Excerpt from the end of the first third of the novel:
Margaret entered the kitchen from the hallway, just as Bob walked into the kitchen from out the back as Nathan was looking in the fridge. There wasn’t much in there and he made an irritated tutting sound with his tongue. He closed the fridge just a tick too hard to reveal his mother moving towards the kitchen table.
“Might not be so empty if you made a contribution every now and again, poppet,” she said. He looked caught out, but recovered himself.
“Yeah, right” he mumbled, “Like as if I can.”
“Why, what’s wrong with you son?” Bob asked hanging up his jacket behind the door. Bob looked him up and down like he was looking for a defect. “Doesn’t seem like anything’s wrong to me. Two arms, two legs, a head with a brain in it, that you could use if you didn’t spend so much time trying to fry it.”
“Ah, lay off Dad. Sorry Mum, I gotta go catch the news now.” He tried to escape towards his room.
“No, come back please Nat, Bob and I need to talk to you about something,” Margaret insisted.
“Take a seat,” Bob growled.
“Okay! Keep your pants on, I’m staying aren’t I?”
“Oy! Not in that tone, young man,” Bob warned him. Nat’s rounded shoulders ended in a lank mop of light brown hair and he sat down like a wilted sunflower on the chair at the end of the table. Margaret sat down at the kitchen table opposite him and Bob leaned against the sink near the back door.
Nathan looked up at his parents from under the curtains of his fringe.
Margaret began hesitantly, “Darling, some people think that your friend from up the road… what’s his name?”
“Who? What?” Nat asked defensively.
“That boy from up Universal Drive, what’s his name? Sebastian?” Bob asked
“You mean Bazza?”
“Yes, well,” Margaret continued, “..maybe some guys who hang out there, I think you must know them poppet… it’s just that… there are some terrible things going on, Bob and I are worried you might be getting mixed up with the wrong bunch. ”
“Huh? Why?” He looked at her like she couldn’t possibly know anything about anything.
“Nat, I work in this neighbourhood.”
“I know that Mum, Jesus.”
“That means, Nat, when those friends of yours get up to anything that hurts anyone, I get to hear about it.”
“I haven’t hurt anyone!” He looked incensed.
“How about telling us about this petrol racket, son,”
“No idea, you tell me!?” Nat said, hands out, eyes wide.
“Okay, Nat let’s just speak plainly.” Margaret and lowered her voice so that Nathan and Bob almost had to lean in to hear her, “I can tell you that Marion Bragge came in yesterday with lacerations, bruises, three broken ribs, and several internal injuries. Three young men were stealing the petrol out of her car in front of her house when she leaned out the window to tell them to scram. They came in and brutally…” she gulped and continued, “…attacked her. They stole the only food she had in the house, which was only a packet of sausages, for God’s sake.” She paused, her mouth crooked in a pursed line. “Of course it wasn’t about the stupid sausages; she said the worst thing was her kids… They raped her, Nat. In front of her two little kids. They didn’t touch the kids, thank God, but that’s all we can be grateful for… So much for stealing petrol.”
There was a long silence. Nat was shocked. And though Bob had already heard the story when Margaret came back from work, he was shocked all over again.
Nat closed his mouth and said in a raspy voice, “And why do you think I would know anything about this?”
“Because, Nat, Marion was able to say she’d seen one of them up at that place on Universal Drive you all hang out smoking that green stuff you seem so keen on.”
“Jesus.” He looked down at the table, his thoughts racing to piece together relevant parts of his memory, whether he had seen or heard anything that could reveal evidence. He looked up at her.
“Mum, I would never, ever do anything like that. You’ve got to believe me.” He looked his parents genuinely searching for belief. “Honestly Dad, I wouldn’t hurt anyone, you know that… Jesus… Fuck…”
“So Nat, how much exactly do you have to do with those guys up on Universal Drive? They’re some kids from high school aren’t they?” Margaret prodded gently.
“Didn’t you say that Dirk guy hangs out up there, you know, the one we used to drive to basketball?” Bob asked.
“So what?” Nat retorted, all irritated and sullen again. Before Bob could bristle up he quickly offered, “I’ve seen him at Bazza’s place a couple of times that’s all – heaps of guys hang out there cos his olds are pretty slack... Bazza is, like… just a surfie gone wrong, he… ” Nat seemed to be searching for clues and went quiet.
“What do they do? Come on, son,” Bob prompted
“Dad, Mum, honestly, they’re not my friends, I’ve… I’ve just hung out with them a few times and man, it’s not like everyone’s not trying to get a bit of cheap petrol! I mean, you guys are always saying that the gas stations are ripping everyone off. I mean what’s the difference?”
