Here’s a chapter from Spark.
There be needles and blood and passing out, and romance.
Still a draft, forgive the errors.
If she was going to do this, it had to be done now while her parents were out. There’d be hell about it later, but later was too late. She’d have holes in her ears later and there’d be nothing Mum could do about it.
Well, she could make Sally take the sleepers out, but not even Mum would be that cruel. Anyway it was a risk worth taking. But it had to be done now.
She got the ice tray out of the fridge and looked at Narelle. “You’re sure you know how to do this?” On the radio Sherbert’s Summer Love was playing. It was one of her favourite songs.
“Yeah, how hard can it be?”
“Why don’t you have them done then?” said Bec.
“Mum would kill me. But my cousin did my other cousin so I know what to do.”
“She only think she’s knows that to do,” said Bec. “Don’t do it, Sal.”
Narelle squinted at Bec. “Rack off. I was right there when she stuck the needle in. I know what I’m doing.” She looked at Sal. “Show me the needles you have.”
Sally went to get Mum’s sewing box. What if Bec was right and Narelle was just being a big mouth? But how hard could it be really. Lots of people had done it. She touched her earlobe, between her thumb and the knuckle of her first finger and pressed. The skin was thick. There was no way this wasn’t going to hurt. But that’s what the ice was for.
She found the sewing box and brought it back to the kitchen. Narelle had cracked the ice cubs into a bowl. “We need alcohol and a lighter,” she said.
“Alcohol, like what, beer?”
“That’s all we’ve got.” They had a whole second fridge referred to as the beer fridge and this plan was going to fall apart because they only had beer, and there was no way she’d be able to buy alcohol. Besides it was Saturday afternoon all the shops were closed.
“Metho. You can use metho,” said Bec.
Sally looked from Bec to Narelle.
“Yeah, that’s like alcohol. Dero’s drink metho. That’ll do.”
“That’ll do, or is it all right? Do you know what you’re doing, Narelle?”
“Look my cousin used this clear alcohol. I dunno what it was, maybe it was metho. It’s to sterilise your skin and you use it to clean the hole afterwards.”
God, clean the hole. That sounded revolting and rude. But it would be momentarily vomitous and then so groovy. Sally knew she could handle it. She went to get the metho. When she got back Narelle had chosen a needle. It looked thin, like it wouldn’t hurt much.
“Do you thread it?” she asked. She had a vision of herself with blue cotton trailing out of her earlobes instead of the sleepers she’d bought at the chemist.
Narelle took the lighter they used for the gas stove and held it over the tip of the needle. They watched while the needle went black where the flame hit it.
“Ah.” Narelle dropped the needle and shook her fingers then put them in the bowl with the ice. Bec snickered and Sally’s stomach folded over like a pair of clean socks rolled together. Maybe this was a stupid idea, but she was babysitting for Ray tonight and she wanted this done in time. She imaged he’d notice straight away and want to know when she got them done and if it hurt. She could lie a little bit and tell him she did it herself and he’d think she was brave and clever. So, sick feeling in her tummy or not, this was happening.
She flapped her arms. “Where do you want me?”
Narelle pointed to the kitchen stool and Bec moved to give them room. Sally sat and Narelle approached with the alcohol and a cotton ball. She soaked the cotton ball and wiped Sally’s left ear. If sterile and safe had a smell it would be metho. This was going to be okay.
“You should mark the spot,” said Bec.
“What do you mean?” said Narelle.
Bec shrugged. “You know, like with a texta, so they’re even.”
“You don’t have to. My cousin didn’t do that. I can just tell.”
Bec shrugged again. “Okay.” But the way she said, ‘okay’ made Sally get off the stool.
They all went to the bathroom with a red texta and Bec put a dot on each of her earlobes where the hole would be made. Sally checked in the mirror a couple of times, turning her head side to side to see from different angles. She did not want them to be crocked. That would be dreadful.
Back in the kitchen, Narelle sterilised the needle again. The ice had melted a bit but there was still enough. She put a piece either side of Sally’s earlobe and held it there. It dripped on her shoulder. “Tell me when it goes numb.”
