June 25th

On New Year’s Day,
Horoscope’s promise: June 25th.
So long to wait for you,
Too many days to hold my breath,
Hoping for your kiss.

Ripping pages from the calendar,
Skipping autumn and winter,
Spring excitement,
Better than Christmas.

I wake on the day,
Wondering where you are,
Looking into strangers’ faces,
Until the next page
Slips from my fingers.

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Episode 28 – The world comes crashing down

When I got home that afternoon there was a letter from Stephen waiting for me. I raced to my bedroom and jumped on my bed as I ripped the envelope open and started reading.

Stephen told me all about how much fun the plane ride had been and the things he could see out the window as it flew across to the other side of Australia. He told me how he woke every morning just before dawn in the single men’s quarters in the mining village to get ready for work. He said the weather was really hot, but he rolls out of bed every day and does twenty pushups before climbing in the shower to cool off. During the day the temperature reaches over forty-five degrees celcius and Stephen said it was much hotter than the summers we have at home. He talked about how nice it is in the shower with cool water running over his face. He told me he was enjoying the work and felt great from having put in some long days and getting paid overtime. He was already planning his trip home when he had enough money.

He said he has a big breakfast in the mess every morning and then catches a bus out to the mine. He told me about how the iron red rocks shimmer in the early morning heat haze and how amazing it is to see the sun coming up over the hills as the bus crests the ridge and crawls down into the massive hole in the landscape. He sent some postcards in the envelope so I could see how big the mine was and how enormous some of the trucks were.

Stephen said that he works on one of the maintenance crews, fixing trucks, pipelines, machinery and anything else that needed repairs. He told me that a few days ago he was working on a leaking valve on the water pipeline when the pipe burst and drenched him with water. He finished the job and reported back to the foreman, asking if he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. Stephen said the foreman wouldn’t let him leave so he had to finish the day feeling damp. He told me in the letter he could feel a bit of a cold coming on and thought it was from getting wet and being in and out of the cold air conditioned buildings.

He finished off by telling me that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my new school and had made heaps of friends. I read the letter over and over again and started writing a letter back to him, trying to tell him all about how big the house was and how much fun we would have exploring it together when he got back. I didn’t want to tell him about school because I didn’t want him to find out that I was dumb.

I read his letter again and then turned out my light and tried to go to sleep. As I lay in bed, I kept thinking about the postcards of the open-cut mine and how I was dumb and didn’t know anything about numbers, and when would I see Stephen again and get to play with him. The thoughts kept circling round and round in my mind as I tried to get to sleep.

Outside my window I could hear crickets chirping and the noise kept me awake.
I thought about getting up and telling Mum that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I was worried that she would just think I was dumb and tell me to go back to bed. So I stayed there with my eyes closed and tried to think of something nice. My head was starting to get heavy when I heard the telephone ring in the hallway. I could hear Dad’s footsteps thumping down the wooden floorboards of the hall and his loud voice said, ‘Hello,’ as he picked up the phone. There was silence for a little while and I strained my ears to hear what was going on.

I couldn’t tell what was happening so I hopped out of bed and snuck across the lounge room to listen and make sure nothing bad was happening. I heard Dad hang up the phone and as I poked my head around the door, Dad told me to get back in bed. But I could see that Mum was crying and I thought she must have been sick or something. Mum walked over and picked me up to put me back in bed and tucked me in. I asked what was going on and she said it was just the hospital in Western Australia and that Stephen was a little unwell and the doctors were doing tests. She told me not to worry and left the light on, but I couldn’t get back to sleep because now I kept thinking about what might have been happening to Stephen. Did one of those big trucks fall on him?

I lay there for ages and eventually I heard everyone else go to bed for the night. I tried to listen to the crickets and just concentrate on the song they were singing so that I could fall asleep, when I heard the phone ring again. I climbed out of bed and snuck to the door again, but then I realised that something really was wrong this time. I poked my head around the corner and I could tell by the way Mum and Dad and all the girls were crying that something really bad had happened. Mum looked up and said Stephen was gone. I was confused, but all of a sudden I felt my legs were shaking and the room began to spin. The last thing I remembered was Mum reaching out her hand for me just before everything went black.

Desire

As soon as I graduated from high school, my boyfriend and I couldn’t wait to pack up and leave our small country town existence for the promising lights of the big city. I had no plans or dreams, just vague thoughts of getting through school as best I could then find work and enjoying the life that cities offered. My final year of high school had been a struggle; I found studying so stressful that I dealt with it by spending lots of time with my boyfriend and avoiding essays and textbooks. The final weeks of school were a flurry of parties and exams with no real thoughts of what lay beyond until suddenly I found myself on a bus and leaving behind my teenage years.

