SWEET DREAMS OF FANTA
By Liam Carroll
Liam Carroll burst upon the literary scene as Slippery, a lubricious wolf in sheep's clothing, as he winged it to a fortune on the trading floors of Asia and Europe. Now comes the big switcheroo to a sheep in wolf's clothing. Liam is a seven year-old Fanta addict. He cops his fair share of cruel and wounding put-downs from his peer group bullies and becomes their daily target. They say ‘Balmain boys don’t cry’ but Liam sheds many tears until he realises he has to fight back. He sheds the flab and the Fanta and with help from his warm and wonderful family he sees off the bullies in fine style. This true story is for everyone, fat or thin, young or old, whether bullied or not, Liam invites you to raise your can of Fanta to a world without bullies.
Chapter One. Gone to Gowings
“Liam, rise and shine.”
Mum calls out from the hallway. I’m already up. I have been for ages. I make sure to call out in a little voice that sounds like I’m still in bed.
I’m standing in the middle of my bedroom, staring over my shoulder at my back in the mirror on the wardrobe. I hold my breath and get ready to run to bed in a flash in case I hear Mum walk this way and want to give me a good morning cuddle. My door is shut just enough so she can’t see what I’m doing. I always keep it open at least a little bit so Lizzie can walk in anytime she likes.
“Good boy, Liam.”
I hear Mum walk in to the bathroom. You can tell because the door creaks and swings the same way back and forth every time. It’s like a door from a cowboy movie. It doesn’t go all the way to the floor or the ceiling. It’s two half doors and they swing in the middle. It’s not a very good door, especially for a bathroom. The shower starts and Mum hums her songs that no one knows what they are.
I look back over my shoulder. I’ve got my pajama top off to see if today’s the day I will have a line down the middle of my chest and tummy like skinny kids do. I know it’s not though. I don’t really need the mirror to know but I may as well look. It can’t hurt.
I take another look at my back first. There is a solid, dark line straight down the middle. It’s so good. It runs from between my shoulder blades all the way down to the top of my bum. I want a line just like that on my front too. Come on. I turn around to face the mirror straight on.
Not today. There’s no line down the middle. There never is. It’s all just blubber. So much blubber all squooshy and flabby. It’s horrible. I take a deep breath to suck my tummy in but that doesn’t give me a solid line down the middle either. It just makes me look like a fat, freckly girl with short hair and lard boobies. That’s what Pop calls them when he takes me for swimming lessons. He says he might have to get me a training bra some day soon like he got Mum and Aunty Franny way back when. He always laughs and scruffs my hair up, ‘I’m just teasin’ mate.’ It’s not very funny but when Pop scruffs my hair up I always smile. I can’t help it.
I relax and breathe out and try to pretend I can’t see my fat belly, all sloppy and yuck. I put my pajama top back on to cover it up and walk over to the window to look out at the Sydney Harbour Bridge all the way in the distance. Pop says I’m the luckiest boy in the world to have a view of the Harbour Bridge from my bedroom window as well as having a room all to myself.
I always think of Pop when I stand here. He says when they first built the Harbour Bridge that they started with the arches. Everyone thought the builders were mad to build a flash new bridge that you had to drive up and over the arches to get to the other side. But once the arches were finished they built the proper road that was flat and good for driving. The arches are just for show like at McDonald’s. Pop says he walked over the Bridge back and forth three times the day it opened and thousands of people did the same. He reckons it was one of the best days of his life. Now he’s too scared to drive over it because there are so many lanes and it’s too confusing. Luckily my dad, Peter, drives over the Bridge all the time. I’m glad he’s not scared or I might never see him.
Lizzie sniffs into my room past the half open door and runs across to me at the window. She’s my Weimeraner puppy and she’s cuter than any other dog in the world, but also dumber than most other dogs too. Ricci and I tried to train her at puppy school for a few weeks before Christmas. At the end of school all the other dogs could do cool tricks like roll over and shake hands and run an obstacle course. Not Lizzie, I think she got dumber if that’s even possible or maybe she’s got bad eyesight and hearing, like Poppy. Mum says it doesn’t matter about puppy school as long as Lizzie always poohs outside. She usually does. But she never shakes hands.
