"How are we going to explain to the insurance company that the toilet was destroyed by lightning?"
Yes. That was definitely her favourite line. She was not entirely happy with the rest, however. Cassie sat, trying to control the restlessness within her.
She looked at the words on the screen in front of her. She looked out the window. She looked at the screen again. She looked at the picture of Zeke that she had brought home from work.
"What a waste of a morning off!" she finally exclaimed. Familiar with the discipline of writing, Cassie refused to give up. She looked through her notes. The brief survey reminded her that this would be her best book ever. She may even publish under her own name.
She selected a chapter that was very clear in her mind, and began to work.
Sunrise had always been her favourite time of day. As a child she had crept from the house while her family slumbered, cautiously climbing onto the garage roof to sit and worship the display in the east. As an adolescent her poetic imagery had reflected the glory of the dawn. Now, sunrise was the dreaded time when her clock would summon her to face another day."
"This is shit!" said Cassie. Abruptly she rose from the chair and pulled on her old runners. Stampeding away from the house, she grabbed the startled dog as she went through the back gate. The ten-minute walk to the park took less than five.
It was a large park, stretching along the river banks for many miles. There were manicured areas and flower gardens as well as bushland reserves which actually boasted a few possums and some native birds. The park was Cassie's favourite part of her home and she often wondered about the far-sighted councillors of yesteryear who had originally set aside these tracts of land, valuable river frontage even then.
Hoover, named for her ability to detect and remove scraps of unwanted food, also thought the town planners were commendable souls. She moved busily about, her tail a question mark as she caught up on the tree-trunk gossip. Her long-range smell detected a barbecue a kilometre ahead, and two humans in the bushes by the river bank. She could never figure out why humans were so secretive about their mating. It might be amusing to frolic down and jump on them. Perhaps she could even persuade Cassie to follow her.
Unfortunately for Hoover, she did not get the opportunity to pursue her entertainment. Cassie's peremptory whistle took the dog away from the bushes, but towards the barbecue. Knowing the dog as well as she did, Cassie attached the lead when they were close to the picnic area.
Cassie found herself observing the people clustered around the gas barbecues. They had obviously done this before. They were so well prepared that Cassie wondered if it was a family of boy scouts.
There was a man in charge of the cooking wearing a special barbecue chef's apron with an assortment of special utensils in its pockets. A small boy was waving a teatowel over the cooking surface to discourage the flies.
The women and smaller children were seated around various tables. They had brought deck chairs and banana lounges especially for the occasion. The children were smothered in insect-repelling sunscreen and had hats tied firmly to their heads.
A little distance away, most of the men were involved in supervising a game of cricket for the older children. Three men were deep into an argument over the correct way to set up a new portable canvas device for providing shade when outdoors.
The nearby trees rustled and snickered. Sitting informally on the ground, or squatting on small camp-stools, a group of older people that sat under the shady trees did not appear to belong to the main party.
Cassie was almost past the large group of picnickers when she overheard the comment. A woman had spread a groundsheet, setting up her deckchair in it's centre. She wore a broad- brimmed hat which was hung with netting to keep the flies from her face. From further away Cassie had seen her periodically move from her chair to brush insects away or remove dirt, leaves or bits of grass left behind by the feet of passing children. As Cassie passed close to the group, the woman spoke.
"Isn't it lovely to get back to nature like this?"
Cassie found herself smiling as she walked towards the path that would take her along the river's edge for her return journey. At the top of the bank she stopped and looked at the city. The buildings, only a few kilometres away, huddled in a misty shroud of pollution. Once again Cassie found herself glad that these parks had been left, so close to the city.
Smiling, though, that any-one could think of these parks as "nature", Cassie heard a voice echoing in her memory.
" . . . such a beautiful world! How can we let it be destroyed . . ?"
Glancing from the hazy skyline to the manicured lawns behind her, Cassie was confused. Then she felt something stirring in her heart and mind. The wild terrain and powerful oceans at Wilson's Promontory came to her mind as she heard the bushes at the top of the bank stir in a gentle breeze. The sound of the uncivilized environment brought with it an opinion.
"We have to do something now, before it's too late. . . . Every individual has to do what they can."
With Zeke's words ringing in her ears, Cassie strode homewards, Hoover scuttling disconsolately at her heels. When she reached home Cassie switched on her computer. Her mind had matched the furious pace she had set while walking home, and she knew exactly what to write.
"A Morality Play
Gung-Ho Greenie, Joy Greenie, Adam Greenie, Tim, Jack, Sky"
Her list of characters complete for now, Cassie began unfolding the scenes that were playing in her head. In a shabby apartment a small boy sat, reading a book and eating an apple.
Adam is a boy like any other his age. The apartment that surrounds him is a patchwork of pre-loved items. The door opens, introducing the boy's father.
This is Gung-Ho Greenie, G.H. to his friends. His frame is spare and covered with clothes which have been patched together. Set in a gentle, but stark face are eyes that shine with a wild light.
