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By James Roy
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2007 James Roy
All rights reserved.
February–The New Girl–Marty
Since they got all serious about youth smoking, the only place a minor can get cigarettes around here is in the little gift shop at the end of the Frensham Arcade–the one next door to the cake shop. It's got a small second-hand book section full of manga and comics and dog-eared pornos down near the back, and it's run by a guy called Darren, who's got a wizard tattoo on his forearm. One day he'll get shut down. It's weird that it hasn't happened yet, because practically everyone knows that he supplies cigarettes to minors.
I get them from him all the time. It works like this–I offer him a donation, or pay twenty bucks for a couple of old comics that are probably only worth a dollar each, and he buys the ciggies for himself, right off the shelf. Then he gives them to me as a 'gift'. I don't know how long this set-up can work, but I don't really care. Well, actually, I do care, because if the whole scheme falls on its head, I won't have smokes anymore. Which would suck. But as for what happens to Darren, I don't care so much about that. I mean, the guy's a criminal. It's against the law to sell smokes to minors, and he must know that.
This is where me and Reece get the smokes that are confiscated from us within moments of arriving at school. We aren't even smoking them at the time. But somehow Mason knows we've got them. He steps out in front of us as we're heading along the path that leads under the library stairs. We're barely ten metres inside the front gate and he's right there, and he's gone all twitchy in the fingers.
'All right, lads, let's have them.'
'Have what, sir?' Reece asks.
'We don't have any cigarettes, sir,' Reece replies, apparently quite put out by the very suggestion.
Mason purses his lips. He doesn't believe us. He very rarely does. 'You've always got cigarettes,' he says. 'Come on, let's not waste time. I can see the outline of them in your pocket, Marty.'
Foiled again. I pull out the pack and hand them over. It's practically full, too.
Mason's fingers are still twitchy. 'And the lighter.'
I know there's no point denying that I have one of those, so I make an attempt to negotiate, using logic. 'I can't smoke the lighter, can I, sir?'
'No, possibly not, but you can burn down the assembly hall.'
'You know, that's not a bad idea,' I say. 'First day back and everything.'
Mason's smiling. And it's not a smart-arse smile, or even an ironic one. I think he's genuinely enjoying the banter we've got going on. But those fingers are still going. 'Marty. Lighter. Now.'
I fish the lighter out of my pocket and slap it into his palm. 'Can I get all that stuff back at the end of the day?'
'How many times, Marty? You can have the lighter back, but not the smokes.' He turns to Reece next. 'Now, Mr Tormay. How about you?'
Reece takes out his own gear.
'Silk Cut for you, Reece? Classy.'
Then Mason starts shaking his head and clicking like a geiger counter. 'First day back, indeed. Go on, lads. On your way.'
'Thank you, Mr Mason,' I say.
'Smart-arse,' he mutters as he marches off.
I'm not happy about this. I had to make a pretty generous donation to get those Lucky Strikes.
'What do you reckon he does with all those smokes he rips off from us?' I ask Reece.
'He probably sells them straight back to Darren.'
I love the first day of school, and not even the bouncer at the front gate can change that. It's usually pretty laid back, first day. None of the teachers seem at all keen to teach anyone anything. They just want to ease themselves back into the school year. I once saw a fridge magnet on the side of Mrs Jellick's filing cabinet. It said, 'The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'. She left two weeks into second term, and was later seen repotting herbs at the local nursery, so I guess her journey ended up being about three hundred miles, before she ran out of steps. Obviously counting to one over and over again is harder than it sounds.
I like the first day of school because of the new people, too. There's usually a handful of newbies. The law of averages suggests that half of these will be girls. And there's a pretty good chance that at least one of those girls will be hot.
At least one. It's not too much to ask, is it? And it's not that there aren't any nice girls already at the school–there are. And it's not that they won't notice guys like me–they do. But a bit of variety is nice, I think.
Last year the star recruit was Georgina Hill. Quality. Kind of small and petite, pretty face, has always insisted on wearing a dress that is far too short, which is something of a bonus. Unfortunately she turned out to be a first-class bitch.
The year before, the chief head-turner was Jennifer Capriossi. She fronted up on the first day of last term. Tall, dark-eyed, sexy as a centrefold. Also a bitch, but I went out with her for a couple of weeks. I didn't know she was a bitch then, but I soon found out. She's gone now. I don't think our school was quite Catholic enough for her.
And this year–jackpot. I see the new girl waiting in the front office as me and Reece are passing through. We're looking for Mr Buck, who left a message for my dad that I should go and pick up his golf team rego form. And as we go through the front office I see this girl. She's a redhead. I like redheads. You don't see them every day. They're kind of like a rare bird that you might go days or even weeks without seeing, assuming you're keeping an eye out for rare birds. I am, in fact, pretty much always on the lookout for rare birds, or at least hot ones.
So I slow down. She's standing alone, her bag at her feet and a couple of brand-new, shiny A4 folders held close to her chest. She's looking at the huge fish tank they keep in the front office.
'You go and find Bucko,' I tell Reece.
