by Blake Dawson* <>

From the Preface to Chapter 1:

If you like to read this kind of story but are concerned about possible legal implications, work to change the law! If you don’t, why are you here?

*Blake Dawson is the person the otherwise anonymous author would be if “trading places” became magically possible.

Chapter 26: Chalk ’n’ Cheese

Late in the summer holidays, I had caught up with Corey French for a couple of hours in which he at first surprised me with his enthusiasm for starting secondary school, seeing as how he and seemingly all of the sixth grade had so notoriously enjoyed their last year of primary: “We did not see that we had anything to gain from following your path of the year before and hating everything in sight because you were so impatient to get into a bigger world, so we decided to make our final primary year as much fun as we could handle.” I correctly presumed his royal “we” was in fact Chalk and Cheese who would soon be part of our revamped “test team” line-up for the walk to school and back, and used the rest of my time with Corey that day to identify some of the reality behind the rumours. Being as close as anybody to the two of them, he had long proven to his own satisfaction that they did not have any truly psychic powers, but rather that they had developed an extreme sensitivity to subconscious signals which was further amplified by the way they had been teamed up since the day they were born, becoming as close as twins often are, at the same time as gaining a breadth of perspective on the human condition from their shared experienced in their in many ways contrasting households.

On the very first day back at school, they played their game to perfection, emerging from separate streets so one joined just Natalie, Hades and me, while the other did not appear until after we had picked up the next two members of the old team at the next corner, and when number two did join us, rather than greeting everybody, he did a classic humble servant deferral to Natalie whose inflated self-confidence the rest of us had missed as we remained blinded by our memories of the old Nat struggling to have any control over her life. And in doing so, he gave her the opening to spill the story she had obviously been wanting to share of how well she had handled the guy who had tried to come on heavy with her only months earlier: “I just invited him outside at the first opportunity and explained that I had a lover who it was going to take a while for me to raise with my parents and offered that we should each provide cover for the other to pursue our own agendas over the holidays. He conceded that he had been under some family pressure to get involved with me but that, while he found me attractive enough, he really wanted to play the field for a while yet.”

I could hardly wait to find Corey and give him the biggest welcome to his new school and share the story of the story of the story. He, of course, knew exactly how they operated and was therefore even more immune than I would turn out to be, as they unobtrusively provoked anybody they could touch into revealing as much of their private lives as they needed to share. Corey told me that their “powers” had facilitated all the kids in upper primary remaining sexually active despite the overwhelming social pressures to deny such feelings, but that he saw the sex as a symptom of self-confidence rather than as an end in itself. It also took me a long period as an almost immune spectator of their games for their complete avoidance of revealing anything of their own lives to reach my conscious awareness, and, even as I write this, I am still unsure as to whether they actually have any sense of their own personal existence beyond the vivid reflections they evoke from those they touch.

And at the beginning of 1994, I was not the only member of our household going back to school. Amongst the usual round of pre-Christmas parties mum got chatting to the other partner of a growing firm that used her graphic and systems skills from time to time. He had a gut feel that the early noises about the “information superhighway” and the World Wide Web might be a sign of something big, and he was keen to have mum see what she could find out so that they might be ready to respond to any commercial opportunities. At that stage, the Internet was still overwhelmingly a service for the higher education and research community, so she started her investigation be renewing acquaintances with the computer science department she had graduated from nine years earlier. From there things just fell into place. The client thought it would be a good investment to give mum a watching brief for the ensuing couple of years, while the department was equally keen to have her back as a postgraduate researcher in that field, which guaranteed seventy hour working weeks would be the norm.

One immediate result was that mum was given an account on a university computer which necessarily provided her with full Internet access, both from the overcrowded postgrad facilities at the Uni and using a dial-up modem from home. I quickly figured that the ability to exchange instant messages with people all over the world might be more than a bit of fun and found myself online whenever mum was not, to the point where yet another phone line quickly became a priority. The big advantage that I had online was that I did not have an agenda, so I explored far and wide, picking up all kinds of arcane information quickly enough that I was rarely asked my age. And my explorations had the practical benefit of giving mum at least second hand awareness of the full spectrum of Internet applications and, even more importantly, a feel for how the unique culture of the Net might constrain its commercialisation.

