Episode 20 – Ellen’s turn

After breakfast, we set off to explore around the farm. Ellen’s world seemed to be really huge to me as we walked from paddock to paddock. She chatted away as we walked and pointed to all the different parts of the farm. She told me the front paddock that we had walked through yesterday was sown to wheat over the winter. I could just see the green shoots starting to appear from the clods of dirt. Over the summer months, she said, sheep would graze the stubble after the crop was harvested.

At the bottom of the paddock was an old house that Ellen said was haunted. It looked really spooky and I didn’t want to go near it, but Ellen insisted on having a look through the window. I stood nervously on the edge of the verandah while she stood on her tippy toes and peered through the dusty window. She said it was too dirty to see inside so she was going to try the door.

‘No Ellen,’ I said quickly. ‘Come on, let’s go.’

‘Aw, c’mon Molly. I’ll just be a minute.’

I could hear the door creak as she pushed it open. I squeezed my legs together in agony. The inside of the house was dark but I could see a dusty old arm chair facing the doorway, like it was waiting for its owner to return. Ellen stuck her head inside for a moment before changing her mind.

‘Maybe we should do this another time,’ she decided. Suddenly there was a noise inside, like the sound of something being knocked over and hitting the floor. I’m not sure who was first to run but we were both tearing across the paddock as fast as we could. My gumboots were flopping against my legs as I ran, stumbling across clods of ploughed dirt. I was sure there was a monster after us and I could hear Ellen breathing heavily beside me.

It was only after we reached the other side of the gate that we stopped and looked back. The ginger cat that had been in the kitchen yesterday was watching us from the open door of the haunted house. He opened his mouth and yawned.

I looked at Ellen and her brown eyes were laughing. ‘It was only the cat. Why did you run?’ she laughed.

‘You ran too,’ I said and giggled.

‘That’s because you started running.’

We laughed at ourselves and walked off holding hands until we saw Ellen’s father walking across a paddock hunting for rabbits with his ferrets and dogs. We sat hidden in the long grass and watched him from a distance. Ellen explained how the ferrets were sent down the rabbit burrows and the dogs caught the rabbits as they shot out the other end. I watched as one cute and furry grey creature launched out of a burrow.

‘Oh my gosh, there’s one,’ I pointed excitedly. Suddenly one of the dogs pounced on it and brought the rabbit to Mr Lees. He took it from the dog’s mouth and I was horrified when he broke the poor thing’s neck and put it in a bag. One moment it was so full of life and activity, and the next its body was slumped like a piece of old rag. I felt so sad for the little rabbit and wished it had gotten away. All I could think about was the bruise on the side of Mrs Lees’ face.

Still in shock, I let Ellen lead me away to a smaller paddock in front of the house where her mother’s car was parked. ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea,’ she said as she climbed into the car. I thought we were going to pretend that we were driving but Ellen was able to start the car by turning the key.

‘Can you drive?’ I asked.

‘Of course,’ she said. ‘Watch this’.

We drove around and around the paddock a couple of times; Ellen was laughing her head off, but I was a little scared. Suddenly we slid to a stop. Ellen revved the engine but we didn’t move as the car bogged in the freshly ploughed dirt.

Everyone was quiet that night as we waited for Ellen’s father to come home. After dinner I was sent to have a bath, but I could hear yelling and the sound of someone being smacked carrying through the thin walls of the bathroom.

We didn’t talk much at bedtime that night. Ellen said she was too tired.

‘Are you okay, Ellen?’ I asked cautiously.

She didn’t answer but I could hear her sniffling in the darkness. I climbed out of my bed and slid under the blankets with her. ‘I love you Ellen,’ I said, as I wrapped my arms around her warm body. We fell asleep that way.

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Finding self

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I give to you my physical body,
touched sensuously by fingers,
feeling the warmth of skin,
held tenderly in gentle arms,
listening to my racing heart,
sharing passion and pleasure,
exploring secrets with ecstacy,
painting pictures on my flesh,
tasting my desire for strength,
creating new life with love.

I give to you my hopes and dreams,
to be cherished and nutured,
to read the poetry in my heart,
to float softly on butterfly wings,
to understand my determination,
to see the future falling
in the crystals of my tear drops,
to hear the magical song
pouring from my laughing lips,
to comprehend the wild thoughts
tumbling crazily through my mind.

