Read Green Online

Authors: Nick Earls

Tags: #general fiction

Green

Allen & Unwin's House of Books aims to bring Australia's cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation's most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers that were published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books that had fallen out of circulation.

The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia's finest literary achievements.

Nick Earls is the author of fifteen books for adults and teenagers, including the bestselling novels
Zigzag Street, Bachelor Kisses
, and
Perfect Skin. 48 Shades of Brown
won the Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award for older readers in 2000 and
Zigzag Street
won a Betty Trask Award in the UK. He is also the author of the children's series
Word Hunters
.
    His work has been published internationally in English and in translation, as well as being successfully adapted for film and theatre. He worked as a suburban GP and medical editor before turning to writing. Nick Earls lives in Brisbane.

HOUSE
of
 BOOKS

NICK
EARLS
Green

Published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012

‘Green' was first published in
Smashed: Australian Drinking Stories
(Random House, 1996); ‘Sausage Sizzle' in
Penguin Australian Summer Stories
(Penguin, 1999); ‘The Ekka Job', ‘Losing it Least of All' and ‘Back Soon With Fish' in Headgames (Penguin, 1999); ‘World of Chickens' (Penguin, 2001); ‘Running on Empty ‘ in
Green: Ultimate Author Edition
(Exciting Press, 2012)

Copyright © Nick Earls 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian
Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
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Crows Nest NSW 2065
Australia
Phone:    (61 2) 8425 0100
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Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National
Library of Australia
www.trove.nla.gov.au

ISBN 978 1 74331 575 0 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 74343 310 2 (ebook)

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

AUTHOR'S NOTE

GREEN—1981

SAUSAGE SIZZLE—1982

THE EKKA JOB—1983

LOSING IT LEAST OF ALL—1984

WORLD OF CHICKENS—1985

BACK SOON WITH FISH—1999

RUNNING ON EMPTY—2012

 

 

Author's Note

 

I
n
around
1994, the author Matthew Condon called me to commission a short story. Neither of us could have guessed that it would lead to six stories and a novel, and now this book.

At that time I was the author of one collection of short stories to which reviewers had mostly responded negatively. (Negative's a mild word for their responses, but it was
my
book, so allow me that.) It was already out of print and my prospects weren't great, so I was in the habit of saying yes any time anyone asked me to write for an anthology.

Matt was co-editing ‘Smashed: Australian Drinking Stories' and he probably called me twentieth. While I was grateful he was calling at all, being called twentieth came with its challenges. He wanted each story to feature a different drink, but he had already given away beer, white wine, red wine, champagne, scotch, bourbon, rum, gin . . . the list extended as far as Parfait d'Amour and absinthe. So I said, ‘Yes, I'd love to be in your anthology, and I'll call you back if I can come up with a drink you haven't covered.' Within minutes, I remembered something about Créme de Menthe (it was seriously embarrassing, I was seventeen at the time, I'd just started uni . . .).

When the right fiction came along to fit with that cringeworthy moment, I had ‘Green,' the opening story in this book. It went into the anthology and readers responded to its three main characters—Phil the anxious med student, Frank his classmate whose confidence is never in doubt and Phoebe, Phil's very British mother.

Not long after that, Penguin asked me to write a story for their summer reading anthology, which had a working title of Sizzle. I applied that to these characters and came up with ‘Sausage Sizzle,' a faculty orientation barbecue at the beginning of second year.

Writing that second story made me realise it wasn't over. I was up for more, with only one rule in mind: each story had to feature Phil, Frank, Phil's mum and a green drink.

By the time I started putting together my 1999 short story collection
Headgames
, there were four of them. The book was almost finished when my publisher lined up a meeting in Melbourne. I was expecting to tell her that I was close, but still one story short. The night before, I went to my first film premiere after party, and out came the green vodka jelly shots. I made a klutz of myself and the last piece of
Headgames
duly fitted itself into place. I had five Frank and Phil stories in there, four set in the early 80s and one in 1999.

I thought that was it. I went off and wrote
Perfect Skin
. I finished it and told myself to take a break. For the first time in years there was no new idea buzzing around.

The next day I was driving across town to meet friends for lunch and ended up stuck in traffic behind a truck from Ian Diffen's World of Tyres and Mufflers. There was an outlet near me and I'd never thought much of it until then, when the sign was in my face. And it got me wondering, ‘
World
of Tyres and Mufflers? Who is there who thinks that's some kind of world?' And my mind turned to someone else's World of Lighting and Horseland and I realised that, all over the suburbs, there were people dreaming planet-sized dreams and I hadn't even noticed. So I wondered what would be the dumbest-sounding—but plausible—World I could think of. Dumb and succinct. And with a solid blokey name at the front.

