Molly #21

It finally stopped raining after a few weeks and eventually everything dried out. There was a loud cheer in the classroom one day when Mrs Mills announced that we would be going on an excursion to a rainforest. She frowned at the noise and then said we wouldn’t be going anywhere if we couldn’t control ourselves better than that. When the boys at the back of the room eventually settled down, she told us about how we would be visiting a very special place that was one of the last patches of big scrub rainforest that used to cover most of the coast before it was cleared for timber and farms. At recess, Stephanie and I were excited to think we were really going to be explorers.

I could hardly sleep for the next week until the day of the excursion arrived. Mum packed sandwiches for my lunch in a bag and she made me wear sturdy shoes and long pants, even though I thought it would be too hot in the rainforest. She drove me to school and kissed me goodbye before I hopped out of the car and joined all the other children waiting on the footpath for the bus. It was running late and Mrs Mills was trying to keep everyone quiet and sensible, but there was just too much excitement about the trip. Eventually the bus came around the corner with a cloud of greasy smoke and some of the children cheered. Mrs Mills frowned at them and told us to line up and be quiet.

Stephanie and I sat together on the bus and watched the world passing by outside the window. It felt like we were making the first steps on our journey of being carefree explorers of the world. That was until I started to feel car sick. I closed my eyes and rested my head on Stephanie’s shoulder as we drove along, trying to ignore the way my stomach churned as though it had been dropped into a washing machine. This wasn’t how explorers were meant to feel.

Soon I was in a magical place with a dense leafy canopy, unusual birds and the sound of rushing water that made me feel peaceful. There was nobody else around and I wondered where Stephanie and the other children were. I started to feel a little afraid when I realised I was all on my own, but explorers should be determined to be brave so I started to look around my surroundings. The dense atmosphere of the rainforest was closing around me and the path was wet and slippery. I knew I was lost, but I had to keep moving through the seclusion and smell of decay, carving my way through the scrub and searching for a hidden kingdom. When I got tired, I sat down on a log and started to feel hungry. I thought about the little snack Mum had packed in my school bag and closed my eyes to rest. I could feel the log swaying and I started to feel car sick again.

Suddenly I opened my eyes and Stephanie was right there beside me, resting her head against mine and the school bus was pulling into a car park. I grabbed my bag as we all piled out of the bus and lined up like little soldiers while Mrs Mills read the roll. I could already hear the wind whispering high up in the trees and an occasional cracking noise like something was moving through the bushes. It was just like in my dream.

“Sounds like there are monsters in there,” said Darren. I didn’t like the sound of that but I couldn’t think of any other explanation for the noises in the bushes.

“Don’t be so ridiculous,” said Stephanie. “You’re the only monster here.” Some of the other boys laughed and Darren pulled an ugly face.

“Well you better watch out for snakes then,” he said. “They like to eat girls, particularly cry babies like Molly. They sneak up when you’re not looking and take you in one big bite.” He made a biting action with his hands right in front of my face and nearly knocked me over, but Mrs Mills came over and saved the day.

“That is enough of that,” she said sternly. “Okay everybody, take your buddy’s hand, we are going for a walk on the nature trail first. Make sure you walk carefully and don’t get lost.”

I grabbed hold of Stephanie’s hand and we followed Mrs Mills down the path, surrounded by towering trees that went so high I couldn’t see the tops. Ferns hung over the path and I had to brush them aside as I walked along. I was looking carefully for snakes because, although I didn’t really believe Darren, I wasn’t taking any chances.

As the morning went on we looked at all sorts of strange plants and Mrs Mills explained to us how they all lived together in the rainforest and some plants protected other plants from the heat and how the plants were home to lots of little animals. She told us how the early settlers were timber getters that chopped the trees down with axes.

Suddenly we came to a clearing that opened onto a river. There was an old wooden wharf and Mrs Mills told us this was where the timber getters had once loaded logs onto boats and sent them down the river. She said we could rest here on the grass and eat lunch before heading back toward the bus.

