Blurb: Harry, a baboon spider climbs into a suitcase and…
‘Dad’s shouting for us, Danielle. I’m seriously sick of this yacht. Wish it was finished already. Danielle, move your butt before he comes to find us. TOM, Dad’s shouting.’
‘I called ages ago,’ says Dad.
Absolute lie, it was literally a few seconds ago. Seriously, Dad, you just shouted.
‘Yes,’ says Danielle. ‘We came as soon as we could. We also have a life you know.’
‘Don’t be cheeky, Danielle. I’m standing here like an idiot holding on to the yacht for dear life before the fibreglass cracks. Guys, in you get. Tom, stand in that corner, Maggie, to the right of me, and Danielle, over there.’ He points.
Danielle isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. Directions such as left or right mean little to her so a pointed finger is always needed.
Mum walks in. ‘Seriously, Mike,’ she says, ‘when will you finish this blasted yacht? You said two months ago it was close to being completed and all you have is a sort of fibreglassed hull. I’m sick of the kids scratching all the time. What man builds a yacht in the living room?’
‘What kind of wife allows him to?’ says Dad, a grin revealing his white teeth. We all giggle. Dad has a way about him. No matter how irritating he is, he’s still somehow quirky and fun.
Mum gives him her ‘what the heck smile’ and walks out.
The three of us are soon squabbling. ‘Seriously, Danielle, hold your end properly. It’s bending,’ says Tom.
Although Tom is younger than me by three years he’s already taller than my sister and me. He’s an annoying little rat, or rather big rat. He’s very blond with blond eyelashes, blond skin, blond teeth etc. I’m sure you get the idea.
Danielle – well she got the exotic name. I asked mum how she could name my younger sister Danielle and me Maggie – seriously? Common as cucumber my name. What a cheek! She said her best friend’s name at school was Maggie and she’d always loved her. I asked her where she got Danielle from. An actress, if you don’t mind – seriously unfair!
By the time we finish helping Dad, we’re all scratching like monkeys – that blasted yacht!
I’m almost twelve years old now and Mum says I can have a dancing party. I’m soooo excited! Boys and girls are coming – obviously! I’m taking invitations to school next week. Danielle has the face of a prune – she’s really jealous. She’s only a year younger than me but thinks in her dinky little mind that she’s older. We always argue. She can be mean. Her favourite saying lately is: ‘I wish you would get run over.’ Nice!
I’m excited to see Cath at school today. She likes a new boy. I think I know who he is. She’s always looking over at his desk. Mrs Stinkliter – our version is stink later, stink now, stink always. We just call her Stinky now. She told Cath off last week. Cath is lucky as she has the blonde hair, blue-blue eyes and the face of a porcelain doll. I have dark hair and am very thin which I hate. I always put my suitcase in front of my knees so the boys can’t see how my knees knock together. Cath says I’m pretty but I don’t quite believe her. My hair is getting longer now and I really like that. I do know that my eyes are always commented on. I suppose it helps having dark hair as my eyes are more noticeable. I think that’s because they’re what my Mum calls a striking blue with green flecks and a dark blue ring around the iris. I do like my eyes but I’m not sure about the rest!
‘Have you girls showered yet?’ Mum shouts.
‘I’m in, Mum,’ screeches Danielle, her high-pitched voice reverberating through me.
The little brat shoves past me, dives in the bathroom and locks the door after her. My brother and I scratch like monkeys for another hour as she takes her sweet time. It’s only after I use my whiny voice that Dad tells my sister firmly to hurry up. I let Tom in ahead of me as I know he’ll only be five minutes.
At last the warm soapy water soothes my skin and I’m enjoying the hot water when it starts going cold. I’m not impressed with that grrrr sister of mine! I give her a glare when I slam into the bedroom that I unfortunately have to share with her, but she just grins and carries on speaking to her best friend Ella on the phone. I must admit I like Ella and her twin Charlotte. I don’t like any of Danielle’s other friends!
