Family holidays

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My older sister complained all the way along the winding dirt road. It wasn’t my fault that my leg kept touching hers. I was always the one squashed in the middle and even though I was small there was nowhere to put my legs. I tried to keep them squeezed together but every time we hit a bump – and there were lots on this road – my knees would slip and I would touch her leg. She kept saying I was doing it deliberately and would poke me in the ribs. Sometimes if she did it too hard I would cry out and then dad would roar at all of us to be quiet. We should enjoy the scenery and stop that fighting in the back seat. It was alright for him, but I couldn’t see any scenery to enjoy from where I was squashed in the middle of the back seat. The one time I did try to see it seemed like we were clinging to the edge of a mountainside and the valley below was a million miles away. On top of everything else I was starting to feel carsick. The swaying and bumping car and the lack of air was making me feel queasy. I didn’t bother listening to dad talk about how exciting this trip was. ‘We’re going to see where Slim Dusty grew up,’ he said. But I wasn’t really listening. I wanted to lay me head back and sleep. I knew I would be in trouble if I asked if we could pull over. ‘No time to stop,’ dad always said.

‘Mum! She’s doing it again!!’ I had closed my eyes for a second and had accidentally dozed off and then my leg slipped and touched Jasmine’s again.

‘We’re nearly there, girls. Just be quiet for a bit longer.’ That was what mum always said. But it seemed like hours later when we finally stopped. Everyone piled out of the car and when I was finally in the fresh hour my legs felt wobbly and I nearly vomited and the green grass.

Mum spread a picnic blanket on the ground and Jasmine was the first to flop down on the ground with her knees in the air and her arms behind her head. Stephen called me over to look at the creek so I wobbled across the paddock after him. The air smelt of tea tree and sassafras. I took a deep breath and suddenly I realised what Dad had been talking about. This was the kind of place where you could live and just spend the rest of your days being part of nature. There really were sleeping gums on the hillside and herds straying by, just like in the song. I could hear Dad in the distance talking about Slim Dusty again as I joined Stephen by the creek in time to see a turtle splash into the water.

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Thursday fragments 19

I met Mum outside school at the end of the day. ‘Hurry up, Molly,’ she said. ‘We have to meet the truck at our new house.’ She was so anxious to get going that she didn’t even notice that my dress was dirty and smelled like smoke. I climbed into the car and squeezed in between Catherine and Jasmine in the back seat as we drove across town.

‘Aw Molly, you smell! What have you been doing?’ said Jasmine.

‘Jasmine!’ said Mum, ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say to your sister.’

‘But she does smell Mum, like she was in a fire or something.’

‘Molly, what have you been doing?’

I was just about to tell her about the fire and Ellen and how she was a fire monitor when Mum pulled up in front of an old house. ‘This is it!’ she said.

I wondered why she had stopped in front of such an ugly house and where our house was.

‘No,’ Mum said, ‘This is it.’ I couldn’t believe it. How were we meant to live in that old thing? It looked like an old man who had stopped taking care of himself and let his beard cover the scars on his cheeks where it grew all long and straggly, and eyelids that hung down like broken window awnings. I felt tears coming back again when Mum said, ‘Come on kids, we have a lot of things to unpack before I can cook dinner tonight.’

Inside the house wasn’t much better. The carpet was old and worn and I could see threads showing through. There were only three bedrooms so the three older girls had to share one room; I was in another room with Stephen, while the third was for Mum and Dad. My bedroom only had space for two beds with a narrow gap between them. The walls were painted a pale blue that had faded and I could see marks where there had once been picture frames.

Our furniture was already in the house and all I had to do was unpack my box. I took some of my dolls out of the box and sat them on my bed. There didn’t seem to be anywhere to put my toys or books so I just left them in the box and sat on the bed and played with my dolls.