High in the trees I could see dried grass and broken branches and the trunks were covered in mud. Mrs Mills said it was from the floods recently and I was amazed at how high the water had been and what it must have been like here when the water was rushing past. Now it was nice and peaceful by the side of the river and I could hear the water burbling along. I was glad to sit down and rest my legs and I thought how nice it would be to paddle my hot feet in the cool river.

As I ate my lunch I kept trying to imagine what the countryside must have looked like all those years ago before the bush was cleared away by the timber getters. I started thinking about the people that had lived here before the timber getters and what had happened to them.  I turned to Stephanie after finishing my sandwich. “Steph, what do you think happened to the people that were here before the timber getters? You know, the Aboriginals.”

“I don’t know.” Stephanie looked at me over the lid of her drink bottle. “Why don’t you ask Mrs Mills?”

“Oh, it’s okay,” I said, not wanting to attract any attention to myself.

“All right, I’ll do it.” She turned around to face our teacher. “Excuse me, Mrs Mills, Molly and I were wondering what happened to the Aboriginal people that were here before?”

“Well that is a very good question, Stephanie. I’m glad you asked. You see, once upon a time there were a lot of people living along the coast. They moved around for food depending on the season and they had many sacred grounds. A lot of it was destroyed by the timber cutters and the Aboriginal people were hunted away. Around this area they were known as the ‘Bundjalung’ and a lot of them were killed by the white settlers in the early days. Any way children, it is time we started heading back to the bus.” Mrs Mills stood up and told the class to pick up any rubbish from the ground and line up with our buddies.

I sat looking sadly at the water and thinking about what Mrs Mills had said. I wanted to know more; I wished I could say I was sorry to all those vanished people. I wanted to understand what it had been like for them.

“Come on, Molly.” Mrs Mills called. “It’s time to go.”

We walked back along the same path past all the tree ferns and strange plants, until suddenly there was a lot of yelling from behind me. One of the boys had brushed against a stinging fern and was screaming from the prickles in his leg. Mrs Mills took him by the hand and we were all marched back to the bus as quick as we could. I was glad that Mum had made me wear long pants after all.

When I climbed back on the bus I saw Darren’s leg all covered in red spots and Mrs Mills was putting ointment on it. There were some tissues covered in blood on the seat beside him and I could see tears on his cheeks and he was sobbing. His face looked sad as he sat on the bus seat and all of a sudden I could feel tears building in my own eyes. As I walked past his seat I stopped and offered him a lolly from my bag of snacks to make him feel better.


Molly #18

It started raining again that afternoon and I could hear it pouring on our tin roof all night long. I lay in bed listening to the rain and wondering if it was ever going to stop. It gurgled down the drain outside my bedroom window and was so noisy that I couldn’t sleep, so I hopped out of bed and went into Mum’s room.

“Mum,” I whispered. “Mum, are you awake?”

“What is it Molly?” Mum said in her sleep.

“I can’t sleep. I’m worried about the rain.”

“Oh honey, there’s nothing to worry about. Hop back in bed sweetie and think about something nice.” I stood there for a while but she had gone back to sleep, so I went back to bed and lay there with my eyes open in the darkness. I couldn’t think of anything nice, all I could hear was the rain.

Eventually I did fall asleep and when I woke up in the morning there was water everywhere. The sky was damp and grey and the farm over the road looked like a lake with trees poking up out of the water.

I thought Mum might let me stay home from school for the day because it was so wet, but instead she dressed me in a yellow raincoat and gumboots and we walked to school with the rain dripping off my hat. The rain wasn’t so scary in the daylight after all and I began to enjoy walking along the footpath where everything was soaked and little streams flowed down the gutter. The grass looked drowned and sad and I could feel the soft cold mud squelching under my boots as we walked along. Mum wouldn’t let me jump in any puddles but every now and then I was able to make an extra splash as I went along that sent water spraying everywhere.

“Careful, Molly,” Mum said, “You don’t want to get your school dress wet or you’ll catch a cold.”

Once we reached the school, Mum wiped my face dry with her handkerchief and gave me a kiss goodbye on the cheek. I dropped my school port on the verandah outside my classroom but there was nobody there as all of the kids from my class were down at the back of the playground watching the river boiling and churning with murky brown water where normally it just bubbled along quietly. I ran down to join them and was amazed that I couldn’t even see the footbridge downstream any more as it was completely covered by water. I stood there staring at the water rushing past and wondered how many rain drops it took to make the river run so fast.

