A semi-balmy Spring day, 29 degrees, sunny but not too sunny, and like any typical day in Newcastle in 2007 there was a relaxed but not too relaxed feeling in the air. A feeling some were calling ‘vaguely threatening’ and ‘what’s that smell?’ Possibly threatening because it was the 10-year anniversary of the 1997 ARL Grand Final where the Newcastle Knights smashed the Manly Sea Eagles. Possibly threatening because the cultural canon of the time had been recently afflicted with Shrek the Third.
I was young and injudicious. Not injudicious because I was young but lacking in judgement because I took after my dad. My dad was a father and like many dads who are also fathers, he enjoyed petty revenge. For example, when I was a child many things in our house were the colour yellow.
There came a time when I asked Dad what he was watching on the TV.
‘A documentary about World War Two,’ he said.
When I looked at the TV to see a pterodactyl attacking a fighter jet I challenged my father.
I said, ‘Father, this is not a documentary.’
‘You weren’t there so how do you know?’
I lie. I’ve never used the word ‘father’ when addressing my dad.
But this story isn’t about my dad who is also a father. No. This story is about the time I lobbed a sausage roll into a convertible while whisper-chanting the name ‘Aaron Hill’.
I was in the backyard sitting on the dead grass. Left by an inflatable pool, I liked to pretend the ‘dead patch’ was a crop circle. As if by some ethereal malfunction, a sausage roll fell from the sky and hit me right in the Digimon. As a 10 year old, I was obsessed with the paranormal and ancient Egypt. Nobody believed me when I expressed my worry that a clandestine agency was making it rain sausage rolls in San Remo. Enter Aaron Hill. Aaron Hill showed up at our doorstep that day wanting to play. And play we did. We went in the backyard and did normal kid stuff for a bit until Aaron decided we were playing ‘dares’. Only the game of ‘dares’ was just Aaron daring himself to do various things.
‘Do you dare me to go into the shed?’
Going into the shed was fine because nobody cared if you went into the shed.
Aaron quickly found the chicken feed.
‘Do you dare me to put a piece of corn under my eyelid?’
Words were no deterrent for Aaron Hill. He peeled back the skin of his eyelid to expose the distinctly orange inner lid. Seeing Aaron’s exposed inner lid was a lot like experiencing sex or surgery for the first time. I felt I was witness to something cruel yet inconsequential, like finding the moon out in the daytime, or that feeling you get when you see an ambulance refuelling at a servo while a cop car is going through a ‘brushless wash’ at the same time. It was an emotion I wouldn’t feel again until my teenage years … when I saw a windsock for the first time.
After inserting the corn, you could see this little bump where the corn was under his eyelid.
‘Do you dare me to eat the batteries out of your Digimon?’
I protested but protests were no deterrent for Aaron Hill.
He flipped the back off my Digimon and chucked the two lithium batteries back like tic tacs. I went inside and asked mum to tell Aaron he had to go home because we were having dinner (even though it was 3.30 in the afternoon). I swear I had no knowledge of the dangers involved in ingesting lithium batteries and that’s why I didn’t say anything. Needless to say, Aaron Hill went home with a corn kernel firmly embedded in his eye and a blood stream full of battery acid.
And from that day forward me and Aaron were utterly separable.
Despite what should’ve been a slow agonising death, Aaron was at school on Monday. Aaron wasn’t the most liked kid but I liked him because he was pretty easygoing and humoured my theories about why sausage rolls were falling out of the sky. It was just that occasionally he’d do something putrid.
Then came the Year 6 rock wars of 1999. The suburbs bordering San Remo were called Blue Haven, Charmhaven and Buff Point. All were named after nothing. In Buff Point was an abandoned brick house known as the ‘Buff Point Castle’. And it kind of was a castle. Rumour had it that it was constructed in the late 70s by a local tradesman. He built it for his wife and child but they all mysteriously disappeared one day, leaving the unfinished castle to ruin.
The 1999 rock war didn’t start at the Buff Point Castle. It started in the classroom. Aaron had brought in a jam jar filled with tadpoles that me and him had caught in the gutter outside my house the day before. There’s none of that fancy kerb and guttering in San Remo. The gutters are big open ditches cut in the earth, sporting a robust ecosystem of frogs, tadpoles, and leeches. A paradise for me and Aaron Hill.
Ms Turner was stoked on the taddies because we were learning about life cycles. She placed them on the windowsill, the algae emblazoned by the midday sun. About an hour later, I would look up from my long division to see Troy Crothers shaking the jar like he was playing the tambourine. A hot sweat broke across my neck and I felt like vomiting. The water sounded so flimsy and small as the tadpoles were sloshed into oblivion.
Aaron was devastated. A rock war was called for after school: four o’clock at the Buff Point Castle.
That afternoon the war waged on for a while with little-to-no injuries until Rachel Hodges pointed out that Aaron hadn’t even turned up to his own rock war. Troy Crothers had barely finished announcing, ‘that’s it, I’m bringing rocks to school tomorrow’ when Aaron appeared on the roof of the castle.
Aaron was clad in swimming goggles and clutching a duffel bag full of frozen party pies and sausage rolls. With a fistful of icy bite-size pastries, Aaron chanted his full name three times before picking off his victims in the dried-up moat below.
Troy Crothers suffered. After a frozen meat pie busted his lip, he had a coldsore for a year.
It wasn’t all victory for Aaron Hill though. Aaron wound up worst hit when Nicole Miller—who had spent most of her afternoon in the castle’s ‘dungeon’ punching billies with Seamus Plank (actually his name)—picked up her only rock that day.
Nicole closed her eyes and spun in circles.
‘Where it goes, nobody knows,’ she yelled.
Nicole wasn’t to know the lump of dislocated driveaway concrete she’d foisted into the ether would take a trajectory directly into Aaron’s goggle-clad eye. The rim of the goggles’ casing smashed back into the squishy part of his eye socket. Aaron ran home, screaming.
Cut to 2007, Newcastle. There was a pompous guy in one of my university tutorials who I’d like to call Troy Crothers II. Troy Crothers II drove around in a convertible his parents bought him. Once he waved at me from an Olympic distance, calling out, ‘swamp dero’ and blowing me kisses, drawing inspiration from the common slur ‘the swamp’ levelled at San Remo by shiny middleclass tooth-havers. It was to be the least homophobic thing Troy Crothers II would say to me during our three years in each other’s presence.
Then it was a semi-balmy Spring day, 29 degrees, sunny but not too sunny, and the only available space I could find in the uni car park was beside Troy’s convertible. The roof was up but for some reason the passenger-side window was left wide open. I whisper-chanted ‘Aaron Hill’ three times and lobbed my servo sausage roll straight into Troy Crothers II’s car. Where it goes, nobody knows, etc. The enclosing pastry disengaged from the payload in a contrail of flakes, exposing the bouncy meat product to the aureate upholstery before crashing into the posh speedometer. I said, ‘Father, this is not a documentary.’
Dan Hogan is a writer from San Remo. They presently live in Sydney where they work as the Program Officer at Writing NSW and as a primary school teacher. Dan’s work has appeared in The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Meanjin, and Cordite, among others. In their spare time, Dan directs the independent literary organisation, Subbed In. Find Dan online at www.2dan2hogan.com or on Twitter @packetofchips
Photo by Fiona Waters.