by Blake Dawson* <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
I ran out of reasons to keep turning up at school once the usual round of end of year activities got underway, not that it left me any time on my hands as our contribution to the virtual retailing research and development project had gained additional funding and some hard target dates, while Warren was again finding time since completing his final undergraduate exams to accelerate this book. Some of our connections into the universities had unearthed graduate students able to handle the bulk of the research, and mum’s recently completed masters gave her enough clout to be accepted as their official supervisor. But within our own walls it was clearly understood to be my problem to make it happen, which I appeared to achieve mainly through extensive networking, but which in reality was largely mediated by my Nintendo generation namesake, still months away from reaching double figures.
On an early December Monday I was holding the fort and had barely noticed a cabling team at work across the road when Barry Spencer rang because it had slipped his mind to mention that a couple of high end workstations and other gear to upgrade our network had not just been authorised but were actually liable to turn up before the day was out. “Are we also getting a bigger pipe?” I enquired. “Apart from needing it there appears to be a team out front getting ready to install it,” at which point one of the workers rang our bell and I cut our conversation short without issuing the reminder Barry apparently still needed about using e-mail.
We had long recognised that the only space we had left for more equipment was the old rumpus room which had become a shared lounge and snack area for Davo and me, and which only sported mum’s very original Mac, which had once been upgraded substantially, but which had for a while only been kept for guests, games and a couple of legacy applications. So when we had recently upgraded our network to fast ethernet we had included an extra four sockets around that room. I asked the guy who came to the door if they would be able to terminate the new service back down there and it wasn’t a problem, which surprised me even more when I saw that they were running glass all the way.
I wasn’t exactly sure how we were meant to test it, but before I embarrassed myself by asking one of the cabling contractors, a couple of the carrier’s engineers turned up with a black box sporting the necessary ports. They were polite enough not to express surprise that I was the only one in to check the installation, and were quickly satisfied that I might know what I was doing when I showed them to the computer in my room which was clearly the most convenient for testing the connection. In the finish they may have been more surprised when I showed off my upbringing by providing a choice of tea or coffee, cake and biscuits for both the cabling team and the engineers.
I had just cleaned up and got back to pondering my priorities for the day when a van pulled up and its passenger came to the door to make sure that they had the wrong address. We immediately recognised each other as having played for opposing teams in a Pennant seconds game a few weeks earlier, chatted for a couple of minutes about how we each had been performing since, then he turned to leave at which I was forced to inquire whether they had a delivery for us, and to explain that we were expecting some computers. It still took until he saw our half finished preparations to connect them that his doubts vanished, and, after he and the driver had accepted a sandwich, the driver volunteered that he could do a couple of nearby deliveries single handed if his mate was happy to give me a hand rearranging some furnishings so that they could at least leave the gear where it could be got running. It had just gone noon when they really had to go, having made sure I would not need to manhandle anything that was too big or too heavy.
As always, the prospect of setting up new computers obliterated all other priorities, and I had just got them all booted and talking to the network when there was another, very impatient, ring at the front door. I found what I know was an atypical, but still too common, ugly youngish American pacing up and down our path, angrily studying a delivery docket, which he proceeded to shove in my face: “Hey kid, can you tell me where the heck this place is meant to be.” “Actually, it is where you are standing.” “Can’t be.” “Well I’m Blake which is the name on the docket and this is that address.” “Must be some mistake.” “I don’t suppose you are meant to be delivering some computing equipment.” “Not to here, I don’t think.” “Well I’ve been getting deliveries and network connections all morning, so why don’t you come in and check our setup for yourself?” “Do you have Net access?” he finally found an excuse to reluctantly open a crack. “Sure, let me show you.”
When he saw the rest of our gear, his plan to e-mail his office for corrected instructions was put on hold, and he offered that he was a high security international courier and had a delivery of some top secret equipment that appeared to be intended for us. I couldn’t help smiling when he brought in two boxes conspicuously labelled ‘Blake One’ and ‘Blake Two’, and offered that I then at least knew half of what it was about. Box one produced a pair of gloves and a lightweight headset with cables which I worked out would most sensibly run inside my shirt sleeves and collar to connect to a box which strapped to my chest and sported one end of a wireless link to a matching link that connected to a heavily populated board that fitted the expansion slots of the new workstations. He was reluctant to give me a hand to set it up until I suggested that it would be the quickest way to prove whether there had been some mix up. I was not entirely confident myself, especially after realising that the gear I had put on must need a power source and only then discovering some rechargeable batteries and a charger buried deeper in the styrofoam packing.
Soon there was nothing left but to slide the switch to ON, and slowly things started to happen. The boot ROM on the circuit board was smart enough to recognise that the VR set was ready for use, but that the necessary software was not installed locally, and so to issue an ftp request which appeared to choke on and choke the Pacific link for almost ten minutes. However somebody had ensured some light relief during the download, popping up a window which I soon realised was charting my heart beat and breathing through a couple of hidden sensors in the chest unit. The ‘delivery boy,’ as I had come to think of him, continued to project disbelief until I suggested he might use a guest account on the other workstation to e-mail his office and report progress with the delivery. While he was composing, I used my root access to set up an interceptor that delayed his message for a minute while issuing a message from me to the same address, suggesting that they might remind him that he was being paid to make and validate deliveries and not to pass value judgements.