Some of the boys were yelling and throwing things in the river and I wondered if they would be turned into donkeys when Mrs Mills caught them. A log came down stream, swirling around in the fast flowing water. “There goes a boat!” somebody yelled out. I wouldn’t like to be on a boat in all that muddy water. “Let’s sink it!” The boys started throwing rocks and sticks at the log to see who could hit it first, but none of them got anywhere near it.

I wondered what the fish in the river thought about all those rocks falling on them. I could picture them looking up at all the wet children standing against the fence on the school playground. Was it fun for them to jump out of the way of falling rocks or were they scared? Or maybe they had all been washed away in the flood and weren’t watching us at all.

I heard one of the boys say that if it kept raining the river would wash the school away. That didn’t seem possible to me, as the school was so high above the river. But I started to get worried about it because the river was already high from the rain over night, so maybe it didn’t have that far to go after all.

All morning in class I worried about whether the river was going to wash us away and every time someone came in or out of the classroom I looked through the doorway to check if the river was coming yet. I tried to think of which would be the best way to run. I thought of asking Mrs Mills what she thought but she was sitting at her desk frowning so I didn’t say anything.

As the morning went on, I sat in class and watched fat rain drops running down the grey windows. I pretended they were racing each other to the bottom of the window pane and I kept my eyes fixed on one drop at a time until it won the race. Sometimes the rain drops would stop, as though they had run out of breath, until another drop bumped into it and then they would both race all the way to the edge of the window pane.

It was still raining at lunchtime but to my relief the river was no higher than it had been in the morning. It was so wet that we weren’t allowed in the playground and had to sit on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. It was very noisy with all the children talking together and the boys kept running up and down on the wooden floorboards. One of the boys pulled out a ball and started throwing it around until Mrs Mills came out and told them to sit still and behave.

Molly #16

When swimming lessons finished I started playing soccer on Saturday mornings instead. Catherine and Samantha walked with me to soccer while Mum did the grocery shopping. They talked about boys and things along the way so I skipped ahead, enjoying the late winter sunshine.

Soccer was played on a huge area at the edge of town, with lots of fields covered in colourful groups of children chasing balls around. Parents stood along the sidelines talking to each other and yelling at the children, with their words punctuated by whistle blows. I loved being able to run around in shorts and a tee shirt, sometimes getting really muddy without anyone getting cross with me. I played on the wing and ran up and down as fast as I could. Every now and then the ball came my way and I tried to kick it really hard.

My game was usually one of the first to be played in the morning and when we got to the soccer fields I left Catherine and Samantha behind and ran across the grass to find Stephanie and the other children in my team. They were easy to find because I just had to look for the colours. My team wore white shorts and a maroon shirt. We were called ‘Hotspurs’ and I thought that made us sound fast. I didn’t really like the colour of the shirt because I felt like it drew attention to my red hair, but I usually forgot about that after a while once I started running around.

Before the game the coach gathered us around and told everyone what position they would be playing. I didn’t usually bother to listen though, because Stephanie and I always had to play on the wing anyway. I wished we could play next to each other.

“… so if we get the ball from the kickoff…” Mr Brennan was Darren’s father and he had the boys gathered around him and was drawing lines in the dirt. They were all looking intently at the ground while Stephanie and I stood to one side and talked to each other. We were the only girls in our soccer team, but some of the other teams had lots of girls. Sometimes I wished I was playing in a team that had more girls in it, but I was glad that Stephanie was on the same team as me.

“… and then we spread it wide and draw the fullback…” I don’t know why they even talked tactics because Darren hogged the ball every game we played anyway.

“Okay guys. Let’s go for a warm up run around the field.” The boys took off, running as fast as they could. Stephanie and I jogged along slowly behind them, taking our time so we could still talk. Every now and then Stephanie did a cartwheel as we went along. I tried too but I didn’t seem to be able to get my legs go over properly and then Stephanie laughed at me.