Mum tucked me in bed later that night and left the light on for me until Stephen was ready for bed. From my pillow I looked across at Stephen’s side of the room. There was a pair of boots on the floor by his bed, one lying on its side where he had tossed it. His denim jacket was hanging on the corner of a chair and his blue jeans were in a pile on the floor with a brown striped tee shirt. On the little table beside his bed was his watch with a leather strap, sitting on top of a magazine about cars and next to the radio that he liked to listen to in the afternoons when he was reading his magazines. The blanket on his bed was turned down and I could see a little dint in the pillow, like a comma from where his head had paused earlier. He had already stuck a poster of a racing car on the wall above his bed.

Stephen had finished school now and he spent the day looking for work in town. When he got home in the afternoon he told me he was going to be working at a supermarket. Soon he would be able to save enough money to buy a car. He seemed excited about his new job, but I wasn’t sure if he was just being brave. What happened to his dream of joining the army?

Later on, when everyone else was in bed, I lay there listening to the strange sounds of the house creaking. ‘Stephen, are you awake?’ I asked quietly, but there was no response, only the sound of his breathing – long and slow. I couldn’t close my eyes so I watched the reflections of the street light from across the road and wondered if my old bedroom was feeling lonely now I wasn’t there. I could still picture it clearly, my bed in the middle with its pink bedspread and Mr and Mrs Bear sitting on the pillow. Beside the bed was my dressing table where I always put my book when I had finished reading for the night. At the foot of the bed was a rug where Stephanie and I often sat and played with my toys; I wondered what Stephanie was doing now, I hoped she wasn’t sad at school now I wasn’t there. Then I started to think about Ellen, my new friend. I wondered where she lived. We didn’t get to talk very much at school but she seemed really nice with the way she held my hand and let me help her with the fire.

As the night wore on I still couldn’t get to sleep. There was an old tree outside; I could hear its branches rustling in the wind. All the trees around here seem old; everything seems old. Does that mean I will grow old if we stay here? My skin will dry up and my arms and legs will get all bent just like those trees. I could feel the tears coming again. I hopped out of my bed and walked into Mum’s room. It was really dark in there but I could just see the outline of the bed. I walked quietly over to Mum’s side. ‘Mum, are you awake?’ I said in a whisper.

‘Molly, is that you?’ Mum said sleepily. ‘What are you doing there, sweetheart?’

‘I can’t sleep, Mum’.

‘Oh Molly, you just need to lay there and close your eyes.’

‘I’ve tried that, but I can’t get to sleep.’

‘What’s the matter, honey?’

‘I don’t know. Can I hop in with you?’

‘You’re getting too big for that. Why don’t you go back to bed and try again?’

‘Okay.’ I sadly climbed back into bed and held Mr and Mrs Bear tight as I watched the reflections of the street light from across the road. I didn’t have any nightmares simply because I couldn’t get to sleep.

Outside I could hear strange noises, like someone was moving around the house and scratching on the walls. I wriggled a bit deeper under my blanket, but I could still hear the noises.

From further away I listened to the sounds of trains moving around. Every now and then there was a bang, then the roar of an engine until it eventually faded away. Then there was another roar and more banging and a whistle blew, over and over again throughout the night. I thought it sounded like dragons were moving around and as I lay there I pictured them flying in and out of their castle, roaring and breathing fire before flying off again. Sometimes the dragons would wrestle with each other and that explained what the loud banging was.

I still didn’t know what the scratching sound was as I lay there in the dark with my eyes wide open. I tried to picture the horses eating green grass on the farm across the road from my old home, but all I could see were dry dusty paddocks. I closed my eyes, but the harder I tried to concentrate the more the horses kept fading from my mind until they turned into grey sheep. Everybody looked sad because there were no princesses to ride through the kingdom and the only houses in the village were small and old and broken down.

Thursday fragments 17

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

Thursday fragments 16

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

Thursday fragments 15

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

Thursday fragments 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday fragments 8: Christmas

When Christmas Eve came I could hardly get to sleep. Mum sent me to bed early but I just lay there trying to hear the sound of Santa’s sleigh on the roof. Every now and then I would sneak out to the lounge room to see if Santa had been yet. ‘Molly! Get back in bed!’ Mum would yell at me.

