I told Mum the bruise on my face was from a soccer ball. Later I found out the nurse had rung her that day and told her all about it, but I never told Mum about the fight or the teasing, or how much my chest still hurt from that punch.
It was still sore when I went for a ride on my bike the following weekend, particularly when I was breathing hard as I rode up the hills. But I tried to ignore it and just kept on riding.
I loved being on my bike on the open road, where I was free from the taunting faces of those girls at school or the expectations to be good at anything. All I had to worry about was my breathing and the rhythmical way my legs turned the pedals over as the road rolled past underneath me.
I had a favourite ride that I liked to do on Saturday mornings. I always got out of bed before anyone else was awake and set off in the cool morning air while there was no traffic around.
Leaving the yard, I turned right as I came out of the shadow of the trees at the end of the laneway and followed the road up to the railway crossing. There was a small hump where the railway line crossed the road and I walked my bike across the tracks so that my tyres didn’t slip on the rails. Just after the railway line was the stable where the school bus stopped, but of course there were no kids outside the stable because it was Saturday.
I could hear galloping hooves in the paddock behind the building and as I rounded the corner there were men training horses to run faster and faster. As I rode past, they snorted with the effort and steam came out of their nostrils. For a few moments I pedalled hard as though I was a racehorse, but that made me breathe hard and it hurt my sore chest so I backed off a little bit.
Then I started on the long climb up the hill that took me amongst apple and cherry orchards. The spring blossoms on the trees made me feel like I was riding through a fairyland and I slowed down so that I could enjoy the pretty blossoms and breathe in their sensual perfume. The roadside sheds on the orchards were all closed but I knew during fruit picking season they would be bustling with men and tractors.
At the top of the hill, the road turned and I was able to look back across the wide valley below. Most of the houses were still in shadow but I could see the sun’s fingers slowly creeping across the landscape. I could also see my house clearly as it stood on its own amongst the apple trees with its white walls reflecting the sun. From the top of the hill it looked like a tiny doll’s house. There was a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and I guessed that Mum was probably up and cooking breakfast.
Thinking of Mum made me feel sad again. I wished I could tell her what school was really like, and how much I missed Stephen and how lost I felt. But I could never find the words and I always got teary whenever I tried to talk to her about it. Besides, I didn’t want her to know that I was a failure and make her ashamed of me.
I turned away from my house and rode over the crest of the hill. There was a long descent into the valley at the foot of Mount Canobolas in front of me. The mountain sat there watching over the surrounding countryside. Beside it was the smaller peak of the Pinnacle and it was down the slope of that little mountain that I found myself speeding.
I kept my hands hard on the brakes most of the time because it scared me if I went too fast, but I really loved the way the wind whooshed through my long hair and flicked it around my face.
As I reached the bottom, there was a slight uphill run to an intersection and I pedalled as fast as I could so that my momentum would take me up the rise. I didn’t want to lose any speed so I gave a quick glance to my left to make sure there was no traffic then sped out onto the road that followed the creek along the valley floor.
The road was more undulating now, with lots of little ups and downs and I was back amongst apple and cherry orchards. There was a farmer sitting on his tractor at a gate and he raised his hand as I sped past. I took one hand off the handlebar for a moment and waved back then quickly grabbed hold again.
There was only one more climb and then the descent back into town. I could see the water tower at the top of the hill and I kept my eyes on it as I counted my pedal strokes and worked my way up the slope. The water tower disappeared behind some trees for a moment, but as I came around the bend it was there again, all tall and concrete against the surrounding cherry blossoms.
The road descending into town was steep but it was short and straight so I just stopped pedalling and let my bike pick up speed as I freewheeled down the hill. My eyes started to sting from the wind and my legs were tired but I felt good. I had even forgotten about how much my chest hurt.
When I got back home I wheeled my bike into the shed and went straight into my bedroom by the side door so that I didn’t have to speak to anyone. I put my helmet on the chair and then noticed there was a present sitting in the middle of my bed. Puzzled, I sat on the bed with my legs crossed and started to unwrap it. The present was wrapped in pretty pink paper that sparkled when I moved it. I decided I wanted to keep the paper so I carefully slit the sticky tape with my fingernail so that I didn’t rip the paper while unwrapping.
Inside the present were three books and some pens. I picked up the first book and read the cover – ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I opened it up with a little frown on my forehead and read a few sentences inside. The language seemed mysterious and different from anything I had ever read before and I felt a thrill of excitement about exploring this new book. I put it down and picked up the second book.
It was handmade and the cover was quilted fabric. The words ‘For Molly, with love from Mum’ were hand stitched into the fabric. I turned the cover and there inside were all the pages of my writing journal. Mum had ironed them flat and sewn them together. I felt moisture spring into my eyes as I looked at those pages with all of my precious words written on them.
The third book was a new writing journal and I stroked my fingers over its smooth blank pages. I sat there looking thoughtfully at it for a few minutes, then picked up a purple pen and started writing on the first page.