“Molly, you just need to try and keep your legs straight. Don’t bend at the knees, you put one hand down and over you go.” She did another cartwheel to show me how it was done. She was really good at it but she did do gymnastics after school. I had another go and Stephanie tried to help by grabbing my legs as they went up. We both ended up in a heap on the ground giggling.

“Come on girls!” Mr Brennan yelled across the field. “It’s nearly time to start the game.” We got up and ran across the soccer field to take up our positions. I played on the left side, which I really liked because I’m left handed.

The whistle blew and Darren kicked off. “Here Darren,” Stephanie called out, but of course he didn’t pass the ball to her and just ran down field with it.

“Kick it wide, Molly is clear!” Mr Brennan yelled out from the sideline. But Darren didn’t kick it wide. Instead, he tried to beat the fullback himself and then lost the ball. Suddenly I was running as fast as I could all the way to other end of the field to try and catch up with the ball but the other team had already kicked a goal before I could even get to halfway.

I walked back to my position and waited for the referees whistle to restart play. The game went on like that for the first half and I spent all my time running up and down the sideline. In the end we were down two goals when we came off to have some oranges. We got five minutes break and Mr Brennan was yelling at us the whole time.

“… we need to mark our players guys. Look for the opening and go for it…”

I didn’t pay any attention again because I figured he was really just yelling at Darren. I liked it when the oranges were sweet and delicious, but I didn’t like the sour oranges we got sometimes. They made me pull a funny face when I tried to eat them.

I ran back on the field for the second half with some orange stuck in my teeth. I was trying to pick it out with my tongue and I didn’t hear the referee blow the whistle to start play. Suddenly the ball was flying towards me and it nearly hit me in the head.

As I played I could hear the voices of my sisters talking on the sideline. I knew the girls didn’t think I was very good, because I could hear them laughing at me. Samantha’s voice was saying something about how funny and cute I looked as I ran around. But I wanted to show her how good I really was and maybe score a goal one day.

I got my big chance late in the second half when the ball came my way right in front of the goal. I lined up my kick and got ready for my moment of glory and could already picture the ball sailing past the goalie and into the back of the goal.

“Come on Molly, you can do it. Go Molly. Kick it!” I heard voices yell out as I drew my foot back, with my eyes on the ball just like the coach always said. Nobody would laugh at me ever again. The soccer ball was covered in black and white shapes, turning slowly as it rolled towards me; I knew exactly which black shape I was going to kick, but suddenly I felt a push from behind and landed right on my knee as a boy from the other team ran past and kicked the ball away. I sat on the ground holding my leg and started crying when I saw the blood on my knee. All I wanted to do was run away and hide.

Molly #15

I started learning how to swim soon after school began and on Saturday mornings I had to walk all the way down to the swimming pool with Mum and my sisters. I wore new pink swimmers to the pool and a big floppy hat to keep the sun off my face.

On the way to the pool I had to walk past the old cemetery. Even on the warmest day the old gates look cold and gloomy and long grass grew around the graves. Stephen once said that ghosts wandered around in there and I walked a little faster and kept my eyes on the footpath rather than looking up at the grey and lonely headstones. Mum and the girls didn’t seem to be bothered though and I tried to walk in the middle of them where it was safe until we got to the end of the block.

Then we walked across the railway line and left the cemetery far behind and my legs suddenly got tired from walking so fast that I started to lag behind. Every now and then I had to run to catch up again because they wouldn’t wait for me.

Eventually we reached the pool and the girls ran off to join their friends as soon as Mum paid and we walked through the gates. There was a little bit of time before my swimming lesson so Mum let me play in the baby pool for a while. I liked being in the water but it was always freezing cold at swimming lessons and I couldn’t stop myself from shivering and my lips sometimes turned blue. Mum put yellow floaties on my arms to stop me from sinking and she had to blow them up until they were big and puffy and squeezed my arms so tight that I could feel my fingers tingling.

Jumping in the baby pool was fun because I could touch the bottom and make lots of splashes. I liked the feeling of the water on my body, how it moved against my skin and I could feel myself pushing through it like swimming through honey.