We rented a room in a share house, Andrew and I sharing a bedroom and a three-foot wide single bed. He soon found a job in a bank, while I started at a secretarial college to learn shorthand and typing, a worthwhile pursuit for a young lady at the time. At night we would squeeze into that tiny bed, our bodies pressed up against each other with his arm around me and a hand cupping my breast. Night after night for two years we lived that way; it made me feel loved and special as I fell asleep each night with a smile curling my lips.

Andrew treated me like a princess, buying presents all the time and surprising me with the most wonderful things. He was very kind and thoughtful and I was so deeply in love with him that I thought our idyllic life would last forever. On the weekends he would come home with a new record and we would spend the weekend listening to it over and over again, dreaming of the freedom promised in the songs, believing we had found it in each other’s arms. I would sit on the end of the bed listening to the music as he brushed my long hair until we would end up under the doona making love.

Neither of us had a car so we travelled everywhere by bus, walked, or rode our bikes. We didn’t have much money either, so there was no going out or trips away, but on Saturday nights we would walk down to the shops and get takeaway Chinese or hamburgers. Somehow Andrew also made those little takeaway meals seem like the most romantic five-star restaurant. When the cold winter turned bleak outside, we warmed our little nest in the bedroom and made endless love in an island of brightness amidst the gloom.

As the year wore on, I began to realise how tedious my chosen path was going to be. Every day I would wake before dawn, have a quick cup of coffee and walk down to the bus stop to catch the seven o’clock bus into the city for college. It wasn’t at all like school as there was very little socialising at the college. We weren’t allowed to talk in class and the breaks were usually so short you didn’t have much time to chat and get to know anyone very well. Most of the other girls kept to themselves anyway or had groups of friends they already knew and didn’t want to allow newcomers to break into their little worlds. In the classes we would sit for hours at a keyboard learning how to type:

jjj kkk jjj kkk jjj kkk
ggg hhh ggg hhh ggg
jjj kkk jjj kkk jjj kkk

Again and again for hours until my tortured mind began to scream. “Is this the way it’s going to be forever?” I kept saying to myself. In the afternoons I would cry silently to myself all the way home, until finally Andrew got home from work and I could find comfort in his loving arms.

On weekends I was so tired from the long week days that we would spend half the time sleeping. Getting up Saturday morning to do the housework before walking down to the supermarket to buy groceries and then lug them all the way home. When the weather was nice, we sometimes went for a bike ride on Sunday, randomly following the bike paths to see where they led. Once we discovered the way to a pine forest and we would take a picnic lunch to enjoy some fresh air and open skies before Andrew would gently make love to me on the blanket, treasuring my body like a beautiful, delicate flower for an idyllic moment. I remember the mixed feelings of joy and sadness as we rode home on those afternoons; joy to be so in love but sad to be so near another Monday morning and the endless round of typing. Andrew tried so hard to comfort me but I usually fell asleep Sunday nights crying into his shoulder.

Gradually I began to understand that I had missed out on something because I had not worked hard enough at school and hand no dream to follow. The reality of my life in the city was nothing like I had expected and I felt isolated from my friends and family, and isolated from myself so that I didn’t know who I was anymore. I hated typing so much that the thought of finishing college and finding work as a typist left me with a feeling of dread that I was slowly dying and didn’t know what to do about it. Then the world caved in around me when I fell pregnant.

Andrew and I had been so careful, but sometimes my desire for him took control and I couldn’t resist his wandering fingers. We had never talked about marriage but I always assumed that is where we would end up. I was scared when my period was late, but somewhere in my mind was the thought that this might be a way out of the life I was leading. We could get married, I would have his baby and we would have the most perfect little family. I thought Andrew would feel the same, so it came as a shock when he pulled away from me when I told him the news. I was hurt and more confused than ever. Andrew was my rock, the one shining light in my life. I couldn’t understand why that comforting shoulder wasn’t there for me at this time when I really needed it.

We struggled along like this for a couple of months, filled with tears, coldness, and attempts to make up that always seemed to end in more arguments that drove our worlds apart. He wanted me to have an abortion, but I was determined to keep the baby and hoped that he would come around in time.

