Molly #6

Later that week we went Christmas shopping. My sisters were on holidays from school by then and Mum made us all get dressed up in our best clothes. I was wearing a pretty pink dress with ribbons in my hair and white sandals. It made me feel like something special was about to happen as I twirled around like a ballerina and watched the skirt of my dress float up.

When we got down town, Stephen held my hand as we walked around the shops in the main street. Wide shop awnings and wooden verandahs hung over the footpath to make it nice and cool in the summer heat. The main street was wide and the shops on the other side seemed so far away. Most of the shop windows were filled with Christmas decorations and the street was busy with cars driving up and down as they looked for somewhere to park. Every now and then a noisy truck went past and filled the air with dirty smoke that made me cough.

There were so many people walking around that I felt like I was going to get swallowed up by giants; all I could see were legs. I watched all the different shoes walking past and wondered what sorts of people were at the top of them. A pair of old lady’s shoes walked past that were black and stiff and in a hurry; a group of white tennis shoes with long girls’ legs and little white socks went the other way with giggling voices. Some old brown boots with mud still clinging to them stepped aside as we walked along. We stopped and I heard a deep voice. “Good morning, Mrs White,” the voice said, then my mother’s voice replied and I heard her talking about the weather and Christmas and some other things until I saw some pretty pink shoes that went ‘click click click’. I wondered what it would be like to walk in pretty shoes with such high heels, so I practiced by standing on my tippy toes until my feet started to get sore. Across the street I could see somebody wearing sandals just like mine. A girl with brown hair was walking with her mother and she waved when she saw I was watching her. I quickly looked away and hid behind Mum’s legs. When I looked back the girl was gone.

I tapped my feet as we started walking again. My sandals made a nice loud sound on the footpath. I tried skipping and that made an even better sound with a nice rhythm. Sometimes we stopped and the girls held skirts up against their waists before putting them back and moving on. Sometimes I had to stand there for ages while Mum and the girls flicked through every blouse on a rack. That is when my legs began to really ache. I tried to imitate the girls and held a dress out to feel the soft material before putting it back and flicking my hair over my shoulder. I got bored with that pretty soon though and started singing songs in my head. I stood in front of a shop window and watched my reflection pulling funny faces as I sang.

Whenever a pram went by I tried to have a look inside to see the baby. I wondered what it would be like to have a younger brother or sister to play with. I would try and be really nice to them all the time like Stephen was to me. Sometimes the babies looked back at me and smiled because they knew what I was thinking.

We walked on and on all morning until my legs got so tired I could hardly stand and my feet were hurting from the sandals. It was getting hot as well, even though we were still on the shady side of the street.

“I want to sit down,” I started to whine.

“Hush Molly,” said Mum, “We’ll stop for some morning tea soon, just hang on for a bit longer.”

“But I want to sit down now!” I was starting to sniffle.

“Don’t worry Molly, I’ll give you a piggy back ride,” said Stephen, crouching down so I could climb on his back. Suddenly I was one of the giants.

As we continued walking I could hear Christmas carols coming out of the shops. “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” I started singing. “Jingle bells, jingle bells,” over and over again as I kicked my legs.

“The next bit is ‘jingle bells all the way,’” said Stephen.

“Jingle bells all the way, jingle bells all the way,” I sang. Stephen held onto my legs tight to stop them from kicking, so I rocked my head from side to side in time with my song.

Eventually we stopped walking and sat down in a café that was nice and cool. Mum bought me a chocolate milk shake and a donut and I sat there watching the bubbles in my drink and listening to the girls talking about shopping for shoes. This didn’t seem like a very fun part of Christmas to me at all, but we were going to see Santa Claus soon so that was exciting.

We lined up behind all these other people and waited to see Santa. Through the crowd I could see a little bit of red suit and his white beard and I could hardly stand still.

