I was late.
I was never late and it was starting to add to the stress I was already feeling. I had lost so much weight over the last few months that all of my clothes hung loosely on my body. I was in trouble, but I refused to believe it.
Jasmine urged me to see a doctor, but I knew that the doctor would only confirm what I was dreading to hear. One time she threatened to make an appointment for me, so I said I would do it at lunch time. Of course I didn’t do it. I lied to her when I got home and said that I’d seen the doctor and she had said that I just needed to eat healthy. There was nothing wrong with me, I told Jasmine. But we both knew that was a lie, I could tell by her face.
Instead of going to the doctor, I spent my lunch break sitting on a bench in Hyde Park and watched people passing by. I didn’t even have the energy to read anymore. I couldn’t concentrate on the words so I just let my eyes watch people instead.
The homeless people scared me, particularly the old woman I saw every day. She was dressed in ragged clothing and smelt unwashed, and I often watched her as she walked through the park pushing an old pram full of junk. I couldn’t help but wonder how a person could end up like that and I was terrified that I was looking at my own future.
“Can you lend me the price of a cuppa, dearie?”
I was startled out of my reverie to find the old lady with the pram had stopped right in front of me. “Oh, yes, sure.” My heart welled up as I searched my purse for some coins and I placed them in her wrinkled hand.
“Bless you, my dear. May God bless you in all your troubles.”
She turned and shuffled away.
What did she mean? Could she see that I had already spiralled out of control? I stood and hurried back to work, but I couldn’t escape the smell and thought I was going to choke.
I was late.
I looked at the clock as I hurried back into the bank. Caroline looked up from her desk and glared at me.
“Molly, can you come here please?”
I groaned because I knew I was going to cop it again. It didn’t matter what I did, nothing was ever good enough for her.
I walked over to Caroline’s desk and stood there quietly and waited for her to finish writing in a ledger. She looked up with her cold grey eyes.
“Mr Wilkinson said it was time you learnt how to be a teller. Personally, I don’t think you are ready for it, but I guess the sooner you stuff up the sooner he will see that I am right. Leave the mail and you can spend the rest of the afternoon with Wendy.”
She looked back down at the ledger and began writing again, so I guessed I had been dismissed. I was relieved not to be in trouble, and walked down to the front of the office where Wendy was standing at the teller’s counter. She was counting notes into the drawer and looked up and smiled as I joined her.
“Hey Molly,” she said. “You’ve come to help me have you?”
I nodded and said that Caroline had sent me down to learn how to be a teller.
“Well, the first thing you need to learn is that you begin each day by counting all of the money in your drawer. You have to write down how much of each denomination there is and write it down on the pad. Then as money comes in and out through the day you need a corresponding voucher. So all money in needs, like, a receipt, and then money out needs a voucher, see?”
She wrote out a voucher and waved it in the air before putting it in the tray. I nodded, but it all seemed so confusing that I knew I would never get it right.
Just then a customer came into the bank and walked over to the counter in front of us. Wendy pushed me forward. “It’s your turn,” she said.
“Ummm…, can I help you?” I asked the customer uncertainly.
“Good morning, Wendy,” she said to Wendy before turning to me. “Yes you can young lady. I just want to cash a cheque if I can. Could you make it all twenties, please?” The elderly lady stood at the counter and began writing in her chequebook. I stood there quietly and waited, and then jumped when Wendy suddenly poked me in the ribs.
“Ask how her day has been,” she whispered.
“Oh, ummm, how has your day been?”
“Don’t ask,” she replied. “I have been running around all morning. First they left me waiting for ten minutes at the doctor’s surgery. Then the line in the chemist was longer than your arm. Oh, and I have so many other errands to run. Please be a dear and cash that.”
She ripped the cheque out of the book and handed it to me. I looked at Wendy helplessly, and she told me the first thing I should normally do is check the signature against the card in the drawers at the back of office. But this time it was okay because she knew Mrs Clarke. Then I had to type the account number into the computer and check the balance.
Mrs Clarke looked impatiently at me as I slowly typed the numbers in using one finger.
“Okay,” said Wendy, “You can see there are plenty of funds to cover the cheque, so now you stamp it and take the cash from the drawer.”
I did as I was instructed and began counting the notes into Mrs Clarke’s hand.
