Molly #34

As the hot summer weather came along, streaky white clouds started to float in the wide blue sky each day. Every morning I would look out my bedroom window and wonder if it was ever going to rain again, because I hadn’t even seen a drop of rain in the whole time since we had moved here from the north coast.

I hadn’t been invited to stay at Ellen’s farm again, but Ellen often stayed with me for the weekend so that we could play together. In the warmer weather we spent most of the time on the weekends at the swimming pool.

“Come on you two, hurry up,” Samantha called from outside. She was always in a rush to get to the pool. I just liked to take my time and enjoy the walk with Ellen. We walked holding hands and Ellen never stopped talking.

“We’re coming,” I called out from the kitchen. I was dressed in pink swimmers and a white tee shirt and Mum was busy covering my face in sunscreen. She always said she was terrified of me getting sunburnt and so she slopped extra layers of sunscreen all over my nose. I had to close my eyes tight so that I didn’t get any sunscreen in them because it really made my eyes sting. As soon as she finished I put my hat on my head and tucked my towel under my arm then raced outside to catch up with the others. The girls had already set off, so I climbed through a hole in the fence next to the rusty iron shed in the backyard and hurried after them. Ellen climbed through the hole behind me and our sandals raised little clouds of dust as we moved quickly across the dry ground, skipping to catch up with Samantha, Catherine and Jasmine.

Samantha took her hat off as soon as we are out of sight of the house and I watched her straight black hair bouncing against the back of her white tank top as her long brown legs strode along the footpath. I thought she should have kept her hat on or she would get sunburnt.

Ellen and I caught up to the girls when they stopped to wait for the traffic at Hoskins Street, and then we all ran across the bubbles of melted bitumen to get to the park. The sun had started to get quite hot by then and the grass in the park was brown and spiky. There was a little bit of shade every now and then from a row of date palms that lined the footpath through the middle of the park. Each time we came to a tree, Ellen and I would stop in the shade to rest before racing each other to the next tree.

As we stood in the shade for a moment, I looked up and saw some high school boys watching us walking through the park. I hurried after the girls when I heard one of the boys say something and the other boys started laughing. I wasn’t game to look around again when another boy whistled loudly. Catherine and Samantha didn’t seem to notice though as they just kept on walking. Samantha was busy pushing some stray hair behind her ear, and when Catherine leaned toward Samantha and whispered something they both giggled. Samantha looked back over her shoulder to where the boys were standing. I started walking a bit quicker in case the boys followed us, but we were soon at the safety of the pool entrance.

It was cool in the shade of the little shop at the front of the pool, and I lined up behind Catherine as she paid the lady behind the counter. As soon as we went through the turnstile, the bigger girls disappeared into the change room and Ellen and I raced to put our towels down on the grass. The pool was surrounded by soft grassy lawns, and there was a big shady peppercorn tree in one corner.

“Last one in is a rotten egg!” yelled Ellen. She was already half-way to the pool so I just dropped my towel and raced after her, leaping into the cool clear water. At first the water was so cold it took my breath away, but then I bounced to the surface laughing and Ellen splashed water in my face.

“Ellen!” By the time I splashed back, she had already swum away from me like a little seal and I started chasing her. She swam much faster than I could but she eventually slowed down until I caught up to her. We spent the whole morning in the water like that, swimming around, playing games, and chasing each other until we eventually got tired and climbed out to lay on our towels for a rest. I lay there watching all the colourful bodies splashing around in the pool.

“I wonder where the girls have gotten to.” I looked around the pool from my towel but I couldn’t see them anywhere amongst all the rainbow coloured swimmers.

“I thought I saw them over there earlier,” Ellen said as she pointed toward the back fence. I looked over to where Ellen was pointing and saw a group of teenagers sitting around on their towels. There was Samantha was lying on her side, one tanned knee propped up in the air. She was talking to a boy and running her fingers through her hair. I thought he looked like one of the boys that had been outside in the park and he was lying on his side as well. They seemed to be leaning quite close toward each other.

Catherine was lying on her stomach with her eyes closed. Every now and then she lifted her head and said something to the others, then lay down and closed her eyes again.

