The Bright Green Book
By Vena McGrath 2005
Barry lives in a quiet suburb in Sydney, Australia, in the Penrith area, which is close to the foot of the Blue Mountains. From Barry’s bedroom window he can gaze out on the mountains and, on many days of the year, they do look very blue, which is intriguing, as the hills are covered with green trees. The few homes scattered along the lower mountains are almost hidden in the daylight, but they can be seen at night as their lights twinkle in the darkness.
Barry lives with his mother Lynne, his dad John, and his younger sister Carly. Barry is 15 and Carly is 10, and whilst they get along fairly well for siblings, they have their moments that cause a certain amount of upheaval in the usually quiet suburban house. It’s a Saturday morning, and Barry has woken early, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. He sits up in bed and reaches across to pull the curtains back from his upstairs bedroom. The sun glances in slightly, and as it’s June and the early days of winter, there is little warmth in the early morning sun. He is lucky to have a bedroom that is a converted attic, and therefore the total top floor of the house. His bed is on the eastern wall and those windows face the rising sun, whereas the windows on the western side of the bedroom face west and the setting sun.
Barry squints at the brightness of the early morning sunlight, and turns his face from the window towards the clock on his bedside table. He notices that it’s almost 8.30 am and high time he was out of bed as he and his mum plan to go shopping. Barry doesn’t like shopping, but he does like to help his mum by loading the bags into the boot of the car for her, and then helping her inside with them once they arrive home. Barry and his mother have always been great friends, and just being out with her alone is a bonus for him because Lynne will spend time looking at things that he likes, whereas if Carly is with them, it’s all ‘girlie’ shopping and talk.
“Barry, are you up yet?” Lynne’s voice called from downstairs. “Hurry up honey, I don’t want to end up having to drive around half the morning trying to find a parking spot”. Barry raced down the stairs, two at a time, located his mother in the kitchen, planted a big kiss on her cheek while he wrapped his arms around her, and assured her with a big smile on his face that he would be ready to go in 15 minutes. He opened the fridge door, grabbed hold of the fruit juice container, poured himself a drink in the glass his mother held out for him, put the container back in the fridge and closed the door, downed the juice in one mouthful, dropped the glass in the sink, and raced back upstairs. Lynne shook her head; grateful the glass didn’t break as it fell into the sink. John, who was sitting at the kitchen table reading the paper and eating his breakfast, smiled at Lynne; the kind of smile mums and dads have for each other when they are sharing a moment. Lynne walked over to the table and sat down with John, drinking her coffee while she told him what she planned to buy that day.
Carly was ready to go to her dancing class and Lynne and Barry would drop her off at the studio on the way shopping. Carly loved to shop with her mother, but not with Barry as all he ever did was complain and gripe about all the silly ‘girlie’ things she and Lynne talked and giggled about. Lynne had promised Carly a shopping trip with just the two of them soon, so Carly was more than happy to go dancing with her friends. The winter concert was to be held in a few weeks’ time, so Carly spent her time at home with the music blaring while she practiced her dance steps. Another ‘girlie’ thing that drove Barry mad and sent him off out of the house each time she cranked up the stereo.Carly paced around the kitchen and grumbled about Barry taking so long; John and Lynne sat at the table ignoring her. Barry, true to his word, was back in the kitchen right on the 15-minute mark, picked up his mother’s car keys and headed out to start up the motor to warm it up. His friend Ray rode up on his bike and asked Barry what he had planned for the day. Barry said that he would be out shopping until midday, and the boys made plans to meet at around 1.00 pm to ride their bikes out to a spot on the Nepean River where they liked to sit on the bank and talk together. The weather was perfect for it, as neither would have to worry about getting sunburnt. Barry said goodbye to Ray as Lynne came outside with Carly, and the three climbed into the car.Barry sat in front with his mother, and Carly complained out loud that he always did that, adding that he was mean. They traded insults for a minute until Lynne intervened and asked them to either stop their childishness, or get out of the car and stay home. Carly sat back in the seat, and put her seatbelt on, and Barry did likewise in the front. Neither spoke another word, and once Carly was on her way up the path to the studio, Barry commented to his mother that he ‘hated’ girls. Lynne laughed and told him that it wouldn’t be long before he would be thinking the total opposite about girls. Barry thought about that for a moment, remembering the day that he and Ray had hidden behind the low side fence at Ray’s home and spied on Ray’s older brother, Bryan, who was with his girlfriend Penny, and was kissing her. He and Ray had started to giggle, forgetting to keep watch, and Bryan had snuck up behind them, punched them both, and told them to nick off and to stop being smart little spying weirdos. Barry grinned at the memory. Penny was cute.