I give to you
my hand
with love
and the silent treasure
of the self within.

Episode 19 – My new best friend

Over the next year Ellen and I developed into best friends and we did everything together. Although we were both the same size, she was outgoing and talkative where I was shy and quiet. She lived on a farm and once I was allowed to spend the whole weekend with her.
I caught the school bus home with Ellen on Friday after school. It was very noisy on the bus with all of the children talking and squealing loudly all the way. Every few minutes the bus would stop along the road and a couple of children would climb off, before the doors shut and we would start off again with a jerk.

All of the stopping and starting had made me feel car sick, but eventually the bus pulled up in front of a dusty gate at the side of the road and Ellen and I climbed off. The bus took off again, leaving us standing there in a cloud of dust and diesel smoke. We threw our school bags over the gate and then climbed over, before walking all the way up the hill from the main road. By the time we had made it to the house my legs were really tired and I couldn’t wait to sit down.

‘Mum, we’re home,’ Ellen shouted as we walked through the back door. The screen slammed shut behind us. The kitchen was bright and sunny and the late afternoon light shining through the window made the bowls on the bench sparkle. It was the cleanest kitchen I had ever seen, with everything neatly in its place. Beside the kitchen bench there was a large grey tabby cat that was curled up on the floor sound asleep. A ginger cat sat beside Mrs Lees’ legs, looking up and watching her moving around the kitchen sink. Ellen’s baby brother was sitting in a high chair and waving a plastic spoon around.

‘Hi, sweetheart. Hello, Molly. You girls can put your bags in the bedroom then come out and have some afternoon tea.’ Ellen led the way down the hall to her bedroom and we put our bags down on the floor then ran back to the kitchen. Mrs Lees had left a slice of orange cake and a glass of milk on the kitchen bench for each of us and I was glad to climb onto a stool and rest my legs while I ate.

‘Okay girls,’ said Ellen’s mother, ‘When you are finished you need to fetch the eggs and then wash up before dinner.’

I watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen as I ate my afternoon tea. It was the first time I had met her. She had long brown hair that was tied back in a pony tail. It made her look quite young and pretty. Her skin was smooth and tanned and her mouth looked kind. She was clearly Ellen’s mother because the same pair of brown eyes smiled gently at me across the kitchen bench that I was used to seeing in the school playground.

She was stirring something in a bowl and the ginger cat stood up and rubbed his face against her leg before he walked over to the bench and rubbed himself against my foot. I bent down and patted him on the head and he closed his eyes and purred. Ellen’s baby brother made gurgling noises as he waved the spoon around and smiled at me.

‘Come on, Molly, let’s go,’ said Ellen as she put her glass down on the sink. I hopped off the stool and put my glass carefully beside hers and followed her outside. The screen door banged shut behind me as I raced to catch up with Ellen.

The chicken coop was at the back of the yard and its smell reminded me of the chicken shed I had seen at the show. Some of the chickens squawked loudly as Ellen opened the gate, and when she took a handful of oats from a bag and spread them around on the ground they all flapped around her and made a big fuss. ‘Here, chook chook chook,’ she called, as she threw the little seeds on the ground. As the chickens were busy scrabbling after the grain, Ellen and I searched amongst the straw for the smooth brown eggs. She showed me how to carry the eggs by holding up the skirt of my school dress to make a little basket. I placed three eggs in my skirt basket and walked very carefully back to the house, making sure I didn’t drop any on the way.

It was dark by the time Ellen’s father came into the house and Ellen and I had already been in the bath and changed into our pyjamas. The baby had been put to sleep in his cot and the rest of us sat at the dining table and ate dinner in silence. I couldn’t help thinking how different it was to dinnertime at home where the television was always on in the background and the girls were talking all the time. We sat at a large wooden table covered with a lace tablecloth and there was a nice warm log fire crackling in the background.

I was a little scared of Mr Lees as I watched him slicing the roast beef. He had dark curly hair and eyes that looked at me from under thick black eyebrows. Every now and then I could hear his heavy boots shuffle around on the wooden floor. I looked down at his dirty trousers and thought about how they contrasted with the clean white lace of the table cloth.

