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Alex Jackson: Grommet
By Pat Flynn
University of Queensland PressCopyright © 2001 Pat Flynn
All rights reserved.
Alex Jackson snuck a look at Becky Tonella for the 9th time since recess. She sat two rows in front, one aisle across — perfect perving position. Earlier in Maths things were bad. He was in the front row and she in the back, directly behind him. When he turned around to have a geek while talking to Peter Callaghan, he got busted big-time by Mr Mackle.
Alex couldn't wait till period 6. It was life–skills, and because the class had been so naughty they were given a seating plan by Mrs Blake. Alex had the best evidence since he'd been at St Joseph's that there is a God when he and Becky were assigned to sit next to each other. Not that he'd actually said anything to her yet, but he was building up to it. It was only week three.
He looked at the clock and was surprised to see there was only 5 minutes to the bell. He thought he'd cruise to lunch, but then a grasshopper flew through the window and landed in Becky's hair. This was his big chance.
"Becky," said Alex in his loudest whisper. "Becky Tonella."
Alex glanced at Miss Pinzon, the Technology Studies teacher. She was busy helping Johnno Coles work on his upcoming oral.
Sarah Sceney turned around to Alex. "What do you want?" she whispered.
Sarah tapped Becky on the shoulder just as Billy Johnstone walked past on his way to the bin. Billy had low pants and an even lower voice, and a body you might find on the back of a cereal box. He plucked the grasshopper out of Becky's hair and flicked it like a cigarette butt out of the window. He then gave Becky a smile that would haunt Alex for the next few nightmares. Becky smiled back.
She then spoke her first ever word to Alex. "What?"
He shook his head, trying not to look as stupid as he felt.
The bell rang — saved! — and Alex knocked Nicole Casella flying in his hurry to get outside.
"Alex Jackson, WAIT!" It was Miss Pinzon. "You know better than to push past people like that."
"Sorry, Miss Pinzon."
"You can prove it by taking the overhead projector back to the library for me."
On his way out of the library Alex met up with Jimmy Homan. Jimmy slipped him a Redskin and started talking machine–gun style about last lesson. That was the way it worked between the two best friends: Jimmy told his news first, too excited to wait, and Alex would patiently ask questions and find out all the details before he told Jimmy his stuff. It was a bummer they were in different classes, with Alex in 8 Red and Jimmy in 8 Green. They had always been in the same class at primary school.
They had met way back in Year 3 at Beeton State School, and had become best friends when Mrs Greaves made them sit next to each other after they'd had a punch–up during a game of touch footy. Jimmy still reckons he scored the match–winning try, but Alex is just as positive he touched the back of Jimmy's shirt with a flying dive right before the ball went over the line.
There were only a few kids from Beeton Primary who came to St Joey's — most went to Beeton State High School. Alex was lucky that Jimmy's mum also wanted a "nice Catholic education" for Jimmy in high school, just like his mum wanted for him. Another ex–Beeton student was Sarah Sceney. Sarah had had a crush on Alex for years and often wrote poems and stories about her unreturned love for a boy she referred to as "Jack", but whom everybody knew was Alex. Sarah was a brain, and Alex had to admit that some of her stories were pretty good.
Most of the kids at St Joey's came from Trinity Catholic Primary, which was just across the road. The Trinity kids were already comfortable by week 3 in high school, with their old friends and pecking orders staying much the same. Billy Johnstone was in this group, and according to Adrian Dorry (who knew everything), Billy was "the man" at Trinity, popular with everyone except nerds and teachers.
"... and then Mr Relf skitzed at Joel Foster, and Joel went psycho and sprinted out of the room, right in the middle of the lesson. Adrian Dorry reckons he'll run all the way to his dad's house in Sydney," Jimmy said excitedly.
"Did he say anything?" asked Alex.
"Who? Mr Relf?"
"Yep." He said, "Nice mullet, right before he ran out."
Alex laughed. "Nice mullet? He didn't!"
"I swear to God. He said it right to Mr Relf's face!"
Mr Relf was the tallest teacher at Joey's. He towered over the Year 8s like a skyscraper overlooking a cubby house. Alex couldn't believe a Year 8 would have the nerve to make fun of his new haircut.
"There's no way ..."
"HEY DORRY." Jimmy yelled across the covered area. "WHAT DID JOEL SAY TO MR RELF IN TECH STUDIES, RIGHT BEFORE HE RAN OUT OF THE ROOM?"
Adrian yelled back. "NICE MULLET!"
At that moment Mr Relf and his mullet were coming down the Block 1 stairs. He called Adrian over.
Alex and Jimmy exchanged a worried look. "Maybe Relfy will thank Adrian for complimenting his style of haircut," said Jimmy.
They watched as Mr Relf spoke to Adrian for a minute or so, at one stage running all ten of his fingers through his spiky hair.
"Maybe not," said Alex, as they watched Adrian trudge off in the direction of the detention room.CHAPTER 2
From lunch until period 6 Alex started psyching himself up to talk to Becky. He could see that if he didn't make his feelings known soon, Billy Johnstone would. Becky was the cutest girl in Year 8. She had tanned olive skin and dark eyelashes that seemed to blink in slow motion across her big brown eyes. But even though she was hot as, she was shy, and she didn't seem impressed with or even aware of her beauty. That's why Alex liked her. Well, plus the fact she was hot as.
