad’s just been blown up you don’t argue either. You just go with it.