The bus stinks like Cheezels. The Year 7-ers have them glowing orange on each finger and are sucking them off at a slow, Monday afternoon speed. The senior girls glare from the back seat, as if just the sight will make them fat. I can smell cheese and bacon balls as well but I can’t see them. My friend Karlee and me are breathing out our hot air onto the window and drawing pictures real quick before they disappear. The game is to guess what the picture is before it fades. We’re both pretty good drawers.
Surf’s meant to be good and I have to frigging go to my Nan’s house for the afternoon, I’ve got the shittest luck. Every time the surf’s good I’ve got to do some crap with my family. I draw a dog pooing in a toilet on the window and Karlee guesses it straight away.
The boys are all behind us chucking food in Karlee’s hair and laughing about their weekends. I can see cheese and bacon balls wobbling precariously in her frizzy ponytail. I knew I could smell cheese and bacon balls. Glad they’re not doing that to me. Danny starts peeling away the sole of his shoe with his fingers. The Globe symbol is almost completely texta’d over.
‘How was your weekend, Danny?’ Ash mumbles through his sandwich.
‘Well, Ashie, let’s just say I had to wash my own sheets.’
I don’t really know what he means but I’m sure it’s something gross. Karlee is drawing stuff on the window and then rubbing it out just when I think I know what it is.
Danny then turns across to us and explains himself, ‘Thought they’d make the washing machine preggers, if ya know what I mean.’
Karlee and I both make disgusted noises and the boys all laugh.
I feel something wet near my ear and turn. Ash passes a half-eaten sandwich through the gap in our seats, ‘Pass it up,’ he mumbles. Even though it’s a half-eaten cheese sandwich and the Glad-Wrap is releasing little shards of cheese into my lap, I get excited that it’s Ash. I like his hair and he’s a sick surfer. I pass that cheese sandwich down like it’s something a lot cooler than a cheese sandwich. I can’t help the smile on my face.
‘Hey, Karlee, there’s some shit in your hair.’ I pretend I’ve only just seen the cheesy balls.
Karlee draws a big-breasted lady with banana earrings on the window. I think the earrings are sausages and she gets another point. It really isn’t my day. Karlee whinges a little more about the fact I can’t go to the beach with her. But I can’t. Mum is really busy, Dad is at work and Lottie hasn’t been home in two days because she’s in care in Bega. Lottie has Down syndrome. She’s my aunty but she’s really fat, has a bowl cut and is pretty annoying. Lottie lives with my nan, Hazel, and most people think Nan looks after Lottie, but lately, ‘cause of Nan’s oldness, Lottie has been looking after Nan. With her away, Nan’s been struggling. Why the hell it’s my problem I don’t know. I just want a normal family. All I ever wanted was a normal family.
The school bus stop at Pambula is one of those country bus stops that have no markings, no shelter and no sign. If you’ve never been to Pambula you’d think the driver had got the stop wrong. It’s a craggy bit of concrete, ripped up in areas, slippery as all hell, underneath a humongous Cyprus Pine. The branches scrape along the roof of the bus as it approaches and make a very loud and annoying scratching sound. I step off onto that familiar patch of pebbles. When I look back at the bus, Danny is chucking a brown-eye in the second last window. I stick my finger up at him but he doesn’t see.
There’s a long golden doorknocker on my Nana Hazel’s front door. The doorknob doesn’t work from the outside, so you have no choice but to wait on her doormat, knocking, knocking, for someone to answer. The volume on her TV is always at 64 because she can’t hear anything under 60. When it’s on the whole house vibrates with the sound. I look around to make sure nobody can see me. One day I had to break in through the front bedroom window and Billy from Year 12 saw me. Still to this day he calls me Thief: ‘Hey Thief, broken into any houses lately?’ ‘Hey Thief, the police are onto you,’ and so on. Sometimes when I’m waiting on the mat I pretend to be looking through my bag or phone so I don’t look suspicious. Sometimes I wait longer than 20 minutes. Thankfully, today doesn’t take that long.
