Swank

At school

Swank stuffed his clothes into a soft bag along with his MP3 players, mobile phone and a variety of other communication devices. A couple of magazines went in. Janis and Frez came to help. They were slouching on his single bed and chair. The dorm rooms were small but comfortable.

‘Sucks man you have to go. What’ll you do on the ship?’

Swank shrugged, ‘It’s only for a few weeks.’

‘What’s ya old man up to these days?’

‘Same old, I think he said he’s writing his ’memoirs’, or something,’ Swank grinned suddenly as a thought came to him.

Frez caught the smile, ‘What’cha thinking? Add something to the meemwa’s’’

‘Might do, so long the crew’s not keeping 24/7 tabs on me.’

‘That sucks, man. You should have your folks up for…dunno…the privacy act or somethin’.’

‘What’s the point? I get pretty much everything else I want.’

‘Yeh, but Swank they don’t …you know…accept the way you are.’

‘Parents are parents, teachers are teachers, everyone is in their rightful place, you’re my friends and accept me, that’s enough for me.’

Janis and Frez laughed, ‘Cripes Swank don’t say somethin’ like that to ‘em, they’ll have a fit.’

‘Don’t let anyone hear you use the word ‘cripes’ Frez.’ Swank finished stuffing his bag. ‘Want anything while I’m gone?’

The two came out with a list of items and some cash to cover. Swank glanced over the list and fished around in his closet. He finished packing by shoving another soft empty bag into his full bag.

Frez looked out the small window. ‘Hey, your mum’s here.’ He glanced back, ‘Are her panties still being knicked?’

Swank’s two friends looked at each other and cracked up laughing. Swank shrugged, ‘I’m not going to ask her, not after last time you brought it up. Subtlety is not your strong point.’

‘Swank, that kills me.’ Frez placed his tattooed hand over his chest in mock pain. ‘Karen didn’t mind me being not so subtle two nights ago.’

‘That’s because she’s a hooker Frez.’

Frez ducked a pillow headed his way.

The teens stomped down the steps and through the main door of the dorm building. They sauntered over to the small woman sitting in the yellow corvette. She smiled at the trio pulling her sunglasses over to the top of her head.

‘Hey, Mrs S.’

‘How are ya, Mrs S?’

‘Fine Janis, Frez, how have things been?’

They gave their usual monosyllabic answers.

Swank tossed his bag into the car. ‘Gotta go.’

‘Later.’

‘Later.’

‘Bye boys.’

‘Later.’

On the road

Swank and his mum drove along the long winding road which led to the coast. It was a two-hour drive and he relaxed in the sports car. Mum was playing some old fogy music, but the rule was the driver got to choose the station. He was tempted to put his earphones on to listen to some of his music but knew it would irritate her. It was expected they have a ‘conversation’ first.

‘We’ve got a job on tomorrow, Swank. You’ll just have to come to terms with the family business. We would like you to be a part of it but you have made it perfectly clear what you think already. You know that we love you but sometimes….’

Funny how the ‘we love you’ always followed a ‘but’. Swank half-listened while his mum rambled on, getting passionate about her words. He said ‘yeh’ now and then hoping they were in the right places.

‘…your dad will probably want to frisk you when you get on board, there was some concern over the last job you were privileged to be a party to.’

‘That was nine years ago.’

He couldn’t believe they were still going on about that little episode. Since then they had conducted their jobs in secret whenever he was on board or simply waited until he got off. One year he played sick to see how long it would be before they would kick him off.

‘You almost ruined us Swank; it’s going to be hard to trust you again…’

Here we go the ‘trust you again’ talk. He was going to puke if she started talking about his older sister and brother again and how proud they were of them.

Half an hour later and it was out. At least with his mum, he knew that would be it for the three weeks. Dad would make unsubtle little remarks throughout the stay but never fully confront him.

They stopped at a flouncy café for some lunch. He played the gentleman to his mum. He got a lot of strange looks from those sitting at neighbouring tables. His mum took care of them. They ordered their drinks and meals and enjoyed some light conversation.

Swank filled her in with the goings-on of his mates, Janis and Frez. She was always interested in those two and what was going on in their lives. He then filled her in with what his teachers were doing and any gossip that had been going on in the upmarket school. She would always tell him she missed being a part of the committees. He told her about the new accountant.

They headed off again, they were halfway there when she drove into a small town and stopped at a supermarket.

‘Supplies, huh.’

