Published in Overland Issue 244 Spring 2021 · Fiction Shane's castration Michael James They were skating this mini ramp down by the bike path, Shane and the boys. It was awesome how pedestrians and bike riders, whole families, would stop and watch. Like they were doing a proper demonstration. Pretty bloody fun. They’d change runs based on the foot traffic and the crowds that gathered. When there was a lull, they’d rest perhaps, or practice some new stuff, because when there was a crowd they wanted to put on a show. Sick little five foot mini, that one. Champagne. It was there that two amazing things happened on Labour Day long weekend in 1995. There was a pack of rollerbladers and one solitary skateboarder. It was hot that day and the ramp almost burned. Crowds gathered and cheered them on. Shane even thought about putting a hat or a guitar case out like buskers do, but they didn’t really have anything that’d work and anyway it’d be weird. Would’ve made a mint, though. Girls stopped to watch, too, in low slung hipster jeans and Little Miss belly tops and short skirts and singlets, full of giggles and squeals and cheers. Shane and the boys felt mighty. They were prancing, preening, giving fist bumps, chest bumps, waving to the girls. They got louder and louder, swearing when they fell, roaring in victory at a high 360 to stall to 180 out landed clean. Drunk on the buzz. They were getting more and more ridiculous and feeling more and more heroic. That’s what led to the first amazing thing that day. There was a decent lull in foot traffic—it came in inexplicable waves, like people behaved according to some signal that grouped them together in swarms—but two girls had stopped to watch them. They looked like sisters and both were fully hot. They feigned scepticism, crossing soft pale arms across their chests and chewing gum. A kid named Rich got their attention when he aired out on to the back fence and jumped back into the ramp. That drew a squeal from the younger one, the one with long blonde hair and a tight Bonds raglan T-shirt. The other one (they were definitely sisters) had short light-brown hair with a blue streak and a little jewel sticker in the corner of her eye. She clapped lazily and smiled. The guys started joking with them, teasing, posturing. And then: —Show us a backflip, challenged the older one (Flora, she said her name was). And Shane found himself feeling and thinking and saying something he normally would never dream of saying. But the moment, the rush, the energy had him in an ecstatic fever. He wasn’t himself. A voice from without spoke through his lips: —Show us your tits. He almost clasped his palms over his mouth. But before he could apologise, the boys screeched like galahs. And the girls, swept up in the madness, played mock outrage. It was all part of the show and they were all playing their parts, lightheaded and sweaty in reflected sun glare. Flat and fun and fantastical. He couldn’t believe he’d said it. And he couldn’t be sure he had heard right when Flora replied: —You first. She was in a boho outfit with a tight cotton crop top corset thing and a flowing cotton skirt. She slid her hands down her bare sides, below her short top to her waist. You first, she said. She smiled and her sister slapped at her shoulders and the galahs shrieked and Tom scraped a long backside grind along the coping, his wheels thundering on the metal panels as he pumped back into the ramp. Do a backflip, she had said. You first, she had said.So Shane did. He chucked it a few feet over the coping, coming down sketchy and rolling, wobbling, backwards up the opposite wall of the ramp, pumping for the speed to jump back out on the platform where the others roared and whistled and banged the fence. And. Well. What the fuck. She did. Shane’s eyes popped and his whole body was electric and Flora’s younger sister was half-laughing but also suddenly shocked for real and the galahs all cried and clapped and Rich pulled off his T-shirt in response and the younger sister now looked just a little… what was it? She grabbed her older sister’s arm—who was now smiling but flushed red in her cheeks and neck—as she pulled her crop top back in place. The younger sister (Claudia she was called, her sister had said), said something, probably ‘Let’s go’. Flora took a big breath, heaving up her chest, and looked at her sister. She nodded hesitantly. She turned back to the mini ramp and waved with her fingers with her fingers, her face empty, eyes unseeing, but her lips still smiling. She turned to go. What was that face on the little sister, Shane thought. The sisters walked back onto the path, into a fresh swarm of people. Sadness, maybe? Perhaps that was what it was. He couldn’t even see them anymore. It was all over so quick. Had that even really happened? Wicked story, but. Maybe three quarters of an hour later, while Shane and the boys were standing around, chatting, laughing, retelling, marvelling, celebrating, the second amazing thing happened. You wouldn’t believe it. This lady marched towards the ramp with stiff, small steps, frozen, composed face, blue mum-jeans and rugby jumper, necklace jerking about on her neck. She kept walking, off the footpath and behind the mini ramp. They all turned, intrigued as she marched up the steps of the ramp and faced them on the deck. She stood there, catching her breath. The guys didn’t say anything, didn’t move. —You boys like showin’ off, do ya? They just stared, hearts starting to beat loud and hard. —Like showin off? Like flirting? That right? She stepped towards them. They stared some more. Was she drunk, maybe crazy? She didn’t look crazy, like