Mick is the one with the highs and lows, the mad, bad feelings and the rages. He is the one who has inherited the Irish genes and Jim comes from some other, stoic line of the family, the father’s side.
At a certain point the ears take over, the pulse in your ears reflects the other, mounting pulse and the entire body moves into one single unity, your thoughts then are absorbed into whatever it is that commands you. Then it is done and if you are lucky you will sleep at last. The body discharges itself of tensions; even the night air works with a sort of gentleness to turn sweat into coolness, if only for a short while. Mick does not even remember what it was he had been so restless about.
Garth Rasmussen is not even a shadow in his memory. Jim, over there, breathes on steadily. The luminous dial on Mick’s wrist-watch is not going to force him to look yet again; the damp feel of his hair against the churned up pillow eases its pressure; he knows he will have to locate those pyjama shorts sometime before morning but not now, not now. He draws the bedsheet up around his shoulders and, though he does not realize it, Mick curls into the foetal position.
* * *
At breakfast Jim is first up and has already piled his plate with four weet-bix and is now spreading sugar into hillocks and ridges before inundating the lot with the fresh milk brought in from the milkman half an hour ago. He shaved again this morning and there is a speck of white froth under his right earlobe. He is humming quietly as he pours, probably oblivious that his mouth let anything like musical sounds pass. Jim tends to capitalize on his silence. He did wish their parents Good Morning; humming was enough.
Mick enters slowly, rubbing his hands through tousled hair and checking the time on the ornamental clock above the mantelpiece. The wristwatch with its luminous hands and dial was a birthday present last week and he still feels the need to check it constantly. Jim has a watch with a leather protective case, like they use in the airforce, he says. It means that he has to unclip it each time he needs to check the time. Mick was at first a little jealous of the neat, professional look of his brother’s armpiece but he quickly realized the drawbacks, even though Jim pointed out how useful it was for games like football. Mick does not play football. His glowing numbers and pointers are in some way the product of radiation, he has been told. Radiation kills, Jim quipped. In the dark, though, the glow seems almost magical. Power. Mick couldn’t care less about the so-called harm; if it were dangerous, wouldn’t they have banned it, or something?. Jim has no answer to that. Their father continues to read his paper, over all this quibbling. He is used to it.
Besides, that was last week’s issue. Jim now wears his watch with its leather band and cover as if it had grown on his wrist, naturally. Mick’s watch has an expanding metal band; it still sometimes catches the hairs on his arm. When it has tugged off all the hairs round your wrist you won’t even notice it, Jim had said. Jim’s watch does not have an illuminated dial.
Mick sits at the table and his mother brings him two eggs on toast and asks him if he wants some bacon, she has fried some for Dad, she says. Mick hesitates and then says No. When she sits down beside him he asks her if it’s today she is going to town with Aunt Meg.
That’s clever of you to remember, she says. Your brother asked me to watch his tennis semi-finals but I told him not today, today is the day of the big outing.
I knew it was special, Mick says. You don’t hide things from me, you know. I could tell.
She ruffles his already tousled hair and gets up from the table. You really must get your hair cut this week. Both of you, she says, but they know it is only Mick whose mop is so unruly. Jim’s hair is straight; a bit of Brylcream and it stays flat all day.
Now you will do your piano practice when you get in, she says. I won’t be here to remind you.
As if he needs reminding.
* * *
Lunchtime is the time for his last practice for the Championships, the big ones, and he is determined about the one hundred metres.
Mick is in the pool almost before anybody else and has done three lengths before the next group comes ambling down the slope to the school baths, Garth Rasmussen among them.
Mick concentrates on the task ahead. He always does ten lengths of the pool, to limber up, and then gives himself a rest of five minutes before he gets the school coach, or one of the juniors, to time him for the one hundred. Four, five, six, seven, eight. Garth Rasmussen, he becomes aware, is there in the next lane and he is forcing the pace. Almost without being aware of himself, Mick is keeping up. He is competing. This warm-up swim is not intended for speed, it is for muscular co-ordination and efficiency. Rasmussen knows that but he is the sort of jock who would compete with his own shadow and then complain that it did not work hard enough. Garth Rasmussen has nothing better to do.
Mick eases back over the last two lengths of his warm-up. He watches Rasmussen do a further two lengths before he pulls up in the adjacent lane and gives Mick a splash. What is it with Rasmussen?
There’s another six for you to do yet, Mick tells him, but Rasmussen tugs off his rubber cap. The ash blond hair falls over his face and he flicks it back with a jerk of the neck.
That’s your problem, Turner, you always go by the rules. It’s not rules that win races, it’s cunning. Pity you never learned that one. That’s why I’ll lick you hollow, see if I don’t.
And he throws his cap over the edge and dives back in, even though it has been forbidden to swim bareheaded in the pool, school regulations. Rasmussen’s blond hair will turn green, Mick tells himself, and wishes it might be so.
Lined up on the block later, for a last practice, Rasmussen is three lanes distant but Mick knows he might as well be right alongside, his whole body a sneer. Garth Rasmussen might have that golden brown skin, and there are no freckles at all; and he might be a lot taller, and yes, he is built like a tank. But on the other hand, he is not really all muscle, there is some flab you can see from the way his navel dimples and there is already an incipient double chin. Not that anyone minds any of that: Garth Rasmussen has his own band of cronies and is notorious for his hand-outs of minties and jaffas, filched from his auntie’s big general store over the other side of town. Rasmussen has a big mouth (in more ways than one, Mick thinks) and very even teeth, like an advertisement, but otherwise why should he have such tickets on himself?