Malcolm and juliet, p.1

Malcolm and Juliet, page 1


Malcolm and Juliet

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Malcolm and Juliet


  Malcolm and Juliet

  Winner, 2005 NZ Post Book Awards

  for Children and Young Adults

  Winner, 2005 Esther Glen Award, Library and

  Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa

  Notable Books List 2005

  Children’s Literature Foundation of New Zealand

  ‘Beckett has a sound touch for comedy.’ NZ Books

  ‘Vigorous and lively characters…Beckett has always had a wry humour in his excellent novels about young people on the brink of life, but in Malcolm and Juliet, the humour is in charge. This is one of those novels you carry around quoting from…Let me urge nervous librarians, parents and teachers to buy several copies of Malcolm and Juliet. And to read one of them.’ Magpies

  ‘A candid and funny look at the issues of teenage sex and sexuality…This novel began as a script for a school drama performance and it would make a great movie.’ NZ Herald

  ‘Every line’s a winner in Bernard Beckett’s brilliant, tongue in cheek book. [He] not only writes like a dream but he can read teen minds…a sweetly hilarious farce… Pure bliss and a joke in every paragraph.’ North & South

  ‘The funniest book for young adults.’ The Star

  Bernard Beckett is one of New Zealand’s most outstanding writers. He is the author of the prize-winning novel Genesis and works as a high school teacher. Malcolm and Juliet is his sixth novel. It won the 2005 New Zealand Post Book Awards, and the 2005 Esther Glenn Award, Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

  Malcolm & Juliet

  Other titles by Bernard Beckett


  Red Cliff


  No Alarms

  3 Plays: Puck, Plan 10 from Outer Space, The End of the World As We Know It

  Home Boys

  Deep Fried, with Clare Knighton


  Falling for Science: Asking the Big Questions

  Acid Song


  & Juliet

  a novel

  bernard beckett

  Text Publishing Melbourne Australia

  The paper used in this book is manufactured only from wood grown in sustainable regrowth forests.

  The Text Publishing Company

  Swann House

  22 William Street

  Melbourne Victoria 3000


  Copyright Bernard Beckett 2004

  All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright above, no part of this publication shall be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of this book.

  First published by Longacre Press in 2004

  This edition published by The Text Publishing Company 2009

  Cover design by WH Chong

  Page design by Susan Miller

  Typeset by J&M Typesetting

  Printed and bound by Griffin Press

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

  Beckett, Bernard, 1968-

  Malcolm and Juliet / Bernard Beckett.

  ISBN: 9781921520327 (pbk.)



  Sex and Science

  A Problem





  Confi dence





  Changing Rooms

  Washed Up






  A Cure




  Best Laid Tables




  Science Again

  The Cutting Room

  Judgment Day

  Sex and Science

  Malcolm leaned forward, his feet gripping the side of the bath while his left hand held the towel rail. He kept his weight close to the wall to minimise the forces: simple physics. It wasn’t the most comfortable position in the world and he realised the image it gave was somewhat distorted, but it was the only way of viewing his entire body in the small bathroom mirror above the basin.

  Malcolm looked closely, trying to see the positives. His face, when he dipped down to fit it in the frame, was reasonably zit-free. His hair, although longer than the prickly fashion, had a certain style, especially when it was wet. There was no fat on his startlingly white body, and precious little hair, just a tuft under each arm and a goodly sprouting of pubes which he could see no good reason for; something to do with suction he supposed.

  Malcolm eyed his genitals. They looked slightly uncomfortable with the angle of his body but otherwise, as far as he could tell, quite normal. His body wasn’t muscular he had to admit, but a particularly generous person might call it wiry. There were definite lines in his legs, when he crouched. Malcolm was a runner, second place in the regional cross-country championships last year. He would have been first if the Science Fair hadn’t interfered with his training.

  Next came the most difficult manoeuvre, pirouetting and changing hands so as to be able to inspect the view from the rear. No changes to report. He flexed his buttocks, which he always found amusing, climbed down and began to dress. As he did his mind turned, not for the first time that day, to thoughts of sex.

  Malcolm was sixteen and sex had been a latecomer to the party of his life. For some years he had observed the conversations of his peers converge on a single biological act, but he had remained aloof. He had regarded their jokes, boasts and speculation as immature and, far worse, irrational. His had been the role of detached observer: distant, superior and immune. Or so he thought.

  For sex is sneaky, and comes dressed in many guises. Malcolm never even saw its approach. He had no chance to fend it off, or more likely, turn and flee. No education-by-internet for Malcolm, no falling in love with the sister of a friend, no thumbing through the pages of a shoplifted magazine. When sex crept up on Malcolm it wore the rather splendid colours of Edgeworth College’s first fifteen.

