White ribbon

In your dream
the handsome secret agent
falls in love with the Russian spy,
wrapped only in a velvet ribbon,
surrendering your body
to his lover’s kiss;
detente.

In reality,
you should have walked out
the first time he hit you,
instead of sulking,
blaming yourself,
submitting to his violence.

He stole your voice,
leaving you nothing to say,
terrified of his anger,
you were powerless to run,
existing as an object of beauty
purely for his pleasure.

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Elizabeth and Darcy

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At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.

It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.

He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.

‘It’s your turn,’ he said.

I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.

‘It’s okay, Molly,’ said Mr Norris, ‘Just take your time.’

I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.

Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.

Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. ‘Yes, David?’ said Mr Norris.

‘I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.’ He didn’t take his eyes off me the whole time he spoke.

‘Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?’ He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. ‘Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?’

I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? ‘Ummm…,’ I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. ‘Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.’ I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. ‘I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.’ I looked up at David.

‘That is an excellent analysis, Molly,’ said Mr Norris. ‘You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?’

Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. ‘Molly, you were wonderful!’ she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.

‘Thanks, Rose,’ I whispered back.

‘Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.’

I stood and started to pick up some chairs. ‘Here, let me carry that for you,’ said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.

‘Thanks, but I can carry them.’

‘I know you can, but I just wanted to help.’ I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.

I no longer exist

I no longer exist.

Forgotten memories hidden in a dream,
An imprint left on a pillow,
The corner of a sheet turned down,
Steam on the bathroom mirror,
Hairdryer unplugged,
Cotton blouse discarded on the floor,
Empty coffee cup on the sink,
The front door left open,
A hint of perfume in the air,
Undialled telephone number,
Unopened birthday present,
Mail returned to sender,
Blood stains in the bathtub.

This is all I am.

Honey Rider’s view

The warm Jamaican sun
Sparkles on the azure water
As I rise from the surf,
Stunningly beautiful
In a white bikini,
A knife at my hip
To protect myself
From all those men,
Just like the one
Watching me now
From the beach,
With cruel eyes.

All I want to do
Is collect my shells,
But like all men
This one is trying
To tell me what to do,
Watching my body
Rather than my mind,
Wanting to taste me
With his cruel mouth.

I try to resist him
But my lines don’t allow it,
I am suddenly submissive,
Pliant putty in his
Cold blooded hands.
I feel like screaming
When he attacks the guard,
In horror that those
Same violent hands
Had been touching
My tanned body.

So beautiful
But infuriatingly helpless,
I am tied up and left
Waiting for this man
To rescue me.
Luckily I am dressed
In high heels
And a very short skirt
So I am able to run
As fast as my rescuer,
Who happens to be
Fully clothed.
I am so grateful
In the end,
That all I can do
Is kiss him
And offer my body.

So many boys

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When Friday night came, I put on my best skirt and brushed and curled my hair. Mum then dropped me off at the hall where the youth group was held and kissed me goodbye as I hopped out of the car.

‘Have fun, Molly. I will pick you up at eight,’ she called behind me. I waved my hand without turning around as I walked toward the old brick building that stood next to the chapel of the church. When I saw a group of kids sitting around the front steps of the hall I suddenly felt really nervous and started to wish I hadn’t dressed so differently from everyone else. I didn’t know any of them and they just stared at me as I walked toward the group.

‘Hi, I was looking for Debbie Long,’ I said, trying to sound brave and confident but hearing the shaky softness of my own voice and wishing I was stronger.

‘She’s inside.’ One of the kids pointed inside the doorway, so I said ‘thanks’ and walked between them to go inside.

The hall was a rectangle with wooden floorboards and a stage at one end. There was a picture of the queen on one wall and the other wall was covered in posters that some of the kids must have made. There was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting around in a circle and holding hands. Their heads were bowed and one of them was saying a prayer. I stood there awkwardly and waited for them to finish.

Debbie noticed me when she lifted her head and came bounding over to take my hand.