Stephen was still holding my hand and it was finally my turn. But suddenly I didn’t want to do it. He looked so big and red and scary that I started to cry. “Come on,” said Stephen, “You’ll be right Molly”. I tried to stop crying and be brave but I couldn’t help it.

Mum picked me up and handed me to Santa. Suddenly I was on his lap with a big white glove around my waist. “So what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” he asked in a big booming voice. I couldn’t answer or think of anything to say, my voice had disappeared. I just wanted to get away from Santa and back to Mum where it was safe.

“She’s just a little shy, Santa,” said Mum.

“Ho ho ho,” he replied, “why not have a lolly from my sack then.” I timidly reached into the bag and pulled out a red lollipop.

“You should say ‘thankyou’, Molly,” said Mum.

“Thankyou,” I said in the quietest voice ever. I don’t think Santa could hear. Then I was off his lap and back in Mum’s arms and we were walking away.

“Mum!” I said, “I forgot to tell Santa I want to be a princess!”

Advertisements

Molly #5

The first Christmas I could remember was when I heard my sisters talking all about it in the kitchen. Catherine said the year before I was scared of Santa Claus and cried when we had our photo taken. I didn’t remember that at all but she showed me the photo in the lounge room, and there I was on Santa’s lap crying my eyes out. That wasn’t going to happen this year because I was a big girl now.

“What do you want for Christmas, Molly?” Catherine asked. There was a tea towel over her shoulder and she was stacking the dishes away.

“I want to be a princess,” I replied.

“Molly, you can’t ask to be a princess for Christmas,” Samantha said, her hands making soap bubbles that floated in the air; I watched the bubbles drifting until they burst. “You get presents for Christmas, like on your birthday.”

“Even better than that,” said Catherine, “Santa brings you presents in the middle of the night and leaves them at the foot of your bed.”

“Christmas is so exciting,” Jasmine added with a big grin. She was waving her arms around with a pink tea towel and started bouncing up and down on her heels. “I can’t wait for all those lollys and yummy things to eat on Christmas day.”

“I can’t wait either,” I joined in, clapping my hands together and jumping up and down with excitement as well.

Samantha looked at me over her shoulder and said I should settle down or I wouldn’t be able to get to sleep.

Molly #4

On the weekend my brother pushed me around the backyard in his billy cart. Stephen was fourteen years old and let me play with him without getting annoyed like the big girls did. None of his friends from school lived near us so he was happy to drag me around all day like a teddy bear.

Mum sometimes said he was the dearest little boy anyone could ever want. He loved cars and music and building things, and was content playing on his own or with me. He was very gentle and kept an eye on me to make sure I came to no harm. That didn’t stop him from tickling me though, sometimes pinning me to the ground and making me laugh until I cried. Then Mum came out and yelled at him to leave me alone.

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

“Just leave Molly alone, she’s only a baby you know.” But I wasn’t a baby; I wanted to do all the things the big kids did.

“Hey Molly, let’s climb the mulberry tree,” Stephen said as he slung me over his shoulder and marched down the yard. “See if you can reach the branch.” He laughed and put me down on the ground. “Molly, you’re so small! You sit there and watch me climb.” Then up he went like a monkey, swinging his legs over and reaching for the higher branches. I sat at the bottom and watched him climbing away up into the sky. It looked like the tree was going to fall over as the clouds moved past so fast. I started 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 yelled down at me. I screamed as something fell from the tree and landed in my hair.

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

“Oh don’t be such a baby. It’s only a cicada shell.” Stephen climbed down and rescued the cicada from my hair and gave me a hug. He smelled like leaves and bark. “Have some mulberries instead,” he said, trying to make me happy again. I was still whimpering, but took one and put it in my mouth, squealing as the purple juice exploded on my tongue. I had some more as juice ran down my chin and dripped onto my dress.

