Category Archives: June 2013

Wildlife by Fiona Wood – Extract

Wildlife

1

In the holidays before the dreaded term at my school’s outdoor education campus two things out of the ordinary happened.

A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre bill­board at St Kilda junction.

And I kissed Ben Capaldi.

At least twice a year my godmother, who is some big deal advertising producer, comes back to Melbourne from New York to see her family and people like us, her old friends.

Her name is Bebe, which is pronounced like two bees, but we call her Beeb. She hasn’t got kids so I get all her kid attention, which to be completely honest is not a huge amount. But it’s ‘quality time’. And quality presents. Especially when I was little. When I was five she organised for me to adopt a baby doll from FAO Schwarz. She took photos of me in the ‘nursery’ – they actually had shop assistants dressed up as nurses – and I showed them at school.

That was when I started being friends with Holly. As she looked at my doll, Meggy MacGregor – who had a feeding bottle, nappies, designer clothes, birth certificate and a car capsule – I could see her struggling. It was jealousy/hatred vs admiration/envy, and lucky for me admiration/envy won the day. She’s a good friend, but a mean enemy.

We were at the beach house, lounging around in a delicious haze of lemon poppy seed cake and pots of tea, talking about digging out the wetsuits for a freezing cold spring swim and whether or not sharks have a preferred feeding time. I was lying on the floor with my feet up in an armchair. Toenails painted Titanium – dark, purplish – drying nicely.

I’d just put down Othello for a bout of Angry Birds. My sister Charlotte, thirteen going on obnoxious, was laughing too loudly at a text message, hoping one of us would ask her what was so funny. Dad was doing a cryptic crossword. Mum was answering emails on her laptop even though she was suppos­edly on holiday. ‘Sexually transmitted disease never sleeps,’ she said when I reminded her of the holiday concept. Gross.

She used to be a regular doctor, but she kept getting more and more obscure qualifications and went into community health and health policy, and now she basically runs the free world from the Sexually Transmitted Infections Clinic in Fitzroy.

If you can think of a more embarrassing place than STIC to visit your mum at work, think again, because there isn’t one.

Holly loves it. Anything for attention. We went there after school on the last day of term for emergency gelati money so we’d have the necessary energy required to trawl Savers, and this old woman gave us the foulest look when we hit the street. Holly deadpanned her: ‘At least we’re getting it treated.’

Beeb was sitting on the comfy sofa with the beautiful Designers Guild paisley fabric that she bossed Mum into choosing about ten years ago, with all the bright colours now softly worn and faded, flipping through some model agency ‘books’ on screen and saying, insipid, insipid, dreary, tarty, bland, blah, starved, insipid . . . She groaned and stretched out her black-jeans-clad legs. ‘Where are the interesting gals?’

‘They broke the mould after you two,’ my dad said. Meaning Beeb and Mum. It never works when my dad tries to give a compliment; he’s simply not that charming.

‘Thanks,’ I said, thinking interesting is after all a modest claim.

I must have sounded way more offended than I felt, because when I glanced up from my screen all eyes were upon me. Upside down, disconcertingly, because of me lying on the floor. When I untangled my limbs and sat up it was as though I’d surrounded myself with flashing lights and arrows. Everyone kept looking at me. Really looking. And I was wishing I’d just shut up, because my mother was probably about to remember that I still hadn’t unloaded the dishwasher and if I had time to lie there playing Angry Birds – which is quite a distant rung on her almighty hierarchy of tasks from Reading a Set Text for Next Term – then I certainly had time to unload the dishwasher, and I had to remember the family was a community, and in order for a community to function . . .

Beeb got up. ‘Come here, kid,’ she said, leading me to the win­dow. She was looking at me with a strange frown-and-squint gaze. ‘What did you do with all those pimples?’

‘Roaccutane,’ I said. ‘I had dry skin, dry eyeballs and no spit.’

‘Till they corrected the dose,’ said Dr Mother.

‘What about all the hardware in your mouth?’ asked Beeb.

‘Off last week.’ I ran my tongue over my teeth. They still felt weirdly slippy.

‘Take off your glasses.’ I did.

‘You are gorgeous. How did I not notice this?’ It was a eureka moment, she said later.

‘Maybe because you see my visage in my mind,’ I said, man­gling a bit of Othello.

‘That is true, my sweetie,’ said Beeb.

‘She has a pointy nose exactly like a witch,’ said Charlotte.

‘Her nose is fine,’ said my father, who never seems to realise ‘fine’ is as good as an insult.

‘If you like huge noses, which no one actually does,’ said Charlotte.

‘She’s got character,’ said Beeb. ‘And that’s what I’m look­ing for.’

‘You’re talking about her? My sister? Sibylla Quinn?’ said Charlotte, her voice squeaking with growing incredulity. ‘She’s totally fugs. Totally.’

‘Don’t use that word,’ said my mother, who only recently found out what fugs meant, and then only because she used it so I felt that I had to tell her, and she said, oh, that’s disappoint­ing, I thought it was like a cuddly version of ugly. No surprise this is the same woman who thought lol meant ‘lots of love’. It was her all-purpose sign-off for texts till I set her straight a few years ago.

‘I don’t want pretty little generics, I want Different, I want Individual!’ said Beeb.

‘What for?’

‘Perfume launch. A billboard and magazine campaign. Jeune Femme Sauvage.’ She was rummaging in her latest designer ver­sion of the magic bag that contains her whole office. She pulled out a camera, took some photos of me and studied the screen. ‘Perfect. God, you look like your mum.’

‘Old and tired? Poor girl,’ said my mother.

We looked at her. She has a high forehead and a bony nose and a big mouth. (In both senses.) She doesn’t dye her hair. It’s cut straight and parted on one side. It’s the same colour as mine. Mouse. Only she calls it rat because she’s so funny. She does have a great smile. And she smiled.

‘Take a picture, it’ll last longer,’ she said.

Beeb took a picture of me and Mum together. We’re both smiling. And I can see that even though I’m not old and tired, we do look pretty similar.

Mum hugged me and whispered in my ear: dishwasher.

2

friday 28 september

After Fred . . .

saturday 29 september

After Fred died . . .

sunday 30 september

After Fred died I divided my time between blind disbelief, blank chaos and therapy.

The psychiatrist, Esther, said, write a journal, Lou, how about writing a journal, would you consider writing a journal, Lou, give it some thought . . .

We are in the slowly unwinding transition out of therapy in the lead-up to me going away to school. Who knew: you can’t just walk out of therapy. At least it is not recommended that you just walk out of therapy. No matter how many times you might keenly wish to just walk out of therapy.

There will be a formal handover to the school counsellor, whose name I don’t know yet. I’ll be the new girl, starting in term four. Boarding for a whole term, a whole nine weeks, in the wilderness.

I’ve been angry through the whole therapy thing, which might be a displacement of my guilt/sorrow/depression at the whole Fred thing. We don’t use ‘depression’ in the usual sense, because truly, if I don’t have a reason to feel depressed, I don’t know who . . .

It is possible that Esther, who is after all a psychiatrist­-with-a-special-interest-in-grieving-and-its-effects-on-mental-­health-in-young-people, is right about writing a journal.

So I have decided, well, why not write something down?

If you don’t want to write about your Feelings, you can simply write about the Physical World, what you see, what you hear . . . facts, things, stuff. Jeez, so it’s not compulsory to evis­cerate myself? To slash myself to a slow death with a million small paper cuts? Thank you kindly.

There are whole nights I do nothing but wait. For what?

You could say I have been spending too much time alone for too long. Perhaps it is indeed time to start talking to an exercise book. The internal, external . . . infernal, diurnal, eternal jour­nal. It is essentially just more talking to myself, but that is okay because my heart is its own fierce country where nobody else is welcome.

Cut him out in little stars. Hard to believe a man even wrote that; it’s so fragile.

I completely get that giddy arrogance, the infatuation. The laugh-and-spin embrace of the absent beloved. If you were writing an essay, you’d probably yarp on about the way in which it can be read as prefiguring Romeo’s death. A portent.

I love the staccato it-t-t-teration and the soft fading sibi­lance of ‘stars’. Imagine the words breathed out, written down fast and hard onto thick, smeared paper, the tarry smell, black sputtery ink. Such potent meaning inside so delicate an image feels risky, implosive, cataclysmic.

But if there’s no danger, no risk, it’s not love, is it?

I’ve told Esther exactly nothing of any of this.

Fred and I talked about it like we talked about everything, and decided we were too young to have sex. Then we basically went for it.

Because, sure, head was saying maybe not such a good idea, but soul was saying I know you, and body was saying come to me. And that’s two against one.

Hey, at least we were older than Romeo and Juliet.

Fred did the research. Ever the scientist. The failure rate for condoms mostly relates to misuse, or accidents. We decided we’d go straight to a morning-after pill in the case of an acci­dent. And we also decided we wouldn’t have accidents, and we didn’t. We took it in turns to buy the condoms. Nowhere too near home.

Going on the pill would have meant horrible ‘discussions’. My mothers being very responsible and ultimately understand­ing and tolerant with about three million warnings and provisos. And the family doctor. Gag. I did not fancy the whole gang metaphorically standing at the bedside. A strange doctor would have been possible but weird, too. I didn’t need the lecture.

Condoms sometimes break because someone is being rough, or the girl isn’t ‘ready’, which sounds so sad. Sounds more like rape than sex to me. That wasn’t us. We were all liquid aching and longing. It was fun being beginners together. You only get that once. It took a little while. We were learning a new language, after all.

If we’d ever asked for a weekend away together all the par­ents, including Fred’s stepmother, would have been frowning and conferencing and counselling.

But all we asked was to do our homework together a couple of times a week, and hang out a bit at the weekend. So it was easy. And we did homework, our nerdiness as compatible as our lust. We were pretty lucky. You’d have to say.

Now I’m all packed up and ready to go to a jolly outdoorsy camp called Mt Fairweather where you can learn to be jolly and jolly well fend for yourselves and run up a jolly mountain and learn which way’s north and how to make a fire and incin­erate some jolly marshmallows, no doubt.

Esther says it will be good for me. She says it will do me the world of good. But where is the world of good? I’m pretty sure it’s not stuck up a mountain with a bunch of private-school clones.

Dan and Estelle and Janie are all on exchange in Paris. They left last week. More tears. More scattering.

Dan’s shrink said it would be good for him. Maybe he said the world of good. Perhaps Paris is the world of good.

I do try to live in the moment, but it doesn’t work particu­larly well.

In the wall is the window. On the window is the curtain. Through the window is the moon. You can even write gibberish in the journal if you like; it still connects you to the page, to the idea, at least, of communicating. Apparently.

Sometimes I’ll write to you, Fred; sometimes I’ll write to me. Sometimes I will just write what I see because I see it for you, too. When I see a fingernail moon in a fading sky . . .

3

It took a whole lot of persuading – mostly of Mum – to get me from the living room floor up onto that billboard. Beeb knew her so well. The four things that clinched the okay were:

I’ll be there the whole time supervising.

No one will recognise her.

The vibe is fairytale, not ‘sexy’.

She can put the fee in her travel account.

The first three were for Mum and Dad, the fourth was really for me. My parents are notoriously unmotivated by money. Not me. I can’t get enough of it. And the fee was huge – it’s a global campaign. (I’d have to babysit the current clients into old age to earn that much at twelve dollars an hour.)

My travel account has been going forever. Years ago I negotiated that instead of going to Byron Bay for ‘schoolies’ week, in the summer break between school and university, I get to housesit Beeb’s apartment in New York (Upper West Side, two blocks from Zabar’s, so I won’t starve) while she is here in Melbourne. Only, so far, with babysitting and holiday work and having taken out certain essential amounts I’ve only ever got about three hundred dollars, which is a fraction of an airfare.

Even when Mum had said okay she wasn’t exactly in love with the whole billboard plan.

When I came home with my hair dyed – and it looked great, by the way – she nearly had a conniption.

Beeb joked her out of it by talking in headlines:

‘New Study Reveals Hairdye does not Chemically Neutralise Political Awareness.’

‘Feminist Survives Professional Eyebrow Wax.’

‘Makeup – It Washes Off!’

‘These things were serious crimes back in the day,’ Beeb said to me by way of explanation. As though I haven’t heard every feminist rant under the sun and am not a proud feminist ranter myself, when warranted, and when I can be bothered.

‘And PS, Mother, I am the only person in my year level who doesn’t have dyed hair,’ I said.

‘Not anymore, you’re not,’ she said, eyebrows up.

There was a big pre-production meeting at the photographer’s studio where Beeb ‘consulted’ the art director, who ‘consulted’ the makeup artist, who had a colourist on ‘standby’. To hear them you would think my hair was of global significance. But whatever they did it sure did not look like any other hair I’d ever seen.

They talked about ‘layering’ the colour, and ‘textural’ colour, and ‘variegated’ colour. And the amazing thing was that even though it had about ten different colours in it – all individu­ally painted and put in foils – it still looked like my hair, but as though it was walking along with its own set of glamour spotlights.

Getting it done was outlandishly boring. It took a whole day to do hair and the makeup ‘tests’. But I would have put up with it ten times over to see Charlotte turning green when I got home.

‘You don’t even look like yourself,’ was the best she could come up with as she huffed off to sulk in her room.

After pretending like it was no big deal, I went upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. I actually could not stop staring at myself in the mirror. I looked awesome. It was mesmeris­ing. And Charlotte was right for once in her scurvy little life: I looked nothing at all like myself. It was me with a work of art stuck right onto my face.

I kept blinking at my reflection. One minute I could see myself, the next, just the beautiful mask. Which looked five years older than me. If I were in a scary movie, this would be the perfect moment to first experience psychosis. Maybe the mask would talk to me. As my now-crazy older self. From the future. I shuddered. I was freaking myself out. I stuffed my hair into a ponytail and turned on the taps.

The ‘shoot’ was right before the end of third term, and the bill­board was up on the last day of the holidays before we left the city for our fourth term, boarding at Mt Fairweather, which is Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education campus.

‘Deadline tighter than a fish’s arsehole,’ as Beeb said.

She swears like a mad thing. She says it comes from spend­ing too much time with crews.

As soon as the billboard went up, it was all over Facebook. Holly was posting it before the paste was dry. In one keystroke I went from being a year ten ‘nobody’ to a year ten ‘unknown quantity’.

Once it hit Facebook, Holly applied some pressure, and I got the event invite to Laura Jenkins’ party, which was on that very night. Holly had told me about the party a couple of weeks ago. She understands that I prefer to know when I’m being socially outcast. I pressed attend (what the hell – I didn’t have anything else on) and shut my laptop as Mum walked in to check that I was packed, which I more or less was.

‘Sibbie, what is this?’ She was looking at my super-sized, multi-gadget, blood-red Swiss Army knife. ‘You’re taking a weapon?’ She frowned, no doubt running a mental checklist of some of the miscreants in my year level.

‘It’s optional. But, yeah, I’m going totally gangsta.’

She laughed.

‘I feel like I’m sending you back to the Stone Age.’

‘You might as well be.’ I gave my mobile a hammy kiss. ‘Farewell, my heart, my life.’

‘No texting for nine weeks! Your thumbs might drop off.’

‘They’ll get axing exercise.’

‘Known as “chopping” in some circles, I believe.’

‘Yeah, that.’

‘Promise you’ll write lots of letters?’

‘It’s compulsory. But I would anyway. And everyone says The Letter Home is all that stops you going crazy on the solo overnight hike.’

She cast a doubtful eye over my bags and the surrounding mess. ‘You don’t want some help?’

‘I’m supposed to be self-sufficient for the whole term or your money back, so I think I’ll be okay.’

‘Have you packed undies?’

‘Mum!’

She laughed as she went out the door. ‘Just saying.’

There have been certain holidays on which I’ve forgotten certain essential items. But no big deal, right? You can always supplement when you get there. Anyway, this time there’s a list.

Leonie came over to me; he always gets anxious when there’s luggage out – it usually means the nice man from the doggy kennel is about to pick him up. I gave him a reassuring back scratch, feeling a bit guilty to be offering last-minute affection. I take him for granted these days, i.e. ignore him heaps.

He wagged his stumpy tail agreeably. Dogs are lovely – they don’t even know the meaning of grudge. Twelve years ago, Leonie was the most beautiful name I could imagine. A mix­ture of my friend ‘Leah’, and ‘pony’. Mum asked if I knew it was usually a girl’s name, and our puppy was a boy. I pretended I knew, to maintain my four-year-old dignity. I was pretty sure Leonie wouldn’t care either way. In the spirit of male solidarity, my dad has always called him Leo.

Before burying my phone in a pair of thick socks to pack it – conveniently not thinking about the contract signed in good faith pledging not to bring phones to camp – I texted Michael: skype?

Michael, my oldest friend, my strangest friend. He prefers skype to phone because he says the role of voice in conversation accounts for fifty per cent or less of communicating. He also counts skype as a social outing, which means he’s off the hook for organising an actual social outing. He’s there by the time I get to my desk.

‘Are you jetlagged?’ I asked.

‘A little.’

‘How was Rome?’

‘Ancient.’

‘What did you watch on the plane?’ I give Michael pop-culture viewing suggestions for long flights.

Friday Night Lights. You were right.’

‘So, the billboard went up.’

‘I saw it.’

‘Large, isn’t it?’

‘Extra extra large. Livin’ large.’

Livin’ large. At least it’ll be down by the time we get back.’

‘They’ve captured an authentic Sibylla look, though.’

‘It’s the unfocused gaze, because I’m wishing to be some­where else.’

‘Which obviously translates nicely into . . .’ He was casting about for the desired message of the ad.

I smell good, I guess.’

‘You nailed it. Will you do any more of this work?’

‘I was only allowed to do this because it was Beeb. You can imagine the lecture – my mother is still fifty per cent horri­fied. And speaking of horror – I’ve said I’ll go to Laura’s party tonight.’

‘Celebrity life begins. Don’t you want to go?’

‘Yes/no.’

‘Because it will be good/bad?’

‘Pretty much.’

He nodded.

‘What are you reading?’

He smiled apologetically and held up Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Of course he’s reading Thoreau as we head into the wilderness: he’s Michael.

‘Michael, you rock.’

His eyes shine. ‘Sibylla, you – tall tree.’