Fossicking about, he doesn't really notice that Adam has switched the book he was reading. When G.H. decides to check on his son's reading habits he is taken aback. This is a piece of sensationalist trash! But he is a modern parent, and he does not wish to interfere with his son's life, until he notices the hidden book.
It is Hamlet, a school text. But . . it is new!
Barely ruffled by Revenge of the Nympho Vampires, Gung-Ho is upset by the profligate waste of resources involved in a new book. He is horrified that his son has participated in this immoral act. His reprimand becomes a sermon. His words are sincere, but the intensity of his delivery is comic. A caricature of a "Greenie", he uses any chance to climb on his soap-box and preach.
Almost every day Cassie would hear or see some evidence of the way in which conservationists were stereotyped. The pictures that sprang to mind, of nutters chained to trees and jumping in front of bulldozers, danced about in her imagination as she tried to bring to life the images people had. So often people's ideas about environmentalists were like the comedy sketches she had seen, where a person called "Sky" would drink herbal tea and refuse to use disinfectant because it killed things.
Gung-Ho Greenie was all that was serious and sentimental about such people.
"How many ecosystems, home to cute, furry things, have been turned from emerald treasures to pages of dry words, written by dead men?"
And yet, even as she wrote the words, Cassie was not immune to the appeal that lay behind them. Such a beautiful world!
She rang work to tell them she could not come in that evening and Gung-Ho told Adam to put his apple core in the compost bin.
Adam is reluctant, but his father insists that the boy's tales of life in the compost heap are fanciful nonsense. G.H. leaves the room and Adam edges towards the door. He stops to arm himself with an umbrella. He walks out of the apartment and we hear him being attacked by a killer compost heap.
Somehow Adam manages to break away and rushes through the door, the umbrella no longer with him. As he slams the door behind him the apple core sails in through the opening. Catching his breath, frustrated that no-one else realizes what is happening outside, he places the core on a ledge next to the door, along with several others which are showing definite signs of age.
When Annie, later in the evening, read about the revenge of the vegetable kingdom, she told Cassie that she thought their supernatural visitor the other night had been the inspiration.
"The ghosts of salads past, huh? Carrot zombies and the wraiths of eggplants ganging up on a poor kid."
Cassie came and sat on the arm of the chair and read over Annie's shoulder, trying to critically judge what she had written. Now that the characters had stopped acting out their parts in her mind, she tried to imagine how the play would look when it was actually on the stage.
"Joy Greenie enters through front door to find her husband and son preparing posters for a hastily called protest action.
JOY Hello! (Looks at activity. Waves umbrella about.) Can either of you enlighten me? Is there some reason why the umbrella has been used as a stake in the compost bin?
ADAM (Aside.) I thought if it worked for vampires, it might work for compost.
GH (Finally realizing he is addressed.) Joy! You're home! (Rushes over for hug.) Were you saying something?
JOY Never mind. (Addresses mess.) I take it the local chapter of the "Friends Of the Park" are planning to go on the rampage again?
GH Joy! Adam's here.
JOY I had noticed.
GH Must you mock me in front of him?
JOY If I hide it from him, I'm hiding my true feelings. Anyway, (joking) no-one else takes you seriously, why should I?
GH (Indignant.) Why should you? Why should you? Why should any-one? The people of this planet have almost totally destroyed the ecosystem - plants, animals, gone forever. It's a miracle that human beings have managed to survive. I try to do what I can to help save what little is left of the other life that belongs on this Earth and you don't think I should be taken seriously. (Becoming hysterical.) Millions of years of evolution wiped out in the blink of an eye by jumped-up apes who think they're God! What right do we have to condemn other species to oblivion? Well, don't worry, (calming down a bit) the last joke will be on us all right. When the air just won't support us any more we'll laugh all right. Laugh with the last gasp of air that'll burn our lungs and kill us. That's the way to go, isn't it? Die laughing. (Realizes he has been silly. Looks at family who are listening patiently. GH shrugs.) I just can't stand by and watch it happen.
JOY And I couldn't live with you, if you could. (Moves to hug him.) I just wish you could grow a sense of humour with all that stinking compost.
GH (Calms down during brief pause. Sighs.) I can't seem to find a lot to laugh about.
JOY (Sad.) No. It's hard to see so clearly what's happening around you and yet be powerless to change what's wrong.
GH (Intense energy returns.) But we will make a difference! We have to! They have to listen!
The sounds of an approaching dispute have now reached the stage where conversation is audible. Players pause, then begin to listen.
TIM Look. Just listen to me, will you?
JACK Oh Christ! What's the point? You make about as much sense as tits on a fish. . . . Sorry Sky! Sorry! As much sense as lactose-based liquid-producing glands on an aquatic life-form which, being reptilian, does not suckle it's offspring.
SKY (Very dry.) It sounded better as "tits on a fish".
TIM Wow! What a lovely compost heap!
A knock on the door. Adam answers. Greetings all round as Tim, Sky and Jack enter.
SKY We made a trip to the recycling centre on our way: we're not too late are we?
GH No. Not at all. Heaps of time. Anyway, it's all for a good cause. What were you taking there?
