issue 40: January - February 2004 

 | author bio

Simmone Howell

The day before the news came out about the binding and the beating of the Rooper you experienced a perfect golden moment.
      You were walking home from footy practice feeling roughed up and rugged. Patrick and Rich walked either side of you and you alternated looking down left and right to their open, admiring faces. You were discussing the coming summer and whose Portsea beach house should be used for the graduation party and which loose private school bitches should be graced with an invitation. Patrick and Rich tossed names at you like salad and you swallowed or spat out the stems. Sarah and Miranda and Danielle and even Tori, the skank, because she was at least good for getting her tits out and after all, who looks at the mantelpiece? But not Andrea, because she’s a stalker, and not the Braydon twins because remember what happened last time they tried to pull that how-do-you-tell-us-apart scam? Screaming date rape when you tried to find the secret birthmark, the witch’s third nipple. I mean, how do you tell any of them apart, right? Best bet would be the desperado dogs who hitch up from Sorrento - or Rye, God help us - looking for money-boys with high grade scotch straight from the old man’s cabinet. You could fuck those dogs in the sand, smack ‘em in the face with their soggy undies like a catapult and walk. You won’t catch them trying to blab to your parents. They don’t even know who your parents are.
      Patrick said, mate, you’re evil, and you said, what are you talkin’ about, I’ve got a bright future. And the sun sparkled off a Rhyton girl's freshly waxed legs at the tram stop, and she smiled at you, heat-seeking, and you thought to yourself, I’m golden.
      But that was then and now it seems to you there’s no getting back.
      You might as well come clean, your old man said. Doing that thing where he doesn’t look at you direct. You were sitting in his office looking at all the leather and wood and the plaques and certificates and photographs framed in silver plate. Handshaking with heads of state, smile that starts the right way up and then sets in a thin line that speaks justice and humanity and all the while his pockets are lined thick with plebs’ wages. Sucker pensions. One per cent levy keeps the yacht bobbing at Portsea marina, keeps the old lady in hairspray, cosmetic surgery and Gucci suits, too young for her years. You might as well come clean because the Rooper squealed and Patrick and Rich backed him up so at least they get to graduate without a blemish on their record. First you tell me, your old man said. Then you tell Dan, who’s the family lawyer. Then you stop talking. You don’t go back to school. You don’t leave this house until it’s all sorted out.
      You tried to make a joke – do I get to pass Go? And your old man popped you on the side of the head and the sky went black for a minute and you wished it would stay like that.
      You called him the Rooper. Want to know why? Because he had red hair. Red hair equals red pubes equals RP. Roop Roop Rooper! He was the lamest of the boarders. Underfed looking, had this shitty way of blinking all the time like his contacts were the wrong size. He was a rooper and a hanger. He used to stare at you in class and when you were on the field he used to carry a towel to mop up your sweat. You had one conversation with him. Once. You were on a tram and he came and sat next to you. You thought about ignoring him but there was no one else around and he was asking you to talk about yourself and that was never too difficult. You were telling him about your old man and how crooked things are and you were proud of it. Because it was clear when you spoke just how much you knew, just how sharp you were and it was something else to have a new audience. He confessed that he’d signed up to do the musical. It was Hello Dolly this year. You told him only wet boys and freaks signed up for that. He said it was hard being a boarder and he thought he might be able meet people – read girls. You told him the only kind of girls he was likely to meet there would look like someone’s mother. He said he didn’t want to go back to Kerang or whatever cow-town he came from without doing something out of character. He went on to say that you made it look easy. Made what look easy? He shrugged. Life. You said that was because you had it easy.
      Near the end of the ride, you were thinking he was pathetic but sort of OK for an RP but then something happened: your hair had fallen across your eyes, and the Rooper brushed it back for you with this look of … you don’t know … but it was a misty, Judy Garland gay-boy thing. You flinched and the Rooper dropped his hand to his shorts and you saw the red hairs sticking up on his thighs and felt sick inside and full of contempt. That’s what started it. And you can’t get contempt unless you’re smarter than the object of your snarl, so there was a kind of pride in your thinking. You thought.
      At first none of the others picked up on the fact that the Rooper was a potential pitching/catching arse-bandit, but you made sure they cottoned on. And it was like Chinese whispers. You said to Patrick and Rich, the Rooper’s my rent boy, watch his eyes light up when I walk into class. And they were, like RP RB, spreading the word, like you said he spread Vaseline on his ruler, like how the rest of the boarders were wearing jockstraps to bed in case he sleepwalked, sleep-raped, the RP RB fudge-packing pants-pirate. The fag, the nut man, the fairy, the switch-hitting, fruit-city bronzer. Used to be he would speak up in class but now whenever he did there’d come a cough wrapped around a slanderous aside from one of your pack up the back. He stopped hanging around. He ate his lunch in the library and got jabbed with compasses or pinched on the arse whenever he walked down the corridor. The nerds rejected him. Even the freaks with their pop-pack juice bongs and seventies haircuts wouldn’t take him.