One of the first things I learned to do in my swimming lessons was to float on my back until I was able to just bob up and down with my arms spread like a starfish. Then I learned to move my hands and feet and push myself across the pool. It wasn’t so easy when I was on my front because I couldn’t breathe and the water filled up my goggles and stung my eyes. I took a few arm strokes and then rolled over to take a big breath while facing the sky.

After a while, Lisa, the swimming teacher, took the class to swim at the deep end. Everyone lined up on the edge of the pool and one by one we had to jump in and paddle across to the teacher. I was at the end of the line and I started to get more and more nervous as it came closer to my turn.

“Come on Molly, you can do it,” Lisa called out from the middle of the pool. All the other children had already swum out to her and back to the edge and there were some faces watching me from the water. But the bottom of the pool looked so far down and it was such a deep blue and the teacher was swimming so far away from where I was standing. My toes edged forward slowly, feeling how slippery the tiles were. I could feel tears building up in my eyes as Lisa called out again more sternly. “Molly, if you don’t get in then I will have to climb out there and throw you in!”

I started to back away from the slippery edge of the pool, when suddenly there was somebody behind me and I was being pushed towards the water. I started to scream and fell to the ground in a panic. Everything seemed to be a whirl of colours and noise and when I looked up all I could see was the grinning face of that boy, Darren, from school laughing at me. “Molly’s a scaredy cat, Molly’s a scaredy cat,” he taunted.

Just then I heard Stephanie’s voice. “Leave her alone, Darren.” In a flash of blue bikini my best friend raced across the grass to confront my tormentor.

“Darren, go and sit down over there.” My swimming teacher climbed out of the pool and pointed to a bench near the canteen. She didn’t look very happy at all. “Leave the girls alone,” she said sternly. I was sitting on the ground crying when I felt Stephanie’s hand on my shoulder. Lisa walked over and took my hand. “Come on girls; let’s go back down the shallow end. Perhaps we will try the deep end again next week.”

I didn’t want to get back in the pool, but Stephanie was watching me so I tried to be brave and finish the swimming lesson. The water felt really cold then and I shivered the whole time until my teeth started chattering.

Eventually I was allowed to climb out and Stephanie and I lay on our towels to dry in the warm sunshine. I could hear the sound of splashing and laughter but there was no way I was getting back in the water. With my face pressed against the towel, I watched a line of ants marching across the concrete toward the grass as Stephanie talked brightly to try and cheer me up.

On the way home from the pool Mum bought me a bag of mixed lollies full of freckles, custard whirls, redskins, and jelly babies. The sun was high in the sky and I shared my lollies with Stephanie as we walked along. I soon started smiling and chatting again as we skipped across the cracks in the footpath and tried to catch up with Mum and the girls before we got near the cemetery.

Molly #11

After lunch we were allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher read us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who wanted to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs Mills let us lay down as she read about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes felt heavy so I closed them for a minute while her voice droned on.

It was nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I could hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice could be heard from far away, but I was so snug that I ignored it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — “Molly,”— but that couldn’t be right when I was away out here in the desert. It got louder: “Molly! Molly, wake up.” Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder and I sat up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys were giggling behind me and I could feel my cheeks getting hot. I wished I was back in my burrow.

After reading time, Mrs Mills took the class outside for a photo. The boys were pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs Mills yelled at them to stop it. She lined us all up in rows, with some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stood with Stephanie but I could feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I tried to ignore him and stood really still because I didn’t want Mrs Mills to yell at me, but I didn’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.

Eventually school finished for the day and I ran to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. “’Bye Stephanie,” I called, waving my hand.

“See you tomorrow, Molly,” she yelled back.

‘Looks like you found a friend,” said Mum. “How was your first day of school?”

“It was horrible,” I pouted. “Some boys were mean to me”.

“Oh Molly, that’s not very nice. I’ll talk to Mrs Mills; I’m sure tomorrow will be better. The second day always is.”

“Do I have to come back?” I whined. I couldn’t see how it would ever be better.

“Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now”. I didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could.

