Authors: Karen Tayleur
|About the Author|
|Also by Karen Tayleur|
|Praise for Chasing Boys:|
|from sue lawson|
|from ben beaton|
|from lili wilkinson|
The thing I remember, the one thing that is really clear to me, is that the chemist floor had a large black scuff near the counter. Aunt Laney was big on scuffing the floor. That is, she hated when I did it. So I remember the scuff, and the way his left shoe was frayed at the side so that you could see part of his sock. Which looked pathetic and slightly sad.
I don’t remember a knife.
I remember something cold on my neck, which could have been a knife, or could just have been his long cold fingers pressing in to me.
I smelled like flowers. Something I’d sprayed on while I was waiting to be served.
But it was the scuff I remember. I was thinking, ‘Someone should really clean that.’
And then we were in the car.
And then we were gone.
Fitzroy Police Station: 25 December, 1.06a.m.
‘Could we, like, do this tomorrow?’ asked Tully. ‘I promised Bamps I’d cook the turkey.’
Investigating officer Senior Constable Tognetti shrugged. ‘It’s best we do this while things are still fresh in your mind,’ she said.
The officer guided the girl down a hallway dotted with a few Christmas decorations to an interview room. Her hand on Tully’s back was light but insistent. ‘Your aunt will be here shortly.’
‘Laney? Did you have to call her? She is going to totally crack it. And it’s not even my fault.’ Tully slumped on the chair nearest the door and took in her surroundings.
It reminded her of school. There was no sign of Christmas in this room, just dull-coloured walls, a table and four chairs. On the table was an ancient tape recording machine that belonged to last century. The lack of windows made the room feel smaller than it was.
‘I don’t want her here,’ said Tully as Laney slid through the interview door. Her aunt’s cold face was drawn to a pinch at her lips and Tully could feel Laney’s hostility pulsing out towards her. Close behind Laney, another officer entered the room and shut the door behind him.
‘Hello, Tully. I’m Officer Fraser and I’ll be staying for the interview.’
Tully noted the officer’s brown eyes as he talked to her. He reminded her of the cop from that TV show she always watched—the good cop that everyone liked. It was hard to tell how old he was. Older than her and younger than Bamps. He was definitely older than the other officer, who was fiddling with the recorder.
‘Because you are under the age of 18, Tully, you must have a parent or guardian present during the interview,’ said Senior Constable Tognetti.
‘So, you’re alive then,’ said Laney, holding her handbag in front of her like a shield. ‘Thanks for ringing. Your grandfather has made himself sick wondering where you were.’
‘He’s here? Is Bamps here at the station?’ Tully felt tears sting her eyes.
Laney shook her head. ‘I wouldn’t let him come.’
‘I want Bamps here, not her,’ said Tully.
‘It’s not all about what you want,’ said Laney.
‘No, it’s all about you—’ Tully began.
‘Tully, your aunt is here to witness that you receive proper treatment from us,’ said Officer Fraser. ‘She does not have to say anything on your behalf. In fact, she is not allowed to speak or add anything to the interview.’
Laney sat down next to Tully with a satisfied thump.
‘Right. Tully I am going to record this interview,’ said Constable Tognetti. ‘I intend to interview you today in relation to the armed robbery and abduction that occurred at the Smith Street Pharmacy on 24 December at 9.00a.m. I need to inform you that you are not obliged to say or do anything and that anything you do say may be used against you as evidence. Do you understand that?’
‘Yes,’ said Tully.
‘Can you just tell me in your own words what you think that means.’
‘It means you want to talk to me about what happened at the chemist yesterday and that I don’t have to say or do anything but if I do you could use it against me as evidence.’
‘Can you just tell me your name, your age and your date of birth?’
Tully answered the officer’s questions and tried to ignore her aunt fussing in the chair next to her—opening her bag, checking her phone for messages, applying a fresh layer of lipstick.
‘The sooner I talk to you the sooner I can go, is that it?’ said Tully.
The policewoman nodded.
‘So let’s do it,’ said Tully.
The officer pressed the ‘record’ button on the tape machine and noted the time and date and people in the interview room. Each person in the room identified themselves as the tape rolled soundlessly forward. Then there was some more legal jargon.
Officer Tognetti reached down and grabbed a biscuit tin which had been hidden behind the legs of her chair. She placed it carefully on the table. Taped to the lid of the tin was a sign that said ‘Keep Out or Die’.
