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Authors: Kate Hendrick

The accident

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THE ACCIDENT

Kate Hendrick was born in 1983. She is a teacher of visual arts and photography, and lives in Sydney with her husband and daughter.

THEACCIDENT

KATE HENDRICK

 

 

textpublishing.com.au

 

The Text Publishing CompanySwann House22 William StreetMelbourne Victoria 3000Australia

 

Copyright © 2013 by Kate Hendrick

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

 

First published by The Text Publishing Company 2013

 

Design by Imogen StubbsTypeset by J&M Typesetting

 

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entryAuthor: Hendrick, Kate, author.Title:    The accident / by Kate Hendrick.ISBN:   9781921922855 (paperback)ISBN:   9781921921544 (ebook)Dewey Number: A823.4

 

For my family,who have long tolerated my creative endeavours.

No man is an islandJOHN DONNE

beforeafterlater

 

Phones ringing, the constant chug of the photocopiers, the whirr of the fans. People talking, walking, typing… After the months at home I’d forgotten how busy the world can be.

I’m sweating. Something else I’d forgotten about schools—no air conditioning. It’s thirty-nine degrees today and I’m sticking to the plastic chair. I know when I get up I’ll leave a sweat patch and there’s not much I can do about it.

My mind throws up a mental image of the pool, sparkling blue in the brilliant mid-morning light. If only…

‘Sarah?’ The principal.

I have never dealt with a woman principal before. She’s tall, and didn’t smile once during the interview. I get uncomfortable around people who don’t smile.

There is a girl beside her. Tall, perfectly straight honey-blonde hair, socks pulled up. Apparently that’s the fashion now. It’s hard to keep up. She has a prefect badge pinned to her collar. No jewellery: school rules. The only evidence I can see that she and I exist in the same climatic region is a thin sheen of sweat under her hairline. Other than that, she looks as perfect as a Barbie doll.

‘This is Sarah Bancroft. She’ll show you around and answer any questions you might have.’

Sarah and Sarah. I wonder if somebody thought that was cutesy or if it’s just a coincidence. I nod and stand. Discreetly unstick my skirt from the back of my legs. Sarah Bancroft offers me a cool half smile and gestures. ‘Let’s go.’

I get the impression this is not the first time she’s had to play tour guide. Two strides ahead, she leads me down corridors and through identical donut-shaped blocks, throwing out brief descriptions. Toilets, English staff room, computer rooms, library, science, maths…

We pass a group of senior students sitting at cafe-style tables. A few of them are wearing year twelve jerseys with the year in giant numbers on the back. I think of the jersey buried somewhere in the bottom of my wardrobe with last year’s date on the back and I wonder what I’m doing here.

Sarah Bancroft’s still talking. ‘You’re in my art class. We’ve got Shepherd. Her room is the one at the end.’ She pauses, glances at the timetable in her hands. ‘You’ve got drama now. It’s the room downstairs with the blacked-out windows. Any questions?’

It’s a long room, with black-painted walls and heavy drapes on runners around one end. Students are lounging around on the carpeted floor when I enter, deep in trivial conversations. The voices pause for no more than a second as they look up. I’m a stranger, a new specimen, but only worth a quick glance. I’m neither a threat nor particularly interesting.

That seems to be how it goes throughout the day. The cliques are fully formed, the social hierarchies calcified. Part of me feels like I’m back at St Ives. Pulling on my school shoes brought it back the strongest. There was a drip of turquoise paint on one, the colour of oxidised copper like Michelangelo’s outdoor David, a moment that made me catch my breath and hold it; and as long as I didn’t let go I could stay there in my old classroom, my old school. Old life.

It’s a parallel universe. The school is unfamiliar, the uniform a different colour, but it’s ultimately all the same. Kids swarming over the quadrangle and through the corridors between classes. Kicking balls, shouting, wrestling, swearing. The smell of sweat and too much deodorant and spearmint gum. I feel camouflaged at first, but as the day goes on I’m yearning for my bedroom.

Maths, English, history, and then I have art last. The smells hit me as I enter: turps, clay, photographic chemicals, fresh lino shavings and paint.

My art teacher is reassuringly scatty. She has frizzy brown hair with an inch of grey at the roots and wears her school keys on a chain, spaced out like charms on a giant jangling necklace. She tugs at it, trying to find the right key for the storeroom. The fans click in a drowsy rhythm. Sarah Bancroft and her friends lounge near the window drinking bottled water and talking about boys.

It’s fifty-two minutes of lazy disorder. Nobody has brought their art diary. My name hasn’t been added to the roll. I spell it for her.

‘Starke. With an e.’

I hit the water with my clothes on. Just dive straight in, shoes and all. Mum will go mental but I don’t care. It’s cold and fresh and blue and everything I want it to be. I skim along the bottom of the pool till I reach the end, then I tumble and push off, stroking underwater till I get back to the shallow end and come up gasping.

