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Edsel Grizzler Book One
Voyage to Verdada
By James Roy
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2009 James Roy
All rights reserved.
Edsel Grizzler was an only child. He lived with his parents at Number 58, Bland Street, in the outer suburb of West Malaise. The Grizzlers' house was built of plain brown brick, it had a grey tile roof and, for some long-forgotten reason, a large blue butterfly on the wall by the front door. As far as he knew, Edsel had never lived any place else. And yet he was often aware of a low, rumbling kind of discontent deep inside, especially when he watched TV shows like Flyaway and The Awesome Outdoors, and saw the presenters larking about in wonderful and exotic locations. To Edsel, those places all seemed full of people who looked quite a bit like him, only happier. And when he saw these people, he would wonder, Do I really belong here? Maybe I belong somewhere else altogether. Maybe things aren't really the way they seem.
But then, things very rarely are.
Edsel's father, who was a nervy, balding, thin little man with a face the colour of cold porridge, worked in a tiny, windowless office in the city, at a small accounting firm. Each morning, after catching the notoriously unreliable 6:45 train into the city, he'd make himself a coffee in the staff kitchenette, walk blankly to his cubicle as he mindlessly stirred his cup with a little wooden stick, and slump down at his desk with a weary sigh. Then he'd turn on his computer, open the spreadsheet program and begin looking for ways his clients could put off paying some of their tax until the following year, all the while wondering where his youth had gone.
Not surprisingly, Edsel's father came home in a pretty bad mood most evenings. He would unlock the security screen, drop his briefcase at the front door, and immediately go looking for his son. Then, once he'd seen Edsel, or knew where Edsel was and what he was doing, and with whom, he would flop down into his armchair and wait for his wife to bring him a cup of weak tea, white with two. Then, after eating an early dinner in front of the TV, he would rouse himself, and head to the garage to tinker with the old green car he kept in pieces out there. He would come back in at about ten o'clock to make sure that Edsel was safely tucked up in bed with his bedroom window shut, before returning to the garage.
Edsel hated that old green car. It was oddly shaped and ugly, the interior smelled funny and vinyly, and a couple of the body panels were an entirely different colour from the others. But he mostly hated it because his father felt that a workshop was no place for a kid, on account of all the dangerous things that could happen in such a place.
Mrs Grizzler was a good match for her husband. Whilst he was thin and pasty, she was extremely large and redfaced, with saggy bits under her arms that swayed about when she moved. She was always cooking, which meant she was always eating. She would sample her kitchen creations whilst wearing a large shapeless dress and a distant gaze, and Edsel was pretty sure that she was sad most of the time. This wasn't entirely her fault – she'd been unhappy from the day she was born, thanks to a father who ignored her and a mother who smacked her too much.
Edsel found his parents terribly, terribly embarrassing. Whenever they went anywhere as a family, he would walk some distance behind, hoping no one would realise that he was with the nursery-rhyme couple – the fat red-faced mother and the skinny porridge-faced father. Meanwhile they would be continually turning around to ensure that he hadn't been kidnapped or had his legs inexplicably broken.
Barely a day went by that Edsel didn't have a guilty little daydream about living somewhere else, or being the child of someone else.
Because Edsel was so ashamed of his parents, he never invited any of his friends home to play. Not that he had a lot of friends. Really, he had practically none. And it wasn't because he didn't want friends – he'd quite simply never made any.
The only person Edsel could really have called anything like a friend was a grownup, called Pete Grabbit. Pete was a very kind, rather simple man whose mother owned a local junk shop called Nicks 'n' Nacks. It wasn't much more than a large tin shed full to the rusty, dusty rafters with furniture, old clothes, bits of cars, broken toys, and boxes of books and records. In fact, there wasn't much that Mrs Grabbit didn't have in her shop.
Edsel loved going into Nicks 'n' Nacks and poking around in the boxes and behind old wardrobes and under tables and beds. He'd made a bit of cash over the years too, with something he called 'The System'.
He'd find something in need of a bit of repair, like an old bike, or a toy, or a broken rocking chair, and he'd spend a few hours in his junk-filled bedroom fixing the thing up. Then he'd sell it at a profit.
Once he'd picked up an old stamp album (complete with stamps) for three dollars, and had spent a couple of evenings sorting the stamps into categories. Then he'd taken it to school and, after a brief bidding war between two of the nerdier Year Fours, had sold it for almost $12.
One time he'd bought an old non-working radio for a couple of bucks, taken it home, and applied a drop of glue to the knob. Presto, a working radio, which he sold back to Mrs Grabbit for $6. And on it went.