Alex had no idea what primary school she went to, but she knew hardly anyone at Joey's. She floated between groups, never looking totally at ease in any of them.
Religion in period 5 seemed to take forever.
"But sir," said Peter Callaghan for the tenth time this year, "how do we know that God even exists?"
"We've been over this before, Peter," Mr Scott said. "We have the Bible which tells us about God, and we have faith that what the Bible says is true. Without faith we wouldn't believe in anything."
"But how can we have faith if we can't see God?" Peter whined. "If you could, like, ask him to visit us in class and perform a few miracles and stuff, then I'd gladly do all my RE homework."
"Yeah, and tell him to bring me a million dollars!" yelled Emma Barney.
"And he could make me fly outta here like a bird!" said Zane Beard.
Laughter cackled around the room. Alex was smiling but he felt sorry for teachers sometimes.
Mr Scott held up his hand, signalling for quiet, and Alex could sense a lecture coming on. This is a good time to plan what I'll say to Becky next period, he thought.
"... and to make one last point, let me give you an example of faith," Mr Scott said, a few minutes later. "Alex, have you ever been to America?"
Alex's head sprung up. "Umm, no sir, I've never even been on a plane."
"I have," said Zane Beard. "I went to Disneyland and puked on Snow White's shoes!"
More laughter caused Mr Scott to forget he was a religious man. "NO ONE IS TO SPEAK UNLESS THEIR HAND IS RAISED".
The class fell silent.
"If you've never been to America, Alex," Mr Scott continued in his normal, calm voice, "then how do you know it is there?"
Alex had to think about that one. "Well ... Zane reckons he's been there, and, umm, my mate Casey told me that skateboarding was invented in California, and that's in America."
"But Zane could be lying, and California might be a make–believe place, like Narnia, for all we know. How do we know America is really there?" asked Mr Scott again.
Why do teachers ask questions when they already know the answers?
Sarah Sceney had her hand up so high she was almost touching the ceiling, but Becky's hand was also in the air and Mr Scott called on her.
"We don't," she said quietly. "You can believe in something because other people tell you to, but until you see it for yourself you don't really know. It could all be a big lie."
Alex studied Becky out of the corner of his eye. She was gazing down at her fingernails. Maybe she's dreaming about me? Alex thought, smiling. As if!
"You're right, Becky, it could be a lie," said Mr Scott. "What were you going to say, Sarah?"
Sarah took a deep breath, and Alex knew that these were the moments she lived for. The way he lived for landing tricks on his skateboard. He also knew she'd be right. Once in Year 6 Alex topped the class in a science test, but everyone reckons Sarah let him win to try and make Alex like her.
"We believe in America because all the evidence points to its existence. As Alex correctly pointed out," she said, sending a smile in his direction, "we know people who have been there, we find references to it in atlases and other books, and we see pictures of it on television and in movies. From all these sources one can logically deduce that America exists."
"Exactly!" said Mr Scott. "We believe in America because we have faith in all the things that tell us America is there. It's the same with God. Other people tell us about him, we read about him in the Bible, and we have faith that he's there, even though we can't see him."
"Yeah, but I can get on a plane and visit America," interrupted Peter Callaghan. "I can't go visit God."
"Yeah, you can visit him in heaven," said Emma Barney, "when you die."
"I'll arrange it for you if ya like!" yelled Zane Beard.
Laughter spread throughout the class again but luckily the bell rang, and Mr Scott's running debate with Peter Callaghan on the existence of God was put on hold till next lesson.
Alex was still trying to get a handle on God, but he knew about faith. When you drop in from the top of a two–metre ramp, you need to lean forward, bend your knees, and have faith your feet will stay on the skateboard. If they don't your bones are in for some breakdancing.
As he stood behind his chair waiting to be dismissed from class, Alex felt a pang in his stomach. Now was the time for him to have faith in his ability to act cool in front of Becky. He'd rather the ramp any day.CHAPTER 3
After quickly making his way to Block 7, Alex waited at the front of the line for Mrs Blake to let them in. He was feeling squeamish and his palms were clammy. Relax, he thought. I can do this. I'm ice–cool Jackson. Skateboarder and slayer of the female species.
"For the third time, Alex, move in!" Mrs Blake ordered.
There was laughter behind him. "Good one, Michael," someone said. That was one nickname he hoped wouldn't stick.
Alex sat down next to Becky and went through his plan. He had thought about "accidentally" forgetting his pen and asking Becky if he could borrow one of hers, but this might make him look scungy. Nah, the best bet was to act cool for the first five minutes and then casually start a conversation. Once they got talking, she'd have to like him.
"Alex, sit up!" said Mrs Blake as he tried acting smooth by leaning back against the wall. "If you can't sit on your chair properly I'll move you to the front."