TIM Oh. We had a recycling party. It was really great! We had Soy Bean Dip and Alfalfa Tea. You should have seen all the stuff that people brought. I got this scarf: it's really neat. isn't it? (Displays something suitably garish.) It's so warm.
JOY Ummm. . You seem to be enjoying wearing it.
SKY Anyway, what's the latest on today's action?
GH We'll be meeting the others at ten. They've been on the night shift. I thought we'd get a few signs - there was no time to organize anything yesterday.
SKY What have you done?
(GH picks up sign and shows it "Keep Our Planet Green".)
GH And this too. ("Plants Breathe - People Breathe")
TIM Here. Give me some paint. I'll make a sign.
SKY Yes - we need some more signs.
JACK What about "Save Our Environment - Save Our Selves", making the S.O.S. stand out - perhaps in a different colour.
GH Yeah - that's good. Give me a hand Adam, you make them look better than I do. (Activity.)
JACK Excuse me, I have to contribute to the pollution of our oceans. (Jack's delivery should always be rather dry. Joy and Sky converse apart from the others.)
SKY You know - we shouldn't be doing this.
JOY Pardon? Did I miss something?
SKY Oh, it's just that we shouldn't have to do this. I can't believe that people have stood by and let things get this bad.
JOY But they have - knowing what would happen. That's why I don't "march" with you. I don't see how you can fight a deliberate act - at least, not with the pacifist tactics you take.
SKY But Joy (Concerned, places hand on Joy's arm.) you can't give up. There must be hope.
JOY Yes - but I'm not strong enough to keep hoping when nothing changes. Our world is sick, dying. I can't keep hoping that we can fix it when I see nothing happening - no changes.
JACK (Returning.) "Where there is no change there is death." This sounds like a meaningful conversation.
JOY We were just . . .
TIM I've finished! Look! (Holds up sign - "FREE BOB BROWN!" (Stunned silence.) Really good, isn't it?
GH But Tim . . .
TIM (Whining) You're always saying that I miss the wider issues. This is my statement. Destruction of the environment is only a symptom of political repression. "As long as one man is in chains, I can never be free." And Bob's a really important person in the environmental debate - a focal point for public opinion.
JOY But Tim. No-one's actually holding Bob. He's not in prison. He's not doing much, I'll grant you, but then he's . . .
TIM Well there you are! Censorship of the left-wing press! Political pressure preventing him from being heard. Free speech is a green issue.
JACK Tim, the bastard’s been dead for twenty years.
SKY Remember? It was all because of that accidentally lethal dose of radiation.
TIM Yeah! Accidental! I'll bet. You see. He was martyred by the repressive regime. They really made sure he didn't say anything they didn't like. We can't let them get away with that. Free Bob!
JACK Oh, what's the use! Great sign, Tim.
TIM Yeah. Thanks Jack.
SKY Look . . . everybody. There's something I wanted to talk to you about.
JOY Excuse me everybody. Adam, come with me. I want to talk to you about this note from school. (Joy and Adam exit. People in room sit, except Sky.)
GH We have to leave in a while, Sky.
SKY I know - this shouldn't take long. You see, I'm really concerned about what's happening. Joy just said something that made me realize . . . Maybe we're not doing things properly.
JACK Oh God. Not again!
SKY Don't just sit there and whinge, Jack. Let's face it, what have we achieved any way? Sure, there are recycling depots, but not many people use them. The natural environment doesn't really exist any more. What are we trying to save? (Pause.) The only point to a "Save The Whale" sticker is as an historical oddity. Just who are we fooling? In some ways Joy and Jack are right. It's all a waste of time.
GH Well, what do you suggest we do?
SKY I'm not sure: I don't know. Only . . well . . maybe we'd achieve more if, instead of marching at the park, we went to Greedie Incorporated and blew up the bastards who are responsible. We can't just keep hoping things will change. Peaceful protest isn't working. Public opinion can't change a thing as long as companies are making money by destroying our home.
GH Oh Sky! You make it sound like they've done it on purpose. Alienating people won't help.
JACK (Heavily sarcastic.) Oh no! We musn't upset any-one. (Now serious.) She's right though. Companies make their money convincing people that a hamburger is no good unless it comes with their packaging. They've fucked our forests so they can make money shoving dead cow down our throats.
TIM Yeah. It's a conspiracy. They're gonna kill all of us in the end.
JACK You, Tim, are a deadshit. Though they may as well have a conspiracy. Their disregard of environmental consequences is criminal. Another forest gone? Never mind. Enjoying your lead-impregnated dioxin-bleached arse-wipes are you?
TIM What do you mean, I'm a deadshit?
JACK Oh sweet Jesus - who was it thought we should protest against skyscrapers knocking holes in the ozone layer?
TIM I still don't see what's wrong with that.
JACK And who wanted to set up communal toilets for collecting shit to be turned into fertilizer?
TIM Well, the government won't stop pumping sewerage into the ocean. Anyway, it would have worked.
SKY Most people have a certain need for privacy.
TIM That's just bourgeois middle-class conditioning. If we're going to set up a truly communal society we must learn to share all aspects of our lives.
