Molly #45

When I got home that afternoon there was a letter from Stephen waiting for me. I raced to my bedroom and jumped on my bed as I ripped the envelope open and started reading. Stephen told me all about how much fun the plane ride had been and the things he could see out the window as it flew across to the other side of Australia. He told me how he woke every morning just before dawn in the single men’s quarters in the mining village to get ready for work. He said the weather was really hot, but he rolls out of bed every day and does twenty pushups before climbing in the shower to cool off. During the day the temperature reaches over forty-five degrees celcius and Stephen said it was much hotter than the summers we have at home. He talked about how nice it is in the shower with cool water running over his face. He told me he was enjoying the work and felt great from having put in some long days and getting paid overtime. He was already planning his trip home when he had enough money.

He said he has a big breakfast in the mess every morning and then catches a bus out to the mine. He told me about how the iron red rocks shimmer in the early morning heat haze and how amazing it is to see the sun coming up over the hills as the bus crests the ridge and crawls down into the massive hole in the landscape. He sent some postcards in the envelope so I could see how big the mine was and how enormous some of the trucks were.

Stephen said that he works on one of the maintenance crews, fixing trucks, pipelines, machinery and anything else that needed repairs. He told me that a few days ago he was working on a leaking valve on the water pipeline when the pipe burst and drenched him with water. He finished the job and reported back to the foreman, asking if he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. Stephen said the foreman wouldn’t let him leave so he had to finish the day feeling damp. He told me in the letter he could feel a bit of a cold coming on and thought it was from getting wet and being in and out of the cold air conditioned buildings.

He finished off by telling me that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my new school and had made heaps of friends. I read the letter over and over again and started writing a letter back to him, trying to tell him all about how big the house was and how much fun we would have exploring it together when he got back. I didn’t want to tell him about school because I didn’t want him to find out that I was dumb.

I read his letter again and then turned out my light and tried to go to sleep. As I lay in bed, I kept thinking about the postcards of the open-cut mine and how I was dumb and didn’t know anything about numbers, and when would I see Stephen again and get to play with him. The thoughts kept circling round and round in my mind as I tried to get to sleep. Outside my window I could hear crickets chirping and the noise kept me awake.

I thought about getting up and telling Mum that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I was worried that she would just think I was dumb and tell me to go back to bed. So I kept laying there with my eyes closed and tried to think of something nice. My head was starting to get heavy when I heard the telephone ring in the hallway. I could hear Dad’s footsteps thumping down the wooden floorboards of the hall and his loud voice said, “Hello,” as he picked up the phone. There was silence for a little while and I strained my ears to hear what was going on.

I couldn’t tell what was happening so I hopped out of bed and snuck across the lounge room to listen and make sure nothing bad was happening. I heard Dad hang up the phone and as I poked my head around the door, Dad told me to get back in bed. But I could see that Mum was crying and I thought she must have been sick or something. Mum walked over and picked me up to put me back in bed and tucked me in. I asked what was going on and she said it was just the hospital in Western Australia and that Stephen was a little unwell and the doctors were doing tests. She told me not to worry and left the light on, but I couldn’t get back to sleep because now I kept thinking about what might have been happening to Stephen. Did one of those big trucks fall on him?

I lay there for ages and eventually I heard everyone else go to bed for the night. I tried to listen to the crickets and just concentrate on the song they were singing so that I could fall asleep, when I heard the phone ring again. I climbed out of bed and snuck to the door again, but then I realised that something really was wrong this time. I poked my head around the corner and I could tell by the way Mum and Dad and all the girls were crying that something really bad had happened. Mum looked up and said Stephen was gone. I was confused, but all of a sudden I felt my legs were shaking and the room began to spin. The last thing I remembered was Mum reaching out her hand for me just before everything went black.

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Molly #43

We left the airport and travelled all day to arrive at our new home just as the sky was getting dark. I was so tired that Mum carried me inside and put me in bed straight away and I slept soundly all night without waking at all. I had no dreams that night, just the blankness of sleep until I woke up with the sun and the birds in the morning.

I forgot where I was for a moment and just lay there in this strange room trying to work out how I had come to be there. Slowly as my mind started to wake up I took in my surroundings. The room had only one bed and it was along the wall underneath the window. From my pillow, all I could see out the window was blue sky with a few grey clouds that looked like puffy cotton balls. My toys were all in a box in the corner and my books were placed in a bookcase against the wall on the other side of the room. I guessed that Stephen had unpacked and put my books there, and I started thinking of him again and felt the sadness that was still sitting inside my stomach.

