It started when Max was trying on his school uniform for the upcoming new year. Last year’s trousers had turned into ankle swingers and he could poke his elbow through the hole in his blazer. Max had grown tired of the staples scraping his back. They were stuck there from the time Richard Pilchard had stapled a ‘kick me’ sign on Max’s back. How max got bullied while a boy called ‘Richard Pilchard’ didn’t, was beyond him, but clearly there were some benefits to being the tallest and widest in the class.
It wasn’t the prospect of going back that unsettled him. Nor of a scratchy new uniform. To be honest he quite liked new bits of uniform to make his mark on, although this made it difficult at the start of term to find the right clothes after P.E. Much better once everyone could tell whose was whose, by the signature of scuffs and holes.
While standing in the musky uniform shop, surrounded by rails upon rails of navy blue, what struck him the most was the thought of what it would be like to go back to school without his best friend Marcus. The ‘M&M’ duo would now just be ‘M’.
He’d been at Marcus’ house when Marcus was told the news. They were playing Mario Kart and Marcus’ dad barged into the room without knocking. Max was losing because he’d crashed into Wario’s castle wall half way around and he was trying so hard to catch up that his face was screwed up and his tongue was sticking out to the side. There wasn’t even time to pause the game before Marcus’ dad started speaking.
‘Marcus,’ bellowed Marcus’ dad. ‘It’s been decided. We’re moving to Australia in July.’
At first Max had carried on, secretly delighted by Marcus’s distraction so he could overtake and sneak a win, but after he overtook Marcus’ static car and neared the finish line he pulled over to the side and took his finger off the red accelerator button as a mark of respect, just yards from the chequered flag. When the bedroom door slammed shut again they sat quietly, both cars motionless and spluttering as Mario occasionally whooped ‘Yahoo’ to the solemn blue bedroom.
After a while Marcus picked up his controller again and got on with the race, rear ending Max’s car and nearly pushing him over the finish line. Then he reversed and sped across himself. A minute later, Marcus got up and took the game out, as though it was tainted and could never be played again. Max watched silently as Marcus put Donkey Kong on instead.
‘There are alligators in Australia’ said Max as his best friend sat down in a heap on the floor next to him.
‘And loads of poisonous spiders.’ He continued, feigning excitement. ‘If I did a hole deep enough, I could put half the can string in it and we’d be able to talk in secret.’
Marcus turned slowly, one eyebrow raised. They lived in houses opposite each other and spoke every night via two empty bean cans connected by a twenty foot length of string that went across the width of the street and was held up in the middle from when they tossed it over an electric cable.
‘That wouldn’t work’ said Marcus
‘Why not?’ asked Max, even though he knew why.
‘The strings too short’ said Marcus, deadpan, looking straight at Max, ‘Plus if you cut the string it doesn’t work.’
Max’s eyes went wide. They both stared at each other, Marcus screwed up one side of his face, shook his head and snorted with laughter.