My mind was foggy with dreams about a young boy with large black eyes and wavy brown hair who was pulling me by the arm to a clearing in some forest when I felt my mother shaking me awake.
“Sean, you have slept through your alarm clock again,” she addressed me in a stern, disapproving voice, and just like that I was welcomed into a new morning of yet another week.
Wearily I opened one eye to stare blearily into the face of the most annoyingly cheerful morning person that I have ever had the misfortune to know. My mother is one of those women who fear the onset of age with distrust and dismay. The kind that smears anti‑aging cream on their faces every morning and night; dyes the grey hairs that threaten to make themselves known and is overbearingly strict about health food and exercise to keep herself fit. Subsequently all my life my mother has never seemed to age a day. She is a small woman, only five foot three and a quarter (I’ve been told that extra quarter is very important) she has soft brown hair, grey eyes, and is obsessively addicted to the stock market. She is an accountant by trade, and like her job, she insists on strict order in everything from her wardrobe selection to her grocery list.
My brain registered that she was currently wearing a brown linen suit with a cream coloured blouse and I sighed in relief that I had managed to avoid yet another grueling early morning exercise routine. Smothering a grin I began to drag my lazy, over-sleeping behind out of bed, when I noticed something quite strange about my mother’s appearance. I shook my head and rubbed my heavy eyes into focus merely to discover that my first impression was justified. My mother looked at me with haunted eyes, blotchy red from a crying jag and she somehow managed to have aged ten years in one simple night.
“Mother, what has happened? What’s wrong?” I asked my voice filled with sickening dread that caused a lead weight to appear magically in my stomach.
“Nothing that concerns you,” she snapped at me, as she bent down to pick up my dirty clothes from the floor of my room and put into the basket she was carrying. She lifted the overflowing basket into her hands and began to exit my room throwing her last comment tersely over her shoulder.
No matter how many times my parents voice their disinterest in my life, or deliberately separate me from their own lives, I can’t help but feel each rejection like a burning knife stabbed through my lungs. Tears welled in my eyes and a lump formed in my throat but I shook my head and refused to give in to my urge to throw my bedside lamp across the room and smash to pieces the mockery of the family portrait that hung there. Instead I glanced at my alarm clock, which proved that her last statement had been devastatingly correct. The digital face glowed with the numbers 8.35, which meant I had barely 20 minutes before school began.
I rushed to my closet, threw open the door and grabbed thoughtlessly at the starched grey trousers and white business style shirt that hung lifelessly within. I changed in record time, and in lieu of a shower, coated myself in my latest deodorant craze, “Dragon’s Blood”. I am what one might call tall and gangly, in other words awkwardly proportioned with little to no hope of ever filling out properly, especially since I have to live on my mother’s diet of tofu and carrot sticks. I watched myself in the mirror as I fastened the blue and black stripped tie around my throat and ran my fingers through my blade two‑hair style. I have had short hair since before I can remember, my parents having insisted that it be that way, and I have to admit that I am grateful, if only for the fact that it saves time on grooming.
I grabbed at the books on my desk not noticing, nor for that matter caring, what I shoved into my school backpack. Hastily I wrenched open the third drawer of my chest of drawers, and gathered some change that I keep in a pair of socks for emergency situations. As I left my bedroom I heard my father calling impatiently to me, and after giving him an encouraging reply, I entered my bathroom and extracted the bottle of mouthwash from the cupboard.
The first thing that anyone notices about my father is his nose. He has what is called a roman nose, which is so large that it almost takes up his entire face. It doesn’t help that his blonde hair is thin and receding, and that he is tall and gaunt to go with it. I inherited from my father his silent disposition, his height 6’3, his large bony hands, and size 14 feet, and I got my grey eyes, long neck and nail biting habit from my mother. Despite all of that, I hardly know my parents, and my parents really don’t know anything about me.
Sighing, I shook my head to shake such thoughts from my mind because thinking about what lacks in my family always makes me depressed and angry. I quickly rinsed with my mouthwash, ran to the front door, and with my keys that I grabbed from the key ring, dead-bolted it behind me.