the junkies and speed freaks they sometimes ran into at the Prahran ramp. She seemed normal but angry: coiled up, boiling, tensing, accelerating. —Answer me! She spoke heaps louder than before, not shouting but sharp and hard and it definitely felt like a shout in that moment. —Uuuhh, one of the guys said, not knowing what exactly the question was, just wanting to calm her down. All of them just wanted her to go away. —You showin off to my daughters? Mmm? Like a pack of little roosters, mmm? —What, Tom asked, genuinely confused. But Shane knew where this was going now, felt his heart pulse and pump, felt his guts shrink into a cold pit inside his pelvis. He looked around the ramp but no one was there—just bikes and walkers dribbling past. He looked up the path to a grassy spot, where some of the outdoor exercise equipment stood. He saw a few men in shorts and jeans and T-shirts and polo shirts. He saw the two girls, Claudia and Flora, looking meek and young. And he felt a shiver. —So who said it? She stepped closer to where they were all bunched up on one side of the platform. Mmm? Which one? Mmm? Who said to my, she almost choked. Couldn’t say it. Would she get it out? Shame fought anger as she glared at them. Who said to my little girl, ‘Show us your-’ she choked again, mouth open, breathing fast, arms closed across her rugby jumper now. —Tits, said Rich and a couple of the guys giggled. For a moment, they felt like the momentum had shifted and that they were in control. Just for a moment, it was like she could be mocked and taunted and contained and driven out. Then they’d feel cheap and mean but at least she’d be gone, banished by the power of that one, small dirty word: tits. Tits. Tits. Show us your tits. The word hung there. Then a chuckle from Tom broke the spell. It was pretty fucken funny. And the lady suddenly came alive and slapped Rich in the face. Slapped him: a loud smack, too. Superfast, strobe light jump. Instead of jeering the guys gasped: —Whoah. —Shiiiiiit. —Uuuuh…. Shane noticed the men walk closer, jog-walking, at the sight of the slap. But they slowed to a halt when the boys on skates didn’t respond, just stood there all dazed and awkward on their plastic wheelie boots. The girls—he dared to check out of his peripheral vision—stayed where they were. —Show us your—who said that? Was it you who said it, the lady demanded of Rich and he shook his head. Who said it, mmm? Who said it? She looked at them all, so blind with rage she missed Shane’s meek hand gesture. —It was me, he said, face going red. He could feel it going red. He didn’t even care. She turned to look at him, stepped towards him, the other guys rolling out of the way. She slowly uncurled her right arm from around her chest, where her left arm stayed, wrapped around her body. And she poked him in the chest. He felt absurd, standing there on rollerblades: childish and clumsy. —It wasn’t meant to be anything, he mumbled. —What did you say? Mmm? —It wasn’t meant to be— —Oh. Wasn’t meant to be anything. Right. My daughter wasn’t meant to be anything? She poked him again. Her body wasn’t meant to be anything? Her being a little stripper for you wasn’t meant to be anything? And this time, instead of poking his chest again, she pointed right into his face: his dopey, flushed, embarrassed, speechless face. A stripper. A stripper! Her eyes went watery for a second. Mmm? Shane couldn’t speak. Just stared. —Mmm? He shrugged, helplessly. Didn’t know the right answer. It was like his brain had stalled and crashed. The mother shrugged back at him, mimicking him with a sneer. He saw her pupils were big and black: dead. —Steady on, lady, Tom spoke up, safely from a distance. She didn’t take her eyes off Shane. —She was playing along too, Tom said. It’s not like— —Yeah, Rich said. As these guys spoke, the men drew a little bit closer to the ramp. The mother searched Shane’s face the whole time, like she was smelling him, almost. —You don’t get it, do you, she scary-whispered at Shane. You don’t get what it’s like to be a girl. You’re more in control than you think you are, little boy. Remember that. Mmm? It’s not just a game. You want her to think she’s gotta do… that? Mmm? She doesn’t stop existin’ once you’ve had your little perv. She’ll remember that. And what about next time, mmm? Do you think she should show herself for the next boy? And the next one? How many? How much? This wasn’t stopping. He just wanted it to stop. But she wasn’t stopping. She was just consuming him, devouring him, shaming him, scalding him. She kept finding more things to say. Where did all these words come from? She kept on pouring guilt and blame on him, like Scorpion’s fire-breath skull fatality from Mortal Kombat. What did she want? How could he make her stop? He didn’t know how to make her stop. —OK, he whimpered. —OK? Mmm? OK what? Whatcha gonna do? —Uhhh… I… —Mmm? What? What do you want? He didn’t even know what she wanted him to say and he didn’t know what the answer was meant to be. Wasn’t even sure if she knew what she wanted. —I… I dunno, he mumbled. He was trying to just calm things down, get a break, space to think. I didn’t think it was that serious, he tried to explain. Trying to say it in a way that showed how sorry he was. But it was like it he was the one who had slapped her this time. He had obviously said the wrong thing. And he didn’t know why. Maybe nothing was right, anymore. Maybe she had to go until she had nothing left. He felt dizzy. He looked down at his feet. He crossed his arms. He heard a wet noise, not quite a cough or a sneeze. He looked up. What? She was crying and he had no idea what would happen