Neon Red

Short Stories Jun 1, 2022

It’s bright red and contains specks of glitter. Jack had been scrabbling under his bed looking for coins when he found it. Not sure how or when the tube of lipstick got there, but we’re all fascinated by it in Cabin 17.

Tonight, 200 kids on their school excursions in Canberra are preparing for lights-out. The disco and late supper had been sort of OK. Stretch and I even talked to some of the girls from St Spatula’s School from Sydney. I think snobby Camilla likes Stretch a bit. She kept giggling at him while he was dancing. But then everyone cracks it at Stretch’s dance moves. He jerks around like he’s got a wasp on his bum.

Teeth are brushed, showers are running, lights are flipping on and off. There’s laughter, squealing, the flash of cameras. In the cabin next door, someone flicks a wet towel and there’s a piercing scream, “Owww! You’re so gonna cop it!” Then more hysterical giggles and towel flicking. In another cabin there’s loud underarm fart sounds. The ones you make with a hand under your armpit. After one humungous underarm blast, someone screeches, “Betcha Mr Barrell couldn’t beat that one!”

But in our cabin we’re gathered around the tube of lipstick Jack found. The colour’s printed on the side, ‘Neon Red.’

“How do you open lipstick?” asks Barjee.

So Stretch grabs it and twists and a red tip appears.

“D’ya use lipstick much, Stretch?” I snort. I still haven’t forgiven him for locking me outside the cabin in my fluoro undies this morning.

“So how do you put it on?” asks Cody.

That’s when we all agree we should try it. Dunno why.

Stretch goes first. His lips keep moving and it smears all around his face. There’s Neon Red almost to his ears and a line shooting upwards towards his nose. He looks like a clown. We cack ourselves at Stretch.

“No, no,” I yell, grabbing at the tube, “you’ve gotta make your lips tight over your teeth.” I make a tight mouth but smear the lippie as much as Stretch. Then the others have a turn. We look ridiculous and everyone’s cracking up. Then I pucker up and plant the fattest red lips on the wall mirror. The others join in, and soon the mirror’s covered with hideous red lip prints. And we’re giggling hysterically and pushing and shoving trying to get at the mirror, and our faces become more and more smeared with greasy Neon Red.

I plant another huge red kiss, and make loud slurping noises. I’m moaning, “Mmmm Sid, Sid….yes, you’re such a spunk…. and an awesomekisser! Better than that loser Stretch!” when everyone goes quiet. I peel away from the mirror and spin around. And everyone’s staring straight at Mr Barrell. He’s gobsmacked. His mouth opens and shuts but no words come out. His eyes are pizza-sized. Time freezes like a paused DVD. Nobody speaks. Nobody moves.

Eventually the Play button is pressed. Mr Barrell makes a weird noise like he’s trying to blow a golfball out of his nostril, then with a slow, menacing voice he splutters, “What… on earth… do you lot… think… you’re doing?”

None of us answer. I mean, it’s obvious what we’re doing, and I’m sure Mr Barrell doesn’t need us to explain it for him.

Well, duh, we’re putting on makeup. And kissing the mirror.

“I’ll be back in ten minutes and there had better not be a speck of red on anyone’s face or the mirror. Understood?”

And we all stand there looking at the floor muttering that we understand. Nobody’s brave enough to look into his eyes.

We use almost six rolls of toilet paper trying to remove it. That’s everyroll in our cabin so we could be in deep doodoo later this week. Eventually most of the lippie is gone, and most of the loo paper. Our faces are cleaner but there’s still Neon Red on pyjama collars. I blame our madness on Mr Barrell’s crappy disco music earlier. Seriously… who dances to Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ these days?

Then Mr Barrell storms back like he’d promised. After inspecting our faces and the mirror, he nods then explains the reason he’d come in earlier. There’d been a complaint from a Saint Spatula’s teacher.

“The girls across from you, in cabin 34, are frightened. Some are crying right now because you boys told them you were holding a séance in your cabin tonight. Said you were contacting Michael Jackson. Is that right?” Mr Barrell demands.

“Whaaat? It was only a joke!” we blurt out together.

“We wouldn’t know how to hold a séance anyway,” wails Cody. “They knew we were joking. They were laughing about it too.”

“Yeah… They’re just trying to get us into more trouble,” grumbles Stretch.

“OK. Here’s the deal, boys. Lights out in three minutes. I don’t want to hear a murmur from this cabin again tonight. Goodnight.”

And Mr Barrell turns, exits Cabin 17, and slams our door behind him.

I peek through the curtains. Mr Barrell is slumping against the wall in the darkness on our verandah to make sure we shut up and go to sleep. Hope he’s got a sleeping bag out there because we’re pumped and ready to party. His clothes are crumpled and he’s unshaved. Mr Barrell knows he’s beaten and he’s fuming silently. He looks mad enough to bite the nuts off a bulldozer, but I sort of feel sorry for him all alone out there. I know I sometimes do dumb stuff but, hey, I’m 12 years old, that’s my job. He’s probably just mega tired. I mean, he’s almost forty now and old people get tired easily. In the last 24 hours he got vomited on in the coach and he’s been really busy with lots of other stuff, like when I accidently set off an alarm in Parliament House today. I get it that he’s got a lot on his mind but hey, I’ve got a busy head too. I’ve learned to live with it. He just needs to chill a bit more. But I like Mr Barrell…. he’s OK for an old dude.


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