They all giggled. “I’m scared,” Sally said, but she was still laughing. “This is gonna hurt.”
But first they discovered they should’ve used a biro not a texta, the red dot was now a pink smudge. They had to start again. And then Narelle dropped the needle and they couldn’t find it so they had to choose another one.
Finally Sally was ready. Blue pen dots on both her earlobes. Both of them sterilised, one of them numb. Narelle was poised, standing over her so close Sally could smell her spearmint gum. “Ready?”
“I can’t watch,” said Bec and hid her face in her arms folded on the table while the Carpenters sang Please Mr Postman.
“You’re such a dag,” said Narelle. “Ready?”
Sally nodded. In another few minutes she’d have her ears pierced. It’d look so cool. She felt like chucking.
Narelle rested the needle on the skin of Sally’s earlobe. “Ready.”
“Oh for God’s sake,” said Bec.
Sally felt the needle prick; it was a hot point of pain. She gasped.
“Don’t move,” said Narelle. She pressed the needle again. “Oh God, its bleeding.”
“Is it through?”
“Bec, get me tissues, quick,” said Narelle.
“Is it through?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t know.”
“I don’t think so,” Narelle repeated, and Bec came back with tissues.
“Oh fudge you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“I do so.”
“No you don’t.”
Narelle thrust the tissues at her and stepped away. She threw the needle on the bench. “Do you it yourself then if you don’t like the way I’m doing it.” She was white faced. She drank a glass of water while Bec held a clump of tissues to Sally’s ear.
“What are we going to do? I’ve got half a hole.”
“We can just stop now,” said Narelle.
“We’re not stopping now. Bec you do it.”
Bec dabbed her ear. “I’m not doing it.”
“Narelle, you have to do it.”
Narelle came back over. She found the needle and heated it again. “Is it still numb?”
It wasn’t but Sally didn’t care. “Just jab it through, hurry up.”
Bec held her hand and Narelle lined the needle up.
Sally looked at Bec who was looking at Narelle. “On three. One, two—”
Narelle jabbed and Sally yelped as the needle hit the side of her neck behind her ear.
“Oh shit,” said Narelle.
Sally put her hand up to her neck. “Oh God, now I’m really bleeding.”
“Oh shit. I feel sick,” said Narelle.
“Where’s the needle?”
Bec said, “It’s still in your ear.”
Narelle was leaning over the sink, she vomited and Sally’s stomach flipped at the sound of Narelle’s puke splattering the sink.
Bec took her back to the bathroom. The needle was right through her earlobe and out the other side, and she had a bloody scrach spot on her neck where it had struck. They still had to get the needle out and the earring in, and this was only one ear.
Bec took the needle out and that didn’t hurt but the hole wasn’t big enough to slide the sleeper though. In the end Sally pushed it through and that hurt more than the needle and the stab in the neck did. But she had one earring in and once the side of her face and neck stopping looking so red it would be so cool.
Narelle was lying on Sally’s bed with her hand over her face. “I feel sick. I can’t do that again.”
“I told you,” said Bec.
“Shut up,” Narelle shouted. “I never said I’d done it before. Only that I knew what to do.”
“Shut up both of you. We have to do the other one.”
“I can’t,” said Narelle. She was almost crying.
“Well I’m not doing it. I said this was a bad idea,” said Bec.
“You can’t leave me like this.” These were her two best friends. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t.
Narelle sat up. She was very pale. “Just take the earring out, the hole will close up.”
“No. We came this far.” And it hadn’t hurt that much. They all went back to the kitchen. The ice was totally melted now and ABBA was on the radio singing Mama Mia. Normally the three of them would’ve danced around to that song, but they barely noticed it.
“I’ll do it myself,” Sally said. If it was the only way, well, it was the only way.
They got more ice and moved everything into the bathroom. It was a squash, so Bec stood in the doorway. But Sally’s hand shook too much and she was almost crying from frustration.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” said Narelle. She took the needle and lined it up. “Ready?”
Sally said, “Ready,” but relief turned to horror when she watched Narelle’s eyes roll back till all that showed was white and she dropped like a lump of rock, the back of her head hitting the vanity as she fainted.