Then we were in Africa and Stephen was an elephant. “Climb on my back Molly, let’s go for a ride,” he said and lumbered through the jungle down the side of the house. I was the queen of the jungle, swaying from side to side and hanging on tight. There were lots of elephant’s ears and tree ferns and I was a bit worried about spiders, but suddenly we were in a desert and I was 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 explained, “But you had better have a drink Molly, because people need water all the time.” He turned the tap on as I climbed off my camel and we took turns drinking from the hose, splashing water all over our faces and giggling as my dress got wet and a little bit muddy. We stood in the shade of the mango tree and the afternoon breeze blew cool against my wet legs.

I jumped as some bees started flying past, making little whirring sounds through the air. Stephen told me to stand really still so they wouldn’t bother me. “They’re only on their way to make honey,” he said. As I stood in the one spot, not game to move or breathe, so many bees flew past that I thought they must be making a lot of honey.

Later we found ourselves 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 said with his hands behind his head. He already seemed grown up to me and I liked things just the way they were when there was still so much unexplored backyard. I liked playing with Stephen because he was fun and looked after me.

“I don’t want you getting shot,” I replied, suddenly scared at the thought of him going away. I sat up and looked at his face to see if he was joking.

“I won’t get shot,” he said, “I’ll be too good for that. I’ll be a commando and sneak through the jungle so nobody knows I’m there.” His voice had turned husky, as though he was stalking an unseen enemy.

“You could be a bus driver,” I said helpfully.

“Nah, who would want to be a bus driver?” he replied scornfully.

I watched twists of cloud drift high in the sky and slowly change shape. A dark cloud floated across the sun and threw a shadow over my face as we fell silent. I closed my eyes and could hear Stephen breathing.

After a while I got bored and sat up again and asked him about school. “What’s it like at school?” I was looking forward to going to school next year but it worried 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 just a girl. There’s also this little hill that you can roll down and that’s a lot of fun!”

I sat with my legs crossed and watched his face and the way his expressions changed as he talked. 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 laughed, “I’m in high school so we won’t even see each other during the day.”

We fell quiet again and I looked down at my knees. They were all bony and dirty as they stuck out from under my dress. I broke up little bits of twig that were lying around on the ground and tried to balance them on my knees. If I kept really still they stayed where they were, but if I moved they fell off and I had to start all over again. Stephen was still lying on his back with his eyes closed and we stayed like that until it started to get dark and then we headed inside.

“Where have you two been,” said Mum from the kitchen as we walked through the back door. The screen door slammed shut behind us.

“Just playing,” Stephen replied as he got a biscuit out of the tin.

“Oh Molly!” said Mum with a frown, “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 climbed into the nice warm water of the bathtub, all soapy with bubbles. Suddenly I was a mermaid, swishing my long tail in the water. “Mum, do mermaids eat fish?” I asked.

“Of course they do,” she said as she rubbed shampoo into my hair. “They eat fish and crabs and wear shells in their hair.” Yuk, I don’t like fish, but I liked 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 dreamed about being a mermaid and swimming with the fish, but I didn’t want to eat any of them. There were lots of pretty shells though, and the ones in my hair sparkled like all the colours of the rainbow.

