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Alex Jackson: Dropping In
By Pat Flynn
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2004 Pat Flynn
All rights reserved.
Maths smells, Alex Jackson thought. It was the biggest test of the term and he was stuffing it up. Big time.
A train and a car left from the same place at the same time. The train travelled at a speed of 50 kilometres an hour west, and the car went 50 kilometres an hour due east. How far would the train and car be apart after 45 minutes?
Alex put his hand up and asked Miss Connors if it was an electric, steam or diesel train.
"It doesn't matter," she said.
"It does to me," Alex said. "I need to be able to see it in my head." He could already picture the car — a red Ferrari, of course.
"All right," said Miss Connors, "it's a diesel train."
Sitting across from Alex was Sarah Sceney, her finished test stacked neatly to one side of the desk. She doodled on a piece of paper and unfortunately for Alex there was nothing mathematical about it, not unless fat love hearts were the answer to every question.
"Diesel is bad for the environment," she said, looking up.
"Shut up, Sarah," Alex whispered. "I'm trying to concentrate."
Miss Connors turned around from the board. "Alex, don't talk to people like that. In fact, don't talk at all. You're doing a test."
Alex reckoned Miss Connors had X-ray hearing, but only when it came to boys.
"But what about ...?" Alex pointed at Sarah.
Miss Connors put her finger to her lips. "I suggest you hurry up. Time is your enemy."
Alex wondered if he'd get part marks for "a friggin' long way". He glanced over at his best mate, Jimmy Homan, who was chewing on a pencil. Jimmy looked like he knew what he was doing, probably because he did. He would have been the smartest kid in the class if it wasn't for Sarah Sceney.
She thinks she's so good, Alex thought, annoyed at the smug look on Sarah's face. He couldn't wait for the day he actually beat her in a test.
Sarah gave Alex a smile. He glared at her then went back to his maths. It didn't look like today would be his day.
Think, you stupid brain.
"Pencils down!" Miss Connors ordered.
As if delivered by an angel of smartness the answer popped into Alex's head like a backhander. He quickly scribbled it down.
They would be 75 wiles apart.
"Alex!" Miss Connors had her hands on her hips. "I said pencils down!"
"Sorry, Miss Connors." Alex gave her his best suck-up smile. The last thing he needed was a ripped-up test and a big fat zero.
"I'll let it go this once," she said, her expression softening. "But you owe me one."
After the tests were collected the class discussed what they would be doing at the next school assembly. It was 6C's turn to front the whole school and teach the other students something about being good citizens.
Some might say the kids of Beeton Primary needed all the help they could get. Beeton was the poorest suburb of Logan City, and though most of the kids' parents were good citizens, some of them were good criminals — until they were caught by the police. Then they became good inmates.
Sarah had the brilliant idea of putting on a role-play about the plight of refugees coming to Australia. "We could do a modernisation of the Jesus story," she said, losing most of the class after the word "a".
"I could be Mary and Alex could play Joseph, when they ran off to Egypt to escape political persecution," she continued.
"What's poly-titical mean?" said Ellen Stevens.
"I'll be a guard and shoot you," said Ryan Devlin.
Jimmy jumped up. "And I'll be baby Jesus and dive out of the pram with a slingshot."
"That's enough," said Miss Connors.
Alex put his hand up and said that he didn't mind if someone else played Joseph.
No one volunteered. Not even Chris Weaver, and he volunteered for everything.
"I think it's a terrific idea, Sarah," said Miss Connors. "And Alex," she said, picking up his maths test, "I think you'll make a wonderful Joseph."
Alex sighed. "Yes, Miss Connors."CHAPTER 2
At lunch Alex and Jimmy could talk only of the big soccer game on that afternoon. Beeton was playing the local Catholic school, Trinity College, and a win would guarantee them the premiership. A loss or a draw would see them finish second to their great rival, Trinity, whose students Beeton kids called "Cattle ticks".
Alex played left wing, Jimmy played left-right-out. Actually, Jimmy was the third substitute, which meant he usually saw a limited amount of playing time. Limited to the bench until the last 30 seconds.
"Watch the big kid — Billy," said Jimmy. "He's a state rugby player and forgets he's playing soccer. He full-on tackles people."
"Quick beats big every time," said Alex. "That's what Chief says."
"This isn't a boxing match. It's soccer."
Chief was Alex's dad, an ex-boxer who once fought in the Commonwealth Games for a bronze medal. He got hammered by a Samoan, somehow married a respectable woman, and was now the local boxing trainer. Chief had high hopes for Alex's boxing career and was training him for his first fight.
Sarah and a few friends came over to talk. Alex's jaw started tightening.
"Hi Jimmy, hiiii Alex."
"G'day Sarah," the boys mumbled.
"How'd you guys go in the maths test?"
"Aced it," said Jimmy. "Might even beat you this time, Sceney."
"Doubt it," said Sarah. "Though it was pretty easy, don't you reckon, Alex?"