      And it was beautiful to you, to watch him crumple, to watch his thin shoulders cave and to see his face blush to match his hair colour. It was like the farther he fell the higher you soared. And even though you suspect your old man gets the sadistic trip –after all, it’s part of your make-up and it must have come from somewhere - you’re not sure how to talk about it without admitting culpability. You wonder if there’s another tack to try – could you save your skin by branding his? Call it retaliation? He was a fag, Sir; I was just trying to save my arse – literally. But there’d be eyebrows raised – that myopic RP, who had asthma and epilepsy besides, was a threat to a great strapping, hunk of jock like you? You wish you could talk to Patrick and Rich even if they are chicken-shit betrayers – at least they know the score. And now you’re getting paranoid because the more you look at what transpired the more you see of yourself. It’s like you’re walking into a hall of mirrors. You take a good look around. Who’s golden now?
      On the first night of Hello Dolly, you and Patrick and Rich and the rest of your pack were in the audience. And when the Rooper came out in his sailor suit you hollered stuff out through your rolled-up programmes. It was a pisser but on the Monday after there was an assembly about hooliganism and even though no names were mentioned, when you looked at the Rooper, for the first time in weeks he held your stare, like he was trying to face you, and Patrick and Rich were going, he faced you, sporto. You said, bullshit, you can’t face the ace. And if you were a bit ashamed that you were acting like something out of an American teen movie, you didn’t show it. In fact, high fives were executed. High fives! Something was working inside your brain, some sort of misplaced adrenalin was turning nothing into something big. You said, We’re going to teach that fucker a lesson. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s arse. Patrick held up a finger, Nor attempt to convert it. You flexed; Rich said, Nice, and a plan was constructed.
      And this is the meat. This is the juicy stuff your old man’s perched on the end of his chair to hear. After you spew it his face closes up like a sea anemone you just poked a stick in.
      Last night of Hello Dolly: backstage the Rooper was in his sailor suit, taking off his pancake. His reflection in the mirror showed contentment until you and Patrick and Rich came into view. You had taken pains, however half-arsed, to conceal your identity – raided the old lady’s hosiery draw – diamond grid nylons stretched over your mugs. You and Patrick and Rich had made a pact not to speak throughout the attack but chortles escaped when you got the Rooper in a headlock. Rich dusted up his face and shoved a rolled-up stocking ball in his mouth. You dragged him kicking through the fire exit door. On the other side of that door the cast party was warming up - you knew no one would miss him.
      Patrick ran ahead and got the Range Rover rolling. You and Rich shoved the Rooper in the back and Rich kept him down while Patrick drove in circles, Venga Boys pumping from the car stereo. Patrick drove and you kept a watch out back. The Rooper’s nostrils were spoon-sized, sucking back air. Patrick spoke out the corner of his mouth, Where to? And this was where the impro kicked in. You said, let’s take him back to school. Back to the dorm. It’ll be empty enough. You felt excited. More excited than you’d felt … ever.
      Force is a funny thing. You remembered the old man telling you how when he was in his last year at Scotch, he and his mates hijacked a tram and drove it up and down Glenferrie Road, missing all the stops and pissing out the windows. He’d said, It took a lot of talking to get me out of that one. Rueful. You understand that, like him, you were born with certain privileges, you operate under a different set of rules. When Patrick cut the engine, the music stopped and you could hear the Rooper grunting and snorting like a farm animal being taken off to slaughter and you shrugged, thinking, Sins of the Fathers. Cool.
      You pulled back your mask and knocked on Stef’s ground-floor window. He lifted it up, scratching his head. I’m trying to study, he said. Jesus! When he saw your luggage. He helped you drag the Rooper in and you stood back, laughing, and Stef sparked a joint and you passed that round while the Rooper blinked up at you like he was two seconds short of a spaz attack. Stef said, Well you can’t leave him in here. So he checked the hall, gave the all clear and you got the Rooper into his room, onto his bed, and by now the weed was working and you were all in fits. You started to operate independently of each other. Patrick tied his arms and legs to the bedposts and Rich started tickling him. Then you stripped him. It seemed obvious to you what was going to happen next. You can still see his thin, white body twisting. You all chanting, RP, RP, RP! The jubilation upon witnessing the rude red shock of pubic hair. And if your old man wants it in point form, you can deliver: Shaved. Shoved over. Spread and subjugated. Spaffed on. Sweet. He’d kept his eyes closed through the whole thing, the Mary.
      Part of your probation requires you to see a shrink, and fortunately he’s a Robin Williams type who doesn’t mind if you use the couch for kipping. But sometimes while you’re lying there listening to the clicking of his Newton’s Cradle, you flash on things you’d forgotten. Like how the Rooper had a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People on his bedside table. And how that time on the tram, when he laughed he covered his mouth. You remembered that way back at the start of the year how Mr Franker read out an essay by the Rooper. It was a creative piece about a guy who woke up one morning with a lump on his head. The lump itched and burned and grew larger each day until it became clear to the guy that his head was the horizon and the lump was the sun. So it was like the guy shed light on all he surveyed. The Rooper had kept his head on the desk while his story was read out and when he looked up you caught his eye and showed your approval. You must have been feeling good that day. You think maybe that’s what started the whole thing. Stupid really. A guy carrying the sun on his head.