‘I can’t ask you what I should wear, so I guess I’m just here sharing some nervousness.’

‘I hope it turns out to be more good/bad than bad/good. Here, have some Thoreau.’ He found a page in the book and read out, ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

‘Hmmm, so if I substitute “party” for “woods” . . . I’m already feeling less ambivalent about it.’

He smiled, said goodbye and left, so it was just me on the screen holding up my goodbye hand and contemplating the most immediate essential fact of life: what to wear.

I finished packing and had time to try on five or six variations of ‘very casual’ for the party. A last-minute invitee can’t look like she’s tried too hard.

That party is how I came to kiss Ben Capaldi, the most popular boy in our year level, someone I never thought even had me on his map. What am I talking about? I know I was never on his map. I was never in the same room as his map.

‘Maps’ were on my brain because I’d been worrying about get­ting lost, aware I have no sense of direction and I was about to be in the zero-landmark-everything-looks-the-same-to-a-city-girl, no-buildings, no-sign-posts, map-dependent . . . wilderness.

Parties are uncomfortable events for me. I do want to get invited. If I’m not invited I feel sad, and it is horrible hearing befores and afters you’ve had nothing to do with. Smiling and pretending dog-eared experience is enough. But when I am invited to a party, I straightaway start dreading it.

As soon as I’m confronted with shrieking, giggling, drink­ing, loud music, random hookups, uninhibited dancing – I feel glum. I don’t have fun. I’m not ‘fun’. I’m serious. I’m respon­sible. I worry about my friends getting drunk, getting their drinks spiked, getting hurt, getting messy, getting used, getting pregnant, getting sexually transmitted diseases, and drowning in their own vomit.

On top of that I never know what to wear.

And I don’t like drinking, but I have to pretend to drink, so I at least appear to be ‘fun’, and to be having ‘fun’.

I used to like dancing until a boy – Billy Gardiner – told me I looked like a spastic tarantula. So now I only dance if it’s crowded enough and dark enough that nobody can see me.

So a typical party for me usually involves trying unsuccessfully to talk to people who are drunk, hanging around the food, speaking to the parents, visiting the bathroom, hoping that by the time I come out more people I know have arrived, not dancing, finding a kitchen or garden through-road position to prop, so I get passing-traffic conversation, and later on patrol­ling to check that my friends are okay to get home. Holly says I’m more like a party monitor than a guest.

But post-billboard, the script for this party ran differently. For starters, some people looked at me rather than around me when I arrived.

After Holly’s hiiiiiiieee mwah mwah, she pulled me into a huddle with Gabi and Ava, and started making a big deal out of the billboard thing. Usually it would make me uncomfortable being the centre of attention, but because I’d told Holly everything and she’d had three cranberry vodkas, it was more like she was the centre of attention, which suited us both just fine.

Hours later when Ben Capaldi, apparently off his face, staggered into focal range and said (to me!) your pulchritude defies belief I was – speechless. I may have lifted one sober eyebrow. I’ve perfected the one-eyebrow lift in the mirror, never in a million years thinking I’d get to use it in a social situation. I smiled and turned away. I could not think of one thing to say. But as my heart flipped like a hooked fish, I was wondering if a girl like me had ever turned away from a boy like Ben.

Was it wrong to feel a little thrill when I caught his look of surprise? This handsome boy? This boy the whole world loves? It might have looked like muscle-flexing on my part, turning away like that, but it was unadorned panic. A when-in-doubt-­stick-your-head-in-the-sand move. Nice work.

And he thought I didn’t know what pulchritude meant? Naturally. It’s not like he would have noticed me in the Same Latin Class for the Last Three Years. Dud compliment, any­way. It’s such an ugly word for beauty. Besides which, he’s the pulchritudinous one. He is the walking definition of boy beauty.

There is no hope of sleeping tonight. My wakey-dial is stuck up on super-alert. I’m freaked out about going to camp in the morning, and I’ve got the kiss footage on a loop. I hate this. I want a more obedient brain. I want the brain that says okay when I say it’s bedtime. Now, brain, sit! Rollover! Play dead. My brain says, get stuffed I’m having fun. Tonight it is like one of those lab rats that can’t stop going back for cocaine even though it needs the food.

Hmmm . . . food. An excursion into the parental worst-­kept-secret dark chocolate stash, in the fridge, is definitely warranted. With a freezing-cold glass of milk.

1.47 am. Brain still disobeying owner. It happened. It can’t have been a dream: I haven’t been to sleep. How did it happen? A yelp of disbelief makes its way up from my solar plexus to the pillow I jam against my face.

Holly almost certainly had something to do with it. She is the keen social engineer who has been trying to persuade me since year eight that I need a man in my life. (Defence strategy: eye roll, say no thank you, no way, never, not even interested, before you get scorned, rejected, ignored, not asked.)

No more than an hour after turning away, of ignoring him, of accidentally appearing to be unimpressed, I was kissing him.

Sibylla Quinn and Benjamin Capaldi?

You have got to be kidding.

Sib and Ben?

Surely not.

Heads turned. He tasted of beer and smiles and popular­ity, smelt of freshly danced sweat, and didn’t seem to realise it was the first time I’d kissed anyone. At least, he didn’t mention it.

So the earth must be spinning off its axis by now, plummeting headlong towards a new universe, oceans sloshing and spilling, icecaps sliding, trees uprooted. Because somehow I’ve stepped over the line to stand with the popular girls. Only I haven’t. The line must have moved without me realising. It’s disconcerting. And so was the way people looked at me post-kissing-Ben. The look said you? Then it reassessed me. Shuffled the deck. And it was as though a different backing track started playing. I walked into the party with something like a la-di-da, but by the time I left it was more a ba-boom-chucka-boom-chucka.

A text erupts from my phone, which is packed inside a gum­boot. Holly. Unless it’s – it couldn’t be – Ben? I dig it out, heart jerking, and remember: Ben doesn’t even have my number. Of course it’s Holly: biaaatch, are you in bed with him? Me: you are a freak. Holly: as if you don’t love him. Me: don’t. Holly: then you’re crazier than I thought, and that is lots crazy. Me: go to sleep. Holly: perchance to . . . Me: perchance to shut up.

4

monday 8 october, 4 am

No news is not good news.

I know it.

Anything might have happened, and the only true fact of life is death.

It is brief. But it is nonetheless a second journal entry.

The end.

5

Sex education used to be called The Facts of Life. It’s kind of appropriate, the stern, newsreader tone, the headline vibe. It does loom large; it is some kind of major event on the horizon.

If you read the statistics – our house is full of them – heaps of kids have sex super early, like early secondary school, but in my little middle-class world there are plenty of kids, a lot more than half, who haven’t done the deed at sixteen or even seventeen. I know that for an anecdotal fact. (I’m obviously one of them.)

Despite that, at sixteen, whether you have, or have not, had sex can sometimes feel like The Great Divide. It’s not like friends who used to be close are gone, it’s just that they’ve migrated to another country.

No matter how much you tell yourself that nothing’s changed, it has. You worry that all your dumb old secrets are about to be whispered on someone else’s pillow, or to be super­seded by somebody else’s better secrets.

Just as wide as the gulf between ‘have had sex’ and ‘haven’t had sex’ is the gulf between my fantasy life and my real life; fantasy boys and real boys.

Until last night, when I kissed my fantasy boy. That was a particularly disturbing, worlds-colliding event.

It is very frustrating, and seems illogical, that you can know everything there is to know about sex of all persuasions, vari­ations and deviations, in theory, and yet still know zero if you haven’t done it. It. IT.

Being a virgin makes me feel inexperienced, childish, gauche, uncool.

It is honest to god like I’m sitting at the little kids’ trestle table on Christmas Day, while other girls my age are over there sipping from champagne flutes and using the good cutlery.

Add to that the pressure to act like it’s cool . . . no big deal . . . my choice . ..

And that’s me, and I’m not even a very peer-group person.

My virginity does not feel like some wondrous thing I will one day bestow on a lucky boy; it’s more in the realm of something I need to get rid of, like braces, before my real life can begin.

But annoyingly enough, while I am dead keen to cross ‘sex’ off my to-do list, I don’t feel at all ready to remove anything other than a top-layer garment in front of a boy. That is the rea­son why before I am even properly awake, the challenge, and probable impossibility, of fully clothed sex with Ben Capaldi is occupying my thoughts.

What is it going to be like seeing him today? My lips still tender, chin scratched. It had to be a casual hookup, right?

A party thing? Please, party-fling fairy, oh please visit and tell me what face to put on this morning. Friendly but distant? Casual hello hug? Ignore him before he ignores me? What was I thinking? We’re going to be in the wilderness together for nine weeks.

6

monday 8 october, 5 am

If you don’t want to write about feelings, you can write about facts, Lou.

I met Fred last year.

Our mutual friend Dan Cereill introduced us.

We saw a movie, ate boysenberry choc-tops, kissed, arranged to meet again.

I invited him to our year nine social at the end of term three.

It was a surprise.

I was not looking for a boyfriend.

We had five perfect months together.

He died in a cycling accident. He was dead at the scene, could not be resuscitated, is believed to have died instantly of head injuries.

There was a funeral.

There was scattering of ash.

I did not go back to school when the school year started. I was a basket case. Everything shut down.

This term I was to be part of a wonderful new French exchange program for government schools.

My three friends, Dan, Estelle and Janie, are part of a won­derful new French exchange program.

When it came down to it, I couldn’t leave Fred.

I decided to stay in the same country as Fred.

I did not put it that way to anyone else but Dan.

It might have sounded a bit crazy but it was what I needed to do.

Dan couldn’t wait to leave the city that killed Fred.

We understood perfectly well that each other’s positions sprang from the same place. The place where the floor falls out from under you and nothing can ever be the same.

I have seen a psychiatrist called Esther, specialising in teen­agers and grief, twice a week since Fred died.

I don’t sleep well.

I don’t wake well.

I have done distance education from home for the first three terms this year.

My results have been excellent.

Today I am starting at a new school, in fourth term.

I don’t have to tell people about Fred unless I choose to do so.

This school is a private school called Crowthorne Grammar that sends its students away for a whole term in year ten. They/ we go to an outdoor education campus called Mt Fairweather for a whole term to discover the real meaning of, to experience,

independence and leadership.

It is a campus in the mountains.

This cushy campus promises to provide an authentic, rugged outdoors experience . . . resilience . . . core values . . . practical skills for . . . co-curricular . . . living . . . blah . . . educational adventure . . . foster . . . blah . . . connect . . . blah . . . challenge.

A quarter of the year ten class is at Mt Fairweather at any given time. I am part of the quarter who will be enjoying the camp experience during fourth term.

There will be lots of wonderful activities in which I will participate, including but not limited to hiking, cross-country running, group and solo camping, abseiling, canoeing, horse riding and environmental studies in situ.

Classes will run in a five-day week from Thursday to Mon­day. Inclusive. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be our ‘weekends’, so we can have the run of the wilderness without us bothering weekend hikers/campers, or weekend hikers/campers bother­ing us.

It will be good for me. That’s an order.

Good to make a new start.

Good to get out of the house.

Good to meet new people.

Good to breathe some new air.

Good to be getting fit.

Good to have access to a fine counsellor.

So good I cannot fucking believe my luck.

7

Parents were encouraged to say their farewells at home. Schools correctly believe hysteria to be contagious. So I get to have a whispered catch-up with Holly while everyone mills around looking excited or depressed or hungover and the sporty teachers help load the buses.

Ben is in the distance laughing with some of his aths team jock friends, guys I really don’t like. Rowing and football star Billy Gardiner, with his look-at-me tan, protein-supplement­muscles and blond hair, is one of them. But I guess when you’re friends with basically everyone, you’re going to have some quality-control issues.

‘It was nothing, no big deal.’ I’m trying to mean it.

‘You were practically having sex, so it’s not nothing.’

‘We weren’t. It was just a kiss. Can we move on?’

‘Last time Ben Capaldi did that – well, the time before – it was Laura and they went out – for a while.’

‘Forget it, he’s not even my type.’ I bite a shaggy cuticle. I’ve always wanted to say that – though in this context it’s a big fat lie, and Holly knows it.

‘Your type? Your type is nerd meets doofus, hun, and you don’t want to go there.’

‘Thanks.’

‘What? I’m being honest,’ says Holly. I consider the mixed blessing of having such an honest friend, but there is stuff I’m clueless about, and she’s a good interpreter.

‘No, you’re right – which means Ben Capaldi is definitely not the boy for me.’

‘Don’t you get it? This is not about who you are. It’s about who you want to be. You get to decide. Because of the billboard. No one knows who you are anymore. The whole year level is confused.’

‘The billboard isn’t me.’

‘You haven’t tried on enough “me”s to even know.’

‘I’m Daria. I’ve even got the pain-in-the-arse little sister.’

‘You were Daria. Now you can be – Hannah Montana.’

‘She’s not even a cartoon.’

We both reflect on the shortage of good female cartoon role models in mainstream media. Or at least that’s what I’m doing.

‘Sibbie, you can go from drab to fab – you can be a babe, not everyone gets to do that.’ Holly sometimes speaks as though she’s rehearsing for her planned career in the world of fashion journalism.

‘Even that word – babe – I hate it. I don’t want to be patron­ised, or infantilised . . . ’

Holly sighs, trying to keep her cool. ‘Think of it as a visit to babe-land. If you don’t like it, don’t stay.’

‘I won’t like it.’

‘You don’t know that because you’ve never been there. And Ben Capaldi is everybody’s type. If everybody wants brainy, funny, fit, handsome.’

‘If that’s true then I’ve really got no hope.’

‘You’ve got a secret weapon that no other girl has.’

‘What?’ If she means the stupid billboard, I can hardly lug that with me everywhere I go.

She’s smiling. ‘Your best friend is me.’


Excerpted from Wildlife by Fiona Wood. Copyright © 2013 by Fiona Wood.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Just Between Us edited by Linden, Nieman, Scott, Kon-Yu and Sved – Extract

Just Between Us

Friendship – In Several Painful Lessons
Nonfiction by Liz Byrski

It’s 1950, I’m six years old, it’s my second week at school and this playground might as well be the killing fields. I’m a poor candidate for school – a shy and timid only child, living with my parents on the outskirts of a small village. No neighbours, no playing with other kids on the street, no relatives or friends within striking distance. Kindergarten has not prepared me for this and I’ve spent the last week hiding; first in the cloakroom, then the girls’ toilets and now in the corner behind the dustbins. There’s a shuffling noise as someone tries to shift a bin and I freeze in terror. Dennis McCarthy and Julian Foot are coming to get me. Since the first juniors’ assembly, at which Mother Superior told us the story of Joan of Arc, they have been stalking me.

‘We’re building a fire, and we’re going to burn you on it,’ Dennis had whispered as he pushed past me in the din­ner line.

The bin shifts again.‘You come on out of there, Elizabeth Beard,’ Betty Bartlet says, poking her head around the bin. ‘You can be my friend.’

Betty Bartlet is two years above me, three times my size and in the same class as the would-be arsonists. She has a shiny red face, black curly hair, National Health glasses behind which one eye wanders uncontrollably, and she smells of licorice, wee and gravy. I don’t want to be Betty Bartlet’s friend, but those boys are as scared of her as I am of them.

I emerge from behind the bins and she holds out a well-sucked stick of licorice. ‘Suck it,’ she says.

I loathe licorice, even the smell makes me nauseous. I shake my head.

‘Suck it,’ she insists, almost ramming it up my nose. ‘You’re my friend now so you have to.’ She glances over her shoulder to where Dennis and Julian are trying to strike Swan Vestas against the wall. ‘D’you want me to look after you or not?’

I suck the licorice, and for the next two years, until her par­ents move to Scotland, I am her friend. My arms and thighs are speckled purple from her pinches, she ties my plaits in knots, steals my ribbons and pencils, and tries to pull down my knickers, but I have not been burned at the stake.

Being Betty Bartlet’s ‘friend’ was pretty straightforward: it was the price I paid for protection. Her departure meant liberation; Dennis and Julian had by then found someone else to torment. I survived as a playground fringe dweller, attracting some degree of sympathy for my enslavement to the most hated girl in school, but also a level of suspicion. I was tolerated but never welcomed with open arms, and that suited my solitary nature. The intimate world of shared secrets, inspections of body parts and cosy sleepovers was not for me. I was comfortable in my parents’ world; accustomed to the company of their older friends, adept at being seen but not heard and making polite, quasi-adult conversation when necessary. I was an observer, a compulsive reader and writer, happier with books than with other children. I survived by being friendly with most but attached to no one in particular, and shone only in English composition and drama – the ideal imaginary worlds of the shy only child, grappling with a fear of the real world.

*****

Perhaps being an only child is always inadequate preparation for friendship, but my situation was, I think, especially complicated. My parents were popular, sociable and outgoing, but at home their relationship was chilly – sometimes even arctic. There were no rows and no fights, no shouting, not even a raised voice, just a permanent state of tension. Sometimes there was more tension or less, but it was always there – the background music always off-key. I was so accustomed to the music that it didn’t occur to me that things might be otherwise. In this intricate, private system of muted emotions I felt quite secure. As long as I was a good girl, behaved well, succeeded at school and didn’t rock the boat, then the family ship would stay afloat. I knew the rules and I stuck to them. My parents may not have been able to love each other but I knew they loved me. I didn’t feel the need for other children, but when I was eleven we moved house and, suddenly, I acquired a friend.

Evelyn was thirteen, and although her family’s border­line poverty and my parents’ comparative wealth meant our situations were dramatically different, it didn’t mat­ter to us. By some truly divine accident I was living across the street from the sort of friend I had only read about in books. The intimate conversations, the shared secrets and pacts, the speculations about boys and sex just seemed to happen, without effort or anxiety.

In thinking now about the winding paths of women’s friendship through my life I see that I was ill-prepared for closeness and trust – but with Evelyn I could switch off the self-monitoring antennae I had developed at home and employed at school; there was no need to measure my responses or edit my conversation. No fear, no timidity, and never a hint of licorice. So what was the magic ingredient?