She just gave him a look. ‘Are you coming?’

‘Hey, could you grab some good seed for Krok?’ He yelled at her retreating back unsure if she’d heard him.

A half-hour later she returned with some bags filled with an odd assortment of hardware and other odds and sodds and birdseed.

Swank had opted out of shopping and listened to his selection of MP3 player. He started when the driver’s door was slammed shut. He packed his stuff away into his bag that was between his legs. They drove out with Swank sinking down into his seat.

‘Come on Swank, isn’t this fun?’

Not with your mum. It was embarrassing.

Down the road, the old-timers’ radio was back on.

‘Swank, we need to have some family meals again. At least try again.’

He couldn’t help groaning out loud, she ignored him. ‘Please, Swank, don’t worry about tonight, but make an appearance in the morning, and then again at dinner. For me?’

‘If you put it that way. Been talking to Gran again?’

‘This morning, on the way to pick you up.’

‘Hope you pulled over when she rang?’

‘Check the glove compartment,’ she smiled, changing the subject and not looking at him.

He checked it out and found a wrapped up box. ‘No ribbons this time?’

He unwrapped the present and opened the lid to the box. ‘Nice one, mum.’

‘Don’t tell your father.’

They arrived at the port. The car was driven into their private storage unit, locked and they headed for the small rowboat waiting for them. Two ill-looking crew members were idling their time by playing cards. As soon as they spotted his mum they packed up and stood to attention.

Swank handed over his backpack, and two of the bags from the shopping trip. A crewman was staring at him hard. Swank rubbed his nose deliberately and slowly at the crewman. They got into the boat and had a quiet trip to the large sailing vessel. Swank looked everywhere but at the looming vessel focussing instead on the diminishing coast and port. With a bump, they reached their destination. His mum swung up onto the rope ladder managing to look smart and neat in her maroon pantsuit. Swank took up his own bag and climbed over the rail at the top feeling a firm hand on his arm.

On the Ship

‘Son.’

That was all the greeting he got from his dad after his mum and dad exchanged kisses. A light breeze swept through the group, and Swank heard his chains rattling a little. He also noticed his dad looking at his hair and then at his ear.

‘Got new rings?’

Swank nodded, surprised that he even noticed that he had new ones. Swank had five now in his ear, one in his eyebrow, one in his nose, which had gotten infected and he had to go to the hospital. His older sister had helped him out with that problem. He also had a new ring through his lip as well as a new piercing.

Swank winked at Krok, his dad’s feathered pal, who crapped down his back all the time. The Cattle Egret opened his beak and stuck out his tongue. Swank did the same. Crafty bird. He turned back to his dad.

‘Got any jobs for me to do?’ Might as well get them out the way.

‘Yeh, I need you to clean up Krok’s perch area and get more seed from the storeroom for ‘im. Then that’s pretty much it. We’ve got a job tomorrow, …

Boring, here we go.

‘…you understand son,…’

Don’t care.

‘…so Fred here is gonna take…’

‘Whatever.’

Fred wasn’t so bad for one of the crew. He’d been with the family for years now. Cecil was a real pr…

‘Only one knife,’ Fred’s voice interrupted Swank’s thoughts, ‘it’s a utility.’

His dad grunted.

All his communication devices were confiscated. His knife was returned.

‘Darling, Gran wants…’ his mum started to talk to Swank.

His mum and dad were talking so Swank wandered off with the rest of his gear. He had a few nods from some of the newer crew and some dirty looks from the older crew. He gave them the finger as he went down to his cabin. The ship took to sail.

He settled in, read a while and then popped on his earphones and enjoyed the sounds of … He must have drifted off for a few moments because he woke up feeling disorientated. A minute later and he remembered where he was and what he had to do. He groaned.

His dad’s cabin was down the hall and his mum’s down a level under his dad’s. They had the biggest cabins, but Swank did alright in Mr Fab’s old room. The largest of the three kids cabins when they all lived on board.

He entered the big cabin, it was still the same. His dad didn’t like change very much and Swank remembered only two arguments that his dad had won over the mum. The second argument won was one was not to come into his cabin and move or tidy his things, redecorate or change the furniture around. The family photo still hung on the wall behind the desk. Behind the chair where his dad couldn’t see it. Swank made a note to move the photo so that it could be seen.

He cleaned up the perch area and saw Krok flutter in through an open window. He gave the bird a good scratch. Krok relaxed and dozed off.