As soon as the download finished, I was jerked into a virtuality that exceeded reality, having to teach myself to fly through what I soon recognised to be a 3D rendering of our developing on-line shopping complex, a task which only avoided dangerously overwhelming my senses through some clever feedback from changes in my heart and breathing rates. Soon after I stabilised, I heard his return message arrive, and he finally conceded that he should ask me to sign for the delivery. Obviously still unhappy, he swung back to a parting shot about not validating box two, to which I was able to lie in all honesty that it was “for my off-sider who had some classes today but should be back in an hour.” He wasn’t able to wait, I soon found out because his office had told him that they had booked him into a hotel and that he had to be in his room within forty minutes to receive his next instructions. I e-mailed Two that he should pass on my sincere gratitude via his friends.
I was fully consumed exploring my powers to manipulate our shopping complex and only gradually became aware of a shiver running down, up and across my spine and its source in some small fingers playing expertly with my shoulders and neck. I managed to neatly land my virtual presence on a seat in front of a virtual information terminal, shake those real fingers loose and spin in my seat to exchange beaming smiles: “Two.” “One.” “Wow!,” the last in unison. We moved without discussion to open up his workstation so we could access its expansion slots, and his movements enlisted my help to do likewise with the server, then like the kid he was at nine birthdays and Christmases, he trembled as he started to unwrap his box. The first board was a twin for the one I had installed, but the next two appeared even to my inexpert eyes to be an order more complicated and he happily seated, one in his workstation and the other in the server. Putting his headset aside, I was beyond reacting as he stripped naked, then reached deeper into the box to pull out a complete body suit that was clearly cut to his measure and which fitted him like my gloves fitted me. He started to put on and connect the leads from his headset before it was my turn to surprise him by reaching into the bottom of his box and retrieving his batteries and charger.
It was clearly time to return my attention back to our virtual world where I roused my avatar and spotted an impish figure dancing down the balustrade of an escalator in the distance. Reaching its end, he somersaulted to the floor and trampolined into a flying pose mid way to the ceiling, starting a slaloming course in my direction then quickly accelerating straight at me to the point where I was about to duck in anticipation of a fearful collision when he applied impossible breaking Gs to pass me slowly and precisely enough that I felt his lips brush mine before he accelerated off again behind me. I turned and followed and began a chase that flashed me back to Buster on Embargo day, but this time I had had my own time to do a bit of reconnoitring, so I was able to take an alternate path to intercept him more than once, although each time his total body control enabled him to feint past me with no more than the lightest caress.
Finally, I really lost him until, just cruising high up down the central hall, I felt a small hand take hold of mine and lead me out an open window and through an improbable void until we finally approached a small and isolated structure lit up with a fluorescent sign indicating that it was ‘Elaine’s Bar & Grill.’ Propping on virtual stools we removed our headsets and spun our real seats around to face each other and the door leading to the front of our home-office from where my mother dutifully emerged with a large tray of food and drinks for three, so she could see just what we had been up to. She actually knew a bit as Two had sent her an e-mail which included a window into our virtual flight, as well as a detailed dinner order. And I had not even noticed that she had come home. The three of us did more than justice to the sumptuous spread, at the end of which Two thanked Elaine with the biggest hug, which she clearly appreciated in a way that was cause for me to make a mental note in heavy red type. But right then, Blake and Blake clearly had unfinished business in the virtual world.
The glow of our shopping complex was just visible across the void, and we raced each other back. We had included private chat rooms in the design for the convenience of project staff but had not yet determined whether they would be opened to the public, but I could only feel a pressing need to get my little mate into one of them as I figured he might be finally ready to start talking. I entered expecting that we would be writing notes to each other all over the virtual walls, but he turned to face me and I heard his voice in my earphones: “I love you One.” I could not resist whispering back: “I love your tutu too Two,” while squeezing his virtual body so that he almost choked on his giggles. “Tell me,” I left the door open and his wonderfully synthesised voice walked right through. He worked our way back through the chain of events and contacts that had combined to produce this rather significant enhancement to our capabilities, and how he had found an affinity and established his credibility with several cutting edge researchers, particularly as his different way of thinking provided some fresh insights into a couple of hard problems, but he played his contribution down by his continued emphasis on how it was totally dependent on the work that the rest of the team was doing, from his father’s ability to maintain corporate support to my work in nurturing the creative team.
Eventually he stopped ducking my implied insistence on sharing the secret of what made his mind tick, but insisted on showing me rather than trying to talk about it, so we flew back through the still empty complex and up the stairway to our administrative offices. We currently used that network of virtual rooms to make sure that the things that we were each responsible for could be visible to other team members, and I had not realised the degree to which my view of this maze reflected a very personal view of the links within our organisation, at least until Two showed me the very different view he had from his closet, and in the process revealed the potential symmetry of the whole. We played with a loosely hierarchal representation of various member’s views before returning to the one with his closet at the apex where he audibly snapped his fingers and I gradually recognised we had moved across into a parallel representation of the very different structure that was Two’s extended mind.