We were thrown together because we were the only people of a similar age in close proximity. Two homes facing each other on a long winding country road; hers was a run­down subsistence farm lit by oil lamps, with water pumped every day from a well. There was never quite enough of any­thing and always too much grinding hard work and abuse. Her father cut hedges and dug ditches, her mother cleaned houses in the village three miles away. I lived in a tastefully renovated Tudor cottage: leadlight windows, low beams, central heating, thick carpets, hot running water and all the most desirable mod-cons of the fifties. My father was a sen­ior executive with a major retail chain and drove to London each day. My mother stayed home and had a cleaner to help with the housework twice a week. There were plenty of social rocks on which Evelyn and I could have stumbled but we never did. I have thought since that this was due to something within Evelyn. Despite the harshness of her life she was always entirely herself: calm, confident, reliable and totally committed to doing her best in everything. She had what I see now as a sort of ancient wisdom, and she recognised in me the things that others missed. She knew my anxiety, my compulsion to be good no matter what it cost me, my shyness and need for stillness and space. She respected all that but didn’t buy into it or exploit it; she was just herself and so she enabled me to be the nearest I had come to being my own self.

At eighteen Evelyn left school, got a job and moved away to live in a shared flat. I was initially bereft but even­tually grew accustomed to the fact that, although we met less frequently, we still talked regularly on the phone, and the half-hour bus ride was easily managed. Five years later we both married, and I think both of us assumed that, as far as our friendship was concerned, nothing much would change.

‘You have to give up your friends when you get mar­ried,’ my mother told me a few weeks before my wedding. ‘Husbands don’t like women friends hanging around.’

Was this the advice that my grandmother had given her? Who knows, but the absence of women friends in Mum’s life was obvious. In mid-life she had acquaintances, usu­ally the wives of Dad’s business associates; they socialised as couples, but Mum rarely spent time with other women. I was determined this wouldn’t happen to me. By then I had several friends of whom I was fond, but Evelyn was always different, always special. We joked about growing old together, of how we would sit facing each other in our rocking chairs on either side of the fireplace, clicking our knitting needles, sucking on our false teeth and listening to the Righteous Brothers singing ‘unchained Melody’.

But somehow it didn’t work out like that. Slowly we were both drawn into that closed world of marriage to which, in those days, everything and everyone else came a poor second. It was a world of couples, and our husbands had nothing in common. Eighteen months later, Evelyn and her husband moved some distance away. The letters and phone calls, even the Christmas cards, faltered; we both had full-time jobs and then I was pregnant. Our friendship seeped away so gradually that I barely noticed until it was so obvi­ously gone. We just lost touch. It was only decades later that I really began to reflect on what I had lost.

*****

As a working mother of two small children I had acquired a circle of women friends, all of us bonded by mutual babysitting arrangements and the steep learning curve of becoming parents. Later, in the seventies, I discovered the women’s movement and warm and vibrant friendships that were grounded in the collective. The cause was greater than any or all of us and that sense of purpose mattered just as much as the friendships.

By the mid-eighties I had divorced, remarried, settled in Australia with my second husband and two sons and was working as a freelance writer, when the editor of a group of suburban newspapers suggested, with a dismissive wave of the editorial hand, that I might write a weekly column that would be interesting to women. I suspect he had in mind 101 Ways with Mince or Fashion on a Budget, but I saw this as a chance to bring a feminist perspective to an essentially cautious and conservative group of publications. I would simply try to write in such a way that readers might not recognise what they were getting. And so every week for five years I wrote a column on social and family issues. The topics ranged from abortion law reform, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and women’s health to public housing, schools, homework, skateboards and anything else that occurred to me. I always wrote from a feminist perspective; I just never said the F word. My aim was similar to that which Ursula Le Guin has described in her book Dancing at the Edge of the World: ‘to subvert as much as possible with­out hurting anybody’s feelings’.

on reflection, I wish I had been totally upfront about it, but it was the eighties: the shock jocks were in full voice and feminists were being vilified. Besides, my whole life until then had been spent in a balancing act of making myself acceptable to other people; it was inevitable that I would endeavour to make myself acceptable in print.

It worked. The column was popular and often contro­versial, and many women who recognised what I was doing wrote to me with considerable glee – as though we were all part of a vast feminist conspiracy, which I suppose we were. And so I began to make new, Australian friends, often among the women whom I interviewed about a topic for the column. That’s how I met Julia.

It began with an interview, then coffee and lunch. By now I was in my forties and despite the assertiveness of my writ­ing I was as anxious and insecure as I had been in my teens. With Julia it was easy to mould myself into whatever made the friendship work, even if, from time to time, I would have preferred otherwise. I was still too willing to bend myself out of shape to please others. But Julia was great company: clever, insightful, supportive and funny. If she was a bit controlling it seemed a small price to pay for the benefits of her enriching friendship. When she invited me to spend a long weekend in a holiday house with her and four other women whom we both knew, I was terrified. I had never done anything like that before, and the prospect of four days in a remote loca­tion with women I liked and admired but who seemed way out of my league was exciting but scary.

‘It’ll be fun,’ Julia said. ‘Very relaxed, talking, swimming, walking, vegging out on the beach.’

I swallowed my fear, formulated an escape plan to be instituted at the end of day two if I couldn’t cope, and packed my bag. It was glorious; there were moments when I was so relaxed that I let go of my need to monitor myself for appropriate behaviour. I scrapped the escape plan and allowed myself to grow into the friendships I made that weekend, and especially into the increasingly rewarding friendship with Julia. I was learning to feel safe to be myself with other women. But I never stopped to question who or what ‘myself’ really was.

We all grow up negotiating the emotional and social rules of our childhood relationships and, later, those with friends, colleagues and partners. In her 1983 book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling, Arlie Russell Hochschild writes of the ‘feeling rules’ that direct the action of emotional exchanges by establishing the sense of entitlement or obligation that governs them. She describes this as ‘emotional work’. It’s what makes the juices flow in relationships; we learn the rules about signalling to others with gestures, facial expressions and language, just as we might steer a car along a crowded street taking care to avoid a collision. Hochschild calls it ‘surface acting’, and she suggests that there is another way in which we man­age the rules – a more complex way that she labels ‘deep acting’. Here we work to change how we feel in order to make the relationship work. The level of our investment in another person or situation determines how far we will go into deep acting to maintain the relationship. When I first read Hochschild this seemed to explain why, when things go wrong between two people who have been very close, the centre really cannot hold and falls suddenly and dra­matically apart. The acting stops, and authentic feelings twisted out of shape surface. Love is displaced by anger and resentment, intimacy by attack and defence. I realised that I had learned deep acting at a very early age and had been doing a lot of it ever since. I wish I’d known all this during my friendship with Julia.

our friendship was several years old before things began to change. By then we were both single and both had demand­ing full-time jobs. Talking frankly about our various and difficult involvements with men, past and present, had kept us – well, certainly it had kept me – reasonably sane through the minefield of being single in mid-life. We had laughed and cried together for ourselves and for each other, survived disasters and celebrated success and achievement. But as we became more closely stitched together the ground seemed to shift. Julia was a psychologist and those intimate conver­sations began to seem more like therapy sessions in which my weaknesses were being judged. Frequently her manner seemed to imply that she had moved to a higher plain of awareness and self-management while I was still thrashing about in the shallows. Was it real or was it all in my mind? I still don’t know; I never found out because all my instincts drove me into deep acting, and as I try to describe it now it is all so nebulous it just slips away. It began as a grain of sand in my shoe, and despite my attempts to change my feelings it became a small, sharp stone.

I finally summoned the courage to broach the subject but Julia either misunderstood me or I bungled it. She didn’t know, or maybe didn’t want to register, that I was talking about our friendship.

‘You just need to learn about boundaries,’ she said. ‘Anyone can walk in on you and take what they want.’

In fact I did know what my boundaries were. What I didn’t know was how to signpost or defend them.

*****

We both knew Angela – she was one of a wide circle of mutual acquaintances – and I can’t remember how it came about that the three of us began to meet for lunch. It was an ongo­ing joke that she and Julia were both highly competitive; they played it up together, jostling for supremacy in their compet­itiveness. It was entertaining, but I began to wonder if it was just humour or whether the cutting edge was sharper than either would admit. I have only ever been interested in com­peting against myself, so while their combative verbal romps were sometimes amusing, they were more often tedious and made me uneasy. But we all play games from time to time and this, I thought, was simply theirs; even so, I felt trapped between them as each seemed to resent the other.

‘She’s pretty devious,’ Julia said eventually.

‘She’s jealous of our friendship,’ Angela said. ‘And why do you let her talk to you like that?’

‘Like what?’

‘Like she’s counselling you.’

It was the blue touchpaper that ignited the feelings I’d been trying to change; foolishly I disclosed that to Angela.

‘You should confront her, see what she says. If you can’t say it to her face, write to her, tell her what you’re feeling, ask for a response.’

And so I did. Julia was hurt, deeply hurt; she suspected Angela’s interference, and I, relieved to have expressed what I felt, protected Angela. My friendship with Julia was sud­denly over and it left an aching gap into which I allowed Angela to step with almost indecent haste. She too was funny, clever and very supportive – sometimes so sup­portive I felt smothered. She was also very controlling. But her company was enormously enjoyable, her conversation intelligent and interesting, and she had a biting wit and fre­quently made me laugh until my sides hurt. But not rocking this boat was exceptionally difficult.

Eventually Angela accepted the offer of a job in a distant location and found a tenant for her flat. ‘I’ll be homeless now,’ she said, ‘nowhere to go when I want to come to town.’

I knew what she was doing and responded as she’d known I would. ‘Well, you can stay here if you need to – sometimes,’ I said. And I mumbled on about ‘sometimes’, about how I needed time and space to work, about not every weekend. But of course the die had been cast.

It wasn’t long before she was emailing most weeks to say she would be arriving on Friday. By now she had a lover in town. ‘If you could just go out for a while when he comes over …’

One day, when I had been out for several hours, I called to let her know I was on my way home.

‘That’s not convenient,’ she said. ‘You can’t come back for at least another hour.’

I was in my fifties and had chosen this house for its seclu­sion. It seemed like a sanctuary where I would be able to work in peace; I had waited years for this sort of time and place. But to afford it I needed to work long hours without interruption: deadlines were looming, and my anxiety levels were mounting. I pulled over to the side of the road and wept for the loss of control over my personal time and space.

As I walked back into the house that afternoon, the first thing I saw was three old teddy bears that normally lived in my writing room, now perched way up on the high cross­beams of the A-frame roof in the living room. The bears were part of family history, left in my care by my now-adult sons.

‘Oh, Mike was having a laugh,’ Angela said. ‘He threw them up and they kept falling off, but he finally got them to stay there.’

I was reeling in confusion. What was he doing in my study? Why did she let him in there? Why didn’t she stop him? Did she really think it was okay to let him throw my things around? Did she really think it was okay to tell me when I could or couldn’t come home?

‘You just take life too seriously,’ she said. ‘It was just fun. Lighten up.’

When I say now that I felt my space and my privacy had been violated and that she was either totally insensitive or just didn’t care, it may sound dramatic, but it was how I felt. I needed her to understand that and she obviously didn’t or wouldn’t. Once again, in attempting to accommodate by changing my feelings, I had let the situation reach the point of no return. Angela was always verbally sharper than me, adept at the lofty dismissal of anything that didn’t suit her, and could never admit to being in the wrong.

The following week I paid a local builder one hundred and fifty dollars to bring an extending ladder, attach him­self to the beams with a harness, crawl along and retrieve the bears. And then I did what Angela herself had encour­aged me to do with Julia. I wrote to her, told her how I felt. I said I needed some time and space to think about it, and asked her to think about it too and to respond. Take all the time and space you need, she replied in a one-line email. Just that, nothing more – not then, not ever.

*****

It took me longer than it should have to work out just what had happened in those two friendships, both of which had brought me so much pleasure and finally so much pain. For some time I told myself that both women had changed. It was a satisfactory solution because it made everything their fault and left me as the injured party. But of course it wasn’t that simple.

It is difficult to write about fractured friendships with other women, not simply because of the personal, pain­ful loss, but because the subject of women’s friendship is so ideologically charged. For centuries the friendship of women was treated with disdain and suspicion, as Vera Brittain wrote in Testament of Friendship: The story of Winifred Holtby: ‘From the days of Homer the friendships of men have enjoyed glory and acclamation, but the friend­ships of women . . . have usually been not merely unsung, but mocked, belittled and falsely interpreted.’ But the women’s movement of the late sixties and seventies liber­ated women’s friendship; suddenly it was out there in the faces of those who had attempted to silence or smother it. All women have benefited from second-wave feminism, and the liberation and celebration of friendship is, I believe, foremost among those benefits. But its importance makes it almost sacred. We are so painfully aware of the dangers of misrepresentation, and the strong thread of misogyny woven through the fabric of culture and society, that critical comment or analysis of women’s friendships, and particu­larly their breakdown, feels risky, dangerous, and sometimes even shameful.

And shame is what I eventually came to feel. I had worked hard at both those friendships, constantly review­ing, monitoring and trying to change how I felt about the things that happened between us. I had felt that it was always me who was accommodating them: making space, adjusting, accepting, trying to quell resentment. What I was incapable of doing was speaking out about it; the prospect of saying what I needed to say, of explaining how I felt, paralysed me. I feared the worst, and of course the worst happened because I had taken the politics of my childhood and applied them to adult friendships. By not rocking the boat I had ended up sinking it. And while I do know that it was not all my fault that those friendships failed, I can now see my own, not insignificant part in it. I kept wonder­ing what I hadn’t known about Julia and Angela that had driven the boat onto the rocks, and I eventually came to understand that what I had not really known was myself.

Well over a decade has passed and I am getting to know myself better. In recent years I have had the courage to claim my need for solitude rather than apologising for it or pre­tending not to mind when I feel it is being invaded. I have learned to establish my own boundaries, to say no, to speak out when things upset me. It’s been a long time coming but I have given up on being ‘a good girl’ and try now to be an honest and thoughtful woman. I have always known that friendship needs work; what I didn’t know was that I was doing the wrong sort of work. I’m fortunate now to have a small and close group of friends with whom I feel free to be myself. I treasure these friends; they give me strength and love and have supported me through some very difficult times. They have inspired me to write novels that celebrate women’s friendships.

*****

Some years ago I began searching for my first real friend and eventually found her email address. I have thought of you so often over the years, I wrote. You were my first real friend and I have longed to get back what we lost.

Some weeks passed and I had almost given up on hearing from Evelyn when a message arrived. It was cautious, not the rapturous email reunion I had hoped for. She apologised for the delay. I’ve not wanted to go back over my childhood, she wrote. I’d closed the door on it, because I needed to forget the awfulness of it. So when I saw the first lines of your mes­sage I stopped reading it. But then something made me open it again, I remembered how I felt back then – that our friend­ship was like sunlight in the darkness.

When we met later that year it was as though we had never been separated. And in subsequent years we corresponded, talked on the telephone and met many times in England. We revisited the places of our shared past, reclaimed forgotten aspects of our childhoods and learned more about each other’s adult lives. The last time I stayed with Evelyn, in late 2009, she got the results of medical tests conducted the previous week. The diag­nosis was cancer in her liver and lungs. ‘Put your affairs in order,’ the oncologist said, ‘and make sure you have a good Christmas because you won’t be around for the next one.’ Evelyn’s determination and incredible spirit got her through that Christmas and the next. Her emails were full of news about how well she was doing, and then, eighteen months after the diagnosis, my phone rang at two in the morning and suddenly, shockingly, she was gone.

For months I had allowed myself to believe that she had stopped dying, that her determination was enough to stop the cancer cells multiplying and destroying her body. I had suggested that we use Skype but somehow she never got around to downloading it – or that’s what she told me. She talked of holding her own and sometimes of beating the disease, and I was convinced because I wanted to be. Later I learned that she had been using Skype for several months but she had lost her hair, and she wanted there to be at least one person who would remember her as she used to be. And that is how she remains in my memory: a wise and loving woman with a warm and generous spirit, a huge smile and a ruthless sense of humour, sparkling eyes and a full head of reddish-brown hair without a trace of grey. I wish she had told me. I wish I’d had the chance to say goodbye, and I wish that all those years ago I had learned what she could have taught me about friendship. The les­sons have been protracted and painful, but I’m grateful that I’ve learned not only the pain of failure and loss but also the joy of recapturing the past.

‘No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow,’ writes Alice Walker. Now, when­ever I smell licorice I am reminded that since Betty Bartlet no woman friend has demanded my silence or denied my right to grow, but I have frequently denied it to myself.

Works cited

Brittain, Vera, Testament of Friendship: The story of Winifred Holtby, Macmillan, London, 1940.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling, University of California Press, Berkley, 1983.

Le Guin, Ursula, Dancing on the edge of the world, Paladin, London, 1992.


Excerpted from Just Between Us edited by Linden, Nieman, Scott, Kon-Yu and Sved. Copyright © 2013 by Linden, Nieman, Scott, Kon-Yu and Sved.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – Extract

The Boys in the Boat

 Prologue

In a sport like this—hard work, not much glory, but still popular in every century—well, there must be some beauty which ordinary men can’t see, but extraordinary men do.

—George Yeoman Pocock

This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.

I knew only two things about Joe when I knocked on his daughter Judy’s door that day. I knew that in his midseventies he had single-handedly hauled a number of cedar logs down a mountain, then hand-split the rails and cut the posts and installed all 2,224 linear feet of the pasture fence I had just climbed over—a task so herculean I shake my head in wonderment whenever I think about it. And I knew that he had been one of nine young men from the state of Washington—farm boys, fishermen, and loggers—who shocked both the rowing world and Adolf Hitler by winning the gold medal in eight-oared rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

When Judy opened the door and ushered me into her cozy living room, Joe was stretched out in a recliner with his feet up, all six foot three of him. He was wearing a gray sweat suit and bright red, down-filled booties. He had a thin white beard. His skin was sallow, his eyes puffy—results of the conges­tive heart failure from which he was dying. An oxygen tank stood nearby. A fire was popping and hissing in the woodstove. The walls were covered with old family photos. A glass display case crammed with dolls and porcelain horses and rose-patterned china stood against the far wall. Rain flecked a window that looked out into the woods. Jazz tunes from the thirties and for­ties were playing quietly on the stereo.