And then there was more blood from the split in the back of Narelle’s head and she was unconscious but kind of moaning. They managed to get her up and sat her on the toilet seat and she came around, but she was crying and bleeding, and in no fit condition to pierce anyone’s ear.
“Wait her with her,” she said to Bec.
“Where are you going?”
“To get help.”
She left the house praying. Hazel had to be at her old place, she had to be. She was Sally’s only hope. She said four rushed Hail Mary’s before she got two doors down. The Stone’s front door was open and as usual Greg was out the front with his head under the hood of his old Monaro. She didn’t want to risk running into Joyce or Barry, that meant she had to speak to Greg.
“Is Hazel here?” She spoke to the curve of his back and his thick neat ponytail.
He looked up, squinting at her. He wiped his hands on a filthy old rag. “No, Sal. She might visit tomorrow.” His eyes narrowed and he stepped forward. “Shit, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Everything, all her plans ruined. “I just wanted to talk to her.”
Greg closed the hood of the Monaro with a dull thud. “You look upset, what’s wrong. Mum’s not home either.”
“I don’t want your mum.”
“Can I help?”
“I so don’t want you.”
She turned away and started home. She was so frustrated her eyes were burning. She knew Greg would be watching her go. She turned back. “How did you get your ear pierced?”
His hand came up to twist the hoop in his ear. “I did it myself.”
“Can you do mine?” She turned her head so he could see she only had the one earring.
He stepped onto the grass and came closer. “What happened?”
“My friend fainted. She hit her head. I want to get this finished. Can you do it or not?”
“I can do it.”
“Okay then. Come on.” Sally turned to go back to her place.
“Now, you want me to do it right now?”
She stopped walking, but didn’t bother to turn around. “Yes, now. What did you think?”
He came up beside her. “I wasn’t thinking. You won’t even look at me and now you want me to piece your ear.”
She sighed. “Are you going to make a big deal out of this?”
“No. No big deal.” He put his hands up. “I’m just surprised that’s all, but hey I’m cool, I can roll with it.”
He came with her back to the house. At the front door he said, “Do you have rubbing alcohol?”
“We have metho.”
“That’ll do. Cork?”
“Cork? What do we need cork for?”
He put his hand up to her neck and touched lightly where the needle had jabbed her. “So this doesn’t happen. You use it as a backing behind the ear.”
His touch made her feel shivery, she moved so he could go through the door before her. “We don’t have any cork.”
“Okay, how about a potato.”
“Greg, this is serious.”
They were both in the hall now. He said, “I’m being serious. Even a piece of carrot would do.”
She shook her head. Why did she think this would work? That’s how desperate she was, so desperate she’d even let Greg touch her. “You’re making fun of me.” She pointed back at the door. “Forget it. Just go home.”
“I’m not making fun of you, Sal. I never was making fun of you ever. You got that wrong. I was trying to help you. I can do this for you. Do you really want me to go?”
He hadn’t been trying to help her at all that day three years ago in Ray’s pool. He was a grubby boy who got his jollies from embarrassing her. But he seemed to know what he was doing with the potato idea and there really was no other option.
“Go through to the kitchen.”
They only got as far as the bathroom doorway. Bec was on her knees cleaning up Narelle’s blood.
“Shit, was that from your ear,” said Greg.
“No from Narelle when she fainted. This is Bec.”
“Hi boy who Sal didn’t introduce,” said Bec.
Sally gave Greg a shove towards the kitchen. “You don’t need to know him. Where’s Narelle?”
He called out. “I’m Greg.”
Bec called out. “Hi Greg. She’s on your bed.”
In the kitchen, Sally got more ice, but this was the last of it. The needle was missing again so she opened the sewing kit. Greg chose a really big needle.
“That’s too thick.”
He picked up the earring from the counter. “No, it’s just a little thicker than the shaft of the earring. What did you use?”
Sally pointed at a similar needle to the one Narelle used and Greg winced. “How did you get the earring in?”
“I forced it.”
She shrugged. At least that told Greg she was no weakling.