I quickly found groups dedicated to cricket, as well as many of my lesser interests, and soon moved beyond the cut and thrust of news group debates into the immediacy of MultiUser Dungeons where you could play an orchestrated role in some dungeon master’s potted scenario while ‘talking dirty’ with other players on the side. I had already gone through the motions with enough girls that words on the screen would never be enough to get me properly aroused, so I found it easy and fun and quite comfortable to go through the motions with partners on the other side of the planet just by sharing words, at least until my delayed recognition of how many hearts I was probably breaking. And I’m forever grateful that it was not physical activity and personal contact which were sacrificed to provide my time on the Net. Instead mum and I totally forgot about television and I found myself even further out of touch with TV’s imposed fanatasies which waste so much of the minds of so many people.

Progress on my Friday nights at Walshie’s was even more glacial than that of our “test team” on the walk to and from school. As soon as we had worked our way past some of the immediate relief, on my side, and tension, on Walshie’s, that followed Troy and Joey’s decision to cut out, I started to realise that without the season’s captain there, any discussion of the current state of the Under 14s became much less meaningful than my Monday afternoon chats with Mr Harris at his sports store. Not that it really mattered much by the time school had gone back as there was no way open for us to bridge the gap to the top four. We had to be content that we had done a bit better than two years before in Under 12s, but not much. About the only cricket topic that had some life in it was my plan to skip my final Under 14 season so I could play with Hayden in Under 16, and with what I hoped was the obvious but unspoken subtext that it would remove the “authority” excuse that was making doubly sure that Walshie the coach did not leave his door open the slightest crack to even this one of his players.

No matter what he might have wished for, Walshie also came to accept that my Friday night visits were going to persist. On the frequent Fridays that mum had to work at the band’s gigs and on the odd Friday that she afforded herself a night of socialising, I made sure Walshie was well aware that my alternative was to be home alone, although he was no doubt fully aware that I had no problems with being home alone on any of the six other nights of the week. What is even more difficult to account is how I managed to keep up the routine when my notional goal of getting into his bed came to look not just highly improbable but also less and less attractive as he became more and more familiar. About the only things it had going for it were that it was a routine, that the level of comfort in the rest of my life demanded some Mount Impossible, and there really was no alternative screaming for my attention.

I also had developed what I imagine might have become a rather annoying habit of not being the person to let a conversation end, either having another bit of another story to tell or another question to ask about another detail. And in the finish it was probably that boring persistence that started to give me a real reason to keep coming back, as I gradually chipped away at the barriers to Walshie talking about his own life, the very ordinariness of which increasingly intrigued me, not so much through the facts themselves but through what I quickly judged to be his self-destructive reading of them.

Prior to one fateful evening when he was in his mid-forties, Walshie had led what even he felt was a model life. A wife and three grown kids still happily at home, an active off-field and still on-field role in a cricket club he had belonged to for over thirty years, still working for the department he had joined from school and earmarked for senior management—in total everything he had ever aspired for. He was justifiably proud of all his kids, but the 22 year old eldest daughter had a special place as she had graduated from university, landed a good job and was engaged to be married to a “decent bloke”. She reminded him every day of how much his wife had attracted him during their own romance and marriage, and that reminder just served to invigorate his still romantic feelings towards his wife, which kept that side of their marriage better than on par with the rest of their lives. Then one night, just like so many others, the daughter had gone out to visit a friend, but an hour later it was the police at their doorstep with the news that she had been killed outright in a crash with an obviously very drunk driver whose old work truck protected him from more than superficial injuries.