  It happened a month earlier, on the day of the college’s annual sports clash with St William’s, and Mr Fry was really to blame. Mr Fry was Malcolm’s Chemistry teacher. He was also responsible for ensuring all of the first fifteen’s traditional fixtures were captured on camera: the price the school paid for appointing a principal who had once had an All Black trial. Normally Big Willy in Year 12 was the cameraman but he was out with a broken leg and Mr Fry needed a volunteer. Malcolm volunteered.

  Malcolm loved sports days. The sports heroes got to strut their stuff, the sports fans got to cheer them on, and even the disaffected could slip downtown for a cigarette without much chance of being caught. Everybody had their place, and now Malcolm had his.

  He approached the task with his usual thoroughness. He took home a DVD of one of Big Willy’s earlier efforts, to see how he might stamp his own personality on the filming; he forged a note to get himself out of French forty minutes early, to get some establishing shots, and he picked up the camera from Mr Fry’s room himself, rather than wait for it to be delivered as had been arranged. Mr Fry wasn’t there but the battery was fully-charged and the small external hard-drive sat beneath the coiled firewire cable, inviting him.

  It was a perfect day for filming, crisp and clear, the oak trees along the creek
marking the green battlefield with a line of autumnal orange. Malcolm’s first plan was to roam the sidelines, hoping to capture a little of the passion and immediacy of the game with a shaky handheld effect. He soon realised this wouldn’t be possible. The camera acted as a magnet, drawing towards him the many illegally released students who wandered the grounds, studiously ignoring the hockey and netball matches assigned to the spectator-free morning. And they weren’t intimidated by Malcolm the way they would have been by the fully-bearded Willy. They came close, peering at the lens and filling it with rude gestures and imaginative obscenities. Malcolm had to escape.

  Hope appeared in the form of scaffolding which painters had erected alongside the school hall (a computer-enhanced photo of the building had appeared on the cover of the school prospectus and it looked so good they were now touching up the real thing). The painters were off on their lunch break and it was just a matter of getting past Ms Scott, the fearsome sports teacher who stood guard beneath it. Luckily Ms Scott was known to be partial to grovelling. Malcolm grovelled. Minutes later he was positioned with a fine view of the field, well beyond the reach of his bored peers.

  Then Malcolm waited and, as was its habit, his mind began to wander. He thought of computers and he thought of Mathematics, but mostly he thought of the Science Fair. Closing date for proposals was only a fortnight away and still he hadn’t come up with a project. To many people, that might not have seemed like the sort of thing worth worrying about, but then Malcolm wasn’t like many people. Malcolm was a Scientist, and there wasn’t a thing in the world that mattered to him as much as Science mattered.

  So Malcolm thought, and when thinking did him no good, Malcolm worried. And in his worrying, Malcolm lost track of the time. He was brought back to earth by the sound of the referee’s whistle, starting the game. Malcolm panicked. He tried to turn, focus and press record in a single fluid motion. Two out of three ain’t bad. For the camera was set in replay mode and his furious stabbing at the record button did nothing more than plunge him deep into the sub-menus of Mr Fry’s hard drive.

  And so Malcolm was introduced to the world of pornography, for there amongst the bits and bites of the science teacher’s obsessions, Malcolm stumbled upon three hours of moderate quality digital filth. Malcolm felt puzzlement, fear and captivation in rapid succession. He could quite easily have stopped it there, returned to capturing the better part of the game but the scenes unfolding on the pixelated cones of the flipout LCD screen would not let him go. Without words the plot was difficult to follow but he assumed it was something along the lines of a French farce. The action itself was less ambiguous. The images filled Malcolm’s mind, and then his body. He felt the strangest feelings, new feelings, pleasant feelings, feelings he had absolutely no intention of resisting.

  In this way Malcolm came to spend the entire game perched two metres above Ms Scott’s blonde bob, his camera pointed in the general direction of the rugby, but his mind caught up in the sexual gymnastics unfolding before him.

  The next day Malcolm made the decision that was to change his life. This year, for his Science Fair entry, he would make a documentary, a documentary on sex. It was just a matter of finding the right tone.

  A Problem

  Down in the basement of her home Juliet read the letter again. There was no mistaking its tone. Measured, confident, threatening. Anonymous of course, and in a strange way something of a relief. Looking down at the message in front of her, in definitive black and white, Juliet realised that for the last six months she had been expecting to read these very words.

  Dear Juliet

  I must inform you that your secret is no longer safe. Don’t bother trying to discover how I found out. I did. I’m sure you would prefer this to remain just between you and me. My silence can be bought. I require a one-off payment of $1000. I can guarantee this will be my only demand. To buy yourself some time, complete the following intention-to-pay form and send it to the box number at the top of this letter. You will be given one month to find the money. Should you decide to tell anyone about this letter I will be forced to go public.

  Thank you in advance.

  Juliet wasn’t the type to panic easily. Nor did she normally respond to threats. Still, there was no mistaking, this was serious. The defrauding of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, scoring for herself straight excellence in the level one maths exam when her ability rarely crept as far as merit, was something she preferred to keep to herself. Her academic future would be cut off at the knees. Her father would disown her. She wondered for a moment whether it wouldn’t be best to come clean and plead reduced responsibility.