‘How did you go at school today, girls?’ Mr Lees asked in a stern voice.

‘It was okay,’ Ellen replied calmly. She picked up the sauce jug and tipped some gravy onto her roast.

‘What about you, Molly?’

‘Oh, it was fine.’ I spoke very quietly. My heart was beating fast and I was afraid to look at him.

‘Sorry, what was that? You’ll have to speak up,’ he said. His voice sounded very gruff and when I lifted my head I couldn’t take my eyes off his boney looking fingernails.

‘She said it was okay,’ said Ellen, spearing a potato with her fork.

‘I was talking to Molly.’ He didn’t take his eyes off me and his hands were still holding the carving knife.

I tried to speak again but my tongue felt as thick as a sausage and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. He kept staring at me, waiting for an answer, until suddenly the telephone rang and broke the silence. Mr Lees put the knife down and went to answer the phone. He was gone for a few minutes and when he came back and sat down he complained loudly to Mrs Lees about the high price of something. ‘How are we meant to make money when it costs twice as much as what we get for the crop?’ he growled. He seemed to have forgotten all about me and as soon as we finished eating, Ellen and I were excused from the table.

We raced down the hallway to Ellen’s bedroom and sat on our beds talking until Mrs Lees came in and told us it was time to go to sleep. Ellen’s bedroom was long and skinny, with a bed on either side. At one end of the room there was a bookcase and a small desk while the other end had a dressing table covered with dolls. We lay in our beds and smiled at each other and kept talking in whispers, even after Mrs Lees had come back and turned the light out. It was amazing how our conversations could start with one thing and then float around like a butterfly going from flower to flower. Every now and then we would stop and try to work out how the conversation had flowed before giggling quietly from under our blankets.

We eventually stopped talking and I had drifted off to sleep, when I was suddenly woken by a loud voice coming through the bedroom wall. I couldn’t understand what the voices were saying but I could hear that Mr Lees sounded angry about something and his voice rattled the walls like a bass drum. Mrs Lees was harder to hear with her desperate soprano. Soon there was a loud bang and then silence. I looked across at Ellen but she had her back to me and seemed to be sleeping so I just lay there in the darkness and watched her breathing body moving up and down under the blanket until my eyes started to get heavy.

It was early morning when I woke the next day and I lay in bed and watched the curtain moving slightly in the breeze coming through the open window. Outside the window I could see the sun had started to paint the sky with pink and orange. The colours were reflecting on the bedroom wall, shimmering like fairy lights. I looked across at Ellen’s sleeping face where it was bathed in a soft pink fairy light that made her look so beautiful.

Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking and I could hear sheep baaing just outside the bedroom window. The smell of bacon and eggs came drifting through the doorway and it made my tummy start to grumble.

Eventually Ellen woke up and we climbed out of bed and walked out to the kitchen together to find Mrs Lees standing over a frypan cooking breakfast.

‘Good morning girls, I hope you slept well.’ Her eyes looked red and there seemed to be a mark on the side of her pale face. Ellen gave her mother a hug and I thought I saw a tear forming in Mrs Lees’ eye. ‘Breakfast won’t be long,’ she said briskly, as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.

Ellen and I climbed onto the stools at the kitchen bench and we were soon munching on a huge plateful of bacon and eggs. No-one talked as we ate so I just watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen. She didn’t seem so bright and sparkly as she had yesterday afternoon.

Final goodbye (a letter unsent)

Dear Kyle,

It has nearly been six months since you vanished from my life. I wanted to tell you how much you hurt my feelings when you ended our relationship by text message. I think you owed me more respect than that after all we had shared together.

You said once, in jest I thought, that the world would not end if we ever broke up. Well I can tell you, my world did not end even though I have been very sad and confused. I am over that now, but I wish I didn’t see your damn Nissan Xtrail everywhere I go. I try not to look, but sometimes I just can’t help but glance at the driver to see if it is you.

I also want to tell you how much I really was in love with you, even though I know your feelings for me weren’t as strong. I would never have imagined getting married until you were by my side. All of a sudden I understood how two people could link their stars together.