‘Georgie, porgie, pudding and pie! Oh, it’s so lovely to see you. Your hair’s so long!’ She flicks the corner of the welcome mat over with her walking stick and steadies herself on the wall. The smell of old-lady sanitary items, body wash and bi-carb soda pours over me. ‘I’ve made scones! And I bought those white biscuits you like from Louie’s. Hope I’ve got the right ones.’
I look down at her shoes. They’re ugly ones that I imagine the Queen wears, navy and squarish. Nan’s feet are so squashed in there. I think it’s ’cause of fluid? It looks like she’s got 2 tonne of skin and spent hours jamming it all into very small navy boxes. I wonder how blood still flows. If my Mum is late picking me up tonight, I’ll kill her. I keep getting these amazing pictures in my head of the boys and Karlee all surfing, nice lefts coming in near the rocks, no weed, good size, and no matter how many Venetians and Scotch Fingers I eat the images won’t go away. And the constant text messages aren’t helping.
Georgia, shit, the surf is amazing. Seriously get down here. Sou-easter, clean, 2m-ish. Where are you?
rec’d 15:57pm 09/04/2001
‘Georgie, so Nina’s been telling me you’re surfboard riding now. That sounds exciting. I’m dreadfully afraid of the ocean. You know, when I was a kid my Mum threw me in and told me to swim. I couldn’t of course.’
Nan’s crinkly hand picks up a couple of sugar cubes and plops them into her cup. Little splashes land on the saucer. I watch her reach for her favourite milk jug. She’s had it since I was a kid. She’s never liked any others. It’s cream china with a small blue bird hand-painted on the side. The blue bird reminds me of being very young and stupid. When you’re young nobody listens to you ‘cause you’re young and stupid and boring. But you want so badly to be heard. You want so badly for someone to listen to your crap. I remember sitting at that table so many days and nights staring at that bird wishing someone would talk to me. But adult stuff was always so much more important. Now everybody tries to talk to me, but I don’t have anything to say.
I lean back into my vinyl chair and put my shoes up on the table. They’re my new skate shoes. They’re black, blue and white and so comfy. I lay-byed them for three months and worked my butt off at the ice-creamery for these babies. Nan lets out a biting scream.
‘Aaarp, up, up… oh, oh, oooh…’ She shoos my shoes off the table and tries to compose herself. ‘Georgia, Georgia, you almost gave me a heart attack. You cannot put new shoes on a table. Hasn’t your mother ever told you that? It’s the worst luck. The absolute worst.’
Mum has probably mentioned it, but I don’t listen to my Mum. I shake my head as if I’ve never heard such bullshit in my life. Nan hobbles over to the TV and puts Blue Heelers on. She thinks everyone who’s anyone loves Blue Heelers. Lisa McCune is annoying as all hell. She’d have to be the most serious person in the world. Never cracks a smile. Wears her pants waaay too high.
I know Nan wants me to ask her more about her swimming story. She’s stirring her sugar cubes and adding milk crazy slow. The deliberate pause is irritating.
‘So… what happened?’ I indulge her, but I decide to text Karlee while I listen.
Hey Karlee, Fark! Me and Nan r watching re-runs of Blue Heelers. Kill.Me.Now. What’s surf like? I’m drowning in Scotch Finger biscuits. HELP ME! Many peeps out?
sent 16:32pm 09/04/2001
‘Well, I almost drowned didn’t I? I got stuck in a current that dragged me right out to sea.’
‘Well, you just swim sideways Nan and then in to the beach. Everybody knows that.’
‘Well, I didn’t know that, Georgia, and I almost drowned. I was going under, crying, yelling, flailing, life flashing before my eyes. After a while, a young man pulled me back into shore and had a fuming go at my mother. She deserved it. I never went back to the beach. I never would.’ She looks at my face and tries to gauge my reaction. I look up from my phone and smile. She frowns. I obviously haven’t given the right response.