So far, since he'd started to perfect The System, he'd made a profit of over $120. He was saving it carefully for a skateboard he'd seen at the local skate shop. It had yellow wheels and a Gary Fletcher plank, and came with a free pair of awesome shades. He only needed another $85 and it would be his. He'd have the best board in the school. Then it would just be a matter of learning to ride it, and learning to do so without his parents finding out.
Edsel's parents were cautious parents, especially when it came to their son. It wasn't that they never took Edsel to any place where dangerous things could happen, but that once they were there they wouldn't let him do any of those dangerous things. They took him to the beach once or twice a year, but he was never allowed to swim, for fear of drowning, or being taken by a shark. One time Edsel tried to explain to his parents that the risk of being killed by a shark was thirty times less than the risk of being killed by a dog.
'Which is only one of the numerous reasons we don't have a dog,' his mother explained.
'The chances of a shark attack are fifty times lower than being struck by lightning,' Edsel argued.
'How would you even know that?' his father asked.
'I looked it up.'
'Yes, well we're not going to let that happen either,' Mum said, 'because if so much as a cloud blows in while we're at the beach, we'll be heading straight home.'
And Edsel sighed, because he knew she wasn't kidding.
They'd been to the Easter Show once or twice, but Edsel was never allowed on the roller-coasters, or even the teacup ride. And, since gravity and moving parts were right there for his parents to see, he didn't even attempt to calculate the odds of a fatal roller-coaster crash. So while Edsel entertained the slight possibility that one day he might get a dog, swim in the ocean and ride a rollercoaster – possibly even all on the same day – he also knew that while he was living with his parents, that day was still a very long way off indeed.CHAPTER 2
Edsel hated school, and thought about it as little as possible. As schools go, his wasn't terribly nice. For a start, it was overcrowded, but not with friends for Edsel. As far as he was concerned, his school was packed with kids he didn't like, kids who didn't like him, and teachers who didn't seem to like anyone.
One Tuesday morning, when the first bell went, Edsel and his classmates lined up at their classroom door, just as they usually did. And they waited and waited.
'Ms Finn isn't here,' said Fleur Gill, who could always be relied on to point out the completely obvious. 'Where is she?'
'I don't know, but she's not here yet,' said her friend Gina French, who was equally reliable.
'She's probably sick,' Edsel said.
'Who asked you?' Fleur snapped.
'No one asked me,' Edsel replied, 'but no one asked me not to say anything, either. So I thought I'd just say —'
'Well don't,' said Gina.
Edsel shrugged. 'I'll say whatever I like. You can't stop me.'
Gina and Fleur looked at one another and rolled their eyes in unison. 'Weird,' Fleur said.
'Totally,' Gina agreed. 'Total weirdo.'
'I'm standing right here, you know,' said Edsel.
'Oh, we know,' Gina retorted.
'Okay, kids, in you go.' Mr Sullivan, the principal, had just turned up. He was wearing a rather drab brown short-sleeved shirt, an equally drab chocolate-brown tie, and tan shorts, with long socks. Edsel wasn't surprised – this was pretty much what Mr Sullivan wore every day. And as usual, a folded newspaper was tucked under his arm.
'Where's Ms Finn?' someone asked.
Mr Sullivan took a deep breath. 'She's not well, so until we can organise a replacement, you've got me. All right, at your desks, please, and do it quietly – I'm not in the mood for any nonsense.'
When he heard this, Edsel slumped inside. Ms Finn was one of the few good things about school. She was young and pretty, with large, dark eyes, and he always found that his mouth went dry when she spoke to him. Once everyone was seated, Mr Sullivan snapped his fingers, loudly, which was how he usually got the students' attention.
'Thanks, everyone,' he said. 'In a minute I'll give you an English task, but first I want to remind you that parent-teacher interviews are on Thursday night. This afternoon you'll all receive letters to take home to your parents. Some will be told they don't need to come in for an interview, but of course if they'd like to they're still welcome to make an appointment. Butsome of you will be taking home letters that insist on your parents coming in. This doesn't necessarily mean that you're in trouble, simply that there might be some issues that need discussing.'
As soon as Mr Sullivan mentioned the parent-teacher interviews, Edsel's heart sank. He wanted to lean his forehead on his desk, squeeze his eyes shut, stamp his feet and scream. He was sure to get one of the insisting letters. And if he didn't, his parents would still make an appointment, just to make sure that everything was all right. Nothing was more certain.
But then a glimmer of hope flickered in his mind. Perhaps he wouldn't need to come in. Maybe his letter would say that everything was fine, and that he and his parents should stay home on Thursday night.
Oh, who am I kidding, he thought, the glimmer of hope fading like a dying spark. Unless he could convincingly forge one of his parents' signatures, he knew exactly where he was going to be next Thursday evening.