I decided to get up and see where I was before anyone else woke. I kneeled on my bed and looked out the window and marveled at the beautiful palette of autumn colours falling from the trees. There were piles of leaves in the yard and I could see a wisp of smoke rising into the air from one of the piles.

I couldn’t see where the road was from here because of all the trees, but I could see a laneway that I thought must lead back down to the road. The front yard had what looked like the traces of an old circular driveway and I could see where there had once been a fountain in the middle. There was another yard to the side of the house that was terraced with a rose covered archway leading to the lower level.

I hopped out of bed and went to the front door and walked outside to get a better look. The house had verandahs on all sides and I pushed the door open and stepped out into the crisp morning air. There was a building out the back of the house that I later found out had once been maids’ quarters a hundred years ago. Attached to one side of the house was a ballroom and there was a shed at the back that had once been stables. There were lots of rainwater tanks around the house and one of them stood on a tower high above me and I could see a little dribble of water running down its side. The tank looked all grey and rusty and I didn’t think I would ever want to drink any of the water that came out of it.

I went back inside and started walking quietly through the house to explore. At the front of the house was the lounge room, and when I looked into the next room I could see Samantha and Jasmine asleep in their beds. To the side of the lounge room there were two little rooms. One was the bedroom I had first come out of and the other one had Stephen’s bed and things in it, with a door that led outside. I went back through the lounge room and down a long hallway that ran down the middle of the house. A room at the end had the door shut but I could hear the sound of Dad snoring inside, so I guessed that was the main bedroom. There was an open door on the opposite side of the hall and when I peeked inside I could see Catherine’s head sound asleep on the pillow and her arm thrown over the top of the blanket.

I tiptoed away and followed the hallway as it turned right and led to a door on the side verandah. At the point where the hallway turned was another doorway that led into a dining room and at the other end of that room one door took me back into the kitchen and the other was a double door that opened outside to the ballroom. There were so many doors I thought I was going to get lost.

The kitchen was a huge room with a dining table in the middle. At one end of the kitchen was a large wood-fired fuel stove, and beside it was a door that led to an enclosed verandah with a walk-in pantry on one side and a little room on the other. Mum later used that little room for her sewing. Off that was the bathroom, and I soon discovered another bathroom that I could only get to from outside the house.

I found my way back to my bedroom and sat on my bed, looking out the window again. Mum had been right, it really was a beautiful spot and I felt a thrill of excitement as I thought about how much space there was to explore. It was just like the wide open spaces of Ellen’s farm, but so different because instead of being dry and dusty everything was moist and vibrant.

Molly #42

During the couple of weeks we were staying with Grandma, Dad and Stephen had hired a truck and moved all of our furniture and things to our new house. Mum said Dad had found us a big old house that was just on the edge of town and it sat in the middle of an apple orchard. She said it sounded like a really pretty spot and she couldn’t wait until we got home.

Dad had already started working in his new job on the railway and Stephen spent the time getting his things packed and ready to go to Western Australia.

As we neared the end of the school holidays, Dad drove up the coast to take us home. We all piled into the car late in the afternoon and waved goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and set off back down the coast road toward Sydney.

Dad said we would have to drive right through the night because we had to be in Sydney by morning to see Stephen off at the airport.

The sun was just starting to set behind the mountain near Grandma’s house as Dad turned the car onto the highway and we joined a long line of car lights dotted up the hill as far as I could see.

Mum had made some sandwiches for dinner and as we drove along I ate them and watched the copper sunset getting darker until the trees alongside the road became dark ghosts.

Every time a car came the other way its headlights would light up the inside of our car for a moment until it looked like all our shadows were racing along the road, and then we were plunged into darkness again.

After a while I started to get sleepy and I leaned my head against Mum’s side. My eyes would flicker open every time a car went past, until gradually the lights were bobbing around on the horizon like ships at sea. I felt like I was floating on the water and sometimes one of the lights would suddenly come whizzing towards me and then disappear with a loud whoosh.

I began to dream that I was on a pirate ship that was all dark and sailing towards the lights. Shawn was there, standing at the front of the ship and staring out into the distance. Every now and then I heard his voice call out, “Come on, Blue, run!” before he disappeared over the edge of the ship. I leaned over the side to see where he went but all I could see were fish swimming around. They were big flat fish with bodies made from curved lines that wriggled and wriggled until they vanished when another bright light came whizzing past.

