2. The div

Every day when the sun went down, the six of us sat in a circle in our abandoned loft, ready for the div. The div was Liam’s idea. We’d gather on our blankets on the floorboards and throw our cash in the circle, and Liam split the money between the five of us. That’s the div. Liam and Sid called it socialism. Everyone wins or no one wins. Me, I liked it. It’s a nice idea. And there was just one rule, but it’s an important one: no holding out, keeping money to yourself. Or you’re out. Anything else we lifted that day, we could trade amongst ourselves. Myki cards. Cool lighters. Ray Bans. On this night, Liam beamed.

“Evie, would you like to go first?”

I rolled my eyes. I knew he’d make a big deal out of my first contribution to the div. But I was proud, too. I flicked the cash into the middle, knowing that I couldn’t really claim all of the credit — Liam did the actual lifting. But he wanted me to bask in the moment and the others clapped and whistled. And then, as only Liam can do, he made me feel like a five-year-old again.

“It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Afterwards, Lightfingers over here had a…moral dilemma.”

“Ha! Oh no, the guilts!”

“Oh, Evie, don’t worry, you’ll get over it.”

Liam punched my arm.

“She already has.”

“How?”

“Pizza!”

Hands covered mouths in mock shock.

“Evie, that’s against the rules! You held out!”

But I knew they were cool with it. They knew I understood the rules. After all, Liam was my brother. No one would have heard the rules more than me.

In all the laughing, Sid threw in his cash and gazed across the circle at me, like he had only just noticed me. Liam and Sid had been best friends for years. Partners in crime, so to speak. They met in a home and discovered they were born a day apart. They had a very similar look these days, all side shaves, hoodies and lip piercings. Sid gave me the once over, a smile playing at his lips. I didn’t like it. Next to me, Ronnie congratulated me with a kiss and placed her cash into the centre. Ducky threw in, then Jimmy. Sid split the money and we traded the extras in two- and three-way deals. Liam lit a candle in the darkening circle. There was power to the loft, but we never turned the lights on — we didn’t exactly want to let the world know we were living up here. Liam smiled, his features jumping in the orange flame light, and he scootered a roll of paper tickets across the floorboards. It came to rest in front of my knees and I squinted at the stubs.

Luna Park. $5.00 Ride. Admit one.

There must have been 200…no, 300 tickets on that roll! I held it up to the hoots and cheers of the group. Liam stood and pointed to me.

“I am very proud of you, Evie. Alright, everyone, let’s go out. Let’s celebrate!”

Liam was a tough leader. And he could be a tough brother. I bet there are many parents that are nowhere near as strict on their children as Liam was on me. Maybe that was why, when he said he was proud of me, when I impressed him, I tingled.

But things can change. Living on the street, living with Liam, the next storm was already brewing. The catastrophe was always around the corner, and all you needed to do was turn up. As we stood to leave for Luna Park, Ducky hugged me and we jumped up and down in celebration, laughing, when a laminated card flicked from the front pocket of his hoody and pattered onto the floorboards. Liam picked it up and studied it by the candle. He stared up at Ducky for an eternity before he spoke.

“What the fuck is this?”

Ducky’s shoulders dropped as Liam read aloud from the card.

“Salvation army. Registered meal card. Name: Peter “Ducky” Taylor. Date of birth: sixteen, oh four, nineteen ninety-eight. Address: No fixed, Melbourne. Registration number: oh, eight, two, two, one, two.”

He counted the holes skirting the card’s edge and thrust it at us.

“It’s been punched seven times. Seven. And, it has his picture.”

Liam stood and puffed out his chest.

“What is it, Ducky? Are we not good enough?”

Ducky’s face shimmered in shame and I realised that the whole time I had known Ducky, I’d only seen the side of him that walked in the sunshine. Now, his eyes glistened, windows into a whole world of sadness. Liam pitched the meal card at Ducky’s face.

“You want to go into the system? You really want out of our thing? Fine. No problem.”

Liam scooped up Ducky’s blankets and belongings and tossed them out the window, and someone shouted from the street below. Liam turned and glowered at Ducky.

“There. You’re out. Now, fuck off.”

Sobs climbed up my throat and I shuddered with them. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t good like this — I always got taken by surprise, wishing to hell later that I just said this or did that or just had even the tiniest warning that things would blow up so quickly. Ducky would have thought I’d stand up for him, I reckon, but I froze. I stung with hate for myself. God, Ducky’s gonna hate me. I realised I was one of those “friends” you hear about. The type that lets you down. But you didn’t get in Liam’s way when his eyes blackened like they did right then. Ducky glanced at me and guilt boiled under my skin. I looked away. I couldn’t look at him. His footsteps clattered down the stairs and faded into the system.