Read All This Could End Online
Authors: Steph Bowe
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction
‘You always do the same patterns.’
‘I’m trying to make it easy for you.’
‘You’re supposed to make the queen appear in my pocket or something, aren’t you? I mean, if we’re going to have a magic show. Or make it appear in
pocket, if we’re going to rip people off.’
Sophia laughed. ‘We won’t be magicians; we’ll be illusionists. You’d be wonderful at it, Nina. Why stop at card tricks? We could perform death-defying stunts. Wouldn’t that be fun?’
‘I don’t really imagine myself as a Criss Angel type.’
Tom arrived back in the cafe. He sat down beside Sophia and took a wallet from his pocket. ‘Here we go,’ he said excitedly.
‘You know, I named you after your grandfather, Tom?’ Sophia smiles. ‘He would’ve been very proud of you kids.’ She unfolded the black, square wallet, riffled through the contents, and then glanced at Tom, frowning. ‘Forty dollars, Thomas?’
‘He looked rich, I swear.’
‘Go drop it somewhere.’
,’ he moaned. ‘What about the credit cards?’
‘Don’t be silly. Credit card use is too easily traced. I like a challenge, but that’s just foolish. Have another go. Practice makes perfect.’
He shared a sullen look with Nina. Sophia ignored them, handed the wallet back to Tom, and he left, back into the packed streets of the inner city.
‘Mum, I think this is a bit unsubtle. The cafe is filled with people. Isn’t someone going to notice?’
‘Everyone is way too caught up in their own lives to pay any attention to anyone else. This is what makes life an incredibly isolating experience and a lot of illegal things very easy to get away with. You have to use the shortcomings of other people to your advantage, Nina.’ Suddenly her train of thought shifted. ‘You know I do hate how everyone uses credit cards these days. Credit card fraud, those sorts of things, it’s all very joyless, isn’t it? Not much fun. That’s what life should be about: fun.’ While she spoke, she shuffled the three cards in front of Nina, occasionally lifting up the corner of one card to reveal the queen of hearts. ‘I’ll get you another hot chocolate if you find the queen.’
This time Nina couldn’t find it.
Nina and Tom had rooms of their own in the apartment where they lived when she was fourteen. But the walls were thin, so when Sophia said goodnight to Tom that evening after his first pick-pocketing venture, Nina could hear her telling Tom one of the stories she used to tell Nina.
‘My mother died in childbirth,’ Sophia said softly. ‘Her parents, wealthy people, had disowned her after she married my dad, who was poor and wrong-side-of-the-tracks and a number of other clichés. It was all about true love. But this isn’t a love story; it’s a story about family.’ Nina could picture her mother sitting on the end of the bed, smoothing out the bedspread. Smiling at the memory of her father. ‘So I was raised by my dad. Thomas.’
‘What did he look like?’ interrupted Tom. Nina wondered whether Tom still asked for these stories because he was genuinely interested or if he just wanted to make their mother happy.
‘Just like you, Tom. Dark eyes and hair, olive skin. Very striking.’
‘And what did your mum look like?’
‘More like Nina. Fairer. I’ll have to find you a photo. Anyway, my father came from a family of blue-collar workers. Hard workers. He was very lost after the death of my mother, so he started travelling, getting work wherever he could. Which turned out to be nowhere, since the economy was rubbish and there were far more people than jobs.
‘And my father realised something very important about the world. That it was unfair. That the rules governing it were random, arbitrary and favoured a select group of people. And that your options in life are either to try and become part of that select group of people or to work hard, remain poor and allow yourself to be subservient to them. So that’s when he chose another path.’
And Nina knew all to well that was when they began picking pockets, rolling servos, robbing banks. It started out small, just out of necessity, then grew and grew and grew, until he was stealing thousands and thousands of dollars. Until he didn’t need money anymore. Until he just did it for the thrills. Because it
thrilling. Because after a while, you get desensitised to crime, to the violence, to how bad it is. You forget how much you’re hurting people (or, worse, you start to enjoy it). It’s heady, the risk of being caught, getting away in a chase and feeling bulletproof. That’s how it seemed Sophia felt. But for Nina it was painful. She’d been part of three bank robberies, and dreaded the next.