“Shake hands, Lizzie. Shake. Shake. Come on. Shake.”
I bend down and reach out my hand. I shake it up and down where Lizzie’s paw would be if she paid attention at puppy school and wasn’t so dumb. She licks my hand instead. That’s nicer than shaking anyway. She’s too small to see properly out of my bedroom window so I lift her up and hold her in my arms so we can both see the sun getting higher in the sky. It’s going to be a cracker of a day. The sky is so blue. I have the best bedroom just like Pop says. I am the luckiest boy in the world. Pop’s right.
“Pretty nice hey, Lizzie?”
She can’t say anything but she’s not so dumb she can’t see how nice it is.
“Ready for brekky, sport?”
Ricci leans his head around the door. Lizzie and I turn back.
“Yep. Yep. Coming.”
Ricci walks away down the stairs. Creak, creak, creak, thud, creak, thud. They’re the noisiest stairs ever and really narrow too. I hang on to the hand railing when I go down. Mum says it’s a miracle none of us have broken something going down these stairs ‘cos they’re so steep. Ricci gets to the bottom just as Mum turns off the shower and I hear her humming get louder without the water running.
Ricci is my step Dad. He’s nice, skinny too. Skinny people sometimes aren’t nice to me because I’m a fatso. That’s what all the kids say when they know the teacher isn’t listening. They call me fatso or porky or tubby or blimpy boy or anything else that’s not nice and they know it hurts. Some kids don’t. That’s how you can tell who the nice ones are and who the mean ones are too. There aren’t many nice ones. Most are mean. But if you’re not a fatty then you wouldn’t be able to know for sure who’s nice and who’s not.
Ricci has never been called fatso. No way. When Ricci was at school he could run so fast that his 100 metre sprint record has never been broken. His mum is so proud of that. I came last at the sports carnival sprint last year for year 1. It was only 40 metres. Jeremy Pugston beat me and he’s even fatter than me. Well that’s what I think. Louis says Jeremy and I are just as fat as each other. We’re not. Jeremy’s way fatter. Louis just hates me is all but Jeremy’s always nice to me. Us fatties gotta stick together.
I put Lizzie down to the floor and she kicks me in the willy. She didn’t mean to. It’s ok. In Kindergarten we used to play ‘hit him in the willy’ all recess and lunch. That was so fun. But no kicking! That’s too much. You could kill someone. Dad told me once that Ricci is another name for your willy but I don’t think that’s true. Everyone calls Ricci, Ricci, so I don’t think it could mean the same as willy. If that was true then no parents would call their son that. Dad is always telling jokes so you can’t trust everything he says.
Lizzie and I walk into the hallway as Mum walks through the bathroom cowboy door with a towel wrapped around her head just like Cleopatra and her pregnant belly poking out the middle of her white bathrobe. Mum isn’t a fatty. That’s my little sister in there. She’ll be ready to say hello in a few months.
Dad says Mum better have a good doctor because his friend Lou lost one of her legs when she had her baby. Dad says the doctor has to chop your legs off to get the baby out and then they need to sew them back on really fast. Lou’s doctor was too slow. That’s why she only has one leg now. I made Mum promise me that she has the best doctor in Sydney and not to worry about what Dad says. With our extra steep staircase Mum can’t have crutches forever like Lou. She’d fall down for sure. And how would she carry the baby if she walks with crutches? I sure hope Mum does have the best doctor otherwise there’ll be trouble in the camp.
“Did you sleep well, darling boy?” Mum bends down to give me a hug. The big belly makes it tricky.
“That’s my boy.”
Mum waddles away up to her and Ricci’s bedroom. I race down the stairs, holding the handrail, with Lizzie right behind. Creak, creak, creak, thud. I like our noisy staircase.
