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Chapter 2


Gez has his shirt off and is looking at new car parts all over the garage floor. As he looks, he runs a hand over his left pec. He's fit, strong. I don't know for sure if he's good looking, but when it comes to girls, he never falls short. His shoulders are toned; his chest and abs are lean. He does nothing with his hair—ratty and brown like a surfer's. Gez doesn't have to try to look cool. He just is.

We're at Ryan's unit at Coorparoo on Brisbane's south side. Ryan is Gez's older brother. He studies human movement at university and has a casual job at a convenience store. Ryan's the best. Get this: he bought Gez a piece-of-junk car for his eighteenth, which is still two months away. It's a 1980 Nissan Bluebird. It's green and it doesn't go. But Ryan is parking his van on the street so Gez can keep the Bluebird in the garage while we fix it up. Not only that, Ryan has given me a set of keys to the unit so I can come and go as I please.

‘Spark plugs,’ Gez says, pointing at car parts on the floor. ‘Radiator, radiator hose.’ He stops, tilts his head. ‘What do you reckon that is?’



I look away from his muscular frame, in the direction he's pointing. The thing is brown, cuplike, made of plastic. ‘Distributor cap,’ I say.

He flicks through the book, trying to find a picture that matches. His biceps move as he bends his arm. I feel my own: nothing. And that's despite doing push-ups every day, hoping to build up my pecs to hide the crevice in my chest.

He points at the book. ‘Here it is,’ and then looks at me and catches me staring. He squints and shoves the picture under my nose.

‘I know,’ I say.

He picks it up, sticks his head over the engine and looks about. He glances at the picture again and then back at the motor. He turns the distributor cap in his hand. ‘Where does it go?’

I point to the side of the motor. ‘There.’


‘Give it here,’ I say. I take the cap and clip it in place.

There's a crash on the roller door and we jump at the noise. Gez opens it and Ryan comes in, wearing his convenience store uniform, smoking a ciggie. His clothes look messy, untucked, and dirty. He looks at the engine. ‘Nice work,’ he says as if we've made progress, then heads for the stairs.

When he comes back, he's lugging the small TV and DVD player from his bedroom. He sets them up on the floor next to a stereo, puts a surfing video on then heads back upstairs. Gez and I turn the volume up until the punk music soundtrack of the video makes the air throb. Ryan returns with a bong, lights it and pulls deep. He holds the smoke in his lungs then lets it out slowly. ‘Needed that,’ he says and passes it to me.

I check the bong water. It's green and murky. I don't smoke much, mostly because of my chest. Sometimes I think the indent restricts my lungs slightly, but I figure the odd bong is worth the risk. I put my thumb over the air hole and suck slowly, watch the smoke gather in the glass then release my thumb and feel the smoke surge into me. I let it out as slowly as I can, but I can't do it like Ryan.

He turns the volume up more, taps his foot and bobs his head to the beat. The three of us stick our heads around the engine and I loosen the bolts from around the leaky radiator. Gez holds the book and reads out instructions, but I don't need them. It's pretty straightforward, really. We heave the old radiator out and put in another that I picked up last week from Oscar's—a mechanic and car wrecker from down the road. We yell and joke over the music and rub our greasy hands on each other.

‘Check it out,’ Gez says, stopping to watch the TV.

A surfer is getting towed into a giant break. I stand, spanner in hand, Gez rubs his hands on his shorts.

The wave rears up as the surfer races down the face, the board skipping on the rippled surface. A spray shears off as the wave crests and curls over, sucking the surfer up with it. He disappears in the explosion.

‘Oooohhh, that's gotta hurt,’ Ryan says, grinning and grimacing at the same time.

Gez rewinds and we watch it again. He cheers. I laugh. We all look at each other.

‘Who's up for a surf this weekend?’ Ryan asks.

For the rest of the afternoon we sit in the lounge room, drinking, sorting out the details. We'll stay at their uncle's place at Lake Currimundi on the Sunshine Coast. It's an old beach shack stuck between high-rises, which he rents out to holiday-makers and family. Ryan gives him a call. It's vacant. We make a list of things we'll need: snags, bread, beer, chocolate, weed, our boards. We'll go in the van. That's about it. Our weekend is sorted.