Molly #3

Pouting, I hopped off the stool and wandered into the lounge room. “Come and sit over here, Molly,” Mum said, looking up as I came into the room. She had some sewing on her lap and the television was on. I could still hear the girls singing in the kitchen. Dad was sitting in his arm chair reading the newspaper; he didn’t look up when I came in.
I sat on the lounge and picked up one of my favourite picture books, the one with animals in it. I heard Mum sigh, but I wasn’t sure whether she was tired or frustrated. Dad cleared his throat loudly and Mum looked at me and smiled secretly with her blue-grey eyes, as if to say, ‘I smile just for you’. But she turned back to her sewing and I looked down at my book. I couldn’t read yet but I was going to school next year and I couldn’t wait to learn how to make sense of those black squiggles on the page. I already knew some letters and the sounds they made. “That one is ‘cuh’ for cat,” I said out loud. I wondered where the cat was; maybe he was out chasing mice. Yuk, I wouldn’t want to be a cat and eat mice.
The newspaper rustled as Dad turned the page. “The price of petrol is going up again,” he said. “It’s a wonder anyone can make any money these days.”
“Oh dear,” said Mum, “It never stops.” Her busy fingers painted stitches in the cloth. “I ran into Robyn today. You know, I think her and Paul will get married soon.”
“What makes you think that?” Dad replied.
“Oh, it’s just a feeling. The way she talks about him. She was looking at flowers.” Dad grunted and continued reading the newspaper; Mum kept sewing. “I think it would be lovely if they got married.”
“It’s about time, anyway.”
“’Duh’ for dog,” I said as I turned the page. I don’t like dogs very much because they are scary the way they bark and jump all over you. I’m glad we don’t have a dog. “Woof! Woof woof!”
“Molly, be quiet,” said Mum, “We are trying to watch the television. Just read quietly to yourself, please honey.” The needle stabbed the cloth, leaving a row of neat little stitches. “She will make a beautiful bride.”
“Paul had better get a proper job first,” said Dad. More singing could be heard coming from the kitchen.
“Oh, they’re only young. They have plenty of time; they want to travel first.”
I turned over a few more pages. “Huh for horse.” I had never seen a horse up close, only those ones across the road. They looked nice standing there and eating grass. I wondered what it would be like to ride one. Maybe I could be a princess and ride through my kingdom on a beautiful white horse. Everybody would come out of their houses to see me go past and I would wave back at them.
“I wonder when the wedding will be.” Mum was already sewing the wedding dress in her mind.
“Is that all you can think about?” The newspaper rustled again.
“Sh for sheep.” I like sheep; they are all soft and woolly, I thought to myself as I ran my fingers over the picture. “Baa, baa.”
“Molly! I think it’s time for bed; you are being far too noisy tonight.” I looked up at Mum quickly because she was annoyed with me. “Come on, let’s go and clean your teeth and I’ll tuck you in bed.”

Molly #2

By the time I was four years old I had grown from being a baby to be a small child with curly red hair and soft milky white skin and a trace of freckles forming across my nose. Mum called them sun kisses and said they made me look beautiful. All of the excitement from my birth had worn off a bit with the other children though. By now I was just another part of the family, although I was much smaller than the others and always seemed to be a step behind. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep up with my sisters and they seemed to be interested in more grown up things than I was.

We had moved away from the mountains to a town near the coast because of Dad’s job. This new world was the bright green of a huge backyard, a big house with a verandah across the front, mango trees, mulberry trees, and lots of open space in between.

Over the road from the house there was a farm that ended up in a swamp at one end. Sometimes I dreamt I was flying across that swamp, looking down on the world as I floated on my silvery wings, until I was suddenly running through water with legs of lead; the lights of my bedroom hung just out of reach of my fingers and I woke up crying as my mother came in and held me until I fell asleep again.

Dinner time each night was full of noise and bustle with everyone sitting at the dining table talking at once. The television blared away in the background as Dad listened to the evening news, competing with cutlery rattling against plates. The girls talked about things that were happening at school, or repeating jokes that were heard during the day, followed by lots of laughter. Sometimes Mum would jump in with a question and set the conversation off in a completely new direction until Dad roared at everyone to be quiet when he wanted to hear something on the news.

After dinner, my sisters could always be found in the kitchen washing the dishes. Catherine was the eldest of the girls at twelve years old; a lot like my mother, she was down to earth and sensible.

She was still wearing her school uniform and her straight brown hair hung down to her shoulders as I watched from my stool at the kitchen bench. Her hands moved with the tea towel as she dried the dishes, while her green bangle bounced up and down her arm. It caught the light and sent diamond sparkles dancing across the kitchen bench; I tried to catch them in my fingers.