The details of all this, I dragged out of him over months of Friday nights. Any logic and interpretation that appear in this retelling I have added after a lot of thinking, and is certainly not anything he had worked through when he was reluctantly responding to my persistent questions. But even by that February, I had become familiar enough with the overall sequence of events to have formulated another set of questions that I was far from ready to ask. Yet even as those question raised themselves in my head, they also showed me that his inner self was far from strong enough to take the kind of playful reexamination that I would tackle others with, to the point that I was very thankful that Chalk and Cheese were still a few months away from Under 14s.

He did not take what might have been the obvious way out and focus hatred on the driver or even on a system which still allowed far too many drunks on the road, in part because it was soon clear that the drunk had a family to support and showed every sign of being deeply remorseful to the point of never drinking again, but even more because Walshie did not have it in him to be a hater. However he found he did not share the fatalism which enabled his wife to ultimately get on with her life, and he fell increasingly into imagining scenarios where he might have done something which changed the outcome and ultimately into effectively blaming himself for not doing any of a thousand things that there was absolutely no reason for him to have considered without the pain of hindsight. His sexual relationship with his wife collapsed and she drifted into an affair with the cricket club’s senior coach who had a well earnt reputation as a playboy and was eight years her junior, but who had also provided a strong shoulder for her to cry on at the funeral. Their son graduated and promptly decided he would rather do something with his theatrical talents than with his formal qualifications and up and left for London from which he has only returned for a couple of brief visits. Their youngest threw herself at a boyfriend and followed him interstate where after a few wild years she settled down with somebody else, maintaining little more than the traditional annual family contacts. As the house emptied, his wife made the separation official and in the depths of the winter after the fatal night, he came to realise that he had even lost any wish to return to his beloved old cricket club.

The one thing he did have was a boss who was nearing retiring age but who had mentored him through most of his career and who clearly saw that it was Walshie who then needed to make a new start, if he was going to get anything out of the rest of his life. The boss had contacts in Sydney from whom he learnt that there was an interesting opening in the parallel department there—a job for which a motivated Walshie would have been ideally qualified, so the boss willingly took on the challenge to shake Walshie out of his misery. And he partly succeeded, as Walshie was soon able to realise he was heading down hill so fast that he at least owed it to even the people who were disappearing from his life to stabilise himself for long enough to give some things time to work themselves out. His wise and caring soon to be ex-boss also used his contacts to make sure Walshie was introduced to a local cricket club within days of his arrival in Sydney—our little cricket club—which became his only outlet outside the heavy load of his new job as he swore off ever again becoming dependent on personal relationships.

The last game of the season was to be Jarod Kendall’s first return to his old club since he had up and left prior to his family’s twelve month trip around Australia and their relocation towards the more expensive end of the eastern suburbs. The game was of no consequence beyond letting them slip past us into fifth spot if they won or risk dropping back a spot if they lost. Having been alerted prior to his arrival, the half of our team who had played in the tackers four years earlier immediately besieged the Kendalls. I had even got mum to bring my cricket stuff to the match, so that I could put whatever he had brought with him for our long promised reunion weekend straight into her car, at the mention of which Jarod was shaking his head knowingly towards his parents as they scrambled to apologise that they had obviously wrongly assumed that my invitation at the combined game had just been a way of being polite. Jarod himself admitted that he did have a bit of a problem in that he was filling in regularly for their seniors, but as they were playing at our second ground in the afternoon that was hardly an inconvenience. In the end. I just walked over and stood back to back with Jarod and Joey took the cue and made some demonstrative comparisons of our height and physique which enabled me to confidently offer that he could borrow anything of mine that he needed for the weekend.