To be truthful we share the twins. Sometimes they spend time with Danielle and her group of friends and other times one or both of them will be with Cath, myself and the rest of our group. It’s funny. Some people think the twins look identical. To me they are really different. They are both beautiful and just as whacky as the rest of our group and strangely seem to like Danielle and me equally – I’m not sure why. I’m definitely the nicest sister. I wouldn’t tell them I hope they’ll be run over by a bus! To be fair to Danielle though, she’s really nice to her friends. It just seems to be me she has a problem with. Oh well, life is funny that way. I do envy the twins and their bond.
My close friend Cath is blonde and has delicate features and is really quite lovely to look at. I can’t even pinpoint why. She’s just extremely attractive. She’s also slender which helps, but a nice thin, not like me with my knock-together knees. I suppose she’s also lucky that she’s confident. She walks like a model. She definitely gets a lot of attention from the boys!
I suppose you must wonder what Danielle looks like. She’s shorter than me and although people say we look alike I can’t see it. She is luckier as she has a nice figure with good legs and knees. Her hair is flaming red and she likes to keep it short. I must say we never battle to find her on the playground. Her hair makes her stick out like a sore thumb. She’s lucky though that she has a beautiful red colour and everyone always comments on it, not like my dull, dark-brown hair. We do have more or less the same shape eyes, but hers are green.
As I mentioned before Tom is very, very fair. Actually, as a younger brother he is quite sweet although he has his horror moments where he tries to squash me in between the door and the wall in temper, or puts a pillow over my head and sits on me until I think I am dying. That’s truly one of the few moments I was thankful to Danielle as I’m sure she saved my life! I was literally blue in the face when she caught him sitting on me. She totally lost it! She doesn’t have red hair for nothing. She grabbed him off me and sent him spinning across the room. He wasn’t foolish enough to take her on. Even though she’s smaller than him she would have ripped his head off! I am grateful to her every now and then, mostly when we aren’t arguing. She does have a few good points.
“Hi Mum,’ says Danielle when Mum walks in to tell us we have five more minutes before lights out. She kisses my sister and then comes and sits on my bed.
‘Are you excited about your party?’ she asks.
I fling my arms around her neck and squeeze tight. ‘I can’t wait, Mum. I’ll be the first one to have a dancing party. I’m so excited and so is Cath, the twins and all my friends.’ I notice the frown across the room spreading from one side to the other of my charming sister’s face. I don’t care. This is my moment and is one time I am pleased to be the older sister.
Dad sticks his head around the door and says goodnight and thanks us for helping with the yacht – like we have a choice! Mum kisses me goodnight and switches the lights off.
I always walk to school with Cath and Danielle walks with either Ella or Charlotte but today we all walk together. We can’t stop talking about my party. Cath is going to help me hand out invitations. We’ve spent hours discussing what boys we want to invite. Obviously, the one I like is top of the list. As a group, all the boys we like are invited.
Cath tells me when we’re alone who her latest crush is. His name is Donald. I am pleased as he’s a great boy. He’s funny and makes us laugh and is nice looking in a refined way – not rough looking like some of the other boys. He’s not a football or rugby player, but is good at cricket. He does look fine decked out all in white.
I like a boy called Stephen. He’s the traditionally tall, dark and handsome type. Although he is aware of it he’s strangely still quite shy and that’s what I like about him. I’m not sure if he likes me as we’re good friends, but I hope I will have more of a sense of whether we are just friends after my party.
It’s great being the centre of attention because of my invites today. I get into trouble several times for whispering in class and Mrs Stinky gave me the evil eye more than once. I think I’ll get detention but am lucky.
I’ve arranged with Mum that I’m going to Cath’s after school to do an assignment we have to finish off. I like her parents. They’re pretty relaxed and cool. Saying that though, I don’t see much of her dad as he works in the mines and often lives in the residence at the mines during the week. I suppose in a way it’s lucky she’s an only child as it makes things much easier for her mother. Her mum doesn’t work and loves cooking, cleaning and all things that contribute to being a great home maker. She’s very different to my mum who hates cooking, cleaning or anything to do with the house.