Lynne drove the car slowly into the overcrowded car park of the large shopping centre, collected the parking ticket from the automated booth, and joined the queue of cars snail trailing around one after the other, looking for a spare parking spot. They drove round in what seemed to be unending circles, up through all the levels to the rooftop, where they finally found a spot to park. At least there was a travelator for the trolley from the food mall back up to the rooftop car park. Lynne locked the car and alarmed it, and she and Barry followed the group of shoppers ahead of them into the vestibule where the lifts were located. They didn’t have to wait long and were soon down onto the level where Lynne wanted to do most of her shopping. First stop was the large discount store where Lynne had seen linen sheets the week before that she had decided to buy. Barry asked if it would be okay if he stayed in the book department while Lynne went off searching for sheets. They decided where they would meet up again in about 15 minutes, and Lynne walked away leaving Barry amongst his favourite things, books.
He looked up and down the shelves in the teenage section, searching for something different. He glanced across at a table between the shelves and saw, amongst a pile of boring looking books scattered over the table, something totally different to the rest. It was out of place on that table, as it appeared to be brand new, with a bright acid green cover. The colour of the cover took his eye. He reached across the pile of books that had seen better days, and picked it up.It felt good in his hands, smooth, and just the right size to hold comfortably. He read the title, “The Secret World of Chat”. He wondered about the title; what kind of chat did it mean?He opened the cover and started to read the first few lines about the book. His interest grew; the story was about the Internet and chat rooms. Barry loved chat, and spent a lot of his spare time when he wasn't doing homework or playing soccer, chatting online to friends overseas and in Australia. Some of his mates from school also spent time in the same chat room.
Lynne walked towards Barry, with the trolley loaded up with Manchester items. He didn’t see his mother approaching; he was too engrossed in the book. "What have you found Barry?" Lynne asked as she walked up beside him. Barry gave her a startled stare as he looked up quickly from the book."A great book Mum", he replied "about chat online".Lynne scanned her eyes across the cover, and, with a frown on her face, asked Barry was the book suitable for someone his age. He showed her the age group ‘for teenage readers and adults’ and she nodded her head. Barry wanted the book; he felt it belonged to him already. He looked at his mother, and asked her if he could buy it, or rather if she would buy it for him, as he was strapped for cash. Strangely, it seemed to be the only copy of the book in the store. It needed a home and Barry had just the right one for it, his.Barry's mum looked at his face, saw the excitement, and decided she would be able to buy it for him. He kissed and hugged her; he truly was excited. The book was held close to his chest as they approached the checkout, and Barry placed it on the counter with Lynne’s shopping, which was scanned first, and then came the book.
The attendant remarked to Barry what a beautiful green colour the book was that he was buying. "I don't think I've seen this book before", she said as she scanned it. "Hmmm that's funny, the barcode won't register". Barry looked anxious, his mother looked agitated; she was in a hurry to do the grocery shopping and go back home to the housework and washing.The attendant hit the bell on the checkout counter for a supervisor to price the book for her. The supervisor eventually arrived, picked up the book, and headed across the store to find a price. She wandered around, and when she couldn't find a second copy, she called over another supervisor to help. They both stood there surrounded by books, perplexed. The supervisor who had taken the book from the checkout reached for the intercom phone and asked for the buyer to come to the book department. He finally arrived, opened the book, read the information inside, turned it over and saw the barcode on the back cover.
Meanwhile Lynne was worse than agitated. She eventually told the attendant to total up the goods she had bought so she could pay for them and leave. Barry begged her not to leave just yet, but she was adamant; they had to leave now.Barry saw the supervisor coming back towards them with two other people. "Mum", he said, "here comes the lady with the book". Lynne turned around and saw the supervisor returning, and decided to wait a moment longer. The supervisor walked over to the checkout and stood there with the attendant, the other supervisor and the buyer, discussing the predicament they were in.Lynne asked what the problem was, repeated that she must leave the store, and asked that the book be put back as she had changed her mind about purchasing it. Barry stood close to the supervisor so he could hear what was being said about the book he so desperately wanted. This book had character; it had become an obsession almost to Barry.
The supervisor turned to Lynne and said, "madam this book doesn't belong in this store and how it got here we really don't know. We would like to let your son take it home after we get some details from the cover as it looks like a book we maybe should consider having in stock". So Barry and his mum stood by the checkout for another 5 minutes while the supervisor wrote down the details. Barry was handed the book, and Lynne was told there would be no charge as the book didn't belong to the store, and obviously didn't belong to anyone else. Barry smiled broadly; Lynne was just pleased to get out of the store. It was as if the book and Barry were meant to meet that day, and he smiled as he tucked it into one of Lynne’s shopping bags.
