The Betrayal of Bindy Mackenzie (10 page)

Auntie Veronica said at dinner that she feels the same way herself, so I suppose we still have that virus, but how long can it last?

‘What a coincidence,' Uncle Jake said. ‘You two having the same thing!'

What does he mean? Why should we not have the same virus? We live in the same house! I don't understand him.

And more to the point, and furtheralsomore, he doesn't pronounce the word correctly. A university professor!

‘Co-inky-dence,' he says, and it makes me want to kill him.

Further Final Extended Fourth Night Musing Times of Bindy Good Night Mackenzie
Thursday, 4.52 am

Oh, I must confess it.

The Venomous Seven,

What seven? What seven?

What Venomous Seven?

There are the poisonous (Briony, Elizabeth and Sergio), there are the venomous (Toby, Emily, and unforgivable Astrid), but even the poison and the venom adds only to six—and all along I have lied when I have called them the Venomous Seven.

I did it because it rhymed.

They are only Six, and

Finnegan

Finnegan

Finnegan Blonde

IS NOT AMONG THEM!

Why did I disgrace him by including his name in that number? Oh, the number seven, it disgraces him! And just for the sake of the rhyme! (Or anyway, it was an internal half-rhyme. The assonance of those recurring v's and
e's . .
.)

But why does he disgrace
himself,
I perplex me, by mingling with the musk-oxen?

I do not know him well, of course, but I know this for-certain-sure: he is neither poisonous nor venomous.

No. I see it in his eyes: kindness.

That rare and valuable—it was
he
who wrote those simple words, the only kind words, the jewel among the mud, on my Name Game:

A fast typist.

My breath stops at the sight of them.

He is an enigma, a mystery. How did he come to float into our FAD group, the sunlight at play in his hair? Nay, how does he
continue
to float? I fear his toes must brush against the tops of their heads. I fear he must tarnish his toes. He is
in danger! Every moment he spends among them his sweet pink toes are in danger! In danger of inky black mud!

(I have never seen his toes and must admit, I do not know that they are pink.)

As his buddy I should advise him to drop out of FAD. It behoves me, nay, it is my
duty
to give him this advice!

(Maybe he and I should drop out together? We could spend FAD session time engaged in joint study sessions. It's not a bad idea.)

For now, at last, I fall asleep yet my eyes blur with tears at the thought of his words:
a fast typist.

He must have seen me typing earlier that week, the week of the very first FAD session.

How generous of him to have noticed me, before we were even introduced.

14

A day in the life of Bindy Mackenzie
. . .

Monday.
Worst day of my life?

It began with this:

Uncle Jake, in the kitchen, with the box.

Usually, it's just Veronica and me at breakfast—sometimes chatting quietly, sometimes spooning out our grapefruit wedges, lost in thought.

But there was Jake in his blue flannel pyjamas, ripping up a cardboard box.

‘Bind, you look as bad as I feel,' said Veronica, and immediately dropped her head onto the table with a clunk. She closed her eyes and appeared to fall asleep. Sometimes Veronica is much like her four-year-old daughter.

I ate my grapefruit. Jake ripped up his cardboard box. Veronica dozed, her head resting on the table. Now and then she sat up, looked at her teacup, blinked, and rested again. We heard the sound of Bella shouting in her bedroom: ‘I have
not
been playing with the remote control! It's not a
toy
!' Bella often defends herself in her sleep. There was a grunt from Jake as he tugged at some masking tape on the box.

‘Jake?' I said. ‘What's that box you're tearing up?'

Veronica sat up and slapped her own cheeks.

‘Finally she asks!' Jake beamed at Veronica. ‘Go look in the living room, Bind, and you'll see what was inside the box.'

I did as he asked.

Standing in the centre of the room was a shiny, bright white baby swing. It was decorated with dolphins.

I returned to the kitchen in confusion.

It was much too small for Bella. Had they lost their sense of proportion?

But Veronica's eyes shimmered, Jake dimpled and grinned—and suddenly I understood. ‘You're having a new baby,' I whispered.

‘It seemed like a good idea at the time,' said Veronica.

‘We weren't going to tell anyone for a couple more weeks,' explained Jake excitedly, ‘but we saw that swing on sale yesterday and guess what, Bind, you're the first person we've told!'

I stood in the centre of the kitchen and exclaimed: ‘A
baby!'
I'd never been the first to be told about a baby before. I tried to dance my hands about to show excitement.