They batted and, despite Joey and Troy giving a lot of trouble to a few of their other batters, Jarod clearly dominated the morning and was cruising in the eighties before a parttime bowler who was new to our club that season got one ball to do something which Jarod later jokingly complained was “unfair” because he hadn’t had a chance for a look at him previously. Without bothering to change or to even grab a proper lunch, more than half our team ended up around at our second ground before the start of the afternoon game, where we were warmly welcomed by Barry Smith who was captain of the Under 16s, although I had a fair idea that my friend who still sat next to him in class was probably calling most of the shots. Barry had been playing regularly in the seniors and appeared to have taken on some unofficial role since Christmas in making sure enough of his Under 16 team mates turned up that they would have a full team in the afternoon: “Who sent you guys round?” “Well nobody, we actually came to watch an old mate of yours who belted us all over the park this morning.” at which point Jarod stepped out of our little group and extended his hand towards Barry, stopping him in his tracks. For five minutes the two of them were oblivious to the world and almost hugging each other, while Joey explained to Troy the little he remembered about my long forgotten ninth birthday party.

Getting close to starting time, Jarod’s obviously strong team were getting impatient as there were only a couple of next to useless young senior players, plus Barry and four of his teammates from Under 16s in attendance, so one of them approached our group: “Where’s your captain?” “It looks like I might have to be it,” Barry volunteered, tossed, won and decide to bat. He chucked me the scorebook, told three guys to pad up and went out to umpire—dragging Joey out to do square leg. We lost a wicket in the third over and Barry came off and asked Troy to take over from him—when you are Under 16 captain you can reasonably ask such of the Under 14 captain—and told, not asked, me to pad up—then asked which one of the other long ex-tackers wanted to be our eleventh player. Although I had filled in a couple of times early in the season before any of the Under 16s got involved, I had been very much the “eleventh player”, so this match became with hindsight the unplanned start to my senior career, and, as such, something of an anti-climax, with a bunch of kids seemingly mismatched against a team which was backing itself for a premiership, albeit in the bottom grade. But it did not really go that way.

Barry and I managed to stick around for half the afternoon, and I’m still not quite sure what his very adult teammates thought about Jarod always joining our mid-wicket conferences between overs, or if they thought at all. During those few seconds each over we explained to Barry that Jarod was staying at my place, but that he would be more than happy to stay at Barry’s the following week, and the idea of a birthday party reunion surfaced. Joey and Troy had not realised that you were entitled to get others to take a turn umpiring so were still out there with us and Troy was quietly enthusiastic, at least to me, about giving Joey a “leave pass” the following Saturday. I was totally confident I could speak for Hayden and Robbie Vander, and Barry finished up being happy that he would host the reunion from my party, conceding privately that he probably owed it from having got an invitation to the original. But he insisted that, like my party, their would be only one slumber guest—obviously Jarod—and I teased both of them that nine would probably be their top score. The relaxed attitude didn’t hurt our cricket as I got a seventy, Barry got a forty and Joey picked up a couple of wickets in the short stint we had at them before stumps. In fact we might well have caused the upset of the season if they hadn’t sent Jarod in as night watchman. At the end of play, Barry wanted us all to go back to the club so that he could show up a few people who he felt had let the side down. I convinced Troy and Joey to go and told Barry that Hayden could explain why I was happy to duck that little round of club politics, but it was certainly going to give me plenty to talk to both Walshie and Mr Harris about during our regular weekly times together.

I was anything but surprised that the Kendalls had managed to drop Jarod back an overnight bag with a change of clothes, nor that mum had grabbed the opportunity of a night at home with two boys to look after as reason enough to prepare a three course meal, which stopped him getting those clothes back off again until later than I would have liked. While I was tempted to finally end that little symptom of my ongoing white lie to mum about my sexuality, I did install him as usual in the guest room down next to mine and nearly talked us to sleep on his bed with the story of our combined side team mate Gary Marshall actually talking me to sleep in the same place in the same circumstances. Recollections of the elite games we had played over the summer, the antics and fate of the wicketkeeper and spinner, and Gary’s side’s prospects in the finals against three strong opponents amplified our tiredness from a long hot day’s cricket.