Do you remember earlier in the year when we thought I was pregnant? I was scared but secretly hoped it was true. I still remember how intense my feelings for you were on that night we forgot to be careful. I had never wanted you so badly. Perhaps that is what scared you away. I will never know because you never spoke about it.

As a final note, I want to say goodbye to you for the last time forever. I don’t want to see you again because I don’t think my tarnished heart could handle it. I am getting stronger every day and learning to find my way back to the pathway of happiness. I no longer love you, so please stay out of my thoughts.

Regards,

Molly-Louise

Episode 18 – First night in my new house

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I met Mum outside school at the end of the day. ‘Hurry up, Molly,’ she said. ‘We have to meet the truck at our new house.’ She was so anxious to get going that she didn’t even notice that my dress was dirty and smelled like smoke. I climbed into the car and squeezed in between Catherine and Jasmine in the back seat as we drove across town.

‘Aw Molly, you smell! What have you been doing?’ said Jasmine.

‘Jasmine!’ said Mum, ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say to your sister.’

‘But she does smell Mum, like she was in a fire or something.’

‘Molly, what have you been doing?’

I was just about to tell her about the fire and Ellen and how she was a fire monitor when Mum pulled up in front of an old house. ‘This is it!’ she said.

I wondered why she had stopped in front of such an ugly house and where our house was.

‘No,’ Mum said, ‘This is it.’ I couldn’t believe it. How were we meant to live in that old thing? It looked like an old man who had stopped taking care of himself and let his beard cover the scars on his cheeks where it grew all long and straggly, and eyelids that hung down like broken window awnings. I felt tears coming back again when Mum said, ‘Come on kids, we have a lot of things to unpack before I can cook dinner tonight.’

Inside the house wasn’t much better. The carpet was old and worn and I could see threads showing through. There were only three bedrooms so the three older girls had to share one room; I was in another room with Stephen, while the third was for Mum and Dad. My bedroom only had space for two beds with a narrow gap between them. The walls were painted a pale blue that had faded and I could see marks where there had once been picture frames.

Our furniture was already in the house and all I had to do was unpack my box. I took some of my dolls out of the box and sat them on my bed. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put my toys or books so I just left them in the box and sat on the bed and played with my dolls.
Mum tucked me in bed later that night and left the light on for me until Stephen was ready for bed. From my pillow I looked across at Stephen’s side of the room. There was a pair of boots on the floor by his bed, one lying on its side where he had tossed it. His denim jacket was hanging on the corner of a chair and his blue jeans were in a pile on the floor with a brown striped tee shirt. On the little table beside his bed was his watch with a leather strap, sitting on top of a magazine about cars and next to the radio that he liked to listen to in the afternoons when he was reading his magazines. The blanket on his bed was turned down and I could see a little dint in the pillow, like a comma from where his head had paused earlier. He had already stuck a poster of a racing car on the wall above his bed.

Stephen had finished school now and he spent the day looking for work in town. When he got home in the afternoon he told me he was going to be working at a supermarket. Soon he would be able to save enough money to buy a car. He seemed excited about his new job, but I wasn’t sure if he was just being brave. What happened to his dream of joining the army?

Later on, when everyone else was in bed, I lay there listening to the strange sounds of the house creaking. ‘Stephen, are you awake?’ I asked quietly, but there was no response, only the sound of his breathing – long and slow. I couldn’t close my eyes so I watched the reflections of the street light from across the road and wondered if my old bedroom was feeling lonely now I wasn’t there. I could still picture it clearly, my bed in the middle with its pink bedspread and Mr and Mrs Bear sitting on the pillow. Beside the bed was my dressing table where I always put my book when I had finished reading for the night. At the foot of the bed was a rug where Stephanie and I often sat and played with my toys; I wondered what Stephanie was doing now, I hoped she wasn’t sad at school now I wasn’t there. Then I started to think about Ellen, my new friend. I wondered where she lived. We didn’t get to talk very much at school but she seemed really nice with the way she held my hand and let me help her with the fire.