I began to think more about the future and decided that I needed something more satisfying than a job as a typist. Someone suggested I think about university, a seed that grew in mind like the baby was growing in my body. After much thought, I eventually enrolled in a university degree in social sciences that was to start early the following year. Suddenly life seemed to hold some hope.

Andrew and I made love often enough that I thought he was getting used to my pregnancy, and I was getting more excited about the twin ideas of the baby and starting university. How wrong I was! One day I went to meet him for lunch as a surprise, when he came out of the bank with his arm around another woman. A knifed had been plunged into my heart and I died there on the footpath.

Episode 27 – Struggling at my new school

We left the airport and travelled all day over the Blue Mountains to arrive at our new home just as the sky was getting dark. I was so tired that Mum carried me inside and put me in bed straight away and I slept soundly all night without waking at all. I had no dreams that night, just the blankness of sleep until I woke up with the sun and the birds in the morning.
I forgot where I was for a moment and just lay there in this strange room trying to work out how I had come to be there. Slowly as my mind started to wake up I took in my surroundings. The room had only one bed and it was along the wall underneath the window. From my pillow, all I could see out the window was blue sky with a few grey clouds that looked like puffy cotton balls. My toys were all in a box in the corner and my books were placed in a bookcase against the wall on the other side of the room. I guessed that Stephen had unpacked and put my books there, and I started thinking of him again and felt the sadness that was still sitting inside my stomach.
I decided to get up and see where I was before anyone else woke. I kneeled on my bed and looked out the window and marveled at the beautiful palette of autumn colours falling from the trees. There were piles of leaves in the yard and I could see a wisp of smoke rising into the air from one of the piles.
I couldn’t see where the road was from here because of all the trees, but I could see a laneway that I thought must lead back down to the road. I hopped out of bed and went to the front door and walked outside to get a better look. The house had verandahs on all sides and I pushed the door open and stepped out into the crisp morning air. There was a rainwater tank on a tower high above me and I could see a little dribble of water running down its side as if it had been crying.
I went back inside and started walking quietly through the house to explore. At the front of the house was the lounge room, and when I looked into the next room I could see Samantha and Jasmine asleep in their beds. A room at the end had the door shut but I could hear the sound of Dad snoring inside. There was an open door on the opposite side of the hall and when I peeked inside I could see Catherine’s head sound asleep on the pillow and her arm thrown over the top of the blanket.
I found my way back to my bedroom and sat on my bed, looking out the window again. Mum had been right, it really was a beautiful spot and I felt a thrill of excitement as I thought about how much space there was to explore. It was just like the wide open spaces of Ellen’s farm, but so different because instead of being dry and dusty everything was moist and vibrant.
A few weeks later the school year started and I found myself having yet another first day of school as I sat beside Mum outside the headmaster’s office. My hands were in my lap and I was looking at my black school shoes peeping out from under my skirt. At least this time I was in the same uniform as the other children, but I still felt funny in my tummy as my fingers touched the unfamiliar fabric of my blue skirt. I needed to go to the bathroom, but Mum said I should just hang on because we would be going to see the headmaster soon.
There was another little girl sitting in the waiting room and she was swinging her legs back and forth in the air. Every time I looked up she was staring back at me so I quickly looked down again and wished the headmaster would hurry up. The girl started humming to herself and I sneaked another look and found she was still looking at me. Before I had time to look away again she suddenly grinned and poked her tongue out.
Just then the door to the office opened and Mum took my hand and led me inside. As I walked past the little girl her lips mouthed the word ‘bye’ at me. I just grabbed Mum’s hand tighter until the door closed behind us, and then I found myself sitting stiffly on an uncomfortable chair.
‘Mrs White,’ the headmaster said as he read from a piece of paper in his hand. ‘I see from these report cards that young Molly has struggled a bit in some subjects.’ He looked at Mum over the top of his glasses and I felt like she was getting into trouble.
‘Well, she is good at reading and spelling,’ said Mum. I looked down at my bony knees which were now poking out from under my skirt. I slowly started pushing my skirt down to cover them and was hoping that nobody would notice.
‘Hmmm,’ the headmaster replied, ‘but a ‘D’ in mathematics! We need to try a bit harder, don’t we young lady?’ Suddenly he was looking at me and I found myself nodding slowly. He put the paper down as though he had come to a decision. ‘Mrs White, she is very small for her age as well, and perhaps you should consider holding her back a year. I do have my concerns over her abilities, so for now I will put her in Mr Rogan’s class to see how she goes. He is very good with slow children.’
‘She’s not slow, Mr Brown,’ said Mum. I could tell she was getting a bit annoyed. ‘She is shy, and sometimes that has meant the teachers have ignored her when she actually needed help. She is a very bright child.’
‘Indeed, Mrs White, parents always know what’s best.’
He looked over his glasses at Mum for a moment before standing up from behind the desk. Mr Brown opened the office door and offered to shake Mum’s hand as we walked out.
‘You can leave little Molly with my secretary. She will take her down to the classroom.’
Mum shook his hand and before I knew it the interview was over. When we got outside, Mum gave me a hug.
‘Be brave, Molly,’ she said and kissed me.
I kissed her back and said goodbye, then followed the lady across the playground. I hadn’t realised before that people thought I was a dumb kid. I kept thinking about that all morning as I tried really hard to do what Mr Rogan asked. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t dumb, but the harder I tried the more the numbers in my book kept getting mixed up. Sometimes I thought I had the right answer but when I checked the sums, I confused myself and would change all my answers and then just try to guess the correct number. By the time the bell went for lunchtime, my head was spinning so much it was hurting and I knew the headmaster must have been right.
I followed the other children out of the classroom and they ran off toward the playground. I found a bench under a tree and sat down to eat my lunch. I pulled my book of ‘Storm Boy’ out of my bag and started reading the last few chapters again. Mr Percival, the pelican, had been injured by some hunters and Storm Boy was looking after him until he got better. As I ate my lunch, I found myself back on the sand dune playing soldiers with Shawn. I didn’t realise at first, but a little tear dripped down my cheek and landed on my book with a plop. I kept reading until Mr Percival had been killed by the hunters and then Storm Boy was sent away to town to go to school. I knew exactly how he felt as he sat in that classroom and all he could think about was the lost freedom of the sand dunes.