Judy introduced me, and Joe offered me an extraordinarily long, thin hand. Judy had been reading one of my books aloud to Joe, and he wanted to meet me and talk about it. As a young man, he had, by extraordinary coincidence, been a friend of Angus Hay Jr.—the son of a person central to the story of that book. So we talked about that for a while. Then the conversation began to turn to his own life.

His voice was reedy, fragile, and attenuated almost to the breaking point. From time to time he faded into silence. Slowly, though, with cautious prompting from his daughter, he began to spin out some of the threads of his life story. Recalling his childhood and his young adulthood during the Great Depression, he spoke haltingly but resolutely about a series of hardships he had endured and obstacles he had overcome, a tale that, as I sat taking notes, at first surprised and then astonished me.

But it wasn’t until he began to talk about his rowing career at the Univer­sity of Washington that he started, from time to time, to cry. He talked about learning the art of rowing, about shells and oars, about tactics and technique. He reminisced about long, cold hours on the water under steel-gray skies, about smashing victories and defeats narrowly averted, about traveling to Germany and marching under Hitler’s eyes into the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, and about his crewmates. None of these recollections brought him to tears, though. It was when he tried to talk about “the boat” that his words began to falter and tears welled up in his bright eyes.

At first I thought he meant the Husky Clipper, the racing shell in which he had rowed his way to glory. Or did he mean his teammates, the improbable assemblage of young men who had pulled off one of rowing’s greatest achievements? Finally, watching Joe struggle for composure over and over, I realized that “the boat” was something more than just the shell or its crew. To Joe, it encompassed but transcended both—it was something mysterious and almost beyond definition. It was a shared experience—a singular thing that had unfolded in a golden sliver of time long gone, when nine good-hearted young men strove together, pulled together as one, gave everything they had for one another, bound together forever by pride and respect and love. Joe was crying, at least in part, for the loss of that vanished moment but much more, I think, for the sheer beauty of it.

As I was preparing to leave that afternoon, Judy removed Joe’s gold medal from the glass case against the wall and handed it to me. While I was admiring it, she told me that it had vanished years before. The family had searched Joe’s house high and low but had finally given it up as lost. Only many years later, when they were remodeling the house, had they finally found it concealed in some insulating material in the attic. A squirrel had apparently taken a liking to the glimmer of the gold and hidden the medal away in its nest as a personal treasure. As Judy was telling me this, it occurred to me that Joe’s story, like the medal, had been squirreled away out of sight for too long.

I shook Joe’s hand again and told him I would like to come back and talk to him some more, and that I’d like to write a book about his rowing days. Joe grasped my hand again and said he’d like that, but then his voice broke once more and he admonished me gently, “But not just about me. It has to be about the boat.”

Part one

1899–1933

What Seasons They Have Been Through

Chapter one

Having rowed myself since the tender age of twelve and having been around rowing ever since, I believe I can speak authoritatively on what we may call the unseen values of rowing—the social, moral, and spiritual values of this oldest of chronicled sports in the world. No didactic teaching will place these values in a young man’s soul. He has to get them by his own observation and lessons.

—George Yeoman Pocock

Monday, October 9, 1933, began as a gray day in Seattle. A gray day in a gray time.

Along the waterfront, seaplanes from the Gorst Air Transport company rose slowly from the surface of Puget Sound and droned westward, flying low under the cloud cover, beginning their short hops over to the naval shipyard at Bremerton. Ferries crawled away from Colman Dock on water as flat and dull as old pewter. Downtown, the Smith Tower pointed, like an upraised finger, toward somber skies. On the streets below the tower, men in fraying suit coats, worn-out shoes, and battered felt fedoras wheeled wooden carts toward the street corners where they would spend the day selling apples and oranges and packages of gum for a few pennies apiece. Around the corner, on the steep incline of Yesler Way, Seattle’s old, original Skid Road, more men stood in long lines, heads bent, regarding the wet sidewalks and talking softly among themselves as they waited for the soup kitchens to open. Trucks from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer rattled along cobblestone streets, dropping off bun­dles of newspapers. Newsboys in woolen caps lugged the bundles to busy in­tersections, to trolley stops, and to hotel entrances, where they held the papers aloft, hawking them for two cents a copy, shouting out the day’s head­line: “15,000,000 to Get U.S. Relief.”

A few blocks south of Yesler, in a shantytown sprawling along the edge of Elliott Bay, children awoke in damp cardboard boxes that served as beds. Their parents crawled out of tin-and-tar-paper shacks and into the stench of sewage and rotting seaweed from the mudflats to the west. They broke apart wooden crates and stooped over smoky campfires, feeding the flames. They looked up at the uniform gray skies and, seeing in them tokens of much colder weather ahead, wondered how they would make it through another winter.

Northwest of downtown, in the old Scandinavian neighborhood of Bal­lard, tugboats belching plumes of black smoke nosed long rafts of logs into the locks that would raise them to the level of Lake Washington. But the gritty shipyards and boat works clustered around the locks were largely quiet, nearly abandoned in fact. In Salmon Bay, just to the east, dozens of fishing boats, unused for months, sat bobbing at moorage, the paint peeling from their weathered hulls. On Phinney Ridge, looming above Ballard, wood smoke curled up from the stovepipes and chimneys of hundreds of modest homes and dissolved into the mist overhead.

It was the fourth year of the Great Depression. One in four working Americans—ten million people—had no job and no prospects of finding one, and only a quarter of them were receiving any kind of relief. Industrial production had fallen by half in those four years. At least one million, and perhaps as many as two million, were homeless, living on the streets or in shantytowns like Seattle’s Hooverville. In many American towns, it was im­possible to find a bank whose doors weren’t permanently shuttered; behind those doors the savings of countless American families had disappeared for­ever. Nobody could say when, or if, the hard times would ever end.

And perhaps that was the worst of it. Whether you were a banker or a baker, a homemaker or homeless, it was with you night and day—a terrible, unrelenting uncertainty about the future, a feeling that the ground could drop out from under you for good at any moment. In March an oddly appro­priate movie had come out and quickly become a smash hit: King Kong. Long lines formed in front of movie theaters around the country, people of all ages shelling out precious quarters and dimes to see the story of a huge, irrational beast that had invaded the civilized world, taken its inhabitants into its clutches, and left them dangling over the abyss.

There were glimmers of better times to come, but they were just glimmers. The stock market had rebounded earlier in the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbing an all-time record of 15.34 percent in one day on March 15 to close at 62.10. But Americans had seen so much capital destroyed between 1929 and the end of 1932 that almost everyone believed, correctly as it would turn out, that it might take the better part of a generation—twenty-five years—before the Dow once again saw its previous high of 381 points. And, at any rate, the price of a share of General Electric didn’t mean a thing to the vast majority of Americans, who owned no stock at all. What mattered to them was that the strongboxes and mason jars under their beds, in which they now kept what remained of their life savings, were often perilously close to empty.

A new president was in the White House, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a dis­tant cousin of that most upbeat and energetic of presidents, Teddy Roosevelt. FDR had come into office brimming with optimism and trumpeting a raft of slogans and programs. But Herbert Hoover had come in spouting equal opti­mism, buoyantly predicting that a day would soon come when poverty would be washed out of American life forever. “Ours is a land rich in resources; stim­ulating in its glorious beauty; filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity,” Hoover had said at his inaugural, before adding words that would soon prove particularly ironic: “In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure.”

At any rate, it was hard to know what to make of the new President Roosevelt. As he began putting programs into place over the summer, a rising chorus of hostile voices had begun to call him a radical, a socialist, even a Bol­shevik. It was unnerving to hear: as bad as things were, few Americans wanted to go down the Russian path.

There was a new man in Germany too, brought into power in January by the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, a group with a reputation for thuggish behavior. It was even harder to know what that meant. But Adolf Hitler was hell-bent on rearming his country despite the Treaty of Versailles. And while most Americans were distinctly uninterested in European affairs, the British were increasingly worked up about it all, and one had to wonder whether the horrors of the Great War were about to be replayed. It seemed unlikely, but the possibility hung there, a persistent and troubling cloud.

The day before, October 8, 1933, the American Weekly, a Sunday supplement in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and dozens of other American newspapers, had run a single-frame, half-page cartoon, one in a series titled City Shadows. Dark, drawn in charcoal, chiaroscuro in style, it depicted a man in a derby sitting dejectedly on a sidewalk by his candy stand with his wife, behind him, dressed in rags and his son, beside him, holding some newspapers. The caption read “Ah don’t give up, Pop. Maybe ya didn’t make a sale all week, but it ain’t as if I didn’t have my paper route.” But it was the expression on the man’s face that was most arresting. Haunted, haggard, somewhere beyond hopeless, it sug­gested starkly that he no longer believed in himself. For many of the millions of Americans who read the American Weekly every Sunday, it was an all too familiar expression—one they saw every morning when they glanced in the mirror.

But the overcast didn’t last, nor did the gloom, in Seattle that day. By late morning, seams began to open in the cloud cover. The still waters of Lake Washington, stretched out at the city’s back, slowly shifted from gray to green to blue. On the campus of the University of Washington, perched on a bluff overlooking the lake, slanting rays of sunlight began to warm the shoulders of students lounging on a wide quadrangle of grass in front of the university’s massive new stone library, eating their lunches, poring over books, chatting idly. Sleek black crows strutted among the students, hoping for a morsel of bologna or cheese left unguarded. High above the library’s stained-glass win­dows and soaring neo-Gothic spires, screeching seagulls whirled in white loops against the slowly bluing sky.

For the most part, the young men and women sat in separate groups. The men wore pressed slacks and freshly shined oxfords and cardigan sweaters. As they ate, they talked earnestly about classes, about the big upcoming foot­ball game with the University of Oregon, and about the improbable ending of the World Series two days before, when little Mel Ott had come to the plate for the New York Giants with two out in the tenth inning. Ott had run the count out to two and two, and then smashed a long line drive into the center field seats to score the series-winning run over the Washington Senators. It was the kind of thing that showed you that a little guy could still make all the difference, and it reminded you how suddenly events could turn around in this world, for better or for worse. Some of the young men sucked lazily on briar pipes, and the sweet smell of Prince Albert tobacco smoke drifted among them. Others dangled cigarettes from their lips, and as they paged through the day’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer they could take satisfaction in a half-page ad that trumpeted the latest proof of the health benefits of smoking: “21 of 23 Giants World’s Champions Smoke Camels. It Takes Healthy Nerves to Win the World Series.”

The young women, sitting in their own clusters on the lawn, wore short-heeled pumps and rayon hose, calf-length skirts, and loose-fitting blouses with ruffles and flounces on the sleeves and at the necklines. Their hair was sculpted into a wide variety of shapes and styles. Like the young men, the women talked about classes and sometimes about baseball too. Those who had had dates over the weekend talked about the new movies in town—Gary Cooper in One Sunday Afternoon, at the Paramount, and a Frank Capra film, Lady for a Day, at the Roxy. Like the boys, some of them smoked cigarettes.

By midafternoon the sun had broken through, unfurling a warm, translu­cent day of golden light. Two young men, taller than most, loped across the grassy quad in front of the library, in a hurry. One of them, a six-foot-three freshman named Roger Morris, had a loose, gangly build; a tousle of dark hair with a forelock that perpetually threatened to fall over his long face; and heavy black eyebrows that lent him, at first glance, a bit of a glowering look. The other young man, Joe Rantz, also a freshman, was nearly as tall, at six foot two and a half, but more tautly built, with broad shoulders and solid, powerful legs. He wore his blond hair in a crew cut. He had a strong jawline, fine, regular features, gray eyes verging into blue, and he drew covert glances from many of the young women sitting on the grass.

The two young men were taking the same engineering class and had a common and audacious objective that radiant afternoon. They rounded a corner of the library, skirted the concrete circle of Frosh Pond, descended a long grassy slope, and then crossed Montlake Boulevard, dodging a steady stream of black coupes, sedans, and roadsters. The pair made their way east­ward between the basketball pavilion and the horseshoe-shaped excavation that served as the campus football stadium. Then they turned south again, following a dirt road through open woods and into a marshy area fringing Lake Washington. As they walked they began to overtake other boys heading in the same direction.

They finally came to a point of land located just where the canal known as the Montlake Cut—simply the Cut, in local parlance—entered Union Bay on the west side of Lake Washington. Perched on the point was an odd-looking building. Its sides—clad in weather-beaten shingles and inset with a series of large windows—slanted obliquely inward, rising toward a gambrel roof. When the boys moved around to the front of the building, they found an enormous pair of sliding doors, the upper halves of which consisted almost entirely of windowpanes. A wide wooden ramp ran from the sliding doors down to a long dock floating parallel to the shore of the Cut.

It was an old airplane hangar built by the U.S. Navy in 1918 to house sea­planes for the Naval Aviation Training Corps during the Great War. The war had ended before the building could actually be used, so it had been turned over to the University of Washington in the fall of 1919. Ever since, it had served as the shell house for the school’s rowing team. Now both the wide wooden ramp leading down to the water and a narrow ledge of land to the east of the building were crowded with boys milling about nervously, 175 of them, mostly tall and lean, though a dozen or so of them were notably short and slight. A handful of older boys were there too, leaning against the building in white jerseys emblazoned with large purple Ws, their arms crossed, sizing up the newcomers.

Joe Rantz and Roger Morris stepped into the building. Along each side of the cavernous room, long, sleek racing shells were stacked four high on wooden racks. With their burnished wooden hulls turned upward, they gleamed in white shafts of light that fell from the windows overhead, giving the place the feel of a cathedral. The air was dry and still. It smelled sweetly of varnish and freshly sawn cedar. Collegiate banners, faded but still colorful, hung from the high rafters: California, Yale, Princeton, Navy, Cornell, Co­lumbia, Harvard, Syracuse, MIT. In the corners of the room, dozens of yellow-spruce oars stood on end, each ten to twelve feet long and tipped with a white blade. At the back of the room, up in a loft, could be heard someone at work with a wood rasp.

Joe and Roger signed the freshman crew registration book, then returned to the bright light outside and sat on a bench, waiting for instructions. Joe glanced at Roger, who seemed relaxed and confident.

“Aren’t you nervous?” Joe whispered.

Roger glanced back at him. “I’m panicked. I just look like this to demor­alize the competition.” Joe smiled briefly, too close to panic himself to hold the smile for long.

For Joe Rantz, perhaps more than for any of the other young men sitting by the Montlake Cut, something hung in the balance that afternoon, and he was all too aware of it. The girls on the library lawn who had glanced appre­ciatively his way had had to overlook what was painfully obvious to him: that his clothes were not like those of most of the other students—his trousers not neatly creased, his oxfords neither new nor freshly polished, his sweater nei­ther crisp nor clean but rather an old and rumpled hand-me-down. Joe un­derstood cold reality. He knew he might not belong here at all, and he certainly couldn’t stay long in this world of pressed trousers, of briar pipes and cardigan sweaters, of interesting ideas, sophisticated conversation, and intriguing opportunities, if things did not go well in the shell house. He would never be a chemical engineer, and he would not be able to marry his high school sweetheart, who had followed him to Seattle so they could begin to build a life together. To fail at this rowing business would mean, at best, re­turning to a small, bleak town on the Olympic Peninsula with nothing ahead of him but the prospect of living alone in a cold, empty, half-built house, sur­viving as best he could on odd jobs, foraging for food, and maybe, if he was very lucky, finding another highway construction job with the Civilian Con­servation Corps. At worst it would mean joining a long line of broken men standing outside a soup kitchen like the one down on Yesler Way.

A spot on the freshman crew would not mean a rowing scholarship, for there was no such thing at Washington in 1933, but it would mean the guar­antee of a part-time job somewhere on campus, and that—combined with the little Joe had been able to save during the long year of hard manual labor he had endured since graduating from high school—just might get him through college. But he knew that within a few short weeks only a handful of the crowd of boys gathered around him would still be contenders for the freshman crew. In the end, there were only nine seats in the first freshman shell.

The rest of the afternoon was largely consumed by the collection of facts and figures. Joe Rantz and Roger Morris and all the other hopefuls were told to step onto scales, to stand next to measuring sticks, to fill out forms detailing their medical backgrounds. Assistant coaches and older students carrying clipboards stood by eyeing them and recording the information. Thirty of the freshmen, it turned out, were six feet or taller, twenty-five were six one or more, fourteen were six two or more, six were six three or more, one was six four, and two “reached six feet five into the atmosphere,” as one of the sports­writers present noted.

Directing the proceedings was a slim young man toting a large mega­phone. Tom Bolles, the freshman coach, was a former Washington oarsman himself. With a bland, pleasant face, a bit lean in the jowls, and given to wearing wire-rimmed glasses, Bolles had been a history major, was working on a master’s degree, and had a distinctly scholarly look about him—a look that had spurred some of Seattle’s sportswriters to begin referring to him as “the professor.” And in many ways, the role that lay ahead of him that fall, as it did every fall, was that of an educator. When his colleagues in the basketball pavilion or on the football field first encountered their freshman prospects each fall, they could assume that the boys had played the sport in high school and knew at least the rudiments of their respective games. But almost none of the young men assembled outside the shell house that afternoon had ever rowed a stroke in his life, certainly not in a vessel as delicate and unforgiving as a racing shell, pulling oars twice as long as the young men were tall.

Most of them were city boys like the boys lounging up on the quad—the sons of lawyers and businessmen—dressed neatly in woolen slacks and car­digan sweaters. A few, like Joe, were farm boys or lumberjacks or fishermen, the products of foggy coastal villages, damp dairy farms, and smoky lumber towns all over the state. Growing up, they had wielded axes and fishing gaffs and pitchforks expertly, and they had built up strong arms and broad shoul­ders doing so. Their strength would be an asset, Bolles knew, but rowing—he understood as well as anyone—was at least as much art as brawn, and a keen intelligence was just as important as brute strength. There were a thousand and one small things that had to be learned, mastered, and brought to bear in precisely the right way to propel a twenty-four-inch-wide cedar shell, car­rying three-quarters of a ton of human flesh and bone, through the water with any semblance of speed and grace. Over the next few months, he would need to teach these boys, or those few among them who made the freshman team, every last one of those thousand and one small things. And some big ones as well: Would the farm boys be able to keep up with the intellectual side of the sport? Would the city boys have the toughness simply to survive? Most of them, Bolles knew, would not.

