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.