Samantha was ten years old and the ring leader, always setting the direction for the other girls to follow. Her hands were covered in long pink rubber gloves as she scrubbed the dishes in the sink and then placed them on the drying rack. She had her back to me and all I could see was her long black ponytail bouncing up and down as she moved back and forth on her bare feet. Every now and then her head turned slightly and I could see the sharp outline of her face.

Jasmine was busy putting the dishes away as Catherine dried them. She was a dark and mysterious eight-year old, a little unsure of herself in the shadow of her two older sisters. She longed to be part of the inner circle with the two older girls but was often left on the outer, so she made up for it by being mischievous and full of fun. Sometimes she was quiet and moody as well, and I often caught her green eyes looking into space, deep in thought. I sometimes wondered what she was thinking, but she never told me because I was just her little sister.

As my sisters washed and dried the dishes together the kitchen became a stage filled with singing, dancing and laughter. “The marching band came down the street,” Samantha sang in a loud voice with her feet marching around the sink.

“And with her head upon his shoulder…” Catherine’s voice was higher and sweeter and it made me think of the wings of a butterfly as she danced across and put her head on Samantha’s shoulder. I wanted to cry because it sounded like such a sad song.

Jasmine joined in for the chorus as she put some more plates back in the cupboard; Catherine and Samantha always sang the verses on their own. I had heard some of the songs they sang being played on the radio during the day, but I didn’t know this one at all; the girls must have learned it at school. I tried to join in and made up the words in my little voice.

“Billy, don’t take your pillow,” I sang from my stool.

“Molly! That’s not how it goes,” laughed Catherine musically.

“Stop being annoying, Molly,” Samantha said with her hands in the sink and flicking her long black ponytail back and forth, just like the cat’s tail. She was always like that, but I wasn’t being annoying; I was just trying to join in.

“Billy, don’t take your pillow,” I started again.

“Mum! Molly is being annoying again!” Samantha called out.

Mum’s voice came back from the lounge room, “Molly, leave the girls alone. Why don’t you come in here and read a book?”

Thursday fragments 19

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.

Thursday fragments 18

I started school the next day while Mum and Dad tried to find a house to rent.  It was just like starting my first day of kindergarten all over again. I sat there looking at my feet while Mum talked with the school headmaster. He looked like he was a hundred years old and as dry and gnarled as all those trees along the road. His eyes were cold and grey as they looked at me without interest.

When Mum left I was taken to my new classroom by a lady with shoes that clicked loudly on the tile floor of the corridor. She knocked at the classroom door and pushed it open to be greeted by the noise of strange children chattering and giggling. I was taken across the classroom to meet my new teacher, Mr Anderson, who was sitting at his desk reading a book. Slowly, the class started to become quieter as some of the children noticed a new girl amongst them. I could hear the ones at the front whispering to each other and I just knew they were all looking at me standing there in my unfamiliar school uniform.

When the lady left, Mr Anderson stood up with me at the front of the classroom. He held his hand up until everyone was quiet and looking toward the front. ‘Class, this is Molly White. She has come to join us here in 4KA so I hope you will all make her welcome.’ I knew my face was bright red, I could feel it burning and I heard some boys toward the back of the room whispering to each other. I just wanted to run away and I knew tears were starting to form in my eyes. ‘Molly, there is an empty desk over near the window. You can sit there. Okay class, it is time now for maths so I want you to open your books at chapter three and we will have a look at number lines.’

I slid into my seat and opened the book Mr Anderson had handed me, but everything looked blurry and instead of number lines I saw rivers of tears running across the page. Cool autumn sunlight came through the window and I could see wisps of cloud drifting by in the pale blue sky as Mr Anderson’s voice droned on about something to do with numbers and lines and hopping from one to four. I thought about the railway line and wondered how many hops it would take before I got back to Stephanie.

At lunchtime I sat on a bench in the playground. It was all bitumen and there was no grass, just lines marked out for all sorts of games. It was like one of those unhappy playgrounds I had seen when we were driving through the city. I looked at the sandwiches in my lunchbox, but I didn’t feel at all hungry because my stomach was tied up in a little knot. I started to think of Stephanie again and began to cry.

