My Sister Rosa went through many, many, many drafts. In the process I changed the structure multiple times, switched from past to present tense, and cut more than 60,000 words, which I think is a record for me. Here are a few of the scenes that didn’t make it into the final version. I’ll leave it to you to judge why.
That night I go up to my room, close the door, close the window, and then text Jason to make sure he can talk and then call him on my laptop.
I call Jason because he’s so wrapped in his own world, his training, his ambitions, fights with his parents, he won’t ask questions, I won’t crack, and spill all my anxieties out. I can tell him about the sparring.
When his face comes on screen he grins. “Well, you look exactly the same.”
“You don’t think I look all Manhattan glamorous?”
He rolls his eyes. He’s wearing a torn t-shirt and his face is red but that could be the lighting and pixellation. It isn’t the world’s best connection.
“How’s it going, Jase?”
“You okay?” Jason croaks. “Why the call? You haven’t called in ages.”
“Yeah. ‘S all good. I was just too tired to text and I wanted to see you, hear your gorgeous voice. You sick or something?”
“Nah. Been yelling too much. You know. Geeing myself up.” He slips back and forth, chin well down, grinning. “Then there’s yelling at the olds cause they’re driving me fucking mental. All that yelling shreds your voice.” He pats his throat. “The olds, Che, the fucking olds. When are they gunna get it through their fucking heads that I don’t want to be them? I don’t wanna go to uni. I don’t wanna a fucking PhD. I don’t give a flying fuck about the fucking world of fucking ideas. I don’t want to change the fucking world. If being a fighter doesn’t work out than I wanna fucking teach fighting. Don’t need a fucking degree for that. Jesus fucking wept.”
“Drink some water, Jase. You sound like a sweary-bear Darth Vader.”
“Sexy Darth Vader, I hope.” He take a swig from his shiny black water bottle.
“Yeah, Jase, I’m thinking about how sexy you are.” I grimace and made gagging noises.
“Still homophobic, I see.”
I laugh. “Nah, still wounded you were never interested in me.”
It’s Jason’s turn to laugh. “You know I hate blonds who don’t understand Doctor Who is the greatest TV show in the history of the universe.”
“Let’s not go there,” I say, arguing TV with Jason is pointless. “So are you seeing anyone? Are Georgie and Naz all over each other reminding you of the love missing from your life? You haven’t mentioned anyone but your trainer and your parents in months.”
“That’s cause they’re the only people in my life right now,” Jason says. “The olds just found out I skipped school for the tournament down at Bateman’s. Don’t care that I fucking won! That I’m now on the radar for the New South Wales junior squad. Nope. Don’t care. They went mental.”
“Oh,” I say. For a moment I wish I had his problems. That I was Jason with only irate parents to deal with. That Jason had to deal with Rosa. I feel a surge of anger he has it so easy. I take a gulp of water from my water bottle. I’m not being fair.
“Yeah. They grounded me. As in not allowed to train at night. Only during the day and not when school is on. So only Saturday or Sunday. Two fucking days a week! I’m not going make the state squad on the back of that, am I? Everyone else is training two times a fucking day! I’m seventeen years old. They can’t do this to me.”
“Well, they’re the ones paying for your training.”
Jason sighs. “Yeah, they are.”
“And shelter and food—”
“Yeah, I fucking know. God. But that’s their job, right?”
“They do love you,” I say, though I don’t really know that.
Jason’s dad is a bit of a dickhead and never really talked much with his mum or with anyone really. I’d never had more than a ten seconds conversation with him. We have to call him Dr Dilworth. We are never tempted to giggle at his last name. Even though Jason was called Jason Dildo for years. None of my other friends’ parents insist that we call them by their title. It’s weird.
His dad is head of his department at CSIRO. Though I’m hazy on what his department is exactly. It had to do with climate science. I’ve seen him interviewed on the news a few times as a climate science expert. He always came across as though he thinks everyone else is a moron. Not a great look if you’re trying to convince people of anything, really. Jason’s mum hardly says a word when his dad is around. She seems nice when he isn’t there.
“So, I’m gunna move out. Get a job, find somewhere else to live, quit school. There’s no point in school for me. I’ve been offered a job at the gym it doesn’t pay much but Johnno says I can live with him until I sort myself out.”
“Do you really think it’s good idea to move in with your trainer?”
Jason shrugs. “I’m going to try out for the AIS’s next intake.”
“Woah,” I says. “That’s pretty full on.”
“Yeah, it is. But this is what I want, Che. I’m good at it. I love it. This can be my life, you know? This will be my life. I’m a fighter.”
“It’s kind of exciting. My real life is beginning, you know?”
I don’t but I can imagine. I wonder when my real life will begin. Will it? I can’t imagine a life without Rosa overshadowing everything.
“You look bummed. What’s up?”
“I started sparring.”
“Dude!” Jason does a fist bump at his laptop’s camera. “How could that bum you out? It’s the best! Wait till you have your first real fight. It’s like the difference between masturbating and sex. It fucking rules. How’d you persuade your olds to let you?”
“Dude!” Jason yells.Then he starts laughing. “Good boy turns bad! At last!” He laughs even harder. Then he disappears from view. I can still hear him laughing but it ‘s muffled.
“Jason? You okay?”
“Come on. It’s not that funny. Jason?”
He stands up. I can see his torso. Then he sits down, wiping his eyes. “It’s pretty bloody funny you have to admit. Have you ever broken a single rule before? Like ever?”
“Very funny. So that’s why you’re bummed, eh? Cause you haven’t told your olds yet.”
“Maybe. But, yeah, you’re right. I love it. Have only had one bout and I was shit. Didn’t throw a single punch. It was still awesome.”
“Don’t worry. I didn’t connect much my first few bouts either.”
