, Jack,” Angie rolled her eyes at him.
Now the new chum sits at his Christmas fare
Of a dried-up chop from a tough old ewe.
Says he, “It’s better than native bear
And nearly as tender as kangaroo.
From “A Change of Menu” ~ Banjo Patterson
Note: Heart Notes are introduced in this chapter to add extra information or links. Click on this Heart Note to find out all about them.
By Friday evening Jemimah had almost convinced herself there was no need to worry about Jack’s teasing, but all the same, she readily agreed with Angie not to head off to the Hart’s too early. The more people there when they arrived - the better.
As it turned out, Jack Hart was the first person they saw when they followed the handwritten signs to the pool area behind the Hart’s sprawling home. A dozen or so people were already milling around the tables set out on the paved area surrounding the pool, but Jack caught Jemimah and Angie at the open gate.
“Evening, girls. Got your speech ready, Jemimah?”
He’s only joking, don’t let him see you react, Jemimah told herself as the flush of horror spread up her neck.
“What is that stupid thing on your forehead meant to mean, Jack?” Angie demanded, and Jemimah raised her eyes to see SAMSON written on a white label stuck above his brow. “Are you having an identity crisis or something?”
“Ahh, glad you asked, Angie Pangie. This is our first get-to-know-you game in honour of our new arrival in town,” he waved a hand regally toward Jemimah. “Everyone gets a label, and has to wear it on their forehead until they’ve guessed the name that’s written on it.”
“This isn’t third class
“You can only find out what your name is by asking questions which must be answered with a yes or a no,” Jack continued, unperturbed. “Since third class games seem beyond Miss Turnbull’s grasp, let me demonstrate …”
Jack took a step back and pointed to his forehead, “Am I a male?”
“Yes,” Jemimah and Angie replied obediently.
“Am I a historical figure?”
“Am I big?”
“Yes.” The girls’ voices took on a longsuffering tone.
“Am I strong?”
“Come on, Jack,” Angie complained, “it’s obvious you picked this one yourself - it’s in your own handwriting!”
Jack merely raised an eyebrow as though ignoring a misbehaving child, and repeated his question.
“Am I strong?”
“Am I the strongest man in the world?”
Jemimah and Angie groaned.
“Yes,” they answered, then Angie shot at him, “And are you an utter fool when it comes to women?”
“Yes!” both girls chorused, then shook with laughter, remembering the unfortunate failing of the biblical Samson.
“You may mock now .…” Jack glared down at them and then withdrew a sheet of stickers from his shirt pocket. He slapped a label on each girl’s forehead, and gave them both a shove toward the pool area “Now go - and no more than one question in a row to any person!”
“I got him good that time!” Angie crowed as they walked away, “That was a good line about Samson wasn’t it?”
Jemimah glanced at Angie’s name label and had to bite her lip.
“Oh, I should have known! What name has he given me?” Angie asked.
“I can’t answer that kind of a question, sorry,” Jemimah teased.
Angie shook her head like an annoyed horse. “Okay, then. Am I a female?”
“Ummm …well, yes and no.” The name on the label was Dame Edna Everage - an Australian entertainment icon in the guise of a celebrity housewife played by a male comedian.
“Great!” Angie snorted, “Well, am I a real person?”
“You already asked me one question.” Jemimah was grinning now, her own awkwardness forgotten.
“Aggh. That didn’t count because you didn’t give me a yes or no answer! So, am I real?”
“Kind of …”
As part of Dame Edna’s persona was that she insists she is a real person - even being presented as such when taking part in national ceremonies like the closing of the Commonwealth Games - Jemimah honestly couldn’t give a yes or no answer to that either.
Angie raised her eyes skywards. “Trust that man to give me a weird tag! Why did I ever let you talk me into coming here?”
Jemimah watched her stomp off to a group of adults standing around a table, and then took stock of her own circumstances. She knew she ought to attempt going up to someone and making conversation, and decided it would have to be easier to approach one of the teenagers. Karen Anderson’s daughter, Leanne, stood a little apart from the others and, having met her once, Jemimah felt she would be the least daunting to start with.