One wild summer

It is late in the afternoon and I am sitting on the front verandah of the summer beach house I have been sharing with some friends, sipping on a hot coffee, trying to calm my nerves before I have to face Jimmy again tonight. With red fingernails tapping idly on the coffee cup, I am trying think of some way to say goodbye to him. I am tired of being Juliet; from now on I want to make sense of my mixed up life rather than losing my heart and identity over some guy.

Next week I am returning to university and leaving behind the summer and surf of my little piece of paradise. I could feel this wild life closing in on me for a while, but I knew I was just really delaying have to face reality. Now I am determined to find my own way and not be the second prize for anybody. I didn’t want a life that was empty of meaning other than how much you could drink on Friday night, and I knew Jimmy wasn’t my chosen one. He was too aimless and drifted through life from year to year, finding jobs when he could but often being the worse for wear after a night out. I didn’t need to be tied to a guy like that when my open mind wanted to find out what really happens when a dream is set free.

Gazing out over the blue ocean, I keep thinking about all those times I have left my heart behind with a kiss, returning to the time when I first met Jimmy. He was a wild one, not the type of guy I usually dated, but perfect for a crazy summer fling. He had a way of making me feel good, lifting me up with his way out exuberance and thirst for living life as if there was no time to delay for even a moment.

We met at a pub on New Year’s Eve when one of my friends introduced us to this bunch of guys she knew. I danced with Jimmy to the music from one of the local bands playing that night, before we ended up in the car park talking about how he had recently broken up with his girlfriend. I gave him a shoulder to cry on, until we kissed under the midnight fireworks and later ended up in bed. In the end we used each other’s shoulders while all around the world was in chaos. He used to say that he had travelled all over the world but came home because Aussie girls were sweeter, and I was the sweetest of all as he lay next to me sharing his soul. I never thought about tomorrow, just living for the moment of being turned on and free.

From that moment on there was a wild party every weekend, with flat out rock and roll each night until the pubs closed. Then the evening would change down a gear, becoming a bluesy ballad with a saxophone playing soulfully as we moved onto the beach where the mood was more romantic, or sultry depending on the night, and lovers would pair off, clinging to each other around the campfire until sparks flew high into the starry sky. Some nights we watched the storms out to sea, thunder and lightning showing glimpses of tangled arms and legs in the sand.

That is when I got a rare glimpse of Jimmy’s softer side, tender and considerate with low words that he usually kept well hidden under his wild exterior. Our conversations were never very deep and meaningful as it was more a relationship of passion and the search for a good time. I loved Jimmy but never really fell for him, if that makes any sense. He promised to call me all the time, but I knew he never would because he wasn’t that kind of guy. He usually just turned up in the evening ready to party and expected me to take off with him, which I always did. Nobody was going to tie him down, which suited me just fine because I wasn’t looking for a serious relationship at the time either. The way Jimmy set the world on fire made him perfect company for that one wild summer.

