The Game (Irma Gold)

Abby is tall and lanky, taller than all the boys and skinny as all hell. Every afternoon she pegs it down to the wreckers to play with her brother Dan and his mates. They build hideouts in the hulls of cars and play war. Dan always makes Abby go with Jamie, which gives him the shits, to be stuck with a girl, and a Year Eight one at that. He has dank hair that he is forever pushing anxiously off his forehead and a lazy eye, so that Abby can never be sure if he is looking at her or something else entirely.

They make shields out of corrugated iron and throw rocks and bricks at each other. Sometimes they get hurt, but mostly they don’t. Abby gets used to her wrists aching from the slam of bricks reverberating through the iron sheets. She says nothing to the boys, never complains or cries for fear they will no longer allow her to play. There are complex rules. About when you can throw, and how. Close range is out, so is throwing at a target without a shield.

Abby loves it, the rush of adrenalin kicking through her body, the high of scoring a direct hit, or barely escaping a rock that whooshes past and slams into a nearby car with a whip-crack of a noise. It makes her feel alive.

One time Dan is sick and Jamie doesn’t show up, so it is just Derek and Abby. The game doesn’t work as well one-on-one, there isn’t the same pitch of excitement, and the temperature has climbed so high that the yard shimmers, transforming metal into water. Neither of them feels like doing very much so they lean against the side of an engineless car, smoking. An angular shape of shade tents them. They don’t talk and the silence is not uncomfortable.
Abby pushes perfect rings into the still afternoon air. They hang there, Abby-made clouds, before dragging themselves into smears and disappearing. Abby watches Derek sideways and knows that she has managed to impress him. She feels powerful.
‘Can I kiss you?’ he asks eventually. This said to the end of his fag which he is examining as if for defects.
Abby feels the thrill of the question. She grinds her butt into the dirt.
‘All right,’ she says coolly.
His lips are thin and hard. They taste of egg. He pushes her down, so gently Abby almost feels sorry for him.

There is a small stone under the back of her head. Its presence grows with every minute, digging its way into her. Derek reaches up under her T-shirt and pinches her right nipple between thumb and forefinger. It shrivels away from the force of it. He must think she likes it because he does it again, six times. Abby counts.

While she is lying there Abby notices that a roundish cloud drifting over the orb of the sun looks quite like a concentric circle, and thinks about how her science teacher, Mr Shilty, is obsessed with them. He has one leg shorter than the other so he wears a special shoe with a platform heel that he hefts around the room. His walk is full of tilt and they laugh at him when his back is turned. His chin and upper lip are always blue-grey with stubble, even first thing in the morning. He has a dimple in which it pools. When he talks about concentric circles his hands roll around as if they want to become them. Abby is always so dazed by those square hands, so full of purpose, that she loses the thread of his argument.

So there Abby is, a stone pressing into the back of her head with Derek’s hard little nub of a tongue in her ear, thinking of Mr Shilty’s hands. The whole thing is awkward, full of wrong angles. And then there is blood. Not much but enough to be embarrassed about.

Afterwards they quickly wrench on their shorts. Derek’s cheeks are splayed with a raspberry stain.
‘See you tomorrow then,’ he says, not looking at her.
She nods. ‘Yep.’
He doesn’t move and she waits, knowing there is more.
‘Don’t tell Dan,’ he says.
Abby shrugs. ‘All right.’
‘You mean it?’
He is itching with nervousness. That feeling of power rips though Abby again but she says only, ‘Sure,’ as if she couldn’t care less. And then, ‘Dan’s started karate. Did he tell you?’
She doesn’t know why she says it. To scare him perhaps. And it does. She sees the whites of his eyes roil like a frightened calf. At least she thinks she does.
‘My cousin’s a black belt,’ he says. ‘Competes interstate.’
Maybe he isn’t scared after all. ‘It’s a stupid sport if you ask me,’ Abby mutters, feeling a sudden dislike for him.
Derek shrugs, looks away across the hillocks of crumpled cars. They stand, hands in pockets, a good metre between them, unsure how to part.
‘Reckon I’d better get going,’ he finally says.
He takes two steps towards her, pulling a hand from his pocket, and for one bizarre moment she thinks he is going to shake her hand. But then he stops, turns away with barely a nod.
She watches him leave, scuffs the brown patch of blood into the dirt with the toe of her trainer, sits back down and smokes another cigarette. The car creaks a little companionably.
She walks home, watching the early evening sky splurge on colour, thinking all the way: I’m no longer a virgin. I can never be that again. Never. I lost my virginity, in the wreckers, with Dan’s mate. And it was nothing.