Another tall man stood watching quietly from the broad doorway of the shell house, dressed impeccably, as he always was, in a dark three-piece busi­ness suit, a crisp white shirt, a tie, and a fedora, spinning a Phi Beta Kappa key on a lanyard he held in one hand. Al Ulbrickson, head coach of the University of Washington rowing program, was a stickler for detail, and his style of dress sent a simple message: that he was the boss, and that he was all business. He was just thirty—young enough that he needed to draw a line of demarcation between himself and the boys he commanded. The suit and the Phi Beta Kappa key helped in that regard. It also helped that he was strikingly good-looking and built like the oarsman he had been, the former stroke oar of a Washington crew that had won national championships in 1924 and 1926. He was tall, muscular, broad shouldered, and distinctly Nordic in his features, with high cheekbones, a chiseled jawline, and cold slate-gray eyes. They were the kind of eyes that shut you up fast if you were a young man inclined to challenge something he had just said.

He had been born right here in the Montlake district of Seattle, not far from the shell house. And he had grown up just a few miles down Lake Wash­ington on Mercer Island, long before it became an enclave for the wealthy. His family, in fact, had been of very modest means, straining to make ends meet. In order to attend Franklin High School, he had had to row a small boat two miles over to Seattle and back every day for four years. He had excelled at Franklin, but he never really felt challenged by his teachers. It wasn’t until he arrived at the University of Washington and turned out for crew that he came into his own. Finally challenged in the classroom and on the water, he ex­celled in both areas, and when he graduated in 1926, Washington quickly hired him as the freshman crew coach, and then as head coach. Now he lived and breathed Washington rowing. The university, and rowing, had made him who he was. Now they were almost a religion to him. His job was to win converts.

Ulbrickson was also the least talkative man on campus, perhaps in the state, legendary for his reticence and the inscrutability of his countenance. He was half Danish and half Welsh by ancestry, and New York sportswriters, both frustrated and somewhat charmed by how hard they had to work to get a decent quote out of him, had taken to calling him the “Dour Dane.” His oarsmen also found the name apt, but none of them was likely to call him it to his face. He commanded enormous respect among his boys, but he did so al­most entirely without raising his voice, almost, in fact, without speaking to them. His few words were so carefully chosen and so effectively delivered that every one of them fell like a blade or a balm on the boy to whom they were delivered. He strictly forbade his boys from smoking, cursing, or drinking, though he was known occasionally to do all three himself when safely out of sight or earshot of his crews. To the boys, he seemed at times almost devoid of emotion, yet year after year he somehow managed to stir the deepest and most affirmative emotions many of them had ever known.

As Ulbrickson stood watching the new crop of freshmen that afternoon, Royal Brougham, the sports editor at the Post-Intelligencer, edged close to him. Brougham was a slight man, whom many years later ABC’s Keith Jackson would call “a jolly little elf.” But if he was jolly, he was also crafty. He was well acquainted with Ulbrickson’s perpetual solemnity, and he had his own names for the coach: sometimes he was the “Deadpan Kid,” sometimes the “Man with the Stone Face.” Now he peered up at Ulbrickson’s granitic face and began to pepper him with questions—probing, pestering questions— determined to find out what the Husky coach thought about the new crop of freshmen, all this “tall timber,” as Brougham put it. Ulbrickson remained quiet a long while, gazing at the boys on the ramp and squinting at the sun­light on the Cut. The temperature had climbed into the high seventies, unusu­ally warm for an October afternoon in Seattle, and some of the new boys had taken off their shirts to soak up the sun. A few of them sauntered along the dock, bending over to hoist long, yellow-spruce oars, getting the feel of them, contemplating their considerable heft. In the golden afternoon light, the boys moved gracefully—lithe and fit, ready to take something on.

When Ulbrickson finally turned to Brougham and replied, it was with a single, none-too-helpful word: “Pleasing.”

Royal Brougham had come to know Al Ulbrickson pretty well, and he did a quick double take. There was something about the way Ulbrickson deliv­ered the response, a note in his voice or a glint in his eye or a twitch at the corner of his mouth, that arrested Brougham’s attention. The following day he offered his readers this translation of Ulbrickson’s reply: “which in less guarded terms means . . . ‘very good indeed.’ ”

Royal Brougham’s interest in what Al Ulbrickson was thinking was far from casual—much more than just a desire to fill out his daily column with yet an­other terse Ulbrickson quote. Brougham was on a quest—one of many he would launch in his sixty-eight-year career with the Post-Intelligencer.

Since he had started at the paper in 1910, Brougham had become some­thing of a local legend, renowned for his uncanny ability to extract informa­tion from storied figures like Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey. His opinion, his connections, and his tenacity were so well regarded that he was quickly becoming something of a ringmaster of civic life in Seattle, sought out by grandees of all stripes—politicians, star athletes, university presidents, fight promoters, coaches, even bookies. But above all, Brougham was a masterful promoter. “Part poet, part P. T. Barnum,” Emmett Watson, another legendary Seattle scribe, called him. What he wanted to promote above all else was Se­attle. He wanted to transform the world’s view of his gray, sleepy, logging­and-fishing town into something far grander and more sophisticated.

When Brougham first arrived at the Post-Intelligencer, Washington’s crew program had consisted of little more than a handful of rough-and-tumble country boys lurching around Lake Washington in leaky, tublike shells, coached by what appeared to many to be a red-haired lunatic named Hiram Conibear. In the intervening years, the program had advanced a great deal, but it still got little respect beyond the West Coast. Brougham figured the time was right to change all that. After all, for grandness and sophistication nothing could match a world-class rowing team. The sport reeked of classiness. And crew was a good way for a school, or a city, to get noticed.

In the 1920s and 1930s, collegiate crew was wildly popular, often ranking right up there with baseball and collegiate football in the amount of press it received and the crowds it drew. Outstanding oarsmen were lionized in the national press, even in the era of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. Top sportswriters like Grantland Rice and the New York Times’s Robert Kelley covered all the major regattas. Millions of fans diligently followed their crews’ progress throughout the training and racing seasons, particularly in the East, where something as minor as a coxswain’s sore throat could make headlines. Eastern private schools, modeling themselves after elite British institutions like Eton, taught rowing as a gentleman’s sport and fed their young-gentlemen oarsmen into the nation’s most prestigious universities, places like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. The most devoted fans even collected trading cards of their favorite crews.

By the 1920s western fans had begun to take a similar interest in their own crews—spurred on by a heated rivalry, which dated back to 1903, between two large public universities, the University of California at Berkeley and the Uni­versity of Washington. After years of struggling for funding and recognition even on their own campuses, the crew programs at both schools had finally begun to have occasional successes competing with their eastern counter­parts. Recently crews from California had even won Olympic gold twice. Both schools could now count on tens of thousands of students, alumni, and excited citizens to turn out for their annual dual regattas in April, when they battled for preeminence in West Coast rowing. But western coaches were paid a frac­tion of what eastern coaches made, and western crews still rowed mostly against one another. Neither school had a penny for recruitment, nor virtually anything in the way of well-heeled patrons. Everyone knew that the center of gravity in American collegiate rowing still lay somewhere between Cam­bridge, New Haven, Princeton, Ithaca, and Annapolis. Royal Brougham fig­ured if it could somehow be shifted west, it might land squarely in Seattle and bring the city a lot of much-needed respect. He also knew that, given the way things were going, it might very well land in California instead.

As Al Ulbrickson studied his new freshmen at the shell house in Seattle that afternoon, five thousand miles to the east, a thirty-nine-year-old architect named Werner March worked late into the night, hunched over a drafting table in an office somewhere in Berlin.

A few days before, on October 5, he and Adolf Hitler had stepped out of a black, armored Mercedes-Benz in the countryside west of Berlin. They were accompanied by Dr. Theodor Lewald, president of the German Olympic Or­ganizing Committee, and Wilhelm Frick, Reich minister of the interior. The spot where they emerged from the car was slightly elevated, about a hundred feet higher than the heart of the city. To the west lay the ancient Grunewald forest, where sixteenth-century German princes hunted stags and wild boars and where Berliners of all classes nowadays enjoyed hiking, picnicking, and foraging for mushrooms. To the east, the ancient church spires and peaked rooflines of central Berlin rose above a sea of trees turned red and gold in the crisp autumn air.

They had come to inspect the old Deutsches Stadion, built in 1916 for the ill-fated Olympic Games of that year. Werner March’s father, Otto, had de­signed and overseen construction of the structure—the largest stadium in the world at the time—but the games had been canceled because of the Great War, the war that had so humiliated Germany. Now, under the younger March’s direction, the stadium was undergoing renovations in preparation for the 1936 Olympics, which Germany was to host.

Hitler had not originally wanted to host the games at all. Almost everything about the idea, in fact, had offended him. The year before, he had damned the games as the invention of “Jews and Freemasons.” The very heart of the Olympic ideal—that athletes of all nations and all races should commingle and compete on equal terms—was antithetical to his National Socialist Party’s core belief: that the Aryan people were manifestly superior to all others. And he was filled with revulsion by the notion that Jews, Negroes, and other vaga­bond races from around the world would come traipsing through Germany. But in the eight months since he had come to power in January, Hitler had begun to change his mind.

The man who, more than any other, was responsible for this transforma­tion was Dr. Joseph Goebbels, minister of public enlightenment and propa­ganda. Goebbels—a particularly vicious anti-Semite who had engineered much of Hitler’s political rise—was now systematically dismantling what re­mained of a free press in Germany. Just over five feet tall, with a deformed and shortened right leg, a club foot, and an oddly shaped head that seemed too large for his small body, Goebbels did not look the part of a powerbroker, but he in fact was among the most important and influential members of Hitler’s inner circle. He was intelligent, articulate, and remarkably cunning. Many who knew him in social settings—among them, the American ambassador to Germany, William Dodd; his wife, Mattie; and his daughter, Martha— found him “delightful,” “infectious,” “one of the few men in Germany with a sense of humor.” He had a surprisingly compelling speaking voice for so small a man, an instrument that he wielded like a rapier when he addressed large crowds in person or spoke on the radio.

That very week he had assembled three hundred Berlin journalists to in­struct them on the provisions of the Nazis’ new National Press Law. First and foremost, he had announced, to practice journalism in Germany one would henceforth have to do so as a licensed member of his press organization, the Reichsverband der Deutschen Presse, and no one would be licensed who had, or was married to someone who had, so much as one Jewish grandparent. As for editorial content, no one was to publish anything that was not conse­crated by the party. Specifically, nothing was to be published that was “calcu­lated to weaken the power of the Reich at home or abroad, the community will of the German people, its military spirit, or its culture and economy.” None of this should be any problem, Goebbels had calmly assured his audi­ence of dumbstruck journalists that day: “I don’t see why you should have the slightest difficulty in adjusting the trend of what you write to the interests of the State. It is possible that the Government may sometimes be mistaken—as to individual measures—but it is absurd to suggest that anything superior to the Government might take its place. What is the use, therefore, of editorial skepticism? It can only make people uneasy.” But just to make sure, the same week, the new Nazi government had enacted a separate measure imposing the death penalty on those who published “treasonable articles.”

Goebbels had his sights set on far more than controlling the German press, however. Always attentive to new and better opportunities to shape the larger message emanating from Berlin, he had seen at once that hosting the Olym­pics would offer the Nazis a singular opportunity to portray Germany to the world as a civilized and modern state, a friendly but powerful nation that the larger world would do well to recognize and respect. And Hitler, as he lis­tened to Goebbels, and knowing full well what he had planned for Germany in the days, months, and years ahead, had slowly begun to recognize the value in presenting a more attractive face to the world than his brown-shirted storm troopers and his black-shirted security forces had displayed thus far. At the very least, an Olympic interlude would help buy him time—time to con­vince the world of his peaceful intentions, even as he began to rebuild Ger­many’s military and industrial power for the titanic struggle to come.

Hitler had stood hatless at the Olympic site that afternoon, listening qui­etly as Werner March explained that the horse-racing track adjoining the old stadium prevented a major expansion. Glancing for a moment at the race­track, Hitler made an announcement that astonished March. The racetrack must “disappear.” A vastly larger stadium was to be built, one that would hold at least a hundred thousand people. And more than that, there must be a mas­sive surrounding sports complex to provide venues for a wide variety of com­petitions, a single, unified Reichssportfeld. “It will be the task of the nation,” Hitler said. It was to be a testament to German ingenuity, to its cultural supe­riority, and to its growing power. When the world assembled here, on this el­evated ground overlooking Berlin, in 1936, it would behold the future not just of Germany but of Western civilization.

Five days later, Werner March, stooping over his drafting table, had only until morning before he must lay preliminary plans in front of Hitler.

In Seattle, at about the same hour, Tom Bolles and his assistant coaches re­leased the freshmen. The days were already beginning to grow short, and at 5:30 p.m. the sun sank behind Montlake Bridge just to the west of the shell house. The boys began to straggle back up the hill toward the main campus in small groups, shaking their heads, talking softly among themselves about their chances of making the team.

Al Ulbrickson stood on the floating dock, listening to the lake water lap at the shore, watching them go. Behind his implacable gaze, wheels were turning at an even faster rate than usual. To some extent he remained haunted by the more or less disastrous season of 1932. More than one hundred thou­sand people had turned out to view the annual contest between California and Washington, crowding along the shores of the lake. A strong wind was blowing by the time the main event, the varsity race, was set to start, and the lake was frothy with whitecaps. Almost as soon as the race got under way, the Washington boat had begun to ship water. By the halfway mark, the oarsmen in their sliding seats were sloshing back and forth in several inches of it. When the Washington boat neared the finish line, it was eighteen lengths behind Cal, and the only real question was whether it would sink before crossing. It stayed more or less afloat, but the outcome was the worst defeat in Washing­ton’s history.

In June of that year, Ulbrickson’s varsity had attempted to redeem itself at the annual Intercollegiate Rowing Association regatta in Poughkeepsie, New York, but Cal had trounced them again, by five lengths this time. Later in the summer, the Washington varsity had ventured to the Olympic trials at Lake Quinsigamond in Massachusetts, to try once more. This time they were elim­inated in a preliminary contest. And to top things off, in August, in Los An­geles, Ulbrickson had watched his counterpart at Cal, Ky Ebright, win the sport’s most coveted award, an Olympic gold medal.

Ulbrickson’s boys had regrouped quickly. In April of 1933, a fresh and re­constituted varsity crew promptly exacted its revenge, sweeping the Olympic champion Cal Bears from their home waters on the Oakland Estuary. A week later, they did it again, defeating Cal and UCLA on a two-thousand-meter course in Long Beach, California. The 1933 Poughkeepsie Regatta had been canceled due to the Depression, but Washington returned to Long Beach that summer to race against the best crews the East had to offer: Yale, Cornell, and Harvard. Washington edged second-place Yale by eight feet to emerge as de facto national champion. That varsity crew, Ulbrickson told Esquire magazine, was by far the best he had ever put together. It had what newspapermen called “plenty of swift.” Given that recent history, and the promising look of some of the freshmen walking away from the shell house that evening, Ulbrickson had plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the upcoming season.

But there remained one particularly galling fact of life. No Washington coach had ever even come close to going to the Olympics. With the bad blood that had lately arisen between the Washington and California crew programs, Cal’s two gold medals had been bitter pills to swallow. Ulbrickson was already looking forward to 1936. He wanted to bring gold home to Seattle more than he could say—certainly more than he would say.

To pull it off, Ulbrickson knew, he was going to have to clear a series of im­posing hurdles. Despite his setbacks the previous year, Cal’s head coach Ky Ebright remained an extraordinarily wily opponent, widely regarded as the intellectual master of the sport. He possessed an uncanny knack for winning the big races, the ones that really counted. Ulbrickson needed to find a crew that could beat Ebright’s best and keep them beat in an Olympic year. Then he was going to have to find a way to again beat the elite eastern schools— particularly Cornell, Syracuse, Pennsylvania, and Columbia—at the Intercol­legiate Rowing Association regatta in Poughkeepsie in 1936. Then he might well have to face Yale, Harvard, or Princeton—schools that did not even deign to row at Poughkeepsie—at the Olympic trials. Yale, after all, had won gold in 1924. The eastern private rowing clubs, particularly the Pennsylvania Athletic Club and the New York Athletic Club, would also likely be in the mix at the 1936 trials. Finally, if he made it to Berlin, he would have to beat the best oarsmen in the world—probably British boys from Oxford and Cambridge, though the Germans were said to be building extraordinarily powerful and disciplined crews under the new Nazi system, and the Italians had very nearly taken the gold in 1932.

All that, Ulbrickson knew, had to start here on this dock, with the boys who were now wandering off into the waning light. Somewhere among them—those green and untested boys—lay much of the stock from which he would have to select a crew capable of going all the way. The trick would be to find which few of them had the potential for raw power, the nearly super­human stamina, the indomitable willpower, and the intellectual capacity nec­essary to master the details of technique. And which of them, coupled improbably with all those other qualities, had the most important one: the ability to disregard his own ambitions, to throw his ego over the gunwales, to leave it swirling in the wake of his shell, and to pull, not just for himself, not just for glory, but for the other boys in the boat.


Excerpted from The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Copyright © 2013 by Daniel James Brown.
First published 2013 by Viking, Penguin Group USA. First published in Great Britain 2013 by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited. Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world: http://www.panmacmillan.com
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Hash by Wensley Clarkson – Extract

Hash

Introduction

Welcome to HASH, renowned as the world’s most socially acceptable recreational drug. Yet its illicit tentacles spread across the globe, financing everyone from poverty-stricken farmers to professional criminals. Hash is a business worth many billions of dollars a year with a truly dark and sinister side; fuelled by a chilling underworld network of dealers, gangsters, drug barons, crooked cops and even terrorists using sex, intimidation, bribery and murder in their quest for vast profits.

It’s reckoned that hash provides the biggest single source of actual income for organised crime across the globe.

The world’s law enforcers are failing to eradicate it from our streets because they tend to target other more lethal, so-called harder drugs. As a result, the hash business goes from strength to strength.