As the sun rose over the waves, we would walk home along the beach past the surfers getting ready for their morning swim, hand in hand as the waves licked around my ankles, before heading to my own bed to sleep through the morning, closing the curtains to block out the sunlight and nurse any remaining hangover.

In the afternoons I would walk back across the road to the beach for a swim, washing away my sins from the night before and then baking my body in the sun as I read a book or worked on my stories. Sometimes I would just sit and stare across thousands of miles of ocean and let my mind wander aimlessly.

So why was I worried about breaking it off with him? He knew I was heading back to university soon. Everything had seemed so clear until last night at dinner, over a glass of red wine when he gave me that wonderful smile I had watched so many times, and asked me to marry him. Now I have to find a way to say no, to explain that I can’t, and breathe a last goodbye before the summer breeze turns into chilly autumn winds.

Episode 26 – Saying goodbye

During the couple of weeks we were staying with Grandma, Dad and Stephen had hired a truck and moved all of our furniture and things to our new house. Mum said Dad had found us a big old house that was just on the edge of town and it sat in the middle of an apple orchard. She said it sounded like a really pretty spot and she couldn’t wait until we got home.

Dad had already started working in his new job on the railway and Stephen spent the time getting his things packed and ready to go to Western Australia.

As we neared the end of the school holidays, Dad drove up the coast to take us home. We all piled into the car late in the afternoon and waved goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and set off back down the coast road toward Sydney.

Dad said we would have to drive right through the night because we had to be in Sydney by morning to see Stephen off at the airport.

The sun was just starting to set behind the mountain near Grandma’s house as Dad turned the car onto the highway and we joined a long line of car lights dotted up the hill as far as I could see.

Mum had made some sandwiches for dinner and as we drove along I ate them and watched the copper sunset getting darker until the trees alongside the road became dark ghosts.
Every time a car came the other way its headlights would light up the inside of our car for a moment until it looked like all our shadows were racing along the road, and then we were plunged into darkness again.

After a while I started to get sleepy and I leaned my head against Mum’s side. My eyes would flicker open every time a car went past, until gradually the lights were bobbing around on the horizon like ships at sea. I felt like I was floating on the water and sometimes one of the lights would suddenly come whizzing towards me and then disappear with a loud whoosh.

I began to dream that I was on a pirate ship that was all dark and sailing towards the lights. Shawn was there, standing at the front of the ship and staring out into the distance. Every now and then I heard his voice call out, ‘Come on, Blue, run!’ before he disappeared over the edge of the ship. I leaned over the side to see where he went but all I could see were fish swimming around. They were big flat fish with bodies made from curved lines that wriggled and wriggled until they vanished when another bright light came whizzing past.

I looked up and this time it was Stephen standing at the front of the pirate ship. He turned his head and looked at me and just stared. I called out to him, but my voice didn’t make any sound. I tried to run but my legs were stuck to the deck of the ship and when I reached for him with my hand his face slowly disappeared into one of the bright lights.

I could feel sadness sitting inside my stomach and as the wind rippled through the ship’s sails I fell to my knees and started to cry.

All of a sudden the ship landed with a thump and I opened my eyes to see the sky starting to get lighter on the horizon. My eyes were itchy and when I rubbed them they felt wet from tears.

I sat up straighter and through the windscreen I could see the distant lights of the city’s skyscrapers gathered together like they were waiting for the nighttime to come back.
We were driving in traffic now, and I recognized one of the schools we had gone past the other time I had been through Sydney. The playgrounds were empty this time because it was still school holidays and the buildings stood in the early morning light looking lonely and sad.

As we got closer to the city centre all the tall buildings blocked out the morning sun and we started driving through shadows. Then we were on a bridge and the harbour below sparkled like a million diamonds. Little boats moved around on the water and there was a big ship tied up to the shore.

Dad had to keep stopping because of the traffic and I could tell he was getting anxious about being late because he started muttering, ‘Oh, come on,’ every time the traffic lights turned to red.

Eventually we turned into the carpark at the airport and then we were all out of the car and running into the terminal. Mum had my hand and was dragging me along, trying to get me to run quicker but my legs wouldn’t go any faster.