Thursday fragments 14

I told Mum the bruise on my face was from a soccer ball. Later I found out the nurse had rung her that day and told her all about it, but I never told Mum about the fight or the teasing, or how much my chest still hurt from that punch.

It was still sore when I went for a ride on my bike the following weekend, particularly when I was breathing hard as I rode up the hills. But I tried to ignore it and just kept on riding.

I loved being on my bike on the open road, where I was free from the taunting faces of those girls at school or the expectations to be good at anything. All I had to worry about was my breathing and the rhythmical way my legs turned the pedals over as the road rolled past underneath me.

I had a favourite ride that I liked to do on Saturday mornings. I got out of bed before anyone else was awake and set off in the cool morning air while there was no traffic around.

Leaving the yard, I turned right as I came out of the shadow of the trees at the end of the laneway and followed the road up to the railway crossing. There was a small hump where the railway line crossed the road and I walked my bike across the tracks so that my tyres didn’t slip on the rails. Just after the railway line was the stable where the school bus stopped, but of course there were no kids outside the stable because it was Saturday.

I could hear galloping hooves in the paddock behind the building and as I rounded the corner there were men training horses to run faster and faster. As I rode past, they snorted with the effort and steam came out of their nostrils. For a few moments I pedalled hard as though I was a racehorse, but that made me breathe hard and it hurt my sore chest so I backed off a little bit.

Then I started the long climb up the hill that took me amongst apple and cherry orchards. The spring blossoms on the trees made me feel like I was riding through a fairyland and I slowed down so that I could enjoy the pretty blossoms and breathe in their sensual perfume. The roadside sheds on the orchards were all closed but I knew during fruit picking season they would be bustling with men and tractors.

At the top of the hill, the road turned and I was able to look back across the wide valley below. Most of the houses were still in shadow but I could see the sun’s fingers slowly creeping across the landscape. I could also see my house clearly as it stood on its own amongst the apple trees with its white walls reflecting the sun. From the top of the hill it looked like a tiny doll’s house. There was a wisp of smoke rising from the chimney and I guessed that Mum was probably up and cooking breakfast.

Thinking of Mum made me feel sad again. I wished I could tell her what school was really like, and how much I missed Stephen and how lost I felt. But I could never find the words and I always got teary whenever I tried to talk to her about it. Besides, I didn’t want her to know that I was a failure and make her ashamed of me.

I turned away from my house and rode over the crest of the hill. There was a long descent into the valley at the foot of Mount Canobolas in front of me. The mountain sat watching over the surrounding countryside. Beside it was the smaller peak of the Pinnacle and it was down the slope of that little mountain that I found myself speeding.

I kept my hands hard on the brakes most of the time because it scared me if I went too fast, but I really loved the way the wind whooshed through my long hair and flicked it around my face.

As I reached the bottom, there was a slight uphill run to an intersection and I pedalled as fast as I could so that my momentum would take me up the rise. I didn’t want to lose any speed so I gave a quick glance to my left to make sure there was no traffic then sped out onto the road that followed the creek along the valley floor.

The road was more undulating now, with lots of little ups and downs and I was back amongst apple and cherry orchards. There was a farmer sitting on his tractor at a gate and he raised his hand as I sped past. I took one hand off the handlebar for a moment and waved back then quickly grabbed hold again.

There was only one more climb and then the descent back into town. I could see the water tower at the top of the hill and I kept my eyes on it as I counted my pedal strokes and worked my way up the slope. The water tower disappeared behind some trees for a moment, but as I came around the bend it was there again, all tall and concrete against the surrounding cherry blossoms.

The road descending into town was steep but it was short and straight so I just stopped pedalling and let my bike pick up speed as I freewheeled down the hill. My eyes started to sting from the wind and my legs were tired but I felt good. I had even forgotten about how much my chest hurt.

When I got back home I wheeled my bike into the shed and went straight into my bedroom by the side door so that I didn’t have to speak to anyone. I put my helmet on the chair and then noticed there was a present sitting in the middle of my bed. Puzzled, I sat on the bed with my legs crossed and started to unwrap it. The present was wrapped in pretty pink paper that sparkled when I moved it. I carefully slit the sticky tape with my fingernail so that I didn’t rip the paper while unwrapping.