But finally it was Jarod’s first move to remind me that we had something else to do before we allowed sleep to come. While there was little between us in body size, stripped to our jocks as we had been since moments after we hit the guest room, it was conspicuous that the fifteen months difference in our ages was marked by one major difference in our physical development. His first move was just to bring our bodies and faces together, but it was inescapable that we wanted to get a hand on and eventually a taste of that difference. That enjoyed, I demanded that he let me really feel the difference but he insisted that seeing I believed he and Barry would not get past nine the next week, that that would have to be enough for us that weekend too, sometime during which our tiredness finally won.

In the morning, I demanded he fill me in on his own sexual experiences which he started with his female conquests over the recent summer holidays and worked backwards through his explorations right around Australia, before mum called us for a latish breakfast and to remind us that she was out for most of the day collecting information for a couple of jobs that she had had to let spill into the weekend. Breakfast done we switched to my room where I told Jarod of the pain I had given myself during his year away as Garth and even my more fondly remembered David Scott had managed to avoid taking me where I had really wanted to go, which was a clear dig at his own refusal the night before, and how the summer at Bermagui with Sean and Lucas had then turned my life around, but he surprised me by being more anxious to finish the backwards detailing of his story than to take up my obvious invitation for anything more than vague physical contact. And his story contained enough surprises to keep me under control as he took us back to our premiership celebration at the Wilkins’s where, once Joey was clearly asleep, he and Troy had shared a bed and more, which he saw as the natural outcome of the friendship that had developed between them during the season as Jarod had decided to make absolutely certain that my concerns about the club’s neglect of his father would cause no problems in the team if they became more widely known. That issue, coupled with my growing reservations about Joey had left me completely blind to even their friendship, just as on that Sunday I missed the clues that he was timing the completion of his story to an anticipated ring on our door bell which he jumped to answer still just in his jocks.

My brain revived momentarily and things fell into place before Jarod reached the door to let Troy in—obviously another arrangement made mid-field the afternoon before once Jarod had established that my mother was going to be out during the day. It was also obvious from Troy wearing little more than Jarod and me, that the day outside was turning into a typical Sydney February stinker which would make our local beaches places to avoid unless we wanted to battle the plagues of “Westies”—day visitors from the even hotter inland suburbs who descend on us in swarms in such conditions. I greeted Troy with the kind of hug we had shared on the Friday he had ended his and Joey’s nights at Walshies, except this time most of the contact was skin rather than clothes, and enquired how he was making out next door. His response was that with both families out for the day, we were expected at his next door neighbour’s at two for an afternoon in her pool, and obviously a bit more than swimming. “So that leaves us with maybe time for a circle jerk, before I show Jarod that mum’s not the only person in this house who can prepare a decent meal.” We actually settled on starting with another kind of “meal” in a geometry that was more triangular than circular, but I made them both a good cold lunch anyway before it was time to brave the sun and heat across to Troy’s.

Jenny’s pool was such a relief that we did not want to ever get out of it, so it was not even surprising that our first round of fucking her took place right there in the pool, nor that the obviously horny Jarod got his end in first, nor even that I went “slops” which hardly made a sensible distinction in the circumstances. That summer at Bermagui had made me even more expert is making the maximum effect with my minimal equipment while I got less and less out of going through the motions, but on that afternoon I found myself enjoying it more than I have since Cherie and I had gone platonic. No doubt Jenny’s special liking for 12 year old boys helped, but so to did my heightened arousal at sharing this all with two mates with whom prior to that weekend I had never shared more than a hug. We even managed a second round in the pool before Jenny dragged our wrinkled bodies out for a late afternoon tea and a final round in her bedroom, after which Jarod insisted he ring his parents to get him home to finish his homework and that he would drop me on the way as he had left most of his stuff at my place. And Troy insisted that he was not willing to gate crash my party reunion at Barry’s the next week, although he did hope that we might get together with Jarod a bit more during the winter. I also thought of trying to get Troy alone back to Walshie’s with me for some “shock treatment” on a Friday night after the wind up of our Under 14 season, but then thought better of it.