The teen’s boots made crunching noises as the missed seed was crushed beneath them. ‘I’ve got your favourite Krok.’

He held up a bag of ‘Dr Trevor’s Special Seed, As Advertised on TV, and a sealed bowl of insects, squirming around inside. Ticks and blood-sucking flies.

‘What have you been up to, still messing up the Captain’s coat?’

He refilled the feed tray and finished up.

The computer on the desk was too tempting. He moved the mouse and discovered it had a password. Easy. His sister had shown him some interesting ways of breaking passwords. What he knew she counted on was his lack of interest in such things. He got in and had a read of the memoirs. It needed some spicing up, it was very….blah.

The laptop’s lid was closed with a resounding click.

Swank Buckling glanced over at the bird with a wicked gleam in his green eyes and grinned at his father’s feathered companion. His black lips opened to speak but the noise on the upper deck distracted him, ‘time to go,’ the teenager went over to the bird giving him a quick scratch under the spiky yellow plumes, ‘it’s our little secret Krok, remember.’

Swank received a saucy look from Krok.

Swank headed out and passed his dad in the hallway. It was a close call.

‘Did you feed the bird-like I asked you?’

Swank was heading toward his cabin and had already fitted the small earpieces into his ears, the music was on, but he still heard his dad’s rather loud voice.

He had had a phone conversation with the new crewman who was concerned about Krok, he had mentioned a few days ago to bring back some live grub for the Cattle Egret.

He and his mates looked through internet pages to find out what egrets ate. Once that was achieved, they had gone to collect.

‘Yeh, what else? Rob anyone today?’

Swank didn’t listen for the answer as his spiky blond hairdo brushed against the top of his cabin door as he entered his room. Time to relax. He increased the volume on his MP3 player, grabbed up a packet of pretzels and a bottle of juice he’d taken from the galley earlier. He jumped on his bunk eating and bobbing his head to the sound of his favourite band. He hated the holidays with his parents.

A bit later, he heard the thumping of boots move down the stairs toward his dad’s cabin. Must be briefing time. He considered spying but couldn’t be bothered. He, Janis and Frez had been out all night and went to bed at 4am that same morning. He was glad his parents had a job. He turned up his music.

More thumping roused Swank out of his snooze. He decided to raid the galley again before the main meal. The cook was new and was a little friendlier. A few gratifying remarks to the cook and he got a full meal to go and desert with a bottle of wine. He took himself back to his room humming a tune. With a full stomach and comfy bed, he fell quickly asleep.

That night at some stage he woke with a start at a thump in the night and Krok croaking. Dad must still be having nightmares.

morning

The morning came around fast. He had slept deep and well. The bottle of wine must have helped.

He put on his music while showering. Next, the grooming, he fixed his hair, put on his face paint, black lipstick, rings in and dressed… in black.

Time for breakfast. He attached his final chains and just as he was about to open the door a bang on it shook it and the frame.

His dad’s voice boomed through, ‘breakfast.’

Swank waited just a minute or so. He hated those gauche moments when you were walking with someone and had nothing to say even though it wasn’t a long way to the galley. Swank grabbed up his MP3 player as a last resort. An argument would always start a conversation. He entered the galley and sat down next to his father and opposite his mother. The cook had made his favourite breakfast, after their discussion last night they had discovered some common interests. He knew his music filtered out through his earpieces. It was just a matter of time.

Swank winked at the cook and kept listening to the music. He pretended not to see his mum’s face. Swash was looking annoyed and he was suggesting that Swish sit down.

‘Swank? SWANK?’

He wanted to say he’d heard the first time, but he said the next most irritating thing, ‘huh?’

His dad indicated the earphones should come off. He took them off and dangled them around his neck, with the music still on.

‘How was school this semester?’

I got straight A’s.

‘Ok.’

‘What subjects did you choose?’

‘The usual’, Swank gave his dad some points for trying and said as much.

‘What are the usual?’ his dad persisted.

‘Ballet, music, basket weaving, baking and knitting.’

A glass broke in his mum’s hands. He meant it as a joke, but it also had some truth in it. He’d better come clean for his mum. He had taken some of those units on the side. The guys thought it a great joke, but when Swank managed to find some gorgeous partners for Friday nights, the guys joined in some as well.

‘Don’t panic pops; I took Maths, Literature, Science, Drama and Economics.’

It was actually Advanced Maths, First Year University Literature, Advanced Science, Drama, and International Economics.