Yeah, real easy.
"What'd you get for that train and car question?" Sarah asked.
"I figured that out right as Connors said pencils down," Alex said. "Seventy-five miles apart."
"Miles? You mean kilometres?"
Alex's face went white.
"Anyway, good luck in the soccer game, Alex. We'll be cheering for you."
"What about me?" said Jimmy. "I'm on the team too you know!"
"Good luck, Jimmy ..." said Sarah.
"Thanks," he said.
"... keeping the bench warm," she added.
Sarah and her friends walked off giggling, but only a little way.
"Cows," said Jimmy, almost loud enough for them to hear.
The girls formed a huddle, talking intently. Sarah's best friend, Emma Sen, came back. Jimmy called her MSN because she liked to chat so much.
"Hey Alex," said Emma, "Sarah said she's gonna call you tonight. And if there's a question you want to ask her, she'll say yes."
"What if he asks her to jump off a cliff, MSN?" said Jimmy.
"Shut up, Homan, I'm not talking to you."
The office loudspeaker interrupted their flirting. "Would the boys' soccer team report to the oval immediately. And good luck."
"I don't know what Sceney's deal is," Jimmy said to Alex on their way to the oval. "She's a brain in every other way but you."
Alex was only half-listening. He'd heard it all before. Unfortunately for him, Sarah, the class nerd, had liked him since Year 3. Right now Alex had other things on his mind.
"Why can't I be the best at something, just for once in my life?" said Alex.
"You stuff up the maths test?"
"Well, for one thing, I'm smarter than you, and Sceney's smarter than everybody. Except when it comes to her taste in boys," Jimmy said.
"What's our next test?" said Alex.
"Well, I'm gonna get the best mark in the class."
"Yeah, and I'm Rivaldo and you're Ronaldo."
Alex laughed. "Let's go score some goals then."CHAPTER 3
Mr Keane, the Year 7 teacher and soccer coach extraordinaire, was giving them his usual psyche-down speech. "Now fellas, I could say a lot of things about strategy and ball control, but I only want to make one point. Whatever happens, don't fight! You know what happened last time, a repeat of that will put us out of the competition indefinitely. Now, after me, 'I won't kick anything but the ball'."
"I won't kick anything but the ball," mumbled the team.
"And the cattle ticks," whispered David Case.
Alex tried to ignore him. David's middle name was Nut.
"I won't head butt anything but the ball," said Mr Keane.
"I won't head-butt anything but the ball," said the team.
"And the cattle ticks," said David.
"I won't punch anything, not even the ball, goalkeeper excepted."
"I won't punch anything, not even the ball, goalkeeper excepted."
"Does that mean we're allowed to punch the goalkeeper?" asked David.
"Case!" said Mr Keane. "Any more cheek from you and Homan will take your spot."
For an instant there was panic on the usually cocky face of Jimmy. Then he started stretching his hammies.
"Please sir," pleaded Ravi Ramnath, the captain of the team. "David will be fine, I promise."
"One chance," said Mr Keane, extending his pointer finger at David.
The whistle blew and Trinity rolled forward like a steam train. Their speedy right-winger called Beard beat Alex with a head fake and scooted off down the sideline. He crossed the ball high into the middle of the box and Billy — who was half a head taller than any Beeton kid — leapt in the air, his elbow whacking Ravi right in the temple. The ball bounced off Billy's forehead and flew into goal.
It was a disappointing start and David, in particular, wasn't happy. Both because his mate Ravi got smacked and the fact Beeton were one-nil down, 30 seconds after the opening whistle. Not the greatest exponent of self-control, David ran up to Billy and kicked him in the shin. Billy took a swing at David and a fight was on, 35 seconds into the game.
David 'Nut' case had had more fights than breakfasts, and had never lost in the history of interschool sporting fights at Beeton. Once he single-handedly whipped the whole Logan Central cricket team — including the 12th man. But Billy was a tank who knew how to attack. He connected with a haymaker and was matching it with David until the referee and both coaches dragged them apart.
The boys were yellow-carded but Mr Keane lived up to his word and took David off, though he didn't replace him with Jimmy but with Al Gamboa — their specialist reserve striker. Al was a striker because he couldn't make an attempted tackle without falling over.
Things were looking bleak for Beeton. They'd lost one of their best players and were down one-nil. But you couldn't discount a team that Ravi Ramnath played for. He lived for soccer and was the reason Beeton won most of their games. Not only was he all class — he'd been invited to state trials later in the year — but he knew how to bring out the best in others.
"We can do this," he yelled to his players. "Put in, Beeton. Everyone!"
Even with a throbbing head Ravi played inspirational soccer, thwarting Trinity attacks with anticipation and speed and setting up impressive counter-strikes. Early in the second half he laid off a perfect pass to Alex who slotted a left-footer home. It was 1-1.
On the sideline, Sarah Sceney and her friends screamed their lungs out and held up a banner, "WE CAN'T BE BEETON."