‘And that’s why I hate the number 8. Because that’s how old I was when it happened. You’re lucky you got to meet waves the right way, Georgie. Fancy that, a granddaughter of mine, a surfboard rider!’ I wince when she says surfboard rider. It’s called a freaking surfer. I study her, grossed out, as she sucks her soggy biscuit and swallows loudly.
‘So, Georgie, you’re almost in Year 10 now. That’s starting to get serious isn’t it? Are your favourite subjects still art and English? I’ve heard you’ve been going really well with your art lessons?’ Her wrinkly lips are ajar and she has that upside down ‘v’ frown in between her eyebrows just like my mum gets. It isn’t an angry look just deeply serious. As if what she’s listening to could change the world. Her head is always tilted to the side a little, that right side must be her good hearing side. A large amount of time goes by before I realize she’s waiting for an answer.
‘Oh. Well, yeah, I still like drawing.’ I have a sip of my cold tea. ‘I’ve been learning painting, which is ok, I guess. And I like books, so I guess I like English still.’
‘Pardon? I didn’t hear that last bit.’
I breathe deeply and try again. I put four sugar cubes in my tea. They don’t dissolve because it’s too cold.
Nan smiles. ‘I always liked books too. Art, well, I was never good at art. I always wanted to be. I think artists have a good grasp on the world.’ She shuffles out to put the kettle on again. Her kettle is always so loud. The second the hot plate is turned on the kettle starts whistling this very high irritating whistle.
‘If I sat down to draw, say, my kettle or pan, I’d draw it how I think a kettle and a pan look, not from what I actually see. Artists see things for what they are and not what they want them to be. The way things are is very important. It’s important to be realistic and not spend your time in the clouds, Georgie.’ She’s back in the lounge room now, fiddling with the remote. I wonder whether those square shoes cut off circulation, whether when she takes them off at night her feet explode everywhere like a big squid, spilling out everywhere on the carpet.
‘Do you know what you’re going to do when you grow up Georgie?’
‘Nah, Nan, I just want to surf.’
Her eyes point down into her tea like she can see something else in there. Maybe she can. She sometimes sees ghosts. She tells me there’s a ghost called Rose that lives in her house. Whenever something unexplained happens, she says, ‘Oh, that old Rosie’s at it again.’
Blue Heelers goes on again. It is an episode I’ve watched a ridiculous amount of times with Lottie. Whenever my family have card night, I have to sit in the lounge room and watch Blue Heelers or Burke’s Backyard with Lottie all night. We eat nuts and chips. Sometimes Lottie chokes on a nut ‘cause she has no teeth and I have to whack her until it comes tumbling out, wet and mushed onto the carpet. It’s gross. One time, we had to take her to the hospital and the nut flew out as we drove over a speed hump and my uncle caught it in his hand. We probably shouldn’t give her nuts now I think about it. I look up at the painting above the TV. It’s a watercolour painting my Aunty did of Nana Hazel and Lottie standing on the front veranda. It was about 6 years ago and Lottie would have been about 40 something. Nan has her hand covering the top part of her face from the sun and looks her usual old self. Lottie’s face is tilted upwards with her eyes closed, smiling as usual. My Aunty Lou has given me painting lessons on and off for a long time. The first lesson I did with her, she said, ‘Don’t you paint people’s features Georgie, don’t worry about their colours or their structures. Just worry about how the light falls on them. What parts are highlighted and what parts are left in shade. The person comes to life once you get this right. You just worry about the light, Georgie.’
My phone beeps again. Nan’s getting super sick of it.
GEORGIE! Where are you? Surf is cranking!
Just came in for new leggy. It’ll get dark
soon. Hurry. J
rec’d 17:03pm 09/04/2001
Dude, I’m at my frigging Nan’s. Long story but
I’m pissed about it. Enjoy the surf for me.