‘Come and meet the gang,’ she said brightly. I followed her nervously, feeling out of place and wishing I had never come. ‘This is Molly everyone, she’s coming to join us. She sings and writes poetry.’ I felt myself blushing from embarrassment. I should have expected something like that from Debbie but I thought she might be gentler for my first time.

‘Molly, I want you to meet everyone. You know Rose, of course, and this is Bruce, and Anne…’

Debbie went around the group and introduced me to everyone. Each one of them stood up and said ‘hello’ until there was only one guy left sitting on the ground. I hadn’t noticed him at first because I was so nervous, but now I saw that he had short sandy hair and looked a little shy. ‘… and this is Andrew. Andrew, this is the Molly I have been telling you about.’

Andrew stood up and I realised he was much taller than I had thought. He made me feel even shorter than usual as he reached out his hand. As our fingers met, I half expected him to kiss my hand like David had done, but instead he shook it gently but firmly. His skin was cool against my hot fingers, and I looked up into the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They were so hypnotic that I found myself staring into them for longer than I should have. Suddenly Andrew smiled and my heart started racing. ‘I’m really pleased to meet you, Molly. Debbie has told me so much about you, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy being part of our group.’ I gave a little smile back, but I was too flustered to say anything. His voice was as gentle and smooth as his hand, and I realised that he wasn’t shy at all, just… I searched for the right word, confident? Controlled? Or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He let go of my hand and I stood there awkwardly, realising everyone had been watching us.

Debbie suddenly put her arm around me. ‘Come and sit, we were just about to do some singing.’

I sat on the floor between Debbie and Rose. The rest of the group spread around us in a circle. Andrew was sitting directly opposite me and he picked up a guitar and started strumming for a few moments. Then he lifted his head and looked straight at me as he sang. All the others joined in after the first verse, but I didn’t know the song so I just sat there with my eyes hypnotised by Andrew’s gaze.

When the song finished, Andrew held the guitar up. ‘Who else knows how to play the guitar?’

‘Molly can,’ Debbie leapt in straight away.

I felt so embarrassed that my face was burning as I tried to explain how I didn’t really know how to play properly, but Andrew stood up and brought the guitar over to me.

‘Whatever you do, it will be beautiful,’ he said.

I sat with my legs crossed and placed the guitar on my lap. I tried to remember how Shawn’s song went and I tentatively strummed a chord. It sounded okay, so I strummed a few more times and tried to find the rhythm. I was too embarrassed to look up, so I kept my head down and looked at the guitar and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Then the words came to me and I opened my mouth to sing, ‘Can you imagine anything…’

My voice sounded hollow and thin in my ears and my fingers stumbled a few times, but I managed to get through the song and then looked up. Everyone in the group was staring at me. Some had their mouths open and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I could feel the tears coming and I was suddenly upset because I hadn’t been sad in ages and now Debbie had embarrassed me in front of all her friends. I was about to put the guitar down and run out of the hall, when Andrew leant over to take it from my hands.

‘That was so beautiful,’ he said kindly. Suddenly everyone started clapping and talking all at once and I couldn’t believe that they had actually enjoyed what they’d heard. I thought they were just being nice, but they made it believable and I started to smile as the tears went away.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

From the opening scene of a New York street in the early morning, I could feel Holly’s sadness and longing as she peers into the window of Tiffany’s jewellers on her way home from a night out. So many times I had been in the same position; high heels in my hands, feet sore from dancing, satin dress wrinkled and makeup smudged, sunglasses on my eyes to block out the morning sun rather than facing the day.

Looking so fabulous in a long black dress and pearls, I was hiding insecurities behind a wildly unstructured lifestyle, flirting with strangers and searching for something untouchable, sometimes bringing the wrong guys to my bedroom. Running from a past where hearts were broken with hasty words. I kept running into myself wherever I went. Running so nobody could own me, I was angry, sensitive, intense and lonely. Until one day it all came crashing down with a room full of feathers and I was crying in the rain with the cat.

