Read Gift of the Gab Online

Authors: Morris Gleitzman

Gift of the Gab

Contents

About the Author

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

About the Author

Morris Gleitzman grew up in England and came to Australia when he was sixteen. After university he worked for ten years as a screenwriter. Then he had a wonderful experience. He wrote a novel for young people. Now, after 36 books, he's one of Australia's most popular children's authors.

VISIT MORRIS AT HIS WEBSITE:
www.morrisgleitzman.com

Also by Morris Gleitzman

The Other Facts of Life

Second Childhood

Two Weeks with the Queen

Misery Guts

Worry Warts

Puppy Fat

Blabber Mouth

Sticky Beak

Belly Flop

Water Wings

Wicked! (with Paul Jennings)

Deadly! (with Paul Jennings)

Bumface

Adults Only

Teacher's Pet

Toad Rage

Toad Heaven

Toad Away

Toad Surprise

Boy Overboard

Girl Underground

Worm Story

Aristotle's Nostril

Doubting Thomas

Grace

Too Small to Fail

Give Peas a Chance

Pizza Cake

Once

Then

After

Now

Soon

Extra Time

Loyal Creatures

For my grandparents

It's not fair.

I don't reckon the police should lock people up without hearing their side of the story.

My side of the story's really simple.

I did it, but there was a reason.

I tried to explain to Sergeant Cleary why I did it. In the police car I wrote down in my notebook everything that happened today. Even the things that'll probably make Dad send me to bed early when he hears about them.

I showed my statement to Sergeant Cleary while he was locking me in this cell.

‘Not now, Rowena,' he said.

I could see he wasn't interested, though that might have been because Dermot Figgis was trying to bite him.

Police officers in small country towns have it really tough. The police stations are always understaffed. The only other officer on duty here today is Constable Pola, but he has to stay at the front desk in case of emergency calls or exciting developments in the car racing on TV.

Once Sergeant Cleary got Dermot into a cell, I tried to explain again. I banged on a wall pipe with my pen, like they do in prison movies.

‘Message from Rowena Batts,' I banged in Morse code. ‘I only did it because of the dog poo.'

That was ten minutes ago.

Sergeant Cleary hasn't been back.

He probably doesn't know Morse code. Either that or I didn't send it properly because my hands are shaking so much from outrage at Dermot Figgis and from worry about what's going to happen to me.

Sergeant Cleary's probably ringing Dad now.

‘Mr Batts?' he's probably saying. ‘We've got Rowena in the lock-up. We'll be charging her and putting her on trial as a criminal.'

Just thinking about it gives me a lump in the guts bigger than Antarctica.

Poor Dad. I hate putting him through this. The shame. And the lawyer's fees. He's got enough on his plate with the root weevil in the back paddock.

If only the police would listen to me.

That's the worst thing about being born with bits missing from your throat and not being able to talk with your voice, some people just won't listen to you.

Which means they never hear your side of the story.

The police are hearing Dermot Figgis's side. They can't help hearing it, he's been yelling it from the next cell for the last fifteen minutes.

‘Rowena Batts attacked my car,' he's yelling. ‘She filled it up with stewed apples.'

He's right, I did, but as I said before, there was a reason.

It's all here in my notebook. Including diagrams so the jury at my trial can see exactly what happened.

Some of the diagrams are bit wobbly. It's hard to do neat drawing while your hands are trembling with outrage and indignation. The dog-poo diagram for example. It looks more like two shrivelled sausages. I'd better label it so there's no misunderstanding.

And I'd better draw a diagram of the war memorial so the jury can see where the whole thing started.

This morning at the Anzac Day dawn ceremony.

Anzac Day's a very special day for me and Dad. It's our most important day of the year, including Christmas, birthdays and the release of a new Carla Tamworth CD.

It's the day Mum died.

So if anyone spoils it, I get pretty ropable.

I started getting ropable with Dermot Figgis at about 6.05 this morning.

As the first rays of the sun appeared over the supermarket, the crowd around the war memorial went quiet and Mr Shapiro played ‘The Last Post' on his trumpet. Then we started the two­minute silence for the Aussie soldiers and other people who died in wars.

Dad reckons there were millions of them, including his grandfather who died in World War One, so even though it's not the most important part of the day for me, I try to concentrate.

This morning it was impossible.

Dermot Figgis and some of his hoon mates were doing the sausages. The footy dub always does a sausage sizzle on Anzac Day so people who get emotionally drained by the ceremony can have a hot breakfast after.

As the two-minute silence began, Dermot started chopping onions really loudly.

Everyone glared at him, including me.

Then I glanced anxiously at old Mr Wetherby. He was actually in World War One and saw quite a few of his mates die. It can really stress you if you're trying to think about people who've died and other people are chopping onions noisily, specially if you're ninety-eight.