They decided to take the bags to the car before making their way to the supermarket, and once at the car, Barry took the book out of the bag and placed it carefully in the glove compartment.The grocery shopping seemed to take an extra long time that morning, and Barry’s thoughts were on the book waiting for him in the car. Lynne was used to her children’s disinterest in shopping so she didn’t notice anything different in Barry’s attitude. He was his usual helpful self, though his mind seemed to be elsewhere most of the time. They made it through the checkouts finally and were soon back at the car, shopping loaded, and on their way home once more. The trek down through the levels of the carpark to the exit onto the street, was as tedious as searching for a parking spot, and Lynne made a mental note not to go out so late the next time. Once they arrived home and Barry had helped with the unpacking and removed the book from the glove compartment of the car, he headed upstairs to his room. He knew he only had a few minutes to spare, as Ray would be by soon for the ride to the river. He placed the book on his bed and changed his clothes quickly, replacing his half decent joggers with his bike riding joggers. He stuffed some coins into his pocket for a drink later on and with a parting glance at the book, made his way downstairs, yelled to his parents he was going out with Ray and would be back by 3.00 pm, and ran to the shed where his bike was stowed. It was a spectacular winter’s day with a clear blue sky and a slight breeze. Barry pushed his bike out of the shed, checked the chain, and sat on the grass to wait for Ray.
After about ten minutes he started to wonder if Ray would actually turn up. He was never late unless there was a very good reason why. He saw his mother come out of the front door and start walking towards him. He stood up and waited for her. Lynne had taken a call from Ray’s mother to say that Ray wouldn’t be able to spend the afternoon with Barry, as his father needed his help with some jobs around the house. Barry scowled at the ground and kicked the grass with his shoe. His mother put her arm around him and said, “don’t be angry Barry, these things happen. It’s not Ray’s fault, and you should be feeling sorry for him. Perhaps you could go and visit Ray and help him and his father”. Barry didn’t think much of that idea as Ray’s father never seemed pleased to see him if he ever did go to Ray’s house to visit. ”I think I’ll stay home Mum”, he said. “After all, I have my new book up there waiting for me”. They made their way back into the house and Barry fixed himself a sandwich and a glass of orange juice, which he carried upstairs to his room. He placed his lunch on the desk, picked up the book from the bed, and sat at the desk, running his hands over the cover, loving the feel of the book. He turned the book over and read again the blurb on the back cover. The story was about a young girl’s experiences in chat online, and from what he read on the cover, Barry assumed the story inside would prove to be very interesting.
He ate his lunch and then made himself comfortable on his bed, sitting with his back against the headboard, propped up with numerous pillows.Being winter, the days were short and the cold came in early in Sydney. By 4.00 pm people started to get ready for the night, finishing off anything outside, locking up garden sheds, taking the washing from the lines, and bringing in firewood if they had a fireplace. Barry felt a chill in his room, and reluctantly put the book down, moving to the windows to close them before the night air invaded his space.
He found it hard to believe that he had been reading for three hours as he had become lost in the story and oblivious to anything going on around him. He opened up his bedroom door and the smell of stew wafted up the stairs and into his nose. He knew that the gas heating would kick in by 5.00 pm so the cool feeling he had would soon be gone. Lynne was sitting in the lounge room and heard Barry open his door. She looked up the stairs at him and asked him if he would like a cup of hot chocolate, as she was about to make one for herself and Carly. John had gone out earlier to visit a friend who needed a loan of a pair of hands for a couple of hours, and Lynne and Carly were taking advantage of having the television to themselves, and were watching an Elvis movie together. Barry bounded down the stairs and wrapped his arms around his mother, spinning her around. “Barry stop that”, Lynne cried in mock anguish, loving every bit of the attention. Carly just scowled at them and told Barry to grow up. He grinned at his mother as they walked together to the kitchen to make hot chocolate.
Lynne asked Barry about the book and if he was enjoying reading it. Barry told his mother a bit about the story, and said that he was indeed enjoying the read as it was something different and was about a past-time he was interested in. He told his mother that the writer was an Australian girl and that the story, although classified as fiction, was her true story and was about her experiences in chat. He decided not to tell his mother too much about the story as he wanted her to read it once he was finished. The hot chocolate made, Barry made his way upstairs with his cup, and his mother sat down with Carly to watch the remainder of the movie.Barry lay down on his bed once more and turned on the reading lamp above him. He reached for the book and gazed again at the cover. There was something about the cover that kept making him want to look at it. He wasn’t sure if it was the unusual green colour, the flower, the stem that ended up a lead with thorns, or the laptop computer. He made a mental note to do some research on the Internet to see if he could find out anything about the book from there. He lay there for a while with the book in his left hand resting on the bed, and thought about the story he had read so far.