Just another day at school

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When I got to my locker I found David was standing in front of it again with his own locker door open. He had the locker next to mine, but he was talking to a friend instead of getting his books out.

‘Hi David, can I please get to my locker,’ I said quietly.

David turned around and grinned at me, then stepped aside.

‘Why if it isn’t mademoiselle,’ he said, ‘What’s the rush, belle petite rousse?’

‘I have to get to class,’ I blushed.

‘So do I. Why don’t you let me walk with you? I can show you the way.’

‘It’s okay, I know where to go.’ I closed my locker door and started walking away down the corridor, but then David appeared right beside me.

‘So what brings you to our fair school?’

‘Oh, ummm… we just moved here.’ I didn’t really know why I lied, but I also didn’t want to tell him I had been at the other high school before in case he knew some of the kids from there.

‘I have to go now,’ I said as I reached the door to my classroom.

David put his arm across the door and blocked my way. ‘I’ll see you later, l’amour de la vie.’  He brushed a stray strand of hair from my face and stepped to one side with a bow. I rushed past and sat in my seat feeling flustered.

‘Where have you been all morning?’ asked Debbie.

‘Oh, gosh, ummm… I went to the library to get some books.’

‘So that’s why your face is all red?’

‘Oh, is it? Ummm… I was just running.’ I opened my textbook and pretended to be looking closely at the words, but I was aware that Debbie was still looking at me curiously when the teacher walked into the room.

‘Okay ladies and gentleman. Algebra…’

I opened my notebook and wrote down a little verse that had popped into my head,

 

‘In that moment between breaths,
No more clouds, but light
Shining brightly, clear beauty.’

 

I looked at my words for a moment then closed my notebook and quickly opened my maths book. Then I noticed Debbie look away. ‘Oh my gosh! Did she see what I had written?’ I went red from embarrassment but tried to concentrate on what my maths teacher was saying.

‘To solve an equation, you must find the common factors and cancel them…’

I needed to pay attention more, because I really had no idea what he meant. Debbie leant towards me and said, ‘Don’t worry, Molly. I can help you later.’

I looked at her and smiled. She really was my best friend.

After class, Debbie followed me outside and pounced on me straight away.

‘What were you really doing before class?’

‘I told you, I was in the library.’

‘So how come I saw you walking with David?’

‘Oh, ummm… he followed me from my locker. I was trying to get rid of him.’

‘That’s not what it looked like to me,’ she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment then added, ‘Say, why don’t you join us on Friday night? Rose and I go to youth group for our church. It’s a lot of fun and hardly religious at all. We play music and do lots of stuff… like reading poetry.’

‘Oh, I’d love to Deb. That sounds like fun.’ I was glad she had changed the subject.

So many days

I wrote this poem for my mother to capture her life

So many days, breathed into moments of memory;
So many threads of cotton held in her fingers,
Sewing a patchwork quilt of life with castoff fabric,
Each panel telling a story woven together with time.

A young girl on a dairy farm, leaning her bike against a fence,
Sundays to rest and play tennis with the family,
Scuffling the dust on ant bed courts,
Afternoons to lay in the grass after milking is done,
To read and dream of the world outside,
Closing her eyes to wake as a young lady,
Losing her chair at a dance to a brash young man,
Later losing her heart and then her name,
Before smiling at a baby son’s tears through the pain.
Then finding herself on the road,
A lifetime of traveller’s itch that was often scratched,
Never vanquished, and still she is moving on.

Gloucester brought a little girl into her world
Of tents and railway life, following the rails
North again, as her family grew by one,
All the while sewing and patching, dreaming
Of two more daughters amongst sandstone cliffs
And blue gums, struggling sometimes against the cold,
Sometimes against the dark haze of bushfire smoke,
Until, one snowy winter night, she held another son,
Tiny and fragile, delicate like the flakes of snow outside,
Drifting toward green pastures, where another daughter
Completed one side of the quilt, keeping her family warm.

