A young child’s heart

A young child’s heart
Is easily impressed
By memories now distant
Of freedom, love
The warmth of summer

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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.

Thursday fragments 15

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When I was eight years old my class at school started drawing pictures and writing stories to enter in the local agricultural show. Mrs Mills made us do them again and again until she thought they were perfect. She ripped one of my stories out of my school exercise book and screwed the page into a little ball. I watched as she threw it in the rubbish bin.
‘That is for being so untidy, Molly,’ she said. ‘You need to keep working hard on making your handwriting neater or I will start to make you write with your right hand. I really don’t know what to do with you.’ She hadn’t even bothered to read my story.
I went back to writing and tried to remember as much of my story as I could. It was about a girl falling asleep at her desk and dreaming that she woke up in a strange world a thousand years ago. There were knights and kings and princesses and the girl had to find her way back home, before she eventually woke up back in her own classroom. I wrote really slowly so that it would be neat enough for Mrs Mills and eventually she said it was okay and that she would let me put it in the show.
Everybody at school was talking about how exciting the show was going to be. I had never been before so I was really looking forward to it and every day I could feel my excitement rising and I had trouble sleeping at night.
When show day finally arrived, I wore a pretty white dress and nice sandals. Mum said it was important that I dressed nice because there would be lots of people there. There was excitement in the air as we crossed the river to the showground and parked the car, then followed the crowds in through the dusty gates. There were lots of people lined up to buy tickets and Mum handed over the money and suddenly we were inside the showground.
Stephanie was waiting for me just inside the gates and we wandered off together to watch the show jumping as the horses went up and over, through the water and past the barrels again and again. We lingered amongst the cattle displays, watching the deep red and white cows, while I liked looking at the dainty Jersey dairy cows best with their big sad brown eyes. I thought they must have been feeling sad to be locked up in that smelly shed when it was such a beautiful day outside and they would much rather be roaming around green grassy paddocks. I stood there staring into those sad eyes for ages until Stephanie got bored and we moved off to the pavilion full of arts and crafts to find our drawings and stories from school. Stephanie’s drawing had a blue ribbon on it and we jumped up and down in excitement. I gave her a big hug and then looked for mine. My story was pinned to the wall, partly hidden under some other pieces of paper. It didn’t win a ribbon.
‘Don’t worry, Molly,’ said Stephanie. ‘I loved your story and I’m sure you will get a ribbon next year. Maybe they just forgot to read it.’
‘Yeah, maybe,’ I said doubtfully.
Stephanie and I walked out of the pavilion and into a world of rides, clowns and show bags. With all the excitement and noise spinning around me I soon forgot to be sad and we lined up for a ride on the dodgem cars. Stephanie and I climbed into the same car and she steered because I couldn’t reach the pedals or steering wheel. The bell rang and we were soon off, whizzing around and around, sometimes bumping into other cars and swerving all over the place. We were laughing our heads off the whole time and I was quite breathless by the end.
My head was still spinning after I got out of the dodgem car and Mum had bought some fairy floss for Stephanie and me. As we walked along holding hands and eating our fairy floss I told Stephanie that I had never had so much fun in my life. We swore we would be best friends forever and I felt my eyes sparkling with joy. We gave each other a big hug and I thought how amazing it was that I felt so perfect and happy when I was with Stephanie.
I was really tired by the end of the day, but I was floating with happiness as I sat in the car. I kept watching the showground through the back window of the car as we drove away and I could see the tops of the ferris wheel and some of the rides poking above the trees. There was still some fairy floss left on my stick and I licked it with my tongue, giggling at the way its sugary spider webs dissolved in my mouth. When I closed my eyes, I could picture the clown’s heads with their wide open mouths turning from side to side in the middle of all that noise and dust.

