I haven't got the paper to describe everything in the world, so I'll tell you about Petersham and you can work out the rest.
It was urban, bordered by gridlocked highways and stuffed with houses. Planes shrieked overhead and six trainlines ran through its middle. At night there was the rattle of carriages, the wail of police cars and the mad barking of drunks rumbling home. It was noisy, grimy and when the southerly came up from the airport it stank of kerosene.
Sure, it also had trees and parks and birds, and a public pool and big oval, and so many Portuguese restaurants you couldn't walk down the road without having a peri peri coughing fit. If I wanted to be fair, I could tell you about the cool places kids hung out and did their cool kid things. But I didn't hang out with any of the cool kids and I couldn't care less about being fair.
And there was the Sham; so called by the ungrateful grommets of Petersham High School. I hated the Sham and the Sham hated me.
In her usual way, Jen Cheong told me exactly why. It was because I was an immature prat, apparently due to my specific unresolved maternal issue. Jen was the closest thing I had to a friend in Petersham, but that wasn't saying much. She probably had some virtual friends, but no actual people friends because anyone who wasn't bored stupid by her science obsession was scared of her big mouth. But she thought I looked like a possible friendship target; so she'd talk to me, I'd ignore her, and she'd just keep on talking. That was as far as it went.
The issue with my mother was that one morning she left a note, left the house and never came back. She moved to Melbourne with a bloke five years younger who said he was a hipster chef, but I reckon it was just the sandwich shop guy who'd grown a beard. I couldn't give a shit. Stuff her, I said. Dad sold the house, we starting renting in Petersham and got on with life. I knew she was still alive because a Christmas card turned up in March.
Jen reckoned I was keeping all this angst and animosity bottled up and it was making me angry with life and a shit to be around. She didn't seem to understand that if I was bottling it up that was my business; it was my bottle and I'd keep the cap screwed on as tight as I wanted.
"You act like a naughty four-year old, always losing your temper," she told me in one of her unsolicited character appraisals. "No wonder the boys punch you; even the teachers want to hit you."
She meant Pike, the deputy, and she was right; I'd seen his face yearn for the old days when he could take to me with a stick. It seemed pretty poor, a supposedly responsible adult wanting to inflict pain on a kid. I was only fifteen, after all, though I would have turned sixteen in November, if November had ever come around.
Pike never got the pleasure of hitting me but he punished me alright. The funny thing was, it was his punishment that saved me.