But being in bed didn’t help. I felt like running around or jumping up and down before I burst. How could anyone sleep when they knew Santa was meant to be coming? After a while, I thought it sounded quieter in the lounge room so I tried to sneak out again, but as soon as my feet touched the floor, Mum was in the doorway. ‘Molly, are you still awake? You need to go to sleep, sweetheart.’

‘I can’t sleep, Mum. I’ve tried really hard, but I just can’t.’

‘All right then, why don’t you come out and lay on the lounge for a bit,’ said Mum.

I hopped out of bed with my pillow and snuggled up on the lounge next to Mum, listening to the television. I don’t know what was on. It was just some boring grownups movie with a man in a grey coat walking in the rain. Every now and then he would start singing something about silver bells.

The next thing I knew I was lying in bed and could see the first rays of morning sun light coming through the window. I lay there for a moment just staring out the window, trying to remember something important, when suddenly I realised what it was and I looked at the end of my bed to see a pillow case full of presents. I jumped up and quickly opened my Santa sack to find out what was inside. First there was a book; I love books but I put it aside to look at later. I reached in again and pulled out a doll in a pretty dress. I bent her legs at the waist and sat her down next to the book. Next was something large and soft, and as I pulled out a princess dress I squealed in delight. ‘Santa did make me a princess!’ I yelled excitedly. The last thing in the sack was a princess crown which I quickly put on my head and bounced up and down on the bed with delight.

I jumped out of bed to see if anyone else was awake yet, but the house was still and quiet so I went back to my bedroom to sit on my bed and look at the book, pretending to read a story to my new doll. ‘Once there was a princess,’ I said, ‘She was the prettiest girl in the whole kingdom with beautiful eyes, but a nasty witch had locked her in a tower.’

Eventually everyone else woke up and the house was soon filled with Christmas carols and the smell of bacon and eggs cooking on the barbecue. I went and sat in the lounge room and looked at the mountain of presents under the Christmas tree, trying to guess which ones were mine and what special surprises were waiting for me inside the colourful wrapping paper that rustled excitingly when I touched it.

While everyone else was having breakfast in the kitchen, I played with my new doll under the Christmas tree. There was a scent of pine needles in the air and when I touched the tree the needles were spiky and a little bit sticky. It made my fingers smell. I showed my doll the sparkly tinsel and pretty fairies and other decorations on the tree while the stereo sang about having a white Christmas.

I lay down on the floor and closed my eyes as I wondered what a white Christmas would look like. There would be a castle covered in snow, high on a mountaintop. I am a tiny thing wearing my princess dress and standing at the bottom of the biggest Christmas tree in the world. My curly red hair is poking out from under my princess tiara as the lights on the Christmas tree sparkle in my eyes and make the decorations shimmer. There are angels and fairies playing amongst the green, red and golden tinsel, laughing and squealing like young children and I want to climb up there so that I can play with them. There are so many presents under the tree that they block my view and I start to climb on top so I can see further and reach the fairy children. I held my new doll tightly in my arms. ‘Molly,’ she called to me. ‘Molly, wake up. It’s time for Christmas.’

Thursday fragments 7

The bell rang at the end of lunchtime detention and I packed my bag and joined the rush in the hallway to get to class. It was maths again. I wished I didn’t have to do maths on my birthday, but I opened my book and tried to listen to the teacher explaining something about algebra until I couldn’t stop my eyes from wandering to the window again and watching the birds standing on the window sill. I wished I could fly away like the birds. I would just float in the air and circle round and round and not have to worry about anything.

I rode my bike home slowly after school that afternoon and stopped in the park for a while. I sat on the swing and read a few pages of my book as I gently swayed back and forth but I didn’t really feel like reading. I wished I felt like I did when it was Christmas when I was young, all warm and exciting.

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

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

‘I want to be a princess,’ I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I want to sit down,’ I started to whine.

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

‘But I want to sit down now!’ I was starting to sniffle.