Mum is a career woman and loves her job. Strangely, Dad is an accountant but he didn’t meet Mum at work. It was just coincidence that she works with accounts as well. Dad works in the bank and Mum works for a biscuit factory. It’s wonderful! We always have lots of biscuits – generally the broken or slightly cracked ones that the staff buy cheaply. Dad says I’m a biscuit ‘holic’ and does ration them sometimes.
Cath and I work quickly to get our project done and then talk about the party – what we’re going to wear, the music we’ll play, what kind of food Mum will supply etc. Then we talk about Don and Stephen. I tell her Don is into her. It’s so obvious. He’s always looking in her direction, smiling at her, and appearing unexpectedly at her side when we walk to different classes. I don’t like that as I definitely feel like the third wheel.
We also talk about Stephen. She agrees with me that the whole thing could go sour. Stephen and I are good friends. We spend a lot of time talking as friends. He teases me, I tease him. We talk about boys or girls we like and have liked. Actually the more I think about it, I’m realising it probably isn’t the right thing to try and hook up with him. I really like him but don’t know if it’s as a friend or maybe more. I don’t want to ruin the friendship.
After hours of talking, Cath and I agree it’s probably better if I make eyes at Stephen’s best friend, Asher. I do like him. He’s the total opposite of Stephen in looks: blond, brown eyed and at twelve already works out at the gym. I never thought I’d even consider muscles and six-packs at my age but they are pretty attractive. Mum would kill me if she heard me! Dad would probably drown me by throwing me off his blasted yacht once it’s finished!
I left Cath five minutes ago. Mum asked me to pop into the shop to get bread and milk. I literally bump into Stephen. If he doesn’t side-step as quickly as he does I would be covered in milk. He always hugs me when he sees me. I enjoy his touch but am still not sure whether as a friend or more. I mean, I do like his looks, his special smile and white teeth. I have a thing for white teeth! My main problem is he’s flirty with everyone and definitely knows he’s good looking. That is a touch off putting at times – maybe just because I’m jealous when other girls make eyes at my best friend. Oh, I don’t know . . .
That blasted yacht again! The second I walk in Dad calls – actually yells for me to change out of my school uniform and get to the TV lounge ASAP. I want to take my sweet time but can’t afford to be in his bad books at the moment with my special party coming up. I smile sweetly while asking which end of the yacht he wants me to stand in. Seriously, scratch, scratch, scratch . . . ugh!
The second Dad lets us go, I fly out and straight into the bathroom. I don’t even bother getting my PJs. I’ll yell for my glowering red sister, a red that an extinguisher will be needed to put out, to come to my aid. If she doesn’t I won’t come out of the bathroom. As she’ll be at baboon stage in scratching by then she has to help me.
I know I sound mean about Danielle. I honestly do love her but because we’re so close in age we’re always competing and somehow competition brings about a meanness. Not great but part of life I suppose. She has to have some good qualities as her friends love her and she has more than one! The twins are pretty picky about their friends and they like both of us, so neither of us can be that bad. I need to try and like my sister as well as love her. I HAVE to love her – she’s my sister!
The day of the party is here. First of the good news is the blasted yacht is finished – well almost. It looks like a yacht now.
Dad has the rudder ready as well as the mast and sail and the anchor, but they’ll be fitted just before we launch her. He is so proud. Mum is sooo happy – she gets her TV lounge back.
As always my parents go out of their way to provide all different types of snacks, finger foods etc. We all roll up the big heavy rug in the sitting room and push the lounge suite and dining table to the edges with chairs set up around the room for seating. Cath, the twins and a few of Danielle’s friends arrive an hour before so we can all put on what tiny amount of make-up we’re allowed. It’s fun as we’re all experimenting and complimenting each other.
