In Scoundrel Days Brentley Frazer poetically tells the story of his youth – wild, disillusioned, impassioned and desolate. Born into a Christian cult in outback Queensland, Frazer escapes through literature and poetry, drugs and violence, sex and alcohol; and his ensuing rejection of religion, authority and the ‘way things are’ leads to adventures, desperation and, just possibly, redemption.
This is an extract from Scoundrel Days by Brentley Frazer
The kids at Greenvale State School wear the same shirt. Pale blue, Greenvale State School – Mining for Knowledge written in white letters around an excavator bucket-wheel. My first day, in a big dumb hat with stupid shiny shoes and a huge bag with a plastic lunch box containing an orange which thumps and annoys the hell out of me when I walk. Inside I have a chocolate tin full of pencils and a ragged copy of Tom Sawyer with missing pages. The other kids wear jeans with dirty knees and go barefoot. They slouch and yawn as the teacher introduces herself as Mrs Crisp.
—Now, children, Mrs Crisp says, arranging some papers: Get up off the carpet and pick a desk. You’ll sit there all year. I’ll go into what you can, and what you cannot, keep in your desks later.
A mad scrabble of dusty kids in an eager fit bump and fight over the desks. I grab one as close as possible to the window, beside a strip of linoleum and a room-long stainless-steel sink which separates me from the bush and the creek through the glass. A boy with a crazy mop of orange hair slumps down at the desk next to me.
—Hello! I say, offering to shake.
—Fuck off, with ya pretty gaylord shoes, he says, rolling his eyes at my extended hand.
He has odd eyes. In the left, two colours fight for dominance, bleeding into each other like the edges of shadows: orange, matching his hair, and green, like the greenest blade of grass you’ve seen. His right eye, cold and black as a shadow itself, swallows the light from the window behind me.
So I stop wearing shoes to school. Walking home across the park, I kick a broken bottle and cut the webbing between my big and second toes. Another memory flashes like a punch in the liver. The slice through skin. A man wearing a green cloth hat tied under his chin and a white face mask with a wet patch from his breath. Someone holds me down with rubber hands. The man mumbles for a while. My mother’s voice. The man wipes at me with a cold yellow liquid and with a pair of scissors cuts my penis.
At home from the park. After cleaning up the trail of blood that follows me through the door, Mum produces a box of cotton-wool balls, a sticking plaster and a bottle of the same yellow liquid, marked Iodine. As she dabs at the cut between my toes, I ask:
—Mum, what happened to my penis?
Picking up the bottle of iodine from the table and studying the label, I press on to fill the silence:
—I remember a doctor cutting me with shiny scissors, and a bottle of this iodine stuff. I remember screaming!
Ashen-faced, she tut-tuts at my foot, dabbing at the wound.
—In the showers at the pool you can see the whole tip of mine. The other boys have a hood-type thing. It wrinkles in the water.
Still fussing with my toe, she says:
—We believe in different things than those other boys. Dad has the same … She falters, trails off, composes herself: Jesus said those who truly believe will make the covenant to circumcise our sons.
—Ask your father about it. She rearranges the kitchen chairs to dismiss me.
Walking with a studied limp out through the screen door, down the steps, I stick up a middle finger to my little sisters, Jaz and Fliss, on the trampoline and cross the yard to the police station. I find Dad sitting at his desk, typing with two fingers, his police hat on a pile of papers. The air-conditioning circulates the smell of ink stamps, typewriter ribbons, boot polish and copy paper. My head swims. Dad never can spare time for anyone when he has paperwork to do, and he only does paperwork when someone sits rotting in the cells.
—Hey, Dad. I poke his shoulder.
He ignores me, tap, tap, tap, ding.
—Dad! I shake his arm. Nothing but the shouts of my sisters outside on the trampoline and a truck roaring by on the distant highway. I poke his ribs.
—Buzz off! he yells.
I back away and slip through the courtroom. e heavy vinyl-covered oak desks stink of linseed oil. Out into the jail hall the sun beats down through the skylight. e hot cement burns my feet. I smell piss in the heat and my stomach rises. I blink and focus on a set of filthy fat fingers gripping the prison bars. I can’t see the rest of the man in the darkness of the cell. One of the hands disappears and then comes back through the bars holding a blue melamine cup. A gnarled mask scrunched around sharp predatory eyes aches out of the shadows. He opens his mouth to speak, revealing front teeth cracked, yellow and black:
—Get me some fucken water, kid. Water, fuck ya!
A string of drool oozes from his strips-of-liver lips, scabby and swollen. I stand out of his reach in the stretch of sun through the skylight and contemplate his blasted head. Clean shaven and traversed with scars, it lolls to one side like he has a broken neck. As he rocks back and forth, his head disappears from the light and reappears. He resembles a broken lamp, the bulb at an odd angle, flickering before it explodes. He reaches further through the bars to grab me. He drops the blue cup and it bounces on the concrete.
Dad told me melamine doesn’t shatter. He showed me. He hit one of those cups with a hammer and said:
—See! Criminals can’t commit suicide with the shards.
Suicide? A new word to me. Dad said sometimes people decide they don’t have any reason to go on. Life gets too much, I guess. He told me suicide means someone intentionally takes their own life, a serious tone strumming in his voice. I pressed him of course and he said with a final full stop: the word derives from the Latin. A fancy word for self-murder. Dad rattles off definitions, like he memorised the dictionary:
—Murder: the killing of another human under conditions specifically covered by law. Boy, my job involves catching murderers and rapists and thieves and drug addicts and other low-life scum who’d sooner stab you in the guts than help you with your groceries.
The prisoner drools in the cage. I step further out of the gasping low-life’s reach.
—Kid! Water, please, boy. The tap in here doesn’t work. The shape points at the blue cup. I kick the cup. It bounces o the bars and hits the courtroom door behind me. The man glares at me with his anti-matter eyes.
—Get your own fucken water, scumbag, I spit at him.
Dad comes out the door and catches me mid-sentence. Too late – my mouth runs its course. He slaps the back of my head.
—Get the hell outta here, boy! he yells as I bolt from the jail block.
He is an Australian author whose poems, prose and academic papers have been published in numerous national and international anthologies, journals, magazines and other periodicals since 1992. He holds a MA (writing) from James Cook University and is completing his PhD (experimental creative non-fiction) at Griffith University. He is also a lecturer at Griffith University and the editor-in-chief of Bareknuckle Poet Journal of Letters.
Scoundrel Days by Brentley Frazer (University of Queensland Press, available at all good book stores $29.99)