JACK Is that why you insisted on disrupting the last Environmental Conference by jumping onto the stage stark naked and yelling, "I want to fuck Mother Earth!"
TIM I never said that. I said, "I want to make love to Mother Earth". If we all truly loved one another we wouldn't have these problems. "Make Love Not Pollution." Wow! That'd make a great sign.
GH We don't have time, Tim. We have to get to the park now. C'mon, get your stuff.
SKY Oh great. Marvellous! Just ignore what I've said. "Sorry Sky. We don't have time for your political and ideological insights right now". You're a pack of wimps.
GH Look Sky, we can talk on the way to the park. What you say is important, but until we have a better course of action we have to continue doing what we can to protect our precious environment. Besides, we have an obligation to relieve our comrades in the front lines.
JACK Yeah, he's right. They've been out all night. They can't be expected to stay there forever.
TIM "The future of our planet is a shared responsibility."
JACK Thanks for those words of wisdom, Tim. Anyway, G.H. is right. And we can talk while we're at our posts as well. O.K.?
SKY All right. . . G.H.?
GH Yeah. (Absently collecting things together.)
SKY How did you find out that those bastards were planning to mow the lawn?
GH That's confidential. Sorry. C'mon. You ready? Let's go!
>(Opens door to leave. Exeunt. The following comments can be heard during the leaving process.)
JACK Yeah. Let's get the bastards.
SKY They can't do this to our precious natural environment.
TIM Not one innocent blade of grass will suffer from the knives of voracious industry while I'm around!
JACK (Fading.) Absolute and utter deadshit."
"Well. What do you think?" asked Cassie.
Why was she so ashamed? After all, she had done nothing wrong. Foolish perhaps. Stupidity was nothing to be ashamed of. Or was it? "I haven't done anything wrong," Linda told herself, hoping she could convince that part of her that felt used and soiled.
She looked at her face in the mirror. It looked no different. "And anyway," she thought, for the hundredth time, "he hurt us and it was wrong, but he didn't really do anything." Linda's skin crawled at the memory of his touch. She fought back the urge to shower again to rid herself of the filthy recollections.
"I just wish I could forget," she murmured.
Annie knocked at the door and then opened it. She looked at Linda.
"You look gorgeous, kid."
"Thanks," said Linda.
"Your ‘date’ has arrived."
"Yeah." Linda peered into her bag to make sure she had everything.
"I know it's none of my business, but I'm not sure I like seeing you leave in a hearse."
Linda went to the window. It was a strange, old black car, but it wasn't a hearse.
"Annie! You don't like Morgan, do you."
Annie shrugged. "I didn't mind him until his parents came to school to see me. They're . . ."
Linda glared wearily at Annie. Why couldn't she leave her alone? Why couldn't everybody leave her alone?
"I'm sorry kid. It's just, well . . . I watched him one day, you know. While everybody else was fixing their mistakes with white-out he just sort of waved his hand over the page."
"All right, maybe I'm exaggerating."
"What's wrong with him, Annie?"
Annie shrugged and shook her head. "Nothing I guess. Only, well, you take care of yourself, kid. I know! I know. Don't call you kid. I'm trying. Have a good time."
Linda went to the lounge, where Morgan was talking uncomfortably to her mother. Both seemed glad to see her.
"Well, you have a good time, honey," said Cassie, putting an arm around Linda and hugging. She quickly shepherded the pair to the door, then waved as they walked down the path. Linda spoke to Morgan when they reached the gate, a little bewildered.
"What did you say to her?"
Morgan was glad it was getting dark; it would help hide his blush.
"She was worried about you going out with me. I think she's been talking to Miss Friend. I just told her I liked you and was glad you were a friend of mine." Morgan stopped to let Linda through the gate first. "I said I'd make sure you were home on time. Stuff like that."
Linda stopped now and turned to face Morgan. The question was unnecessary. He grinned sheepishly.
"I'm sorry. She was worried. I just thought . . . I can change things back."
"No," Linda laughed, "although you'd better not try any of that stuff on me. Anyway, Mum needs an early night. She's been working on something, something special . . ." Her voice trailed off. The pace at which Cassie was working was a bit frightening.
A figure walked around the car and opened the door for Linda, interrupting their conversation. Morgan had tried to prepare Linda, but was unsuccessful.
"Oh! You startled me," she said, trying to retrieve the situation. Morgan's father threw his head back and laughed. It was an unnerving experience. Expecting to hear satanic howls, she didn't know how to cope with a chuckle that would have pleased an aspiring Santa.
"Don't let yourself be fooled by appearances, child, they can be very deceptive," said the bizarre man, leaning his face towards Linda.
As she looked, the wild silver hair that surrounded his face changed from silver to purple to green to black, and then settled on silver again. The display fascinated Linda.
"Dad!" groaned Morgan. "Must you?"
"If she's going to be a friend of yours she has to accept you and yours as they are," snapped the devilish parent. "Into the car, both of you," Morgan's father again leaned his face towards Linda, "before you turn into pumpkins."
Linda giggled and climbed into the back seat. Morgan was going to close the door after her and sit in the front, but his father pushed him in and slammed the door.