As the night wore on I still couldn’t get to sleep. There was an old tree outside; I could hear its branches rustling in the wind. All the trees around here seem old; everything seems old. Does that mean I will grow old if we stay here? My skin will dry up and my arms and legs will get all bent just like those trees. I could feel the tears coming again. I hopped out of my bed and walked into Mum’s room. It was really dark in there but I could just see the outline of the bed. I walked quietly over to Mum’s side. ‘Mum, are you awake?’ I said in a whisper.

‘Molly, is that you?’ Mum said sleepily. ‘What are you doing there, sweetheart?’

‘I can’t sleep, Mum’.

‘Oh Molly, you just need to lay there and close your eyes.’

‘I’ve tried that, but I can’t get to sleep.’

‘What’s the matter, honey?’

‘I don’t know. Can I hop in with you?’

‘You’re getting too big for that. Why don’t you go back to bed and try again?’

‘Okay.’ I sadly climbed back into bed and held Mr and Mrs Bear tight as I watched the reflections of the street light from across the road. I didn’t have any nightmares simply because I couldn’t get to sleep.

Outside I could hear strange noises, like someone was moving around the house and scratching on the walls. I wriggled a bit deeper under my blanket, but I could still hear the noises.

From further away I listened to the sounds of trains moving around. Every now and then there was a bang, then the roar of an engine until it eventually faded away. Then there was another roar and more banging and a whistle blew, over and over again throughout the night. I thought it sounded like dragons were moving around and as I lay there I pictured them flying in and out of their castle, roaring and breathing fire before flying off again. Sometimes the dragons would wrestle with each other and that explained what the loud banging was.

I still didn’t know what the scratching sound was as I lay there in the dark with my eyes wide open. I tried to picture the horses eating green grass on the farm across the road from my old home, but all I could see were dry dusty paddocks. I closed my eyes, but the harder I tried to concentrate the more the horses kept fading from my mind until they turned into grey sheep. Everybody looked sad because there were no princesses to ride through the kingdom and the only houses in the village were small and old and broken down.

Impossible dreams

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I love to sing and dance
around the house,
with enthusiastic
music turned up loud,
making me sparkle,
lively and energetic.

Feelings of pleasure
from morning sunshine
bouncing off water,
dispelling night’s gloom
with the fullness of joy.

The end of a long bike ride,
a thousand metres of climb
from Thredbo to Dead Horse Gap,
to reach the top of the pass
as the sun throws fingers of light
into the frozen valley below,
breathing mountain air:
that is exhilaration.

Jubilation is rarer,
perhaps the first time you kiss
or he says ‘I love you’
with fireworks and rapture.

In the quiet evening,
‘Great Expectations’ open
At the last chapter
As inactive muscles
Rest against eiderdown.

A second ticks away,
sixty more times I look at my watch,
to see the small hand frozen on one,
as it has been since the last planetary rotation,
cycles of seven that bring me back again
to the same coffee shop,
smiling serenely out the window.

Episode 17 – First day at my new school

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I started school the next day while Mum and Dad tried to find a house to rent. It was just like starting my first day of kindergarten all over again. I sat there looking at my feet while Mum talked with the school headmaster. He looked like he was a hundred years old and as dry and gnarled as all those trees along the road. His eyes were cold and grey as they looked at me without interest.

When Mum left I was taken to my new classroom by a lady with shoes that clicked loudly on the tile floor of the corridor. She knocked at the classroom door and pushed it open to be greeted by the noise of strange children chattering and giggling. I was taken across the classroom to meet my new teacher, Mr Anderson, who was sitting at his desk reading a book. Slowly, the class started to become quieter as some of the children noticed a new girl amongst them. I could hear the ones at the front whispering to each other and I just knew they were all looking at me standing there in my unfamiliar school uniform.

When the lady left, Mr Anderson stood up with me at the front of the classroom. He held his hand up until everyone was quiet and looking toward the front. ‘Class, this is Molly White. She has come to join us here in 4KA so I hope you will all make her welcome.’ I knew my face was bright red, I could feel it burning and I heard some boys toward the back of the room whispering to each other. I just wanted to run away and I knew tears were starting to form in my eyes. ‘Molly, there is an empty desk over near the window. You can sit there. Okay class, it is time now for maths so I want you to open your books at chapter three and we will have a look at number lines.’

