Included in the University of Canberra’s 2006 imprint of FIRST (Vertebrae), the short story Custard is Shane’s first publication. As the book it was printed in is long out of print, here it is in its entirety.
Ran into Danny Epstein today. Looks the same as the guy who used to pour lumpy custard down the back of my underwear and tell everyone I had diarrhoea. Only much, much bigger.
It’s been five years since our last encounter, but I recognised him straightaway.
It was just like old times. Suddenly, I could barely breathe, and I was teetering on the verge of a full-blown panic attack.
And just like old times, there was no escape. No buildings to duck into, and no time to cross the road – I had no choice but to engage him in this game of Chicken. First one to blink …
No matter – I was willing to keep walking past him, hands in pockets, shoulders slumped and head down. But he said Hey Gordon how’s it going? and I had no choice but to stop and talk with him.
If I hadn’t been thinking about where I would rather be, I would have almost laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Seems ridiculous when you think about it:
HIGH SCHOOL ACQUAINTANCE:
Hey, I know you.
GORDON BAXTER (me):
I know you too.
And suddenly, for the first time ever, we have something in common to talk about? Yeah, right.
“So whatchu been up to, man?”
I shrugged, wary. “Nothin’ much. Just doing some Christmas shopping.”
“Yeah I should probably make a start on that. But me, I’ll just leave it to the last minute again.”
(Forced laughter from me.)
“You going to uni next year?” I asked. As if this ape could have possibly become a serious enough student since high school. Probably didn’t even finish college. It was a nice little touché to remind us both who wound up the top dog here.
“Yeah, over at ANU. Got an early offer and a scholarship. International relations. And law. You?”
Slightly surprised, I stammered out, “Uh, yeah. B.A. at UC … I hope, anyway – just waiting for the offer.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t worry too much about it – you’ll get in.”
I just shrugged.
“Well, man, I gotta keep moving. Good to see you again. Here, look, here’s my number – give me a call sometime and we’ll grab a beer, yeah?”
And just like that, he was gone.
I threw his number into the gutter as soon as he was out of sight, and I didn’t regret it.
But I could almost feel the warm custard sliding between my cheeks again.