Then we stopped running and there was Stephen sitting with some other people in front of a big glass window with a huge aeroplane on the ground outside.

Stephen jumped to his feet and gave Mum a big hug, then shook Dad’s hand and hugged each of the girls. When he got to me, he picked me up in his arms and gave me the biggest squeeze of my life as I wrapped my arms around his neck and started crying.

‘Don’t cry, Molly,’ he said, as he put me back down on the ground. ‘Let’s look at the plane I’m going on. It’s going to be fun.’

He took my hand and led me to the window and pointed to the plane. ‘Just count back seven windows from the front, and that’s where I’ll be sitting,’ he said. I looked at the tiny little round windows and wondered how he would ever fit inside.

As we stood there, a lady in a blue uniform walked up to the counter and announced that it was time to start boarding.

Stephen went round and hugged everyone again, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He picked up his bag and walked over to the counter and handed his ticket to the lady. Then he was walking down a tunnel with all the other passengers and disappeared from sight for a moment. I got a final glimpse of him as he stepped into the plane and gave a brief wave before the doors closed. We stood there and watched as the plane backed slowly away from the building. Then it turned and started going forward, getting faster and faster until suddenly it lifted up into the sky and was flying.

We all stood there silently and watched as it turned into a little black speck and then disappeared. My face was pressed against the cold glass as tears streamed down my cheeks.

Until love strikes

A stone block sits in the middle of a sculptor’s studio, without form or feeling, waiting coldly for the artisan’s hands. As the weeks pass by, slowly, a rough shape is revealed by the sculptor’s persistent vision, resembling the silhouette of a person seen through a darkened window. Through his labours, the head of a woman is revealed – her features as hard and unforgiving as the marble from which she is made. As the woman’s eyes are opened, she watches the sculptor without interest, unblinking and staring into the void. After completing the head, the sculptor rests while he admires her cold beauty, the perfectly formed features chiseled with his hands. If the woman has a thought, it is to think the sculptor a fool for wasting his time on her soulless body. But the sculptor is persistent and soon the rough square block is smoothed to reveal a naked body; the soft curve of a hip, seductive swell of a breast, an elegant neck. Finally, the sculptor lays down his tools and stands back to admire his masterpiece, only to find her cold presence lacking something. Moving closer, he places his lips on her stony cheek, slowly feeling warmth rising from her breasts. He holds her at arms length and looks into eyes that are watching him now with quickening interest, an image smouldering in her mind. With gentle fingertips the sculptor brings his precious statue to life, shaping her heart with his passion until love strikes.

Episode 25 – Meeting Shawn

Every morning after breakfast during the holiday I went to the beach with my sisters and I played in the sand and read my book while they swam in the surf or sun baked. I didn’t like the taste of the salt water or the way the sand would get pushed into my bikini bottom by the waves, so I was much happier building sandcastles on the beach than swimming.
After I had built my sandcastle up nice and high, I used a stick to draw patterns and pictures in the sand around it. I pretended I was an artist working on a painting, but every morning I would have to start all over again because the wind and the waves washed some of it away overnight.

Sometimes I just sat on a sand dune and read my book, getting lost in the world between the pages. The words would float past my eyes as I devoured every sentence and eagerly turned each page to find out what happened next.

Then I would put my book down at the end of each chapter for a rest and just gaze out to sea. The beach curved away for miles to the south until it was lost in a haze of salty sea spray. The other end of the beach ended in a rocky headland that stood tall above the curve of sand. There was a pathway to the top of the headland but I had never been allowed to go up there. Mum always warned me that it was too dangerous and I could fall off the cliff into the sea if I wasn’t careful.

As I looked out to sea, I could see yachts sailing across the bay, gently moving against the waves with their white sails flapping silently in the breeze. There always seemed to be yachts coming or going from somewhere, always just sailing out of my reach.

Seagulls high overhead called out to me, and as I looked up I wondered what it must be like being able to fly so high above the beach and look down on my sisters below as they played in the surf. I could hear the girls screaming every now and then from my spot on the sand hill as they jumped in and out of the waves.

I went back to drawing pictures in the sand, dragging my stick through the golden grains to make swirling clouds that followed the little wave patterns. I was intently drawing a sailing boat in amongst the sand clouds, when a shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.
I looked up and got a fright when I saw a boy standing there.

‘What ya doin’?’ he said.

I was so scared that I didn’t know what I should do. I quickly looked down the beach to see how far away my sisters were, but they were all in the water and a long way off.