I looked up and this time it was Stephen standing at the front of the pirate ship. He turned his head and looked at me and just stared. I called out to him, but my voice didn’t make any sound. I tried to run but my legs were stuck to the deck of the ship and when I reached for him with my hand his face slowly disappeared into one of the bright lights.

I could feel sadness sitting inside my stomach and as the wind rippled through the ship’s sails I fell to my knees and started to cry.

All of a sudden the ship landed with a thump and I opened my eyes to see the sky starting to get lighter on the horizon. My eyes were itchy and when I rubbed them they felt wet from tears.

I sat up straighter and through the windscreen I could see the distant lights of the city’s skyscrapers gathered together like they were waiting for the nighttime to come back.

We were driving in traffic now, and I recognized one of the schools we had gone past the other time I had been through Sydney. The playgrounds were empty this time because it was still school holidays and the buildings stood in the early morning light looking lonely and sad.

As we got closer to the city centre all the tall buildings blocked out the morning sun and we started driving through shadows. Then we were on a bridge and the harbour below sparkled like a million diamonds. Little boats moved around on the water and there was a big ship tied up to the shore.

Dad had to keep stopping because of the traffic and I could tell he was getting anxious about being late because he started muttering, “Oh, come on,” every time the traffic lights turned to red.

Eventually we turned into the carpark at the airport and then we were all out of the car and running into the terminal. Mum had my hand and was dragging me along, trying to get me to run quicker but my legs wouldn’t go any faster.

Then we stopped running and there was Stephen sitting with some other people in front of a big glass window with a huge aeroplane on the ground outside.

Stephen jumped to his feet and gave Mum a big hug, then shook Dad’s hand and hugged each of the girls. When he got to me, he picked me up in his arms and gave me the biggest squeeze of my life as I wrapped my arms around his neck and started crying.

“Don’t cry, Molly,” he said, as he put me back down on the ground. “Let’s look at the plane I’m going on. It’s going to be fun.”

He took my hand and led me to the window and pointed to the plane. “Just count back seven windows from the front, and that’s where I’ll be sitting,” he said. I looked at the tiny little round windows and wondered how he would ever fit inside.

As we stood there, a lady in a blue uniform walked up to the counter and announced that it was time to start boarding.

Stephen went round and hugged everyone again, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He picked up his bag and walked over to the counter and handed his ticket to the lady. Then he was walking down a tunnel with all the other passengers and disappeared from sight for a moment. I got a final glimpse of him as he stepped into the plane and gave a brief wave before the doors closed. We stood there and watched as the plane backed slowly away from the building. Then it turned and started going forward, getting faster and faster until suddenly it lifted up into the sky and was flying.

We all stood there silently and watched as it turned into a little black speck and then disappeared. My face was pressed against the cold glass as tears streamed down my cheeks.

Molly #37

I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by darkness and a feeling of disorientation. My fuzzy mind wondered if I was still dreaming and falling through the night sky. Any moment I thought I might float through a cloud and land on the ground with a thump. Then I heard a whooshing sound and a long screaming whistle before the full moon suddenly burst into view as the train emerged from a long tunnel. The click-clack of the wheels on the track brought me fully awake and suddenly remembered that I was on my way to visit Grandma for the school holidays. I looked out the window and could see the moonlight sparkling on the dark water of a river and then I was plunged into darkness again as the train entered another tunnel.

I could feel Mum’s leg pressed against mine as she slept in the seat beside me. I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes again. I knew there was still a long way to go because Mum had said we wouldn’t be there until morning, so I curled my legs underneath my bottom and wrapped my arms around Mrs Bear to keep her warm.

I tried to go back to sleep but the rocking motion of the train kept waking me up every time I started to slip back into my dream, so I decided to just look out the window instead. Every now and then I could see the lights of a farm house in the distance, and I wondered about the children inside tucked up in their beds. I started to think about Ellen and hoped she was safe and happy. It made me sad because I knew I would never get to see her again now that she had moved so far away, but I hoped she wouldn’t ever have to worry about getting bruises on her legs again either.

Slowly I noticed that the sky was getting a lighter outside my window. There was a thin band of dark purple starting to appear through the trees, even though the stars were still shining in the blackness above. As I watched, the purple gradually turned into a light pink like the colour of my fingertips.

