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Authors: Steven Herrick

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure General

Tom Jones Saves the World (4 page)

BOOK: Tom Jones Saves the World
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Cleo—snake-charmer, escape-expert, and Queen of the Nile
I'm sitting in bed
reading a
Cairo Jim
when it dawns on me
why Cleo is called that.
Her parents are so obsessed with
Egypt, archaeology, and ancient ruins
they named their daughter
after the Queen of the Nile
who died of snakebite!
I laugh myself silly
thinking of my friend Cleo
with that rock python at school.
If only her parents knew!
The right side of the fence
It felt good
dancing around the field.
The wrong side of the fence.
The right side of the fence.
I like Tom.
Every other kid
in this prison
locks themselves away
with a Game Boy all afternoon.
Tom reckons
the creek is full of yabbies,
waiting to be caught.
This Saturday is
escape day.
Yabby day.
The phone call
Mercy Gardens Retirement Village.”
“Hi. Can I speak to Grandpa Jones—
I mean Bob Jones, please?”
“I'm sorry,
residents aren't allowed phone calls.
Can I help?”
“I'd like to visit Mr Jones, please?”
“Visiting hours
are every afternoon
One to five. Anything else?”
“Yes. Tell Mr Jones that Tom Jones rang.
And I'll visit him on Sunday.”
“Certainly, sir.”
Visiting hours?
Grandpa lives in a prison too.
Saturday—yabbies, bulls and being a carnivore
There is a bull standing
on the opposite bank of the creek
looking at me and Cleo.
He is munching grass
and watching us
toss our long pieces of string
into Murchison Creek,
each string tied on the end
with meat.
Every few minutes
we feel a tug on the string,
we slowly pull it in,
careful not to lose the yabby
hungry on the end
nibbling away
we see him in the shallows,
then we quickly jerk the line
and fling him onto the bank.
Cleo, who's afraid of nothing
including snakes
and yabby claws
grabs the yabby
and throws him into
a pot of boiling water.
At first,
Cleo was a little squeamish
about killing a poor yabby
but I asked her
what her favourite dinner was
and she said:
“Hamburgers, of course!”
I pointed at the bull opposite
and said
“Say hello to next week's dinner, Cleo.”
For lunch
I drain the saucepan and
shell the yabbies
the way Dad taught me
when I was young.
I place the meat
on a bread roll
and hand it up to Cleo
who's climbed the old fig tree.
She holds my roll
while I climb after her.
Cleo reaches into her jacket—
no, not for goggles,
but for pepper.
She sprinkles it
on our rolls
and we sit
in the crook of a branch
munching away
on the best lunch
I've ever eaten.
Pacific Palms is a snob!
It turns its back
on Murchison Creek
and the fattest yabbies in the world.
It ignores
dairy farms
and fields
and secret forests
of scribbly bark gums
where koalas doze.
It builds a barrier
to hide
the Interstate railway
with freight trains
and booming whistles
that bounce off
the dumb walls
and wake Mr Smith
in his glass office
where he protects
Pacific Palms
from the
real world
Cleo and I
want to live
outside the walls.

Chapter Five

Outside the gates, okay
Sunday morning.
Barbara is polishing
the kitchen taps,
humming a tune
and wiggling her hips.
She knows Dad is busy.
After breakfast, he said,
“I must retire now
to research the financial dealings
of my latest client.
I may be occupied
for the entire day.”
Dead Parent Wish # 7.
Barbara stops wiggling.
“Oh, darling.
I didn't know you were there.”
“Mum, can I go for a ride,
with Cleo?” I ask.
Mum wipes the hair
from her eyes, smiles, and says,
“Sure. Don't go outside the gates, okay.”
Mercy Gardens
If you cut through
the dairy farm
and cross Murchison Creek
at the rail bridge,
Mercy Gardens
is only thirty minutes away.
It's surrounded by
a tall wire fence
and big fir trees
with cockatoos
hiding in the branches
for food
and keeping
all the old people
Tom's visit
“Hello, Tiger.
Come and sit here with me.
I like this bench under the trees.
A good hiding spot
for my drinks.”
“Grandpa, you promised.”
“Yes, yes, yes. I know.
I haven't drunk today.
So how are you?
I didn't think Arnie would let you come.”
“He doesn't know I'm here, Grandpa.
I've got an escape hole in the wall.
They think I'm visiting my friend Cleo.”
“Good for you, Tiger.
I don't suppose you could
build an escape tunnel
from this place could you?
It's worse than a POW Camp,
only the nurses don't have guns,
just pills to put us to sleep.
I tell them I'm too old to sleep,
enough time for that when I'm dead!”
“Don't say that, Grandpa.”
“Why not? I'm old.
I don't have long to go,
but I'm going to enjoy the time I've got.
Anyway, good on you for visiting me, Tiger.”
Tom and Grandpa Jones
I tell Grandpa about Cleo
and our escape hatch in the wall
behind Mum's camellias.
Grandpa laughs at that.
I talk about school
and the books I read
about kids with dead parents.
He says I should let Arnie read those books.
We sit under the tree for hours
and Grandpa
talks about Grandma,
who died years ago.
He tells stories of when they were teenagers
and his first motorbike
and how he'd meet
Grandma down the street from her house
because her dad
wouldn't let her ride on a bike
with a larrikin like Bob Jones.
“She had black wavy hair
and she always wore a long dress
and her hair was tied back in a red ribbon
and when she rode on the bike
she held me tight
and I'd want to ride forever
just me and Helen
through the countryside
feeling the wind in our faces
smelling the grass.
I thought I'd never grow old, Tom,
not with Helen beside me.”

