Afflicted – 04: Chapter 3

All day Jack had been worrying about ditching school again to go fishing. His mum had really got shitty with him last time he did and had vowed to severely curtail his extracurricular activities if he didn’t start taking his responsibilities seriously. School bored Jack, and it was all he could manage just to get up in the morning. Getting there everyday was a battle that Jack would rather not wage. Three or four days a week was okay, as long as they were spread out a bit. School hadn’t interested him for years; he found that life was the best way of learning most things, and if it weren’t for the fact that his mates were all there, he’d have taken an apprenticeship as soon as he turned fifteen. No doubt his brothers would have inadvertently dropped him in the shit again today by being careless, and that made him angry as well. All this anger was driving him mad, and he’d decided to take up smoking again to see if it helped any. So far, no luck. Maybe he needed a holiday with no fishing, just hanging out and being stupid.

But when Rick called him, Jack was more than usually touchy because he was in the shit at home, as usual. One of his brothers had dropped him in it by letting it slip that he’d wagged school again. And more than that, he’d let it slip that Jack had wagged school to go fishing. His brother hadn’t meant to drop him in it: he was passing the time of day with one of their other brothers and commenting about how they’d probably have bloody fish again, and couldn’t Jack wag school to go and do something useful, like go and score something they could all use with pleasure. Of course, their mother had entirely ignored this last part, working herself up into a frenzy about Jack missing school again. Of her boys, he was the only one who persisted in wagging. It made her angry because he got such good marks, even though he was a bit of a dipshit, and even though he failed to ‘apply himself’ or ‘pay enough attention’ and was always being ‘sent out of the room’. These sorts of lines from school reports lodged themselves in Jack’s mother’s brain and refused to budge. They burned away in her subconscious mind, and anytime she heard anything about Jack wagging, it was like blowing gently on hot coals. Her kids hated the fact that she could regurgitate lines from school reports dating back ten years, and even more so the fact that she very rarely got them wrong, or got the boys’ reports mixed up. Despite having four teenaged boys to look after. She often commented to her friends that it was having boys that kept her brain sharp: she’d have hated having girls who behaved themselves, because then her brain would turn to mush. Running around after a load of boys that are prone to trouble kept her on her toes, she argued. By the time Rick called Jack to talk him into going to see that new spot, and talking about how good it would be to wag school, just pressed the point even further, and Jack couldn’t wait to hang up. Talk about rub it in. But, like the little bitch that he sometimes is, Jack didn’t tell Rick, he didn’t even try to hint. This may have had something to do with the fact that Mrs Dark-and-Stormy was glowering at him over her husband’s shoulder the whole time he was on the phone, however.

There was only one way in which Jack could get himself out of trouble: bring home dinner for the whole family. This was regularly not a problem. Being a talented angler, Jack was frequently able to bring home enough fish for all of them. It saved his mother a whole heap of money: four starving teenagers, plus her husband who ate a truckload, plus herself (and she was no small woman either); she could never afford to buy enough fish for them all. If Jack had wagged school, but brought home a bag full of fish, then the punishment was lenient to nil. Of course, Jack’s mum was blind to her own hypocrisy and to the subtle affirmation of Jack’s wagging in the face of not having to worry about what to cook for tea.

Throwing himself down on the lounge in front of the telly after tea was another mistake: it wasn’t until Jack had done all the dishes by himself, made lunches for his brothers for the following day, and cleaned the bathroom that he was allowed to relax. Even when he could relax he started stewing about the fishing spot and, even though he loved to taunt the bastard, how he’d treated Bevan. He’s a fucking artist for fuck’s sake, Jack thought to himself. Might be totally gay but at least he can draw.

It was totally beyond Jack to apologise to Bevan himself, unless he’d been more than usually out of bounds, which he didn’t consider that he had been. Even so, he sent a text message to Rick asking him to square things with Bevan on his behalf.

Rick, who’d been thinking about the afternoon himself, didn’t particularly want to do Jack’s dirty work for him. As far as Rick was concerned, Jack had pretty well crossed the line, so he sent back a brief message:

Do it urself. U were a cunt 2 him. C u 2moro.

Jack sighed and nodded. Rick was right. As usual.

If he was perfectly honest with himself, Jack would have realised that skipping school, and probably being found out by his mum—which did eventually happen anyway—stressed him out all day. The very idea of not being able to go out and do things, and being under pain of death if he failed to remember any of the chores that his mum set out for him to do at home, freaked him out. Besides which, his mother had a tendency to request extra work for him from his teachers if she was really pissed off, and he was almost sure that this time she would do exactly that. She did it behind his back too: she’d ring the relevant teacher and request that they email the work to her directly, and ask them could they please not say anything to her son. In this way, he could go through an entire day of school and not know about the extra stuff until he got home. Then he’d have two or more hours worth of work to do before he could do anything else. Even dinner had to wait.

Hopefully she wouldn’t do it this time.

Jack waited up until his parents went to bed, and then climbed out his bedroom window to go out for a smoke. His next oldest brother, Chris, had done the same thing. Technically the boys shared a room, but between them they’d managed to rig up a moveable partition that made the room seem like two separate rooms with a bit of a foyer. Unlike what they usually did, they’d done it with their old man’s help, so mum couldn’t disapprove entirely. It was originally quite a large room and had two windows, being in a far corner of the house. The partition meant that each of them had an oddly-shaped space to themselves, but the wall was easily moved so that in the summer they could fold it back to increase the airflow in the room. Chris had designed it, and it was a bloody good piece of work.

‘Sorry mate,’ Chris said to Jack as soon as the latter had sat down on the lawn. ‘Didn’t know she was lurking in the bathroom.’

Jack pulled out a smoke, and hunted through his pockets for a lighter. ‘Yeah well. Doesn’t matter. Can I have your lighter?’

Chris threw his lighter to his brother. Jack lit his smoke and passed it back.

‘She’ll get over it,’ said Jack thoughtfully. He looked up at his brother who was leaning back against the small white iron garden table with his hands in his pockets. ‘You oughta come out fishing with me sometime. Might find you like it. We’d never get in trouble for being out if you came with me.’

Chris looked down at him and snorted. ‘Mate, I’ve been fishing a hundred times and it still bores the shit out of me. Nothing exciting about sitting on your arse waiting for a stupid creature to come along and hook itself. Don’t reckon much’d change if I went out with you.’

Jack knew that would be the answer, he just had to ask it. Chris lit another smoke, and they smoked quietly in the cold night air. Eventually, when they were both heading back to the house, Chris told his brother that he’d gone the distance to try and lessen the amount of shit that he’d got Jack into.

‘I told her that you’d only nicked off for the afternoon, and that she got it wrong by catching half the story,’ Chris chuckled. ‘Told her you only had PE.’

Jack laughed. ‘I would’ve only had PE too.’

‘Yeah, anyway, she did her thing, but I reckon she’ll have calmed down by the morning.’ Chris winked at Jack. ‘But don’t not suck up, you know how much she loves it.’

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