“Sonny Jim? Hello? Anyone home?”
I look down to the back gate and can hear Pop yelling out.
“Open up the gate could ya, Liam?”
I’ve been teaching Lizzie all morning how to be an expert show jumper. Pop taught me to kneel with Lizzie between my legs. I then put my hands together in front of her little legs and that forces her to jump up and over when I kick the ball up the yard for her to chase. It’s not easy to kick the ball when you’re kneeling down with your arms held together in front of your puppy.
I’m doing the best I can, sort of swinging my foot out to kick the doggy ball Pop bought for Lizzie. She’s a really good jumper and her legs seem to get longer and skinnier each day. Not like mine. I hop up, pat Lizzie on her wrinkly forehead and race down to the gate next to the outside dunny to open it up for Pop.
“Howdy there, sonny Jim.”
Pop is dressed in a suit, tie and a cap, not a baseball hat, a flat cap with a really small brim that Pop says was all the rage when he was a newspaper delivery boy. Like always, everything Pop wears is a slightly different colour of brown. He drops down low and pretends we’re about to have a boxing match, weaving side to side a couple of times on the bottom step and holding his fists beside his eyes before stepping up and giving me a hug. Nan is here too in a flowing dress and a big sunhat. Nan loves a big sunhat.
“Hello, sweety. How’s the best boy in Balmain?”
That’s me. I’m the best boy in Balmain. Nan always says so. I can’t answer before Nan bends down to pinch my nose and pat my cheek and puts a $1 coin in my hand.
“Don’t tell your mother.”
Pop scruffs up my hair and they both step past and into the backyard. I start to shut the gate and smile down at the shiny $1 coin and can see past it down into the back alley. There’s half a mars bar in the gutter. Lizzie is at my feet and she sees the mars bar too. I grab her quickly around the neck before she runs off to get it and shut the gate to come back inside. Dogs aren’t allowed chocolate. That would be an awful way to live. Poor Lizzie.
The back gate is right next to the outside dunny that Mum sends Ricci to when he has to do big jobbies. Mum says I don’t have to use the outside dunny because my jobbies aren’t so big and don’t smell so bad anyway.
“Where’s your mother? We’re taking you to get your uniform for the new school this year.”
“New school? What are ya talkin’ bout, Pop?”
“Your mother didn’t tell you yet? No more public school for you at Rozelle Public. No, sir-ree-bob, we got you a spot at Saint Augustine’s Catholic School.”
“Never say that again, Liam. You don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”
Mum calls down from the kitchen window.
“Good morning, Patricia.”
Nan’s the only person that ever calls Mum by her full name. She and Pop walk up to the house. I stand next to the dunny and think it all through. New school? Good! I don’t want to see stupid Louis again anyway. I run up after Nan and Pop with Lizzie at my toes bounding side to side. She almost trips me over. Dumb dog. But I still love her.
Gowings is a huge department store in the middle of Sydney on George Street where they sell the school uniforms for every school in the world. That’s what it looks like. And if it’s not school uniforms, it’s other awful looking clothes. No 100% Mambo t-shirts anywhere.
“Miss, yes miss, can we have some assistance?”
Pop gets the attention of a store lady as Mum, Nan and I stand in the middle of the huge floor crammed with awful clothes. It’s chokkers this place. The skinny lady in a white blouse with black hair pulled back tight and a measuring tape hanging around her neck turns to Pop.
“Yes, just a minute, sir.”
She continues to the corner of the room and drops something into a box before returning.
“Yesss, how I help you?”
“My son is starting at Saint Augustine’s Primary School in Balmain. I’m told you have the correct uniform available here.”
She walks off again in a bit of a bother to stare at a big piece of paper on the wall then comes back.
I see Nan shake her head.
Mum and Pop seem to understand. Pop leads the way to the elevator in the corner with black metal bars in front of it like a prison cell in the movies.
“Can you reach number four, Liam?”
