Two chapters which even though they were amongst my favourites did not make the final cut:
Chapter 22: PR Trouble
Me and Fiorenze got to PR at the same time. Steffi turned and smiled in our direction, patting the seat next to him, while Ms Johnson issued both of us with a lateness demerit.
Was he smiling at me? He hadn’t spoken to me all morning, but maybe he’d gotten over it during first recess? He must have realised I hadn’t meant what I’d yelled at him. While I tossed up whether I should sit next to him or not, Fiorenze walked over and slid into the seat, and Steffi kissed her cheek.
“Charlie?” Ms Johnson said. “Do you wish to take a seat? Or would you prefer another demerit?”
“No, Ms Johnson.” I melted into a seat at the back. Fiorenze and Steffi held hands and whispered. I couldn’t believe it. She’d just told me she didn’t like Steffi and there she was all over him. Or at least letting him be all over her. Was she really not enjoying it? It was hard to believe. I couldn’t make up my mind which one of them I wanted to smack harder. Fiorenze for looking like she was enjoying herself or Steffi for being such a fickle doxhead torpid New Avalon-hating waste of DNA.
Ms Johnson droned on about the difference between fans and the general public and the different methods of approaching both groups. None of it was anything we hadn’t heard a billion times before. Spin, spin, spin.
Naturally she did not cite Steffi and Fiorenze for their kissing, whispering, hand-holding, note passing, or general inattention.
Did Fiorenze really hate her fairy? It had gotten her Steffi and though she’d said she didn’t like him, she was acting like she did. It was hard to believe her claims of fairy hatred, watching her sighing like that.
I doubted there was a girl in the room, or in the entire school for that matter, who didn’t envy Fiorenze’s fairy. Yet she claimed to hate it. Did I believe her? She’d seemed wholly sincere out on the paddock, but looking at her now, well, she evinced no signs of hating her fairy at all.
If what she said was true then there was nothing for it but to feel sorry for her and help her get rid of her fairy. If she was lying then I would hate her with even more of a fiery burning passion than I already did.
Except that I didn’t feel at all sorry for her: She had Steffi.
The bell sounded. “Bluey Salazar? Charlie Steele?” I looked up at Ms Johnson’s flinty eyes boring down on me. “Come here.”
She was definitely not radiating happiness. I glanced at Bluey and he widened his eyes. He didn’t know any more than I did.
“Yes, Ms Johnson,” I said, slipping my tablet into my pocket and standing in front of her. Bluey came and stood beside me.
The rest of the class flooded out of the room giving us a wide birth. Fiorenze gave me a sympathetic smile. Steffi didn’t even look at me.
“Your assignments,” Johnson said, looking first at Bluey and then at me, “are mysteriously similar. Do you want to explain to me how that’s possible? In a way that doesn’t leave me with no choice but to send you to the principal?”
“They . . . what now?” spluttered Bluey. “The principal? But I haven’t done anything.”
“I never copied, Ms Johnson.” I turned to Bluey. “We’re not even friends.”
“So if you were friends you would have copied from each other?”
“No! I just meant . . . ”
“I didn’t copy from Steele, Ms Johnson,” Bluey said. “Ours’ honour.”
“Me either,” I said.
“Aren’t your lockers right next to each other?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “But that doesn’t mean—”
“All right then. Who did you both copy from?”
I blushed and Bluey looked down.
“I found an old press conference,” Bluey said, “and just reworded the questions.”
“Me, too,” I said. “Sula Wannamacker was the captain. It was twenty years back.”
“Yes,” Johnson said. “I was on that team.”
“Oh,” Bluey and me said at the same time.
“Yet your answers are different from hers but very close to each others’. How do you explain that.”
“Oh,” we both said. I looked at Bluey and he looked at me, silently agreeing about the hopelessness of Sula Wannamacker’s answers.
“Read out Question 1 and your answer, Bluey,” Johnson said.
Bluey found it on his tablet and then cleared his throat, “Question 1: Do you intend to remain as captain? Answer: Yes. At the end of the day every loss is the captain’s responsibility. It’s my job to take control of the situation, to ensure that my batters tear apart the bowling, and my bowlers tempt their batters into indiscretions. We failed to seize the initiative or snatch the momentum. But form is temporary and class is permanent. We’ve learned a lot today. My players will rally around and we’ll give our next match 110% effort.”
Johnson handed me my assignment. “Now yours.”
I blushed. “Question 1: Do you intend to remain as captain? Answer: Yes. In the end losses are the responsibility of the captain. I should have taken control of the situation, made sure that my batters destroyed the bowling, and my bowlers tempted their batters into indiscretions. We did not seize the initiative or snatch the momentum. It’s good to remember though that form is temporary and class is permanent. My team are all class. They’ve taken away valuable lessons from this test. I’ve learned a lot. My players will pull together and give our next match 110% effort. More than %110.”
“Aside from you being more verbose, Charlie, those were almost identical. How do you explain that?”
“I just wrote the opposite of whatever Sula Wannamaker said.”
“Me too!” Bluey exclaimed. He turned to me. “Wow. That’s eerie.”
“That doesn’t explain the closeness of the language you both used.”