As she looked her direction, Leanne met her eyes with a smile, but before Jemimah could take a step toward her she heard someone approach from behind, preceded by the strong smell of aftershave.
“Jemimah!” Beneath the label TINKERBELL Jamie Hart’s smooth face had a freshly scrubbed glow, and his eyes sparkled with patent delight. “I’m so glad you came. Mitch - this is the new teacher I was telling you about. Jemimah Parker - this is my best mate, Mitch Worsley”.
Mitch was a sandy haired youth, stockier than Jamie and not nearly as tall, although he still looked down on Jemimah. If she hadn’t heard at lunch on Sunday that both boys were in the same year at school, the worldliness in his countenance would have made her think him years older. His label, SHIRLEY TEMPLE,
was stuck to the front of his shirt.
“Glad to meet you, Jemimah.” Mitch reached out and shook her hand firmly. “Jamie hasn’t stopped talking about you.”
His tone made her wince for Jamie’s sake, but that young man seemed oblivious to the teasing, and still beamed at her.
“It’s just so great to have you here,” he enthused. “Have you got a sticker?”
Jemimah began to reply, but Mitch leaned across and smoothed her fringe back from her forehead. The unexpected intimacy sent the blood rushing to her skin. How glad I am I’m not teaching highschool, she thought, embarrassed that a boy who could be no older than seventeen could make her feel so self-conscious.
“Ah-hah,” Mitch gave a crack of laughter. “Yup, that figures.”
Remembering the label Jack had chosen for Angie gave Jemimah no comfort, but she rose to the challenge and asked if she was a female. Mitch told her no, so she turned to Jamie, who also burst out laughing when he read it.
“Am I living?”
“No. But you were once.” Jamie added the last part in an under-voice accompanied by a wink, making it clear he was bending the rules to help her out.
No closer to an answer, Jemimah shrugged and asked, “Do you want to ask me a question?”
“Am I real?”
“No,” she told him and then whispered, “you’re from a book.”
Jamie gave her a conspiratorial grin and she turned to Mitch. “You’ve guessed yours already. I wouldn’t have thought it an easy one.”
Mitch inclined his head in the direction of Leanne Anderson, who was walking toward them. “I asked my first question to the person with glasses.”
It took a moment for the implication to sink in, and Jemimah shook her head at him. Now, as she turned to say hello to Leanne, she hoped Mitch wouldn’t think she was trying to cheat, too.
“Hi, Jemimah - lovely to see you,” Leanne reflected her parents’ friendliness, although there was a touch of awkwardness as she glanced at Jamie and Mitch. Leanne was a couple of years younger than the boys, and Jemimah could certainly relate to her self-consciousness. “Are the guys giving you any help?”
“Well, I know I’m a male, who once was alive,” Jemimah began, trying not to look in the younger girl’s glasses as she spoke to her. “Um, am I from recent history?”
Leanne read Jemimah’s label, suppressing a smile as she exchanged glances with the Mitch and Jamie.
“No - quite ancient history. Jack’s obviously been enjoying himself with these labels.”
“Hey - who got those girls to come?” Mitch turned Leanne’s shoulder toward three teenage girls who were standing in a distinct enclave at one end of the paved area. “They don’t go to your church, do they?”
Leanne shook her head, blushing as Mitch removed his hand from her shoulder. “No, Mum saw them in town when she picked up the ice this afternoon and asked them along. I know them from school, but they’re the year above me.”
She took a deep breath. “They probably won’t want to talk to me, but I’d better go and say hello.”
Jemimah watched Leanne walk across to the unsmiling girls, and felt a growing admiration for her. She should follow her … and introduce herself to the girls too … but she just couldn’t bring herself to move that far out of her comfort zone. One of the girls looked across at Jemimah, and in the brief moment their eyes met, Jemimah saw no liking in the other’s dark eyes. Jemimah gave what she hoped was a friendly smile, but the other girl immediately turned her back, her strong jaw lifted as though in defiance.
She knew Marlene had asked her along with the purpose of her befriending the younger girls - but even though Jemimah was several years older, she still felt intimidated. Noting their short skirts and tiny t-shirts, Jemimah felt over dressed and snobby in her long dress and heeled sandals.