  After all, there had been pressures. Like the unreasonable promotion to the top-stream class, when her father rang and complained. She should have resisted, but her father was forceful, so she had given in to his false vision of her ability and spent the rest of the year struggling to keep up. In a way it was his fault.

  It was the arsonist’s fault too, Juliet realised, now that she was looking for people to blame. The arsonist who burned down the hall at the absurdly expensive private school Juliet attended. A school where people like her father paid to have their daughters’ ignorance hidden from the world. And because the hall burned down, only a week before the final exams, alternative arrangements had to be made, arrangements that presented Juliet with her opportunity. And that wasn’t her fault either.

  Then there was her name. Her father’s fault again. Juliet never asked to be a Zambesi, the only Z in the class, last on the alphabet and so assigned to the overflow room. The only girl to sit with the eight extra boys from St Patrick’s: boys who had no idea what Juliet Zambesi was supposed to look like.

  Finally, Juliet decided, her school had to take some of the blame. They were the ones who panicked, terrified the disruption might affect exam results and dent their precious reputation. They were the ones who explained the arrangements a full four days in advance. Four days. Plenty of time to recruit Madeleine, a Year 11 student from another school who fitted Juliet’s uniform and needed the money. Two hundred dollars it had cost. It had seemed such a bargain, at the time.

  No, it really wasn’t Juliet’s fault at all, but knowing it didn’t cheer her up much. She understood the world wasn’t much interested in causes; it would just want somewhere tidy to lay the blame. She looked at the letter again. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, just when her father had cut her allowance and forced her to work two nights a week at the local supermarket. So you’ll never want to do that sort of work again, he had explained. So you’ll realise how important it is to continue this excellent run of results. You know I’m so proud of you. And he had kissed her on the forehead. She had looked away from his fatherly stare and now, remembering this, Juliet knew she could not tell him.

  Juliet tried to be calm and rational. She tried to consider the options. Who had she told? Nobody. She hadn’t whispered it to herself in a public place or written about it in a diary. She hadn’t even discussed it with Madeleine, not once the deed was done. Could it be a dirty double-cross? No, it made too little sense. Madeleine was a top student who couldn’t afford the publicity. Maybe one of the St Patrick’s boys recognised Madeleine that day, and had been biding his time. That was a lot of patience though, for a Catholic boy. So whoever it was, and however they had found out, they were staying hidden for now. Hardly a fair fight at all.

  Juliet pulled on the second of her gloves, did a last stretch of her back (it always tensed when she got angry) and attacked the heavy boxing bag which hung from the basement rafters. Left, right, left. Kick high, kick low, back, bounce, clockwise step, left, right, left. Within a minute she had a sweat up; within four the bag was well beaten and she had all but forgotten about the letter. Perhaps her blackmailer would have been feeling a little less confident if they could see the dents she was leaving.


  Kevin stood back and admired what was at this stage little more than a dent. In this light he could see the
possibilities. The sun was low over his backyard. The tyre tracks, where a month before a large truck had backed up to deposit the two large chunks of sandstone, were still visible in the grass. A month of work, of quiet chipping away, and this was all he had to show for it; a sizeable hollow in the first block, halfway up. But that was the thing Kevin loved most about sculpting: there was never any hurry. Somewhere in amongst those two pieces of stone his work was already complete. It was just a matter of uncovering it, slowly, one chip at a time.

  If you are ever given the choice between talent and patience, Kevin, his mother had once told him, you must always choose patience. At the end of the day talent all comes down to perception. Talent can be faked. But patience, patience is a true gift.

  Well Kevin had patience, outstanding patience, the sort of patience other patiences talked about at parties, when the time was right. He had optimism too, quiet patient optimism, and in its own unexcitable way that could be a formidable weapon. It was why one day he would reduce the stones in front of him to things of arresting beauty. It was also why, he was sure, he would one day realise his unspoken dream. One day, Brian would be his.

  Kevin didn’t know where his love for Brian had come from. He was not the questioning type. It had arrived quite unannounced, a gift, and so he had received it. To do otherwise would be ungrateful.

  Other people, less patient, less optimistic people, might have seen only the obstacles ahead and given up on the spot. They might have noted that Brian, like Kevin, was only sixteen, and relationships at sixteen are difficult, fickle beasts. They might have pointed out the problem of Brian’s undoubted attractiveness, drawing in an army of would-be competitors. His skin, perfectly smooth, hot chocolate in summer, by winter faded to a flawless latte. His fine light hair, his dimpled smile, his athletic grace. Other people might have been scared off by the enormity of the task, but not Kevin. His optimism and his patience were such that he was even able to see past the biggest hurdle of them all, the awkward fact that up until this point in time Brian had not shown himself to be anything but boringly, depressingly, heterosexual.

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