Alex sat up. He was still trying to think positively, so he could build up the confidence to talk to Becky. At thirteen he hadn't yet been attacked by zits, and his clear skin, blond hair and blue eyes made him look a surfer, even though he wasn't. He was small for his age and average at most sports, but he could pull moves on a skateboard other Year 8s could only dream about.
Mrs Blake was talking about listening, and about how most communication occurs through body language, and not the actual words that are said. Then Alex caught a glimpse of Becky and he didn't hear another word Mrs Blake said.
He leant over towards Becky. "Hey ... what primary school did you go to?"
She was about to answer when ...
"Would you two down the back please stop talking!" screeched Mrs Blake.
Can't she leave us alone for a second? He wondered how he could get around this communication problem. He looked down at his desk for inspiration. Of course.
What were you going to say? he wrote, and pushed the paper across to her desk.
She read his note, and curled her left arm over the paper, writing slowly and carefully. This is the moment I've been waiting for. Finally he was communicating with the first girl he'd ever really liked.
I was going to say ...
NONE OF YOUR BEESWAX!
Alex was stunned. One simple question and she hated him already. The look of shock slowly turned into a smile. None of your beeswax. Who actually says that anymore?
Are you always this friendly?
Do you always stare at girls?
Alex went a light shade of red. She'd got him there. He thought he'd been discreet, but obviously he hadn't been discreet enough. Oh well, I might as well go for it. I can't do any worse.
Some girls would be flattered!
Not me. I'd rather you just said something. Why do boys have to stare?
Because we're wimps. Staring is easy, talking is hard. From now on I promise I'll.
Alex didn't see her coming. He was so engrossed in thinking up something original, intelligent and halfway witty to write that he didn't notice Mrs Blake until she snatched the note out of his hand. He could see by her body language that she was as wild as a caged dingo. He didn't need to hear the actual words she was yelling to figure that out. Unfortunately, he didn't have a choice.
"YEAR CO-ORDINATOR! NOW!"
Busted, thought Alex, on his way out the door.
As he sat in Mr Letcher's office, Alex tried to mentally prepare himself to be killed. Well, maybe not killed, but the next closest thing, being yelled at by Mr Letcher. Everyone in Year 8 had heard horror stories about "Letch". He was a huge man with an even huger voice, and he could intimidate the toughest Year 8 boy just by opening his mouth.
"HOW DARE YOU!" was his favourite way of beginning a yelling session. The Year 8s knew that if you were on the receiving end of those words you might as well dig a hole and start climbing in.
He walked into the office and gave Alex a long, mean stare.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?"
"I was writing notes in class, sir."
"AND WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"
"Alex Jackson, sir."
"WHO WERE YOU WRITING NOTES TO, ALEX JACKSON?"
"Becky Tonella, sir."
Letch paused at this piece of information and started to look even madder, if that was possible. His cheeks puffed up, and his left eyebrow started twitching ever so slightly. "HOW DARE ..." he began, before pausing again.
"TELL ME, WHY WERE YOU WRITING NOTES TO BECKY?"
Alex had to think quickly. It wasn't as if he could say "I was trying to hit on her, sir." He had to come up with something good, but lying wasn't one of his talents.
"I noticed that she looks lonely, sir. I wanted to be friendly."
Sometimes in life you say the completely wrong thing and you live to regret it. Luckily for Alex, this wasn't one of those times. Letch's angry, red face dissipated into something more ... normal.
"Yes ..." he said slowly and more softly, "I guess the poor kid needs a friend right now."
Alex was confused but relieved. Letch did write a note in his diary for his parents to sign, but didn't yell or seem at all mad. He even gave Alex a smile as he handed back the diary. Before Alex could attempt to figure it out, the bell rang. Week three at St Joseph's College was officially over.CHAPTER 4
Alex was writing notes in class. This is inappropriate classroom behaviour. Please speak to Alex and ensure this does not happen again or further action will be taken.
Mr George Letcher (Year 8 Coordinator)
"Mmmmm," said Alex's father. "A note from George Letcher, hey?"
"Can you hurry up and sign it before Mum gets home," Alex said, glancing out the front window for a sign of Sharon Jackson's yellow Corona.
His father looked up from the couch. He was dressed in his usual baggy shorts and singlet top, and he had on his favourite black cap with "Lordy, Lordy, I'm over 40" written across the front. A small tattoo of a pair of crossed boxing gloves was visible on his rather large right bicep. In the background an old video of Muhammed Ali versus George Foreman — the Rumble in the Jungle — was playing. It had been watched so many times that the picture was getting fuzzy.
Jeff Jackson and his son were nothing alike. Most people couldn't believe they were even related. Alex thought he was a pretty cool dad, but he still couldn't figure out why a smart woman like his mum married this retired brawler.
"Tell me," his dad said, "is this George Letcher a big guy?"
"Dad, you can't fight him! He's the Year 8 Coordinator!"
"I didn't say I wanted to fight him, I just asked what he looked like. Speaking about fighting," he said, signing the note, "you coming down the gym this arvo?"
Excerpted from Alex Jackson: Grommet by Pat Flynn. Copyright © 2001 Pat Flynn. Excerpted by permission of University of Queensland Press.
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