‘Nice drawing,’ the boy said, ‘Don’t ya talk?’

I just looked at him with wide eyes, hoping that he would go away and leave me alone. Instead, he squatted down on his heels. ‘I like your boat. You’re pretty good at it, you know.’

I looked down at my sand drawing then looked at the boy again and he grinned at me.

‘My name’s Shawn,’ he said, ‘What’s yours?’

I was still too frightened to answer so I just looked away.

‘Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything,’ he said, and then sat on the sand and hugged his knees. He was wearing blue shorts and had dirty knees and hands. ‘I just want to watch you drawing.’ He grinned again and I could see that he was missing a tooth. It made him look a little lopsided and funny.

I thought if I went back to my drawing he might just go away, so I picked up my stick again and started to add some sails to my boat.

‘Why don’t you draw some fish?’ he said suddenly, and pointed with his chin to where I was drawing.

I still didn’t answer, but I thought for a moment about how to draw a fish. I curved a couple of lines together in the sand until my fish took shape and then added a tail so that he could swim. He looked like a great big fat fish swimming just below my boat.

‘Beaut fish. Do you wanna play with me?’ the boy suddenly said.

I looked at him and shook my head slowly.

He rested his head on his knees and kept looking at me for a few moments, before he stood up. ‘Okay, maybe I’ll see ya tomorrow.’

He walked off into the sand dunes and disappeared behind a banksia tree. I quickly picked up my book and towel and ran down the beach to where the girls had left their bags and waited for them to come out of the water so we could go back to Grandma’s house.

I worried about the boy all night, but when I got back to the beach next morning there was no sign of him. I thought he might have come back and destroyed my castle and drawing, but I was relieved to see that they had only been partly washed away by the tide and wind as usual.

I soon forgot all about him as I went back to rebuilding my sandcastle. As the morning sun climbed higher and the sand got hotter I sat under the shade of my big straw hat and read a bit more of my book. I only had a few chapters to go and wanted to finish it before bedtime so that I could start a new book the next day.

I became so engrossed in my book that I didn’t even hear anybody coming until suddenly a shadow fell across my page. I looked up with a sharp intake of breath as I saw it was the same boy again. I tensed, waiting for him to kick over my sandcastle or say something nasty, when he flopped down on the sand beside me.

‘What are ya reading?’ he asked.

I was so surprised by his question that I didn’t even think and turned my book around to show him the cover.

‘ ‘Gold at Lambing Flat’,’ he read out, ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a story,’ I said softly.

‘Can I read it with you?’

I was surprised again and just nodded. This boy wasn’t at all like I expected boys to be.
I opened the book and he leaned his head toward mine to see the page better. He got so close that his head pushed my hat back and I could feel his wiry hair tickle my forehead.

‘Is that where you’re up to?’ he pointed to the page. I nodded and he began reading. ‘J-James c-c-came to the c-c-cottage door. Mary, where are you he c-called…’ I looked at him as he read and saw a big frown of concentration on his forehead. He kept licking his lips as though the moisture would make the words slide out of his mouth easier. I felt a little sorry for him because he didn’t seem to be very good at reading. ‘… the old man was down in the dry c-c-c-creek bed…’ he paused for ages and stared hard at the page. ‘What’s this word?’ he asked. My eyes followed his finger down the page.

‘Fossicking,’ I said.

He frowned again and his lips moved slowly as if he was trying to get them in the right shape to say the word.

‘Fo-ssick-k-king. I wonder what that means.’

‘I think it means ‘looking for gold’,’ I said, ‘That’s what the book is about.’

‘Oh, cool.’ He looked around and picked up my stick and started scratching in the sand. ‘Do you want to play?’

‘Ummm… I don’t know if I’m allowed.’ My heart was racing and I looked down the beach again to see where the girls were, but just like yesterday they were a long way off.

‘Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ll show you.’ He stood up and held out his dirty hand for me. I hesitated and then reached my hand up and he helped me to my feet. His hand felt all rough and I didn’t like the way it was so dirty.

‘First of all, we’re spies and we have to make sure nobody catches us. You need a codename, so I’m going to call you ‘Blue’,’ he said with his lopsided grin. ‘How old are you, Blue?’

‘I’m ten.’

‘Good, well I’m eleven so that makes me the boss. Quick let’s get behind the bush before anyone sees us.’ Shawn grabbed my hand and dragged me behind a banksia tree before pulling me to the ground. ‘We have to lay low,’ he whispered in my ear, ‘But when I say ‘run’, we have to run to that tree over there, okay?’