After a while I noticed someone had sat on the bench next to me. ‘Are you okay?’ I heard a little voice say. I could see a pair of white cotton socks and dusty black school shoes poking out shyly from beneath a checked school dress.

‘I thought you looked sad,’ the voice said again. ‘I wondered if you would like some of my vegemite sandwich.’ The voice belonged to a little girl, about the same size as me with a face covered in freckles. ‘My name is Ellen,’ she said.

‘I’m Molly,’ I said quietly as I finally found my tongue.

‘Don’t be sad, Molly. School isn’t that bad when you get used to it. Do you want to come and play handball?’

‘I don’t know how to,’ I said.

‘Well that’s okay, I can teach you.’

She took my hand and we walked across to where a crowd of girls were lined up watching two other girls hitting a tennis ball to each other with their hands. As we stood in the line, Ellen explained that I was meant to hit the ball to the other person with my hand, but it had to bounce before going over the line. If you missed it or hit the ball outside the squares then you were out and had to go back to the end of the line. Everyone wanted to get to the king’s square.

Soon it was my turn and I stood in the square opposite a big girl with short hair. Suddenly there was a tennis ball flying towards me and I threw my hand at it but missed completely. Some of the girls giggled as I walked off to the end of the line.

‘Don’t worry, Molly,’ said Ellen. ‘You’ll soon get the hang of it.’

Before I had a chance to have another go, the bell went and we had to go back into class. ‘Let’s play again tomorrow, Molly,’ Ellen said. ‘You’re going to have a lot of fun.’ I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to hit the ball so I was glad that the bell went and saved me from further embarrassment.

The classroom was kept warm by a log fire. Ellen was a fire monitor and she asked Mr Anderson if I would be allowed to help her gather some logs from a box outside the classroom before we went back to our desks.

Ellen told me there was an old man that worked at the school and one of his jobs was to keep the firewood box stacked with wood for the classrooms. She said he was a bit creepy and that I should keep away from him, but there was no sign of the caretaker as I followed Ellen to the back of the classroom. She skipped along and seemed so happy and that made me feel a bit lighter, but the logs were really heavy and I got dirt and little bits of bark stuck all over my school dress when I carried them back to class.

The fire was in an iron box, like a little stove, and I watched Ellen carefully open the door and rake among the embers with a poker. When the flames were dancing around like little devils, I passed her a log and she put it on top of the fire. A shower of sparks and smoke rose into the air and me cough.

When I got back to my desk, I saw that my hands were all dirty. But I wasn’t game to ask Mr Anderson if I could go to the bathroom to wash them so I tried to wipe them clean on my school dress. My hair smelled all smoky as well and I started to worry about what Mum would say when I got home.

Then I began thinking about home and I realised that I didn’t even know where home was, or if we had one. I looked out the window at the clouds again to try and stop myself from crying, but a couple of teardrops still leaked out and fell on my cheeks.

I looked around and saw Ellen watching me. She gave me a little smile and I tried to smile back but my lips wouldn’t move in the right shape. Things improved later in the afternoon, though, when we had some quiet reading time. I picked a book out of a box that was on the floor and we were allowed to sit on the mat in the middle of the classroom and read. Ellen came and sat next to me and held my hand.