Barry wasn’t a frequent chatter online, but he had been in the one chat room long enough to have gained some insight into how chat worked, and had also taken note of the different ways that the many kids online approached chat. Some were outgoing, funny, a bit over the top at times, and yet always making others laugh, and a few of the kids in the room were very quiet, rarely saying a word for the whole time they spent in the chat room. Barry knew the hosts in the room where he spent his time online and had asked them if they knew why kids would come into a chat room and yet not chat. It seemed very strange to him, and he wondered why they would waste their time sitting at a computer, looking at a screen, and not interacting. He was surprised when told that they were no doubt chatting in other rooms as well, and were hedging their bets in case friends came online or someone interesting by staying and watching in different rooms.
Barry wasn’t a seasoned surfer and didn’t have chat scripts. He found out that kids and adults who used the chat forums frequently usually had what were called scripts, and these scripts enabled them to do some pretty way out things that Barry didn’t really understand. He found it easy to read the book because of the small bits of information he already had in his head about chat, but the author was helpful as well, giving a fairly clear insight into this world that not many people Barry knew bothered to become involved in.As Barry read the book he would nod his head in agreement, smile or frown, depending on where the story was going. He knew there were people online who caused others grief, and he also knew about stranger danger online. As he was popular in the room others would listen to him, and he often warned the other kids about chat and reinforced the golden rules of never telling anyone your real identity, or where you live, and never to give out phone numbers or information on your school, or where you played sport.
Barry had read some pretty awful stories in the press, and seen current affairs shows and the news where often there would be a story about a dangerous situation coming out of exposure to the Internet.The book he was reading took him on a trip around chat, and out of it, that he could never imagine going on himself. He wasn’t interested in girls so meeting anyone was not on his agenda. The author hadn’t been interested in that side of the Internet either he had read, and yet that was exactly what she ended up doing. He was amazed at the ease with which she was able to meet guys from chat, and wondered how she could have been game enough to meet these anonymous people for real, often on her own. He saw that she was lonely, had a lot of spare time after school to spend on the Internet, and that her home life was such that she could do almost whatever she wanted without being questioned.
He wondered about her parents and why they even bothered to have a child when she was left to her own devices most of her waking hours. Her parents both worked, both came home late after she had found something for dinner for herself. They rarely ate with her, and rarely spent more than a cursory few minutes a night with their daughter. She would exit herself from their presence quickly and retreat to her room, and her computer, and no one would bother her for the next 24 hours.
Mornings were a solo event again as her parents were up early and gone with not even a farewell kiss or even a good morning. Barry read all this and felt so sad for this young girl. He knew there were thousands, probably millions of kids in the world just like her, and he knew so well how very lucky he was to have a wonderful home, even if Carly was a pain in the butt most of the time. All these thoughts wandered through Barry’s mind as he lay there on his bed. He didn’t realise that the book was educating him about life; other people’s lives and about his own. The author was doing what she set out to do, as Barry would find out when he read the final chapter and the reason why the book was published was revealed.
He found a lot of what he was reading hard to believe and yet, in the back of his mind, he knew the story was most likely true . He had heard stories about kids meeting and getting involved in all kinds of activities that seemed pretty way out for their age groups. He knew he was considered a ‘nerd’ because he still rode his bike, loved to fish, read, and hang around with his parents. He kind of liked being a nerd as it was completely normal for him to live his life the way he did. Girls were a huge disinterest to him as they all reminded him of his sister and having one of ‘them’ in his life was more than enough.
He worked out that the author of the book was looking for friendship wherever she could find it, and did whatever it took to find friends, even if only for a short time. He saw her being hurt over and over by the way she was acting, and yet he understood why, and felt sad for her.The book was opened up once more and Barry continued to read. He felt he knew some of the characters portrayed, but guessed most kids in chat acted the same way all over the world. The author was Australian though, so there was a good chance he may know some of the characters, and even the author! That thought intrigued Barry no end, and he decided that the next time he ventured online into the chat room he would find a way to bring up the subject of the book, and see if there was any reaction from anyone.The more he read the more he began to question if in fact he should let his mother read the story as she may well become concerned about the time he spent online. He smiled as he imagined his mother pondering whether her son was involved in any of the goings on that were described so vividly in the book. He knew she would shake her head and realise her thoughts were insane as Barry was either at school or at home or off on his bike with Ray. He never went off on his own or with groups of kids, as it wasn’t his scene.