But I had a strange sensation, as if there were some problem I'd forgotten.

‘I don't know if Bella's going to like this news,' Veronica was saying, ‘but I've got to say, I feel just like I did when she was on the way. I'm so tired and—'

‘Wait a minute,' I interrupted, realising the problem. ‘This virus that we've both got—isn't
that
why you feel like this? I mean, are you sure you're—?'

Veronica and Jake looked at me.

‘Well, there are one or two other indications,' Veronica began, gently. ‘And the doctor—'

‘But haven't we got the same symptoms?' I persisted. ‘I mean, I thought we had the same—'

Uncle Jake stepped in.

‘Isn't it a co-inky-dence!' he cried. ‘You two have the same thing!'

Now at last his ‘joke' made sense.

‘Hey Bindy,' he continued, ‘you must be pregnant too!'

They both burst out laughing.

That's when I lost my mind.

‘WHAT'S SO
FUNNY?'
I shouted. ‘WHY DO YOU ASSUME THAT I'M NOT?!!!'

And I ran from the room.

As I pounded up the stairs I was conscious of silence from the kitchen. Then, as I reached the landing, I heard Jake murmur something, and they exploded into laughter once again.

At school, my subjects rolled grimly by, much like a convoy of tanks.

In German, the room blurred with regret. I recalled the image of myself in the kitchen, dancing my hands to show excitement. I must have looked like a tree, stolidly fixed to the ground, its branches tossed by the wind. Shouldn't the tree have uprooted itself, rushed to Veronica, and hugged her? Why had the tree lost its temper and sprinted from the room? Was
that
an appropriate reaction for a tree, when told news of a pregnancy?

My face burned with shame. (And with confusion. Was I a girl or a tree?)

I was so regretful that when Ernst leaned over, his fringe in his eyes, to say, ‘Bindy, you've gotta check out my blog. I've been riffing on the topic of Emily debating and—', I interrupted him.

‘Ernst,' I said coldly, ‘isn't it time you got yourself a new name?'

He was startled into silence.

In Biology, I couldn't really concentrate. I was wondering at my announcement that morning that
I
could be pregnant too. (I couldn't.)

At recess, I happened upon Toby, along with Briony and the evil Astrid, standing outside the tuckshop.

I tried to skirt around them but they noticed me, and embraced me with their conversation. They were talking about the FAD event I had missed on Saturday. The one that took place at Try's house. They wanted to tell me about it.

They said that Try lived in an enormous house with no furniture. This house, it seemed, faced onto Castle Hill Heritage Park, and Try had taken them into the park for a picnic. She had brought coconuts along. She had instructed each ‘Buddy Pair' to work together to get milk out of the coconut, using nothing but the objects in the park.

‘Finnegan had to do it on his own,' Astrid informed me. ‘He looked so lonely. Just kind of wandering.'

‘He was wandering lonely as a cloud,' Toby explained.

‘A cloud with a coconut.' Astrid was wistful.

‘Astrid and Emily tried to strangle their coconut,' said Toby.

‘They used the ropes from the climbing equipment.' (That was Briony. I am always surprised when she speaks.) Astrid shrugged, proudly.

It seemed that nobody had got the milk out of their coconut. There had been a sudden downpour, and they had
all run back into Try's house, where she offered them towels and freshly baked banana bread.

‘You should have been there, Bindy,' said Astrid. ‘Try's got this massive big dictionary? You would have just gone off when you saw it.'

‘I would have gone off?' I repeated, acidly. ‘Like old cheese?'

‘Excuse me?'

But before I had a chance to explain, the three of them had launched into an animated discussion about their favourite kinds of cheese.

In Modern History, our assessment tasks were handed back (and a new case study was assigned). I got 18/20. Fine, I thought, the scale must be tougher than usual. But I happen to sit behind Elizabeth Clarry, and there at the tilt of her shiny white page was her mark:

19/20.

I closed my eyes and that beautiful red number shimmered.
19.
What was it doing on
her
assignment? Surely it was
my
19! I checked to see that the papers hadn't got mixed up, but no, this was my paper, and Elizabeth Clarry had hers. Yet, there was no doubt: Elizabeth Clarry, long distance runner, Elizabeth Clarry, Queen Alexandra's Birdwing—Elizabeth Clarry had my mark.

I spent recess looking for the teacher, Ms Walcynski, to demand an explanation but could not find her.

