One afternoon I came home from school to find Stephen laying on his bed and listening to the radio. His hands were behind his head and his eyes were closed. There were clothes carelessly thrown all over the floor.
‘You’re home early,’ I said as I threw my school bag on my bed. Lately he was getting really down in the dumps and I was worried. He didn’t normally throw his clothes all over the floor like that.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me, sadly I thought. ‘I lost my job today, Molly. They just told me they were putting some people off and I was the newest starter so I had to go first.’ I didn’t know what to say so I just gave him a little smile.
‘Well, at least we can play together again, can’t we?’ I said hopefully. He just looked at me for a moment and then turned his head away and closed his eyes again. I didn’t know what else to say so I just sat on my bed quietly and read my book.
After a while he sat up and put his feet on the ground. ‘I’m sorry, Molly,’ he said. ‘Do you want to go and play in the tree house?’
I closed my book and we both went outside to play. The afternoon sun was still hot, but it was nice and shady in the tree house. Stephen helped me climb up first, and I sat on the platform with my legs crossed while he climbed up the ladder.
‘What do you want to do?’ I said.
‘Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you just play and I’ll watch.’ I watched his face but he had closed his eyes again and was leaning back against a branch of the tree.
I started playing with a doll, making her climb up the tree, but every now and then I would look up to see if Stephen was watching. He kept his eyes closed for ages, but then he started talking about going away somewhere, maybe to Western Australia to work in the mines. Mum had recently received a letter from an uncle who worked over there and he said Stephen could easily get a job there if he ever wanted one.
‘But you don’t want to go all that way, do you?’ I didn’t like hearing him talk like this. Usually he was so happy and fun to be around.
‘I might have to if I can’t find any work here.’
I was worried about him going away, but a week or so later he found work picking fruit at a local orchard. He took me with him one weekend, out amongst the green leafy cherry trees and the hot red dirt between each row. Stephen showed me how to pick the cherries by twisting them with my fingers and then putting them in a tin until the farmer came to collect all the full tins.
After a little while my fingers began to hurt so Stephen said I could stop picking. I sat on the ground under the shade of the tree instead and started to read my book. Every now and then I took a cherry out of the tin and popped it into my mouth. They were different to the mulberries I had eaten before. Some of the cherries were a little tart and made me pull a face. In the afternoon I got tired and lay on the ground and watched Stephen climbing on the ladder way up in the cherry tree. It reminded me of when I watched him climbing trees when I was little. I closed my eyes for a little while and all I could see were red cherries dancing before my eyelids.
The cherry picking lasted for a few weeks and then Stephen started working for a builder. He told me he spent the day carting bricks and things around. It seemed like everything would be okay and he would be happier, but then he got put off by the bricklayer because there wasn’t enough work around.
Soon after another letter arrived from Western Australia to say there were some apprenticeships available. I saw the forms spread out on Stephen’s bed and he just stared at them all afternoon. It was a few days later that he came home and filled the forms in.
‘I just can’t stand being out of work any longer, Molly,’ he told me in bed that night. I lay there with tears forming in my eyes because I couldn’t bear the thought of him going away.
He was really excited a couple of weeks later when he got a letter to say he had been accepted. I found out he was to start in a few months time after being cleared by a doctor and some other things. At least that meant he would still be at home for Christmas.
Then I got a letter from Ellen; she told me that she was going to stay in Melbourne with her mother and wasn’t coming back. To top it all off, Dad came home one night and said we were moving again.
I was very sad and confused when I went to bed that night. Everything seemed to be happening at once. I sat on my bed with my legs crossed and started to write a long letter to Ellen to tell her my sad news, but every time I tried to use my pen the page was blurry with tears. I wanted to tell her that I would be her friend forever and would visit her in Melbourne one day.
Stephen came and sat on the end of my bed. ‘Don’t worry, Molly. I won’t be gone that long. Once I’ve got some experience for a few months I’ll be able to come back here and get a proper job.’ He gave me a big hug and I left wet tears all over his shoulder. Eventually I finished the letter and popped it in the mail box.