Thursday fragments 17

With my face pressed against the window, I watched the miles rushing past as we headed south. The tears running down my cheeks could have flooded the big rivers of the north coast, but they had started to dry up as we left the lush green pastures of sad-eyed dairy cattle behind.
The coastal landscape became a dry blur of trees that kept flashing past my eyes. Every now and then there was a small gap in the trees where a little sandy track disappeared into the bush. After a while I started to wonder what was at the end of those little tracks. I closed my eyes and pictured myself riding my bike through the scrub until it suddenly opened out onto a beach. The sand stretched as far as I could see, and in the distance was a hazy headland jutting out into the brilliant blue ocean. The sun danced with sparkles on the waves and I found myself soaring high in the sky. There was nobody else on the beach, and I felt like the only person left in the whole world.
Outside the window, the landscape had turned swampy and in the distance I could see tall chimneys billowing out smoke. There were more and more factories as we drove along and they were now close enough for me to see lots of cars parked near the bottom of the chimneys. I thought it was no wonder that the cars ended up so rusty when all that smoke was pouring out. I imagined the people in the factories must become all grey and rusty as well.
The swamps soon gave way to sandy grasslands that had little groups of black and white cows standing behind fences. They were too busy looking for grass to eat to notice me rushing past though. There were more and more cars around as well, and soon we were on a freeway and sailing past huge trucks. Every now and then a bearded truck driver would look down at me and I would look back and smile, until all the trucks turned off and we were back in the scrub again.
Then we were swooping down a huge hill and at the bottom was a bridge across a wide river. Dad pulled off the road and we all hopped out of the car to have lunch by the edge of the water. My legs were stiff from sitting in the car for so long and I could feel pins and needles in my feet.
The river was covered with all sorts of boats bobbing around, some with white sails that shone brightly in the warm sun and others with groups of men with fishing rods. There were also some men standing on the rocks fishing and I could smell the salty sea air; it reminded me of the beach near Grandma’s house and I started thinking about when I would ever get to see Grandma again.
I could have stayed happily by the side of that river for ages, but I was soon sitting back in the car and we were driving through the city. There were so many cars that we had to drive along really slowly and kept having to stop at traffic lights all the time. Far in the distance were the skyscrapers of the city centre, but from a distance they just looked tiny. Outside the car I could see lots of children walking to school or climbing off buses. They didn’t look very happy and I supposed that was because they didn’t have a lovely river running down the back of their playground. The only playgrounds I could see were all made of concrete; there didn’t seem to be grass anywhere, just lots of concrete. That made me start thinking of Stephanie again and I kept looking for her face amongst all those children heading to school.
As we left the city behind, I watched the landscape change from the bright green grass of the coast to the much duller browns and greys of the inland bush. The hills gradually disappeared, until eventually we were on a long straight stretch of road that disappeared into the distance for miles.
With my chin resting on my arm, I watched the railway line come racing across some paddocks until it joined the road and followed alongside for miles and miles. A lot of the trees between the road and the railway line looked dead, but Dad said they were just waiting for rain. I thought they must have been waiting there for a very long time.
There were fewer trees in the paddocks now, just isolated clumps of eucalypts standing on their own amongst short spiky grass. Dad said it was called wheat stubble. I thought it made the country look old and run down and somebody needed to paint it with bright new colours. There were lots of sheep though, and they looked soft and woolly. Some of them looked up at me as we sped past, while others were looking at the ground; I guessed they were wondering where all the grass was.
‘Looks like we’re nearly there,’ Dad said finally. I sat up and looked through the windscreen but all I could see was the top of a concrete tower above the trees way ahead in the distance. Dad said it was a wheat silo and that’s where the town was. He started telling us about how the town had started out as a gold mining village before the wheat farms and railway had arrived. All I could think of was that we were in the middle of a dry dusty plain where I didn’t have any friends to play with.