There is a silver board on the wall with round, black buttons next to each number.
I reach up to hit the button and we wait for the lift. Nan looks back at the woman who served us and shakes her head again. She gives a look like the time she found me sneaking the last piece of Madeira cake when I’d already had three slices. Not happy.
“They’re so rude those Asians, so rude. And they can’t even bloomin’ well speak proper English.”
“Oh do be quiet, Mum!”
“Don’t you speak to me like that, Patricia.”
Mum rolls her eyes and says nothing.
The lift doors open and people walk out in a hurry, almost knocking us over. A nice, old man in a black suit and cap like Pop’s is standing inside the elevator door. He doesn’t look at us, just straight ahead.
We walk in. The lift operator man looks so old. He could even be Pop’s Dad! Midget Mick Kenneally, that’s what they called him because he was so small. But he died long ago and was so short he probably wouldn’t be able to reach the buttons anyway. We woosh up and don’t stop at any of the other levels.
The lift operator man speaks proper English and looks straight ahead as he holds the grill door open for us. We walk into another huge room filled with racks of horrible clothes. A lady with the same white blouse and a measuring tape around her neck sees us walk out of the lift. She looks like Princess Anne so Nan smiles.
“How can I help you?”
“My son needs a Saint Augustine’s uniform, please.”
Mum pushes me forward and the lady bends down as she grabs the measuring tape.
“Woahh, who ate all the custard tarts then?”
She pats me on the head and then holds my shoulders, lifting me up straight. I love custard tarts.
“Look at the size of you, dear. How old are you, twelve?”
She starts giggling as she measures me up then turns to Mum, Nan and Pop.
“He’s going to need size 14 pants and size 12 shirts. Will you be alright to take the pants up yourselves or do you want to use our alteration service?”
“No, we don’t need you to do it, I can do the alterations.”
“One moment, I’ll be back with the pants. How many pairs?”
“Best make it four pairs, two shorts and two trousers, thank you. And five shirts too please.”
The lady walks off. I’m not sure exactly what everything she just said means, but I think the main thing she was saying was that I’m a big, fat blimp. I feel my lip shaking like I’m going to cry so I look down and try not to see my puffer fish hands. Mum pats me on the head and Nan and Pop start walking around the shop.
“Don’t get any ideas there, darling. We’re only here to buy some new school clothes for the boy.”
“You leave me alone, Joseph.”
The lady returns with the shirts and pants and shows us to the change rooms.
“Do you need me to help you putting them on, Liam?”
“No Mum, I can do it.”
Mum opens the change room door and I hop in to try my new uniform on. I pull the new Saint Augustine’s pants up around my waist and they fit fine but there is still about a metre of pant leg that runs out past my feet, almost all the way to the mirror on the wall.
“Are you going ok in there, honey?”
I try to say ‘yes’ but I’m looking down at the long pants that run past my toes and all the way out along the floor forever and ever. I’m the fattest fatso in Australia. Mum opens the door and I’m looking at myself in the mirror with my shirt off, about to cry.
“Sweety, what’s wrong?”
“Why can’t I fit into pants for a boy my own age, Mummy?”
Mum bends down to give me a hug with her pregnant tummy making me feel better about mine but mine is here forever and Mum’s is just full with my sister. She’ll be skinny again soon. Not like me.
“It will all be ok. I will make these fit just right for you, my handsome little man.”
I really start crying now.
“I’m not handsome. I’m just a big, fatty boom bar.”
Mum cups my face and wipes the tears away.
“You listen to me, you’re the most wonderful boy I’ve ever known.”
“You have to say that, Mummy.”
“That doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”
I take a deep breath and look back in the mirror and breathe out slowly. I keep looking in the mirror and turn side on, almost tripping on the extra pant length. I try to suck in my big, fat tummy that doesn’t have a middle line as I run a hand down from my chest to my waist. It’s like pushing down into a fluffy pillow filled with cinnamon donuts.
“Look at these, Liam. Do you think you’d like these?”