She stopped listening. Sophia made crime seem such a logical decision. She made other people out to be the wrongdoers. And she made money into such an insignificant thing.
take it from other people? Given all the unfairness of the world, claimed Sophia, how could a stray wallet or the contents of one bank’s tills even matter? Despite her mother’s best efforts, however, Nina had managed not be brainwashed. She did not believe in Sophia’s worldview. On the contrary, she knew how profoundly wrong it was.
When Sophia told Nina and Tom these stories about her childhood, they were like fables, epics, good-versus-evil stories, all about love and life and death, and her family were always the good guys regardless of any bad things they did. Nina didn’t doubt Sophia’s recollections of crimes they had committed (sometimes she had to convince herself they were exaggerated, for her own sanity), but she did doubt the glowing image of Sophia’s dad in her stories. How could a good man turn into a criminal, and raise a criminal? How could he have been a good father if his child became a criminal? Unfortunately, Nina never got the chance to meet Sophia’s father and decide for herself how good a person he was. That’s always how it is, isn’t it?
Sophia began her life of crime at seven (they didn’t have her robbing banks until she was twelve, tall enough to pass for an adult). She was far better at most crimes than her father was—she could make a person hand over money faster, she could be more discreet when she lifted a wallet. Perhaps it was her age (it freaked people out more, being robbed by a child, or by a pretty teenager), and starting so young, she’d had more time to perfect her craft.
But Nina always wondered: was it Sophia’s destiny from birth to become a criminal? Or was she a monster created by circumstance, fed by a sense of indestructibility?
Thomas certainly wasn’t indestructible. As a child, Nina had known that he was dead, but not how he had died. Shortly before she turned fourteen, when her mother was out one day, Paul told her that particular story. Thomas was shot in the shoulder by a police officer while he and Sophia had been robbing an armoured van. Seventeen-year-old Sophia got away while Thomas was arrested. Nina often asked herself how Sophia had managed to abandon her father like that? Why hadn’t she tried to get out of crime then, and start a normal life? If Nina were to abandon her family—not
Nina left her family, for her own good—she’d do it so she could escape this. But Sophia was different. She was probably worse than her own father. And would probably abandon her or Tom if a similar situation arose. Nina could hardly bear to think about it. The only explanation she could come up with was that Sophia lived by a different set of morals, and that she was very very deluded.
Paul’s account ended with Thomas spending a few years in prison and dying at fifty. As far as Nina could tell, once Sophia’s father was in prison, he was dead to her. That was the end of the excitement, of the wonderful father. He was no longer invincible. And Sophia started forging her own path.
For Nina, on the other hand, a life of crime was never her choice. It began long before she was born and by the time she was old enough to figure out what was going on, there was little chance of her finding her way out.
Friday night. The phone is ringing. Spencer’s parents are in separate rooms, living their separate lives—his father doing bank paperwork, his mother staring blankly at the blaring TV. His sister Monica is in her room, chatting on Facebook with friends she’s been with all day at school. Spencer doesn’t really see the point. Chance is sitting at his feet, snoozing. He’s an old dog.
Spencer is sitting at the kitchen bench, doing homework he was assigned three weeks ago and that is due on Monday. He sighs and picks up the phone.
‘Spence, baby,’ says Bridie—she’s moved on from her hippie phase; it’s all about the sixties now. Mod clothing and free love. She’s made Spencer sit through nonsensical films that feature a lot of terrible dancing. ‘Guess who’s playing at the Soap Dish?’
The Soap Dish is a bar where, on Friday nights, you’ll find people who are too cool for school. They dropped out to work as waiters and children’s party entertainers. Exactly Bridie’s crowd. It’s so indie that Spencer suspects they kill the bands after they play there, so that no one else can ever hear them play again, and thus keep them as obscure as possible. When he told Bridie his theory, she laughed, which is exactly the response you’d expect from someone who is aware that the phenomenon of band-killings-in-order-to-preserve-indieness already existed. Spencer is still wondering what that says about his own imagination…
‘I’ve no idea, Bridie,’ says Spencer, continuing with his essay, the phone wedged between his shoulder and his cheek. ‘I’ll never be indie enough. I used to like Ricky Martin, you know that. I am as mainstream as they come.’