I looked at Mum’s face where she was sleeping beside me and wrapped in a blanket. There was enough light now for me to be able to see a little smile on her lips as she slept. I smiled too because I thought she must have been having a nice dream to smile like that in her sleep.

The sky was slowly turning orange as the train crossed another river and it slowed as we made our way up a long hill. There was a loud blow on the whistle and Mum opened her eyes. I could tell she was still sleepy because she didn’t move and just stared out the window with that little smile on her lips.

As Mum slowly woke up, she turned her head and smiled even more when she saw I was watching her. “Good morning, sweetheart. I think we must be nearly there. Have you got everything?”

I slid my feet down off the seat and felt for my backpack where it was resting on the floor. I put my book in the bag and held Mrs Bear tight as Mum stood up to wake the other girls.

The train was sliding into a little railway station and coming to a stop beside the platform as I followed my sisters to the door. All of a sudden the door was open and Mum was helping me jump over the gap between the train carriage and the platform and then I was standing in front of Grandma and Grandpa. It had been so long since I had seen them that I suddenly felt shy as Grandma started kissing everyone hello.

“Oh Molly, you keep growing all the time,” said Grandma. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and kissed my cheek. She smelled of soap and hairspray. I didn’t know what to say so I just hugged her back. “What’s the matter, Molly?” she said, “Has the cat got your tongue?”

Grandpa was busy picking up everyone’s bags and putting them in the boot of the car, and then I was squashed in the backseat between Jasmine and Catherine and we were on our way. I couldn’t see anything because the seats in Grandpa’s car were so deep that I had no idea where we were going, but eventually he pulled up and when I climbed out I was standing in the driveway of Grandma’s house.

Since we had been here last, Grandpa had built a little bedroom at the back of the garage and I slept in there with Mum. It was just like having a little house of our own and it made me feel important that I wasn’t just in Grandma’s house with the older girls. Rather than sleeping on a mattress on the floor like I usually did, I had my own bed covered with a beautiful quilt that Grandma had sewn. I sat on the bed and looked at all the little panels of the quilt and tried to work out the story they were telling. There were lots of pictures of cows and tractors and other farm things and I thought that maybe Grandma had made it to remind herself of the farm she used to live on with Grandpa all those years ago when Mum was a little girl.

Molly #36

One afternoon I came home from school to find Stephen laying on his bed and listening to the radio. His hands were behind his head and his eyes were closed. There were clothes carelessly thrown all over the floor.

“You’re home early,” I said as I threw my school bag on my bed. Lately he was getting really down in the dumps and I was worried. He didn’t normally throw his clothes all over the floor like that.

He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me, sadly I thought. “I lost my job today, Molly. They just told me they were putting some people off and I was the newest starter so I had to go first.” I didn’t know what to say so I just gave him a little smile.

“Well, at least we can play together again, can’t we?” I said hopefully. He just looked at me for a moment and then turned his head away and closed his eyes again. I didn’t know what else to say so I just sat on my bed quietly and read my book.

After a while he sat up and put his feet on the ground. “I’m sorry, Molly,” he said. “Do you want to go and play in the tree house?”

I closed my book and we both went outside to play. The afternoon sun was still hot, but it was nice and shady in the tree house. Stephen helped me climb up first, and I sat on the platform with my legs crossed while he climbed up the ladder.

“What do you want to do?” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you just play and I’ll watch.” I watched his face but he had closed his eyes again and was leaning back against a branch of the tree.

I started playing with a doll, making her climb up the tree, but every now and then I would look up to see if Stephen was watching. He kept his eyes closed for ages, but then he started talking about going away somewhere, maybe to Western Australia to work in the mines. Mum had recently received a letter from an uncle who worked over there and he said Stephen could easily get a job there if he ever wanted one.

“But you don’t want to go all that way, do you?” I didn’t like hearing him talk like this. Usually he was so happy and fun to be around.

“I might have to if I can’t find any work here.”

I was worried about him going away, but a week or so later he found work picking fruit at a local orchard. He took me with him one weekend, out amongst the green leafy cherry trees and the hot red dirt between each row. Stephen showed me how to pick the cherries by twisting them with my fingers and then putting them in a tin until the farmer came to collect all the full tins.

