Sometimes I write those too… well, I did while I was in Australia. Maybe again down the line. Chapter One from I’m going where it snows. A story about a little boy in a hot Aussie climate who just wants some relief from the sweltering heat.
Mum and Dad refuse to buy an air-conditioner.
“Billy,” my Dad begins while I watch his bushy, blonde moustache wiggle back and forth. It’s too hot to move, and the sweat dripping down my body has me pasted to our leather couch. I can’t get away.
“Heat toughens you up, you should be thankful,” Dad continues. “Don’t you wanna be tough? You’re lucky to be one of the rare people on the planet who can survive in a climate like this. Sunny Queensland my boy!”
“But I’m dying,” I protest with a restless shift of my slumped body. I do this every few seconds to peel my sweaty legs away from the sticky material beneath me. “Why can’t we get an air-conditioner?”
I have been asking this question since I first learned how to speak, I reckon I was about two then. It’s been over eleven years since and I have yet to receive an acceptable explanation.
Mum approaches, wobbling back and forth, carrying a huge cardboard box labelled ‘Krismis Stuf’. My little sister Katie wrote it on there when she was like seven and my parents continue to think the writing, and Katie, are the cutest things ever.
She drops the box on our mustard yellow carpet that’s hairy from my golden retriever Winston’s infinitely shedding coat. Last week I made the mistake of lying down on the floor to watch some TV. When I stood up, I looked like Chewbacca.
My dog Winston is the only other one in my house that wants an air-conditioner as bad as I do. Whenever he barks Mum or Dad give him a biscuit or some table scraps; that’s not what he wants at all.
Mum tightens the black bandana she’s wearing on her head to manage her out-of-control, frizzy, red curls and once again begins to preach to me about what life in Tasmania was like.
My parents met at a boarding school there when they were in grade ten. They were high school sweethearts and have been married for fifteen years. I hope she doesn’t tell me about the storm of ’68 again; it’s too hot and I’m not in the mood.
“Billy-Bub, I wish you would stop this silly obsession with cold weather. You’d appreciate the lovely warmth we have in Queensland if you’d seen the…”
“Storm of ’68?” I say finishing my mother’s sentence. Here we go again. Maybe the heat will finally get the best of me and I’ll pass out, then I can skip having to hear this story for the zillionth time.
She pulls our fake Christmas tree out of a huge, beat-up box. Its wire branches are mangled like my sister’s hair when she gets out of bed in the morning. The humidity has turned the artificial pine needles into droopy, green, noodles. Mum and Dad try to bend it back to life as Mum continues.
“Exactly, the storm of ’68. Did I tell you how there were icicles inside of my dorm room?”
“Or about how I had to live with chapped lips for two months because all of my lippy froze and it took that long to defrost?”
“Have you ever had chapped lips for two months Billy… have you?!” I always have to hold back a laugh when Mum gets to that part of story.
Opening another box brilliantly marked ‘Ornimutz’ by Katie, my father proceeds to add his own horrific recollection of the dreaded storm of ’68.
“Son, you think heat is bad for some bizarre reason that the rest of your family members just can’t seem to figure out, and believe me we’ve tried. Let me ask you this. Have you ever had to walk to school, uphill, both ways, in snow that is so cold and thick that it makes you feel like warm water that’s been poured into an ice tray and shut in a freezer to glaciate for eternity?”
“What does glaciate mean?”
I pause for a moment knowing very well that in my thirteen years of existence I have not once had to walk to school, uphill, both ways, in an environment threatening to turn me into an icy pole. On a sticky thirty-nine degree afternoon like today, it actually sounds quite refreshing.
I begin to daydream about just how sensational being locked in a freezer sounds but quickly snap myself back to reality. I must devise a comeback to my father’s pressuring question.
“No,” I confess as I slide the back of my arm across my dripping forehead. “However, I have walked down a perfectly straight footpath on five hundred degree days and started to see mirages of billabongs in the distance due to dehydration and heat exhaustion.” Ha! That should get them.
“Billy-Bub that’s not true, I always pack you a frozen water bottle to help you keep cool.”
Rats! Mum got me again. She does always pack me a frozen water bottle.
“And besides son, the only thing to really see in the distance from our house is the school, it’s only three blocks away.”
Dad got me too! Suddenly I feel defeated, hot and defeated. The oppressive heat seems to have momentarily wounded my spirit… but I am far from broken. This round of the battle is not over yet.
All of the Christmas decorations are finally unpacked and scattered around the lounge room floor. My parents still have to pick up the mess of wrapping and boxes that they’ve thrown everywhere. This gives me a little more time to convince them to meet my demands before they run off to complete other insignificant tasks around the house; tasks that don’t involve installing an air-conditioner which is the only thing that I desperately require.
“Jeremy’s parents have air-conditioning,” I state matter-of-factly. My best friend Jeremy will always stand up for me in these frequent debates with Mum and Dad. His Mum never actually lets us play in the house when I’m over there, but that’s beside the point.
All of the windows in our house are open. When a small breeze somehow puffs through, it feels like Winston’s breathe on my face in the morning. He has the habit of sneaking into my bedroom and panting at me while I’m still asleep until I finally give in and hop up to walk him.
“Lots of people have air-conditioning son,” confirms Dad before taking a sip of his used-to-be ice water. “It’s a waste of money and it takes away from the great appreciation we should all have for such extraordinary weather.”
This conversation does not seem to be going my way. I decide to resort to old faithful; my one approach that I am confident will win over the hearts of my weirdo parents sooner or later during my ceaseless crusade for air-conditioning. It is my most direct tactic and bound to bring forth victory.
As I sit up straight to take a deep breathe, my back separates from our couch like a piece of chewy getting pulled off the warm rubber bottom of a new pair of runners on a summer afternoon. “So…”
This is it, I’ve started. No turning back now. Pausing will make sure they have enough time to contemplate the deep-rooted emotion behind the words I am about to speak. “Can we get an air-conditioner?”
“NO!” my parents declare in more unison than a pair of gold medal synchronized divers at the Commonwealth Games.
I cannot mask my visible frustration. In an attempt to call a truce, Mum tries to win me over by offering a ride in the car. It doesn’t have air-conditioning, but it’s still cooler than the house.
“Cheer up Billy-Bub,” she says while slipping on her favourite blue thongs, “Come for a ride, I’m going to get Katie.”