From that vantage point, his sacred closet was cluttered with symbols I was familiar with, but remained uncomprehending of, which provided his interface to his language simulator, and, as I was soon to appreciate, much much more. He walked me down the link to his e-mail generator from where we hitched a ride on a message to me into his representation of the iron hand of my mind’s syntactic analyser/synthesiser. The real me read his perfectly expressed e-mail and posted a reply on which our avatars hitched a ride back to his e-mail parser and then staggered up a writhing pathway to the closet he called home. His next move took us into a different dimension from which I could see all of the structure emanating from his closet, including the powerful forces pressuring him to integrate his linguistic agents and allow them to assume the kind of control I could see all around as we turned to encompass a field of Two’s dissections of familiar identities, all of whom to a greater or lesser extent dominated by their internal conversations in a shared language. Some of the ‘lessers’ were particularly interesting. Annie and Rosco were the only two who he granted even a hint of the riches in Two’s closet, while I came to recognise some of his friends from across the Pacific as ‘code heads’. Turning back to his self representation, he conjured up a couple of sturdy locks which he used to anchor his language processors to what looked like separate hooks from hell, which quieted their writhing links, at which he turned to me with a smile and tossed away the key. My fielding skills reflexively snaffled it but his look of horror forced me to conjure up a time capsule, which I dropped the key into, and which he promptly snatched from me and started to twist towards the future, at which point we hit the first real bug in the software and tumbled unceremoniously back into the chat room, where I snatched back the capsule and suggested that we had some unfinished business.
Setting the time capsule down in full view of both of us, I grabbed him and held him and told him I loved him more than he could know and we both gradually massaged our tensions away. Trying to avoid over stimulating his language processors, but without any other means at my disposal, I suggested that a time was coming sooner rather than later at which he really would need to be able to comfortably sustain conversations, and was insightful enough to inquire when he thought his software might be up to it, conspicuously glancing at the time capsule which had still not been triggered. He showed that some political subroutines were already in place as he diverted me along a series of links to obscure and mainstream linguistic theories, which included a note about the physiological locks which occurred with puberty and which he conceded he should be prepared for. He also surprised me with his intent to continue our dynasty of Under 12 captaincy, especially seeing as noone had ever thought of him as a potential cricketer, and conceded that his teammates would have had to accept the possibility before the end of his second last, and first, season playing. The final concession had to do with our earlier e-mail exchange which was to tell me the extraordinary news that Mrs Freeth had postponed retirement for another year so she could finish what she had started with his fourth grade class in the year just ending, by staying with them through grade five. He really wanted to be able to have a good chat to her before she finally finished, and would then be able to use the summer holidays to get the bugs out of his grey matter in time for the resumption of cricket, and to ensure he would get a more balanced report in grade six. So together we turned the capsule lock to exactly twelve months, each pressed a trigger, and it poofed out of our dimension.
I had been starting to get a handle on manipulating the arrangement and appearance of things within the complex when Two’s arrival had sent us off on other tracks, so we decided to see what we could do to lift the overall appearance of the place. We had no inhibitions about trying all kinds of things, especially after the backup system kept the database intact through a couple of crashes which we worked out had been due to one of our Avatars entering a section while the other of us was moving it. We learnt how to make some quite radical transformations and Two showed ability to conceive the effects of large scale changes, while I tried to keep track of how our increased use of the vertical dimension would impact on our strategies for clustering and access.
Despite his lack of inhibitions, it gradually dawned on me that Two was not introducing any conceptually new arrangements, so I decided to develop a couple of structures which traded the integrity of the three dimensional illusion for more immediate access. After I was happy with my efforts, I provoked Two into resuming our game of chase and found I could lose him every time in my enigmatic structures. Finally letting him catch me in a stable zone, he demanded to know what I had done, and I made full use of the opportunity to point out the benefits of human language to help you “see things that have never been and ask why not?” He countered that he could clearly see many things that I would always by blind to, because of the rattle of words bouncing around inside my head. I figured that the view he allowed himself of written language tended to swamp him with all possible meanings of words devoid of any stronger contextual settings than those provided by their general proximity to other words, although he was clearly learning to associate words with related meanings or similar sounds. Meanwhile he maintained his barriers to any verbal discussion of such matters, so I let it rest.
All our project team members had been encouraged to incorporate active links to any businesses they patronised via the Internet in our prototype shopping complex, so it was my turn to take Two’s hand and fly down to the all night pizza shop which has sometimes supplied cover for one of my old hobbies, but on this night was the only practical answer to a sudden severe bout of hunger. I put what I wanted on an order and indicated to Two to add whatever he wanted. He subtracted four from our house number and added enough to feed a growing family, and the shop’s auto responder advised that we had thirty minutes to get everything cleaned up and get back to his place. Half that time was taken ensuring that snapshots we had archived at key steps of our rearrangements were readily accessible and notifying other team members as to the essence of what he had been up to.
I had absolutely no idea of the time until I reached our front gate when the moon gave it away at the same moment as I saw that the rest of the Spencers were keeping the same ridiculous hours and the pizza delivery van was turning the corner. Converging at the Spencers’ gate, I was surprised by the recognition implicit in the pizza boy’s “Blake?” until I realised he was: “The Softie bell hop. Do you still do your bit for them?” He boasted that he had even wangled a visit to Seattle in August, which I understood was the only time of year it might be worth it. But as we reached the door, I realised “That means I’m going to have to kill you, but you had better bring the pizzas inside first.” As the vultures descended, I explained that the fact that the pizza boy worked for The Firm on the side meant he must be eliminated, but that I would be very relieved if we could find an alternative seeing as he had once, long ago, been half reasonable to me.