‘That’s mine. Where did you get that?’ Tully demanded. She swung around to face her aunt. ‘Was it you? Did you give that to them? You had no right—’
‘Our first priority was to locate you and ensure your safety,’ explained Officer Tognetti. ‘Your aunt allowed us to search your room for any information that might help us do so.’
‘For the record, the tin in question is an oblong shortbread tin found in the bedroom of Tully McCain. Tully, could you confirm this is your tin?’
‘I just said it was mine.’
The police officer removed the lid from the tin.
‘For the record, the tin contains letters, cards and other personal mementos—’
‘Can I have that back. Please?’
‘Not at the moment.’ The officer returned the lid to the tin and pushed it firmly into place. ‘Would you like to speak with a legal advisor, Tully?’ the officer asked finally.
‘Let’s just get on with it,’ said Tully.
Laney cleared her throat.
‘Just remember that you wanted to be here,’ Tully said, with a sidelong glance at her aunt.
Mum always says, ‘You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.’
Which is basically her way of saying, ‘You’ve screwed up, now deal with it.’
She also always says, ‘Tully, you’ve got a knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
As if she could talk.
If I hadn’t fought with Laney about the mascara...
If I hadn’t avoided Helene at the chemist...
Well, if I hadn’t done a lot of things I wouldn’t be here.
I’ve made my bed.
And it’s really lumpy.
Mum and I have lived in a lot of places, but after the last trouble I moved in with Bamps and Laney in Collingwood. That was about six months ago. It’s just till Mum gets sorted. Bamps has a little house. The kind that’s squashed in between two others with walls so close we can hear our neighbours change their minds. That’s a Bamps joke. He tells it at least once a day.
Mum hated that I had to come here, but I like it. Laney’s a pain, but that’s because she’s too used to being the boss of the house. She can’t stand that I might have my own ideas. I don’t make too much fuss because it upsets Bamps and he’s okay, but seriously Laney is like over forty and sometimes I wonder what the hell she is doing still living with her dad.
There are bars on my bedroom window. Not to keep me in, but to keep out visitors who were never invited. Mr
next-door neighbour used to have open house barbecues, where people would come and go all Sunday. But that stopped the day someone just nipped in through his unlocked front door and took everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor.
I felt kinda sorry for him, but really, what was he thinking?
His house was built at the same time as Bamps’s, which was about a thousand years ago, but everything about it looks neater and cleaner and newer. Bamps’s house and Bamps fit together somehow. Their paint is faded and foundations are sagging so they look a little wonky but comfortable.
Bamps has a tiny backyard and sometimes, when I’m outside with the cat, I hear Larry’s music wafting between the fence palings. It’s mostly eighties music and it reminds me a bit of the stuff Mum plays whenever she is in a good mood. Sometimes he weeds his garden in his bathers, the kind that the lifesavers wear. Which is an okay look for lifesavers but we are nowhere near a beach. Larry’s body is so smooth that I figure he must shave it or wax it, which is definitely too disgusting to think about.
Larry’s garden used to have rusty sculptures among the plants that looked like insects from out-of-space and dragonflies on steroids. Someone pinched them one day when he was at work. I guess that’s what you get for leaving all your precious things out for everyone to see. Sometimes Larry sees me looking through the crack in the fence and gives me a wave but I always move inside.
Larry is a subscriber to
continually has reminder notices for his bills and his birthday is in October. It’s amazing what you can find out by looking in someone’s letterbox. Sometimes I go to sleep at night listening to Larry’s eighties lullabies from next door.
The traffic on Alexandra Parade kept me awake when I first moved in with Bamps but I don’t hear it anymore. There’s a smell in the air here that I’ve never come across anywhere else. It hits me most first thing in the morning when it’s a bit damp and before the day has really got started. It’s a mix of electric tram and petrol fumes and the leftover smells of dinner from the night before.
I’ve just finished school and think I might take a gap year, or maybe work full-time until I figure out what to do. Mum dumped me with Bamps halfway through this year and I went to a school nearby. I used to skip a lot and they made Bamps come to see the principal, Ms Whittaker. While Bamps was in the waiting room he had some kind of ‘episode’—something to do with high blood pressure—and Laney just about kicked my butt and blamed it all on me. After that I just went to school and hung out. Nowhere else to go anyway. I was just filling in time until Mum came back.
