Jim, without asking, simply took them and used them on his balsawood planes. He had built six of them, they were his pride and joy. He had varnished four and was waiting for new transfers of Air Force emblems for the others. Mick tore downstairs, two at a time, and crashed open the gate to the downstairs work room where Jim kept his models and his unfinished planes. He thumped Jim over the back with both fists, then pounded him over the head where Jim was sitting. Before even screaming out his rage Mick swept the finished models from their shelf, breaking them, and would have picked up the chisel from the bench if Jim had not been quick enough. Mick had the advantage but Jim had the precision. Mick ended up pushed to the concrete, kicking and flailing as Jim finally pinned him down, after much effort; though Mick’s strength in these outbursts was almost unnatural. Jim had learned a few tactics of his own, and he had the merit of cool-headedness.
He felt misunderstood.
* * *
It is two days later; the morning of the swimming championships. Jim is clearly nettled that their parents have promised to be there. They did not turn up for his tennis contest. Just as well, he thinks but that does not really help. Mick, as usual, manages to be centre-stage. Jim eats his four weet-bix stoically and shuts up. When his mother asks him about the chemistry test he grunts. He rises from table just as Mick comes in, sluggish as usual. He pulls the pud too much, and that’s the truth. No self-control at all. One day Jim will have his own separate room. Even if he has to leave home to do it.
Good luck today, Mick, Jim grunts as he whips out his bicycle-clips and heads off. Mick looks up and gives a smile, almost of gratitude.
But at the lunchtime break, just before the races begin and the people are allowed into the school grounds for the contest, Jim, who has been uncharacteristically grumpy all morning, not his usual self-contained self, gets involved in a stupid argument with one of the kids. It is not even someone he has much to do with.
If I had a brother like Mick Turner I’d get some brown boot polish and polish him up; he’s so white it makes you sick, Colin Thompson had said.
That was it. Jim grabbed him by the scruff and pushed him against the big Jacaranda by the tennis courts.
What’s that you said about my twin?
Can’t you take a joke? Why are you and him such different colours, but? Suss to me, that is. Very suss.
Jim was into him and even he was surprised by the vehemence. It took Garth Rasmussen to break in and intervene and even then Jim turned on him and they ended in a wrestling match on the lawn, almost within sight of the Headmaster’s upstairs verandah. It became a real fight.
Mick heard of it from one of his classmates. He rushed around and found Jim sprawled under Rasmussen and still struggling.
Something like a white sheet of fury entered Mick’s spirit then. He threw himself on Rasmussen, fists gripping and with a strength that clearly took Rasmussen unprepared, surprising him with a force that unbalanced him and left him sprawling. Jim, released, started to pick himself up.
Mick had to be forcibly restrained by two or three of the onlookers. His freckled faced was flushed deep red and his eyes were almost unseeing in their wildness. They were frightening.
Rasmussen began laughing, awkwardly, as he dusted himself down and stood up to resume the conflict- with whichever of the brothers chose to be in it. Both, if necessary.
But that was quickly avoided. Let your brother fight his own battles, one of the boys hissed to Mick. You two can’t gang up like that, let him finish where he started off. It was his fight. And Mick was shaken by several arms gripping his shoulders, to make sure he heard what was being said.
Slowly he nodded, and then pulled back.
Quick! Teacher! One of the others whispered. They all dispersed into separate parts of the yard and Mick was led away by some of the other members of his swimming squad. He was still shaking with something of an echo of that rage, the madness that claimed him and took over, like the times he was a kid, before he learned.
He had found himself fiercely protective in a way he had not been prepared for. That image of Jim sprawled, on the ground, straddled over by Rasmussen and struggling to get free: what you do at the time of your first emergency is not quite what you might have anticipated, nevertheless what you do is absolute ground base. It is what matters.
Mick had never thought of his twin in those terms. He had never even asked himself (why should he?) what really matters.
He looked over to seek out his brother. Jim and Rasmussen over there, laughing together, chiyacking each other.
Mick turned away. No. It’s no surprise. That deep rage which spurred him into action had been self-generated, no doubt about that. And yet, no, not self-generated, it was something quite outside self.