'All right, class, listen up,' said Mr Sullivan, facing the whiteboard and taking the cap off the green marker. 'Here's the task I'd like you to do, at least until we work out who's going to take you for the rest of the day.' Across the board, in big, green, capital letters, he wrote:
IF ONLY ...
Then he sat down at Ms Finn's desk and unfolded his newspaper. 'Take out your writing composition books and write.' He leaned back in the chair and tapped the board with his knuckle. 'About this. And no talking.'
Edsel looked around the classroom. He saw people he didn't like, people he didn't trust, people who bored him. He saw students who'd picked on him right through primary school, and a few that he'd maybe picked on himself, once or twice. He saw a school principal who thought that being a teacher involved reading the newspaper at the front of the classroom while children dutifully ruled up their exercise books for some boring composition task. And he saw that same school principal absentmindedly slip his thumb inside the edge of his nostril to have a subtle little pick. The same principal who would be sending a letter home to his parents, telling them that they had to come in the following Thursday evening to 'discuss' their son, an opportunity they wouldn't miss for the world. What if something was wrong? What if he was being bullied? What if he wasn't happy? What if, what if, what if
Then, finally, Edsel looked around at his classmates once more and imagined them laughing behind their hands as he and his parents walked into the school grounds for their interview – a short, skinny, pasty man, and his enormous wife.
Without bothering to rule up, Edsel took out his pen and wrote:
If only I wasn't me, living with the people I live with.
If only my family was normal.
He tapped his teeth with the end of his pen as he read over the words he'd written. Then he added one more line.
If only I could be someone else, living somewhere else, and if only I could stay there.
When he'd written this, he put down his pen and gazed out the classroom window. As far as he was concerned, there was nothing else to say.
Later, after lunch, and just before the last bell went, Mr Sullivan came to the classroom. 'Excuse me,' he said to the slightly frazzled substitute teacher who'd turned up partway through the day, 'I need to hand out these letters. These are the notes about parent-teacher interviews I mentioned earlier,' he said as he walked between the desks, dropping an envelope on each of the students' desks. When he came to Edsel's desk, he stopped, looked down his long nose at Edsel, and handed him the envelope. Edsel took it, but Mr Sullivan didn't let go straightaway. 'See you on Thursday,' he said, and Edsel's heart sank again.
At that moment, almost with the hiss of an extinguished spark, all hope died.CHAPTER 3
Just as he often did after school, Edsel dropped in to Nicks 'n' Nacks on the way home for a bit of a poke around, after stopping briefly outside the skate shop to peer longingly through the front window at the Gary Fletcher board he'd wanted for so long.
It had taken his parents a long time to agree to him stopping off at the Grabbits' old junk shop. They'd wanted him to come directly home after school each day, but after a lot of pleading and maybe even a bit of sulking, he'd managed to convince them.
'So long as you're careful of spiders,' Dad had said. 'Spiders like to hide in those sorts of places.'
'And be careful when you move stuff around,' Mum added. 'You don't want something heavy falling on your head.'
'And don't open anything that looks suspicious.'
So far Edsel hadn't come across a single spider, hadn't pulled anything down on his head, and hadn't seen anything even slightly suspicious.
This day Edsel came in and saw Mrs Grabbit sitting behind the counter with a transistor radio pressed to the side of her head. She could be found there most days, listening to the horseracing, with the reedy voice of the race announcer droning along in a frantic kind of way.
'Hello, Mrs Grabbit,' he said. 'Where's Pete?'
'Shh! I'm listening to the horses!' She jerked her thumb towards the rear of the shop. 'He's out the back working on the ute, I think.'
Leaving Mrs Grabbit to her horses, Edsel went through the warehouse, between the dusty furniture and the piles of nicks and the crates of nacks, and out to the yard behind the shop.
Pete had his head under the hood of his old ute. This wasn't an unusual situation for Edsel to find his friend in – that truck seemed to spend more time broken down than it did actually running.
'Pete,' Edsel called.
Pete looked up. 'Hey, Edsel.'
'Ute broken down again?'
Pete rolled his eyes. 'I'm getting too old for this.' He stood up and stretched his back. 'Time for a new truck, I think. Oh, hey,' he said, brightening suddenly, 'we got some new stuff in today, and there was something that you might like the look of.'
'Yeah? What is it?'
'That's just the thing – I'm not exactly sure. In fact, I'm not even slightly sure. Do you want to take a peek?'
'Yeah, all right.'
He followed Pete inside. 'Cool! New stuff!' he said, spotting the fresh pile of junk by the door. There was a velvet-covered bedhead, an old pair of brown hi-fi speakers, a zip-lock plastic bag of Monopoly houses and hotels, and a few other bits and pieces. But what really caught Edsel's attention was ... a something.
Excerpted from Edsel Grizzler Book One by James Roy. Copyright © 2009 James Roy. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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