My parents were already waiting for me on the side of the road, so I ran as fast as my awkward legs could carry me down the driveway, and after closing the gate, dived into the backseat of our stately sedan where I was greeted by my father with a “it’s about time.” As we pulled away from the curb my mother curiously sniffed the air, and turned to face me with a pained look on her face. “Did you have to use the entire can of deodorant?”
Guiltily I shrugged and when my parents rolled down the windows in the car I felt a wave of embarrassment sting the back of my neck, causing my face to turn almost purple with shame.
When we finally arrived at school I was greeted by the sound of the morning’s bell, so I politely thanked my parents for the lift and made a dash into the schoolyard. My parents insisted that I attend a private, prestigious all boys’ school since year one, and I’d had to resign myself to staying in the same hell for 12 long, hard years. I think they liked the idea of my school because it makes them appear to be rolling in dough, even though they couldn’t ever hope to pay for my tuition and instead receive a check every six months from my father’s mother, a woman I have never even met, nor even spoken to on the phone.
My school, like any school I imagine, resembles a jail. Two meter tall chicken wire fences incase the perimeter supposedly designed to keep intruders out, but its real purpose is to keep us from escaping. Our school has a large green gate at the front where the office is located. The office is a fancy whitewashed building with large comfortable armchairs in the parent’s entrance, and hard wood seats in the student one. The office houses a depressingly decorated sick room in a ghastly yellow and brown-checkered design, where I have spent many a sport or math’s lesson hiding out in.
The buildings are tall, three storey red brick buildings, which were recently installed with air-conditioning units. The lawns are neat and well kept; the trees are tall, old and uniquely Australian; mostly eucalyptus, white gums and wattles. There are three ovals at our school, a large set of tennis courts, a basketball court, swimming pool and indoor gymnasium because our school boasts an impressive sporting agenda for those who don’t otherwise excel at academic pursuits. You see at our school, you are either exceptionally brainy, or you are a gifted sportsman. There are of course the exceptional few that are brilliant at both, and then there are the ‘others’. The ‘others’ are the people of course that struggle through both the academic and sporting worlds, people who have a unique talent for making things with their hands. I apparently, am academic, even though the only subjects I pass with exceptionally good grades are English and Art.
“Hey Sean, you’re late,” my comrade in arms Devlin Summers yelled to me from the far end of the grade twelve block. Now I have heard from my next-door neighbour, 15 year old Janet Stevens that Devlin is ‘devilishly handsome’. She has told me that although Devlin might only be 5’6, he was in every other way perfect. Personally I don’t see it, but hey, I’m not that way inclined. Devlin has got a good physique though, probably because he actually enjoys sports and doesn’t care if he makes a fool of himself doing it. Devlin is one of the exceptional few that excel in both areas of the schools development. Devlin’s vivid green eyes often take people aback, because for the most part, they are hidden behind mountains of thick long dirty blonde hair that he simply has to flick to set it back in place. Devlin is on one level everything I am not, confident, courageous, popular, and unlike me has known exactly what he has wanted to become his entire life, a forensic scientist. He decided this in grade one, when we put our fingerprints to paper and were told that no one can share the same fingerprints, which completely fascinated Devlin.
By the time I reached him my breath was coming out in short rapid pants, and when he grinned foolishly at me I playfully sucker punched him in the stomach and replied, “You’re amazingly perceptive, Dev, you know that don’t you?”
Devlin and I have been friends since the first day we met in year one, after a slight misunderstanding about who was the more impressive cartoon super hero, He-man or Astroboy, which lead to a heated fight in the schoolyard.
Devlin and I are both only children of disinterested parents and we have learnt to accept the fact that we are never going to be good enough for them. When we were in fifth grade, we decided that we should have been brothers, so we cut a deep hole into the palm of our left hands with the blade of a pair of scissors. Whilst we began bleeding profusely we clasped our hands together to seal the bond of blood brothers, and then I watched in fascination as Devlin’s eyes rolled into the back of his head before he slid into a dead faint. We ended up 20 minutes later in the emergency ward at the hospital, with a total of 3 stitches apiece. You could say that we are the closest thing either of us has to family.
