Cathryn Perazzo |
This story began with a couple of different ideas that I rubbed together to see what would happen. These included: my daughter thinking it unfair to animals that we eat them and asking “how would you like it?”; and a separate question I’d thought of, “What would it be like if I couldn’t get home to my family and could never let them know what happened to me?”
Although I usually write about possible “nows”, I discovered the best way to tell this story was of a possible “future”, and with a young adult protagonist. For this reason “The Catcher” can be seen to fall into the category of speculative fiction for young adults. I think my interest in writing possible futures comes from some of the novels I have read, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood and The Tomorrow Series by John Marsden. I also continue to be inspired by fiction such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Steven Amsterdam’s The Things We Didn’t See Coming.
I could have made different choices. For example, I could have posted the envelope about the art competition two days in advance, or at least on the day – before they cleared the mail. But I procrastinated. I knew Matthew wouldn’t be happy with what I was doing. Then, when I’d finally made a decision, maybe I should have sat beside the post box and filled out the entry form, so I could ask the postie to wait up a sec while I quickly scrawled out the address and stuck the stamp on.
Instead, I got there at 6:03, just in time to see him screech off on his way to the next box. Maybe if I’d owned up to Matthew, about everything, he would have understood and driven me to the Art Park. Maybe I shouldn’t have got out of bed that day, or ever started painting at all. Who was I kidding anyway?
I’d give just about anything now to have a pen, some charcoal from a burnt match, a hair clip even. I’d write a message or draw a picture only he’d understand, so somehow, someway Matthew could have a chance of finding out what happened to me.
No one has seemed to notice I’m different from the others. That I don’t belong here. The other kids are wearing all sorts of odds and ends, but I have shoes and a full set of clothes. Well I had shoes until a little girl called Tamisan swapped me a piece of chocolate for them (I was starving), even though they’re huge on her. And I’ve got a coat, for God’s sake. Nobody else has a coat.
They’ve told me things – these street kids. They can’t believe how stupid I am. It turns out this is part of their story, their legend. They write songs and poetry about The Catcher, or they would if they thought of it. I’m sure I’ll hear about witches and wicked stepmothers soon; it’s that kind of tale. At first I’ll refuse to believe, like I did about this, until they give example after example, sounding so sincere and telling me of the kids who never came back, and then they’ll convince me.
Anyway, I saw the logo as the van pulled in: MELTERS Pty Ltd. No one seems to care what we see because you’re not expected to leave here alive. I think we’re in some kind of holding yard. We’re on hay, believe it or not, I guess so we don’t bruise our flesh on the hard cement. I’ve been doing my best to sabotage them by throwing myself against the wall, for as long as I can stand it. I have scratches and green bruises. Maybe I’m just making myself tenderer, though. The way Matthew tenderises tough meat at home.
I used to want to be vegetarian. When I was a little kid, I remember arguing with Matthew about eating meat. I felt sorry for the lambs and chickens. Especially veal – imagine eating tiny calves. I still can’t eat veal. Even though the animals were cut up into unrecognisable slabs of meat, I still thought of them as animals. I cringed every time I smelled cooking flesh. Poor Matthew must have despaired of me, trying to cope with just the two of us, without Mum. He said we couldn’t afford many veggies since the big drought, and prices skyrocketted. Also, being in an apartment, we could only grow a few things in pots, some carrots, beans or tomatoes, depending on the season. Meat got more expensive, too, but then Melters came on the market. I asked what animal they came from and Matthew said, “I neither know nor care” (those were his exact words). They were affordable, tasty and tender. Melters hardly ever needed tenderising. Now I know why.
Apparently there are whole families living on the streets. I’d heard about street kids, but families – thousands of them? I didn’t realise. There’d be far more street kids, of course, if not for Melters. The older people, the adults, or the ones who’ve been around for a while, have passed on this theory: that the Government knows what’s going on, and turns a blind eye. They know the children are being taken, and yet they do nothing. It’s a bad look, politically, for there to be street kids and obvious poverty. Doesn’t this solve a lot of their worries? The real conspiracy theorists have even suggested the Government’s behind it.