"Look at that," said Billy to his mate, Beard. "They can't even spell 'beaten'."
Alex couldn't believe his luck. He had scored a goal in the biggest game of the year. Not only that but lots of kids had seen it. Tomorrow he'd be famous.
"We need one more!" Ravi reminded them.
With a minute to go it looked like time would beat them, if not Trinity. Mr Keane kept up his strategy of putting on fresh legs near the end (in other words, giving everyone a go) and Jimmy ran on like he was a Brazilian superstar, replacing Al Gamboa. Jimmy's socks were down and his jersey out, like he'd played all game.
Trinity were attacking, but Ravi intercepted and sent a long ball down to Jimmy. The Trinity defender tripped on one of the many potholes on the Beeton oval and suddenly Jimmy found himself 30 metres out with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The crowd held its breath. Alex sprinted up behind Jimmy on the left, just in case things didn't go to plan.
With Jimmy and a soccer ball, they never do. He got to within striking distance, the goalkeeper charged and Jimmy's shot went straight off the side of his boot. In fact, it was so off the side that it almost went backwards, curving around and landing right in front of Alex's feet. With the goalkeeper stranded, life for Alex Jackson couldn't get much better at that moment.
Alex decided to milk the occasion for everything it was worth. How many times in life do you get to play the hero? He could have kicked it straight into the back of the net, but he thought he'd do a bit of dribbling practice — with one hand in the air, waving to the crowd. Alex ran casually towards goal and was just about to toe poke it in when he heard an urgent call from Jimmy: "Man on!"
Suddenly he was tackled. Not soccer style but rugby style, around the ankles from behind. Alex fell face first onto the ball, which stopped dead a metre out from goal. The referee blew his whistle.
"Penalty," he yelled, pointing to the spot. And then he pulled out a red card and showed it to Billy. "This ain't rugby, son."
Alex heard yelling from the sideline. "Let Ravi take it!"
It was David, and although he was crazy, Alex agreed with him. Ravi would slot the penalty home, no worries.
But Mr Keane had other ideas. At the start of the season, to avoid fights, he told the team that whoever got the penalty took the penalty. One thing about Mr Keane, he always kept his word.
Alex placed the ball on the spot and walked back. He heard more screaming from the sideline.
"You can do it, Alex!" said Sarah.
Alex ran in, slowly and steadily, and hit the ball sweetly with his left foot. He kicked it right and could see straightaway it would beat the goalkeeper, who dived left. In what seemed like slow motion the ball rolled along the ground, hit the left post, and bounced straight back to Alex. This time Alex wasn't doing any grandstanding. He kicked it first time straight down the guts but lifted his head to take a peek at the open goal. The ball flew over the crossbar.
Beeton drew the game, and lost the premiership.CHAPTER 4
You'd think team-mates would be sympathetic, but this was Beeton primary students you were talking about.
"You stink, Jackson!" David said, punching Alex in the leg.
"How can you miss a penalty?" said Al Gamboa, who was lucky to even make contact with the ball.
Even Ravi had a dig. "It shouldn't have been a penalty. If you didn't show off, the ball would be in the back of the net and we'd have won."
Alex's face burned.
"How did Alex know he was gonna get tackled?" Jimmy stood up for him. "It's not rugby, you know."
"Shut up, Homan," said David, punching Jimmy in the arm. "You can't kick straight and Jackson's a loser. That's how it is."
Sarah and her friends came up.
"Bad luck, Alex," said Sarah. "You'll do it next time."
"Sometimes there is no next time," said Ravi.
Jimmy said he'd walk home with him but Alex wanted to be on his own. He had a lot to think about and he stopped at the Beeton Skatebowl, resting on one of the benches overlooking the park.
He came here more and more lately, watching the skaters do their stuff. There was one guy in particular, Casey, who was simply awesome. He was about 16 and could do scary things on the quarter-pipe. Nose blunt to fakie, kickflip to tail grab, you name it, Casey would rock it. Every now and then Alex would see him eye off the vert ramp — a 2-metre-high monster — but Alex had never seen him try and drop it. He'd never seen anyone try. You'd have to have a death wish.
It had been Alex's 11th birthday recently and he had hinted hard to his mum for a skateboard. Instead he got new boxing gloves and a mouthguard. Though as Chief reminded him, he'd need them. His first fight was only two weeks away.
Alex wasn't sure about this boxing thing. He liked training — both with the boys down at the gym and sparring with Chief in the garage. He was good, too. He couldn't not be, with the amount of time Chief spent discussing boxing strategy. According to Chief, Alex's first word as a baby was "jab".
But boxing wasn't something he dreamt about at night. At least not until lately, when thoughts of his first fight had invaded his sleep like a series of nudie-run nightmares. This Lupo Tapini character was supposed to be a mean fighter.
Excerpted from Alex Jackson: Dropping In by Pat Flynn. Copyright © 2004 Pat Flynn. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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