Inside the present were three books and some pens. I picked up the first book and read the cover – ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ I opened it up with a little frown on my forehead and read a few sentences inside. The language seemed mysterious and different from anything I had ever read before and I felt a thrill of excitement about exploring this new book. I put it down and picked up the second book.

It was handmade and the cover was quilted fabric. The words ‘For Molly, with love from Mum’ were hand stitched into the fabric. I turned the cover and there inside were all the pages of my writing journal. Mum had ironed them flat and sewn them together. I felt moisture spring into my eyes as I looked at those pages with all of my precious words written on them.

The third book was a new writing journal and I stroked my fingers over its smooth blank pages. I sat there looking thoughtfully at it for a few minutes, then picked up a purple pen and started writing on the first page.

Thursday fragments 12

The school bell rang and I checked my timetable to see what room I was meant to be in. My heart sank when I saw that it was a double period of health and exercise. I groaned and walked reluctantly toward the change room at the back of the gymnasium. I hated changing my clothes in the open with all the other girls watching me, so I hurried into a toilet cubicle and got changed in there.

I sat on the toilet lid listening to the girls in my class talking, and I waited until I could hear them walking out to the oval. I opened the door and poked my head out to make sure nobody was there, then hurried outside before I got into trouble for being late.

As I ran out into the sunshine, I was conscious of how bright my skinny white legs looked as they poked out of my shorts like matchsticks. All the other girls in my class seemed to have such perfect smooth skin. Mine was just covered in freckles and I always tried to hide it by wearing long sleeved shirts and pants.

Mr Norris was just marking the roll and luckily my surname was right down the bottom.

‘… Sarah Walker?’ he called.

‘Here, sir.’

‘White, Molly White, is she here?’

‘I’m here, sir,’ I called out as I ran to join the group of girls.

Mr Norris turned and looked at me for a moment with his beady black eyes, before looking down at his list and making a mark.

‘Okay, that’s the lot,’ he said. ‘Right, ladies, today we are playing soccer. Alison and Virginia, you two are the captains and you can pick your teams.’

I should have known those two would be the captains. They were always the teacher’s pets, no matter which class it was. Alison had long brown hair and a cute little upturned nose. She was one of the girls that had perfect skin, and she already had a boyfriend as well. Virginia was a stuck up rich girl with thick brown hair. She would have been really pretty if she didn’t always have a sneer on her lips. She had a boyfriend too.

One by one the two captains called out players to join their teams. I hated this part, and I started to get more and more embarrassed as the group of unpicked players where I was standing got smaller and smaller. Soon I would be the only left and that meant everybody would be looking at me.

‘I’ll have Jane,’ said Virginia. ‘You can have the fr…,’she paused and looked at Mr Norris.  ‘You can have the other one,’ she said, pointing at me.

Mr Norris blew his whistle and all the girls ran into their positions on the field. I ran over to the wing because that was where I had played when I was little.

All of a sudden play was under way and the ball came sailing my way. I froze and it bounced right past me and went over the sideline.

‘Oh, you idiot. What were you doing?’ Alison yelled.

Play continued and I tried to run around and look inconspicuous, until the ball came my way again. I started moving towards it this time when Virginia came running past.

‘Out of my way, freak,’ she sneered as she bumped me with her shoulder. She got to the ball first and kicked it down field.

I managed to keep away from the ball after that, but just before the end of the game the ball came my way again and there was nobody else near me. I stopped it with my foot, and then kicked it a little way in front of me and started running. It was just like in the dreams I’d had when I was a little kid and I thought I was going to score a goal this time. There was nobody between me and the goal post except for the goalie and as I drew my foot back to kick the ball Virginia came sliding in with her legs and knocked us both to the ground.

Mr Norris blew the whistle and gave me a penalty kick, but Virginia laughed as she got up and stood with her hands on her hips glaring at me. ‘Hey, let’s watch the little freak kick the ball,’ she said loudly.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but Mr Norris told me to put the ball on the ground and then kick it toward the goal as hard as I could.