Then one by one, she begins sewing wedding dresses,
As each precious dove takes wing, leaving behind the shadow
Of sadness that descended from the west, a shadow of red iron dust
That seeped into the cracks and left stains in the quilt;
She could never remove them, stroking gently in quiet moments
When her eyes were dimmed with tears.

A brighter sun shone on her tracks, as she followed her guide
From place to place, exploring, moving, shifting, stopping briefly
To settle from time to time, before the wind blew her someplace else,
Until her family gathered around the edges of her quilt,
Huddled in the warmth of love, to listen once more to her lullaby.

Falling in love with Jane Austen

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The next lesson was English and I found myself sitting next to Rose this time because Debbie was in a different class. I had found it hard to get to know Rose, and I wasn’t even sure if she liked me or not because we never talked that much. I kept worrying about it. I wondered if maybe Rose was really shy like me and was just overshadowed by Debbie. I decided to make more of an effort to get Rose to like me, but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Maybe if I tried to be more like Debbie then that would work.

‘Isn’t it great being back at school?’ I said, trying to sound bright, just like Debbie.

‘It’s okay, I guess.’

‘Well I’m excited.’ Rose looked at me funny and was about to say something when the teacher walked into the classroom.

‘Good morning class. I’m sorry that I’m late. For those that don’t know me, my name is Mr Norris.’

I groaned. Why did he have to follow me here when I was trying to start all over again?

‘I think I see some familiar faces, so hello to you, and welcome everyone to Year 11 English.’

I looked around the room and all the kids were sitting up straight and paying attention to him. It was completely different from my old high school.

‘We have a full program of study this year, but there will be three main strands. First of all, we will be studying the novels of Jane Austen.’

I sat up and suddenly started paying attention. Once again Mr Norris seemed to know exactly what I was interested in.

‘There will be a major essay and a creative piece due at the end of Term One. Then we will take what we have learned from Jane Austen into the world of debate. Ultimately, I will be selecting a team to take on our colleagues at that other high school across town.’

He paused and looked around the class, and then his eyes fell on me. I quickly looked down at my desk because I knew there was no way I was ever going to get involved in a debating team, particularly if it meant coming up against those kids from my old school when I had only just escaped from them.

‘For the rest of the year after that,’ Mr Norris continued, ‘We will be studying King Lear and then putting on a performance for the Christmas concert.’

He stood and looked at the class with his black beady eyes, but I thought they looked kinder and more eager than I remembered them.

After school, I walked out to the front gate with Debbie and we talked about our first day at school. I told her how excited I was that we were studying Jane Austen, but she was more interested in having been able to catch up with all her friends.

I met Mum at the school gate. ‘How was your first day of school?’ she asked.

‘Fantastic!’ I replied, and jumped in the car.

All the way home I told her about what we were doing in English for the year, but I didn’t tell her about that boy near my locker.

When I got home that night I finished reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My head was so full of Elizabeth and Darcy that I rushed to the library as soon as I got to school the next morning and borrowed a different Jane Austen novel. I was so eager to start reading that I sat at a table in the library and read the first chapter rather than meeting my new friends outside. I loved the way the words were so soft and gentle, and while I enjoyed the romance, I sensed there was some other message in there that I needed to figure out.

The copy of the book I borrowed from the library had illustrations in it and I fell in love immediately with the elegant dresses the characters wore. I thought if I tied a ribbon around the middle of my long white Juliet dress then it would look just like the real thing from a Jane Austen novel. I decided that I would try that with my dress on the weekend and I would have a go at doing my hair in that style as well. I studied the pictures closely and tried to work out how they got their hair tied up on top of the head like that. I could do that with a couple of ribbons as well, and with my naturally curly hair it should be easy to leave a couple of curls dangling down either side of my face. Mum should be able to help because she had lots of ribbons in her sewing room. I just needed to remember to ask her when I got home.

The bell rang and I quickly packed the book in my bag and hurried out of the library. I had five minutes to get some things from my locker before I had to get to my next class so I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

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