“No, you don’t get it Jason. I didn’t say I didn’t land a punch I said I didn’t throw one. I was all defence.”
“Oh. Well, that’s better than my first go. I was a blur of windmilling arms. It was like I’d forgotten every punch I’d ever learned and I just stood there trying to kill him in the least effective way possible. No defence at all. Most beginners forget all about D. So you’re already ahead.”
“Yeah? Hope you’re right. It was so intense and it was like everything Natalie’s been telling me started to click. So this is why we stay compact, chin down, constant motion. I mean, yes, I knew all that. I’ve seen enough fights. But now, I like, know that.”
Jason’s nodding. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? How hard it is to do in the ring what you’ve practised a million times.” He raises his fists, slips right then left. “But someone coming at you and you slip the wrong way, duck right into an upper cut. Fuck everything up and forget what you’re supposed to do next and just keep moving and throwing punches. It’s so much faster then I thought it would be and the better the fighter you’re up against the faster it gets. Whooooosh!”
He lets go with a flurry of punches.
“I love it, but.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I got only the tiniest taste of how addictive it could be. I’m going to spar again tomorrow. Can’t wait.”
“When are you going to tell them?”
“You gunna tell them?”
“Yeah. I just want to have a few more goes at it first, you know?”
Jason nods. “Funny us both fighting with our parents.”
“What do you think they’ll do? It’s not like you’ve been in trouble with them before. Surely they gotta cut you some slack, right?”
But I’m not sure of that. I suspect the opposite will be true.
Tuesday was history. The parentals had decreed that we would focus on USA history because we were in the USA. We had done the same in Thailand. And Scotland. And England.
Our new tutor, Darnella Frankston, asked that we call her Dr. Frankston.
“We always call our tutors by their first name,” Rosa said.
It wasn’t true. Several of our older tutors had insisted that we call them by their title. But no one as young as Dr. Frankston ever had.
“You will call me Dr. Frankston. What do you know about the history of the United States of America?”
Rosa didn’t say anything. She yawned.
“Um, well, I know that there were loads of people living here before Europeans started arriving. The French, English, Dutch and Spanish were the first Europeans here. Slavery. The civil war. The USA came into the first world war later than everyone else and same with world war two.” I trailed off because she hadn’t said anything. “Um, Roosevelt and nuclear weapons and Vietnam and Iraq? Martin Luther King?”
She nodded. “That’s a good start. And you Rosa? What do you know about the history of this country?”
“Walt Disney,” Rosa said. She yawned even louder.
“What is history?” Dr. Frankston asked.
“Learning about old things that have nothing to do with us now,” Rosa said.
Dr. Frankston ignored her.
“But I answered already,” Rosa protested. “You didn’t say anything about my answer.”
“Such an ignorant statement does not require a response. Next Tuesday I’d like a short essay from you, Rosa, on why what you said is not true.”
“I’m too young to write essays.”
“I was informed that you are very advanced for you age. Was that not true?”
I bit back a smile. Rosa glared at me.
“It’s not fair,” she protested. “Why doesn’t Che have to write an essay?”
“There’s nothing fair about history. Che, your answer?”
“History is the stories we tell ourselves about the past so that we can understand it,” I said. That was how my favourite tutor had talked about history. It made perfect sense to me.
“Exactly,” Dr. Frankston said. “I’m going to take you back to the war that led to the creation of the United States of America and the different stories that have been told about it. Which starts with the many different names the war has been given.”
Dr. Frankston, I hoped, was going to be the best history tutor we’d had so far.
Rosa hated her.
During lunch—family lunch, Sally and David had emerged from the study—Rosa started complaining about Dr. Frankston.
“I liked her,” I said. “Rosa just doesn’t like history.”
“Rosa?” David asked.
“Does she pinch you?” I asked. “Does she make you live in a kennel?”
Sally and David laughed. Those stories were now family lore of how terrible Rosa’s twos had been. But normal, of course, so very normal, albeit worse than all the cousins, all their friend’s children, worse than most children anywhere ever.
Rosa glared. “I hate history.”
Sally patted her shoulder. “It is one of the most important things you’ll ever study. I’m sorry you don’t like it but there’s many things we have to do in this life that we don’t like.” Sally shrugged. “That’s just how it is.”
Rosa didn’t say another word until she knocked on my open door as I was throwing gear into my backpack to go to gym.
Before she could speak I said, “You said you’d be good. You were rude to Dr. Frankston.”
“She was rude to me.”
“Asking you to take the lesson seriously is not being rude, it’s her doing her job.”
“I don’t like being told what to do.”
“You’re ten. Get used to it. You were a brat. An ungood brat. You said you were going to try to be good.”
Rosa sank to the floor. “I need to be a little bit bad, Che,” she said, arranging her features into the most sincere expression she could manage. “I work so hard showing I care about others. Remembering to ask them questions, to laugh at their jokes. It’s tiring. I have to be bad sometimes or I’ll explode. You don’t understand how hard being good is. I don’t want to be good. I want to do whatever I want to do. So now I’m picking small ways to not be good so I don’t explode and do a big not good thing.”
What could I say to that? She’d just summed up the problem of Rosa: I want to do whatever I want to do.
“History is pointless. I’m going to make the parentals let me do something else instead.”
“You heard Sally. Sometimes you have to do things . . . ”
“I’ll fix it.” She got up and went downstairs. I followed her down. Sally was in the kitchen.
“Sally,” I said because I didn’t want to know what Rosa meant by fixing it. “Rosa says that she’s going to fix things so she doesn’t have to do any more history.”
“Dobber,” Rosa hissed because she had long since learned that calling me a liar didn’t work. The parentals knew I didn’t lie.
“Gotta go,” I said.
I closed the door on Sally asking Rosa why she hated history so much and Rosa working over time to appear reasonable.