That night I stare into the fridge. I see nothing, but I'm thinking about the weekend, not my stomach. I don't want the beach to be crowded. I don't want it to be too hot. I always surf with a wettie to hide my chest.

Dad is nearby at the dining room table doing Sportsbet on his laptop. His credit card and a sachet of pain-killers lie beside his wallet. He puts fifty bucks on the Broncos each week. Safe bet, he reckons. When he's not on Sportsbet, he'll be trailing through junk emails, reading Fox Sports or playing Stick Cricket. In the last couple of years he's become an internet junkie. And meanwhile, Roger's paperwork piles up.

At home, it's just me, Dad and his dog Knight Rider, a black Staffordshire terrier. My parents busted up when I was six. Things were always rocky. I knew it even back then. When Dad got posted to Townsville, I was always going to end up with one or the other. Mum refused to go.

In the end it was Dad who won me over, but more for Mum's lack of effort than because Dad and I were especially close. It's not like I was convenient for him, either. Being a single soldier with a kid, he was never going to be sent on dangerous placements, the kind of stuff he was trained for. But Dad's always said a boy needs a father. I can't work out why. It's not like he puts in a special effort. But for the six months before the move he told me stories of tropical storms with wild lightning, and clouds climbing higher than I could imagine. He won me over with a lust for the tropics.

But it's not rain or storms I remember about Townsville. What I remember is the heat, smoke from dry-season grass fires, and the army childcare centre. It was never what I thought it would be. I still see Mum on occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays, just enough to know I've got a biological past.

‘Oh, Jack,’ Dad says. ‘I bought a coaching book today.’

I shrug.

‘I can't wait to get back into it,’ he says. ‘I did a bit of coaching with an army team back in my day. Have I told you about that? Anyway, we'll talk about that another time. I've been thinking about your height. I think full-back is the position for you. You'd be great under the high ball. But I think you need to beef up. We'll get you doing some weights.’

I stick my head deeper into the fridge. There's no way I'll join. He'd give me a spot I don't deserve. Imagine what the boys would say.

‘Twenty-five boys have signed up,’ he yells to make sure I listen. ‘Twenty-five!’ he shouts again.

I think about stuffing some cheese into my ears.

‘That's quite a group. There'd have to be a few good players mixed in amongst them. Gerald's name was there.’

‘Really?’ I act surprised and look up.

He's twisting in his chair, peering over his reading glasses. ‘But there was one name missing.’

I groan and shove my head back into the fridge. The phone rings and I sprint to grab it.

‘Hello?’ It's Ryan. I'm saved! ‘What's up?’ I ask.

‘I pranged the van,’ he says as I head to my room. ‘Put a towbar through the radiator.’

My guts sink at the thought of spending the weekend with Dad instead of the surf.

‘I'm all right, but,’ Ryan goes on. ‘Thanks for asking.’

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘There goes the weekend.’

‘That's why I called,’ he says. ‘I was thinking maybe we can take the Pissan?’

The Pissan is Dad's old Nissan twin cab ute. It has N-I-S-S-A-N in bold red letters across the tailgate. Whenever I drive, Dad makes me put the P-plate on, so I always put it over the N. Most weekends the Pissan just sits in the driveway growing rust and gathering bird dung because Dad's too crook to drive. Ryan knows this full well.

‘Are you kidding?’ I say. ‘I've only had my licence for two months. He'll never go for it.’

He laughs. ‘Just a thought,’ he says, ‘but you're still gonna ask, right?’ Then he hangs up.

Bastard! I throw the phone onto the mattress, get up, go to the door and stop. What about the Bluebird, maybe we can get that going in time? A few sessions after school and who knows? I call Gez, but he says he's got each afternoon planned already. Says he's going out with his new girlfriend, Lisa Patrick.

‘But I can't ask Dad for the Pissan, he won't go for it.’

‘Have you tried?’ he says.


‘Then how do you know?’

‘Come on, Gez, you know what he'll say. We can work on the Bluebird, we'll get it going. Go out with Lisa some other time.’ Then I try some emotional blackmail: ‘You're not gonna dump your mates for a chick, are you?’