I kept looking around until I found where Jasmine was. She was with a different group of girls, sitting on the edge of the pool with her feet splashing in the water and talking to her friends.

I turned back to Ellen, content now I knew I hadn’t been left behind. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could play here forever and never have to go back to school?”

“Except when your fingertips get all wrinkly from the water,” Ellen laughed. I smiled into her sparkling eyes and felt as happy as the sunny day.

“Ellen, what are those marks on your legs?” Suddenly Ellen’s eyes lost their sparkle and she looked down at the blue-grey bruises at the top of her thighs. They were normally covered by clothes, but I could see them clearly now she was in her bikini bottoms. There were four of them, shaped like fat sausages spread out in a fan.

“It’s nothing,” she said quietly, “I just bumped them.” She didn’t want to talk about it and I was sorry that I had brought a cloud across our sunny mood, but I couldn’t help myself.

“Ellen… I’m really sorry. Was it your Dad?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just swim.” Ellen leapt up from her towel and jumped in the pool. I sat there feeling helpless for a few moments until I thought of asking Catherine what I should do. I stood up and walked over toward her group.

As I got closer I could hear them talking.

“It seems Lauren is the flavor of the month,” said a girl in a strawberry-coloured bikini.

“I know, both Peter and John have asked her out.”

“Oh my gosh, what did she say?”

I tried to get Catherine’s attention but she had her back to me, so I stood there uncertainly for a moment.

“Hey Catherine, is that your little sister? How cute!” one big girl said. I felt my face blush bright red and the boy that was talking to Samantha looked up and grinned.

Catherine sat up and didn’t look very happy to see me standing there. “Molly, what do you want?”

“I wanted to talk to you, about Ellen.”

“Can’t you do this at home?”

“It’s just that she is sad. I made her sad about the bruises on her legs.”

Catherine stood up. “Okay Molly, let’s get an ice cream.”

As we walked toward the canteen I told Catherine about the bruises on Ellen’s legs, and how she wouldn’t talk to me about them. I told her that when I asked if it was Ellen’s Dad she ran off. Catherine gently put her hand on my head. “Why don’t you just go and play with her. I think she just needs you to be her friend and make her happy.”

Catherine bought two ice creams, and I took one over to where Ellen was sitting on the side of the pool. She was looking down at the water and slowly kicking her legs back and forth. I sat down next to her and gave her one of the ice creams. As we sat there eating together silently, I put my arm around her wet shoulder and she leant her head against mine.

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Molly #33

“Wake up girls, I need your help. Get your clothes on.” It was Ellen’s father, dressed in his heavy work boots and dirty jeans.

I was still half asleep as we stumbled outside, following a torch beam across the dark paddock. The night air was chilly and a light frost sparkled in the torchlight. We seemed to be wandering aimlessly and I thought Mr Lees was going to take us to the haunted house.

I was shivering from the cold when suddenly an old ewe appeared in the circle of light. She was having trouble and Mr Lees bent down to assist her, gently drawing out a little lamb and depositing him on the grass. As he made contact with the cold ground his limbs twitched and I could see his ribs heaving.

The ewe seemed to be just as thrilled as I was as she pushed her nose at the new arrival. We did this a number of times through the night until eventually I found myself back in my warm bed, thinking about all those little lambs and how gentle Mr Lees had been with them.

Warm sunshine greeted us the next morning as Ellen and I raced outside to count the number of new lambs that were frolicking around the paddock. We rescued about half a dozen little lambs that had been abandoned by their mothers during the night and carried them one by one up to the house.

Mrs Lees set up a little nursery for the lambs on the back verandah that she made from an old child’s playpen with some blankets on the floor for warmth. Ellen and I followed her into the laundry where she showed us how to put a scoop of powdered milk into a bucket of warm water and mix it around until there were no more lumpy bits.

I filled a baby feeding bottle with the powdered milk mixture and Mrs Lees showed me how to teach the little lambs to suck the teats. I sat on the verandah with my legs crossed and held a soft little lamb in my arms as it squirmed and wriggled on my lap. It took me a few goes to get my lamb drinking because every time I poked the teat in its mouth it would push the teat away with its little tongue and then start wriggling a bit more until I nearly dropped it. Eventually my lamb got the idea and I clung tightly to its warm body as it sucked noisily at the teat.