I slid into my seat and opened the book Mr Anderson had handed me, but everything looked blurry and instead of number lines I saw rivers of tears running across the page. Cool autumn sunlight came through the window and I could see wisps of cloud drifting by in the pale blue sky as Mr Anderson’s voice droned on about something to do with numbers and lines and hopping from one to four. I thought about the railway line and wondered how many hops it would take before I got back to Stephanie.

At lunchtime I sat on a bench in the playground. It was all bitumen and there was no grass, just lines marked out for all sorts of games. It was like one of those unhappy playgrounds I had seen when we were driving through the city. I looked at the sandwiches in my lunchbox, but I didn’t feel at all hungry because my stomach was tied up in a little knot. I started to think of Stephanie again and began to cry.

After a while I noticed someone had sat on the bench next to me. ‘Are you okay?’ I heard a little voice say. I could see a pair of white cotton socks and dusty black school shoes poking out shyly from beneath a checked school dress.

‘I thought you looked sad,’ the voice said again. ‘I wondered if you would like some of my vegemite sandwich.’ The voice belonged to a little girl, about the same size as me with a face covered in freckles. ‘My name is Ellen,’ she said.

‘I’m Molly,’ I said quietly as I finally found my tongue.

‘Don’t be sad, Molly. School isn’t that bad when you get used to it. Do you want to come and play handball?’

‘I don’t know how to,’ I said.

‘Well that’s okay, I can teach you.’

She took my hand and we walked across to where a crowd of girls were lined up watching two other girls hitting a tennis ball to each other with their hands. As we stood in the line, Ellen explained that I was meant to hit the ball to the other person with my hand, but it had to bounce before going over the line. If you missed it or hit the ball outside the squares then you were out and had to go back to the end of the line. Everyone wanted to get to the king’s square.

Soon it was my turn and I stood in the square opposite a big girl with short hair. Suddenly there was a tennis ball flying towards me and I threw my hand at it but missed completely. Some of the girls giggled as I walked off to the end of the line.

‘Don’t worry, Molly,’ said Ellen. ‘You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

Before I had a chance to have another go, the bell went and we had to go back into class.

‘Let’s play again tomorrow, Molly,’ Ellen said. ‘You’re going to have a lot of fun.’ I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to hit the ball so I was glad that the bell went and saved me from further embarrassment.

The classroom was kept warm by a log fire. Ellen was a fire monitor and she asked Mr Anderson if I would be allowed to help her gather some logs from a box outside the classroom before we went back to our desks.

Ellen told me there was an old man that worked at the school and one of his jobs was to keep the firewood box stacked with wood for the classrooms. She said he was a bit creepy and that I should keep away from him, but there was no sign of the caretaker as I followed Ellen to the back of the classroom. She skipped along and seemed so happy and that made me feel a bit lighter, but the logs were really heavy and I got dirt and little bits of bark stuck all over my school dress when I carried them back to class.

The fire was in an iron box, like a little stove, and I watched Ellen carefully open the door and rake among the embers with a poker. When the flames were dancing around like little devils, I passed her a log and she put it on top of the fire. A shower of sparks and smoke rose into the air and me cough.

When I got back to my desk, I saw that my hands were all dirty. But I wasn’t game to ask Mr Anderson if I could go to the bathroom to wash them so I tried to wipe them clean on my school dress. My hair smelled all smoky as well and I started to worry about what Mum would say when I got home.

Then I began thinking about home and I realised that I didn’t even know where home was, or if we had one. I looked out the window at the clouds again to try and stop myself from crying, but a couple of teardrops still leaked out and fell on my cheeks.

I looked around and saw Ellen watching me. She gave me a little smile and I tried to smile back but my lips wouldn’t move in the right shape. Things improved later in the afternoon, though, when we had some quiet reading time. I picked a book out of a box that was on the floor and we were allowed to sit on the mat in the middle of the classroom and read. Ellen came and sat next to me and held my hand.

Dream catcher

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Sunburnt shoulders
Lying in the sun,
No makeup,
Just a miniskirt
And a textbook
On a beach towel
In the sand,
Searching for identity
Without limit
Of labels or sexuality.

Out of control,
Broken dreams
Cry on the inside
Of romantic notions,
Closing on my dark secret.