He walked up to them and they quietened down.
He caught Garth Rasmussen’s eye and held it. You lay a finger on my brother, I’m telling you, you’ll have me to contend with. Like you say, Rasmussen, it’s cunning that counts, and once I start nothing can stop me.
Aw, Mick. Come off it. Jim attempted to intervene.
Once you get me going, you will regret it, Gat Ratmutton, ask Jim, he will tell you; Mum calls it the wild Irish but if I get started I can’t stop. So don’t get me started, Ratmutton.
Now Mick… His brother attempted a laugh but nobody was convinced. They were all waiting.
You tell him, Mick repeated When I was twelve that time you all thought I’d gone out of control. Out of control, that was what Dad said, but I was a machine then, I was a machine.
Not here, Jim whispered. Mick, you’re getting yourself worked up…
Too right I am. But I’m telling you, Ratmutton, I can be subtle, too, I can play my own jokes if I have to; remember the salted weet-bix, Jim? Remember that time?
Jim looked almost grateful. His brother had somehow defused himself, that frightening head of steam had been prevented from building up. When was it, two years ago? Jim knew his brother’s eye was no longer fixed onto Garth Rasmussen. Jim played back the opening.
Not the week of the salted weet-bix! he exclaimed with such unexpected vehemence that everyone broke up. Jim Turner was not noted for dramatic acting; that was his brother’s line. They all wanted to know more, and even Mick ended up laughing and explaining.
Jim let his brother move back centre stage.
Every morning, regular as the milkman’s horse, Jim has these four weet-bix. Mick gave a wink to his brother. You can time him, too. Quarter to eight on the dot – pick up the weet-bix packet, shove out four Weet-bix. Reach for the sugar bowl. Three big spoonsfull of sugar, over the weet-bix. Pour in the milk — from the side, never on top. Let the milk seep up the dry sides and when the sugar begins to melt and not before, then Jim shoves in his spoon and the swishing and dunking begin. It is 7.48 exactly by then. I’ve timed it. Regular as clockwork.
Mick’s always running late, his brother put in.
Weet-bix, sugar, and then milk. In that order. Every time. What would happen, Jim, if you put the milk in before the sugar? I’ve even suggested Jim put the milk in first, like an ocean to float his weet-bix in. You think he’s interested?
Only Mick would suggest milk in first. He’s got no sense of order.
Well, I decided something had to be done, before Jim turned into clockwork himself. I got up early before piano practice and I filled the sugar bowl with salt. No one saw me.
But didn’t your parents……?
Dad doesn’t have cereal and Mum always waits till we’re finished. Jim is always first with the sugar bowl. In this case, with the salt bowl.
But you can tell the difference. You can feel it.
At a 7.48 a.m.? Jim didn’t give it a thought.
That’s true. Not at first.
Until he took his first mouthful.
Ugh! I’ll get you for that, Mick. I’ll think up some revenge, just you wait.
I’ll help you, Garth Rasmussen said. Who could endure salt on his weet-bix? What a sacrilege to a weet-bix. What did it taste like, Jim?
But Mick gave his brother a bear-hug. Jim’s making deep plots, I know. Will my stamp collection be safe? Or has Jim hidden plans to short-sheet my bed and sprinkle it with pepper? Tell you this, salt weet-bix, once tasted never forgotten.
Mick’s black rage seemed as if it had never existed it had evaporated so completely. Jim looked on, hands in pockets, his fingers rubbing bruised knuckles against the tight cloth.
* * *
They all ended up in a gang making down to the races. Mick in the centre and Jim more or less quietly mingling with the others. Not with Garth Rasmussen either. He remembered being under him, and carried his own quiet feelings of unforgiveness.
It was, in fact, Jim who insistently spread the tag name of Ratmutton till it became currency, at least for that year.
Mick himself was looking forward to the big race, almost upon him. It did not matter, now, that when he stood on the blocks, his tight belly and muscly buttocks under the Speedo racing togs were pale as a peeled potato, or a white seal.