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

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

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

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

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

I finished my milkshake and lined up behind all these other children waiting to see Santa. Through the crowd I could see a little bit of red suit and his white beard and I could hardly stand still.

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

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

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

‘Ho ho ho,’ he replied, ‘Why not have a lolly from my sack then?’ I timidly reached into the bag and pulled out a red lollipop.

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

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

‘Mum!’ I said, ‘I forgot to tell Santa I want to be a princess!’

Thursday fragments 6

On the weekend my brother pushed me around the backyard in his billy cart. Stephen was fourteen years old while I was only four, but he let me play with him without getting annoyed like the big girls did. None of his friends from school lived near us so he was happy to drag me around all day like a teddy bear. He was very gentle and kept an eye on me to make sure I came to no harm. That didn’t stop him from tickling me though, sometimes pinning me to the ground and making me laugh until I cried. Then Mum came out and yelled at him to leave me alone.

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

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

‘Hey Molly, let’s climb the mulberry tree,’ Stephen said as he slung me over his shoulder and marched down the yard. ‘See if you can reach the branch.’ He laughed and put me down on the ground. ‘Molly, you’re so small! You just sit there and watch me climb.’ Then up he went like a monkey, swinging his legs over and reaching for the higher branches. I sat at the bottom and watched him climbing away up into the sky. It looked like the tree was going to fall over as the clouds moved past so fast. I started picking flowers out of the grass; making little bunches of daisies in my lap and getting dirt on my dress.

‘Here, catch this Molly,’ Stephen yelled down at me. I screamed as something fell from the tree and landed in my hair.

‘What is it? Get if off, get if off!’ I cried.

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

Then we were in Africa and Stephen was an elephant. ‘Climb on my back Molly, let’s go for a ride,’ he said and lumbered through the jungle down the side of the house. I was the queen of the jungle, swaying from side to side and hanging on tight. There were lots of elephant’s ears and tree ferns and I was a bit worried about spiders, but suddenly we were in a desert and I was riding on a camel, searching for a lost water hole in the sand and finding it at the garden tap.

‘Camels can last for weeks without water,’ Stephen explained, ‘But you had better have a drink Molly, because people need water all the time.’ He turned the tap on as I climbed off my camel and we took turns drinking from the hose, splashing water all over our faces and giggling as my dress got wet and a little bit muddy. We stood in the shade of the mango tree and the afternoon breeze blew cool against my wet legs.

Later we found ourselves on a deserted island, lying on the beach and wriggling our toes in the sand under the shining sun. ‘You know Molly, when I grow up I want to join the army,’ Stephen said with his hands behind his head. He already seemed grown up to me and I liked things just the way they were when there was still so much unexplored backyard.

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

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

‘You could be a bus driver,’ I said helpfully.

‘Nah, who would want to be a bus driver?’ he replied scornfully.

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

After a while I got bored and sat up again and asked him about school. ‘What’s it like at school?’ I was looking forward to going to school next year but it worried me a bit.

‘Some of it is fun Molly, but other bits are just boring. I like lunchtime the best because we get to play outside. There are all sorts of games going on; most of the boys play Red Rover or British Bulldog, but you won’t be able to do that because you’re just a girl. There’s also this little hill that you can roll down and that’s a lot of fun!’

I sat with my legs crossed and watched his face and the way his expressions changed as he talked. It was the playground part of school that was really worrying me. I didn’t like the idea of all those rough boys running around. ‘At least I can play with you at lunch time, can’t I?’

‘Oh no, Molly,’ Stephen laughed, ‘You’ll be in the infants and I’m in high school, so we won’t even see each other during the day.’

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

‘Where have you two been?’ called Mum from the kitchen as we walked through the back door. The screen door slammed shut behind us.

‘Just playing,’ Stephen replied as he got a biscuit out of the tin.

‘Oh Molly!’ said Mum with a frown, ‘Look at how dirty your dress is! Those mulberry stains will never come out, you naughty girl. Off to the bath with you before dinner.’

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