Even the United Nations admits that its attempts at hash eradication programmes have dismally failed. Authorities often resort to law enforcement crackdowns without implementing any economic or development measures to help cannabis farmers cope with the sudden loss of income. Officials are supposed to conduct alternative development projects in the areas targeted by the eradication measures. But, more often than not, no economic help is received by the farmers, meaning they often go back to producing hash in order to survive.

So what is hash and how has it hooked so many hundreds of millions of people around the world?

Hash is essentially a concentrated form of cannabis, made from the resin of the female cannabis plant. It is consumed for the effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, which causes a euphoric high in the user. Hash can contain up to 35 per cent THC, while other forms of marijuana usually only have between 5 and 15 per cent. The strength of hash depends on the strength of the marijuana from which it is produced.

Smokers of hash say it alters sensory experiences and perceptions of reality and insist it is harmless. Critics say regular consumption can cause psychological dependency and destroy people’s motivational senses.

Hash can be produced through two different processes, depending on techniques employed in various parts of the world. In Morocco, the resin glands of the cannabis inflorescence – where its main psychoactive substance, tetrahydrocannabinol THC is concentrated – are collected by sieving when the plant has been harvested and dried. Sieving is also favoured in the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon, where Lebanese Red hashish was renowned for its high quality up until the early 1990s, when the violence in the Middle East slowed down production.

The other technique for producing hash – used in some parts of Asia – is hand rubbing. Much less technical than sieving, it consists of rubbing the flowering cannabis branches back and forth between the palms and fingers until the resin builds up on the hands. This process occurs mainly in India, including Kashmir, and Nepal.

But sieved hash is much easier and faster to obtain than hand-rubbed hash. One kilogram of sieved hashish can be collected in only a few hours versus 10 to 25 grams of hand-rubbed hashish by one collector during a full working day. Sieving also makes hash more potent because almost no resin is left on the plant.

My interest in unravelling hash’s secret criminal underworld began more than twenty years ago when I was investigating the activities of one of Britain’s most notorious professional criminals. This man had been a London bank robber back in the 1980s but one of his oldest associates explained to me that cannabis was where this character – we’ll call him ‘H’ – had made his biggest fortune. ‘Going across the pavement’ – as robbery was known in London in the 1970s and ’80s – was a far more risky crime. Drugs were where the really big money could be made and ‘H’ insisted on dealing only in cannabis because he believed the authorities would be more lenient with him if he was caught. UK authorities had already started coming down hard on cocaine and heroin, so ‘H’ believed cannabis was much ‘safer’ for him. And, as I was to eventually discover, the profits he could make from hash were one hundred times that of any robbery.

So, I gradually began to unpeel a layer of the underworld that has existed very much beneath the radar for the past forty years. Those inquiries would eventually take me to many parts of the world because the influence of hash is truly global.

Many people I know simply shrug their shoulders at the mere mention of hash as if it is barely worth anyone’s attention, which perfectly sums up the way this illicit industry has been allowed to balloon into a multi-billion-dollar worldwide drugs network. The authorities are often too stretched to prioritise capturing hash gangs and, as a result, its availability has continued unchecked. As one old-time British criminal told me: ‘Most police forces aren’t that interested in hash and the villains like to make out it is virtually harmless.’

Yet most of the world’s hash is produced in some of its poorest nations where farmers can survive only if they cultivate cannabis. Many of these farmers say they would much prefer to be growing vegetables or herd cattle but hash provides them with a guaranteed income, which nothing else can do.

In Morocco’s Rif Mountains, for example, lives a population the size of Wales and it is estimated that at least 70 per cent of those inhabitants rely on hash for their income. Many believe the Moroccan government has deliberately ‘stepped back’ and allowed the area to virtually govern itself because the hash business employs such a big chunk of the population.

It is also clear that cannabis crops in many of the world’s so-called troublespots help finance terrorism. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban have a stranglehold over hash production because it helps feed and arm that war-torn country’s deadly insurgents. Hash is relatively easy to grow and the farmers know that even extreme bouts of weather are unlikely to ruin their crop.

Experts believe that pressure put on the cannabis farmers by gangsters and terrorists has led to the worldwide output of cannabis almost doubling in the past 20 years.

One of the first cannabis smugglers I ever met was a professional criminal called Tony from Kent, in south-east England. He’d set up a ‘removal firm’ with another gangster’s backing and began shipping cannabis in from Afghanistan and Turkey almost forty years ago. It was a perilous drive back then and still is to this day. Tony’s employees continue to drive the 10,000-mile round trip because the profits from hash remain sky high.

Tony and his secretive group of hardened professional backers are virtually guaranteed that their ‘cash investment’ will give them a return of five times the original amount within a month of the shipment arriving back in the UK. ‘It’s just a commodity to me and I run a business, which needs to make profit. It’s as simple as that,’ says Tony.

Across the world there are many other examples of massive hash shipments financed by the underworld. Tony’s trucks always carry legitimate goods such as fruit and vegetables as cover, which are themselves often sold in the UK for an extra, healthy profit.

Yet as I’ve probed further and further into the hash business, I’ve come to realise the risks are just as deadly as for any of the Class A drugs. I’ve been told of hitmen paid to kill rival criminals who dared to encroach into another gang’s cannabis territory. I’ve found myself feeling just as uneasy in the company of hash barons as any Colombian cocaine dealers or Turkish heroin smugglers.

I came across a Dutch yachtsman called Jak, who said he had a price on his head because the boat he used to smuggle hash had sunk in an accident off the coast of Majorca, with the loss of the lives of his two best mates. He explained: ‘That hash shipment was my responsibility and the criminals who paid for it are still after me because they believe that I owe them the cost of the entire shipment, even though it’s lying at the bottom of the sea alongside the bodies of my two friends.’

It’s five years since that tragic accident, but Jak believes he still has that underworld price on his head and he continues to watch his back and move house once every few months. ‘I’ve got no choice. If I went to see them to ask them to let me off, they’d probably shoot me dead on the spot. As far as they’re concerned that shipment was my responsibility and unless I pay them back the full value of the hash, then they will continue to try and hunt me down.’

So, the violence committed in the name of the hash trade is as cold-blooded and senseless as every other heavyweight criminal enterprise, it seems. Another hash smuggler called Billy, an expat Brit living in southern Spain, told me how he was cornered in an English bar near Marbella and beaten by two men with baseball bats after he was suspected of talking too loudly about his hash baron bosses.

Billy shrugged his shoulders as he explained how he was attacked in the middle of the bar in full view of all the customers. Eventually they dragged him outside into the street where they ‘beat me to a pulp’ and then left him semi-conscious in the gutter for all to see. It was a classic criminal reprisal, deliberately done in public so that anyone who might be stupid enough to talk openly about the gang would get the message loud and clear that they should keep their mouths shut.

Numerous other examples of the violent, destructive side of the hash business have emerged while researching this book. The cast of characters expanded as it became increasingly clear that hash’s criminal influence spread across the world and affects a vast range of people from all classes and backgrounds. Ultimately, most of it is down to one driving force; the major league criminals are only interested in securing the maximum profits, irrelevant of the hardship and danger for those producing and smuggling the actual drug. They see hash as a business like any other. And if they can’t guarantee themselves a fat profit, then they’ll happily mix the hash with anything to ‘stretch it out’ in order to retain those big profits.

There is a common misconception among recreational drug users that cannabis resin is always 100 per cent pure. It’s complete nonsense, as any hash baron will tell you, off the record. Cocaine users have come to expect their produce to be laced with all sorts of things from baby laxative to flour. Ask a hash smoker the same question, however, and he or she will almost always say they like hash in part because they know it’s pure. Yet by the time hash usually reaches many smokers in the West, it has often been ‘watered down’ by up to 50 per cent. Everything from bits of plastic to strips of tree bark have been known to be used to stretch out the profits for the hash gangsters.

It’s ironic when you consider that most hash farmers see themselves as hardworking people who pride themselves on the quality of their crop and who shrug their shoulders with a sense of apathy when they hear about the vast profits being made off the back of their ‘product’.

So perhaps not so surprisingly, behind most farmers there is a middle man, who usually has close criminal connections in nearby cities. He negotiates the prices paid to the farmers and then uses teams of smugglers, who will handle the drug’s journey across oceans and borders.

Often those same middlemen own the land that the farmers grow the cannabis on, which gives them even more control over the product. They in turn are often financed by local drug lords. In many of the world’s biggest hash producing countries there are even local politicians – and sometimes governmental officials – involved in ‘waving through’ the hash when it makes its way from the countryside into the cities and ports.

And relationships between the gangsters and their smugglers can frequently be tense. The smugglers are often led by foreigners, who come from the country where the hash is eventually going to be delivered.

One Scotsman I met called Geoff spent five years working as a smuggler in Morocco’s notorious Rif Mountains – the world’s biggest producer of hash. He described being a smuggler as ‘the worst fucking job in the world’. Geoff explained: ‘I had the Moroccans trying to con me every inch of the way and I had a paranoid cokehead of a gangster back in London accusing me of ripping him off. I hated it.’

Inside the twisted criminal underworld of hash it’s always best not to presume anything. Most of these characters live by their wits and know that their next shipment could well be their last. A lot of the criminals I came across had records for violence and robbery and involvement in heavier drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.

At the very top of the criminal ladder, there are a small number of kingpins making tens of millions of dollars each year out of hash. Most of these faceless gangsters lead through fear and intimidation, especially of their own workforce. They also often pride themselves on not even touching the drugs themselves, which makes them ‘clever’ in underworld terms.

Yet a surprisingly large number of criminals at the lower end of the underworld ladder smoke hash themselves. Many are so heavily into it that it is undoubtedly affecting their ability to operate in a criminal environment. The money that many of these villains boast they have made from hash often doesn’t stack up when you find them living in seedy rented accommodation in rundown city slums.

As someone who’s never particularly enjoyed smoking cannabis it’s been awkward to refuse the offer of a joint and sometimes, in the name of ‘research’, I have succumbed because it would be considered offensive if I didn’t sample the ‘product’.

Take Irishman Sean. He was the son of one of Ireland’s richest criminals and was very upset when I refused a toke of his joint after saying I was about to undertake a road journey of fifty miles and didn’t want anything to impair my ability to drive. He eventually calmed down but I realised then that I would have to smoke the stuff occasionally when it came to twitchy villains, who seemed to need the reassurance that their product is socially acceptable.

Inside the secret world of hash, I found countless layers of characters whose income was wholly derived from the drug. Yet it also became clear that much of the ‘vast profit’ projected by most law enforcement agencies whenever they try to crack down on hash smuggling is often greatly exaggerated. The phrase ‘street value’ is a favourite term used by the police after making up a figure of money in order to pat themselves on the back whenever they uncover a large shipment of drugs. That may sound a harsh appraisal but I believe it to be true.

And, finally, then there is the effect of hash itself. One of the wealthiest hash barons I met summed up what the drug meant to him personally when he told me:

“I wish I’d never set eyes on a joint, let alone getting involved in the ‘business’. Many of us go into it because we think the risks are lower than for coke and smack but the sheer volume of hash means that it is a non-stop conveyor belt and once you are on, it’s very hard to get off. My own son got hooked on hash to such an extent that he could barely function. In the end I had to get him committed to a clinic in order to get him off the stuff. In many ways it’s more evil than any A-class. It pulls you in gradually and then turns you into an apathetic person, incapable of making a decision. I feel so bad about my kid, especially since it was my involvement in the business that got him smoking hash in the first place. People need to know the true story of hash and the way it reaches their homes. They need to appreciate that it’s no better than any of the other stuff.”


Excerpted from Hash by Wensley Clarkson. Copyright © 2013 by Wensley Clarkson.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block
London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk – Extract

The Lullaby of Polish Girls

2002
anna
greenpoint, brooklyn

Looking back, Anna Baran could pinpoint the exact moment she’d fallen in love with Ben Taft. They were lying on his mat­tress, covers thrown off and sharing a cigarette, when Anna closed her eyes and asked him the question she’d been wanting to ask for weeks.

‘Did you ever imagine you’d end up with a Polish girl?’

Ben looked at her and arched one eyebrow. ‘In bed? Or in life?’ Anna blushed, but thankfully Ben continued. ‘Never. I didn’t even know where Poland was on the map.’

‘And now?’ Anna whispered, placing her hands between his warm thighs.

‘Now? Now I know there’s a lot more to your country than meets the kiełbasa.

Anna rolled her eyes but silently urged him on, hoping he would get it right.

‘I know Warsaw isn’t the only city there. I know not every last name ends in –ski. The language is tough as hell but I could listen to it all day. It’s the land of amber, crystal, salt mines, and revolutionaries. And I know that the oldest oak tree in Poland is located near your hometown and that they named it Bart. There. How’s that?’

Da˛b Bartek,’ Anna whispered, feeling tingly, as if he had been talking dirty. Ben went on about Solidarity and Swedish deluges, about pierogi and the Pope, about Communism and cleaning ladies. Anna interrupted him at a certain point with a kiss. ‘Kocham cie˛, Ben,’ she said, and he didn’t have to speak the language to know what she meant. But that night was years ago, and it felt as far off as the goddamn stars in the sky.

At 3:57 A.M., Anna wakes up from a bad dream. Something about the Gestapo and a defunct Captain Video – the place she used to rent VHS tapes as a girl. She stumbles out of bed and walks into the living room, shuffling blindly toward the ashtray. The familiar stench of yesterday’s chain-smoking leads her to the corner of the couch, where an ashtray sits on top of Ben’s old throw pillow. Her eyeglasses are nowhere to be found, but how can she look for them when she can’t see a damn thing, when her own hand in front of her eyes is nothing but a blur? Anna wonders briefly if she might actually be legally blind and if there is a way she can get tested without having to leave the apart­ment. With fumbling fingers, she extracts one third of what used to be a handsome Marlboro Light from the ashtray, re­trieves a Bic from under the couch, lights the stale tip, and walks over to open a window. The November wind slaps at her face, but it feels good, a shock to the system, and her eyes water from the cold.

Lorimer Street must be empty; she can tell from the dead si­lence, her ears doing the work her eyes can’t. While most New Yorkers dream of white winters in theory, Anna pines for snow and means it. It smells like winter out there, crisp and clean, though there’s no sign of snow yet.

‘We’re a dying breed.’ That was Ben’s opening line, on the first night they met, when Anna had walked up to him and asked him for a light. He extended his Zippo toward her and she arched her eyebrows and smiled, smitten right away. Two drinks later, they were making out by the coat check, waiting impa­tiently for their scarves and hats.

‘So you’re a New Yorker, huh?’ Ben asked, when they stepped into his apartment a half hour later. Signs of three young men living on their own were everywhere, but Ben didn’t seem em­barrassed by the mess and his roommates were nowhere in sight. Ben and Anna sat on the dirty floor and made small talk.

‘By way of Kielce, Poland, my friend – the birthplace of Pol­ish rap,’ Anna said. ‘We’re known in Polska as the scyzoryki – the switchblades. And you don’t wanna fuck with us.’ Ben laughed as he drummed the side of his beer can.

‘Well, I’m always up for a challenge.’

Those words echo in her head like a scratch on a beat-up record. Three years ago tonight, Anna and two friends had wandered into the Turkey’s Nest because their fingers were numb from the cold, and there was Ben, in that blue sweater, with an eager smile. But that Ben is gone now. He’s in Omaha with Nancy and Pappy and his innumerable cousins. Ben is only gone for another day, and yet, somehow, it feels like he is gone for good.

Standing by the window, Anna can see her breath. Her flimsy T-shirt, the one she’s had on for days now – Ben’s old Lynyrd Skynyrd one, with the neck cut out – fails miserably to keep her warm. Manhattan glimmers past McCarren Park, its peaks and pinnacles shining like man-made constellations, like something from the future. It’s beautiful, but under a blanket of snow, New York would become even more so, turning twinkly and old­timey. This concrete mess with towers sprouting like beanstalks, with subways zigzagging and crowded streets teeming with grime – all of it would be obliterated.

Anna steps back from the window, but leaves it open; she can’t smoke in an enclosed space. Hipokryta, her father would have said. She is a hypocrite, dissecting everything, especially the things that bring her pleasure. Her father, on the other hand, would lie in bed, chewing saltwater taffy, reading his Polish newspaper till three A.M., and chain-smoking More Reds, as her mother silently suffered beside him. Her father, who, every so often, threatened to hang himself.

‘You’re a refugee? You sure don’t look like a refugee,’ Ben had said, eyeing her naked body supine next to his.

Daughter of a refugee, if you wanna get technical. The Com­mies ousted my dad years ago. I was seven.’

‘The Commies. Sounds so . . .’

‘Dated?’ Anna reached her hand toward his pretty American face.

‘Sexy.’

Anna places the ashtray on her lap, hugging it gently between her thighs. Cardboard boxes stare at her from every corner, massacred by cheap utility tape. Months have passed since she and Ben moved into their new apartment, but the boxes remain untouched. She remembers that the super is stopping by today to fix the refrigerator door.

Anna’s head hurts. Her nose is stuffy. The corner of her bottom lip is hot and itchy, a sure sign of a cold sore brewing. There is a weird throbbing pain near her right shoulder blade, which has come and gone intermittently during the last few weeks, and which Anna suspects might be lung cancer. Ben calls her a ‘raging hypochondriac,’ and he’s right.

When Ben left for the airport five days ago, he begged Anna to join him. It was their tradition: Thanksgiving in Omaha.

‘Come with me. Don’t you miss my mom’s stuffing? She misses you, Annie.’

‘I can’t fly, Ben. You know that.’

‘Then let’s rent a car and make a road trip out of it.’

‘I can’t, Ben,’ she said and turned away from him.

Ben’s mother, Nancy, always sported Birkenstocks and smelled like patchouli. She had long gray hair and all-knowing eyes that – Anna was sure – could see right through you. Nancy loved Anna from the beginning, and was always begging her and Ben to ‘have a kid already, wedlock, schmedlock!’ So, what would Nancy do if Anna showed up in her current state – slightly overweight and depressed? What would Anna say to her? Missed you, Nan, but I’ve been real busy, what with the auditions and abortions. It was too soon to face Nancy; the shame Anna felt was too much.

