The March of the Dead

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12

It was around this time my girlfriend stopped talking to me.

That evening there in Kehlani’s room, she’d pulled back from me.

My voice, when I had spoken next had been so dry I literally thought I had just simply run out of it. My hands trembled as I sat there too—I remembered that as well.

I was shaking my head, trying to think of some lie. The mattress I sat on was soft, spongy, so different to that firm tension flooding throughout me.

‘I ... er ...’

Kehlani shoved me, small hands whacking up against my chest.

Glaring at me, she said, ’Did you just say another girl’s frickin name?’ She shoved me twice more. ‘Did you? Did you?’

What could I say?

Technically, I kinda had muttered another girl’s name. Still, I shook my head, my own eyes now wide as my heart raced even more than when I had been making out just now.

‘Babe, look,’ I said, touching her shoulder.

Kel looked down. She looked disgusted, like she would vomit up in a moment.

‘I ...,’ she said, turning away, buttoning her top back up. She stopped again, still looking down, then stood, before moving towards the door.

That’s how Kehlani stopped speaking to me.

That Thursday at school, I tried walking up to Kehlani while she was with her friends.

Bad idea.

Isla Norton stepped up towards me there on the playground as I moved towards Kehlani.

‘You cheating, lying, using, stinky-little-freak who thinks he owns this world.’ Isla, a pudgy-faced girl with mouse-brown hair and freckles, shoved me, causing me to wheel backwards. This resulted in the cackling of various groups of students sat there in the mid-morning light, watching this scenario play out.

‘My whore ain’t wanna see your stinkin’ ugly face again, Blinky,’ she said, stepping forwards again. This time I stepped back myself, creating some distance from her.

‘But ... but,’ I said.

She stepped towards me, face red, eyes wide, pupils large.

‘Fuck off, Blinky. Go!’ She was pointing behind me. My heart raced. My mouth was as dry as the air throughout the cool day. I felt the flushing of my cheeks, and imagined they were bright red. Mouth parched, I turned, legs weak, walking off back towards my group.

Full credit to my friends, they looked kinda of serious as I headed back towards them.

Turner stood.

‘Shit, Blinky. You okay, brother? What happened?’

My legs still felt numb. I didn’t know how long they would hold me up, but I stood there anyway as the boys looked on and nodded, or muttered sympathetic lines as I told them what had happened.

Cantey told me to sit, slapping my back after I did so. ‘She was a bitch anyway, Blinky. Better off without her, mate.’

My world was spinning, literally spinning.

Later, back in Geography, Mrs Gabrielli talked about refugees and reasons they had to leave their hometowns. I stared at those poor guys in the boats but didn’t take in a word the teacher said.

Back at home, Mum stood there laying slices of chicken on the cutting board, before slicing them with a long sharp knife. On the stove top, potatoes boiled away alongside the peas and beans in separate pots.

‘Mum ... can I ask you a question?’

Soon after, we sat out on the wooden veranda above the backyard, Mum beside me, nodding. A tequila sunrise sat in her hand, Mum sipping the drink now and then. Her eyes were a similar colour to the railing above. Rainbow lorikeets squawked in the bushes below us, beyond the backyard.

Come Monday, black clouds approached Burarra from the west. At school, not a single person (other than Monique Gillion, who some claimed to be half-insane anyway) neglected to wear that fuzzy black jumper with Joy and Peace written on it. All us males now wore long pants, some even donning gloves or a beanie.

The clouds soon sat cold and flat above, everyone’s skin in the playground that day white and pale. For those with already pale skin, their skin turned a faint blue at the knuckles or kneecaps.

In Science, Jasper Griffiths shivered beside me. Up front in the classroom Aisha’s silky dark hair swirled down behind her chair. It took all my will to stare away from her.

I tried to talking to Kehlani at recess as she waited at the end of the canteen line, but she turned her back to me after I said her name, shaking her head. I jogged up towards her after school as she left with Felix Bell, but she turned back around there on the pathway, glaring at me. I thought she would yell at me, but in a soft voice, without meeting my eyes she just said, ‘Go away, Blinky. I don’t want to speak to you.’

Kehlani twisted back around, and in the gloom of that overcast day headed out those school gates with Felix.

Tuesday, after the bell had signalled the end of Drama, I stepped towards Kehlani. She was speaking to Jarrod Mervin at her seat as she packed up. Jarrod had put out his hand to me, stopping me from nearing. ‘She’s cool, Blinky ... she’s cool for the moment, right, bro?’ he said, winking at me, that muscular hand still held out.

In the gym after school, I was thwacking and thwacking the boxing bag. It swayed backwards. On its way back towards me I’d swat it twice more with a right and left. The knuckles on my hands were bleeding.

’Tell me ... tell me to take it easy,’ I hissed at that bumping and dangling red bag, the gym equipment remaining untouched around me.

Thwack, thwack, thwack.

‘I’ll put your goddamn pecker in a vegetable mixer, you little shit-eater,’ I hissed. Thwack, swat, bam, I smacked that bag three more times.

’This is my girlfriend you’re talking about, bro.’ Swat, bam, oomph.

There I stood, puffing, while before me the bag swung up and back, squeaking with the movements, laughing at me.

Sometime later, and still puffing, I moved out of the school gym. I gazed at my bloody knuckles and raw hands.

I headed up to the main street, my heartbeat slowing each step. Walking along Morrison, I saw that homeless man sitting against the glass of Humphrey’s Attire once more. He glared up at me, eyes thin. Those plastic bags sat beside him, while the sky above was a deep blue, ready to become black.

Leering at me again, the thin man said, ‘I know. I know what you are, boy. I know what you are.’

I only gazed at him as I walked by.

On the bus ride home that evening, I listened to music on my phone as I stared out that window. Those darkened mountains slipped by, the paddocks long and gloomy beside me.

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