"Hells bells, boy, she's your date!"
The journey was an enjoyable one. Linda made friends with a raven that had waited, perched on the bottom of the steering-wheel, for it's master's return. Much to Morgan's relief, the entertainment was confined to simple magic tricks. (Neither passenger noticed the red lights that Mr Sortilege changed.) Linda had seen a few magic shows, but was certain no ordinary magician could have persuaded a bird to walk upside-down across the roof of a moving car and gently produce a flower from her ear.
They arrived safely at Ang's place. Before Linda left the car, her unusual chauffeur turned and took her hand.
"You are beautiful, child. Your heart shines out, good and clear. Be happy." There was a brief puff of smoke and Linda found herself standing next to the road without a car in sight.
"I wish he wouldn't do that," sighed Morgan.
Ang hated the way parties started. She always went to parties late to avoid this "awkward" stage. The guys were sitting around the lounge-room. They were being loud, rude and obnoxious. The girls were in the kitchen organizing the food and gossiping good-humouredly. Ang looked about and decided that once the guys had had a couple of beers they'd settle down and stop worrying about being macho idiots. Things were going as well as could be expected.
The mood quietened a little when Linda entered with Morgan. As the revellers, still few in number, looked at the couple, a sudden urge seized Morgan. He glowered menacingly at his observers then waved his hands about and drew a bunch of fresh roses from behind his head.
"A beautiful bouquet for my gracious hostess," he said, presenting the flowers to Ang. Ang started to giggle, infecting the others with her humour. Linda slipped her hand into the crook of Morgan's elbow and whispered into his ear.
"You know everybody, don't you?" asked Ang, acting as graciously as she could manage over the hiccups her giggling had caused. Morgan's trick pleased her. He had impressed his audience and Ang wanted people to like him, for Linda's sake. She also had a strange instinctive feeling that he could be trusted; trusting people was something Ang was having trouble with lately.
She went to the kitchen to put the flowers in water. She poured herself another glass of wine. Ang listened to the noise from the other room. Every-one was urging Morgan to do another trick. There was a startled shriek, followed by an exclamation.
"You bastard! What the . . ?"
Linda came into the kitchen as the party broke into laughter.
"What's Morgan doing?"
"Macca asked if he could magic up anything useful. It was really amazing. This big stubby appeared out of nowhere and sorted of floated above Macca. Then it started pouring beer on him. You should've seen the look on Macca's face. Then it sort of un-poured it and disappeared and Macca isn't even wet. He was ready to go Morgan when the beer started falling all over him!"
"Just as well it disappeared again; I'd hate to have to explain the mess to my folks. I'm only supposed to be having a couple of friends over."
"I just hope we only have the people you asked. I heard someone saying that Jason was going to crash the party."
"No. He doesn't have to - I invited him."
"Look Linda," said Ang, becoming unusually assertive, "I've backed you up about Morgan. Some of the girls were getting a bit bitchy the other day. I like Jason." Ang's mood became softer and a plea entered her voice. "He's coming because you're here. Only, I was kind of hoping, well, you know . . . "
"But . . . "
The two girls looked at one another. Linda took Ang's hand, realizing that their friendship had deepened over the weeks that they had shared their unpleasant secret.
"Just be careful you don't get hurt. He's . . . pretty rough, Ang. Your parents won't like him."
"The olds! I don't think I care about them any more. I'm sick of my life being controlled by a couple of wrinklies."
"Oh come on Ang. They let you have this party, didn't they?"
"Yeah." She paused. "You don't understand, do you?"
"You get on well with your Mum. My Mum doesn't really care, just so long as I don't make too much of a mess in her life. She's so busy with the twins, and fighting with Dad; she doesn't have time for me."
"You can't say that Ang!"
"Why not? Would your mum let you have a party if she wasn't there?" Linda shook her head. She could see Ang's point. "The party will only bother Mum and Dad if there's any mess. Only there's not going to be any mess. As long as I don't inconvenience them I can do what I want with my life. Well, I'm going to."
Ang drained her glass and reached for the half empty wine bottle.
"That Morgan's okay, you know," said Macca, going to the fridge for another beer. "Think of the possibilities! Just think what he could do to Mr Bond next time we have a school assembly. And he's been keeping to himself all this time. What a waste!"
Macca went back to the main party, muttering about disappearing chairs, exploding pens and other items of interest to dedicated stirrers. The girls laughed. A disturbance in the lounge announced the arrival of Mandy and her collection of prized CDs. She needed help when she reached the stereo.
"What the hell is this!"
Ang had to explain about the neighbour who would ring the police if any-one played music too loudly.
"So Dad put that contraption on the stereo so that you couldn't play it too loud."
"No, it's true. I was here once and the cops came to the door and asked for the music to be turned down. They had guns and everything! Although they did seem a bit kind of . . . "
"Pissed off." Ang interrupted Linda. "Poor cppoers. Bill, the neighbour, he's one of those silly old buggers who drives them crazy with complaints, but he used to be a cop, so they sort of have to do something. You know?"