His dad looked shocked with the humbled version of his subjects, time to cool things down a little, ‘I’m thinking about being a politician.’

He saw the smiles and relaxed. He wanted into politics to reform the laws on social structures of society. When he’d told his sister Switch and his bro, Mr Fab, they had laughed their heads off. Mr Fab claimed the day he told their parents why he wanted to be a politician was the day they would sail to another universe. Swish made him swear by their secret oath that he wouldn’t divulge his why until she and Mr Fabulous were in the same room as their parents. He owed her so he made the oath.

The Job

Breakfast was finished, they headed their own ways. He got a kiss on the cheek from his mum and a nod from the Captain. The cook graciously supplied him with a number of items for the day.

The day was spent listening to music, playing games on the Z-Bocks. He talked to Gran again for a few minutes on his Gameman which had a phone secretly built into it. She wanted to know how the job was going. All Swank could tell her was that there was a lot of noise and the sea was a bit rough. He slept a little, but before long, it was dinner time. He knew it wouldn’t be as painful as breakfast because by the sounds of the cheers everything went ok.

After the Job

He went to the galley and as he was trying to figure out what the cook had made his dad joined him.

‘Good day, I take it?’ he asked his dad.

‘One of the best. We’ve got some great stuff.’

‘Like what?’

His dad provided him with a detailed verbal list. The MP3 players interested him. He knew what his dad was thinking even before the mouth had opened; he looked straight into his dad’s black eyes and told him he would buy the goods.

‘I suppose you want a discount.’

His dad hated it when he reminded him where he worked, ‘Chumpy Cheese doesn’t pay that well, so yeh, a discount for your son would be sweet.’ And Janis and Frez. He’d mention it to mum though.

‘Check with your mother.’

Just as his dad finished the sentence, mum walked in with the biggest smile he’d seen in a long time. She kissed his dad and sat down listening to Swash reciting the previous conversation.

‘Swank, come see me at nineteen thirty hours in my office. We’ll discuss the goods and prices there.’

‘Great, thanks’

Dinner was served and smelt divine. Swank had given the cook a special marinade recipe for pork chops.

His meeting with mum went well, which was largely due to him turning up on time and knocking politely at the office door. She called out and he sat down opposite her desk. On the desk was an assortment of MP3 players, computer hardware, mobile phones, and other gizmos. They discussed the different products and agreed on a price for a number of items. He also got some great deals for his mates.

By the time Swank had stood up and was closing the office door his mum was back at work. Her sleek, dark hair was tied up in a single pony and she was already in deep concentration over some figures. Her lips moved ever so slightly as she read the numbers in her head, checking and double-checking. Everything would be accounted for. She was one of the top accountants in the world and many had thought her mad to marry Swash.

When Swank was six, he and his older brother and sister would listen as mum and dad told stories of how they met and how his dad had to change his first name in order to marry her. On one such night, they had huddled around on his big brother’s double bunk. It was a cold and dreary night, perfect for a story from their parents past.

Swish had been working for the top accounting firm when she received a rather hesitant phone call from a very nervous man. She immediately knew two things about him before he began his account. The first thing was that he was rich, to have reached her level. The second thing was that he was without the attitude of those who were loaded.

His business was very successful and he had to hire more people, including an accountant. The thing that intrigued her the most was the top level of security and discretion she had to agree to before handling his accounts. She had agreed and they met, with lawyers. Before long they were dating and she learnt the nature of his business. By this stage, she was in too deep and could not back out without costing a lot of money.

Swank remembered the love in their voices as they shared their versions of the tales. Swish had fallen in love with Swank and joined him in his business. Years passed and the children had grown up and left the ship. His parents no longer had a captive audience. He suspected though, through comments from the cook, that the two still told their tales to new and unsuspecting crew members.

Swank smiled at the doorway and gently closed the cabin door. He knew she would be there well into the night, missing the celebrations of another well-executed plan.

By the time he arrived back in his cabin, he saw all his gear had come back and was placed neatly on his cabin bunk. He grabbed up his mobile to call Andrea at Chumpy Cheese. She should be on shift by now.

‘How’s it going?’

‘The usual Swank, I’m glad we spoke before you left. Now that we’ve come up with a solution I feel a lot better. I’m sleeping through the night again; I don’t feel like I have to have a shower every six minutes. Just the thought of those podgy greasy hands makes me feel ill. I don’t know what I would have done without you. We’re all looking forward to when you get back. How are things your end?’