“There are only so many ways you can say things in sports,” Bluey said.
I nodded. “Teams pull together.”
“There’s no ‘I’ in team.”
“No one gets above themselves.”
“They think of the team first.”
Johnson groaned. “That’s what you think PR is? Stringing cliches together?”
Bluey and I looked at each other. Clearly the answer to this question was not supposed to be ‘yes.’ Best not to mention cricketcliches.com.
Johnson’s face hardened, like her eyes and nose and mouth had been carved out of stone. If she smiled her whole face would have crumbled. Not that there was any danger of that. “What made you think writing the opposite of what Wannamacker said was a good idea?”
“Well,” I said. “Her answers were, um, torpid. Kind of like she’d forgotten the meaning of the word ‘spin.'”
“I know!” Bluey exclaimed, nodding. “She didn’t even remember to say it was all her fault. Or that in the end it all comes down to the captain—”
“That it’s the captain’s job to take full responsibility, because at the end of the day—”
“That’s enough, Charlie. You will both re-do the assignment. You may keep the same questions. You will not simply rewrite Wannamacker’s answers. I want to see creativity and originality from both of you.
“PR is not all spin. The best say things that have never been said before. You have both faulted Sula Wannamacker for being honest. That press conference is famous. It is one of the most extraordinary press conferences in the history of cricket.” She paused and I braced myself for a lecture on the history of cricket. I didn’t dare look at my watch, but it was probably already too late for us to make our next classes on time.
“A demerit each and I want your new assignments on my desk tomorrow morning before first bell. Actual physical paper assignments. Understood?”
We both nodded. I tried to keep the disappointment off my face. When she realised that we truly hadn’t copied I thought we were going to avoid a demerit. But no. And I was going to be late for tennis.
Again. Coach Ntini wasn’t even looking sorrowful this time. He noted my demerit like he expected it. The eight fingers he held up this time were to let me know that I’d just earned myself another game suspension.
I checked my tablet: It was fencing. Why couldn’t it have been tennis?
Stupid malodorous doxhead benighted fairy.
Chapter 24: Without Cliches
That night I did three hours at Public Service, which got my demerits back down to five. I returned home to cold dinner, fresh laundry (thank you, Dad!), a photo of me red in the face and yelling with a nasty note and attached from Nettles (which I stopped reading after the salutation: “Dear Worst Sister on the Planet”), and hours of attempting to be original and creative about losing a cricket match after enforcing the follow-on. I read through my latest attempt:
Question: How do you explain what happened today?
Answer: There’s no question that we should not have lost that match. As captain I take full responsibility. However, we have some of the best players in the business, and its time we all stepped up to the plate. While it’s true that we had our chances and let them slip away, there are a lot of positives we will take away from this game. In the end we were playing for pride and I think that showed through strongly. It’s also true that we got some very unlucky decisions and that changed the complexion of the game. I believe a week off will do them some good and you’ll all see the real team in the final test next week.
I had a sinking feeling that every sentence was a cliche. I’d definitely heard them before, vastly more than once. I wasn’t even sure what “playing for pride” meant. Did it mean that you were doing the best you could? When didn’t you do that? And why was that particularly prideful?
I wasn’t even sure I’d answered the question.
My head hurt. Sports NA students shouldn’t have to write assignments. When we’re successful athletes we’ll have press agents for that kind of thing. Athletes shouldn’t have to be writers! It was too hard!
Besides I wasn’t convinced it was possible to write about a cricket match or any other sporting event without using cliches. There were only so many ways a match could go and every single one of those endings had happened before and been described before. Especially when it was a really old game like cricket that had been around since the dawn of time. Of course the same words were going to be used over and over!
Was Ms Johnson messing with me and Bluey? Did she want us to fail P.R.? Which would mean repeating it, which would mean not graduating to sophomore year, which would mean never finishing school, and ending life a complete failure. Why did she hate me so much?
I’d had PR classes since I was five years old and not once had I ever been told to avoid cliches. We’d been taught to memorise them! Why was she suddenly undoing nine years of training?
What did Johnson want from me? She’d praised Sula Wannamaker for being honest. She must want me to be honest. If I was captain and enforced the follow-on and then lost how would I feel?
Really cranky with myself, my players, the umpires, the doxy weather and whatever else was to blame.
What would I say if Rochelle asked me about it?
Question: Do you intend to remain as captain? (Not that Rochelle would ask me a question like that.)
Answer: No, I intend to disembowel myself in the centre of the New Avalon Cricket Ground in the hopes that my spilled entrails will make up for my hideous errors of judgment and lack of skill and general failure and also bring the team good luck in the future.
Was using sarcasm a cliche? Was “disembowelling” a cliche? How about “spilled entrails”? I did a search on “disembowel” “spilled entrails” and “cricket” and came up with the following from Sarwan Dev:
We lost. We played the best cricket we could, but we still lost. What do you expect me to do? Disembowel myself at Ranji Stadium and hope that my spilled entrails will make amends for my failures as captain, as batsman, and as a human being? And possibly also bring our team a never-losing fairy? What do you people want from me?
I sighed. The assignment was hopeless. There wasn’t a single thing that hadn’t been said before.