I suppose, looking back, we all look the same, all dressed in jeans with pretty blouses or T-shirts. No one wears a dress. We all look like clones – the only difference is the colours we’re wearing.
Our larger groups of friends begin to arrive. The boys all seem to appear at the same time. Dad puts the music up pretty loudly and we chat together and some of us dance in groups together. I’m looking around for Stephen when he walks in with a pretty girl. I don’t recognise her. I’m not sure whether to be offended, jealous or happy for him. Oh well.
Cath and the boy she fancies are dancing and having loads of fun, as are the twins and my sister. I can’t help but notice Danielle flirting outrageously with a boy I’ve not met before. The little moo won’t tell me who he is. My normal name for her is ‘cow’, but last time I called her that Mum overheard me and I was grounded for three days – totally unfair! After all, a cow is just a beast that lives in a field and chews grass with extremely bad manners. Sounds like my sister to me!
I happen to be glaring at her when Asher comes up to me. My scowl becomes a smile instantaneously. ‘Do you want to dance, Maggie?’
I’d love to.
Uh-oh, awkward. Some dumbbell thinks it’s clever to change the music to a slow dance. The whole dance floor stops. An awkward silence descends. Slowly, each guy puts his hands around a girl’s waist and the girls put their hands on the boys’ shoulders. The slow dance becomes a constant twirl, around and around, just avoiding each other’s feet. I feel a little dizzy afterwards. It’s a relief when the dance music starts up again.
Asher and I decide to walk outside. He grabs my hand. My heart pounds; then horror strikes! Some numbskulls are trying to launch my dad’s yacht into our swimming pool. I see Stephen trying to stop them, and Asher and a few other guys jump into the pool to disrupt the launch.
Dad’s face is thunderous. The music is off. Dad and some of the guys try to pull the yacht on to the bricked paving alongside the pool. Once Dad has his precious yacht on dry land again he speaks very quietly, but his anger is evident.
My party ends there and then. I’m upset. Stephen comes over and apologises for the jerks. We say goodnight. Asher then walks up to me and takes my hands in his. My heart melts. We talk for a while until Dad calls out bedtime. The quick kiss he plants on my lips causes my heart to race. Maybe tonight isn’t so bad after all!
It’s been a lovely term. Cath and Don are now dating. Asher spends quite a bit of time with me. It’s fun to see Stephen’s face at times. As a friend he shouldn’t be concerned, but he gets quite uncomfortable and snappy when Asher and I are together. I wonder if it’s because his relationship is over?
I have to be honest, I like Asher, I really do, but I’m still not sure whether I prefer the thought of Stephen as a friend or a boyfriend. For the time being though, we’ll continue along as friends as school term is now over and I won’t be seeing either of them as my family are going to Mozambique on holiday.
I love it there. We always have amazing holidays and my memories are always happy when I think back, even though I’ll be forced to spend a lot of time with my siblings – ugh!
Dad’s yacht is to be launched in a lovely tiny coastal village in Mozambique, not too far up the coast from Lorenzo Marques. There’s a large lake and the only way to get to the entrance to the sea is on the far side. It’s too far to swim, so we need some sort of boat or yacht is needed. Once you reach the sea it’s marvellous. Miles and miles of fine silky sand spread out as far as the eye can see. The sea is warm as it’s the Indian Ocean, but is pretty unpredictable as the waves are fairly high and we’re always aware of the underlying currents. They are dangerous!
Now the hard bit – packing! As usual, Danielle is in one of her moods. Nag, nag, nag from Mum or Dad and then she does something seriously annoying! I wish the stork that brought her would take her back! We all pack our things into the wardrobes in the caravan – not much space but lucky we kids only take flip flops, T-shirts, shorts, a cardigan and swimming costumes.
After the caravan is packed the hard part begins. We have to get that blasted yacht on to the roof of the caravan where it’s stuck, upside down, hull in the air, the mast secured next to it and the sail rolled up neatly along the car roof rack. Then the caravan is dragged by all five of us, with great difficulty I might add, until it’s hitched on to the car. Mirrors are checked. Dad’s precious yacht has already had about a hundred checks – well, maybe not that many but feels like it!