'I'll owe you, man,' I say.
'You already owe me.' Then he sighs. 'All right, what am I asking him for?'
'The golf stuff for my dad. Rego papers or something. I'm not really sure.'
Reece heaves another sigh. 'I'll be back,' he says. 'Don't go anywhere.'
'No chance of that.' I haven't taken my eyes off this girl. She is seriously scorching. Some of the senior girls at school are still developing, I've noticed. But this one is all woman. If there are no other newbies in the senior school this year, it won't matter.
I stroll–no, I saunter–over to her, my hands deep in my pockets. 'Hi there,' I say. 'Your first day?'
'Yes, it is,' she replies.
'A little, yeah.'
'You don't need to be. We're all very nice. Very welcoming.'
'Haven't got your uniform yet?'
She shakes her head. 'Not yet. Supply issues, probably.'
'Well, you know, you probably want to get onto that. They're pretty tough on uniform here,' I tell her.
She nods. 'I guess the best I can hope for is that the principal calls three days of mufti to start the school year.'
'Unlikely,' I say, smiling. This girl's got an attitude I think I'm going to like. 'You know, rather than risk that those mufti days aren't going to happen, I could just show you where the uniform shop is.'
'Could you?' She smiles back at me. Nice straight teeth, almost perfect. I like that. 'Well, you know what, I might take you up on that offer a little later on.'
'How about now? They're probably open until nine o'clock. Do you want me to find out what time it closes?'
'Thanks, but I might ask in a minute.'
'So, who are you waiting for?' I ask her.
'One of the office ladies. She'll be back soon. She said she'd find someone to show me around. Find me a locker, that sort of thing.'
'You've got to pay for lockers here. But it's worth it, if you don't want your stuff nicked. Last year I lost two iPods, both nicked. So I got a locker.'
'After you lost two iPods?'
'Correct.' Then I shrug. 'I guess I'm a slow learner.'
'How much is locker hire–like five dollars a month or something?'
'Seven-fifty. Don't even try to work out how many months of locker hire each of those iPods was worth.'
'Yeah, you know, I think I'll get a locker. It's probably worth it.'
I hold out my hand. 'I'm Marty.'
'Melanie,' she says, shaking my hand. 'It's nice to meet you, Marty.'
'Do you like our fish tank?' I ask her. 'We're conducting an experiment in conjunction with the CSIRO, to see how thick we can grow moss on aquarium glass. I think it's going very well. What do you think?'
'I think it's going amazingly well,' she replies. 'That's quite a bit of moss. Plus algae, which is probably an unexpected result.'
Damn, she's sexy. I like red hair ringletty and I like it short, but I especially like it the way she's got it, in a short bob, a bit longer on one side than the other and slightly undercut at the back. It's not the kind of haircut that most of the other girls around here have. I'm no haircut expert, but this looks like an expensive one. Plus the highlights, which probably aren't cheap.
'Well, we can start the tour right here, if you like,' I say. I point to a No Smoking sign screwed to the brick wall, right beside the fish tank. The screw from the bottom right corner is missing. 'Please note that there is to be no smoking on any part of this tour. Smoking is frowned on in most parts of the school, in fact.'
She leans closer to me. I can smell her perfume. It's good–really good. 'Where would you smoke, if you had ... you know, a habit ?' she asks me in a voice slightly louder than a whisper.
Concentrate, I tell myself. 'Technically, students aren't allowed to smoke anywhere, but we find places to do it. I can show you the best spots if you like. I think the teachers probably smoke in the coutyard out the back of the staff-room, even though they're really not meant to. And the official word is that they don't. But you know teachers ...'
She smiles grimly. 'Typical. Sounds like a double standard to me.'
'Absolutely. By the way, if you are a smoker, I know where you can get cigarettes.'
'Yeah, me too. The newsagent, the supermarket, the tobacconist, the servo, the other servo ...'
This girl is killing me. I think I'm falling in love. I can see her walking into the servo and boldly asking for a packet of Benson & Hedges and getting them, no questions asked. Confidence. It's sexy.
'So, on with the tour. If you'd like to turn your attention to the wall of fame up here, I'll quickly mention some of the upstanding examples of past students from this fine institution.'
'Yes! Alumni! Exactly!'
'I'd like that,' Melanie says.
I point at the first photograph. 'This is Elliott Cowan. He was in the Australian water polo team back in the seventies.'
'Wow,' says Melanie.
'I know. Have you ever heard of him?'
'I have now.'
'Yes, well, no one else has heard of him since the seventies.' This gets a bit of a laugh, which is encouraging.
'And next we have Barbara Hubbell. Barb–or Speedy Barb, as we prefer to call her–represented the state in track and field.'
'Impressive,' says Melanie, nodding slowly.
'Absolutely. She's a hairdresser now. She owns the shop next to the video place.'
I pause for a moment. 'No, Hubbell Hair, I think. I'm told she's very good.'
'I'll keep that in mind.'
