The Alarm Clock by Markus Zusak (extract)


Image by Rosie Handley

In the Schumacher household it was legendary: The Alarm Clock.

Or better, The Alarm Clock Incident.

Christmas, 1985.

Boy, it was really something, and when I say the Schumacher household, I mean our household, and when I say there was an incident, it was little Benny who started it. It was Benny and Frosty the Snowman. It was Rudolph and the Little Drummer Boy — and even Fred Goddamn Flintstone. All of them rampant Christmas-ruiners, right to the very last.

But what a clock it was.

See, Benny got the alarm clock for his birthday, in July of the same year.

Rocky IV was smashing it at the cinemas, and so were those kids from the Goondocks. How freaking good was The Goonies? How great were the villainous Fratellis? And I can’t even talk un misty-eyed about Chunk doing the truffle shuffle, or Data and his inventions. Who knew that Josh Brolin — playing the long-suffering older brother, Brandon — would later star in Cohen Brothers movies and be nominated for an Oscar? In The Goonies he rode a stolen pink tricycle through the woods. Who gives a shit about the Cohens? The Goonies is still his best movie.

As for Rocky IV, when Benny was nine, and I was eleven, we both smelled a rat when the Russians started barracking for Rocky — but we still found ways to forgive it. Suburban Sydney felt far from the Cold War. Better to remember Ivan Drago (aka Dolph Lundgren) professing, ‘His jaw is made of aiyon.’ Dolph looked really good. He was pumped to the brim with biceps, and his hair was a bright-blond flat-top. The eighties were that damn good.

But this doesn’t explain what I’m here for — to tell you of Christmas Eve that year, and the incident with Benny and the clock. No, it’s backdrop, purely that.

See, what we did as kids back then was ride up to Upstairs Video, and hire movies overnight. We’d watch them later that evening, then again next day in the morning. Those movies marked our summers. With Mum and Dad at work, our days were spent playing cricket outside, or riding bikes around our suburb.

Then evening came, and video time.

Then again, next day, early morning.

Our dad would be up already.

He was always up first, for work.

He’d traipse through the lounge room with tea and toast. ‘Oh,’ he’d mutter, ‘The Jedi again,’ or ‘Raiders’ for the Indiana encore.

When our dad was nine he was war-torn. He had toothaches, no food and Russians. They occupied his town. At eleven he joined a gang. They once sent a flare into the soldier camp, and he didn’t stop running till the gunshots stopped. Probably a good few kilometres.

And here we were, watching videos.

The Good Life, 101.


There were four of us sandy-haired Schumacher kids.

First was Sue, then Anita, then me, and fourth was Benny.

Our mum was Helena Schumacher. Our dad, unfortunately, named Helmut.

We got bagged at school for Helmut as a name, and were often branded the krauts. A kid once called me a Nazi, and I wanted to be angrier than I was. It was balanced by things we loved, though — the things that made us different. Like for us it was Christmas Eve that mattered; Christmas Day was for suckers. We had weird words for things like dish cloth. Even our own kids call it a luppy.

Our dad built houses, our mum was a cleaner, and Dad was incredibly handsome. (Actually, years later, when we looked through photo albums, I said, ‘Shit, Mum, look at Dad — he looks like Jimmy Dean!’ And Mum, still lovely, but well-wrinkled by decades with our father — she’d been pretty severely Helmutted — looked over, grit- eyed and hardened. She said, ‘Don’t tell him that, that bastard.’ Then both of us duly laughed.)

Markus Zusak is an award-winning author of six books including Bridge of Clay, The Book Thief and The Messenger.

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