Time to Think HTML version

Poisoned Chalice
If my brother and his wife named their son after me in the hope of future gain, they
miscalculated. After two hours of my flabby nephew’s know-it-all, complacent certainties I was left
wondering why, having enjoyed years of freedom from family tensions, I had finally accepted the
annual Christmas invitation. I stopped listening to his vacuous twaddle, merely grunting when it
seemed appropriate.
‘Don’t go away,’ he instructed. ‘I've something else to show you.’
The instruction was unnecessary; somehow I’d lost the will to escape.
‘I’ll bet you’ve never won anything like this!’ he gloated on his return, holding up a glittering
trophy. ‘My name’s already been engraved, see? But the first winner’s name’s been rubbed off!’
With exaggerated care he passed me the shallow gilded bowl flanked by a pair of elegant lions.
I placed it on the small table beside my chair, where it appeared to float on its slender golden
stem above a lustrous hardwood pedestal. Picking it up again I turned the exquisite object and there
it was: ‘1982’… followed by a dusting of fine scratches.
‘Richard!’ his mother screeched for the umpteenth time that morning. ‘Come and finish your
piano practice!’
‘Don’t drop it!’ the fat boy snapped as he waddled back into the house.
As I gazed at my reflection in the polished surface it all came flooding back. Loud sneers of
derision from the boys’ side of the Assembly Hall at the music teacher’s announcement of two new
trophies to be awarded to the best boy and girl singers. Register for the competition before Friday.
I had waited until after school to register so no one would know. At lunchtime on the day of
judgement we gathered in the Music Room. Mr. Laurie introduced the elderly woman adjudicator
and welcomed our scant audience, all girls, before sitting at the piano and calling up the contestants,
girls first. Judging by the applause they all sang well.
My first opponent looked about ten and wobbled ‘Bless this House’ in a breathy treble, then
pompous Harry David boomed ‘The Cornish Floral Dance’ before I earned a smattering of applause
with what I hoped was a spirited rendition of ‘Westering Home.’ By the time the judge announced
that Florence Jenkyns and I were the winners I was cursing my stupidity. The whole thing had been
embarrassingly amateur and I slunk away, sick with apprehension. Imagine the guys discovered I’d
entered this poofter competition! I’d never hear the end of it. Luckily, only rugby and athletics
results were ever announced at assembly.
The year passed and I’d forgotten about it until Heather whispered in Chemistry that my name
was on the Prize-Giving notice board. Panicked, I grabbed a bottle of correcting fluid, excused
myself from class and deleted ‘Singing Cup…Richard Stone.’
We lived in a logging settlement north of the river. The High School was in town so we had a
twenty-minute ferry ride there and back. The middle of the launch was reserved for workers, girls
sat under the awning in the stern, and boys crowded at the bow; soaked in spray, chilled by the
wind, and sunburnt. When it got too rough to be allowed outside we crammed into a stuffy little
cabin in the bowels between the engine-room and the toilets. Boys were tough, and girls… there
was only one thing girls were useful for, and it wasn’t talking to. But you had to have a girlfriend to
prove you weren’t a poofter, and to wander around the shops with on late-shopping nights. I
probably wasn’t the only one who wouldn’t have minded sitting with them and talking about
something other than footy, cars and booze, but survival instincts screamed ‘Conform!’
On the morning of Prize-Giving I pretended I was sick and convinced Mum, who knew the
school secretary, to telephone and ask her to remove the cup from the table and my name from the
list. Next day I waited till all the kids had gone before collecting the cup from the front office and
catching the late boat home. Mum thought it was beautiful and wanted it on the bookshelf beside
my gymnastics trophy, but Dad, after a grudging admission that it was ‘a bit of all right,’ gave me
an odd look and mumbled so Mum wouldn’t hear, ‘You won’t want to be telling anyone else about
this, I reckon.’ When I whispered I was going to lock it in my cupboard, he nodded approval. My