'You definitely should. This one is my favourite, right here.' I point to a signed colour photo of a cricketer, resplendent in his bright yellow uniform. 'This is Shaun Melvey. He played two games for the Australian Twenty-20 side.' I lower my voice, almost to a whisper. 'He's a bit of a local hero around here. Saint Shaun, we call him.'
'I can see why. And who's that last one?' she asks, pointing at a faded black-and-white photo of a rather dowdy looking woman. 'Not real pretty, is she?'
'Oh, her?' I have to read the little plaque to remind myself who she is. 'Yes, of course, this is Anne Trinker. Apparently she worked in the press gallery at Parliament House during the Dismissal.'
'I see. Well, Marty, that's a very impressive group right there. You should all be very proud of the achievements of these past students.'
'Oh, we are. And in time, you will learn to be proud of them too, Mel. Can I call you Mel? Or do you prefer Melanie?'
'Mel's fine for now.'
Reece is back. He hands me a folded sheet of paper. 'Here it is,' he says.
'Reece, this is my new friend Mel. Mel, this is my sometimes-friend Reece. We're talking now, but later on, who knows?'
Reece rolls his eyes dramatically. 'Sometimes I feel invisible. He comes home and wants his pipe and slippers, and doesn't see any of the hard work I've been doing, keeping this place together.'
'He's a flirt,' I say, wishing he wasn't.
'Oh, him too?' Mel replies.
Mrs Procter comes out of the office and bustles over, practically bursting in on us like whatever she's got to say is hellishly important. For an office lady, she's got some A-grade delusions of grandeur.
'Excuse me, boys. Now, Melanie, would you like to come with me? There are a couple of people you need to meet, such as your year group coordinator. And I've got your timetable for you.'
'Excuse me,' Mel says to us. 'It was nice to meet you both. And thanks for the tour, Marty.'
'It's all going to be in the test at the end of the term.'
'I'll cram,' she replies.
'See you around, I guess.'
She nods. 'Yeah, absolutely. I look forward to it.'
I watch her go, then I turn to Reece. 'Well?'
'Hot or not?' I ask. 'I'd say definitely hot.'
He nods. 'Oh yeah, definitely.'
'Do you reckon I'm in with a chance? She was flirting with me like mad.'
'She certainly was. And you were flirting back, I noticed.'
'Of course. So? What do you think? A chance?'
Reece just smiles and shakes his head. 'You're incredible,' he says.
'Just remember, I saw her first.'
'Come on–let's go and find the others. Andy should be here by now. Ronnie too.'
Assembly is riotous, as usual. Reece and Andy and I file in pretty late and are hurried along by the Duff. We've had a lot to talk about, and he can't help being a prick, so no one's to blame really. We find Reece's girlfriend, Ronnie, who's saved us a seat.
The Duff needn't have hurried us. Assembly is nowhere near kick-off. People are still catching up from the holidays, and it's fairly rowdy. Of course, Mark Grimmett is buried in his drawing pad, as ever, but he's pretty harmless. Hardly worth the spitball, really.
Then Robbie Blair idles in and sits in the front corner of the hall, spit streaking his chin. His arrival has caused a bit of a disturbance down the front among the little ones who are about to launch into the adventure that is high school. It's as if they've never seen a retard before.
At the Duff's insistence, we find somewhere to sit, and I scan along our row, then the other rows of seniors, looking for Mel. I can't find her, but it's a big group of kids. It'd be easy to get lost in it.
'I can't find her,' I say to Reece.
'Missing her already?'
I clutch at the front of my shirt. 'My heart yearns for her.'
'Yearns? Come on, man! You've never yearned for a girl in your life. Lusted, maybe, but yearned?'
'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,' I say, proud to be actually using my education for something useful.
Mr Hofland stands at the front and waits for some time, the microphone under his chin. Then he clears his throat, several times. The kids who are new to high school seem to settle down pretty quickly, undoubtedly because they're scared. Not just of him, but of everyone and everything. I remember being that scared.
Then, gradually, the whole school notices that the principal is waiting. As quiet falls across the group, one kid in Grade Ten whoops, which raises a giggle from a few people. But at last it's quiet.
Mr Hofland clears his throat and begins. 'Good morning, school. That took far too long, but since it's our first day back, I'll overlook it this time. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Mr Hofland, the principal.
'Some of you are new at this school, and to all of those people, especially the ones who are starting high school for the first time today, I'd like to say welcome.
'I hope that your first day at your new school will be fun, rewarding and you'll feel at home very soon. To the other students who are back for more, welcome to you as well.'
Reece leans over and whispers in my ear. 'He didn't mention how if you're new you'll be flirted with at the front office.'
'It's an important job, and I was happy to take it on,' I say.
The Duff shushes me from the end of the row. The prick.
'We also have a few new staff here today,' Mr Hofland announces. 'If I can get them to come up the front as I introduce them ... Mr David Vickery, who will be teaching maths. Come on up, Mr Vickery.'
A tall, young teacher climbs the steps onto the stage and stands there beside the lectern, hands folded in front of him. Several of the less-mature senior girls elbow each other. Idiots.
Excerpted from Town by James Roy. Copyright © 2007 James Roy. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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