After all the lambs had been fed, we put them back in their pen and they snuggled together in the corner and fell asleep. Every now and then I would look in the pen and smile at the lamb that I had fed. I had decided that I would call him ‘Woolly’ and sometimes he would lift his head when he saw me looking and make the tiniest little baa because he knew that I was the one that cared for him.

Ellen and I spent the whole morning playing on the verandah and watching the little lambs in their pen. They were nothing like the lambs I had seen in my picture books because they looked so skinny and wrinkly, but they were really lively and noisy. Their wool was so much softer than anything I could ever have imagined and I wished that I could keep one as a pet. Ellen said we weren’t allowed to keep them as pets, though, and as soon as they were big enough they would have to be put back out in the paddock with all the other lambs.

Mrs Lees brought lunch out to the verandah for us, but she told us that we should leave the lambs in peace for a while and go and play in the yard instead. Ellen said it was too boring to play in the yard, so we wandered around the shearing shed looking for something to do.

There were some old doors leaning against the wall in a corner of the shed, and Ellen suddenly had an idea that we could use one to make a raft. It was really heavy and it took ages to drag it down to the dam, but we eventually made it, even though I thought my arms were going to get pulled out of their sockets.

Ellen found an old coke bottle in the dirt and smashed it against the side of the raft to christen it. She said that it was what people did when they launched new ships. We pushed the raft into the water and quickly climbed on board. It leaned precariously to one side as we floated out into the middle of the dam, and every time one of us moved the raft would bob up and down in the water until we were both wet and giggling.

I felt like the whole weekend had been a dream from a story book. “We are just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I said with a smile.

“Who are they?” asked Ellen. She was lying on her back with her arms behind her head and her feet were dangling in the water.

“Oh, they’re from a book that Grandma gave me for Christmas last year.” I started to tell her about all the things that Tom Sawyer had gotten up to, how he was always being naughty and getting into mischief. Ellen said she knew exactly what that was like.

After a while I started to get cold from being wet, so Ellen suggested we hop off the raft and start catching yabbies. We ran up to the house and Ellen took some meat out of the fridge, before running back down to the dam. She found a piece of twine near the fence and tied the lump of raw meat to one end, before throwing the line out into the water with the other end tied to a stick on the bank. We then waited in the warm sunshine while I continued to tell her about how Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry went to live on an island and pretended they were pirates.

Eventually the line started to move slowly and with a very delicate touch Ellen drew the twine in until the goggling eyes of a yabby began to appear. She leant forward and scooped the yabby out of the water with her hand and I screamed loudly as it suddenly started waving its claws around and crawled backwards towards the dam. Ellen bravely picked it up behind the head and dropped it in a bucket. When I looked in the bucket I could see the yabby’s eyes looking back at me and it waved its claws around wildly. Ellen asked if I wanted to have a go, but I was happy just watching her catching them.

As she threw the raw meat back into the dam, I moved a little further back up the bank. I decided that I didn’t want to live on an island and be a pirate after all, but I wasn’t game to tell Ellen that.

Molly #32

It was early morning when I woke the next day and I lay in bed and watched the curtain moving slightly in the breeze coming through the open window. Outside the window I could see the sun had started to paint the sky with pink and orange. The colours were reflecting on the bedroom wall, shimmering like fairy lights.  I looked across at Ellen’s sleeping face where it was bathed in a soft pink fairy light that made her look so beautiful.

Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking and I could hear sheep baaing just outside the bedroom window. The smell of bacon and eggs came drifting through the doorway and it made my tummy start to grumble.

Eventually Ellen woke up and we climbed out of bed and walked out to the kitchen together to find Mrs Lees standing over a frypan cooking breakfast.

“Good morning girls, I hope you slept well.” Her eyes looked red and there seemed to be a mark on the side of her pale face. Ellen gave her mother a hug and I thought I saw a tear forming in Mrs Lees’ eye. “Breakfast won’t be long,” she said briskly, as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.

Ellen and I climbed onto the stools at the kitchen bench and we were soon munching on a huge plateful of bacon and eggs. No-one talked as we ate so I just watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen. She didn’t seem so bright and sparkly as she had yesterday afternoon.