"What kind of a loony is your Dad, then? Who ever heard of a stereo with a padlock on the volume knob?"
The steady beat of Venom's latest album prevented any response to Matthew's question. Some of the girls began to dance and the party was suddenly in full swing.
James and Nicole arrived to find Linda dancing with Morgan and to hear about the floor show earlier on.
Jason arrived to find Linda dancing with Morgan, to hear about the floor-show and to be consoled by the very attentive Ang, a perfect hostess concerned for the welfare of her guests.
It was a good party.
Macca had already had too much to drink when he had arrived, but when he had just one too many he had the good taste to reach the, fortunately vacant, toilet before throwing up vigorously.
Matthew was finally able to persuade Mandy to stop avoiding him. Sky avoided breaking anything. James and Nicole avoided Linda and Morgan. Lisa avoided appearing too intelligent. Joe had avoided the party altogether - only no-one noticed. Jason, who was strangely unable to avoid Ang, decided he didn't want to. The lounge room was a dim den, people dancing about the clear space while couples kissed in dark corners. In the kitchen there were people talking and watching the activity through the doorway.
Ang and Jason found it easy to discretely disappear to her room. Ang had worked hard to reach this conclusion. Without insulting Linda, she was able to convince Jason that she wasn't his type. This wasn't all that difficult as Jason, naturally a rather cautious person, had decided that Linda was a bit of a risk. A girl who would be seen with Morgan could damage his image. His affections for Linda had been a good excuse for talking to Ang, though.
Morgan's apparent popularity was a little unsettling for Jason. For a few moments he had wondered if he was wrong about Linda, but Ang's attention soon took his mind off that. However he didn't concentrate on what Ang was saying. Too busy observing what was happening, ever conscious of the impression he may be having on others, Ang was asking him the third time before he realized that she wanted him to go to her room with her.
Jason found himself in Ang's room wishing there was some way out of this. New at the school at the beginning of the year, he had worked hard on creating an image for himself. Jason was tough, cool and knew everything. It hadn't been difficult to create the impression he wanted. He was tall for his age and reasonably good-looking. And he was able to come and go as he pleased.
When his father had returned a couple of months ago, Jason had been pleased, but it was becoming more obvious that he would not stay long. Their caravan was too small for Jason and his sister and both parents. Jason helped by staying away as much as possible. His mother hadn't been able to keep him at home for some time and was now actually glad that Jason was home for meals and clean clothes and little else.
Hanging around the streets, he had often seen the others from school. He would join them while they were allowed out. He enjoyed the company. When they had to return home he would go to visit his aunt. It was this that had given Jason the reputation for sexual experience. His aunt ran her business from home, a very small-scale local brothel. Jason's family had moved so that his mother could be near her sister. Sometimes she was even able to earn a little extra money.
When the other kids talked about sex, Jason kept quiet. He had learned by accident how they would react. They pestered him for information. His denials were never believed. Knowing that it was his aunt he was visiting seemed to make the others more vehemently convinced of his experience. Jason decided to let them believe what they wanted and would finally, with a bored and reluctant air, give advice to the other boys about the best way to get on with girls.
He was terrified of being found out. He watched Ang as she closed the door behind them. He stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, his cool completely gone.
"Is something wrong?" asked Ang, turning and seeing the lost expression on his face. Jason felt inspiration wash over him. He sat on the edge of the bed heavily and arranged a stoic expression on his face.
"I'm sorry. I'm not really with it tonight." He paused for effect. "You know - family trouble."
"Oh, that's dreadful! I know what it's like. What's wrong?"
"Oh, you know." Jason waved a hand as if dismissing things. "I'm just having trouble getting on with my old man. If he sees me he yells at me. I think he's going to leave Mum again. They're always fighting."
"Yeah. Mine are like that. You'd think they'd get sick of yelling at each other. Only, I don't think they'll ever split up."
"I wish my Dad would leave. He doesn't care about us. He just wanted somewhere to stay for a while."
Ang sat next to Jason on the bed. He found himself uncomfortably aware of her. Her well-developed breasts, something he had often joked about among the "men", were leaning towards him as Ang tried to express her concern.
"You should really just ignore them; that's what I do. I just go ahead and try to do what I want to do. Bugger 'em. Why should we suffer for their stupid fighting? Anyway, what they don't know won't hurt them."
Jason listened to his heartbeat pounding and hoped that Ang wouldn't notice the hardening in his groin.
"You'd think grown-ups would have learned that it's important to be happy, wouldn't you?"
"Yes." Jason decided that he would have to do something, no matter what the effect on his reputation. He liked Ang, he was more certain of that with every moment that his blood raced, so he took a breath and plunged. "Ang?"
"You keep talking about trying to be happy and live your life the way you want. Do you really mean it?"
"Yes," said Ang, prepared to answer yes to whatever he might ask.
"I agree, and I think you and I have a lot in common." Oh Christ! thought Jason, This sounds like a bad soap opera. "It's just that, well, I'm new in the school and I didn't know you people all that well and now I do. I want to have a steady girl. Ang, would you be my girlfriend?"