Ben had called from the airport. Even though things were strained between them, Anna had still wanted him to call her just before takeoff, in case anything happened. Since 9/11, she’d only flown twice – once to LA for a last-minute audition, and once to St. Thomas with Ben. Both times, her heart was in her throat. Anna shuffled down the aisle with her collection of crucifixes in her palm, relics from Catholic schoolgirl days, and her dad’s old chain with the Polish Black Madonna medallion around her neck. She scanned her fellow passengers for dark bearded faces (it was fucked up but true), and didn’t say amen till the wheels touched the tarmac again.

Ben is flying back home today. Back to what, Anna doesn’t know. What can she offer him anymore? In the beginning she offered him exotic tales of growing up in the Flatbush projects, tales of a homely little Polish immigrant. She offered him daily blow jobs and Thai take-out every night. She offered him her world, a world of small but incomparable measure, a world where tanks rolled in the streets, where armed milicja jailed idealistic young men who fought for their freedom as their fa­thers and grandfathers had before them. She offered romance; it was all so incredibly romantic – the turmoil of a foreign country recounted by a Slavic-looking Marilyn Monroe.

In turn, Ben offered her a version of the New World, the un­complicated pleasure of a boy who came from the average mid­dle class. ‘I’ve got four brothers,’ he told her that first night, as the sun was coming up. ‘Jonah, Jefferson, Simon, and Samuel.’ Anna swooned over the Midwestern musicality of their names. She repeated the names in her melodious voice, tinged with the slightest trace of an Eastern European accent, as if reciting a stanza of an Emerson poem.

‘Anna Baran ain’t bad either.’

‘Well, it could have been Z˙dzisława.’ Anna laughed when Ben tried to repeat the word, his tongue twisting in on itself, his jaw clenched.

Last Monday, Anna had locked the door behind Ben and pre­pared for total isolation till his return. There would be no Thanksgiving in New York, but then again, there never had been. Her parents didn’t partake in the turkey. Her father was firm in that regard. ‘I steal land from the Indian, I rob his every­thing and put him on casino war camps and now I eat like pig to celebrate? No fuck way!’ So there was no one to bother her and she was free to smoke 147 cigarettes, take one shower, and come to the realization that Ben’s absence has not brought fondness or longing, just dread.

At four-twenty A.M., the phone rings. The ashtray balancing on Anna’s lap flies in the air and spills all over the couch. She scrambles to the table on the other side of the room. A phone call at four in the morning can mean only a few things. Dad, Anna thinks, it’s Tato.

‘Hello?’

Ania! Oh, Ania . . . !’ Her mother, Paulina, is wailing on the other end, and Anna’s heart explodes upon direct contact with the sound, a sound that pierces the silence of the room and has no business infiltrating the hush of night in such a sudden, ear­splitting manner.

‘What is it? Oh God, Mamo, what is it?’

‘He’s dead! O mój Boz˙e, Anna, he’s dead.’ This is the phone call that Anna’s been waiting for since she was thirteen, waiting for on subways, in school halls, while playing Chinese jump rope, or taking a bath, or biting her nails like a zombie in front of the TV while her mother paced the dining room waiting for her father, Radosław, to turn up.

‘How did he do it?’ she hears herself asking before it all has sunk in.

‘He didn’t do it. Filip did it!’ Anna’s breath slows down and the walls stop closing in.

‘Who’s Filip?’ Her mother is still crying, loudly, incessantly – and right now, in the midst of obvious confusion, it’s infuriat­ing Anna.

‘Filip, Elwira’s boyfriend! Anna, who do you think I’m talk­ing about?’ Anna doesn’t answer but her mother thankfully plows on. ‘Justyna’s husband is dead, he was murdered last night, in his own house. By his sister-in-law’s boyfriend. Can you be­lieve it?’

Poczekaj! Wait. Just wait a fucking second, Mother! Just hold on, okay?’ Anna breathes slowly, rearranging her thoughts, smoothing down the tabletop with her hand as she does. ‘Justyna? From Kielce?’

‘Yes! Jesus, how many Justynas do you know? Her husband was stabbed in the middle of the night. Justyna’s a widow. A twenty-six-year-old widow . . .’ And now her mother is whimper­ing, mewling like an injured cat.

‘Wow.’

‘Wow?!! Wow!!??

‘What, Mamo? What do you want me to say? It’s four in the morning. You caught me off guard—’

‘Well, I’m sorry if this isn’t a convenient time to tell you that your best friend’s husband was just murdered—’

‘She was my best friend. She was.’

‘Oh, Jezus, Anka, really?’

‘It’s horrible. It’s horrible, but I thought you were . . .’

‘Were what?’

‘Nothing. How did you find out?’

‘Her grandmother called me from Poland. I have to go now. Their poor mother is turning over in her grave. Please call Justyna. When you stop crying, call her.’ There are tears running down Anna’s face, her neck. How can that be? she asks herself again, and then the dial tone signals her to hang up the phone and ask stupid questions later.

 


Excerpted from The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk. Copyright © 2013 by Dagmara Dominczyk.
First published in the USA in 2013 by Spiegel & Grau. This edition first published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block, London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison – Extract

The Garden of Burning Sand

Chapter 1

Lusaka, Zambia August, 2011

The music was raucous, but it was always that way in African clubs. The beat of the drum—the backbone of village song—had been replaced in the cities by the throbbing insistence of electronic bass, amplified until everything around the speakers picked up the rhythm—people, beer bottles, even the walls. On Zoe’s first trip to the continent—a brief jaunt to Nairobi when she was six years old—her mother told her that Africa is the keeper of humanity’s pulse. It was a truth she remembered every time she stepped foot in a Zambian bar.

The place was called Hot Tropic, the club de jour in a city constantly reinventing its nightlife. The decor was all fire and glitter, neon lights flashing red against the walls and dazzling disco balls turning everything to sparkle. The place was packed with bodies, most of them African twenty-somethings, bouncing to the beat.

Zoe was seated at a table in a corner of the bar where the decibel level was slightly buffered. She was dressed in jeans and a Hard Rock London T-shirt, her wavy blonde hair pulled back in a clip. At the table with her were three African friends from work—two men and a woman. Most Saturdays Zoe hosted a barbecue, or braai, at her flat, and afterward those who had not satisfied their appetite for beer and conversation went clubbing. Tonight, the subject on everyone’s minds was the September election, pitting Zambia’s President, Rupiah Banda, against the aging warhorse Michael Sata, and the energetic upstart Hakainde Hichilema, or “H.H.”

“Banda is finished,” Niza Moyo was saying, her dark eyes aglow with indignation. “As is his party. They’ve run the country for twenty years and what have they given us? Mobile hospitals that take doctors away from the real hospitals; police officers that have no vehicles to investigate a crime; roads that only the rich can drive on; and corrup­tion at every level of government. It’s a disgrace.”

Like Zoe, Niza was a young attorney at the Coalition of Interna­tional Legal Advocates, or CILA, a London-based non-profit that combatted human rights abuses around the world. She was feistier and more outspoken than most Zambian women, but she was Shona, from Zimbabwe, and her father was an exiled diplomat known for chal­lenging authority.

“I sympathize with your position,” said Joseph Kabuta, an officer with the Zambia Police Victim Support Unit. Solidly built with close-cropped hair and wide perceptive eyes, he reminded Zoe of the young Nelson Mandela. “But Banda is still popular in the rural areas, and Michael Sata isn’t well. Zambians don’t want another president to die in office.”

“The press reports about Sata’s health are overblown,” Niza rejoined.

“What I can’t figure out,” Zoe interjected, “is why you don’t throw out the guys with one foot in the grave and elect the best candidate. Everybody loves H.H. He’s a born leader and he has no political bag­gage. But everybody says he can’t win. Where’s the logic?”

“It’s the way people think,” said Sergeant Zulu—who everyone called Sarge. Strategically brilliant and compulsively affable, he was the lead attorney at CILA and the mastermind behind the organiza­tion’s campaign against child sexual assault. “In Africa, presidents are like village chiefs. People vote for the gray heads.”

“So what you’re saying is that reformers don’t stand a chance until the old guard dies?” Zoe asked. “No wonder progress is like pulling teeth here.”

Sarge smiled wryly. “Each generation has to wait its turn.” He held up his empty bottle of Castle lager. “Anyone else need another beer, or am I the only one drinking?”

“I’ll take a Mosi,” said Joseph, draining his bottle and pushing it to the center of the table. Suddenly, he frowned and reached into the pocket of his jeans. He pulled out his cell phone and glanced at the screen. “It’s Mariam,” he said, giving Sarge a quizzical look.

Zoe perked up. Mariam Changala was the field-office director at CILA and the mother of six children. If she was calling Joseph in the middle of the night, it had to be serious.

Zoe watched Joseph’s face as he took the call. His broad eyebrows arched. “Is Dr. Chulu on call? Make sure he’s there. I’m ten minutes away.” He put the phone away and glanced around the table. “A girl was raped in Kanyama. They’re taking her to the hospital now.”

“How old?” Niza asked.

Joseph shrugged. “Mariam just said she’s young.”

“Family?” Sarge inquired.

“Not clear. They found her wandering the streets.”

Zoe spoke: “Who picked her up?”

“Some people from SCA.”

“She’s disabled?” Zoe asked. “SCA” stood for Special Child Advocates, a nonprofit that worked with children with intellectual disabilities.

“Presumably,” Joseph said, throwing on his jacket. “Sorry to break up the party.” He gave them a wave and headed toward the door.

Zoe decided on a whim to follow him. Child rape cases usually appeared on her desk in a weeks-old police file. She’d never learned of an incident so soon after it happened. She tossed an apology to Sarge and Niza and weaved her way through the crowd, catching up to Joseph.

“Mind if I come with you?” she asked. “I’ve never seen the intake process.”

He looked annoyed. “Okay, but stay out of the way.”

Zoe followed him into the chilly August night. Thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jacket, she looked toward the south and saw Canopus hanging low over the horizon. The brightest southern stars were visible above the scrim of city lights. Joseph walked toward a rusty Toyota pickup jammed in between cars on the edge of the dirt lot. Only the driver’s door was accessible. Zoe had to climb over the gearshift to reach the passenger seat.

Joseph started the truck with a roar and pulled out onto the street. Since Hot Tropic sat on the border between Kalingalinga, one of Lusaka’s poorer neighborhoods, and Kabulonga, its wealthiest, street traffic on a Saturday night was kaleidoscopic, a colorful blend of pedes­trians, up-market SUVs, and blue taxi vans crammed with revelers.

“How did the people at SCA find the girl?” Zoe asked as they left the club behind.

He stared at the road without answering, and she wondered if he’d heard her. She observed him for a long moment in the shadows of the cab. She knew almost nothing about him, except that he had been a police officer for over a decade, that he loathed corruption, and that he had recently completed a law degree at the University of Zambia.

She spoke his name to get his attention. “Joseph.”

He twitched and took a breath. “One of their community volunteers found her,” he said. “A woman named Abigail. She saw blood on the girl’s leg and called Joy Herald.” Joy was the director of SCA. “Joy called Mariam at home.”

“It happened in Kanyama?”

He nodded. “East of Los Angeles Road, not far from Chibolya.”

She shuddered. Kanyama lay to the southwest of Cairo Road—the city’s commercial center. A patchwork of shanties and cinderblock dwellings, most without toilets or running water, it was a haven for poverty, alcoholism, larceny, and cholera outbreaks. In an election year, it was also a cauldron of political unrest. But at least Kanyama had a police post. Chibolya was such a cesspool of lawlessness that the police avoided it altogether.

They left the well-lit neighborhoods of Kabulonga and headed west along the wide, divided highway of Los Angeles Boulevard. Skirting the edge of the Lusaka Golf Club, they took Nyerere Road through a tunnel of mature jacarandas whose dense branches slivered the light of the moon.

“Were there any witnesses?” she asked.

He sighed and shifted in his seat. “I have no idea. Are you always so full of questions?”

She bristled and thought: If I were a man, would you be asking? She considered a number of barbed responses, but in the end she held her tongue. CILA needed her to build bridges with the police, not wreck them.

Five minutes later, they passed through rusting gates and parked outside the pediatric wing of University Teaching Hospital, the largest medical facility in Zambia. Zoe climbed out of the cab and followed Joseph into the lobby. The air in the room was pungent with bleach. She saw Joy Herald, a matronly Brit, sitting on a bench with an elderly Zambian woman and a girl with mulatto skin who looked no older than ten. Zoe’s heart lurched. The child’s innocent eyes, framed by epicanthal folds, flat nose bridge, and tiny ears, revealed her extra chromosome.

She had Down syndrome.

Joseph spoke. “Where is Dr. Chulu?”

“He’s on his way,” Joy replied.

“Has the child been examined by anyone else?”

Joy shook her head. “The doctor’s assistant is collecting the paperwork.”

Before long, Dr. Emmanuel Chulu walked briskly into the lobby, his white medical coat billowing behind him. A giant of a man with an owl-like face and a deep baritone voice, he was the chief pediatric physician at UTH and also the founder of a clinic for the victims of child rape—“defilement” in Zambian parlance.

Dr. Chulu spoke to the old woman first, mixing English and Nyanja, the most common indigenous language in Lusaka. “Hello, mother, muli bwange?”

The woman returned his gaze but didn’t smile. “Ndili bwino.”

“Are you a member of her family?” he asked.

The woman shook her head. “I am Abigail, the one who found her.”

The doctor knelt down in front of the girl and gazed into her eyes, his large frame utterly still. The child was rocking back and forth and humming faintly under her breath. “I’m Manny,” he said, searching her face for a sign of recognition. “What is your name?”

The child’s hum turned into a moan. Her eyes grew unfocused and her rocking increased.

The doctor spoke to her in a number of different languages, trying to make contact, but she didn’t reply. “Hmm,” he said, visibly perplexed.

Zoe fingered her mother’s ring, empathizing with the girl. She couldn’t imagine the physical pain the child had endured, but she understood the horror.

All of a sudden, the child’s moaning diminished, and her eyes focused on Zoe’s hands. It took Zoe a moment to realize that she was looking at Catherine’s diamonds. She slipped the ring off her finger and knelt down in front of the girl.

“This was my mommy’s,” she said. “Would you like to hold it?”

The girl seemed to think for a moment. Then she reached out and clutched the ring to her chest. Her moaning ceased and her rocking grew less agitated.

Dr. Chulu looked at Joy, then at Zoe. “Ms. Fleming, right?”

Zoe nodded. “Yes.”

“CILA hasn’t sent a lawyer before. Our good fortune to have you.” He looked around. “Has anyone seen my assistant? I can’t do the exam without the forms.”

At that moment, a young Zambian woman emerged from a door labeled “Administration,” holding a clipboard and a stack of papers.

“Nurse Mbelo, just in time,” he said, taking the clipboard. He looked at Abigail. “Mother, Officer Kabuta needs to ask you some questions, but first he needs to witness the examination of the child. Can you wait?”

Abigail nodded.

“Ms. Herald,” said the doctor, “I presume you and Ms. Fleming can handle the child.”

The intake room was small and poorly ventilated. The fluorescent light cast by two discolored bulbs created a haze at the edge of Zoe’s contact lenses. After seating the girl on a narrow table, Dr. Chulu began the examination. His touch was gentle and his bedside manner as tender as a father with a daughter.

Zoe leaned against the wall and watched the doctor’s face as he con­ducted the exam. She found the sterility of the intake room unnerving, as if the medical procedure, in its sheer scientific orderliness, could sanitize the rape of its obscenity. She searched Dr. Chulu’s eyes for a shadow, a cloud in his professional calm, and felt empathy when his jaw went rigid. He placed a swab he was holding back in its clear con­tainer and sealed it in a plastic bag.

It was stained with blood.

The process of sample collection took thirty minutes. Afterward, Nurse Mbelo wheeled a robotic-looking instrument called a colposcope to the bed, and Dr. Chulu used the built-in camera to photograph the girl’s injuries. The child endured the colposcopy for less than a minute before she rolled over and began to make a loud vibrato sound—part cry, part groan.

Dr. Chulu looked at the nurse. “How many images did you get?”

“Five,” she replied. “All exterior.”

The doctor conferred with Joseph. “Do you think it’s enough for the Court?”

“I’ll sign the report,” Joseph replied quietly. “The magistrate will listen to us.”

Dr. Chulu nodded and turned to Joy. “I need to keep her overnight to monitor her. But I can’t put her in the ward without knowing her HIV status. I need you to keep her still while I conduct the test.”

“Do you have any music?” Joy asked. “It might soothe her.”

The doctor gave her a puzzled look. “I have a CD player in my office.”

“I have an iPhone,” Zoe interjected, taking it out of her pocket. “What about Thomas Mapfumo?” she asked, referring to the celebrated Zimbabwean artist.

“Try it,” Joy said. “Your ring worked like a charm.”

Zoe selected a song from the album Rise Up and pointed the speaker toward the girl. At the sound of the traditional Shona thumb piano the girl’s protests lost their shrillness and she began to bob her head with the rhythm.

Joy looked at Dr. Chulu. “Do what you have to do.”

The doctor reached out for one of the child’s hands and cleaned the middle finger with a cloth. He put pressure on the fingertip and pricked the skin with a lancet. The girl stiffened, but the doctor held her finger firmly, dabbing drops of blood with a pad before collecting a sample in a vial. He handed the vial to his assistant who placed a drop in the window of the test display.

“Non-reactive,” the nurse said.

“At last some good news,” Dr. Chulu replied. “Get me ten-milligram bottles of Zidovudine, Lamivudine, and Lopinavir in suspension and some pediatric Tylenol.”

Nurse Mbelo returned a minute later with the pain medication and what Zoe guessed were antiretrovirals—ARVs— designed to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Dr. Chulu looked at Joy. “If I give you the medicine, will you administer it?”

Joy nodded and helped the girl to sit, speaking softly in her ear. “I have some juice to give you. I need you to open your mouth. I know you can do it.”

When the doctor handed her the first medicine dropper, Joy showed it to the girl and then gently inserted it between her lips, squeezing out its contents. The child swallowed the liquid easily. Joy repeated the procedure with the remaining three droppers, all of which the child took without complaint.

She understands medicine, Zoe thought, feeling a surge of affection for the girl.