After breakfast, we set off to explore around the farm. Ellen’s world seemed to be really huge to me as we walked from paddock to paddock. She chatted away as we walked and pointed to all the different parts of the farm. She told me the front paddock that we had walked through yesterday was sown to wheat over the winter. I could just see the green shoots starting to appear from the clods of dirt. Over the summer months, she said, sheep would graze the stubble after the crop was harvested.

At the bottom of the paddock was an old house that Ellen said was haunted. It looked really spooky and I didn’t want to go near it, but Ellen insisted on having a look through the window. I stood nervously on the edge of the verandah while she stood on her tippy toes and peered through the dusty window. She said it was too dirty to see inside so she was going to try the door.

“No Ellen,” I said quickly. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Aw, c’mon Molly. I’ll just be a minute.”

I could hear the door creak as she pushed it open. I squeezed my legs together in agony. The inside of the house was dark but I could see a dusty old arm chair facing the doorway, like it was waiting for its owner to return. Ellen stuck her head inside for a moment before changing her mind.

“Maybe we should do this another time,” she decided. Suddenly there was a noise inside, like the sound of something being knocked over and hitting the floor. I’m not sure who was first to run but we were both tearing across the paddock as fast as we could. My gumboots were flopping against my legs as I ran, stumbling across clods of ploughed dirt. I was sure there was a monster after us and I could hear Ellen breathing heavily beside me. It was only after we reached the other side of the gate that we stopped and looked back. The ginger cat that had been in the kitchen yesterday was watching us from the open door of the haunted house. He opened his mouth and yawned.

I looked at Ellen and her brown eyes were laughing. “It was only the cat. Why did you run?” she laughed.

“You ran too,” I said and giggled.

“That’s because you started running.”

We laughed at ourselves and walked off holding hands towards some sheds that were just over a rise. One of the sheds was really high and had an open front. Ellen said it was the tractor shed and it was where the tractor and some other machines lived to keep them out of the weather.

Near the side of the tractor shed we found a few poles made from cypress pine saplings and it was Ellen’s idea that we should make a teepee from them. We dragged the poles all the way down to the backyard and set them up to make a frame. Mrs Lees gave us an old sheet to wrap around the poles and soon we had the perfect cubby house for a couple of girls to sit and talk or read books. We planned to spend the night in our cubby house, just like Wombat, Mouse and Tabby Cat from Ruth Park’s books.

Mrs Lees made sandwiches for lunch and we took them outside and sat in our teepee to eat. “We could live out here, you know,” said Ellen, “And nobody would ever be able to bother us.”

“It might get a bit cold at night,” I said.

“Nah, we would just have lots of blankets to snuggle under.”

I started to think of Mr and Mrs Bear and wondered if they would enjoy sleeping in a teepee all the time.

After we finished eating lunch, we starting exploring again until we saw Ellen’s father walking across a paddock hunting for rabbits with his ferrets and dogs. We sat hidden in the long grass and watched him from a distance. Ellen explained how the ferrets were sent down the rabbit burrows and the dogs caught the rabbits as they shot out the other end. I watched as one cute and furry grey creature launched out of a burrow.

“Oh my gosh, there’s one,” I pointed excitedly. Suddenly one of the dogs pounced on it and brought the rabbit to Mr Lees. He took it from the dog’s mouth and I was horrified when he broke the poor thing’s neck and put it in a bag. One moment it was so full of life and activity, and the next its body was slumped like a piece of old rag. I felt so sad for the little rabbit and wished it had gotten away. All I could think about was the bruise on the side of Mrs Lees’ face.

Still in shock, I let Ellen lead me away to a smaller paddock in front of the house where her mother’s car was parked. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” she said as she climbed into the car. I thought we were going to pretend that we were driving but Ellen was able to start the car by turning the key.

“Can you drive?” I asked.

“Of course,” she said. “Watch this”.

We drove around and around the paddock a couple of times; Ellen was laughing her head off, but I was a little scared. Suddenly we slid to a stop. Ellen revved the engine but we didn’t move as the car bogged in the freshly ploughed dirt.

