Short story: Matter of Respect

Worth 1000 words: Summer Herald will each day publish a short story competition entry. The winner will be announced on January 30. Picture: Peter Stoop
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IT WAS only 9.15 but Cory was totally over school. The relief teacher was useless. Now she was making heavy weather of the roll in Home Group, reading out everyone’s name in painful succession.

Ms Stackhouse would have used her eyes and scanned the front rows for most of the names.

“Jenna Grantham?”

“Here!”

“David Guthrie?”

“Here.”

“Benjamin Han?”

“He’s away – broken arm.”

“Thank you. Skye Ianello?”

“Yes, here.”

“Cory Irvine?”

When there was no response the teacher spoke louder.

“Cory Irvine!”

David kicked Cory under the desk. His mate was clearly off with the fairies.

“… Er, yes, Miss!”

The class erupted. Cory reddened with embarrassment then made a show of light-heartedly cuffing David over the head. Since when had he called one of his teachers “Miss”?!The sooner this day was over the better.

At recess there was more ribbing from Cory’s friends before the conversation moved on to possibilities for his birthday celebrations. He felt little eagerness for his 16th birthday next month. What good would it do him?

He wanted to get out of school and away from all this crap. Cory’s mum didn’t hold the line at many things, but this was one of them.

She wanted him to get through to the end of Year 12 and walk away with that bit of paper. Even if afterwards he wanted to work at the freeway Macca’s he needed something to show for all this time at school.

The prospect of another two and a half years of this filled Cory with despair.

By four o’clock Cory and David were hanging out with a group of three other boys at the far side of the town’s carpark, doing a few easy tricks on their skateboards.

There wasn’t much going on today. It was the same most days. Maybe he’d talk David into skipping school tomorrow and spending the day over near the new council offices. There were some cool spots to ride and carve there, as long as they didn’t get busted.

Cory knew his mum would explode when she found out but, hey, the temptation was great. And Saturday was Anzac Day. Big deal, he thought, but that meant Monday was a holiday. So if they skipped school that meant four whole days of freedom.

In the end Cory spent Friday at school, putting in no effort at all. What was the friggin’ point? He wanted to get the hell out of school and this town.

By Sunday lunchtime they were hanging out again in the main street. Cory had slept ‘tileleven, told his mum he was going to David’s, then taken off.

He saw his mum’s drawn face reflected in the hall mirror as he went through the front door. He didn’t want to see it, but he did.

Later, the boys were sprawled around one side of the little stone edifice of the town’s war memorial. Fresh wreaths, all crisp ribbons and soft petals, lay on the steps nearby.

Cory clipped one of the wreathswith his flying board as he came out of a failed tailslide.

The wreath tumbled down a couple of steps as Cory recovered his balance.

In no time, old Mr Thurbon came out of the hardware store opposite, his brows an angry streak across his face.

“Hey, young man! Cory, isn’t it? I knew your dad and I think he’d be disappointed in you. Show some respect.”

Cory looked at him dumbly. He knew he should have been more careful but, Christ, it was only some old wreath. Mr Thurbon wasn’t backing off though.

“I think you could place that wreath back where it was, don’t you?”

In whatwas a pretty perfunctory effort from Cory. He picked up the wreath and pushed it back amongst the others. He mumbled sorry under his breath.

“Do you have any idea, Cory, what this memorial means?”

“I guess.”

“Well, if you did, you and your friends wouldn’t be showing disrespect.

“See here, in this list of men who gave their lives in the First World War, is your own great grandfather and his brother. Did you even know your own family lost two young men?”

Cory stared, speechless, at the names Mr Thurbon was pointing out.

Irvine A.W. and Irvine G.W.

Right there!

“I didn’t know, Mr Thurbon.”

“No, I don’t suppose you did. I’m guessing if your father was alive he would have told you the full story.”

“S’pose.”

Cory’s head hung and his cheeks were flaming. Tentatively he stepped back from the stone memorial and picked up his board.

“Sorry, Mr Thurbon. I didn’t know.”

“Perhaps you should find out about those Irvine brothers, Cory.”

“Don’t know how …”

Cory felt a stab of desolation. His own great-grandfather and his brother. He’d never even imagined that.

“Well, I never thought I’d be telling a young person this but it’s all on the internet. There’s a site you can look up everything.”

Barely an hour later Cory surprised his mum by coming in to sit at the computer. It wasn’t so easy but eventually he found it.

Archibald Walter Irvine, married with one child, killed in France in July 1916. Must be him – his father’s middle name was Archibald.

There was heaps more stuff to read.

But he couldn’t help himself. Had to look for the brother. Finally he found the right entry.

George William Irvine, same next of kin as Arthur. But he’d died a year earlier. In fact, it was almost exactly 100years ago.Something shifted in Cory as he read.

George had died at Gallipoli in May 1915, only a few days after landing.

Andhere was the twist of the blade. George was only 16.

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