Betcha it’s flat as tomorrow…
sent 17:09pm 09/04/2001
Maggie-Harry-High-Pants, aka Lisa McCune, is on the TV carrying on trying to spoil the fun again. Nan’s loving everything, saying, ‘Oh that Maggie. Oh, you can rely on our Maggie.’ I am getting a shit-tonne of messages. Why today? I mean I would have come in and done this any other day, but it had to be today didn’t it? I seriously think I am adopted. I don’t even like scones. Or Scotch Fingers for that matter, they’re super bland. Mum’s late. I’ll kill her. I start drawing a wave on my arm with a nearby pen to take my mind off how angry I am.
‘It’s so good to have you here, Georgie, I’ve missed you. You haven’t been in in a while.’ Nan fluffs her curls up around her face. I don’t know why ladies all cut their hair off when they turn 50 and then spend the rest of their days perming it. Do they not know it’s a pretty tragic hairstyle? If all old ladies have the same do, wouldn’t you think, gee, I don’t want my hair to look like every other old woman because it’ll make me look old? Nope, they just all run out and do it. Sorry, waddle out and do it.
‘I tell you what, Georgie, Meals on Wheels has been pretty good lately and I kept you some soup from lunch. It’s chicken and corn. It’s delicious, I promise.’
It’s hard to keep this act up. I could think of nothing worse to eat. She knows I’m vegetarian, but she still doesn’t think chicken is meat. I look at the tiny rollers in her hair. I look at her pink knitted jumper, the way it fits over her droopy boobs. It is hard to see resemblance between me and the entire family. I think it’s definite; I’ve got to be adopted. I’ve got nothing in common with any of them. I watch the TV and just zone in on Lisa McCune’s annoying face, her camel toe, her taut lips. Her face reflects exactly how I feel right now. Pissed off at life. Mum should be here by now. And then I’ll get down there. I don’t care if a shark eats me ‘cause it’s dark, I am going surfing. And I am not eating another damn biscuit. And then, the text that beats all others…
George. I just got out. Amazing Where were you? –Ash
rec’d 17:23pm 09/04/2001
Holy shit. Ash. I re-read the message about 8 times. He called me George! That’s got to be an affectionate thing to do. Although, maybe it’s a friend thing to do? Maybe he doesn’t like me that way. The fact he noticed I wasn’t there is the one wicked thing to come out of this shit day.
Nan is talking about the police force. ‘It must be such a difficult job. So many terrible things in the world now…’
I can hear Mum’s car pull up outside. I’m finally outta here! ‘Well, Nan, it’s been so nice to see you, you look great, thanks for the food.’ I yell it out as I jog up the hallway, pulling my schoolbag over one shoulder.
Mum comes in looking fragile and weary. She walks in and starts talking with Nan but I’m outta here. I jog past her in the hallway and she stumbles out of my way. I see a twenty-cent coin on the pavement on my way to the car. I pick it up and pocket it. That’s lucky isn’t it? I’m definitely gunna have a good surf now. And I’m in the car. I’m putting my Walkman earphones in. Oasis is playing my favourite song. It’s that one, you know, that one that goes, Slip inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find, a better place to play… I’m on my phone. I’m wondering what board to take out. I’m sliding my swimmers on underneath my t-shirt. I’m calling Karlee. She’s not answering. I’m breathing heavy. Mum finally gets in the car.
‘Georgia, you didn’t even say goodbye to your nan.’
She starts up the car and takes a slow and deliberately loud breath, ‘At least wave to her.’ She flicks the blinker on and looks for oncoming traffic. ‘I don’t know who you are anymore...’
I can hear Mum talking but I’m not really listening. Oasis has me right there in that chorus, Soooooo Sally can wait, she knows it’s too late as we’re walking on by, her sooouul slides away, but don’t look back in anger…
I look at Nan’s house as we drive off and I see her clutching her walking stick, waving to me with the other hand. She’s standing on her veranda and the last sun of the afternoon is shining onto her face. It’s like patches of golden pepper are sprinkled over her cheeks and forehead, leaving shadows underneath. And for just a second, I realise the sun falls on Nana Hazel’s face the same way it falls on mine. And then we’re gone.