In Maths (Extension 1), Ms Yen was writing up a theorem on the board.

I noticed a flaw in her logic and called out a correction. She turned, she frowned, and
Lucy Tan announced that I was
wrong.
There was no flaw in Ms Yen's logic, said Lucy primly,
but,
she reassured me,
she could see where I'd got confused.

Ms Yen smiled, thanked us both, and carried on.

At lunchtime, in the library, I opened my Maths textbook and considered the theorem. No matter how many times I reworked it, I could not escape the conclusion that Lucy Tan had been right.

I was mortified.

I flicked through the textbook to a later chapter. I would learn all about quadratic polynomials! One day, Ms Yen and Lucy would humbly ask
my
opinion on the relation between roots and coefficients! ‘Ah, Lucy,' I would smile, tenderly. ‘I can see where you've got confused.'

The prospect of Double English did lighten my heart somewhat. To my surprise, our ‘temporary' teacher (Miss Flynn) has continued to show up each lesson. And she gets to the
heart
of the texts. She is softly spoken, inclining towards knee-length skirts and pastel cardigans. She often refers to the notes on her desk as she teaches, squinting down at them ferociously. And she has a trick of drumming the fingers of one hand onto the palm of the other when anyone talks nonsense for too long. This is an effective way of cutting the nonsense off. (I admit, I have begun to hope that our missing teacher, Ms Lawrence, will never return from her surfing trip.)

More to the point, this English lesson was to be the final day in our oratory contest.

The last few students would speak on topics of their choice, and Miss Flynn would declare the winner. (Winners from each class then compete, and the champion represents the school.)

Each year, it is
I
who represent the school.

I had given my speech yesterday, and was quietly confident.

But today, Emily Thompson spoke, and may the planets spin like marbles, may the sun slip like egg yolk from the sky—Emily Thompson was a hit.

She was informative and entertaining, and she had the class in fits.

And guess what her topic was?

That those who employ foul language are staining the fabric of our society.

The very topic I had given her as a ‘practice debate'. She even
mentioned
that I had come up with the topic. (Everyone tittered.) She then proceeded to treat it as a joke, offering a satirical survey of ‘swearing' and ‘cursing' through time.

‘Why are people afraid of swearing?' she cried. ‘It's only words. It's only letters of the alphabet!' Then she took up a box which she had placed on a nearby desk, opened the lid and tipped a noisy pile of white squares onto the floor. The box was a Scrabble game and the squares were letter tiles. (She did this for dramatic effect.)

‘Can these letters hurt you?' she cried, pointing her toes at them, and almost slipping on one. (‘Apart from when they break your leg?' she joked.) She said that people who want to ban swearing make the swear words more powerful. ‘If the words were used all the time,' she argued, ‘they would be harmless.' (There is a flaw in Emily's logic, but my head is too tangled to figure out what it is.)

‘In conclusion,' Emily concluded, ‘I suggest a new school rule. All students must replace three common words—let's say ‘classroom', ‘bus' and ‘tree'—with three extremely rude words. Let's save the fabric of society! Let's everyone use as much bad language as we can!'

‘Let's everyone not,' remarked Miss Flynn, but in a good-humoured way.

Nobody was surprised when the announcement was made at the end of the class: the winner of the contest was Emily.

Emily Thompson, drama queen; Emily Thompson, komodo dragon—Emily Thompson had my prize.

At the bus stop, after school, I happened to pass Emily, Toby and once again Astrid. As I approached, Emily broke away from the others and thanked me for the topic she had used in her speech. She seemed genuinely grateful. She tried to be matter-of-fact, as if her success meant nothing to her, but her eyes sparkled and her mouth kept breaking into smiles.

Astrid was scratching her ankle with her bus pass, but she straightened up to ask what we were talking about. When Emily explained, both Astrid and Toby congratulated her enthusiastically.

It occurred to me that, in all the years that I had won the oratory contest, no-one had congratulated me once.

On the bus trip home, I thought about ways you could break open a coconut, using nothing but the objects in a park.

Here are some Lines from a Book which Caught Bindy's Eye Today. . .

‘The school days to a young girl are usually full of pleasure and freedom from care or anxiety.'

From:
Twentieth Century Etiquette: An Up-to-Date Book for Polite Society Containing Rules for Conduct in Public, Social and Private Life, at Home and Abroad
by Annie Randall White (1900), p 101.

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