Alex’s Assertion | Daniel Norrish

For love and money.

Alex’s Assertion

By Daniel Norrish

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


You’re born pink and wailing. Tiny fingers clasping at air and fat feet flicking. You’re taken home. You watch. You learn. You crawl. You run and speak and jump and play.
You’re taken to pre-school. You stand alone in a colourful corner and watch the others giggle. Someone starts to cry. You look back towards your mother at the door; she’s gone. A teacher stands over you, smiling. She takes your hand and you don’t like her. She announces your name to the class and everyone repeats it. You hide your face in your hands and hope like hell you’ll be left alone. You hope your mother is coming back and you hope you never have to return to this awkward place. When you open your eyes again a face is hovering only a few centimetres from yours. There’s a wide, inviting grin on this face. There’s curiosity in these eyes. You’re too young to notice it, but there’s affection there too.
“Hi, I’m Alex,” It says as a hand reaches out and drops a square of lamington on your palm.
A few years later you wear a tie in the winter with a blazer. You spend your days at school, but your thoughts are permanently on home. You father never speaks. Your mother is always angry. As soon as you get through that front door there’s tension and aggression in every short exchange of words.
Time passes and you learn high school is tough. Tests and grades and concern and discipline and routine. It’s just you and your mother in the house now and you wish your father were still with you. You wish he’d never gotten sick.
You’re told you need to work harder. You need to study more. You disagree, but your assertions are refuted. Alex helps you with math, but Alex is useless at English. You want more friends, less responsibility.
You and Alex stand in the lobby of the cinema, staring up at the big red list of movie times. You argue between comedy and action until Alex gives in, like always. It’s dark in the huge, long room as the giant film rattles away ahead of you. You’re sitting in the very back row, just you and Alex. You pull the little silver flask from your pocket and pour half the rum you stole from your mum into your drink cup, the other half in Alex’s. An hour later you feel a hand on your leg. It lingers there a moment, still, and then fumbles at your zipper. You breathe heavy and try to pretend this isn’t a big deal but you know Alex is watching you in the flickering light and you know you must look terrified. Terrified and eager.
You grow up quickly but you don’t finish university. Second-year units are too hard. You work three shifts a week wrapping greasy burgers in thin sheets of branded paper. You salt chips and feign interest. You and Alex share a single bed in a single room in a very, very small house with three other people. There’s only enough space for one chest of drawers so you keep your clothes in a suitcase.
“We need more money,” Alex says, “And they don’t pay you enough anyway,” Alex continues. “It doesn’t have to be your store, but you know their policy is just to give the money away right? They’ll just hand it over right?”
You watch a young woman hurry to the front of the plastic restaurant and lock the door. They leave the lights on, but you knew they’d do that. The cameras don’t matter, you’re far from home and you’ve got the werewolf mask. You pull it down over your face and run to the drive through. You force open the little window and clamber into the building.
The knife feels strange in your hand and when the girl screams, you look behind yourself to check what’s frightening her. You yell something terrible and you’re so, so sorry, but you can’t go back now. You can’t take this back. She’s crying now and passing you two paper bags of cash. In what feels like no more than a second, you’re far away. The blood is pumping fast through your perception and everything is crisp and exciting and wonderful. You’ve never felt so fortified.
What will Alex say now?
You work the next day and the day after that and the day after that. You can’t quit straight away, too suspicious. A week later you’re still wrapping burgers, still salting chips, still content, still free. Your manager leads two police officers into the staff area and points at you.
What will Alex say now?