Jasper is at cricket. It is his third day of five hours per day at an expensive boys’ school.
A man not right in the head asked if he could feel his hair. What kind of man? We are on the bed together while I quiz him. I am getting dressed because when you are paralysed dressing means rolling around on the bed, moving the lifeless legs like they belong to someone else. The dog is with us. Jasper is rolling with the dog. I am rolling with my trousers. Occupied by movement he often comes out with stuff. The other place to talk is in the car when there is no eye contact. The worst place to talk is the kitchen table.
The man wished he was playing cricket in the under nine’s, Jasper says. My mind goes to paedophile. What was this man doing there I ask, not wanting to sound alarmed, alarming. He knows I am worried. I am always a dead give away. Did you let him feel it I ask? Well kind of. I got away from him pretty quick because he was kind of weird. The man spoke like a kid but he was an adult says Jasper.
In my head I am asking Was this man a pervert? Or was he an innocent keen on the blonde, messiness of a small dude’s hair.
I don’t spend too long on these thoughts. I can extrapolate. I can delve beyond.
When I was in primary school I took sweets from a man as I walked home. He was an old man; I think he wore a large coat. He handed out sweets from a crumpled paper bag and I took them. Boiled lollies; the type that take ages to suck down to nothing, so I had to dawdle to avoid getting home before the sweet had dissolved to nothing. Till the evidence was gone. My tongue worrying the indents of my molars where the stickiness stuck. The only bad thing about it, I thought, was that it could rot your teeth.
Then in Assembly, the entire school sitting crosslegged on the verandah, the dusty boards dirtying our school tunics, we listened to the head master talk about not taking sweets from strangers. Had I been seen? Told on? There had been reports and it was dangerous. How so, I wondered. But nobody said how so. I thought maybe the sweets were poisoned. I thought of the old man who gave the sweets and how sad he looked and how much sadder he would have been if I had said no to the sweets. I wanted to defend the old man and say the sweets were good, really good. And taking the sweets had made him smile. But I didn’t want to get into trouble for having taken the sweets in the first place.
When asked in assembly if anyone had taken sweets from the old man no hands went up. Heads swung round and we all looked at oneanother, but no hands went up.
There was a cemetery near where we lived as kids and my sister and I spent many hours in its unkempt bushland. It was a wild, hot place. Its bush rang with cicadas and the earth was dry and cracked under our feet. Gravestones were lopsided, flowers were old or plastic and weeds grew. Large black crows picked their way over headstones cawing. Dead leaves and twigs underfoot rustled with the movement of disturbed reptiles. For suburban kids it was our wildnerness.
Only the soldiers’ graveyard was well kept with green spongy lawns and rose gardens. Here we were solemn. This part we visited with our parents, walking peacefully, reading plaques. Marvelling at young death. Imagine dying at 18. Our parents had taught us to respect this part of the cemetery. We weren’t permitted to rush around it or make a noise. Just like church, but outdoors.
But the remainder was a playground. When our parents banished us from the house on a hot summer’s afternoon, when they couldn’t bare more Monopoly, we rode off on our bikes to the cemetery, dropped them in the gravel and played on fallen tree trunks and behind grave stones. We were nearly always alone. Sometimes people passing through, or walking their dog looked at us askance and we would still ourselves till they passed on.
Here we came upon a man who turned and opened a coat to show us his erect penis. We skedaddled. On bikes, we could get away fast. Gravel crunching beneath black rubber. Back to the pavement, outside a house with a picket fence. Safety. We were surprised. What would he want to show us that for we asked one another? No pleasure could be gained from that sore and swollen thing, surely. We knew it was weird. And children have an instinct to run and avoid weirdness. We thought we were somehow to blame for what we had seen. We instinctively knew that we would be in trouble for having seen it. So we told no one. Telling no one means you stay out of trouble. Just like taking the sweets. No one but the old man who gave them to me knew I took them. Then how could I get in trouble.
Because when your nine you just don’t want to get in trouble.
You want to play fair. You don’t like people who cheat. Jasper gets out in cricket first ball and the coach, the nineteen year old, tells him it is up to him if he is out or not. But he was stumped fair and square so he says he is out. Otherwise it is cheating he tells me. No one wants to cheat like the English.