Gez is silent for a moment, as if thinking. ‘We need a roadworthy. It's not registered. Just ask your old man, Sticks. Tell him Ryan will drive.’

‘I'm not telling him that.’

‘Why not? He loves Ryan.’

‘If we're taking Dad's car, then I'm driving.’

Gez breathes out. ‘Whatever, man.’

‘Great spuds, Dad,’ I say over dinner, trying to soften him up before diving in about the Pissan. It's usually only Knight Rider that shows interest in Dad's cooking. Right now he's sitting nearby, panting, eyes alert, ears pricked.

Dad eyes his food then nods at me in appreciation. ‘I put rosemary and butter on them.’ He says it like no one ever thought of doing that before.

‘Ryan pranged his van,’ I say casually.

‘Really? What happened? Is he all right?’

‘We were meant to go up to Currimundi this weekend, but the radiator's got a towbar-sized hole in it.’

‘Is he all right?’ he asks again. ‘Whose fault was it?’

‘I was thinking maybe we could take the Pissan.’

‘Whose fault was it?’ he asks again.

I push at a slice of tomato with my fork, wondering how to get the conversation going in my direction. ‘I don't know.’

‘What do you mean you don't know?’

‘I forgot to ask.’

‘You didn't ask?’ Dad stops cutting his food and looks at me.

‘I forgot!’

‘Jack.’ He shakes his head as if I'm stupid. ‘What kind of car did he hit? Who's he insured with?’

‘I don't know, who cares?’

Dad squints at me. His jaw goes tense. ‘I'll have to call him,’ he says. His eyes light up and then he barks an order: ‘Jack, get the phone!’

I groan.

‘Jack, go on, get it!’

I get up and give it to him.

‘How old is Ryan?’ he says purposefully.

I can see where this is going. ‘Nineteen.’

‘That's strange,’ he says.

‘What's strange?’

‘He's not like that.’

‘Like what?’

‘A hoon.’

Here we go.

I say, ‘Accidents can happen to anyone.’

He shakes his head and says with conviction, ‘It's always the boys and nearly always between seventeen and twenty-five.’ He emphasises seventeen because that's how old I am. He points his fork at me and commands, ‘Ryan's phone number!’

‘You're generalising,’ I tell him. ‘These things happen.’

‘I am not generalising,’ he bellows. ‘That's the danger period.’ He says danger with a capital D.

‘You're paranoid.’

He slams his cutlery down and glares at me. ‘Being right does not make me paranoid.’

‘Doesn't stop you, either.’

He stands and leans towards me. I watch the roof of his mouth as he states: ‘What you need to do right now, Jack, is shut up!’

Thinking I've already lost, I hold Dad's eyes with mine. ‘You can find his number in the phone book.’ Then I go to my room, and crash on my bed.

A few minutes later my door swings open. Knight Rider runs in, his tail swinging. Dad stands in the doorway, holding the phone. He points it at me and says, ‘I've decided to let you go.’

‘You're kidding me!’ I say and get up. ‘You're serious, right?’

But a wild grin starts to stretch across his face. ‘Sure am. You can take the ute if you join the team.’

‘That's not fair!’

‘Either that or none of you will go.’

‘That's rubbish!’

‘I've phoned Ryan and he said he's happy to drive.’

‘Let me drive!’ I yell.

‘Only one person will drive my ute and that person is Ryan.’


‘Then I suppose you'll have to call him back.’

‘He's not driving!’

‘He has more experience than you.’

‘But he just pranged his van!’

‘And he told me it wasn't his fault.’

‘I'm not letting him drive.’ My voice breaks.

Dad throws the phone and it lands on the bed. ‘Then give him a call. Tell him the weekend's off because you won't let him drive.’ He walks out.

Knight Rider sits in the middle of the room, panting, drooling happily. I yell and kick at him, ‘Get out!’ I miss and he scuttles out the door.

I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling. What a dick! While trying to decide what to do, I get a text message. It's from Ryan: Good job on the Pissan, Sticks! Cya on the weekend. I put it down and keep staring.

I go to the lounge room. Dad's watching the telly. ‘Remember,’ he says, not looking at me. ‘Ryan will drive.’

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