© Simmone Howell 2004

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author bio

Simmone Howell was born in Melbourne in 1971. Her fiction has been published in journals and anthologies in Australia, Canada and the UK. A short film of her award-winning script PITY 24 was produced in 2003 through Film Victoria. She is currently studying Literature, and writing a novel about teenage girls running riot in the suburbs.
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issue 40: January - February 2004  

Short Fiction

Mary Woronov: George and Shoe Store
Leelila Strogov: Fatso
Simmone Howell: Golden
Connla Stokes: The Splurgy Shore
picks from back issues
Lynn Coady: Jesus Christ, Murdeena
Pedro Juan Gutiérrez: Buried in Shit
and Stars and Losers


Manuel Vázquez Montalbán: 1939 – 2003
The man and his work
Two reviews
: An Olympic Death
and The Buenos Aires Quintet


Ilan Stavans


John Steinbeck
answers to last issue’s 18th-Century English Literature

Readers' Poll

Readers’ Poll Results - Best/Worst of 2003

Book Reviews

Demonized and The Devil in Me by Christopher Fowler
The Epicure’s Lament by Kate Christensen
Blind Love by Mary Woronov
Lizard Dreaming of Birds by John Gist
Dreamland by Newton Thornburg

Regular Features

Book Reviews (all issues)
TBR Archives (authors listed alphabetically)

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