Tubas & Tiaras

by C.C McGarva

Tubas and Tiaras

We wouldn’t have been friends if it weren’t for band. She was a year younger than me, and wore a faded school dress. I had polished Clarkes and my own clarinet. The clarinet was purchased as an advanced Christmas present in the belief that music helped the right and left side of the brain communicate. Sandy had wanted to join band because that’s what the smart kids did; and if she was going to join band, she might as well go big. She chose the tuba.

The only problem with the tuba was that she couldn’t carry it to and from school. Previous tuba players never had this problem. Their mothers waited diligently at the school gate for them, unloading their children’s burden upon their arrival. I took my brother’s skateboard and brought it to school the next day. The band teacher, Mr. Shijari, helped us bolt the tuba case to the weathered board.

She looked like a roadie, guiding the tuba across the zebra crossing, down the curved road, across Mr. Jones’ impeccable lawn, and through our secret walkway into McDonald Place. I felt guilty, being able to freely swing my clarinet whilst Sandy maneuvered the black crackled case like an unwieldy trolley.

Once we reached McDonald Place, we said goodbye at the invisible border. My parents and other young families privately purchased the houses at the beginning of the street some 20 years ago. The blocks were generous and backed onto untouched bush land. Each year, the bush land receded like an aging hairline.

My house was the fourth house along McDonald Place. It sat on the top of the curve in the road. The road rapidly steepened and pooled into a cul-de-sac. For those who were game, the cul-de-sac was an abrupt end to many bike races, spurring graveled knees and visits from the tooth fairy.

Sandy lived right in the nook of the cul-de-sac. Mum and Dad protested when the NSW Labor government approved development for the housing commission. I didn’t understand the problem. We finally had neighbours.

For the first couple of weeks, I said my farewells to Sandy and left her to navigate the Tuba down the hill to her home. I was scared to venture pass the checkpoint. The naughty kids from school lived down there, peddling their BMXs around the cul-de-sac like sharks circling prey. Sometimes they pointed and laughed at Sandy and me. One of them even threatened to take a shit in Sandy’s tuba. I was confused by this peculiar threat and its lack of context. However, when I saw Sandy lose her grip and the Tuba roll down the hill into a tree, I could no longer be a shirker.

We navigated the rolling tuba down the hill and kept our heads low when passing the BMX bandits. Very quickly we established a routine of afternoon cordials and playing ‘wheel of fortune’ on the Sega at Sandy’s house.

The entire house smelt like stale cat pee, where there were no less than 14 resident cats. Apparently Sandy’s mum didn’t like to let them outside, and there were makeshift cat runs tacked onto the windows. Sandy said that Housing had threatened to take her mum to court to make her get rid of them, yet nothing ever happened.

Sandy’s mum didn’t get back from work until 6pm, so we had free rein of the house after school. I started smuggling supplies from my house down the street; tins of milo, muesli bars and roll-ups, and we set up camp in Sandy’s living room. We pretended that our parents had died, and we somehow became housemates, living in a ‘loft’, and ‘trying to make ends meet’. Neither of us knew what this meant however it sounded grown up.

One afternoon, Sandy’s mum came home early from work. Sandy and I were midst roll-up, stretching the gelatinous goo between our fingers to create a web that we would poke our tongues through. A game of monopoly was set up on the floor, the tiny red houses sprinkled like thumbtacks across the floor. When Sandy’s mum pushed open the front door, my school bag obstructed her entrance. She dramatically kicked the bag across the room and a tin of milo rolled under the couch.

“Who are you?” Sandy’s mum demanded.
“Mum, she’s my friend from band. She lives up the street. I told you about her”.

Sandy’s mum placed her bag on the kitchen bench, kicked off her shoes, and sat on a stool lined up at the bench. She swiveled the stool towards me. Sandy put her head down and started to scoop up the monopoly houses from the floor.

“You have a swimming pool don’t you?” she asked, accusatorily.

I nodded, limply.

“Why aren’t you swimming in your pool? If you have a swimming pool, you make use of it. Not everyone has a swimming pool you know, a lot of upkeep. You probably don’t appreciate it”.

I quickly packed up my bag and excused myself. I was embarrassed yet confused why I was so embarrassed. The confusion morphed into frustration and the frustration condensed into tears. All I heard was that Sandy’s mum did not want me there; that I shouldn’t be in her house.

That night, I told my parents what happened. Dad agreed that pools were a lot of upkeep, and something about the pool pump.

It was only until I had to submit university preferences some 7 years later that I understood what Sandy’s mum had said. I’d like to say that I enrolled in Law for the same reason that I helped Sandy wheel her tuba home. However, really I chose to study Law because Sandy had to wheel her tuba home. I had a swimming pool. You have to make use of it.

This is the winning story in our Unpacking a Lawyer writing competition.