‘You’re not living up to our standards ,’ I said to my sister as we walked together to school. Up Cox Street through Robross and onto Centre Dandenong Road. The traffic whizzed past.
My sister’s school bag flapped at her side , but with her free hand she reached out and grabbed my hat. Up and over the fence into the nearest yard. I could see my hat through the fence slats caught in the branches of a rose bush.
‘Look what you’ve done,’ I wailed. ‘Go and get it.’
‘No way,’ she said. ‘Get it yourself.’
‘But it’s trespassing.’ This much I knew: to go uninvited into someone else’s territory was against the law. Trespassers will be prosecuted.
My sister was already bad. She had written on the central blackboard at school, two letters that defaced Mother Xavier’s orderly list, headed by the single word MARKS.
Marks for order, for punctuality, for application and the big one, worth five points, marks for deportment.
My sister had added the two letters ‘re’ to the word marks, ‘remarks’ and Mother Xavier had summoned the entire school to find the culprit. Can you imagine my shame when my sister finally put up her hand?
She lost her shield: two full marks for deportment, ten points, and took a letter home to our mother.
Our poor mother, overburdened with trying to find the money to pay our school fees and here was my sister abusing the privilege.
‘You go and get my hat,’ I said again, but my sister had shot off ahead.
‘You’ll miss the train,’ she called back.
I had no choice then but to break the law. I slipped the latch on the gate, fearful of every creak. I slid up the pathway and hunched my shoulders. I had a plan.
If anyone came out I would apologise and tell them the wind had blown my hat over their fence. No matter there was no wind. I could see a television screen flickering through the scrim curtains in the front room. The rumble of noise.
I snatched my hat off the bush and ran for it.
‘Don’t you ever do that again, or I’ll report you to the prefects,’ I said to my sister.
‘And I’ll report you for not wearing your hat.’
And so it goes, sibling rivalry at its best.