I could see Mr Wetherby trembling in his wheelchair. For a sec I thought he was so angry he was having a seizure. Then I realised he was just excited because he was being filmed by a TV crew as one of the oldest diggers in the state.

Dermot carried on chopping.

I decided if I go that selfish and dopey when I'm eighteen, I'll book myself in for a brain transplant.

I should have given Dermot a brain transplant there and then.

I would have done if I'd known what he was going to do half an hour later.

The two-minute silence ended and Dad stepped forward and cleared his throat.

Everyone stared. Some people looked cross and others rolled their eyes.

‘Oh no,' someone muttered.

I couldn't believe it. What were they upset about? They all knew Dad was going to sing, he does every year.

It couldn't have been his clothes. Me and Dad got up extra early this morning and put a lot of effort into choosing him a respectful Anzac Day outfit. Black boots. Black jeans. Black shirt except for a tiny bit of yellow fringing. And he'd swapped his cow-skull belt buckle for one with an angel riding a really clean Harley.

The TV cameraman swung his camera away from Mr Wetherby and pointed it at Dad. I don't think he'd seen an apple farmer that well­dressed before.

Mr Cosgrove, the president of the Anzac Day committee, was glaring at Dad even harder than he'd been glaring at Dermot Figgis.

‘Excuse me,' I said to Mr Cosgrove sternly. (I think you're forgetting something. Anzac Day isn't just the day we remember the victims of war, it's also the day my mother died.'

Mr Cosgrove didn't understand all the words, of course, because he doesn't speak sign language, but I could tell he got the gist because he gave a big sigh.

Dad sang the song he always sings at the Anzac Day dawn ceremony. It's a beautiful Carla Tamworth country and western ballad about a truck driver whose wife dies and for the rest of his life he refuses to sell his truck because it's got the impression of her bottom in the passenger seat.

It makes me very sad, that song, because Mum died soon after I was born, so I haven't got those sorts of lasting memories of her.

It affected everyone else too, even though Dad's not that great a singer. Mr Wetherby dabbed away a tear and quite a few other people put their heads in their hands.

I could tell everyone was having strong feelings.

All except Dermot Figgis.

I heard giggling and turned and there was Dermot, dopey blond dreadlocks jiggling as he and his mates pointed at Dad and stuffed hotdog buns in their mouths to stop themselves laughing.

They weren't doing a very good job.

World War One exploded in my head.

I stormed over to Dermot, determined to shut him up.

On the way I picked up a large plastic bottle of mustard.

The human brain's a weird thing.

When it's scared it stops working.

Mine did just now, when I heard Sergeant Cleary coming along the corridor towards the cells.

He's here to charge me, I thought, and transfer me to a remand centre for juvenile offenders.

Then my brain switched itself off.

I know why it did that. I spent five years in a special school once because of my throat problems and I never want to go back to an institution again. Not even if I end up a top surgeon or private detective. I won't charge kids from institutions who need treatment or a missing pet or parent found, but I won't be able to go to them, they'll have to come and see me on my yacht.

It's OK, but. Sergeant Cleary didn't charge me. Not yet. He just came down to tell Dermot Figgis to be quiet.

Dermot's brain went into hibernation too when he saw me storming towards him this morning holding a large bottle of mustard.

The whole town knows I stuffed a live frog into a kid's mouth once, a kid who wasn't respectful to Mum's memory, and Dermot must have thought I was planning to squeeze a bottleful of mustard into his.

I wasn't. I was just going to threaten him with it, that's all.

Dermot stepped away uncertainly, trod on a raw sausage, slipped, fell backwards and ended up sitting in a plastic bin full of ice and water and drink cans.

His mates cacked themselves.

Dermot's face went dark red.

That's when I did a dumb thing. I put my hand out to help him up.

When I think about it now, I feel faint. Dermot's years older than me and he could have crushed my hand like sausage meat in that big paw of his.

He didn't, but.

He let me pull him up. Then, as his mates went silent and embarrassed, he realised what he'd done and snatched his hand away.

He glared down at me with narrow eyes.

‘You're history, kid,' he growled.

‘Cheese-brain,' I replied. He doesn't speak sign, but I could tell he got the gist because his face went an even darker red.

Shaking, I went back over to Dad and concentrated on listening to the last few verses of the song.

When Dad finished, rather than let any more boons spoil our sad mood further, we hopped onto the tractor and went over to the cemetery.

Or we would have done if the tractor hadn't broken down halfway there.

‘Poop,' said Dad, using his mouth, which he always does when he's cross with himself.

I knew Dad was wishing we'd brought the truck. The only reason we brought the tractor was because it was hooked up to a trailerload of mouldy apples Dad had promised Mr Lorenzini for his pigs.