Everyone was quiet that night as we waited for Ellen’s father to come home. After dinner I was sent to have a bath, but I could hear yelling and the sound of someone being smacked carrying through the thin walls of the bathroom.

We didn’t talk much at bedtime that night. Ellen said she was too tired.

“Are you okay, Ellen?” I asked cautiously.

She didn’t answer but I could hear her sniffling in the darkness. I climbed out of my bed and slid under the blankets with her. “I love you Ellen,” I said, as I wrapped my arms around her warm body. We fell asleep that way until I was woken from a deep dream when the bedroom light suddenly turned on.

Molly #31

Gradually the chilly winter winds began to ease and I started to notice a hint of spring on the breeze as the days grew warmer and new blossoms began to appear on the trees lining the streets. As the bright pink and white flowers bloomed, their perfume filled the air while I rode my bike to school without gloves for the first time in months.

Ellen and I had developed into best friends and we started doing everything together at school. Although we were both the same size, she was outgoing and talkative where I was shy and quiet. She lived on a farm and once I was allowed to spend the whole weekend with her.

I caught the school bus home with Ellen on Friday after school. It was really noisy on the bus with all of the children talking and squealing loudly all the way. Ellen and I sat together and she pointed out all the landmarks along the road and we talked about how much fun we were going to have on the farm. Every few minutes the bus would stop along the road and a couple of children would climb off, before the doors shut and we would start off again with a jerk.

All of the stopping and starting had made me feel car sick, but eventually the bus pulled up in front of a dusty gate on the side of the road and Ellen and I climbed off. The bus took off again, leaving us standing there in a cloud of dust and diesel smoke. We threw our school bags over the gate and then climbed over, before walking all the way up the hill from the main road. By the time we had made it to the house my legs were really tired and I couldn’t wait to sit down.

“Mum, we’re home,” Ellen shouted as we walked through the back door, the screen slamming shut behind us. The kitchen was bright and sunny and the late afternoon light that was shining through the window made the bowls on the bench sparkle. It was the cleanest kitchen I had ever seen, with everything neatly in its place. Beside the kitchen bench there was a large grey tabby cat that was curled up on the floor sound asleep. A ginger cat sat beside Mrs Lees’ legs, looking up and watching her moving around at the kitchen sink, and Ellen’s baby brother was sitting in a high chair and waving a plastic spoon around.

“Hi sweetheart. Hello Molly. You girls can put your bags in the bedroom then come out and have some afternoon tea.” Ellen led the way down the hall to her bedroom and we put our bags down on the floor then ran back to the kitchen. Mrs Lees had left a slice of orange cake and a glass of milk on the kitchen bench for each of us and I was glad to climb onto a stool and rest my legs while I ate.

“Okay girls,” said Ellen’s mother, “When you are finished you need to fetch the eggs and then wash up before dinner.”

I watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen as I ate my afternoon tea. It was the first time I had met her. She had long brown hair that was tied back in a pony tail. It made her look quite young and pretty. Her skin was smooth and tanned and her mouth looked kind. She was clearly Ellen’s mother because the same pair of brown eyes smiled gently at me across the kitchen bench that I was used to seeing in the school playground.

She was stirring something in a bowl and the ginger cat stood up and rubbed his face against her leg before he walked over to the bench and rubbed himself against my foot. I bent down and patted him on the head and he closed his eyes and purred. Ellen’s baby brother made gurgling noises as well as he waved the spoon around and smiled at me.

“Come on Molly, let’s go,” said Ellen as she put her glass down on the sink. I hopped off the stool and put my glass carefully beside hers and followed her outside. The screen door banged shut behind me as I raced to catch up with Ellen.

The chicken coop was at the back of the yard and its smell reminded me of the chicken shed I had seen at the show. Some of the chickens squawked loudly as Ellen opened the gate, and when she took a handful of oats from a bag and spread them around on the ground they all flapped around her and made a big fuss. “Here, chook chook chook,” she called, as she threw the little seeds on the ground. As the chickens were busy scrabbling after the grain, Ellen and I searched amongst the straw for the smooth brown eggs. She showed me how to carry the eggs by holding up the skirt of my school dress to make a little basket. I placed three eggs in my skirt basket and walked very carefully back to the house, making sure I didn’t drop any on the way.