The hour must have been effecting Rosco’s brain as he quickly volunteered, between gulping mouthfuls of Hawaiian and Pepsi, that Two could video the Softie screwing Rosco’s arse and scatter enough encrypted copies around the Net that we would have something worse that a hanging offence to hang over him should he ever open his mouth. I found that highly preferable to having to clean up Maureen’s kitchen, and with no dissent and the pizza nearly gone, those three adjourned to the boys’ room. I was finally able to ask Barry what had kept them up so late, and he explained that they had been kept flat out on both computers reading and responding to e-mails from Two, at least until the final exchange had settled the pizza order. I decided it was time to give his parents and sister a quick tour of their younger son’s strange mind and surfed our reshaped shopping complex up though our administration offices and into Two’s closet which I promoted to the top of the hierarchy. Lacking an input device for a finger snap, I tried view rotation and jumped straight into his jumble of incomprehensible symbols, at which point I was most interested to find that Annie thought: “It looks just like Blake.” I zoomed out to show the connections and, prompted by the e-mail flood, noted that it was only his verbal conversation processors that he had locked down for another year, while his written conversation processors had clearly been separately and securely constrained for a lot longer. Intrigued, I zoomed in on one of them and found it to be heavily instanced: “So your unspeaking son has set himself up to manage an unlimited number of simultaneous e-mail conversations.”
At that point another message arrived for Barry, Maureen and Annie:
Thought you would like to see your son/bro’s first shoot.
The words served as a caption for a seamlessly looped video grab expertly cropped to a head to knees view of Rosco’s writhing orgasm. With the four of us beyond reacting, I resumed my explanation that despite Two’s computer-assisted power with the written word, that it would be a year before they would see his barrier to verbal conversation come down. The boys soon rejoined us as though nothing had happened and we cleaned up enough for the Softie and me to take our leave. Outside I remembered that we still had not paid for the pizzas, so I had to drop my pants so I could retrieve my emergency stash from a hidden fold, which I joked gave me a second reason to need to kill him. He didn’t want to take my offered tip which, though generous, I thought only fair for that time of morning. So we shook on it, exchanged a brotherhood hug, and, noticing a faint glow on the eastern horizon, I was in bed before his van had reached the end of the street.
I was into the third day of not missing school, when a phone call alerted me to the possibility that I may have been being missed. Aaron had wanted a final celebration for our test team, but I had not known I was about to stop turning up until I had, and he wanted to make sure I was going to still get to junior practice because of something “more important”. By the time I got there, our break up had been settled for the next Monday at the Spencers, and Aaron’s more important news was that not only didn’t he have me for company, but that he and his father had managed to secretly shift Rusty into a place of his own at the weekend, and that Rusty had already started full time at another branch of the place he had had some part time work at, and was staying out of site, having only left a note telling his parents he was leaving their abuse permanently. The only thing Rusty was not prepared to give up, even temporarily, was cricket and he and Aaron and I arranged that we would go out for our own private celebration at the conclusion of our test team party, and I was even prepared to shift my weekly visit to Harris’s to earlier in the afternoon to leave the rest of that day free.
Maureen and Barry were happy to leave their house well stocked and drag my mother off to a work turn, Maureen getting out as soon as our group had all checked in and a couple of our less familiar walkers from the ‘top order’ had been introduced. When the notional hour for the official party was up, it was clear nobody was going anywhere. Instead a sequence of familiar faces started to descend from various directions, mostly bringing more contributions than we could have ever hoped to consume. Somehow I got dragged into a conversation with Aaron about cybersex, and I found Cherie online and she promptly dumped whoever she had been with to finish with me, after which the three Spencer kids insisted on taking Aaron over to my place to show him how to do it properly, leaving Chalk and Cheese in nominal charge at our end, where more and more were drifting into the pool. I was required to stay online in case they were short a partner, and Two kept me informed with more and more intriguing graphical metaphors that Rusty had actually found his way to my place looking for directions to the party and that any boundaries between online and offline were being freely penetrated. By then, a girl from the top order who was in Rosco’s class, and clearly more, was almost on my lap trying to get him to focus on the channel she had opened, and using me, at first it seemed subconsciously, as a prop, but as soon as it became clear that his mind was more on what he was doing with Aaron offline, I graduated to being a substitute and even conceded to being dragged into the pool for a lot more than that.
Once there were finally signs of a few starting to drift off, I persuaded Natalie to let Warren run Aaron, Rusty and me up to Bondi where we might find some space to talk, and a few choices for a light supper which was the most we could need before making it back to our respective homes. Warren and I compared notes on progress with this book and Rusty reckoned he could just about turn the little he had seen of that night’s party into a whole book, and made me fill them both in on the scoring system I still used away from cricket. Over supper we filled several napkins making up a complete scorecard for our test team versus the rest of the world through both online and offline innings. Between that hilarity, Aaron managed to let it be known that he who had been open about his intention to quit school early was a little perplexed at being upstaged by his two mates. At that point I had not officially indicated I would not be going back, but I equally had done nothing to put arrangements in place to do so. And he actually had, although it was definitely just to see how he felt as his sixteenth birthday approached and make up his mind then, at which point his father felt he would have less problem redirecting his maintenance payments directly to Aaron if he wanted to share a unit with Rusty.
