Chapter three

On the weekend my brother pushes me around the backyard in his billy cart. Stephen is fourteen years old and lets me play with him without getting annoyed like the big girls do. None of his friends from school live near us so he drags me around all day like a teddy bear.

Mum sometimes says he is the dearest little boy anyone could ever want. He loves cars and music and building things, and is content playing on his own or with me. He is very gentle and keeps an eye on me to make sure I come to no harm. That doesn’t stop him from tickling me though, sometimes pinning me to the ground and making me laugh until I cry. Then Mum come outs and yells at him to leave me alone.

“Aw Mum, we’re just having fun” he yells back.

“Just leave Molly alone, she’s only a baby you know.” But I’m not a baby; I want to do all the things the big kids do.

“Hey Molly, let’s climb the mulberry tree”, Stephen says as he slings me over his shoulder and marches down the yard. “See if you can reach the branch” he laughs, putting me down on the ground. “Molly, you’re so small! You sit there and watch me climb.” Then up he goes like a monkey, swinging his legs over and reaching for the higher branches. I sit at the bottom and watch him climbing away up into the sky. It looks like the tree is going to fall over as the clouds move past so fast. I start picking flowers out of the grass; making little bunches of daisies in my lap and getting dirt on my dress.

“Here, catch this Molly” Stephen yells down at me. I scream as something falls from the tree and lands in my hair.

“What is it? Get if off, get if off!” I cry.

“Oh don’t be such a baby. It’s only a cicada shell”. Stephen climbs down and rescues the cicada from my hair and gives me a hug. He smells like leaves and bark. “Have some mulberries instead” he says, trying to make me happy. I am still whimpering, but take one and put it in my mouth, squealing as the purple juice explodes on my tongue. I have some more as juice runs down my chin and drips onto my dress.

Then we are in Africa and Stephen is an elephant. “Climb on my back Molly, let’s go for a ride” he says and lumbers through the jungle down the side of the house. I am the queen of the jungle, swaying from side to side and hanging on tight. There are lots of elephant’s ears and tree ferns and I am a bit worried about spiders, but suddenly we are in a desert and I am riding on a camel, searching for a lost water hole in the sand and finding it at the garden tap.

“Camels can last for weeks without water” Stephen explains, “But you had better have a drink Molly, because people need water all the time”. He turns the tap on as I climb off my camel and we take turns drinking from the hose, splashing water all over our faces and giggling as my dress gets wet and a little bit muddy. We stand in the shade of the mango tree as the afternoon breeze blows cool against my wet legs.

I jump as some bees start flying past, making little whirring sounds through the air. Stephen tells me to stand really still so they won’t bother me. “They’re only on their way to make honey.” As I stand in the one spot, so many bees fly past that I think they must be making a lot of honey.

Later we are on a deserted island, lying on the beach and wriggling our toes in the sand under the shining sun. “You know Molly, when I grow up I want to join the army” Stephen says with his hands behind his head.

“I don’t want you getting shot” I say, scared at the thought of him going away. I sit up and look at his face to see if he is joking.

“I won’t get shot” he says, “I’ll be too good for that. I’ll be a commando and sneak through the jungle so nobody knows I’m there.”

“You could be a bus driver” I say helpfully.

“Nah, who would want to be a bus driver?” he replies scornfully. He already seems grown up to me, but I like things just the way they are when there is still so much unexplored backyard. I like playing with Stephen because he is fun and looks after me.

I watch twists of clouds drift high in the sky and slowly changing shape. A dark cloud floats across the sun and throws a shadow over my face as we fall silent. I close my eyes and can hear Stephen breathing.

After a while I sit up again and ask him about school. “What’s it like at school?” I’m looking forward to going to school next year but it worries me a bit.

“Some of it is fun Molly, but other bits are just boring. I like lunchtime the best because we get to play outside. There are all sorts of games going on; most of the boys play Red Rover or British Bulldog, but you won’t be able to do that because you’re a girl. There’s also this little hill that you can roll down and that’s a lot of fun!”

I sit with my legs cross and watch his face and the way his expressions change as he talks. It was the playground part of school that was really worrying me. I didn’t like the idea of all those rough boys running around. “At least I can play with you at lunch time, can’t I?”

“Oh no Molly,” Stephen laughs, “I’m in high school so we won’t even see each other during the day.”

We fall quiet again and I look down at my knees. They are all bony and dirty as they stick out from under my dress. I break up little bits of twig that are lying around on the ground and try to balance them on my knees. If I keep really still they stay where they are but if I move they fall off and I have to start all over again. Stephen is still lying on his back with his eyes closed and we stay like that until it starts to get dark and then we head inside.

“Where have you two been” says Mum from the kitchen as we walk through the back door. The screen door slams behind us.

“Just playing” Stephen replies as he gets a biscuit out of the tin.

“Oh Molly!” said Mum, “Look at how dirty your dress is! Those mulberry stains will never come out, you naughty girl. Off to the bath with you before dinner.”

I climb into the nice warm water of the bathtub, all soapy with bubbles. Suddenly I am a mermaid, swishing my long tail in the water. “Mum, do mermaids eat fish?” I ask.

“Of course they do” she says as she rubs shampoo into my hair. “They eat fish and crabs and wear shells in their hair.” Yuk, I don’t like fish, but I like the sound of having shells tied in my hair.

“Mum, could I have shells in my hair like a mermaid?”

“Maybe, when you get older Molly” Mum said.

For the rest of the night I dream about being a mermaid and swimming with the fish, but I don’t want to eat any of them. There are lots of pretty shells though, and the ones in my hair sparkle like all the colours of the rainbow.

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