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

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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

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.

Leo moon

The Leo moon watches me,
catching autumn leaves,
like when I was a child,
delighted by their changing colours,
myriad shapes that sparkle
as brightly as stars in the sky;
for a moment I study the leaves
gathered in my tiny hand,
the changing seasons
pass me by so quickly,
I long to name each leaf
as I once did, as old friends,
tracing russet memories
through each wrinkled vein;
some leaves spread
like the palm of a lover’s hand
but it is the cordate leaf
over which I linger,
fallen like my lovers heart;
behind the trees
the Leo moon
shines onto my face
glistening tears.

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