‘Very funny,’ says Bridie. ‘Vampires on Bikes are playing. And guess who’s supporting them?’
‘Swedish Lesbian Town. Their bassist is
. I am in
Bridie is in love with a different bassist from a different band every other week. She frequently leaves Spencer at gigs on his own so she can hang out with whichever bassist. She has never ever crushed on a drummer, or a guitarist, or a violinist, or a singer. Always bassists. Always unattractive, greasy-haired bassists.
‘I need you to be my entourage,’ says Bridie.
‘What do the bands play?’ asks Spencer. ‘I’m not coming if they play country music.’
‘Oh really Spencer. You know I wouldn’t make you endure anything like that. You and your middle-of-the-road pop. We need to broaden your horizons. Vampires on Bikes are indie synth pop-rock with an emo-folk edge. Kind of like an organist at a church, but on speed and covered in pig’s blood and with scene hair. And Swedish Lesbian Town do lullaby versions of The Ramones and Prodigy, and hard rock versions of Mozart and Bach. And, as I mentioned, their bassist is
.’ Instead of saying amazing like a normal person does, she draws out each syllable—
‘I have to finish the essay on
‘They have this thing called the internet now. Ever heard of cut and paste?’
‘Teachers also have the internet, Bridie. As well as excellent plagiarism-detection technology.’
‘Finish it tomorrow. If you don’t come tonight, who knows what you’ll miss out on?
A couple of hours of shitty music? Being abandoned for some guy who hasn’t showered for a year but is deemed automatically attractive due to his possession of a bass guitar?
He doesn’t give either of these answers.
Spencer inhales deeply. He can finish his essay tomorrow. He needs to escape his house, the suffocating silence, the separateness of his family. He’s willing to endure drugged-up Carrie-like organists and ugly bassists in order to do so.
‘All right. ‘
‘Yes!’ says Bridie. ‘I will see you at Cup Of Chino in ten! Rock and roll.’
Bridie is wearing a bright-orange floral chiffon dress, so big and froufrou that she looks like a bright-orange meringue. She has peacock-feather earrings and rainbow-shaded John Lennon glasses. A few people in Cup Of Chino turn and look at her as she arrives, and she curtsies in the doorway. Spencer, sitting at a table waiting for her, stares intently at the comics page of a newspaper, pretending he is not waiting for her. He discovers that the comics are just as unfunny as they were when he was a child.
Spencer always tends towards being stressed out, and Bridie is the opposite. Spencer is cautious, guarded with his real feelings. He has difficulty being honest with people, because his father insists that people are not to be trusted (as a bank manager, he has seen a lot of scamming and rip-offs and cons in his time, and believes everyone has ulterior motives). Spencer doesn’t want to attract attention to himself; he just wants to breeze through life unnoticed. But Bridie, she’s loud and out-there. Even physically, they’re opposites—Spencer’s tall and lean, as his mother used to say (he calls it plain old gangly), and always trying to make himself as small and as inconspicuous as possible; while Bridie is short and has a certain presence, only partly due to her largish size. He can’t help but be in awe of her confidence. But it’s not like their personalities balance each other out. He knows he’s just arm candy.
Bridie goes to the counter to order then joins Spencer at his table, tottering on perilously high heels.
‘So,’ she says, putting her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her hands. ‘We can spend half an hour here, head down at about eight.’
‘I better get back eleven-ish. I’ve got work early tomorrow.’
Bridie sighs and asks, ‘Why on earth did you get a
?’ She says job as if it’s a dirty word, like Spencer’s become a garbage collector or a prostitute. Her own jobs last year had been in the name of self-discovery rather than as a means to earn money.
‘You really have more money than sense, Bridie,’ says Spencer. He tells her this often, but she never learns.
something your dad would say. Besides, if my parents are not going to give me emotional support, I might as well take all the financial support I can get,’ she says. ‘I’d rather take their money than earn six bucks an hour at Maccas. It costs more than that to look this good.’
‘One, your parents are very nice people,’ says Spencer. ‘Two, I earn eleven dollars and twenty-one cents an hour, thank you very much. And three, I hope you’re being ironic about looking good. You look like a dessert.’