Jason sighed with relief at having managed to finish his speech, bad though it was. Ang sighed with disbelief. Jason wanted to go around with her!
"Yes," she beamed, "I'd love to! That'd be really great"
The two looked at each other for a moment until a sudden thought seemed to strike Jason. Trying to remember every romantic movie he had ever seen, he reached over and placed his hand behind Ang's head. Glad now of the embarrassing kissing games he had played at previous schools, Jason sought Ang's eager mouth and they kissed.
Ang felt desire tingling in her body. Jason's obvious feelings for her made her feel worthwhile again. When he held her closer to him she put her arms about him and began stroking his back. When he gently pushed her down onto the bed and lay beside her she moaned with pleasure. When his hand reached inside her shirt and began caressing her bare skin she felt like tearing off her clothes and begging him to take her, now! Instead she pressed more closely against him, her hands seeking his skin and her thigh rubbing against the most conspicuous symptom of his lust.
They kissed, caressed, stroked and rubbed, limbs entangled on the tiny bed. Jason had forgotten his image and Ang had forgotten her feelings of self-disgust. Both were caught up by the sensations of the moment, healed by the heat in their blood.
Jason had just gained the confidence to begin trying to undo Ang's jeans when they heard glass smashing in the kitchen. Ang sat up, listening. There was a very definite argument in the kitchen. Another smashing sound brought Ang to her feet, straightening her clothes. She rushed to the kitchen. Jason, unable to rearrange his body as quickly as his clothes, waited a little, listening from the doorway.
"You wouldn't expect other people to behave like that if you weren't such a slut yourself!" Linda's voice sounded very harsh.
"You're just jealous because you couldn't keep James for yourself!" Nicole's voice had it's characteristic whining tone.
"I didn't want to keep him."
"Oh, I see," Nicole said, heavily sarcastic. "You've decided that freaks are more your style, have you?"
"Will you two just stop it!" Ang was angry. "Look at this. Who broke Mum's best vase?"
"I just wanted to see if the magic flowers would float, that's all. Not much of a wizard, are you?" Nicole almost spat in Morgan's face.
"What difference does it make, Nicole?" James was anxious for the fight to end. "She wasn't trying to con onto me; she just asked me if I could pass the chips, for Christ's sake!"
"Oh, sure. That's what you say."
"And why is this glass broken?" demanded Ang.
"Nicole dropped it on my foot. She said it was an accident." Linda had begun to cool down. "Look, why don't we just call it quits. We're ruining the party. James's all yours, Nicole." She paused and the kitchen was a tableau of conflict arranged around the two girls who faced one another so aggressively. Linda felt suddenly sad. "We used to be friends."
"Well we're not friends any more. Tracey told me what you said to her. You're a real bitch."
"You steal my boyfriend and I'm a bitch!"
"You've got no right to bad-mouth me."
"I was only telling the truth."
"Maybe I should tell some truths about you, getting all cosy with witchy-poo here. Been to any good orgies lately? James told me all about the people running around stark naked at Morgan's. Or maybe you just go along to watch. That'd be all you'd be capable of, you tight-arsed virgin."
Linda lunged towards Nicole but was grabbed by Morgan. "She doesn't know what she's talking about," he said.
"Well I know what I'm talking about," said Linda, her voice distorted by anger. "Maybe everybody should hear how Nicole got James in the first place. She can only get a guy to go with her because she's such a slut. Did you tell'em about what you did behind the hall, margarine-legs?"
It was James's turn to hold back Nicole. He was acutely embarrassed by this whole business and just wished it would end. Jason returned to the party in time to witness Linda's parting words.
"In fact, I don't think I want to breathe the same air as you, Nicole. Who knows where it's been." She said an abrupt good-bye to Ang, collected her bag and her jacket and left.
Morgan hesitated long enough to gently place the broken vase back on the shelf, completely intact and apparently unharmed for it's ordeal. He then waved a guilty farewell and hurried after Linda.
The park was cool and calm. There was barely enough breeze to stir the air and the trees stood as silent observers, guarding the perimeter.
Linda and Morgan walked across the lawn.
"Don't worry about it. She just wanted to hurt you. Since she couldn't say anything about you she picked on me."
"She just makes me so mad!"
"That's what she wants, though I can't see why."
Morgan moved closer to Linda and put an arm in front of her, stopping her.
"People can only hurt you if you let them. If you hate her so much for what she's done, just ignore it - then she has no power over you." Morgan put his arms around Linda, folding her into a hug. Linda did not resist the embrace.
This Morgan was so different to James. And it wasn't just the magic stuff. Whenever James had touched her, Linda had known he was getting his thrills. At first it had pleased and flattered her. Since . . . well, before they broke up, she had shrunk from his pleasure in feeling her. In fact, she had been sickened by it. Morgan's arms were now about her, protecting and comforting. His only thought was for her welfare.
"Could we go to your place?" she asked. "It's not far from here, is it?"
"If you want."
"I just don't feel like going home right now. Besides, it's too early."
They set off in a slightly different direction, Morgan's arm on her shoulder, her arm around his waist. It was not long before they reached the odd house in the ordinary street.