Devlin and I entered the classroom and made our way to the set of seats in the second back row next to the window. Roll call began and after answering at the correct time Devlin turned to me and whispered.
“Social studies up first you know Sean, and I think I have found a better topic that we can do. You know how we have to focus on something that is stereotyped negatively in the media, well I was reading the paper this morning and I think I found something to do which would be far more interesting.”
“We have got to submit our ideas today, Dev, we can’t just go changing it now, we’ve already started on the research,” I replied angrily.
“Yeah I know, but this is something that I, at least, think we should consider,” he reached into his folder and pulled out a section of the daily newspaper, with the declarative headline MAPLE VALE SLASHER EXPOSED.
“What’s a serial killer got to do with negative stereotypical suggestions from the media, you idiot? Surely their reputation is well deserved,” I replied as I shoved the article back at him.
“Yes but this serial killer was a former patient at a mental institution, and surprise, surprise is said to have suffered from schizophrenia, a stereotypical disease that is often misunderstood in society. It’s perfect, and far more interesting than a paper on the role of a lawyer and his or her moral dilemmas.”
Intrigued now in spite of myself, I reached for the paper once again and was about to take a deeper look at the article when the bell rang for the beginning of first period. I took the newspaper clipping and stuck it into my pocket as I went to retrieve the necessary books for my morning classes. I was not surprised to find that in my hurry to leave the house I had packed only my mathematics and biology textbooks, both of which I didn’t even have as subjects on a Monday. I took out my folder and cursed angrily when I discovered that I had thrown my pencil case into my bag unzipped so the bottom of my bag was littered with pencil shavings, gum wrappers, and staples, which made us late to our first class, with the most unreasonable teacher in existence presiding.
“Mr. Achias and Mr. Summers, how nice of you to join us today,” Ms Miller addressed us irritably when we burst through her classroom door. Secretly everyone calls her ‘horrid forrid’; she earnt this nickname because she scrapes her long black hair back in a bun so tightly that it pulls her eyebrows up and she has this habit of speaking through clenched teeth. Ms Miller is a tall, gaunt woman with the most perfect posture I have ever seen in my entire life, she never wears any makeup, and when she talks spit will fly from her mouth in every possible direction, which all helps to serve to make her the most formidable teacher any of us have come across. After we settled into our seats she announced that the topics for our assignments were due, and that we had only three weeks to complete a 1,250 word assignment, which would be doubled if we had chosen to work in pairs. “Mr. Achias, perhaps you’d like to go first?”
I hated this part. Public speaking and I just do not mix. I get that tingly sensation in the back of my neck and I turn a mortifying maroon colour that spreads even to my ears and makes them appear to be sticking out at ninety degrees angles from my head. I nudged Devlin’s leg with my foot and he stood up with me.
“I, ah, we, ah” I began foolishly, causing my classmates to snigger at my obvious discomfort.
“Ms Miller,” Devlin began easily taking over, “Sean and I have decided to work as a pair on this assignment.”
“Is that so Mr. Summers, well pray, do continue,” she replied in an obvious sarcastically disinterested tone.
Devlin looked at me, and awaited my nod of approval before continuing. “Well, we have decided to look at the stereotypical debate surrounding the mental illness schizophrenia, and how it is used to explain the behaviour of some people in society who commit the most horrendous crimes.”
“And a recent example of that would be?”
“The Maple Vale Serial Killer, Ms Miller.”
“Interesting, Mr. Summers, that you and Mr. Achias seem to have chosen a topic that only appeared in this mornings newspaper; which leads me to believe that neither of you had even thought about this assignment until this morning. That means that you both have wasted a whole week where you could have been doing research on your topic. Let’s hope for your sake gentlemen, that you manage to catch up to the rest of the class, shall we?”
Devlin and I squirmed under her steely gaze and quickly took our seats again. Once everyone had stated their assignment topics, we were taken to the library to begin research.