The last Tuesday of cricket practice in the middle of the last game before the break for Christmas reminded me that even us so-called “elite” players at a Pennant club can be fairly normal human beings given half a chance. I was out retrieving balls hit from the practice nets towards the middle of the ground when a mighty whack from the firsts opening bowler and would-be pinch hitter sailed way over my head. I must have been vaguely aware that a couple of youths had been watching training from the far side of the ground and was not perturbed when the bigger of the two jogged over to retrieve the ball, by which time I had also jogged back to about thirty metres from where he picked it up. What did catch me a little by surprise was that he really pinged the ball back at me, which I hung onto ok and tossed in a gentler looping trajectory back to the smitten bowler. The sharp throw at me also pinged a couple of neurons, so I resumed jogging towards the spot where the two youths were converging. Another massive whack of willow on leather echoed from the nets followed by “Blaaaaake”, at which I turned in time to see the ball start its descent towards a spot I subconsciously judged to be a few paces behind me, at which my skills got the better of me and I covered the ground and plucked it from the air, then pinged it back to the by then bemused bowler, before turning to greet my two spectators. We were hardly through the g’days and handshakes when the same non-batsman hit the same non-bowler down the same slot and I suggested to the bigger of my once brief acquaintances from the Latrobe Valley that it was his turn, which he attended to with as little fuss as I had ... although the bowler would by then have preferred us to keep it.
They explained that they had taken the best part of two days to make their way to Sydney round the coast and that Nigel was counting on finding me so he had somewhere to sleep for three nights before they caught the bus they had booked down the Hume to Melbourne on Friday morning. While the bigger boy clearly retained none of the hostility he had met me with the night I chanced to run into them at their home town pizza shop, his hostility had been redirected to what he saw as the monstrosity of the city, and he was expected by relatives who might not take quite so kindly to Nigel. The safest way for me to understate my pleasure at renewing acquaintances was to truthfully explain how busy I was with the business, but to add that I had one or two mates who I was sure wouldn’t mind sharing the hospitality duties. I offered the bigger boy that Hayden would be happy to run him anywhere he needed to get after training, for which he thanked me, but then disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared which I only realised after Nigel had humped his pack around the boundary to the back of the nets where I had rejoined the last of that increasingly relaxed training session.
Mum welcomed the excuse to use up some things she had in the fridge and suggested that Hayden and Davo might be happy to join us, which at least reduced the focus on recalling just how Nigel had managed to inspire me to invest a T-shirt, CD and long mobile call on somebody I had been certain could only have been a two hour stand. Davo was happy for Nigel to tag along with him to the next night’s concert out west which I found Adam and Gary were equally happy to take Colin too, so Colin and Nigel would at least have each other to hang out with, even if they hadn’t met beforehand. That also meant I could catch up on anything pressing during Wednesday evening, “so seeing as Nigel has gone to such an effort to find me, I’m going to spend the best part of the next couple of days really showing him Sydney.” Mum was even keener than I was that I should take the excuse to have a real break.
That night was in every way as good as our stolen hours in the motel, except that the edge of uncertainty was unavoidably missing, and we did not have to worry about being finished in time for anything in particular. I came up with quite a tour route for the first of Nigel’s two full days in town, finding our feet at Bondi Junction, taking in the length of Darlinghurst Road both by morning and by early evening, the monorail to the spectacular entrance to Darling Harbour between the Convention Centre and the Harbourside shops, then, after we had done Darling Harbour, a ferry ride to Circular Quay, a walk through The Rocks to and across the Harbour Bridge, another ferry ride back, then the Jet Cat to Manly where we walked The Corso to the Pacific, before returning for a trek via the Opera House, the Botanic Gardens and Woolloomooloo back to Kings Cross.
We split the second day between out local beaches through to Bondi and the central city, before Nigel asked to tag along with me to training. I had thoughtlessly presumed that he was probably only playing cricket to make up numbers in his big friend’s team, but with our session even more laid back than the Tuesday, he was not discouraged from joining in and quite quickly showed that he was very handy for a still first year Under 16. During training he had even been asked whether he would be sticking round long enough to field as a substitute at the weekend, but the two of them had planned their adventure to fit in with their commitments to their local club and final practice for a representative team.
It ultimately took until we were both unashamedly on track for our third magical night together for him to raise the couple of factors beyond the obvious sex, the band, and Sydney which had provoked him to try to find me again, although by then he was more than positive about those attractions. One of his “real” reasons was the offhandedness I displayed with regard to my cricket achievements (I still think understandably so on the night before “my” Swans’ footy grand final) as it was cricket where he saw his closest connection to me. But it was his other reason which really opened my eyes.
“If I hadn’t been touched by you that night, I would probably be dead by now.” I only hope he keeps his promise to write that story sometime, because I cannot do justice to even the bits he told me here. Within a month of my passing through, a local 19 year old killed himself in his car after losing his job and his girl friend, which the local youth immediately recognised as symptomatic of the feelings of hopelessness in rural areas that was magnified further in those like Nigel who were not comfortable with orthodox heterosexuality. While he had had no special contact with the deceased, at the funeral Nigel noticed that another 19 year old who knew them both well was missing, so he decided to pay a visit. He found the youth, with whom he had found his only previous hint of male affection, at his parents farm, obviously making sure he had everything ready to end his own life as soon as the mood took him. Nigel took the challenge head on and told how he had found out it could be “better than ok to be gay”, but it still took an effort to extract an admission that his friend’s attractions had stayed with the age bracket that corresponded to their closer times three to four years earlier. But this only made Nigel more determined and he finished up dragging his friend down to a special hideaway spot on the river the next Sunday, where they chanced on a couple of 11 year olds setting up some ropes that looked more likely to be used to kill themselves that to swing out over a deep pool. On the pretext of helping, Nigel made sure that the ropes finished up in a position that would make their fatal use very difficult, and even got the four of them using them to jump naked into the water. One of the youngsters paired up quite readily with the older boy, but the other youngster was extremely nervous about letting Nigel get close to him, until they both got dressed and were clearly sufficiently alone to tackle the suicide issue head on. The kid turned out to be being seriously abused by his deserted father, and over a few weeks, as Nigel’s private anti-suicide campaign gathered strength, he was even able to get some subtle pressure put on the father to change his ways, and the youngster became his “little brother” with never a suggestion of any breach of trust, while his 11 year old mate worked out his sexuality discretely with a reborn older partner. Nigel claimed that if he had not met me that he would not have thought to do what he did, so a youth suicide epidemic would have probably got underway in their town and would most likely have claimed him too. I found that more than hard to believe, but wondered about his tough bowler friend, who he assured me had such simple beliefs as to be completely immune. Our final night together became more passion and less explicit sex, and somehow he still got up in time for them to catch their early bus to Melbourne.