I wished I could just disappear because everybody was watching me, but I did what he said and put the ball down. I moved back a couple of metres and then ran forward and tried to kick it with my left foot with all my might, but it hurt my foot and the ball just rolled to a stop as the goalie came forward to pick it up.

Mr Norris blew the whistle again and the game was over and we had to go back into the change rooms. I followed everyone back inside and disappeared again into the toilet cubicle to change my clothes.

When I thought the coast was clear, I opened the cubicle door and stepped out into the empty change room—except it wasn’t empty.

Virginia and Alison and a few of their friends were standing there waiting for me.

‘So the little freak has finally come out,’ said Alison.

I started to walk toward the door but Virginia moved across to block my way.

‘We don’t like freaks around here,’ she said. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my hair and pulled me back. I turned to face her when suddenly something hit me really hard in the face. My eyes went all blurry and I felt dazed as tears started running down my cheeks.

‘Oh, look it’s a cry baby.’

‘She’s crying freckles,’ someone else yelled.

‘Give it to her, Ginny,’ said another voice.

I felt a hand punch me in the middle of my chest and then I tripped over and fell to the ground. I looked up to see that I was surrounded by faces all staring at me and yelling things but I could no longer hear them. My head was spinning and everything had gone silent, then I blacked out.

I woke up later to find myself in a white room. Through the door I could see the headmaster’s office and I realised I must be in the nurse’s room.

‘Oh, you’re awake dear?’ said the school nurse. ‘I’m told you had a nasty fall at soccer during health. Some of the girls brought you in here. You are lucky to have such good friends.’

I reached up and felt my face where it was tender. I also had trouble breathing because my chest hurt so much.

‘I was just about to call your mother so she can come and get you,’ the nurse said.

‘Oh, please… don’t do that. I’m okay. I can ride home.’ She looked at me doubtfully but eventually let me go.

I had to ride my bike home really slowly because of my chest, but as soon as I got home I raced inside and locked myself in my bedroom before Mum could see the bruise on my face. I didn’t know how to explain it to her.

I saw my writing journal sitting at the end of my bed and I picked it up and started angrily ripping all of the pages out of it. I kept going until every single page was screwed up and thrown on the floor, then I threw myself face down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.

Thursday fragments 9

Extract from Molly’s Dreams available now from Amazon

It was a few weeks after my sixteenth birthday and the winter sun was smiling on my face as I carefully parked my bike in the racks at the back of the school playground. I wasn’t late for a change and had been feeling better about myself since my birthday. After thinking everyone had forgotten about me, it was nice that they were all home to give me a surprise and for the first time in ages I felt like I belonged there.

I almost smiled to myself as I closed the lock on my chain. I loved this late July weather ― even though the air was still chilly there was a hint that spring was just around the corner. The wattle trees were covered in bright yellow flowers as if they were millions of tiny stars all bursting to shed their light. It was hard feeling sad when everything was so pretty.

I breathed deeply to smell the fresh air and swung my bag onto my shoulder. I was finally strong enough to face a day at school and turned towards the playground.

As I got closer to the school building though, I had to walk past a group of senior girls. They were sitting on a bench and I kept my head down and hoped that they wouldn’t notice me. Even though I was looking at the ground I couldn’t help see their smooth shiny brown legs out of the corner of my eye as they baked in the sun.

I was right alongside them when I heard one of them call out.

‘Hey, check out the freckled freak,’ she said to her friend in a loud voice. I tried to walk a bit quicker to get away from them.

‘Oh my gosh, look at her. They’re all over her face.’

‘Better watch out, Ruth,’ the first one said loudly, ‘Redheads have a fiery temper, you know.’

‘I’d like to see her try. She’s so little as well.’

I had gotten past and was trying not to run.

‘Hey, carrot top,’ one of them yelled after me, ‘Why don’t you come back and talk to us?’

I reached the school building and pushed the door open, but I could still hear them calling out and laughing as I hurried inside.

I half ran to my locker, trying to hide my face by pretending to be in a rush to find my books. A curly lock of hair fell across my face and I brushed it away impatiently. That damned red hair was the cause of all my troubles.

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.

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