She walked to school along streets named for English poets, but the one thing everyone in Melbourne knew about her suburb was its nameless canal. It was held to be behind headaches, sore throats, and babies who wouldn’t settle, and was considered little better than an open drain. The reek of it sprawled in summer. Halfway along, the towpath relaxed into an open, grassy patch where, all year round, fights took place after school.
She’d been called Anny since arriving in Australia two years earlier. Her best friend was Lou. Lou lived minutes from school, but the morning bell often found her racing, and she would burst into classrooms with hair that looked as if it contained twigs. Mr. Cullen (history) didn’t mind, nor did Mrs. Dobek (maths), but on Wednesdays (English), Anny waited tensely at her desk beside Lou’s empty place. The third time Lou was late, Miss Kelso sent her to the deputy principal. Heaps of boys had crushes on Miss Kelso, who had cleavage and ringlets. The girls noticed that she had lipstick on her teeth.
Miss Kelso left no bruises that showed, but calculated the bestowing and withholding of smiles. She was the year-ten coordinator, and Anny had a form that required her signature. She rehearsed saying, Sorry, miss, I know you’re very busy. At the end of English she went up to Miss Kelso and blurted, Sorry, miss, I know you’re very boring.