We were playing Gary Marshall’s team in the last morning match before the break and were heading for a rare victory over them with Rusty and I building a partnership when I noticed Rusty’s parents’ fancy car drive into the car park from my position at the non-striker’s end. He had to defend a good ball, at which I called him for a mid-wicket conference to tell him that under no circumstances was he to get himself out and why, and waved to Aaron to bring us each out a drink at the end of the over. I told Aaron the importance of him not getting involved, but that he should just let Sean know that I might want some moral support and that the tail should bat on when we passed them, but that I would retire so I could get away to Pennant. I also quickly explained the situation to Gary and he got his team together between overs and let me know I had their full support. I got my ton and the winning runs off the second ball of the next over and jogged straight off and straight to confront the offending car. I had to make it clear that Rusty’s father was expected to wind his window down which produced a pathetic “Well batted” that left me no hesitation in saying exactly what I wanted to: “Just get the fuck out of here. You are out of his life and that is how it is staying. You should get out of the state or just jump off The Gap. And I’m not staying because I have to play elsewhere and Russell and Aaron are not going to get directly involved, but if you are not long gone by the time they finish, the other team’s captain is a very good friend of mine and his whole eleven and the other eight of our team just might mess you up properly. And don’t ever think of trying to find him again. He has many friends who will find you and make you pay for every fucking bruise.” I thumped the side of my bat on the driver’s door, creasing it sufficiently, walked to mum’s car and got in to go to Pennant. “Do you know how much damage you just did?” “At least a thousand dollars, pity it wasn’t a million. Come on, I’ll more than satisfy your need to know once we are out of here.”
“I’ve promised I will get back to our club by ten. Can I be a real pain and ask you to pick me up from the Pennant turn?” I really knew mum was glad just to be asked, and got a nod from our skipper to put my pads back on during which time he wandered over and said he wanted me to open. I said I didn’t know if it was a good idea seeing I was coming off a hundred not out, but that I would do anything he wanted, and he didn’t know if that was a good idea either, which went a long way to restoring my humour. And the strong opposing line up finished the job by bowling so well I had no choice but to dig in for a while, but by stumps I had crafted out another ton and a half while losing eight partners as we finished up cruising to a comfortable win.
Mum delivered me back to my old club on schedule and was going to stop in for a while. As I walked in the door I was greeted by silence spreading like a wave and the centre of the clubroom quickly emptying. Just one person at the far end got up and walked towards me. I met Rusty half way and we just fell into each other’s arms and took more than a minute to calm and for our glazed eyes to meet momentarily before he kissed me squarely on the lips, then we let our hands drop to catch fingers and step back far enough for him to mumble a half audible “Thanks, mate.” Applause would have been no more appropriate than after a funeral tribute, but Aaron broke ranks to approach us, rapidly followed by the rest of our morning team and the evening quickly swung back into full celebratory mood. An hour and a half later a bit of a ripple went round to indicate Hayden’s arrival. I had already spent a good part of the evening with him and caught him up on just enough, so that by the time our paths finally crossed he was able to tell me that mum had been more than happy for him to be my lift home. After another latish Sunday breakfast I had him drop me at Gary’s.
I was discovering an alternative way of using holidays for catching up and freshening up when a chat window opened with mum asking if I had ordered pizza. I thought it was a good idea and she replied that it had just arrived, so I set down my avatar and my VR set, and hurried my real legs up to our meals area. The Softie looked as though he had transferred all his colour to the pizza and once the three of us had done justice to his unnecessary peace offering, mum mentioned that her room was clear if we needed some space.
Sitting side be side on the side of her bed, I explained as little and as much as I could. Yes, I had been deadly serious, because I had had an extremely challenging day. And no, even with the insurance our cameraman had put so securely in place, I still could not reveal what it was that he knew that must never be revealed. I was just relieved that my other young friend had been lateral enough to find such a thoroughly enjoyable solution to our dangerous impasse. As I saw things many days later, I had once intruded his territory as a bell hop and we had worked out an accommodation, and now he had intruded on mine so I was relieved to have been able finally do likewise in return. I reminded him that I still did not know, nor did I want to know, even his name, although I would obviously have no difficulty getting it. But nothing I could say would stem the tide of confusion and terror that was ripping him apart.