When Morgan headed for the front door, Linda spoke up.
"Would they mind if we just went round to your place? I don't really feel like socializing."
They walked around the side of house, Linda noticing as they went that there was only one broom leaning against the wall. Once Linda was comfortable, Morgan went to let his parents know that he was home. He returned with a tray loaded with a teapot, cups, spoons, scones, cake and some of the weirdest looking fruit Linda had ever seen. Discovering a sudden hunger, Linda was glad of the supper. The fruit looked bizarre but was wonderfully refreshing.
"Your Mum's a great cook!" Linda mumbled through a mouthful of cake.
"No, Dad does the baking. Mum's better at plumbing and fixing cars."
"I should have realized," said Linda wryly as she poured herself another cup of tea. "You're really well set up in here, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Morgan, looking about the bungalow in surprise. Apart from his bed there were two armchairs, a large table and three rather old but comfortable straight-backed chairs. A door at one end of the room led to a tiny bathroom. At the other end was what Morgan called his "workshop", hidden by a curtain. "My folks just think that kids have a right to privacy too. My sisters have all the top floor of the house to themselves."
"They must trust you."
"Dad says `If I can't trust you it's my own damn fault'," remarked Morgan with a grin. "Dad's always got something to say."
Linda rose from the chair she had been sitting at while she ate. The confused feelings which had troubled her on the walk here had settled down. Perhaps Morgan wasn't every-one's idea of a suitable boyfriend, but Linda knew differently. The first time she had been alone in a room with James she had found herself working overtime to keep her clothing and her reputation intact. She had learned to avoid being alone with him too often.
After sitting with her for nearly twenty minutes, Morgan was content to continue talking. He was enjoying her company and had no intention of rushing her into anything. Linda looked about the room, strolling from object to object, enjoying the variety of interesting and beautiful things as she chatted with Morgan.
She stopped to admire an intricate pendant. While she looked at it Morgan stood thoughtfully, then he strode over to her, purposefully. He took the amulet from its place and undid the clasp, whispering to himself. He put his arms around Linda's neck so that he could fasten the clasp. He muttered as he secured the chain.
"Wear this and be happy," he said to Linda. She giggled at the formal statement.
"Is this for me?" she asked.
"Yes, only if you have to take it off, just slip it over your head - don't ever undo the clasp."
"Why?" asked Linda. "Is it magic?"
"Yes," said Morgan, adopting a wicked posture, "and if you don't do as I say, you'll turn into a frog!"
Linda laughed. She found herself more and more attracted to this young man. She controlled an urge to fling herself at him, instead thanking him and continuing her inspection of the bungalow. When she seemed about to look behind the curtain, Morgan rose to stop her.
"It's a mess - really."
Linda looked anyway. Morgan was right. She could barely make head or tail of what she saw. There were shelves with jars lined up along them, a blackboard covered in what looked like scrawl to Linda, and a bench that was littered with half-empty containers, lumps of something-or-other and pieces of plants, plus one or two books lying open amongst the jumble.
"Dad gets really annoyed with me. He says I'm asking for trouble if I don't keep things tidy - it's too easy to make mistakes."
Morgan drew the curtain behind them and Linda sauntered along the room. With Nicole's words still fresh in her mind, she flopped onto the bed.
"Why do you have a double bed in here?"
"Umm, I don't know. It's always been here."
"Are you a virgin?"
Morgan stood stunned. Long practise made it easy for him to see that there was no malice in Linda. He had taken Linda at her word and hadn't used any of "that stuff" on her. Now he looked closely and was startled. Her aura was glowing with lust. When Cousin Harriet came at him, colours glowing like that, he would use any excuse to escape. This, however, wasn't Cousin Harriet. It was Linda, beautiful Linda, but . . .
"Well? Are you too shy to tell me?" The few drinks that Linda had had that evening had gone to her head. Her inhibitions shed, she was intent only on the young man who stood silently in the centre of the room.
Morgan was uncertain what to do.
"Well?" He would have to answer her.
"No, I'm not. But that's only because of, well, you know . . . family and all that. It doesn't really count." Morgan cursed himself. He had tried to tell the truth but it sounded all wrong.
"What do you mean, it doesn't count?"
"Well, it's not as if I cared or anything, you know." How could he possibly explain?
Linda paused, making Morgan hope that he had been able to explain. Then she gazed seriously into his eyes.
"Do you care about me?"
Morgan didn't even think. "Yes," he said, lowering himself to the bed and drinking in her wonderful eyes. The spell they cast was so strong that, before he even realized what was happening, Morgan found himself lying on the bed with Linda. Mouth to mouth, bodies pressed together, Linda had surprised him with the oldest magic of all.
Fighting to keep his mind clear, Morgan began trying to unlock their embrace. No, I musn't let this happen. It's wrong. Dad! Help! In his distress Morgan must have gained a strength of which he was unaware. It was not long before a knock at the door saved the situation for him.
The young lovers barely had time to assume a respectable appearance before Mr Sortilege entered.
"Well young lady, it's time you were going home!"