Chapter Six

Tom and me—
Tom and I are friends.
He worked out
why I'm called Cleo
and he understands
strange parents
and he's almost as fast as me
on a bike
and maybe this year
school won't be so bad
without the mad scientists,
also known as Mum and Dad.
“Dad, tell me about Grandpa Jones?”
“Thomas, I do not wish
to indulge in history
which I find repugnant
and exceedingly unpleasant.”
“Okay, he was unpleasant at the funeral,
but he is your Dad.”
“Cease this aimless dialogue.
Memory and emotion combined
make for poor digestion, and
I can smell your Mother's cooking.”
“How's your bottle top collection, Dad?”
“Bountiful in the extreme Thomas.
It is a pleasure to behold.”
Dead Parent Wish # 8 coming up.
The history of Arnie and Grandpa Jones
After dinner
I wash the dishes.
Barbara the belly dancer
tells me about
Dad and Grandpa Jones
and how they haven't
spoken for years,
apart from the drunken “hello”
at Aunt Ella's funeral.
Mum says it makes her sad
and she's sure
it makes Dad unhappy as well.
I look out
the kitchen window
to the backyard
and the camellias
and I think
and me
are both
by walls
we'd love to
knock down.
Thick shakes
Years ago
in our old town
Dad would meet me
after school on Friday
and we'd walk
to the milk bar.
We'd both order the same—
hamburger with the works
and a vanilla thick shake
with a triple scoop of ice-cream.
We'd sit outside
on the plastic chairs
under the wattle trees
and it would take me
an hour to drink the shake
it was so thick.
Dad didn't mind.
He'd sit there
undo his tie
put his feet up on the fence
and watch me slurp the shake.
That was in our old town.
Uncle Robert, the pop-star
We like Cleo's friend, Tom.
He has good manners.
He ate all the dinner I cooked last night.
He even had a second helping.
He didn't eat your banana and spinach cake.
No one did. Not even the dog.
I'm glad Cleo has a friend.
I'm her friend too.
Yes, but you're very old, dear.
I'm glad she has a friend her own age.
They go to school together.
And they help each other with homework.
He doesn't say much about his parents.
He keeps talking about his Grandpa.
It's nice to see a boy interested in old people.
I wonder if Tom was named after the singer,
Tom Jones?
Tom Jones. The singer. You know...
“Why, why, why, Delilah,
why, why, why, Delilah,
I could see she was no good for me,
Oh please stop! You sing as badly as you cook!

Chapter Seven

Cleo's bright idea # 2
Yes, it's Maths again.
I look across at Tom,
he smiles back.
On the bus this morning
he told me all about
his Dad
and his Grandpa,
and how they don't talk.
All his Dad does is work
and collect bottle tops.
...That's it!
Bottle tops!
Tom, bottle tops, and Cleo the genius
I walk around
looking at the ground
in search of bottle tops.
I've walked into one tree
and two rubbish bins so far!
Luckily, no one saw me.
All this week
Cleo and I
search the bushes
near the bus stop
and on Saturday
we're going to Murchison Creek
to look for bottle tops
instead of yabbies!
Cleo's new plan
will work.
I hope.
BOOK: Tom Jones Saves the World
5.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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