It wasn't so bad. We had the tractor going in under an hour. It would have been less, but the apples attracted a lot of flies so we could only work one-handed.

The tractor broke down again halfway into the cemetery carpark.

‘You go on ahead, Tonto,' said Dad. ‘I'll fix this mongrel and catch you up.'

I was really pleased to hear him say that, partly because I really wanted to get to Mum's grave, and partly because I could tell he wasn't angry.

Tonto was a character in his favourite TV show when he was a kid, and he never calls me it when he's angry.

That's an example of why my dad's so special. A lot of dads, if the tractor was being a real mongrel, would get totally and completely ropable and spoil the most special day of the year.

Not my dad.

No, it's me who ended up doing that.

I knew there was something wrong with Mum's grave even before I got close to it.

It's in the top part of the cemetery with a really good view over the town. Because it's on a slope, you can see the flat grassy part of the grave as well as the headstone when you climb up to it.

I saw two small black things on the grassy part.

I knew they weren't lizards because they didn't scuttle off as I crunched towards them through the dry grass.

When I saw what they were, I felt a stab in the guts.

Dog poo.

Some mangy mongrel had done a poo on my most special place in the world.

Luckily, I always carry tissues on Anzac Day. I pulled a handful from my pocket, grabbed the two long hard shrivelled black objects and chucked them as hard as I could into the bush at the back of the graveyard.

‘Sorry, Mum,' I whispered.

Then I heard Dad crunching towards me, so I stuffed the tissues back into my pocket.

He didn't have to know.

No point making him suffer too.

Funny, me thinking that. Given what's happened since. Dad wouldn't have suffered half as much from a bit of dog poo as he will when he finds out what I've done.

Oh well, at least we had our special time with Mum today.

‘You OK, Tonto?' said Dad after we'd sat by the grave for about half an hour, alone with our feelings.

‘I'm fine,' I replied. What about you?'

Dad's been a bit depressed lately. He always gets a bit depressed around Mum's anniversary. This year he's been more down than usual. I reckon it's the root weevil in the back paddock.

‘I'm fine too,' said Dad. ‘Now we've had our special time.'

That's the great thing about a dad who can speak with his hands. You can have a conversation even when both your throats are dogged up with tears.

We stood up and gave each other the hug Mum would have given us if she'd been around.

That's when I heard it.

A horrible, braying, jeering sound coming from the trees at the top of the cemetery.

Dermot Figgis and his hoon mates.

They swaggered out into the open, yelling and pointing to us and laughing.

I realised what the braying sound was.

Dermot was singing Mum's special song. The one Dad had sung at the war memorial. OK, Dermot could do the tune a bit better than Dad, but he was doing it in a mocking, sneering voice.

My guts knotted.

Then suddenly I knew.

The dog poo.

Suddenly I knew how it had got onto Mum's grave.

A dog didn't leave it there.

A mongrel did.

I stared at Dermot and World War One and World War Two both exploded in my head at the same time.

Dad put a hand on my arm.

‘Ignore him,' he muttered. ‘He'll get his.'

Dad was right about that.

A couple of lines into the song, Dermot forgot the words, which Dad would never do. Dermot gave us the finger and ran laughing into the trees with the other boons.

I don't remember Dad leading me back to the carpark.

All I remember is what I saw there behind some bushes up the other end of the carpark from the tractor.

My heart started thumping so hard I thought my special black Anzac Day T-shirt was going to rip.

Dermot Figgis's car.

I knew it was his because he's the only person in town with a 1983 Falcon sprayed purple.

Dad hadn't seen it. He was too busy frowning at the tractor.

‘I don't reckon she'll make it to Lorenzini's place hauling all these apples,' said Dad, unhooking the trailer. ‘The distributor's gunna cark it any sec. How do you feel about staying here with the trailer while I go and ask Mr Lorenzini to come and fetch you and the apples?'

I found myself nodding really hard.

‘If those boons come back, just ignore 'em,' said Dad. ‘They're all whistle and wind.'

I pretended not to hear him.

Dad gave me a squeeze and chugged off on the tractor.

As soon as he was out of sight, I dragged the trailer up to the other end of the carpark. It took ages and I nearly dislocated my shoulder, but I did it.

Then I grabbed the spade off the back of the trailer, opened Dermot's driver's door and started shovelling gunky apples into his car as fast as I could.

It was hot work, but I got them all in. When I'd finished, the cow-pattern seat covers were buried and you couldn't see much of the steering wheel.

Then I had an extra idea. I groped down into the squishy apples till I felt Dermot's keys in the ignition. I started the engine, groped some more till I found the heater knob, switched the heater on full and locked all the doors.

Revenge felt good.

But only for a sec.

Dermot's angry yell, ringing out across the carpark, put an end to that.

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