He tore a piece of cardboard off the flap of the Corn Flakes box and folded it into a little square. Bec came out and watched. Then he positioned Sally on the stool. He had her ice her ear while he sterilised the needle. Narelle wobbled out when he was ready and when she saw what he was doing she went back to the bedroom.
Greg towered over her. She’d never really noticed how tall he was. Now she noticed how tall, how brown and how muscley he was. He was really muscely. He had a singlet on with boardies, he was barefoot and he had fine blonde hair all over his arms. Arms that he’d washed thoroughly before he started on this that ended in fingers he’d rubbed in metho.
Now he looked down at her. “Ready?”
She nodded. He brushed some loose hair away from her ear, bent lower to see what he was doing. She felt his fingers position the cardboard behind her ear and next minute he straightened and held out his hand for Bec to give him the earring.
“That’s it?” That couldn’t be it, it hardly hurt at all.
“That’s it. But I reckon we should do your other one again. Just to make sure it’s okay.” He bent down so he could look her in the face. His eyes were the colour of moss. “Can I do that for you?”
She let him. And it hurt a little more oddly. He said it was traumatised and she needed to make sure she kept turning the earring and bathing it in the metho or it might get infected. He sang along to My Little Angel with William Shakespeare and he had an okay voice.
And then he did Bec’s ears but he used a piece of thread, tied off in the hole, because she didn’t have sleepers, she was going to steal some from her mum when she got home. Narelle came out again during that to get some Disprin for a headache, and then Sally walked Greg to the front door.
“Thank you. You were really cool.”
He grinned. “I want payment?”
“What? I never said, this was—”
He cut her off. “I don’t want money. I just want you to look at me from time to time.”
“You’re always looking at me.”
“Because you’re a spunk.”
Sally opened her mouth but no words made it from her brain to her tongue. He was so cruel to be making fun of her again when he’d been so nice and so good about helping her out.
“You don’t believe me?”
She shook her head. Her ears felt three times bigger than they really were. They were like Dumbo ears. She was leaning against one side of the door jamb and he was on the other. They weren’t very far apart. He was making her nervous, more nervous than when he was about to stick her with a hot needle.
“It’s true. You’re a spunk and I hate that you think I deliberately made fun of you that day.”
“I didn’t mean it.” He pulled the band out of his ponytail and his hair fell around his neck and shoulders. It was very shiny. “I was trying to stop you being embarrassed.”
She looked at his feet. He had blonde hair on top of his arches. That couldn’t be possible could it? That was the opposite to what she’d always believed.
“I was trying to tell you your top slipped. I didn’t think anyone was looking at me except you.”
“Well they were.” Half the street had been watching. It was bad enough Greg had seen her nipple slip from her bikini top, but everyone else had seen it too when they saw him signal her. She’d gone home in tears and thought she’d never be able to face anyone again. The only good thing was Ray was inside and Steve was asleep on a deckchair so they hadn’t seen, and Hazel said she didn’t see either, but still Sally had been half topless in Ray’s pool and Greg had pointed it out to everyone with his stupid hand gesture.
He nodded sadly. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. And you’d never let me talk to you again to apologise.”
That’s because looking at Greg reminded her of the singularly most humiliating moment of her life. But now he was looking at her and it wasn’t so bad. She tossed her head. “I’m not exactly pretty.” She wasn’t a total dog, she was okay looking, but her hair was too blah and her freckles were awful. They made her look about ten years old. She couldn’t wait til she was allowed to use makeup.
“You are to me.”
“My freckles are…”
“Dead-set cute.” He lifted a hand, his index finger outstretched and pretended to count. “Every single one of them.”
Sally got hot suddenly. Like the sun had risen right on top of her head. From down the hallway they heard Hush’s Bony Moroni. She felt like dancing. “You better go.”
She giggled. “I’ve only got two ears.”
“Maybe we could pierce something else?”
He laughed and stepped off the doorstep. He was still taller than her.
“I won’t ignore you.”
She watched him go down the path. He jumped the gate in one swift movement. “Show-off!” she called and when he laughed she didn’t think he was making fun of her, and remembering he’d seen her nipple made her tummy squirm in a completely different way, and it wasn’t embarrassing anymore.