It was dark by the time Ellen’s father came into the house and Ellen and I had already been in the bath and changed into our pyjamas. The baby had been put to sleep in his cot and the rest of us sat at the dining table and ate dinner in silence. I couldn’t help thinking how different it was to dinnertime at home where the television was always on in the background and the girls were talking all the time. We sat at a large wooden table covered with a lace tablecloth and there was a nice warm log fire crackling in the background.

I was a little scared of Mr Lees as I watched him slicing the roast beef. He had dark curly hair and eyes that looked at me from under thick black eyebrows. Every now and then I could hear his heavy boots shuffle around on the wooden floor. I looked down at his dirty trousers and thought about how they contrasted with the clean white lace of the table cloth.

“How did you go at school today, girls?” Mr Lees asked in a stern voice.

“It was okay,” Ellen replied calmly. She picked up the sauce jug and tipped some gravy onto her roast.

“What about you, Molly?”

“Oh, it was fine.” I spoke very quietly. My heart was beating fast and I was afraid to look at him.

“Sorry, what was that? You’ll have to speak up,” he said. His voice sounded very gruff and when I lifted my head I couldn’t take my eyes off his boney looking fingernails.

“She said it was okay,” said Ellen, spearing a potato with her fork.

“I was talking to Molly.” He didn’t take his eyes off me and his hands were still holding the carving knife.

I tried to speak again but my tongue felt as thick as a sausage and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. He kept staring at me, waiting for an answer, until suddenly the telephone rang and broke the silence. Mr Lees put the knife down and went to answer the phone. He was gone for a few minutes and when he came back and sat down he complained loudly to Mrs Lees about the high price of something. “How are we meant to make money when it costs twice as much as what we get for the crop?” he growled. He seemed to have forgotten all about me and as soon as we finished eating, Ellen and I were excused from the table.

We raced down the hallway to Ellen’s bedroom and sat on our beds talking until Mrs Lees came in and told us it was time to go to sleep. Ellen’s bedroom was long and skinny, with a bed on either side. At one end of the room there was a bookcase and a small desk while the other end had a dressing table covered with dolls. We lay in our beds and smiled at each other and kept talking in whispers, even after Mrs Lees had come back and turned the light out. It was amazing how our conversations could start with one thing and then float around like a butterfly going from flower to flower. Every now and then we would stop and try to work out how the conversation had flowed before giggling quietly from under our blankets.

We eventually stopped talking and I had drifted off to sleep, when I was suddenly woken by a loud voice coming through the bedroom wall. I couldn’t understand what the voices were saying but I could hear that Mr Lees sounded angry about something and his voice rattled the walls like a bass drum. Mrs Lees was harder to hear with her desperate soprano. Soon there was a loud bang and then silence. I looked across at Ellen but she had her back to me and seemed to be sleeping so I just lay there in the darkness and watched her breathing body moving up and down under the blanket until my eyes started to get heavy.

Molly #30

After Mum had been in hospital I began to ride my bike everywhere on my own. She started to get better and eventually came home but for a long while she wasn’t able to do much out of the house and I had to find my own way around. School was only a few blocks from home anyway and I could easily ride and park my bike in the racks at the back of the playground. My sisters soon stopped waiting behind for me to ride to school with them, but I was able to find my own way there. Every time I got on my bike I could feel the wind blowing deliciously in my hair, and the sound of my bike’s tyres humming along the road made me feel wild and free.

In the mornings before school it became my job to ride my bike down to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread and a carton of milk for Mum. I had a basket at the front of my bike to carry the groceries, and when I got home I put the change into my moneybox. Every now and then I would pick my moneybox up and feel how heavy it was getting and give it a shake to hear all the change rattling inside.

After having porridge for breakfast I would kiss Mum goodbye and rush out the back door to get on my bike again for the quick dash across the road between the traffic then around the edge of the park until I arrived at school. In the afternoon my bike would be waiting patiently for me, eager for the journey home again.

