Bower Boy


dougkSunday, 23 August 2015 - 11:41pm

The following story is of course complete fiction and the names of people and places were made up. It was written as an exercise to try to emulate the "voice" of particular novel. Perhaps you can tell which one?

I was down at Pinder’s Pond yesterday. I saw Sandy from the supermarket. Usually she says hello. Yesterday she screamed at me “I hate you. I hate you”.

Sometimes people don’t really mean what they say.

I remember when I first learnt this. I had just started Year 6 the week before. Sydney was surrounded by fires. It was smokier than when my Uncle Bernie has a barbecue. Uncle Bernie says the smoke flavours the meat. That day the smoke just made your eyes sting. You wouldn’t be allowed to have a barbeque because of the fires.

Our classroom was a demountable. It had dark blue walls and eleven windows. It was very hot. All the windows were shut because of the smoke. Mrs Phelps, our teacher, told the boys that they could go to the bubblers to cool off. There were eleven boys and only six bubblers. Three of them didn’t work. To the right of the bubblers was a big white basin the cleaners used. It was like a little bath. I climbed in, turned the tap on fully and was able to get properly cool all over. It was super fun. Bath time is one of my favourite times of the day.

After a while, I noticed that I was by myself. I jumped out of the basin and walked back to our demountable. My shorts were clinging to my skin and made a slish-slosh sound each time I took a step. I started singing “What shall we do with the drunken sailor”. We learnt that in Year 5. It was one of my favourite songs.

Mrs Phelps must have heard me coming. She yelled at me ‘You wicked boy. You’re not coming in like that.’ and shut the door. Why did she do that? I had done exactly what she had told us. I banged and kicked on the door, calling for her to let me in. I wanted to finish the number worksheet so I could get a sticker. My Mum would always give me a cuddle when I got a sticker on my work.

Mrs Phelps shouted just like my Dad does. He yells at me and then at my Mum. I really don’t mean to get my Mum into trouble. I don’t like people yelling. I cover my ears or run away.

I banged and kicked on the door some more. Mrs Phelps came out and marched me up to the Principal’s office. ‘Wicked boy’ she kept saying over and over.

The Principal was not there so Mrs Phelps told me to sit and wait in the vinyl chair outside the office. The vinyl was all cracked and brittle like the dried mud on the bottom of Pinder’s Pond. When you stuck your finger between the cracks you could feel the soft grey foam rubber underneath.

By the time the Principal arrived I was nearly dry. She already knew why I was there. The Principal didn’t yell at me. She asked me why I was wet. I explained. I said ‘I just cooled off like Mrs Phelps told us’. Then the Principal said ‘People don’t always say what they mean’.

I had a long chat with the Principal. She asked me about the things I like to do. I told her about my discovery near Pinder’s Pond.

Pinder’s Pond is where I often go in the afternoon, after school. The path to the pond starts quite near our house. It zigzags downhill through thick bush then clears up as you near the pond.

Last year, it rained a lot and the pond was nearly full. There were two black swans and lots of ducks. I visited them almost every day. This year there are only a couple of puddles left. Most of the pond is dry. There are no swans or ducks.

The day before my chat with the Principal, I was looking for possums sleeping in the trees beside the path. I found this low pile of twigs mixed with leaves and bits of bark. It was like someone had raked them altogether. My Dad sometimes rakes up leaves into piles at home and they stay there for weeks. This pile was different though. Sitting on top were lots of small objects: five bottle tops, three pegs, parts of a box, a piece of cloth and two shiny lolly wrappers. Almost every item was blue. This seemed very odd.

‘Why would someone throw blue litter in the bush’ I asked the Principal. She told me it was a bird, a bowerbird, which liked to collect blue objects and kept them in its bower. ‘Do you collect anything? Stamps? Coins? Cards?’ she asked me. I shook my head. ‘Collecting things can be fun’ she said.

That’s when I decided to make my own bower. But I would collect red things not blue. Red is my favourite colour. I have collected seventy-three red objects since then. I keep them in a red plastic bucket hidden inside a hollow tree down near the pond. Most of these items I have found lying in the street or in the bush. Some are from home.

Everything in my bower is different. I made that a rule. It is hard now to find new items that I haven’t got in my collection already. That’s why, yesterday, I did a very naughty thing. As I came home from school, I saw a bright red bra hanging on Mrs McPherson’s clothesline. Mrs McPherson lives next door. I knew she was out. She never comes home until after six.

There are two palings on our fence that you can push apart and slide through if you are small enough. I do that whenever my soccer ball bounces into Mrs McPherson’s backyard. While no one was looking, I sneaked in. I unpegged the bra, shoved it in my pocket and slipped back through the fence.

My Gran looks after me and my sister after school. She gives us a glass of milk and a Sao with vegemite. She still wipes the vegemite off my face when I have finished, every time. It’s so annoying. I get sent out to play while she tries to teach my sister how to play the piano. This is my chance to head down to Pinder’s Pond.

The red bra still safe in my pocket, I set off down the path. It was quite warm and the air was still. I could hear the crunch of leaves and sticks beneath my shoes. My hollow tree hideaway is not far from the pond. There is a fallen tree nearby that I sometimes sit on when I am tired. I was just about to put my new treasure in the bucket when I heard a shriek coming from the pond. I crept closer to investigate.

A young man seemed to be holding a girl down on the dried mud on the bottom of the pond. I tried to see what they were doing. A fallen stick cracked loudly as I stepped forward. The young man jumped up and ran away quickly before I could even say hello. The girl sat up, saw me standing there holding Mrs McPherson’s bra. I recognised her. It was Sandy who works at the supermarket. ‘Hello Sandy’ I said. She just screamed and screamed. ‘I hate you. I hate you.’ I covered my ears. It sounded too much like being yelled at by my Dad. Still screaming, she too ran off.

I walked over to where they had been. There was something red and shiny down in one of the cracks in the mud. I bent down and pulled out a small red vinyl purse.

Back at my hollow tree, I added the bra and the purse to my bucket; to my bower. Item numbers seventy-two and seventy-three.          

© 2004 Doug Kohlhoff

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