“That one’s Kylie,” Jamie was telling Mitch, “and the one next to her is Jarrah. They catch our bus, remember?”
“Jarrah? Like the coffee?” Mitch asked with a chuckle.
Jemimah turned back to the boys. “Jarrah is also an Australian tree,” she said, realising they were referring to the girl she tried to make eye contact with. “It’s a beautiful name. But don’t you know them? I thought everyone knew everyone else here.”
“Mitch isn’t a local. His family’s only been here a couple of years,” Jamie explained, “I know who they are - the other girl is Talia - but they’re not in our year at school - we don’t have much to do with them.” When Mitch began to share his thoughts on each girl’s appearance and clothing, Jemimah judged it time to intervene. “So, who are all the other people here?” she asked. Since Jamie had showed no inclination to leave her side, she decided to take full advantage of it. “How about you introduce me?”
Jamie gladly undertook the commission, his unconscious possessiveness even more pronounced than it had been on Sunday. Mitch wandered with them, smirking at his mate’s obvious adoration.
From the way he spoke, Jemimah guessed that Mitch wasn’t from a Christian home, but he seemed entirely comfortable at the Hart’s. He couldn’t have been more than a year older than Jamie - but there was a vast difference in Mitch’s maturity and self-assurance - more like a young man who’d been working for a few years than a school boy. He clearly had a strong personality and Jemimah wondered what kind of influence he held over Jamie. No wonder Marlene thought it a good idea to arrange a social outlet in an atmosphere like this.
The air was sizzling with the aroma of seared meat and grilled onion when Angie reappeared with Marlene, carrying bowls of salad to a picnic table set beside the huge brick barbecue. Jack presided over the hot barbecue, brandishing a set of dangerous looking tools and wearing an apron that said: “Many have eaten here - few have died ”.
Jemimah was glad that amongst all the introductions she’d finally figured out the name on her label; the amused laughter from everyone who read it helped her guess that it was Goliath from the Bible - the giant who’d been killed with a slingshot by the shepherd boy David.
Jamie had just led them over to the barbecue when Jack turned around and hollered that the meat was ready.
“You manoeuvred that well, Jamie,” Mitch slapped him on the back, “Wanted to be first in line, huh?”
Jamie grinned. “I’m starving - and there’s nothing good about cold steak. But, ladies first.” He thrust Jemimah forward, and she found herself looking up into Jack’s amused face.
“Having fun, Miss Parker?”
“Yes, thank you. And your cooking smells wonderful.”
“Thank you. It’s amazing how well road-kill cooks up.”
Jemimah’s face felt stiff and she hoped she had misheard. “I beg your pardon?”
Jack tapped one of the slabs of meat with his tongs. “Road-kill. You know, things knocked down and left by the roadside. When Mum sent me off to pick up the beef, here was this old man kangaroo knocked down outside Bates’s place. Wasn’t there this morning, so I knew it would still be pretty fresh. Loaded it up on the back of the ute and saved a whole lot of money on the meat. Chopped it up in the shed and gave the rest to the dogs. Don’t tell Mum, though - she’s got this thing about stuff being kept in the fridge.”
He turned back to the barbecue plate and stirred the onion, while Jemimah stared at the cooked meat in horror. She’d seen the carcasses of several unfortunate kangaroos and wallabies by the road side on her initial drive up to Jacaranda Plains …but she never imagined anyone would pick them up … and eat them!
She knew that both emu and kangaroo occasionally appeared on the menu in upmarket restaurants in Sydney, but that was different …. although she couldn’t have borne eating it there either.
Jemimah didn’t even hear Colin Anderson’s words of welcome before he led the grace - her mind was buzzing with the sickening thought of what was about to be served. Everyone around her had faded into a white mist, and it was only when Jack thrust a plate into her hands that she managed to refocus her eyes.
“So what will it be, Miss Parker? A nice juicy tail chop, or a bit of the big bouncy haunches?”
It was the sniggering from behind her that finally broke her trance.
“Don’t you know he’s just having a lend of you, girl?” Mitch thumped her shoulder. “That’s prime quality steak, straight from his Mum’s deep freeze.”