‘It’s secure, Dad,’ says Danielle. Dad’s thunderous face shuts her up. I must say I do agree with her.
Tom just mucks in. He isn’t complaining. He just wants to leave. He’s been working alongside Dad doing a lot of the heavy carrying, strapping, securing and donkey work. I smile at him. He grins back.
‘All in,’ says Dad, turning to look at the three of us stuffed into the back of the car with our Yorkshire terrier on the floor between my feet. We have our pillows and loads of munchies for the journey. The best part is not the picnic basket in the boot but the goodies on the parcel shelf. Marshmallows, crisps, peanuts, boiled sweets, but sadly no chocolate as it melts in the sun. Sad maybe, but I’m not complaining.
Slowly one by one we drop off until Danielle’s teeny weeny little bladder becomes a problem. Either we need a petrol station or she’ll have to squat out of sight somewhere in the bush with a small bucket that takes care of our needs during camping as well. Not always glamorous, but strangely fun.
She gets lucky as Dad finds that elusive petrol station. We all pile out, including Binky. Poor little dog also needs the toilet though she’s lucky – she just jumps out, wanders on to the grass and that is that. She’s an amazing dog. We never have her on a lead and she just follows the family. If one of us calls, she is immediately by our side. She’s a cutie.
We’re all sleepy again. Dad’s negotiating an extremely high mountain pass where two narrow roads run alongside each other, each going in the opposite direction, so overtaking is pretty hazardous. The engine noise changes and gets much louder. The car’s shuddering wakes me properly. Oh no! Not again!
Mum starts yelling at Dad but it’s too late, he’s already overtaken the truck in front of us. It’s dusk. When I recall the incident later, I remember that it was quite beautiful but at that specific moment all I saw was the oncoming lights of another car.
Dad grinds the gearbox into a lower gear and the engine screeches as Dad’s foot is flat on the accelerator and he’s in second gear. Why? Are all men stupid? I mean, he’s older now and has lived a much longer life than us kids. It’s okay for him to die, the three of us are young and have plenty of life ahead of us. Why doesn’t he think about things like that when he tries to kill us all?
I know this may sound exaggerated but we literally scrape past the end of the other car. The lady in that car has her eyes covered with her hands. Mum has a book on her lap. She uses it to slap Dad across the head. The three of us yell at him. I’m crying and so is Danielle. Tom is white, head to toe. Nothing unusual about that, except he’s a ghostly white now.
Danielle rolls down her window and is sick. I hope some of it ends up in Dad’s hair. It would serve him right.
Mum isn’t finished with Dad yet. She forces him to pull off at the first petrol station we see. She doesn’t say anything. She slams out of the car and tells the three of us to join her. Binky comes with us.
Dad climbs out. Then she opens her mouth.
‘Put petrol in, Mike, but don’t attempt to join us in the restaurant. I hope you enjoy a sandwich. Even better, I hope the sandwich is manky and makes you sick.’ I don’t want him to get sick as he won’t be able to drive, but that’s the only reason!
Mum takes her sweet time with us in the restaurant. She is seething and I notice her hands are shaking as well. I feel bad as all I thought about at the time of our ‘near miss’ was us kids, but Mum must have been terrified as well. I sit next to her and put my hand on hers. She gives me a squeeze.
We enjoy burgers and milkshakes. Binky gets her favourite: a cup of milky tea in a saucer and her own burger minus the bun. By the time we climb into the car, Dad is looking really sorry for himself. I notice the half-eaten sandwich. It probably was quite unpleasant.
Our journey carries on without any more mishaps. Dad drives like an absolute gentleman: slowly and carefully. Mum and Dad grab passports as we approach the border. The three of us are on Dad’s passport so we don’t need our own. It is literally a stop, ‘Hello sir, passport please,’ a stamp and we are on our way.