You would expect under the circumstances that there would be tears and screams and tantrums, but things are pretty subdued in here. There’s an acceptance, like this is where we are now, right where we expected to be. I look around me and I see Bradley, the twelve-year old who’s done most of the explaining. He’s sitting with his little sister.
Both of them are leaning back against a wall and looking out the tiny high-up window opposite. This is where the only light comes in. When the sun goes down, that’s it for the night – blackness. At least for the two nights we’ve been in here. Through the window, I can see grey streaky clouds moving fast. It must be windy outside.
A couple of boys, about ten years old, are tossing a ball to one another – a superball one of them had in his pocket. When they toss it against the concrete wall every now and again, it ricochets off at a crazy angle and we all duck and hope for the best.
There are two other girls here as well, Tamisan and Bethany. They play clapping games until their hands hurt, but right now they’re resting mostly and sometimes whispering with their heads close together.
Early on, I tried to hug Bethany, who was sitting near me at the time, thinking she must be afraid and need comforting. She pulled away and went over to Tamisan. They’re very self-sufficient these little kids. I guess that’s not surprising. They listen if Bradley says anything to them, though. They respect their elders.
There’s a water trough in here. We can use our hands to cup water, or put our faces in and lap, like Bradley’s little sister does, but we haven’t been given any food. I guess we won’t be left long without eating, for obvious reasons to do with the quality of our haunches. There must be a careful balance between wasting money on feed, the timing of processing, and damaging the quality of the product. What a headache for the bosses.
The street kids might accept their fate, but I should never have been in this situation. How I wish I could go back to worrying about school, and my future, and trying to become an artist. It seemed enough of a problem that I couldn’t learn Art at school, Art being a banned subject. Matthew says things were different in his day. There were Art and Media and Photography, and Creative Writing. Now, if a subject doesn’t guarantee you a job in something like computing, hospitality, or finance, forget about it.
Only a few nights ago (it seems like a year), I was speeding along on my bike with the envelope in my coat pocket. At first I thought I’d just try to beat the postie to the next post box. He had traffic to deal with and I could go pretty fast along the footpath. I waited for twenty minutes at the box, before I made myself accept I’d missed him somehow. I gave up and went home. Lying in bed that night, I came up with a plan. The Art Park was only two suburbs away and I would ride there. And it must be that night. I had school the next day, and then it would be too late.
I stuck to the footpath, away from street lights as much as possible, so no one would notice me in my dark coat with the hood covering my curly hair. I barrelled along on the footpath, feeling like super girl flying into an adventure. I thought of Matthew at home in bed with no idea where I was.
At the Art Park, I shoved the letter under the door and pelted back towards my bike, my heart thumping. It was then that The Catcher got me. He threw a huge net over my shoulders, and wrapped his hand around my mouth just as I started screaming. He bundled me into the back of his van.
I’m worried. I’m sick with worry. I remember my mother used to say that. She felt sick to the pit of her stomach about Aunty Mae’s cancer, or Uncle Jack’s liver transplant. I understand what she meant now.
I’m worried that Matthew thinks I left home because I wanted to run away, because I don’t love him anymore. I still hope I’m going to get out of here. If I end up in someone’s freezer instead, I hope (by some bizarre coincidence) it’s at home. Then I hope Matthew will recognise me somehow. He might notice the lumpy bone from the broken leg I got falling off my scooter, or one of my blue stud earrings that accidentally ended up in the cling wrap packaging.
Maybe he’ll just sense that I’m there and understand.
Cathryn Perazzo is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. For her practice-led PhD thesis she is working on a novel plus exegesis. Her research interests include creative writing theory and practice-led research. Cathryn’s other writing interests include poetry, short story and life writing.