In frustration, I kicked off my shoes and prodded him to do likewise, rolling onto the bed and pulling that quivering mass of jelly down on top of me and just squeezing him as tightly as I dared, for I don’t know how long, until I felt safe to spread some attention to rubbing our faces and kneading his buttocks. Finally being able to acknowledge our reflexive state of semi-arousal, eye contact became possible, the hint of a smile, a brush of lips, a bit of giggle and finally half a wrestle and real laughter, until we could spin back to our original sitting position, but this time holding hands testingly. I offered that the only way he could break our hold was by getting The Firm to devote some of its billions to restoring the public image of child sexuality and conceded that by the time it would take to do that, the secret he held could well have lost all its value.
At our gate, I again insisted on paying what was due for the pizza and found myself staring at the photons arriving so brilliantly from many points in the midnight sky, until an unusually bright shooting star left a long trail of discharged receptors across by retina and I wondered just what at that moment I really could wish for. Scrolling down my list of lovers, I had paused briefly in renewed appreciation of one of my more recent. As if on cue, a tired red sports car pulled around the corner and came to a halt in our driveway, discharging its rock singer-guitarist driver and his protégé, recently thirteen, and already equally tall. From the doorway, I called to mum that our Christmas presents had finally arrived. As soon as she saw what I was talking about, her eyes boggled, at which I grabbed Colin’s hand and towed him down the back, calling over my shoulder: “And we’re not swapping.” And we didn’t, at least not until after breakfast.
Despite having our own shacks and/or camp sites to head for the next day, a half changed circle of four found ourselves together at our place for what, for mum and me at least was the first new year’s eve we had ever spent in Sydney. And we really had no idea what to do with ourselves so we just sat around and chatted after a quiet barbie. Hayden was here because he had finally said finito to his family’s new year rituals and the next morning was picking up Felicity and Corey French to take down to what was still officially my camp site at Bermagui, where Felicity would play camp mum to up to seven boys and Corey would hang out with Sean, Nicholas O’Donnell and Robbie Vander which could be a real test for the younger girls at the camp. Sean’s family had become regulars and upgraded their setup, but had never had any prospect of seeing Sean for much more than the trip down. The Vanders were quite happy to drop off Nicholas and Robbie who had become genuine friends over the years and not just mates for Cherie’s convenience, they having dropped in on the way back from their regular holiday hideaway beyond Eden the previous year and given it the thumbs up. Cherie had wanted desperately to join them but even with Felicity coming we all agreed that that question should be put on hold for another year or two. Hayden was more than happy to take on the responsibilities assumed of the oldest member of such a dangerous looking crew, but wanted a fairly straight lieutenant who could cover for him occasionally. Checking our list of last resort, only Jarod Kendall wasn’t already committed for the holidays, so mum and I arranged to pick him up on new year’s morning after we had all had a chance to sleep off the night before. The only trouble was that for the four of us, it certainly wasn’t shaping up as any kind of night before. And Walshie was less help than ever as he would have been perfectly happy to just hit the sack and be up early to head for his fishing holiday with Mr Harris at Jindabyne.
Early on we agreed that we should use the time to seriously review the year past and future seeing as none of us really felt desperately deprived of one more party. And as usual I had to be the one to get the conversation started: “I’m definitely not going back to school.” And was somewhat taken aback that this did not produce any reaction, until mum, more politely than out of concern, suggested I should go though my reasons. “Firstly, I was such an arsehole in sixth grade, that I’m not prepared to ever again be the big kid in a school environment, and I have already seen signs of those pressures returning two years early. Secondly, I have found subjects that I can study on the Net that look a lot more interesting and useful than the selection list I didn’t even bother filling in for courses back at school. Thirdly, I want to be in real control of my timetable so that I make a serious contribution to the business as well as being able to take on anything interesting that comes up.” I figured the rest of my reasons could wait until the others started to get into the conversation, so suggested that we should all be prepared think a bit more flexibly about future plans.
“Ok smartarse, lets start with what you’re going to be doing in ten years time,” Hayden prodded. “That’s easy, marrying Cherie.” And finally the conversation gathered some animation. “Cherie who,” my mother demanded. “Vander of course, you know Robbie’s sister, although maybe you don’t if you didn’t notice her at our wake for Jacky Ng. Probably the only time you ever saw her was when she came in to get Robbie and Joey from my ninth birthday party.” “But she was almost a baby.” “She was three and a bit years younger than me then, and she is still three and a bit years younger than me now. And that is the fourth reason I am not going back to school—I want to protect her from any pressure to consummate the love we keep in our heads.” “I hope you have always been that careful with her.” I appreciated mum’s concern, even while recognising its hypocrisy, so I explained: “I haven’t had to. She’s been Nicholas O’Donnell’s lover for years, but he and I have an understanding about how it will all work out and we remain good mates.” “I can believe that,” Hayden cut in, revealing to me at least that he might be looking forward to something I’d never expected of him at Bermagui.
“Well, Oliver, surely you can tell us about something that will get these horny youngsters’ minds off sex for a few minutes.” “Well actually, Elaine, I think I have achieved something important in this past year that will make my future very different, and I have to thank you all for giving me the strength to do it.” “What?” three voices chimed in unison. “Well I’ve actually burnt the midnight oil with that old computer at home and typed up the whole story of our little cricket club. I’ve got a copy right here,” he said pulling a diskette from his shirt pocket and waving it triumphantly above his head. “But the most important thing is that doing that made me see for the first time the value of what I have been able to do for the club, and has lifted the monkey off my back so that what I had seen as personal disasters driving me down I can now finally accept as just being the way life turned out, and no longer any reason to stop me enjoying what I have left of it.” The cheers and congratulations subsided and we had to have a quick look at what was on that disk. It was huge, and the bits I got a quick look at made me start to wonder about the adequacy of my writing in this book. Mum asked what he was going to do with it, and Walshie didn’t have any answer. As far as he was concerned it was finished, but mum insisted that it had to be published on the Web, in print, or both. We are a publishing company as much as a public relations company and it was immediately scheduled as my next real job for the company, which brought me back to my fifth reason for leaving school.