Angels sing
In my headphones,
Urging me to hold on
To my broken heart
And the baby,
But I can’t even think
About tomorrow.

Fingers touch my belly,
An odyssey of life within,
Breathing air into my lungs,
It is not a choice,
It is who I am,
Afraid.

Episode 16 – Moving to a new town

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With my face pressed against the window, I watched the miles rushing past as we headed south. The tears running down my cheeks could have flooded the big rivers of the north coast, but they had started to dry up as we left the lush green pastures of sad-eyed dairy cattle behind.

The coastal landscape became a dry blur of trees that kept flashing past my eyes. Every now and then there was a small gap in the trees where a little sandy track disappeared into the bush. After a while I started to wonder what was at the end of those little tracks. I closed my eyes and pictured myself riding my bike through the scrub until it suddenly opened out onto a beach. The sand stretched as far as I could see, and in the distance was a hazy headland jutting out into the brilliant blue ocean. The sun danced with sparkles on the waves and I found myself soaring high in the sky. There was nobody else on the beach, and I felt like the only person left in the whole world.

Outside the window, the landscape had turned swampy and in the distance I could see tall chimneys billowing out smoke. There were more and more factories as we drove along and they were now close enough for me to see lots of cars parked near the bottom of the chimneys. I thought it was no wonder that the cars ended up so rusty when all that smoke was pouring out. I imagined the people in the factories must become all grey and rusty as well.

The swamps soon gave way to sandy grasslands that had little groups of black and white cows standing behind fences. They were too busy looking for grass to eat to notice me rushing past though. There were more and more cars around as well, and soon we were on a freeway and sailing past huge trucks. Every now and then a bearded truck driver would look down at me and I would look back and smile, until all the trucks turned off and we were back in the scrub again.

Then we were swooping down a huge hill and at the bottom was a bridge across a wide river. Dad pulled off the road and we all hopped out of the car to have lunch by the edge of the water. My legs were stiff from sitting in the car for so long and I could feel pins and needles in my feet.

The river was covered with all sorts of boats bobbing around, some with white sails that shone brightly in the warm sun and others with groups of men with fishing rods. There were also some men standing on the rocks fishing and I could smell the salty sea air; it reminded me of the beach near Grandma’s house and I started thinking about when I would ever get to see Grandma again.

I could have stayed happily by the side of that river for ages, but I was soon sitting back in the car and we were driving through the city. There were so many cars that we had to drive along really slowly and kept having to stop at traffic lights all the time. Far in the distance were the skyscrapers of the city centre, but from a distance they just looked tiny. Outside the car I could see lots of children walking to school or climbing off buses. They didn’t look very happy and I supposed that was because they didn’t have a lovely river running down the back of their playground. The only playgrounds I could see were all made of concrete; there didn’t seem to be grass anywhere, just lots of concrete. That made me start thinking of Stephanie again and I kept looking for her face amongst all those children heading to school.

As we left the city behind, I watched the landscape change from the bright green grass of the coast to the much duller browns and greys of the inland bush. The hills gradually disappeared, until eventually we were on a long straight stretch of road that disappeared into the distance for miles.

With my chin resting on my arm, I watched the railway line come racing across some paddocks until it joined the road and followed alongside for miles and miles. A lot of the trees between the road and the railway line looked dead, but Dad said they were just waiting for rain. I thought they must have been waiting there for a very long time.

There were fewer trees in the paddocks now, just isolated clumps of eucalypts standing on their own amongst short spiky grass. Dad said it was called wheat stubble. I thought it made the country look old and run down and somebody needed to paint it with bright new colours. There were lots of sheep though, and they looked soft and woolly. Some of them looked up at me as we sped past, while others were looking at the ground; I guessed they were wondering where all the grass was.

‘Looks like we’re nearly there,’ Dad said finally. I sat up and looked through the windscreen but all I could see was the top of a concrete tower above the trees way ahead in the distance. Dad said it was a wheat silo and that’s where the town was. He started telling us about how the town had started out as a gold mining village before the wheat farms and railway had arrived. All I could think of was that we were in the middle of a dry dusty plain where I didn’t have any friends to play with.

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