‘Same old. We’ll have to act quickly when I get back. That old larder brain is going down. I don’t know how you put up with it for as long as you did.’

‘We’ve all suffered Swank.’

‘Yeh, but you have protected a lot of the others. You’ve stayed put and stuck it out.’

‘Well, all I can say if you hadn’t come along when you did, I wouldn’t have been there anymore. You’re a great friend Swank.’

‘You too, Andrea. If you need anything just give me a call, anytime.’

The two friends talked for another fifteen minutes before hanging up.

He went over the plan they had come up with and knew it to be faultless. It would only be a matter of time now. He was impatient to get back but family obligations came first.

He rang Janis.

‘HEY FREZ, IT’S SWANK’

Swank had to hold the phone away from his ear.

He could make out a faint voice on the other end, ‘Janis, you moron, what are ya trying to do, make Swank deaf?’ and then a quieter voice said, ‘Sorry, Swank.’

‘No problem, how’s the club doing?’

‘Bad news on that count Swank, they say you gotta clean up your appearance or else your out.’

‘You shittin me?’

‘Na, a bunch of wankers. You’re the whole reason the club made it to where it is today, and now the bunch of do-gooders come in and want ‘standards’. We told them they can go shove it up their asses and they looked shocked.’

‘Well, it was hardly subtle.’

‘Anyhow, we spread the news and everyone cracked the shits and they’re trying to figure out what to do.’

‘Frez here, what do you want us to do?’

‘Hang tight for a while. See what they say. When did this happen?

‘Last night, cowards.’

‘They waited till I left, fewkin do-goobers. Alright, I’ll think about it.’

‘WHAT? You not goin do what they say… are ya?…’

‘There’s a lot at stake here Frez. Look…I’ll get back to you later on tonight.’

They hung up and Swank just stared at his phone for a while.

It was a big decision. He dressed like this because he liked the looked. It made him feel less ordinary, less boring, that he wasn’t one of the sheep in everyday life just passing through like some zombie who was completely unaware of what was happening around him. He felt alive dressing like this. It was more than just a statement it was a symbol of who he was and how he felt.

He rang Gran.

‘…yeh, they still go on about it. Mum gets it out in one hit but dad goes on about it.’

‘na…mmm….dunno…..I got frisked when I got on board…’ Swank again held the phone away from his ear, ‘Gran, Gran, don’t say anything, I don’t care. Yeh, I know.’

‘…uhuh….na…..yep…..ok….you coming over again to see us? Janis really liked your baking. Yeh, of course, I like your baking Gran, but Janis misses out with only having a dad…Yeh, that’s the one…..’

Swank lay down on his bunk, looking up at the wooden ceiling, the ship was rocking a little and he could feel that they were moving fairly quickly.

‘…mm….no….all A’s…,’ he laughed, ‘That’ll be great.’

‘I’ve got five now…blond…..haha, I should go yellow like Krok…..’ he laughed again, ’hey Gran, I’ve got a problem. I’ve just talked to Janis and Frez, you know that club I’ve been involved in…yeh, that’s the one, they want me to change the way I look, they think it’s too radical…..well that’s what I think as well……I don’t know, I’ve told them not to take any action till I’ve thought about it…………….yeh…thanks Gran it always helps to talk to you……ok….later.’

Swank put his phone down and decided to go topside for some fresh air. He grabbed his jacket and then headed aft where he knew it would be quiet. He perched upon a rail and felt the sea air rushing past him. It was an incredible night. The clear skies displayed crystal clear stars. He studied the constellations and made rough calculations in his head about how long it would take to get from place to place. The crew moved silently around him working. They had to sail to a secluded cove on an isolated island.

His thoughts drifted to the problem and he knew exactly what the do-goobers would be saying. ‘It was such a waste that someone like him was reducing himself to the level of punks whose reputations preceded them.’ If they bothered to study the people behind the make up they’d discover some amazing things. Like he had. Each punk was as different as chalk from cheese, they lived by their own code and dressed accordingly but it was no different from the sheep. Sheep too lived by a code and dressed accordingly. They were just so numerous that individuality was smothered. But sheep weren’t always what they seemed and to him, that was more of a lie than what he did. They pretended to be pure when inside they were as rotten as curdled, rancid milk.

He knew there was a way to achieve both wanted results. It would simply take some prudent planning, the help from a few friends and recruiting his sister, Switch, again.

Swank Swish The Gran The Crewman The Ship Swash The Bird