I just nodded my head and was wondering why he called me ‘Blue’ when he yelled ‘run’ and took off for the tree. I jumped to my feet and tried to keep up with him but I kept stumbling in the thick sand. I was puffing heavily when I finally joined him at the foot of the tree.

‘Good work, Blue,’ he said, ‘We can rest for a bit now because the enemy don’t know we’re here.’ We spent the next hour running from tree to tree, and each time I would get hot and puffed and my legs were starting to get really tired. We were resting for a moment in the shade of a big green tree when I heard Catherine’s voice calling.

‘Molly… Molly, where are you?’

‘I have to go,’ I said to Shawn, ‘That’s my sister.’

‘Oh, okay,’ he said, ‘Just be careful you don’t tell anyone you are a spy.’ The last I saw was his lopsided grin and then he was bounding away to hide behind another tree.

The next day I looked for Shawn when I got to the beach, but there was no sign of him again. I went back to my usual game of fixing my sand castle and then my drawing and had just sat down to start reading my book when I heard a loud ‘psssst’ from behind me. I turned around and there was Shawn grinning at me from behind a tree. He came and sat down beside me with a thump, and just like the day before we read a page of my book together before he got bored and wanted to play a game.

‘Today we’re soldiers,’ Shawn said. ‘I am the Captain and you are Private Blue.’

‘My name isn’t Blue,’ I said, ‘It’s Molly.’

‘I like Blue,’ he replied, ‘So that’s you’re codename, okay? It’s because you’ve got red hair.’
I was a bit confused about what he meant, but before I could say anything he started laying out his plans.

‘Okay Private Blue, we need to attack the enemy in that castle over there. We have to sneak up on them, and then throw these bombs at their castle.’ He pointed to a little pile of gumnuts and banksia men on the ground.

‘Stay low, and follow me,’ he said. He filled his hands with banksia men and began crawling across the sand on his stomach. It felt a bit silly but I didn’t want to upset him so I did the same thing. As we got closer, he yelled ‘NOW!’ and started hurling the banksia men at the tree. I threw mine but it didn’t go the whole distance. Shawn then grabbed my hand and dragged me behind another tree.

‘Look out, they’re firing back,’ he said, then made some noises like bullets flying through the air. We played like that again all morning until Catherine came looking for me to head home.

‘See ya, Blue,’ said Shawn. ‘You’re a lot of fun to play with, for a girl.’

‘’Bye Shawn,’ I said shyly and then ran down the sand dune to find Catherine.

As the week went on we played soldiers, and space men, and outback explorers, and one day we were even washed up on a deserted island! There were pirate ships, and monsters, and space aliens, and time travel, and giant bugs, and wading through swamps, and spying on the enemy, and we did so much running that I kept getting puffed all the time, but Shawn was always right there beside me. ‘C’mon Blue,’ he would say, ‘You can do it.’

We never had time to just sit and talk, other than spending a few minutes each morning when we would read some of my book together. Because Shawn was such a bad reader, I started reading out loud to him and sometimes we would get through a whole chapter before we went off to play in the sand dunes.

We began to read ‘Storm Boy’, a story about a boy who lived with his father in the sand dunes of South Australia’s Coorong, and it was Shawn’s idea that we collect driftwood and build ourselves a humpy just like the one Storm Boy lived in.

‘I’ll be Storm Boy,’ said Shawn, ‘And you can help me save Mr Percival.’ We wandered all over the sand dunes looking for a lost pelican to save, but the week came to an end before we found him.

I was sad when I had to tell Shawn that I was going to be heading home tomorrow and I didn’t know when I would be back again.

‘No worries, Blue,’ he said. ‘It’s just like when Storm Boy had to go off to school. We can play again next holidays.’

He bent his head down to reach under my hat and quickly placed a little kiss on my cheek before racing away over the sand dunes. I stood there and watched him until he disappeared. I didn’t know if I was sad or happy but I could still feel his rough lips against my cheek.

Imaginary

Turning away
From the cold touch of concrete,
I lift my face to the sun,
Breathing the morning air,
The smell of grass
After spring rain,
Basking in nature’s cycle
Of eternal rebirth;
Time has no meaning.

I am ready to be born again,
To face the absurd reality
On my own terms,
With eyes wide open,
Soft hands ready to touch,
To experience life
Filled with colourful images,
Moving inside my mind;
The feel of a lover’s lips,
The sound of his voice.

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