Nan pokes her head in to the change room and passes me a set of Spiderman pajamas. I forget all about my fat belly.
“I thought so.”
Nan scruffs up my hair the same as Pop always does.
“They look just right for the best boy in Balmain.”
Nan’s the best Nan in Balmain too you know.
“Here’s to Robbie, he’s true blue! He’s a piss-pot through and through! He’s a…”
What’s all that racket? I reach over to switch on my lamp and hop out of bed to walk across to my window. Mum left it open so the breeze can keep me cool. She does things like that. I see myself in the mirror of the wardrobe again. My new Spiderman pajamas Nan got me are the best. I throw my wrist towards my reflection.
I don’t see any web shoot out, but Dad thinks he saw some on Christmas day when we were walking back to the car after lunch at Doc and Patti’s. He says I have to be careful, I can’t shoot spider web like that just anytime I want. The police won’t like it if they know a seven year old boy has superpowers. I promised not to do it again on the street, unless I have to, of course. What if someone needs my help?
Good boys only use their superpowers for good and I’m the best boy in Balmain. Nan doesn’t lie. I could shoot spider web to catch a robber trying to run away from the bank or to save Lizzie from being run over by a car.
I give it another go. Nothing. I can keep practising tomorrow. I just won’t tell Dad. He’s the only one who’s ever seen the web anyway. I look out to the night sky and stare straight at the two Australian flags waving so brightly at the very top of the Harbour Bridge. Dad uses those flags when he’s driving to know if the surf’s any good. You can tell if the wind’s offshore and then if you look all the way over to North Head as well, you can see if any whitewater splashes up. That’s how you know there’s swell. Dad has lots of good tricks.
I look down into Nicole and Sam’s backyard over the fence. Nicole’s not there now. It’s late. She would be asleep in bed like I should be. And Sam is probably training to be ready to play for the Tigers. He’s Nicole’s older brother and he’s the best footy player I know. He’s already in the Balmain Tigers junior team and he’s only 17! He gave me a real Tigers jersey last year for my birthday, just like the players wear. It’s the best present I’ve ever got, even better than my full size Millennium Falcon and my BMX, but only just.
Debbie and Robbie are Sam and Nicole’s parents. They’re the ones screaming out over and over again and dancing all around with some other grown-ups from the street. Debbie is singing the loudest and swinging around like it’s a bush dance and she’s got one of those silver balloons of wine in her hands. Pop likes those wine balloons too. He always has one or two in the old fridge in his garage. You have to open and close it with the ocky strap because Pop says the big click clack handle hasn’t worked since man walked on the moon and blimey, tickle me pink if you think I’ll be paying some bugga-luggs to fix me a new handle when the ocky strap works a treat.
Pop also keeps lots of cans of beer and orange soft drink in his garage fridge. We sit on the footpath on the milk crates after we play backyard cricket and cool off drinking our drinks. It’s never real Fanta though. Nan and Pop only buy home brand. It still tastes ok but when I’m rich I’ll only buy real Fanta. Debbie stops dancing and bends down to the table where Robbie is sitting to fill his glass.
Mum and Ricci have dinner parties sometimes and they never invite Debbie or Robbie or anyone else from our street, always people from work. And they never dance outside. They have dinner and drink wine from bottles in the dining room and I’m the waiter because I have such steady hands for a little boy and never drop anything. I like it because Mum gives me money for being the waiter, $2! Sometimes her friends give me money too. I just carry some plates and glasses and can get $5!
I can feel my squishy tummy up against the wall under the window so I quickly suck it in and wish I had a muscly stomach like Wayne Pearce. Over in the next door backyard, Debbie finishes filling up all the people’s glasses and starts dancing again. She looks much happier now than when I have to ask her to throw my footy back over the fence. I’m always trying to get better at my Benny Elias chip and chase in the backyard and we only have a low fence. I need to kick the chip high to have time to chase it back and sometimes the kick flies straight to the side and over the fence. Not like Benny. He always does it just right. People say Sterlo is better but he plays for the pathetic Parramatta Eels not the mighty Balmain Tigers.