Dr. Chulu took Joseph aside and Zoe joined them. “I’ll contact Social Welfare in the morning,” he said. “I need you to find her family.”

Joseph nodded. “I’ll go to Kanyama tomorrow. Someone will know her.”

Zoe took a deep breath, debating with herself. “If it’s all the same to you,” she said, “I’d like to stay with her tonight.”

The doctor stared at her. “That’s not necessary. We can sedate her if we need to.”

“I understand,” she said. In truth, she had deep misgivings about spending hours in the sickness-laden air of the admissions ward, but she couldn’t imagine leaving the girl alone after the trauma she had suffered.

Dr. Chulu smiled wearily. “If you want to give up sleep, I’m not going to stop you.”


Excerpted from The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison. Copyright © 2013 by 2013 Regulus Books, LLC.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block
London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Pan Macmillan Australia solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

The Resistance Man by Martin Walker – Extract

The Resistance Man

Prologue

It was shortly after dawn on a day in late spring that carried all the promise of summer to come. The fresh green leaves were so bright they startled the eye, dew was already steaming from the grass under the first rays of the sun and the woods around the cottage were clamorous with birdsong. Benoît Courrèges, Chef de Police in the small French town of St Denis and known to everyone as Bruno, could identify the different notes of warblers and hoopoes, woodlarks and woodpeckers. But he knew these were just a fraction of the birdlife of the sweet valley of the river Vézère where he made his home.

Bruno wore his old army tracksuit in which he had just taken his morning run through the woods. His eyes were fixed on Napoléon and Joséphine, his two geese. These monarchs of his chicken run paced forward with slow dignity to study the quivering puppy held firmly in Bruno’s grip. Behind the geese, twitching his head from side to side, came Blanco the cockerel, named after a French rugby hero. Blanco was followed by his hens and the two pheasants Bruno had added to his flock because he liked their smaller eggs and the careful way the hen pheasant would hide them in the undergrowth.

Raising a basset hound to be a hunting dog was slow work, but Bruno was becoming convinced that Balzac was the most intelligent dog he had ever known. Already house-trained, Balzac would even abandon an alluring new scent to obey his master’s summons. Now he was learning that the birds in Bruno’s chicken run were to be treated with courtesy as mem­bers of the extended family, and to be protected against all comers. Balzac was eager to bounce forward to play and send the chickens squawking and jumping into the air. So Bruno held him down with one hand and stroked him with the other, speaking in a low and reassuring voice as the two geese advanced to see what new creature Bruno had brought onto their territory this time.

Bruno had already familiarized Balzac with the deep and sensual scent of truffles and shown him the white oaks in the woods where they were usually to be found. He took the dog on his morning jogs and his dawn and dusk checks of the security of the chicken coop, and thought the time was approaching when Balzac would be able to run alongside when he exercised the horses. Bruno suspected he’d miss the now-familiar feel of the large binoculars case strapped to his chest, where the puppy was currently stowed when his master went riding.

Napoléon and Joséphine, who had grown familiar with Bruno’s previous basset hound, Gigi, came closer. Blanco flapped his wings and squawked out his morning cocorico, as if to assert that however large the two geese, he was really in charge here. The puppy, accustomed to sleeping in the stables beside Bruno’s horse Hector, was not in the least awed by the size of the geese. He cocked his head to one side to gaze up at them and made an amiable squeak of greeting. The geese cruised on past Bruno and his dog, leaving Blanco to stand on tiptoe and fluff out his feathers to enlarge his size and gran­deur. Balzac looked suitably impressed.

Watching his birds and stroking his hound, Bruno knew he could not imagine a life without animals and birdsong and his garden. He delighted in eating apples plucked straight from his own trees, tomatoes still warm from the sun and salads that had still been growing moments before he dressed them with oil and vinegar. At the back of his mind lurked the ques­tion of whether there would one day be a wife and children to share this idyll and enjoy the stately progress of the seasons.

He turned his head to glance at his cottage, restored from ruin by his own hands and the help of his friends and neigh­bours in St Denis. Repaired now from the fire damage inflicted by a vengeful criminal, the house had grown. Bruno had used the insurance money and much of his savings to install win­dows in the roof, lay floorboards and create two new bedrooms in the disused loft. The plan had long been in his mind but the decision to carry it out felt like making a bet on his own future, that in time there would be a family to fill the space.

On the desk in his study lay the estimate for installing solar panels on the roof, along with the tax rebates he would receive and the terms of the bank loan he had been promised. Bruno had done his sums and knew it would take him almost ten years to earn back his investment, but he supposed it was a gesture to the environment that he ought to make. Now, gazing at the honey-coloured stone of his house topped with the tra­ditional red tiles of the Périgord, he worried what the panels might do to the look of the place.

His reverie was interrupted by the vibration of the phone in his pocket. As he extracted it, Balzac squirmed free and began creeping towards the grazing chickens. Bruno reached out to haul him back, missed, dropped his phone and a furious squawking erupted as the puppy bounded forward and the hens half-flew and half-scurried back to the protection of their hut.

‘Sorry, Father,’ Bruno said as he recovered the phone, having seen that his caller was the local priest, Father Sentout. He picked up Balzac with one hand and headed back to the house.

‘Sorry to disturb you so early, Bruno, but there’s been a death. Old Murcoing passed away and there’s something here that I think you ought to see. I’m at his place now, waiting for his daughter to get here.’

‘I’ll shower and come straight there,’ Bruno said. ‘How did you learn of his death?’

‘I called in to see him yesterday evening and he was fading then, so I sat with him through the night. He died just as the dawn broke.’

Bruno thanked the priest, filled Balzac’s food and water bowls and headed for the shower, wondering how many towns were fortunate enough to have a priest who took his parochial duties so seriously that he’d sit up all night with a dying man. Murcoing had been one of the group of four or five old cronies who would gather at the cheaper of the town’s cafés. It had a TV for the horse races and off-track betting on the Pari Mutuel and the old men would nurse a petit blanc all morning and tell each other that France and St Denis were going to the dogs. Without knowing the details, Bruno recalled that Murcoing was one of the town’s few remaining Resistance veterans, which could mean a special funeral. If so, he’d be busy. The decision about the solar panels would have to wait.

1

As if determined to make it his last sight on earth, the dead man clutched what at first appeared to be a small painting on canvas or parchment. Bruno moved closer and saw that it was no painting, but a large and beautiful banknote, nearly twice the size of the undistinguished but familiar euro notes in his wallet.

Impeccably engraved in pastel hues stood Mercury with his winged heels before a port teeming with sailing vessels and steamships. Facing him was a bare-chested Vulcan with his forge against a backdrop of a modern factory with tall chim­neys belching smoke. It was a Banque de France note for one thousand francs of a kind that Bruno had never seen before. On the quilted counterpane that was tucked up tightly to the corpse’s grizzled chin lay another banknote, of the same style and value. Picking it up, Bruno was startled by its texture, still thick and crinkly as if made more of linen than paper. It was the reverse side of the note the dead man held. Against a cor­nucopia of fruits and flowers, a proud cockerel and sheaves of wheat, two medallions contained the profiles of a Greek god and goddess. They stared impassively at one another against the engraved signatures of some long-dead bank officials, and above them was printed the date of issue: December 1940.

His eyebrows rose. For any Frenchman 1940 was a solemn year. It marked the third German invasion in seventy years, and the second French defeat. But it was the first time Paris had fallen to German arms. In 1870, the capital had withstood months of siege before French troops, under the watchful eye of the Kaiser’s armies, stormed the capital to defeat and slaughter the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune. After the invasion of 1914, the Germans had been held and eventually defeated. But in 1940, France had surrendered and signed a humiliating armistice. German soldiers had marched through the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs-Elysées and launched an occupation that would last for over four years. France under Marshal Pétain’s Vichy regime had retained some shred of sovereignty over a truncated half of the country while the Germans took over Paris, the north and the whole Atlantic coastline. So this was a Vichy banknote, Bruno mused, won­dering how long after the war’s end it had remained legal tender.

There were more notes, all French and for varying amounts, inside a black wooden box that lay open at the dead man’s side. Alongside them were some old photographs. The one on top showed a group of young men and boys, carrying weapons from shotguns and revolvers to elderly submachine guns. They were squatting on the running boards or leaning against a black Citroën traction-avant, one of the most handsome cars France ever made. A French tricolore flag was draped across the bonnet.

Bruno picked up the photo and turned it over to see the scrawled words Groupe Valmy, le 3 juillet, 1944. Mainly dressed like farmers, some wore berets and two had the old steel helmets from the 1914–1918 war. An older man sported a French officer’s uniform with leather straps across his chest and ammunition pouches. He held up a grenade in each hand. Each of the men had an armband with the letters FFI. Bruno knew it stood for Forces Françaises de l’Intérieur, the name De Gaulle had chosen for the Resistance fighters. The next photo showed the same car and an ancient truck parked beside a train. The doors of a goods wagon were open and men in a human chain were passing sacks from the train to the truck. On the back were the words Neuvic, 26 juillet, 1944.

‘I’ve never been allowed to see inside his box before,’ said the woman. She eyed the photos but made no move to touch them or the banknotes. Her hands, work-worn and gnarled, remained clenched in her lap. She looked to be in her sixties. Father Sentout had introduced her as Joséphine, one of the dead man’s three daughters. The priest was packing away the breviary and holy oils he had used to give the last rites. A spot of oil gleamed on the dead man’s forehead where the priest had made the last sign of the cross and another on the eyelids.

‘Eighty-six,’ the priest said. ‘A good age, a long life and he served France. Your father is with our father in heaven now.’ He put his hand gently on the woman’s arm. She shook it off.

‘We could have done with that money when I was growing up,’ she said, staring dry-eyed at the banknotes. ‘They were hard times.’

‘It was the banknotes that made me call you,’ said Father Sentout, turning to Bruno. ‘I don’t know what the law says about them, being out of date.’

‘They’re part of his estate so they’ll go to his heirs,’ said Bruno. ‘But those photos mean I’ll probably have to plan for a special funeral.’ He turned to Joséphine. ‘Do you know if he had the Resistance medal?’

She gestured with her head to a small picture frame on the wall above the bed, below the crucifix. Bruno leaned across the bed to look closer. The curtains were open and the sun was shining but only a modest light came from the tiny court­yard. He saw the stone wall of a neighbour’s house barely two metres away. A single light bulb hanging from the ceiling in a dingy parchment lampshade did little to help, but he could make out the small brass circle with its engraved Cross of Lor­raine hanging from a black and crimson ribbon. Beneath it in the frame was a faded FFI armband and a photograph of a young Murcoing wearing it and holding a rifle.

‘I’ll have to check the official list but it looks like he quali­fies for a Resistance funeral with a guard of honour and a flag for the coffin,’ Bruno said. ‘If that’s what you want, I’ll make the arrangements. The state pays for it all. You can either have him buried at the big Resistance cemetery at Chasseneuil or here in St Denis.’

‘I was wondering if he’d left enough to pay for cremation,’ she said, looking around the small bedroom with its faded floral wallpaper and a cheap wardrobe that had seen better days. ‘He was waiting for a place in the retirement home so the Mairie stuck him in here.’

The old man had lived alone in the small apartment formed from the ground floor of a narrow three-storey house in one of the back streets of St Denis. Bruno remembered when the Mairie had bought the building and converted it for social housing. Four families were stuffed into the upstairs apart­ments and another from the waiting list would be moved into this place as soon as the old man was buried. The recession had been hard on St Denis.

‘Paul should be here by now,’ she said, looking at her watch. ‘His grandson, my sister’s boy. I called him as soon as I called the priest. He’s the only one my dad ever had much time for, the only other man in the family.’ She looked sourly at the corpse in the bed. ‘Three daughters weren’t enough for him.’

‘I’ll need your phone number to let you know about the funeral,’ Bruno said, taking out his notebook. ‘Do you know where he kept his papers, if there’s a will?’

She shrugged and gave her number. ‘Nothing much to leave.’ She looked at her watch again. ‘I have to go. I’ll take whatever food he’s left.’ Through the open door they heard her rum­maging in the small fridge and the food cupboard before she stomped down the narrow passage beside the garage that led to the street.

‘Not much sign of grief there,’ said Bruno, taking out his phone to call the medical centre. A doctor would have to certify death before Murcoing could be removed to the funeral parlour.

‘He didn’t have many visits from his family, except for Paul,’ the priest said. ‘All the sisters live down in Bergerac. Joséphine told me she works as a night nurse, so she probably sees more than enough of the old and sick.’

‘How sick was he? I haven’t seen him in the café for a while.’

‘He knew he was dying and he didn’t seem to mind,’ Father Sentout replied. ‘He had pneumonia but refused to go to hos­pital. That was the sickness we used to call the old man’s friend. It’s a peaceful passing, they just slip away.’

‘I remember seeing him coming out of church. Was he a regular?’

‘His wife dragged him along. After she died he didn’t come so often at first, but this place is close to the church so he’d come along for Mass; for the company as much as anything.’

‘Did he ever talk about the money?’ Bruno gestured at the open box on the bed and the banknote still held tightly in Murcoing’s dead hands.

The priest paused, as if weighing his words in a way that made Bruno wonder whether there was some secret of the confessional that was being kept back.

‘Not directly, but he’d rail against the fat cats and the rich and complained of being cheated. It was just ramblings. I was never clear whether he reckoned his daughters had cheated him out of the money from the farm or it was something else.’

‘Is there something you can’t tell me?’

Father Sentout shrugged. ‘Nothing directly linked to the money. I presume it’s from the Neuvic train. Don’t you know about it? The great train robbery by the Resistance?’

Bruno shook his head, reminding the priest that he’d only been in St Denis for a little over a decade. He’d heard of it but not the details. These days, the priest explained, the story was more legend than anything else. A vast sum of money, said to be hundreds of millions, had been stolen from a train taking reserves from the Banque de France to the German naval gar­rison in Bordeaux. Despite various official inquiries, large amounts had never been accounted for, and local tradition had it that several Resistance leaders had after the war bought grand homes, started businesses and financed political careers.

‘If that was his share, he didn’t get much,’ the priest con­cluded, nodding at the banknotes on the bed. After the war there had been so many devaluations. Then in 1960 came De Gaulle’s currency reform; a new franc was launched, each worth a hundred of the old ones. ‘In reality, that thousand-franc banknote is today probably worth less than a euro, if it’s worth anything at all.’

Bruno bent down to prise the note from the cold fingers. As he put it inside the box with the photographs, he heard foot­steps in the corridor and Fabiola the doctor bustled into the small room. She was wearing a white medical coat of freshly pressed cotton and her dark hair was piled loosely atop her head. An intriguing scent came with her, a curious blend of antiseptic and perfume, overwhelming the stale air of the room. She kissed Bruno and shook hands with the priest, pulling out her stethoscope to examine the body.

‘He obviously didn’t take his medicine. Sometimes I wonder why we bother,’ she said, sorting through the small array of plastic jars from the pharmacy that stood by the bed. ‘He’s dead and there’s nothing suspicious. I’ll leave the certificate at the front desk of the clinic so you can pick it up. Meanwhile we’d better get him to the funeral home.’

She stopped at the door and faced Bruno. ‘Is this going to stop you getting to the airport? I’ll be free by five so I can do it.’

‘It should be OK. If there’s a problem, I’ll call you,’ he replied. Pamela, the Englishwoman Bruno had been seeing since the previous autumn, was to land at the local airport of Bergerac just before six that evening and he was to meet her and drive her back to St Denis. Pamela, who kept horses along with the gîtes she rented out to tourists, had been pleased to find in Fabiola a year-round tenant for one of the gîtes and the two women had become friends.

Bruno began making calls as soon as Fabiola and the priest left. He started with the veterans’ department at the Ministry of Defence to confirm a Resistance ceremony and then called the funeral parlour. Next he rang Florence, the science teacher at the local collège who was now running the town choir, to ask if she could arrange for the Chant des Partisans, the anthem of the Resistance, to be sung at the funeral. He rang the Centre Jean Moulin in Bordeaux, the Resistance museum and archive, for their help in preparing a summary of Murcoing’s war record. The last call was to the social security office, to stop the dead man’s pension payments. As he waited to be put through to the right department, he began to look around.

In the sitting room an old TV squatted on a chest of drawers. In the top one, Bruno found a large envelope marked ‘Banque’ and others that contained various utility bills and a copy of the deed of sale for Murcoing’s farm in the hills above Limeuil. It had been sold three years earlier, when prices were already tumbling, for 85,000 euros. The buyer had a name that sounded Dutch and the notaire was local. Bruno remembered the place, a ramshackle farmhouse with a roof that needed fixing and an old tobacco barn where goats were kept. The farm had been too small to be viable, even if the land had been good. Murco­ing’s last bank statement said he had six thousand euros in a Livret, a tax-free account set up by the state to encourage saving, and just over eight hundred in his current account. He’d been getting a pension of four hundred euros a month. There was no phone to be seen and no address book. A dusty shotgun hung on the wall and a well-used fishing rod stood in the corner. The house key hung on a hook beside the door. Left alone with the corpse until the hearse came, Bruno thought old Murcoing did not have much to show for a life of hard work and patriotism.

He wrote out a receipt for the gun, the box and its contents and left it in the drawer. Beside the TV set he saw a well-used wallet. Inside were a carte d’identité and the carte vitale that gave access to the health service, but no credit cards and no cash. Joséphine would have seen to that. There were three small photos, one a portrait of a handsome young man and two more with the same young man with an arm around the shoulders of the elderly Murcoing at what looked like a family gathering. That must be Paul, the favourite grandson, who was supposed to arrive. Bruno left a note for him on the table, along with his business card and mobile number, asking Paul to get in touch about the funeral and saying he’d taken the gun, the box and banknotes to his office in the Mairie for safe keeping.

As the hearse was arriving, Bruno’s mobile phone rang and a sultry voice said: ‘I have something for you.’ The Mayor’s secretary was incapable of saying even Bonjour without some hint of coquetry. ‘It’s a message from some foreigner’s cleaning woman on the road out to Rouffignac. She thinks there’s been a burglary.’


Excerpted from The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. Copyright © 2013 by Walker and Watson Ltd.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block
London, W1U 8EW.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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