next. Danger. But she stood there, crying a little, not sobs, just enough to make her stop talking. He didn’t move. Embarrassed and laughing facial expressions were being traded between the other skaters but they avoided his eye. They couldn’t leave but they didn’t want to get involved, didn’t want her to turn on them. Then she drew in a shuddering breath and glared at him afresh. —None of it’s a big deal, is it? Mmm? Are you gonna go through life like that? Like it’s not a big deal? Just ‘Show us your tits’ whenever ya want? Mmm? That all women are to ya? Want to see mine, you little pervert? Tom burst out in a brief laugh. She tore off her rugby jumper, revealing a pink belly with a bit of wobble. Now in a white Ken Done koala T-shirt, she hurled the rugby jumper at Shane’s face with great force and then shoved him with both palms. —Want me to strip for you? Shane fell backwards, a couple of guys catching him and breaking his fall. —Whoah! A couple of the boys rolled forward to restrain her but she shook them off. —Oi! one of the men shouted. They both ran forward to the base of the ramp. —Muuuuum! Stooop! one of the girls squealed from a distance. —Get up, the lady said, hands on hips, tears in her eyes. Get up. She stared, disgust and fury and hatred in her eyes. She didn’t want to explain any more. She didn’t want an apology. She just hated him. Shane could feel it as he got to his feet, shrinking under her hatred. He shrivelled. He vanished. It was horrible to be hated so. How had it all changed? The lights were on, the music was turned off and it was the adult world now and everything they said and did looked different under adult eyes. He let himself remember the bare chest of the older sister—the eldest daughter. Just for a second. And he felt pleasure and he felt self-disgust. He looked over at them, now looking small and sad and scared. —Show us your tits, mmm? —Sorry, he finally managed what he should’ve said hours and hours and hours ago. I’m sorry. —Come on, the mother said again. Show us your tits. He knew the men were very close. He knew that was dangerous. They could save him or they could hurt him. He was trapped now because they were there. It was up to the men to rescue him now. They didn’t. They could’ve. They didn’t. —Lady—, Rich tried. —Don’t you ‘lady’ me. Come on, show us your tits, she said, turning to Shane again. Shane met her eyes. She, ten feet tall: he, ten inches tall. He unclipped his helmet and dropped it with a hollow plastic clatter. He pulled off his T-shirt and dropped it over the helmet with a limp flop. —Little scrawny boy. Playin’ big man, doin’ man damage. You don’t realise what effect ya dirty little… she trailed off, lost in thought or drowned in feeling. Shane waited for hours and hours. She was still. He bent down to retrieve his T-shirt and reached across for her rugby jumper too. Maybe it was all over. Maybe she was spent. He moved slowly, smoothly, cautiously, like a tiger snake on a bushwalk or bull terrier on a footpath. —I’m sorry, he said again. He looked around at the men. The girls were heaps closer now too. I’m sorry. He felt himself almost crying, too. He was so exhausted. She pouted and shrugged at him. —Mmm? she said, distracted. She, too, looked at the men. Then she, too, looked at her daughters. Her darling girls. Her mouth pulled closed in a tight-lipped grimace. She inhaled sharply through her nose. She looked at Shane again. Show us ya dick. The guys couldn’t resist laughing. One or two even clapped. Shane just said again, —I’m sorry. —I know. —I’m sorry. —I know. Come on. You want strippers? Want to know what it’s like? —I’m sorry, he shouted. I’m sorry, he pleaded at the blank-faced men standing on the flat steel bottom of the mini ramp. —Show us ya little willy, ya little perv. —Mum! Flora screamed. —Oh my God! Claudia exclaimed. The mother just stood there, hands on hips, eyes dry but reddened from tears, face flushed, breath heavy and ragged. Just stood there. For hours and hours and hours and hours. —I’m sorry, ok? I’m sorry, ok? I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Shane kept repeating as he sank into a cold dark place, as he shut down parts of himself, as everything grew a bit darker, a bit brighter; as he unbuttoned his shorts and dropped them around his ankles, as he paused. And the men were right there. No faces were turning to face his face. —I’m sorry, he said as he pulled down his underwear. It was so much worse because he still wasn’t wearing a T-shirt. Just rollerblades. And she didn’t look down. She just looked at his face. Then she walked away. Read the rest of Overland 244 If you enjoyed this piece, buy the issue Or subscribe and receive four brilliant issues for a year Michael James Michael James, loves ambitious art and things that mess with form, style and genre. Michael graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tasmania in 2002, majoring in philosophy and French. He has hosted a blog for fourteen years, published many articles and produced several podcasts, including Australia’s only rollerblading podcast—Mad Beef Rollerblading Podcast—with up to one thousand listens. Michael loves cooking; is a passionate reader of fiction and non-fiction; and although in his forties, is still learning new tricks in the halfpipe on his rollerblades. More by Michael James › Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays 1 First published in Overland Issue 228 11 August 202322 August 2023 · Fiction Fiction | Alison Katelin Farnsworth The things I want to say aren’t the sort of things you’re allowed to say out loud. 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