Mum pushes open the door fully.
“Back to bed, sweet pea. Come on.”
She walks across in her nighty, wobbling side to side like the Ghostbusters’ Marshmallow Man.
“I’m sorry the neighbours are always so noisy on Saturday nights but you have to get your rest, my little man.”
Mum leads me back to bed and tucks me in, leaning in to kiss my cheek. She smells so nice, like a 20c bag of mixed lollies with Redskins, Fantales and jelly snakes.
“Did you forget to brush your teeth?”
Mum sits on the side of my bed with one hand around her big belly and the other stroking my hair. I never know how she knows that I haven’t brushed my teeth. I didn’t forget. I just didn’t want to. I don’t say anything but Mum knows I haven’t brushed them. She pulls the sheets away a little bit.
“Sit up a little.”
I smile and sit up like Mum asks. She walks out of my room with her giant shadow on the wall making her belly look even bigger and I know she’s going to do her special Mummy trick where she gets my toothbrush ready with toothpaste and the face washer squooshy towel. Yep. There goes the cowboy swinging door and the clank of the toothbrushes and the sink tap running for a second. Mum comes back in and I only have to do a quick brush and spit out into the washer towel thing and that’s the same as going to the bathroom but it’s much easier. I lie back down flat and Mum pulls the sheet over my hands and up to my shoulders.
“Snug as a bug in a rug, my darling boy.”
I’m tucked in so tight but bring my hands back up to the top of the sheets and see the little black holes on my hands where knuckles are supposed to be.
“Mummy, do you think some day I might have knuckles?”
“What do you mean?”
“I just have dots.”
I lift my hands up to show Mum.
“The skinny kids, they have knuckles. Bones. Not these dots. Louis says my hands look like a puffer fish.”
“Oh honey, don’t worry about Louis. Your hands are just perfect.”
Mum leans down to give me some butterfly kisses, they’re the best, she gets really close to my cheek and opens and shuts her eyes really fast so that her eyelashes tickle my cheeks, then she brings the sheets up once more to tuck me in like before. She taps me on the end of the nose three times and smiles down as she runs her hand through my hair.
“You’re my handsome boy. I love you very much.”
“I love you too, Mummy.”
“Go to sleep now, Li Li.”
Mum switches off my lamp next to the bed and walks back out of my room without the shadow now but still the wobble side to side. After she closes the door I bring my hands up on top of the sheets again. There’s enough light from the street lamps outside on the back alley so I can still see my stupid, fat hands. They even have freckles. My face is covered with freckles too. Louis says my face looks like those Aborigine paintings we saw once on an excursion to the museum. All spots.
I feel the flab between each of the little bones of my fingers and I’m sad because I know Louis is nasty but he’s right about my hands. They are like puffer fish. I squeeze the skin and pinch all the blubber. Hands are not supposed to be fat. Mum just doesn’t understand. She would probably still love me even if I had a Captain Hook hand.
I look back out the window. I can’t hear the neighbours anymore. I just stare into the night sky and hope a genie turns up. I would wish to be a skinny boy with proper knuckles not little dots and a line down the middle of my back and my front, and that my new little sister is the nicest girl in the whole world and my mum keeps her legs, and for some Fanta, real Fanta, not home brand like in Nan and Pop’s old fridge. I would wish for the real stuff. Just one little can like they give you on airplanes.
Those would be my three wishes. The genie has to give you three. That’s the rules. If you got four I’d wish that school holidays would last forever, but that’s ok. I like school, especially when people don’t call me mean names. I hope they don’t do that at Saint Augustine’s.
My eyelids get heavy and I hold my hands together on my chest, running my fingertips back and forth along the dimples where the dots are and hope that some day they’ll be bony knuckles. In my mind I can see them. They’re beautiful.
To read more about Liam's quest to unearth his knuckles get clicking below.