Just down the road from home was a greyhound racing track. It was dry and dusty and on Saturday nights I could hear the noise from the greyhound races. Some cheering and muffled announcements over the loudspeaker drifted through the window as I tried to sleep. Sometimes on the weekend I would ride my bike through the gates of the greyhound park and ride round and round the car park, dodging broken bottles and tin cans scattered on the ground. I soon learnt that I had to watch out for catsheads, those terrible sharp thorns that would lay hidden in the grass waiting to puncture my tyres. Mum went down to the bike shop one day and bought me thorn proof bike tubes and Stephen had put them on my bike, but they were still no match for catsheads.

I didn’t get to play with Stephen much anymore now that he had a job, so I spent a lot of time on my own. One weekend I rode out of town, leaving behind the giant peppercorn trees that lined the main street, riding past the ornamental apricot trees on the smaller side streets, past the greyhound track, past the bulk grain storage silo that I had seen on my first day, until I found myself free as a bird and pedalling into a wilderness of twisted gum trees, dry gullies and flat paddocks of dusty wheat stubble.

The backyard at home was really huge but it was overgrown with weeds and shrubs and looked just like a jungle. Stephen made a tree house in the stump of an old tree down the back, cutting some foot holes so I could climb up and sit on the platform he made from old. It was about six feet off the ground and Stephen showed me how to climb up there so that I could sit and read, looking down on the world from my castle so high.

I was slowly reading my way through ‘Oliver Twist’. Mum had given it to me for my birthday but I had to take my time so that I could understand it properly – some of the sentences were just so long and confusing. I saw a reflection of myself in the orphaned baby who lost his mother when he was born. At night I lay in bed, terrified of the dark and worrying about what would happen to me if Mum got sick again. I was the same age that Oliver was when he was taken to the workhouse and asked for more to eat.

The more I read, the more I found myself lost on the narrow streets of London, a small and timid child. I trembled with fear when threatened by Fagin, and as my fingers turned the pages anxiously I ran when chased by the crowd from the bookstall. From high in my treehouse in the middle of this dry, dusty plain, my mind wandered the cold, wet streets of that far away city.

Molly #29

It was Easter soon after we arrived in town and the weather turned bitterly cold. Mum had to buy me a new jumper because it was so much colder than on the coast and all my old jumpers were too thin. In the mornings my breath puffed into the air like smoke and it burned my lungs. I had to hug my arms around myself all the time just to stay warm.

That is when Mum first got sick. I was in bed when I heard Dad talking on the telephone. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but soon there were footsteps in the hallway and I could see flashing lights coming through the window. I hopped out of bed and looked through the doorway. I started to cry because all I could see was Mum on a stretcher and some men in white coats pushing her out the front door.

“Mum!” I called out.

“Get back in bed Molly,” Dad said sharply. Stephen was beside me and he took my hand and led me gently back to bed.

“It’s okay Molly,” he said. “Mum is just going up to the hospital for a bit. She isn’t feeling very well.”

“Is she going to be okay?” All I could think about were those dry old trees.

“She’ll be fine. The doctors will look after her.”

I couldn’t sleep at all that night after that. I kept worrying about Mum being all lonely up at the hospital.  She still wasn’t home when I woke in the morning. I climbed out of bed and found Catherine in the kitchen making breakfast. I asked her if she knew when Mum would be coming home and she said that Mum was probably going to be in the hospital for a few days. She told me to go and get myself dressed in my school uniform and then come back to the kitchen and help her cook breakfast.

Catherine already had some porridge cooking on the stove and she showed me how to keep stirring the porridge so that it didn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. When the porridge started to bubble I had to turn the stove off and let it cool for a while before it could be served into bowls.

I sat with the girls and ate my porridge quietly while they chatted about high school. Stephen had already left for work before I had woken up and Dad wasn’t home from last night.

The girls all rode their bikes to school, and because Mum wasn’t home to walk to school with me, Catherine said I could ride my bike with them. It was the first time I had ever been allowed to ride my bike to school and I was really excited, even though I still felt sad because Mum wasn’t home.

We set off together, riding in single file along the street toward school. I had trouble keeping up because they rode so fast, but Catherine stayed back and rode slowly with me. She kept looking back over her shoulder and calling out to me, telling me when to stop for cars and when to get going again. Before long we arrived at school and Catherine said goodbye and then hurried off to catch up with Samantha and Jasmine. I climbed off my bike and wheeled it through the school gate and left it parked in a bike rack.