Thursday fragments 16

That night at dinner, the girls were still talking excitedly about the show.
‘Did you see how cute the lambs were?’
‘I didn’t go anywhere near the animals,’ said Samantha. ‘It was too dusty and smelly in there.’
‘Oh, but they were so cute, and the smell wasn’t that bad,’ said Jasmine.
‘What about the trick riders?’ Catherine said, ‘They were fantastic. There was this one guy that leaned right down off his horse and picked a girl up from the ground and then she climbed on his shoulders as they rode.’
‘Yeah, I saw that. They were so amazing.’
‘I’ll tell you what was amazing was the rides. Did you go on the zipper?’
‘No way! It made me feel sick just looking at it.’
‘I nearly was!’ said Samantha as she swallowed a mouthful of peas. ‘It looked tame but as soon as I climbed in the cage it took off, and then I was upside down and suddenly spinning around. My legs were all wobbly when I got off.’
There was no way I would have gotten on a ride like that. I thought about how much fun I’d had with Stephanie on the dodgem cars and smiled to myself.
‘Well it’s a good thing you all had fun,’ said Dad, ‘Next year we’ll be at a different show.’
‘What do you mean?’ Mum suddenly put down her knife and fork and looked sharply at him.
‘I just heard this afternoon, we’re moving again. It’s only a rumour, but you know how these things work out.’
‘I thought we had decided to stay here while the girls were at school?’ I watched Mum’s face because she didn’t look very happy.
‘Well, we’ll talk about it after dinner,’ said Dad.
The girls had gone quiet and everyone had forgotten about the show.
As I lay in bed after dinner I could hear Mum and Dad talking in the lounge room. Every now and then Dad would raise his voice, not quite yelling but I could tell he was putting his foot down and wasn’t going to budge.
When Mum came into my bedroom to tuck me in bed, I knew she had been crying. I gave her an extra hard hug when she kissed me goodnight.
‘Mum, what’s happening?’ I asked quietly.
‘There’s nothing to worry about, Molly,’ she said. ‘Just go to sleep, darling, and everything will be all right.’ She turned out the light but left my bedroom door slightly open.
That night I had a dream that was full of images of colourful things spinning around. Suddenly I was on the back of a horse, riding over jumps and through hoops; then I was in a dodgem car and laughing my head off, but when I turned to smile at Stephanie it was actually Dad holding the steering wheel and we were driving out of the showground.
The next morning at breakfast the girls were talking about how we were going to be moving to a different town. I didn’t understand what they meant at first, and then Samantha said we would be going hundreds of kilometres away to a town in the south western part of the state.
All I could think about was Stephanie and how I would get to see her if we were going to be so far away. I felt numb at the thought of leaving her behind and missing all those things that were comfortable and familiar.
At school that day I told Stephanie that I was meant to be moving away.
‘You’re kidding me aren’t you Molly?’
‘No,’ I said sadly, ‘It’s true. We go at the end of the month.’
‘What about all our plans? Who am I going to sit with at lunchtime?’
‘I’m sorry, Steph. I don’t want to go.’
We hugged each other and moped around the playground until every day started to be full of last things – the last game of soccer, the last time I went to Stephanie’s house, the last day of school.
As the time drew closer, I had to start to pack all of my things, feeling sad as each toy or book disappeared into the bottom of the box. I wrote my name on top in big letters using a marking pen so that it wouldn’t get lost when the men came to take it away in a truck.
On the morning we were leaving I woke up very early, before anyone else was awake. The house was quiet and I walked slowly around looking in each empty room, trying to soak as much of it into my memory as I could so I would never forget. I went outside and sat down under the mulberry tree, looking up into the branches and thinking about all the fun times I had played with Stephen there.
I closed my eyes to hold the tears in and then must have fallen asleep because I woke up hearing my name being called from the house.
‘Molly,’ called Mum. ‘Molly, where are you?’ The men with the truck had come back to take the last of our furniture. I looked up in time to see my bed disappearing into the back of the truck. I sat there with tears in my eyes when Mum came along and picked me up. I felt really heavy and sad.
‘Oh Molly, there you are. What are you doing out here, sweetheart?’
‘Mum, do we have to go? I want to stay here forever.’
‘Come on Molly. This is just something we have to do as part of growing up. It will help you grow into a big strong girl.’ Mum kissed my head softly.
‘But I don’t want to grow up.’
I pressed my face against her shoulder and cried as she carried me back to the house. I was still sniffling when I climbed into the car and Dad drove out of the driveway. As I looked back through the window and watched the house disappear, I could see Stephanie standing on the corner waving goodbye.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