Along came Rod Todd's World of Chickens. And I thought, ‘Who would work there? It'd be the 80s, a failing takeaway chicken place. It's exactly the kind of place Phil and Frank from the ‘Green' stories would work.' By the time I got to lunch, I had to park the car and make two pages of notes.

World of Chickens
came out in 2001. Phil and Frank had themselves a novel.

It subsequently came out in the US as
Two To Go
, and work began to adapt it into a film. Then another idea started bugging me. I wanted to put all the Phil and Frank stories together.

Then I decided I wanted even more. I wanted a brand new story—Phil, Frank and a fleeting appearance by Phil's mum, three decades after Phil and Frank were chem prac partners in first year. They're facing fifty, each in his own way, each still dreaming his own dreams.

All I needed was publishers to come to the party, and I found them in Exciting Press (whose Will Entrekin started calling this the Ultimate Author Edition) and Allen & Unwin's House of Books. Thank you both for seeing that there was life in these characters and in this idea. And thank you Will for suggesting that we make this the Ultimate Australian Edition too. Since 2001, when a photocopy of
Perfect Skin
arrived with 256 Post-Its on it, my work has been Americanized for the US market. With the passage of time, and editors, the process has become more subtle and fewer changes have been made. This time Will wants to keep the Australian tone, and so do I. But trust us, America, you'll hardly feel a thing—other than feeling that you're reading it all in an authentic voice.

 

 

 

GREEN—1981

 

 

 

I
n
our
year at uni, Frank Green is it. The style council, the big man on campus, the born leader. From day one, Frank Green has been the definition of cool. Frank Green, frank in all colours, shameless and sure as a peacock. Peach jeans, pink jeans, Frank Green.

Queensland Uni, Medicine, 1981. Nothing counts here if Frank's not a part of it.

Frank Green juggles so many girls he's nearly juggling all of them. He juggles so many girls they all know. They all know and don't care. It's the price to pay, if it's a price at all. Frank Green has magic in his hands, the poise of a matador, the patter of a witless, irresistible charm.

I juggle girls the same way possums juggle Ford Cortinas. I'm road-kill out there, bitumen paté, seriously unsought-after. Quiet, dull-dressed, lurking without impact on the faculty peripheries. Lurking like some lame trap, like a trap baited with turd and I'm not catching much.

I have—my mother says I have—a confidence problem.

Frank Green has bad bum-parted hair, mild facial asymmetry and teeth like two rows of dazzling white runes, but he ducked the confidence problem like a limbo dancer.

Frank Green makes entrances. I turn up. When Frank Green is the last to leave I'm still there, but No one's noticed. Frank Green dances like a thick liquid being poured out of something. I dance like I'm made of Lego, like I'm a glued-up Airfix model of something that dances. Better still, I don't dance. I retreat quite imperceptibly like a shadow in bad clothes.

My mother says I have lovely eyes, and just wait, they'll all get sick of Frank Green. My mother thinks he has no staying power, but I beg to differ. Frank, those pants and Countdown, I've told her, are three things that are here to stay. And she says, If you say so Philby, if you say so.

And I've told her there's no more
Philby
now, but does she listen? I've told her I'm Phil, this is uni, I'm Phil. And I'm sure I was only even Phillip for about five minutes before Philby surfaced in Moscow loaded up with Orders of Lenin. Philby the Russian spy. Philby the Third Man. Philby the bug-eyed, black-haired baby just born in London. Me. Seventeen years of Philby now. And what chance does a philby have? Philbies sound so pathetic you shouldn't let them out. Philby: a soft, hopeless marsupial that without a great deal of mollycoddling will drift into irrelevant extinction. A philby. A long-nosed, droop-eared wimp of a marsupial with lovely eyes, destined to die. Inevitably nocturnal, and very afraid.

Outside the house you don't call me that, I tell her. Okay? Outside the house, no Philby.

On weekends I lie on my back with my physics book open over my head and I dream of girls. Girls who come up and talk to me at faculty functions. Who approach quite deliberately and talk to me with a calculating seductiveness. Glamorous, desirable girls who tell me quite openly that they crave me with a painful urgency, that Frank is all style and no substance, that they hope they're not making fools of themselves, but they know what they want. And in the dream under the physics book I don't shake with fear and lose the grip on my burger, I maintain calm, I sip at my plastic cup of Coke, I let them have their say and I acquiesce to their outrageous desires. In my dreams, I am a peach-jeaned man of cool. I am lithe and quite elegant. I am all they could want, I am highly supportive of their expectation of orgasm and I treat them kindly.

And unlike Frank, I'd be happy with one, though admittedly any one of several. I have a list, a list of four girls I would be quite unlikely to turn down, should I figure in their desires. I have spoken to one on three occasions and another once. Other than that, nothing happens. But that's okay, I've got six years in this degree.

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