I leave a trail through the house, a long line of drips punctuated by wet clothes. Shoes, green checked skirt, white blouse, socks. I know I’ll get used to them but I haven’t yet; they still feel foreign. Forest green, like Christmas trees.

Mum’s locked Iago in the laundry. It’s been months since he’s been locked away and I can hear him scratching and barking as he hears me getting closer. I open the laundry door and he almost bowls me over. I manage to push him down but not before I get half a dozen angry red scratches on my bare stomach. ‘Yago…’ It’s only half-hearted scolding, though. He’s already on his back, seeming to grin at the sound of his nickname and madly waving his tail, ready for a tummy rub.

‘You’re such a baby.’ I scratch him with my bare foot and dump the bundle of wet clothes into the laundry tub. I make half an effort to wring them out, then chuck them in the washing machine and put them on to spin. I give up trying to squeeze the water out of my school shoes and put them on the outdoor table to dry and harden in the afternoon sun.

More wet footprints and the scraping and scrambling of dog claws on tiles as we head into the kitchen. There’s a Post-it on the fridge from Mum asking me to marinate a steak.

It’s just past four. Already my new school feels a world away. I wander round the house in my wet underwear, knowing I have at least two hours till Mum or Alan comes home. What now? I sit on the floor in my room staring at the stack of canvases I got for my birthday, avoiding the decision. Eventually I go and marinate the steak because I know if I forget Mum will act as if I’ve burnt the house down. Iago is at my feet whining as I slice open the meat tray. I peel a corner off one piece and hold it out to him; he licks my hand clean then looks up at me, expectant.

‘Sorry buddy, that’s all you get for now.’

I cook the way I think Mum would cook if she ever actually tried. I vaguely know the recipe Alan uses—vegetable oil, soy sauce, Worcestershire, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, onions and garlic—but I don’t worry too much about the quantities. I toss in some Dijon mustard and grind some pepper over the top, then sniff the mix. Seems okay; I lower the steak into the bowl and prod at it until it’s immersed. Starke cuisine.

Iago’s at my feet, still whining. I put the empty meat tray down on the floor for him to lick as I pack away the ingredients. He nudges it around as he licks it and I have to fish it out from under the fridge.

Later we sit on the couch and I scratch his belly and try to absorb some of his satisfaction with life.

Dinner is never silent but often, lately, it’s only Mum who does the talking. She’s working on a terrace house in Paddington, and the owners want a different theme for every room.

‘Africa in the lounge room, India in the dining room—they’ve got boxes full of fabric and artifacts. Saris as curtains,aiuto!’ She throws her hands up in the air when she slips into Italian. ‘Terribile!And the wife won’t listen to a word I say. Just pig-headed.’

Diplomatic relations have never been Mum’s thing. She has that typical artist’s approach to everything—egocentric—which means constant conflict between what her clients want and what she intends to do for them. She usually talks them around to doing it her way, and ninety-nine percent of the time they end up thanking her for it. And I have to admit, she does impressive work. She’s just not a team player.

There’s ten more minutes detailing a new chrome and leather sofa before she remembers to ask, ‘How was your first day?’

I shrug. How does she expect me to put it into words? ‘All right.’

I find Alan stacking the dishwasher. I don’t think he said a single word during dinner. Mum doesn’t notice.

I like Alan. I always have. He has infinite patience with Mum. I’ve never really understood how they ended up with each other, because they’re complete opposites in every way, but I’m thankful that they did. He’s the rational one when Mum’s off the planet, which is most of the time. He’s calm. I literally can’t remember ever hearing him raise his voice.

‘So what was it like to be back?’

I think about it. ‘A bit weird. You know, it’s a new school, but in the end it’s all just kinda the same…’

In the past there would have been some sort of crack about if there were any good-looking boys, some sort of tease, but he just nods. Not only because it’s somehow a serious thing, but because we’ve all become more sober about everything. He and Mum used to laugh like crazy, all the time.

‘Do you think there’s a point where it gets back to normal?’ I ask suddenly.

He’s not surprised. He knows exactly what I’m talking about. ‘I think we end up with a new kind of normal,’ he answers slowly.

‘But there’s got to be a point where we can start to… you know.’

‘Move on?’

‘Yeah.’

He thinks longer this time. ‘I’ve seen a lot of people try to move on from different things. Some people manage it, others don’t. Sometimes they can’t because they still need answers. They still have questions.’

Do we? I can only think of one.

‘Like: “Why did it happen”?’

He nods. ‘That’s usually the big one.’

‘What do you tell people when they ask that?’

‘I tell them that we can’t always control what happens to us. But we can control how we respond to it.’ He shrugs. ‘After twenty years that’s still the best I’ve got.’

Iago is snoring, his fat barrel body stretched out on my rug. The rest of the house is dark and silent and sleeping. It’s almost twelve and I’m wasting time on YouTube because I don’t want to sleep or can’t or something.

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