Molly #38

Every morning after breakfast during the holiday I went to the beach with my sisters and I played in the sand and read my book while they swam in the surf or sun baked. I didn’t like the taste of the salt water or the way the sand would get pushed into my bikini bottom by the waves, so I was much happier building sandcastles on the beach than swimming.

After I had built my sandcastle up nice and high, I used a stick to draw patterns and pictures in the sand around it. I pretended I was an artist working on a painting, but every morning I would have to start all over again because the wind and the waves washed some of it away overnight.

Sometimes I just sat on a sand dune and read my book, getting lost in the world between the pages. The words would float past my eyes as I devoured every sentence and eagerly turned each page to find out what happened next.

Then I would put my book down at the end of each chapter for a rest and just gaze out to sea. The beach curved away for miles to the south until it was lost in a haze of salty seaspray. The other end of the beach ended in a rocky headland that stood tall above the curve of sand. There was a pathway to the top of the headland but I had never been allowed to go up there. Mum always warned me that it was too dangerous and I could fall off the cliff into the sea if I wasn’t careful.

As I looked out to sea, I could see yachts sailing across the bay, gently moving against the waves with their white sails flapping silently in the breeze. There always seemed to be yachts coming or going from somewhere, always just sailing out of my reach.

Seagulls high overhead called out to me, and as I looked up I wondered what it must be like being able to fly so high above the beach and look down on my sisters below as they played in the surf. I could hear the girls screaming every now and then from my spot on the sand hill as they jumped in and out of the waves.

I went back to drawing pictures in the sand, dragging my stick through the golden grains to make swirling clouds that followed the little wave patterns. I was intently drawing a sailing boat in amongst the sand clouds, when a shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.

I looked up and got a fright when I saw a boy standing there.

“What ya doin’?” he said.

I was so scared that I didn’t know what I should do. I quickly looked down the beach to see how far away my sisters were, but they were all in the water and a long way off.

“Nice drawing,” the boy said, “Don’t ya talk?”

I just looked at him with wide eyes, hoping that he would go away and leave me alone. Instead, he squatted down on his heels. “I like your boat. You’re pretty good at it, you know.”

I looked down at my sand drawing then looked at the boy again and he grinned at me.

“My name’s Shawn,” he said, “What’s yours?”

I was still too frightened to answer so I just looked away.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to do anything,” he said, and then sat on the sand and hugged his knees. He was wearing blue shorts and had dirty knees and hands. “I just want to watch you drawing.” He grinned again and I could see that he was missing a tooth. It made him look a little lopsided and funny.

I thought if I went back to my drawing he might just go away, so I picked up my stick again and started to add some sails to my boat.

“Why don’t you draw some fish?” he said suddenly, and pointed with his chin to where I was drawing.

I still didn’t answer, but I thought for a moment about how to draw a fish. I curved a couple of lines together in the sand until my fish took shape and then added a tail so that he could swim. He looked like a great big fat fish swimming just below my boat.

“Beaut fish. Do you wanna play with me?” the boy suddenly said.

I looked at him and shook my head slowly.

He rested his head on his knees and kept looking at me for a few moments, before he stood up. “Okay, maybe I’ll see ya tomorrow.”

He walked off into the sand dunes and disappeared behind a banksia tree. I quickly picked up my book and towel and ran down the beach to where the girls had left their bags and waited for them to come out of the water so we could go back to Grandma’s house.

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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.

Memories

honey drips from my pen
cup of tea cooling on the bench
candle light flickering across my writing space
‘what is the use of crying?’ I write

before I was born
the world was black and white
when my mother was still young
before my sisters and brother
before memories blackened in ash

Molly #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh no Molly,” Stephen laughed, “I’m in high school so we won’t even see each other during the day.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course they do,” she said as she rubbed shampoo into my hair. “They eat fish and crabs and wear shells in their hair.” Yuk, I don’t like fish, but I liked the sound of having shells tied in my hair.

“Mum, could I have shells in my hair like a mermaid?”

“Maybe, when you get older Molly,” Mum said.

For the rest of the night I dreamed about being a mermaid and swimming with the fish, but I didn’t want to eat any of them. There were lots of pretty shells though, and the ones in my hair sparkled like all the colours of the rainbow.

Molly #3

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

Molly #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Molly #1

When I first began to be conscious of the world around me, there was a quiet house during the day when it was just my mother and I, then she would take me with her tucked up in a pram on the way to give my father his lunch. From the pram, the world outside the house was all sky and occasional tree branches stretching their fingers out to try and catch birds.

In the afternoon my sisters and brother would come running into the house in a whirlwind of noise and excitement. The air seemed to swirl with laughing children as I was such a tiny baby and they always seemed so big. A smiling face would suddenly appear in front of me, squeezing my hand then running off again. Sometimes they would sit and nurse me for a moment, as I gazed up and listened to their voices talking and laughing.

Night time was much quieter after my father got home from work. As I fell asleep each night I could hear the muffled sounds of the television coming from the next room and the rumble of trains passing by as my mother read stories to me.

I never felt as loved as those moments snuggled on the lounge next to my mother’s warm body where I was safe. I watched her lips moving as she read; pink and gentle, they changed shape so often, and every now and then I could see the tip of her tongue. I moved my lips too, pretending that I was reading silently along with her. As she turned the page, my mother looked at me and smiled.

I smiled back but my head was feeling heavy, like it was full of cotton wool. The cushions were soft against my face, with little buttons that I traced with my fingers. I wondered if tiny little people like the ones in the story lived in villages under those buttons. Then I became tiny as well, so tiny that I could crawl under the pillow button and feel long strands of cotton tickling my face.

My mind can only hold so many memories

my mind can only hold so many memories
but there is a woman in there that sorts them
keeping each memory neatly filed away
she gets a bit annoyed with my untidy habits
particularly when I wilfully throw new memories in there
without regard for her neatly arranged cabinet of curiosities

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