As I sat in class through the day, I kept thinking about Mum and wondering what was happening and why she was sick. It made me feel sick and I couldn’t eat my morning tea or lunch. I sat with Ellen at lunchtime and told her all about how some men had come to the house and taken Mum away to the hospital last night. I thought it was strange when Ellen asked me if my Dad had done something to her. I told Ellen that she had just gotten sick, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel like playing handball or anything so we just sat there holding hands and Ellen told me about a time when her Mum was in hospital. Ellen said it was only last year and her Mum was in the hospital for a whole week and then came home with a new baby. Ellen hadn’t been able to see her all the time she was in hospital because her Dad was too busy working to be able to take her. I started to worry about what would happen if I couldn’t see Mum for a whole week. I asked Ellen if she knew where the hospital was and she told me that it was at the top of the hill, just past the high school.

All afternoon I kept thinking about what Ellen had said, and by the time the school bell rang at the end of the day I had decided that I was going to ride my bike up to the hospital to visit Mum. I couldn’t stand the thought of going a whole week without seeing her. I wondered if I should tell Catherine where I was going, but then I started to worry that she might stop me from riding up to the hospital so I decided that I would just go on my own.

I climbed on my bike and set off toward the high school. I knew it was only a few blocks up the hill from my school from what Ellen had told me. There were lots of other kids riding their bikes home from school so I just followed what they were doing and pretended that I was heading home as well. I kept my head down as I rode past the high school, just in case one of my sisters saw me. But I was soon past all the teenagers without being spotted and then I could see the big white hospital building right in front of me.

The hill was quite steep and my legs were really tired by the time I rode up the hospital driveway. But I had made it and I let my bike coast to a stop in front of the door. I climbed off my bike and walked inside the building, but I didn’t know where to find Mum. A lady in a white uniform asked if I needed help and I told her that I was looking for Mum.

“What is your Mum’s name, sweetheart?” she said in a kind voice.

“M-M-Mrs White,” I answered nervously.

“Oh yes,” she said, “I think she is sleeping, but if you promise to be really quiet then I will show you where her room is.”

The kind lady took my hand and we walked down a long white corridor together.

“So what is your name, young lady?” the kind lady asked.

“Molly,” I said quietly.

“Oh, what a pretty name! Well here we are, Molly.” She started to whisper, “There’s a chair beside the bed that you can sit on. Just make sure you stay really quiet and don’t wake her, okay?”

I nodded and climbed onto the chair where I could see Mum’s face resting peacefully against the pillow. Her hair hadn’t been brushed and it was all knotty and spread out. I knew Mum wouldn’t be happy to see her hair so full of knots and that’s when I realised that she must have been pretty sick.

I sat and watched her breathing. She looked peaceful but her face was very pale. Her eyes were closed and every now and then she would move a little. I lay my head on my arms against the edge of the bed and watched. I thought that if I looked away she might disappear. Her hair framed her face with a red-golden glow; I could see the lines on her face – the ones around the eyes where they crinkled when she smiled at me; small creases on her forehead when she frowned if I did something wrong. I could see a small pulse beating in her neck; as long as that kept going she would be okay, I kept saying to myself.

Eventually I felt Dad’s hand on my shoulder. “Come on Molly, time to go home before the hospital closes.” My hands felt numb and my eyes were all blurry as I leant over and kissed Mum on the cheek. She hadn’t even woken up to look at me.

Molly #28

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 the 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. There’s not much room anymore. 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 noise.

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 would be another roar and more banging and a whistle would blow, 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.

Molly #27

We spent the first night in a caravan park and 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 1KA 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 the tears were starting to form in my eyes. “Molly, there is an empty desk over near the window so 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. Warm autumn sunlight was shining through the window and I could see wisps of cloud drifting by in the 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 and I felt like I was in kindergarten all over again.

Molly #26

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 with just an occasional bend.
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.
Every couple of days I wrote a letter to Stephanie and Mum let me pop it in a mailbox along the road somewhere. I missed Stephanie a lot and I often wondered what she was doing.
“Looks like we are 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, but 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.

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