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 13

The night before I turned six years old there was a big storm that rattled the house throughout the night. The loud thunder and flashes of lightning were so scary I wanted to sleep in Mum’s bed, but she said I should be brave now I was about to turn six. As I lay in bed hugging Mr and Mrs Bear with my eyes wide open I thought the house was going to wash away from all the rain on the roof and the sound of the wind blowing outside.
I must have eventually fallen asleep because when I woke in the morning the sun was shining brightly through the windows and I was six years old. I looked outside and there were big puddles everywhere and I quickly got dressed so I could go out and play in the water. Mum saw me from the kitchen window and yelled at me to come inside out of the wet grass. I got into big trouble for getting my shoes and dress muddy and felt terrible when she made me have a bath even though it was only breakfast time. She said it was so that I would look clean and pretty for my birthday.
When I got out of the bath and was dressed again, everyone crowded around the kitchen table to watch me open my presents and I gave each of my sisters a hug and a kiss to say ‘thank you’. Stephen gave me a book about Pinocchio and I gave him an extra special kiss and hug before I was left alone to play with my new presents. I went into the lounge room and sat on the floor and read about how Pinocchio dreamed of being a real boy. But he was very naughty for telling lies and seemed to get into trouble all the time, even when he didn’t mean to. I thought that was why he told lies, because he didn’t like getting into trouble. I wondered what it would be like to be made of wood, but I didn’t think I would like to be changed into a donkey and get long pointy ears and hooves like Pinocchio did. I much preferred being a real girl and I hoped getting into trouble in the morning wouldn’t make my ears grow. I still felt a little sad, even after all the excitement of opening my presents.
After a while Mum came into the lounge room and told me I should go and have a look on the back verandah. I rushed to open the door and there I found a brand new girl’s bike, all shiny silver and yellow with huge wheels. It had a bow tied around the handle bars and a sticker on the tube that read ‘Little Angel’.
The bike was a bit too big for me but I found that I could get on by climbing onto a chair first then pushing off. I turned the pedals and suddenly I was flying up and down the backyard with my legs spinning round and round.
I spent all morning riding under the mulberry tree, through the gate to the front and then back again. Stephen said I was going to wear a track in the muddy lawn. Mum said when I got bigger I could ride up and down the laneway and then the lawn would be safe. The laneway was dirt and ran down the back of all the houses along our street and it’s where all the big kids played.
‘Molly,’ I heard Mum calling out from the back verandah. ‘It’s time to come in. I think Stephanie is here. I just heard a car pull up out the front.’
I jumped off my bike and ran to meet my best friend at the front door. ‘Stephanie!’ I squealed and gave her a big hug.
‘Hi Molly, happy birthday,’ she said as she handed me a present. It was wrapped in purple paper with a pink ribbon tied around it. I was so excited that I ripped all the paper off in one go and there inside was a beautiful book of stories about fairies. ‘Oh Steph, I love it,’ I said and gave her another hug.
‘Why don’t you girls go outside and play for a while before lunch?’ Mum said.
‘Come on Steph,’ I said. ‘Come and see my new bike.’ We went out the back and took turns riding my bike around the yard for a little while.
‘I’ve had enough of riding, Molly. Let’s go and play on the swings,’ Stephanie said. I wasn’t tired of the bike, but I leant it carefully against the wall and followed Stephanie across to the swing set. I didn’t mind playing on the swings for a little while but it made me feel sick if I went too fast.
‘Come on, Molly… go higher like me.’ Stephanie was already swinging high, kicking her legs right up into the sky and she looked just like a blur. I tried to keep up with her and kicked my legs to make the swing go faster. Every time I went forward to the top of the swing I would feel like I was going to fly off into space, then my stomach would plunge as I suddenly started to swing backwards. Stephanie was giggling loudly and she kept urging me to go faster and faster. Each time I would kick my legs and go higher and higher, but then I started to feel dizzy. I tried to hang on until it suddenly felt like I was floating in mid air. Everything froze for a moment and then I started falling, down, down forever, until I landed with a thump on the ground. I was stunned for a moment, and then started to scream because my arm hurt where I had landed on it crookedly.
‘Molly! Are you okay?’ Stephanie jumped off the swing and put her arm around me as Mum raced out of the house. By the time she arrived I was sobbing uncontrollably.
‘What happened? Let me have a look.’ Mum felt my arm and it really hurt. ‘Well I don’t think it’s broken, so you will live.’ She picked me up and carried me inside the house. ‘You girls should play inside where it’s safer.’

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