I’ve been looking for a job ever since the end of exams, but I haven’t found anything yet. Sometimes, when I’m really bored, I just walk up Smith Street and look in the shop windows. The regulars that hang out on the corners give me a nod like it’s okay that I’m on their turf. There’s this one guy—long overcoat and beanie—who leans against the pawn shop window pretending he’s not there. One day I crossed the road and watched him. It took him ten minutes of leaning and pretending. Then, with a quick look left and right, he shuffled inside.
I wondered what he was selling. Maybe the goodies from my next-door neighbour? When he left the shop he dropped a ticket that I picked up and put in my pocket without anyone seeing. You never know what things might come in handy.
Smith Street’s full of them. The shufflers, the bag people, the striders, the retros, the bargain hunters, the brown-paper-bag guzzlers, the brown-skinned high-rise dwellers. It has everything.
I don’t go into the city much. Don’t like it. Too much hurry. Too much grey and tall buildings and cold shadows. I watch the trams ferry people to the city like cattle to the slaughter. They have the same look on their faces, like they know where they’re going and they’d do anything to stop going there. I reckon they’ve got a choice. More choice than cattle do, anyway.
Sometimes I smile and wave to them, just to see what’ll happen. Sometimes someone will smile back. Only the kids wave. Laney caught me at it once and said, ‘They’ll think you’re looney!’
But who gives a stuff?
Sometimes I go to Smith Street just to watch the people. Not the locals, but the others. There are the bargain hunters who get there early to get a car space. They’re easy to pick. They walk with a purpose and usually come in pairs, backpacks on making them look like upstanding turtles.
There are the people on their way to somewhere else. They park their cars and check the parking signs two or three times. They fumble with their change and slap a ticket on their dashboard before slipping into the bank or milk bar or bread shop. The only time they look happy is when they’re back safe in their cars and off again.
Then there are the people who park with their windows down and wait for someone to come along and slip them something with a nod. I pretend not to notice, but it’s hard to ignore when they’re doing it in broad daylight.
A lot of people sit outside in the middle of the day and eat and drink at the footpath tables. In the middle of the day! They must have a lot of money if they don’t have to work.
Bamps reckons they’re all drug dealers and I should stay away, but I don’t think they are. They look normal to me. Some even have kids in prams. Must be Some even have kids in prams. Must be nice to have nothing to do but sit around all day eating and drinking.
There’s a man that hangs around outside the Safeway store selling the
magazine. I can never understand what he is saying, but people seem to like him. Some give him money and don’t even take the magazine. I’m not sure who the money goes to. It would be good to have some money. I’ve been thinking of revamping my resumé.
I go to the chemist in Smith Street a lot. Bamps has, like, a bowl full of pills every day, but I’m not really sure what they’re for. I call it Loserville Chemist because it’s where the ex-druggies go to get drugs to stop them from taking more drugs. They get there early, way before the store opens at nine, and they hang around like they’re at a party or something. I saw a kid there once from my school but he pretended not to notice me and I just kept walking.
The chemist people are okay. They wear little name badges, which always makes me wonder. I told Bamps about it once and he said they wore them because they kept forgetting their own names. Bamps and I laughed at that, then Laney barged in, all sniffy and bossy, and told me to take my feet off the coffee table. I wanted to say it wasn’t even her damn coffee table, but who could be bothered?
Suzanne at the chemist chews gum that smells like one of those spices you find in a cake. She’s always packing the shelves and trying out the lipstick samples and sometimes she’ll put a sample in with Bamps’s pills and give me a wink as though it’s our little secret, though I know Eddie wouldn’t care if he found out.
Uli is short and built like a square so that her body looks the same shape from whatever angle you look at it. She’s very efficient; you can tell by the way she packs the shelves with everything lined up in soldier rows.
There’s only one chemist lady I don’t like. Her name badge says Helene, which reminds me of a James Bond girl, tall and blonde. But, to me, Helene looks more like a Barbara or a Deborah.
I try not to be served by Helene. If it ever looks like she might be trying to serve me, I leave the counter and look around like I am there to buy something more than a bagful of Bamps’s pills.
She always watches me, like I might be gonna steal something, so I pick up stuff and have a real good look at it before putting it down again. Sometimes I turn my back to her, just to give her something to think about.
One day she asked to look in my bag but I didn’t have one. So then she asked to look in my pockets. I pulled out a whole heap of crap from my pockets, you know, the regular stuff, then I left it on the counter for her to deal with and just walked out.
If it wasn’t for Helene, I probably wouldn’t be in this mess now.