“In these past 14 weeks, for the first time in my life, I have learnt how to spend money, so much so that I spent the last of what I once thought was more money than I could ever use on this,” and pulled a brand new and rather flash guitar out from behind the lounge. I strummed enough to convince Hayden and Walshie that I could actually play the thing passably, and Hayden expressed amazement that I could do that given my often obvious naivety with current popular music. I suggested that I must have been conditioned in the womb before mum turned her back on her old life to give me a chance in life, but she revealed that I had actually been immersed in music through my early years, as it was the one thing from her past that she did not wean herself from until I had started school and she discovered talk radio.
While I wish she had found a better way of putting it, mum finally opened up about what she saw as her major achievement of the past year: “If Blake fell under a bus tomorrow, I would get through it ok. I would be thankful for the life and the freedom I have been able to give you and that you are somebody I’m proud to know. For most of our years, you kept me going, and while I desperately want you to have a full lifetime to make use of your abilities, I know that you have also given me back my own life and that it would be wrong for me not to do what I can with it.”
Having swallowed deeply, I was finally able to get my mouth back into gear and suggest that maybe we should work out how to celebrate the new year Sydney style as it was only three years and three hours till 2000. After the standard technical argument about 2000 versus 2001, to which I said I wanted to spend one in Sydney and the other in San Francisco, I started working towards another possibility that was opened up by me dropping out of school. First I had to get Hayden to tell the others of his near term plans, which were definitely university but he wasn’t sure whether Sydney or Melbourne depending on which course he could get into. I had spent a portion of my idle cash on a couple of trips to Melbourne and had established enough contacts there to be in a position to work out of there if I felt the need. I had even thought of busting the guitar money on another trip down to hear Lukie’s band play their new year’s eve gig, but decided that that would be rather stupid when I get to hear them around Sydney often enough. And it was not that Hayden and I were so totally dependent on each other that we could not face the prospect of living in separate cities. We had a relationship which had gone on for almost ever, but which we would probably not notice if the physical side at least simply stopped. Yet on the other hand we still pursued a dream of rooming together on the Ashes tour of 2001, and in reality we were both batting well enough for that to be half a chance. That prospect proved the perfect lead in to my suggestion that the four of us should go round the world together during Hayden’s mid-year break to catch a test in England and whatever else we could pack into such a trip.
Finally Hayden found a space to raise his own immediate priority: “Can I trust you three blabber mouths to keep a secret for 24 hours?” Assured that we would at, in my case penalty of being pushed under that proverbial bus, he pulled our a small velvet covered box from his pocket and opened it to reveal a stunningly beautiful gold ring with a solitary ruby setting. “I’m going to give this to Felicity tomorrow. I think we will probably get married five years before you and Cherie.” The back slapping, congratulations, hugs and kisses subsided and I suggested that he should ask Sean for directions to the one spot at Bermagui that is appropriate for such emotional moments.
All that emotion brought my mind back to one person who I fondly hoped might be able to do something about us making this a real Sydney new years eve, so I grabbed the phone. “Is that the catholic monastery? ... It’s Blake Dawson here, I was wondering if Father Brian might be able to come to the phone ... I am? Sorry but I just assumed you would have somebody to answer your phone for you. ... No, I’m not, I can get into quite enough trouble without drinking. ... Well, now that you ask, this is the first new year’s eve we have ever spent in Sydney and our little gathering is starting to run out of steam so I was wondering if you maybe had something on we could crash. ... In that case it sounds like you had better come and crash ours.” I grabbed Hayden, lifted him out of his seat, checked for his car keys in his pocket and shoved him towards the door with whispered directions to the monastery while waiting for the protestations on the other end of the line to settle down. “Hayden is on his way over to pick you up. No he isn’t drinking either. He is still on P plates and wouldn’t think of risking his licence, but you could grab a bottle of something to share with mum and Walshie. ... Yes there are just the four of us here which is probably why our little evening is running out of steam, but I’m sure you will add whatever we need to get us to 1997. ... Hayden will be half way there by now. You’d better be at the door to meet him. We’ll see you soon.”
I stuck to my intention to stop adding to Scoring anything that happened after the end of 1996. After a year of editing, we were able to circulate a final proof manuscript to our friends, but there it stalled as reactionary forces made conventional publication unthinkable.
Once my mother recognised that I really had stopped adding material and that our business and lives in general were heading into even more challenging territory in (and far beyond) 1997, she started taking her own notes. She now has enough material that she has decided it needs to be split into several volumes. Last year she managed to get the first volume into shape and show it around privately which is what finally convinced me to reformat Scoring for Nifty Archives.
Elaine's perspective in her first volume of Book Two (for my namesake) is no more suitable for conventional publication but it is also hardly the kind of thing for this corner of Nifty, so she has arranged her own hosting. If you really want the URL you will need to e-mail her, email@example.com, and tell her how bad you thought my writing has been in Scoring.