After a little while my fingers began to hurt so Stephen said I could stop picking. I sat on the ground under the shade of the tree instead and started to read my book. Every now and then I took a cherry out of the tin and popped it into my mouth. They were different to the mulberries I had eaten before. Some of the cherries were a little tart and made me pull a face. In the afternoon I got tired and lay on the ground and watched Stephen climbing on the ladder way up in the cherry tree. It reminded me of when I watched him climbing trees when I was little. I closed my eyes for a little while and all I could see were red cherries dancing before my eyelids.

The cherry picking lasted for a few weeks and then Stephen started working for a builder. He told me he spent the day carting bricks and things around. It seemed like everything would be okay and he would be happier, but then he got put off by the bricklayer because there wasn’t enough work around.

Soon after another letter arrived from Western Australia to say there were some apprenticeships available. I saw the forms spread out on Stephen’s bed and he just stared at them all afternoon. It was a few days later that he came home and filled the forms in.

“I just can’t bear being out of work any longer, Molly,” he told me in bed that night. I lay there with tears forming in my eyes because I couldn’t bear the thought of him going away.

He was really excited a couple of weeks later when he got a letter to say he had been accepted. I found out he was to start in a few months time after being cleared by a doctor and some other things. At least that meant he would still be at home for Christmas.

Then I got a letter from Ellen; she told me that she was going to stay in Melbourne with her mother and wasn’t coming back. To top it all off, Dad came home one night and said we were moving again.

I was very sad and confused when I went to bed that night. Everything seemed to be happening at once. I sat on my bed with my legs crossed and started to write a long letter to Ellen to tell her my sad news, but every time I tried to use my pen the page was blurry with tears. I wanted to tell her that I would be her friend forever and would visit her in Melbourne one day.

Stephen came and sat on the end of my bed. “Don’t worry, Molly. I won’t be gone that long. Once I’ve got some experience for a few months I’ll be able to come back here and get a proper job.” He gave me a big hug and I left wet tears all over his shoulder. Eventually I finished the letter and popped it in the mail box.

Molly #35

A few weeks later Ellen and I were sitting on my bed reading books. I was laughing at a funny passage in my novel and Ellen was smiling at me because I kept making her laugh. Sometimes we went on like that for what seemed like hours, but Ellen was always the first one to get bored with reading. This day she seemed a bit restless and her smiles looked a little sad. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but I didn’t want to ask and upset her again so I just tried to find funny parts of my book to read out so that she would laugh with me.

“Mum and I are going to Melbourne for Christmas,” Ellen suddenly blurted out.

I looked up from my book. “What?”

“I said, Mum and I are going to Melbourne for Christmas. I wanted to tell you earlier but I couldn’t.”

“When… when do you go?” I wasn’t smiling anymore. I had thought we were going to be together for the whole summer holidays. I didn’t know whether to feel happy for her or not but I knew I felt unhappy for myself.

“We catch the train after school on Friday. Mum said that she wanted to visit her sister. I haven’t seen Aunty Vicky for years… I’ll write to you every day, Molly.”

“I’ll write to you as well, but I’m really going to miss you, Ellen.”

“I’ll miss you too, Molly, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, at least until after we’ve gone.” I looked at her face closely. I felt like there was something she wasn’t telling me. How come she had never mentioned going to Melbourne before, and why the secret?

“I won’t tell anyone,” I said, “I promise.”

She looked happy; no, more relieved than happy, and gave me a hug.

“It’s going to be all right,” she said. “Mum and I will be safe. Aunty Vicky lives on the beach just south of Melbourne.” She had become chatty now, but I was still worried.

“I remember going there a few years ago,” said Ellen, “It was when I was little and it was really pretty and colourful. These little wooden houses were on the edge of the beach and we walked on the sand every day.” Ellen stopped and looked at me thoughtfully. “You’ve gone quiet, Molly.” She kissed me and I put my arms around her neck and she leaned her head against the curve of my arm. There was so much I wanted to say to her but I just couldn’t think of the words. I closed my eyes to stop the tears from falling.

As we sat there silently for a moment, I tried to think of myself in Ellen’s place. There were no secrets between us and my mind ran with thoughts of rabbits and bruises as I tried to understand Ellen’s struggle. We sat there clinging to each other for ages until Mum called out from the kitchen,

“Molly, Ellen – it’s time for dinner.”

“You mustn’t tell anyone,” Ellen whispered as we walked out of the bedroom.

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.

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 #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.

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