“Oh,” Jemimah blinked, hating herself for being so gullible. Jack smiled a very satisfied smiled as he plopped a piece of meat and a pile of onions onto her plate, and she could hear him whistling the well-known theme from the old television series “Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo” as she walked over to the salads table.
Her face flushed with embarrassment, Jemimah quickly scooped a little coleslaw onto her plate, then slunk into a seat at the furthest corner of the two trestle tables. She was grateful when Jamie and Mitch joined her a moment later, although they were obviously arguing over something.
“You knew Jack was joking all along, didn’t you Jemimah?” Jamie turned to her for confirmation, “Mitch reckons you really believed him.”
Jemimah looked up, caught Mitch’s knowing grin and shrugged. “Your brother seems to enjoy teasing me.”
The three girls Mitch had pointed out earlier approached their table, but when Jemimah looked up and smiled, they looked straight past her and went to the other table. Oh well, she thought with a growing feeling of inadequacy, I’ll just have to try to get to know them later.
She was glad to see that both Karen and Angie took their plates over to the other table and sat near the girls, and hoped that would make them feel welcome. She felt even more relieved though, when Jack followed and also went to that table when he’d finished serving. Perhaps now he’d had his fun, he’d leave her alone for the rest of the evening.
It certainly seemed to turn out that way. Dessert was cleared away with no mention of the threatened speech, and after an hour or so of team games on the lawn the evening was winding down. Thirsty from the exertion in the warm evening air, everyone had congregated around the drinks table when Jack came up to Jemimah for the first time since dinner. He downed a cup of fruit punch and then asked her the time.
As Jemimah lifted her wrist to read the time, Jack leaned over and caught her wrist, saying what a lovely watch she was wearing.
“Thank you,” she said, genuinely surprised by his interest, “it was a gift from my parents.”
“Better take good care of it then.” He flicked open the clasp, and slipped the watch into his pocket then, before she could ask what he was doing, had swooped her up in his massive arms. The next moment she was airborne, and then she hit the water with a huge splash. As the water closed over her head, she heard the screams of the other girls who Mitch and the Hart brothers were hauling towards the pool.
It felt surreal …. her dress swirling around her legs and lights flickering overhead as she floated back toward the surface. As her face cleared the water, more waves splashed over her as other girls precipitously joined her. Jemimah blinked the water out of her eyes, and watched Angie make a successful dash for freedom toward the house, although Leanne and the three girls she had seen earlier had not been so fortunate.
“Jemimah, are you okay?” Jamie squatted down by the pool edge, his hand outstretched, “You can swim, can’t you? When Jack said we were going to throw the girls in, I didn’t think he’d mean you too …”
Jemimah rolled onto her back and saw Jack standing behind his younger brother and surveying the scene with satisfaction. Then she remembered Jack’s promise that she’d “make a big splash” and she smiled back at Jamie, determined not to appear put out.
“Couldn’t be better, Jamie - the water’s beautiful. Is it heated?”
Jack suddenly stepped forward and Jemimah realised that he was about to boot his little brother into the pool as well. Before she could warn Jamie, someone else cried Jack’s name shrilly, and he stepped back into the shadows as Mrs Hart arrived at the poolside. Scolding like an angry mother goose, she berated Mitch and her younger sons about the impropriety of their actions, and the indecency of them remaining in the presence of young women in wet clothes. Jemimah found a great deal of satisfaction in seeing Jack slinking off under the barrage, although she doubted he felt any regret whatsoever.
“We’re fine, Mrs H!” Leanne called out, swimming up to the pool edge as water streamed from her glasses. The other girls were clearly enjoying themselves too, the unexpected dip dissolving any remaining awkwardness on their part. They splashed about, giggling at each other’s appearance, until Mrs Hart returned a few moments later with a pile of towels.
“Here girls, wrap these around you and go into the bathroom, while I run your clothes through the drier. Oh, dear! Not you, too, Jemimah?” Mrs Hart quickly bundled Jemimah into a towel when she emerged dripping, from the pool. “I’m going to kill those son’s of mine!”
© R. L. Brown 2007