“Well, now you know where that path is leading Nat,” Margaret said.
“Yeah, I think I’ll steer clear of that place for a bit. I was thinking that Bazza and some of them have gotten a bit freaky. But I didn’t know anything about it, honest!”
Margaret put her little soft hand on his arm. “I think you’re going to have avoid seeing any of them at all, darling. It’s turned into something else. It’s very hard not to get drawn in if you’re hanging around with them. I know that won’t be easy if some of them are your mates, darling, but there’s no way around it now.”
Nat shook off Margaret’s hand. “It’s alright, Mum, they’re not my mates, they’re a bunch of dicks anyway.”
“Are you getting that marijuana from them?” Margaret asked him cautiously.
“Mum, you can get grass heaps of places, not just there.” He scoffed again like she knew nothing about anything.
“I’d love a dollar for all the things you think I don’t know Nat.” She said sagely.
“Well son,” Bob joined in, “You might want to think about giving that up too. Frying your brain like that… And those boys, I mean, what the bloody hell did they think they were doing? It makes me sick those boys, raping a mother in front of her children – Urgh! Line ‘em up and shoot ‘em, I say. And as for stealing stuff, it’s not as if we haven’t all got it hard! Why didn’t they go out and do something useful, with all that energy?”
An inescapable heaviness settled on the three of them.
Margaret leant over and smoothed Nat’s fringe off his forehead. “Well, I’m glad you’re being so good about not hanging around with them, darling. I told Bob I thought you’d be fine.” Nat shook her hand off and mussed up his fringe.
Bob looked around like he wondered what he should do. He must have decided a bit of humour was the trick. It might have worked too.
“They think they’re so tough storming into people’s kitchens and taking their bloody sausages. That’s what they are, nothing but sausage hunters! HA! Pathetic! Sausage hunters!” Bob repeated, laughing at his own joke.
Margaret carried on, “Right, well, Nat darling, I do worry. I worry about the young men in this area and what they’re turning into. I don’t want you to get sucked up into it darling, and I’m scared you will if you don’t get something going. You know, find your way into something useful.”
“Hey, I can’t help it that there aren’t any jobs out there!”
Margaret leaned forward. “Nathan, it’s not just about whether you have a job – half the people who do have jobs are hardly getting paid for them, and anyway, it’s not like there’s not enough to do.” She sat back with a sigh. “Poor Mrs. Regis around the corner needs all the help she can get, I see people every day who need help. There is just so much to do.”
“Son, it’s just about pitching in and making an effort. You just sit around like a lank bloody beanpole mate, and so much for your choice of friends! And all that news watching Nat, what good is that to ya? What are you gunna do about it all, ay? Get up and fight all the terrorists yourself? Show a bit of nous, man! Pick yourself up and look into the future! Puff yer' chest out now and again, get your hands dirty, stick to something for a change! That’s it Nat, you never stick to anything, do you? Never see anything through…”
“Oh right Dad, if only I could be as perfect as you! I just can’t do anything right by you, can I? Not ever!” He stood up and leaned over the table at his Dad. “Have you ever, ever asked yourself why I don’t make an effort? Have you? Because no matter what I do, it’s not as good as bloody Bob Anolds and his stupid business, his perfect workers, his house and his fucking Cruiser either. You are just such a fucking hero, aren’t ya Dad?!”
There were tears in his eyes when he looked up and his mouth had started to wobble. He got up from the chair and lurched out of the room, knocking the chair over. Slam, went his door.
“Now you come back here!” Bob roared at him. He stumbled after him down the corridor and tried his door, but he’d already shoved something in front of it.
“I work bloody hard, I’ll have you know,” Bob yelled at his door. “I work my bloody hands to the bone for this family!” he banged on the door. “Nat!” He tried and push it open, but he’d jammed it well shut. He pushed his shoulder against it. “Nat! You open this door now! Come on! Be a man and face up to it for once!”
“Just leave me alone!” Nathan yelled.
Margaret held onto the hallway walls weakly saying, “Oh stop it, Bob, just stop it, just leave it be…” She could tell Nathan was jamming his door with all his might.
“GO AWAY! LEAVE ME ALONE!” he screamed, sounding hysterical.
“Bob.” Margaret came up the hallway with her hand headed for his arm. Bob shook her off roughly.
“Bugger off, Marg. He’s my bloody son. Bloody waste of space with his bloody dope. Did you hear that Nat? You’re a waste of bloody space mate. You’ll never get it together if you act like that. DO YOU HEAR ME? NAT?”
“Bob!” Margaret pleaded.
“Ah fuck ya both,” Bob said kicking the door and storming out.