Lynne knocked on Barry’s door and opened it and walked over to the bed. “It’s time for dinner son, everyone is waiting on you”. Barry apologised not having realised that it was dark and that he had read the afternoon away. There was only one chapter left to read, and Barry decided it would be a great way to end the day, later, just before he closed his eyes on the night. The book was dropped on the bed, the light turned out, and Barry ran downstairs to the dining room. He father thanked him for finally showing up as he was starving. Barry sheepishly grinned at his father and saw Carly scowling at him out of the corner of his eye. He wondered why she had to do that as she did look positively evil when she screwed her face up. He stared straight at her and grinned broadly, something she hated with a vengeance. He smirked when he saw the annoyance flash through her eyes. However, Carly was intent on eating, and didn’t bother passing any comments.
Once dinner was over and the talk about the day’s events had ended and the table was cleared, Barry lined up at the sink to wash up the dishes. It was Carly’s turn to wipe up, and he decided to annoy her by making it a long, slow session. After all a boy had to do what a boy had to do to annoy his sister consistently and constantly. The clearing up managed to be completed without the two siblings trading punches, but Lynne and John had to intervene a couple of times to gain some peace. They sat at the dining room table drinking their coffee and talking about family issues while the kids cleaned up the mess from the meal. Once he had finished washing up, Barry made himself a cup of hot chocolate and told his parents he was going back upstairs to finish the book and then go to bed.
John asked Barry about the book and if it was a good story. Barry gave his father a very skimpy idea of the storyline and then vanished upstairs to his space. John stared at the body disappearing up the stairs and wondered. It seemed strange to have Barry so interested in one book. Sure he loved reading, but he couldn’t remember him spending a whole afternoon and evening reading one book. He made a mental note to get his hands on it as soon as he could so he could find out just what was so interesting as to keep Barry quiet and eager to get back to his reading. He asked Lynne if she had read any of the book, and she told him the story about how Barry found the book in the store, and that it didn’t seem to belong to anyone. John wondered about that. Perhaps the author had left the book there on purpose hoping that someone in the store, a buyer perhaps, would pick it up and read it and then buy it in for the store to sell. Seemed a reasonable assumption to John that this could have happened.
Barry closed his door behind him and fell on the bed. He reached for the reading lamp switch and fixed his pillows, settling down once more to read. Again the colour of the cover caught his eye. He opened up to the last chapter and began reading. Most of the random thoughts he had while he was reading became truisms, as the author explained why she had written the book and what her feelings had been about the book once she had written it. He saw a young girl who was confused about life, the meaning of it, and whether it was all worthwhile, or not. Again he felt sad for her as he read, and felt all the emotions she must have been feeling. He had never read a story before that actually got him in like this one did. He had felt anger, disbelief, sorrow, sadness, happiness and many other emotions while he had been reading. He guessed this was what writing must be all about; having the ability to make others ‘feel’ what you were feeling as your wrote. He also imagined that when one wrote a story about themselves they relived all the moments over again, and once more felt all those raw emotions, and put them down on paper so others could experience what they did without having to actually live through it.
Barry rubbed his eyes as he stood up from the bed and walked to the desk with the book. He put it down on the desk and looked at the cover once more. He wished he knew the author and could talk to her about the story and be a true friend to her, one that wanted nothing from her but to make her smile and feel wanted. He wondered if she would ever meet anyone who made her feel that way, and hoped that she would. He wandered into the bathroom, had a hot shower and was soon in bed, lying there in the darkness thinking about the book. It had consumed him most of the day and now into the night. He knew as soon as he found it in the store that he had to have it, and he would never regret reading it either, as he had learned a lot about the Internet, the dangers, and about a certain young lady who had experienced things far beyond her years as a result of her exposure to the Internet.
The next morning Barry picked the book up from his desk and took it downstairs to the breakfast table. He handed the book to his mother and suggested she might like to read it. He asked one thing of her, and that was that she read it with an open mind, and that she remembered that not all kids were the same, and that he most definitely would never be involved in anything that she would read about. He must have looked a bit concerned as his mother put her arm around him and hugged him assuring him she would never judge him by someone else.Barry raced out the back door after breakfast, grabbed his bike, and rode down to street to meet Ray at the corner. They had plans for the day; fishing and swapping stories on the bank of the Nepean River. Barry had a story to swap with Ray that Ray would never have heard before. He laughed as he peddled faster, eager to torment Ray until finally he gave in and told him the story of the book with the vivid green cover that had found him in the store only 24 hours ago.