“I asked for twentys, dear,” Mrs Clarke reminded me sharply.
“Oh, sorry.” I put the ten dollar notes back in the drawer and counted out the correct ones.
“Thank you very much. Now I am late for the optometrist,” she said as she bustled out the door. I looked at Wendy and she laughed, so I laughed too.
So many customers came in and out for the afternoon that I didn’t have a moment to rest, but Wendy stayed by my side to show me what to do each time. At least it was better than folding letters.
Eventually the bank closed for the day, and Wendy said I now had to count everything and make sure it balanced.
My body was aching from standing all day and all I wanted to do was sit down and rest my feet. It took me ages to count all the bank notes because Wendy said I should count them twice, just to make sure, and as I did that I kept getting a different amount each time. I finally got it right, and then I had to add up all the cheques and vouchers. As I wrote numbers down on the pad, I could hear Mr Wilkinson banging things around in his office and it made me nervous. I kept getting confused and added some numbers when I should have subtracted them. I then wrote the wrong amounts down and had to start all over again because it didn’t balance. I started writing on a fresh page, when I noticed Mr Wilkinson walking towards me. My pen wobbled in my hand and then as I went to add the numbers up I couldn’t tell whether I had written a ‘4’ or a ‘9’.
“How are we going down here? The rest of us have finished.”
“We’re nearly done, Mr Wilkinson. Molly is just adding up the cheques.”
Mr Wilkinson took the notepad from my hand and studied it for a moment.
“Looks like bird droppings. Finish it off, Wendy, so we can go.”
He turned and walked back to his office and I just felt so stupid. I looked at Caroline and she was sitting at her desk with a smirk on her face.
I was late.
I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind as I stood in the bathroom and studied my face in the mirror. I was tired and drawn and thinner than ever. I didn’t know how to stop it. I had been feeling sick again and I couldn’t remember the last time I had eaten breakfast in the morning.
It was Saturday and Jasmine was still in bed.
I needed someone to talk to, but it couldn’t be her. Even though we had been slowly becoming friends, I couldn’t tell her. I knew I couldn’t trust her because she would tell Mum and there was no way I wanted Mum to know what had happened to me. She would be so disappointed and disgusted with me and I couldn’t face that.
I suddenly decided that I had to find Josh and tell him. I had been keeping it a secret for a month now, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep hiding it for much longer. I couldn’t even hide it from myself anymore because as I looked down at my naked body there was definitely a bump beginning to show. I couldn’t bring myself to say the word because I was terrified of what was happening to me. How did I let things get so out of control?
I softly closed the front door of the apartment and walked as quickly as I could to the railway station as I could. I got tired so easily these days and was out of breath, but I kept walking because I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t be able to get myself going again. I didn’t know what I expected from Josh. We had been on a few dates since that first night, but I always felt so pressured that I started avoiding him. I didn’t return his calls and always made sure I had some excuse whenever Jasmine mentioned him.
The train went quickly from Parramatta to Central Station, and I changed trains for the Eastern Suburbs line. The station was quiet because it was so early in the morning and a man was sweeping the platform with a large broom. Homeless people were huddled in the corners, wrapped in blankets or newspapers. I tried not to look at them as I hurried past.
I closed my eyes as the train rushed through the tunnel below the city. I couldn’t bear looking at the reflection of myself in the carriage window, but when I opened my eyes I could see advertising signs flashing past on the tunnel walls. They were taunting me with their promises of a beautiful life that I knew I could never have.
I hopped off the train at Bondi Junction and walked toward Josh’s apartment. It was the one where the party had been, even though I hadn’t realised that it was his place at the time. In the trees overhead, kookaburras were greeting the sunrise and I knew they were really just laughing at me.
I hesitated before knocking on Josh’s door. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea, but the only other solution for me was just too terrible to contemplate. I was about to turn away when suddenly the door opened and Josh was standing there in a pair of old joggers and a faded tee shirt.
“Molly! What are you doing here?”
I could hardly breathe and tears were falling down my face. I knew this was my last chance. Josh took one look at me and stepped outside to wrap his arms around my shoulders. My legs were shaking and I knew I was close to fainting.
“What is it, Molly? Come inside, sweetpea. You’re skin is so cold.” He pulled me inside the apartment and closed the door, then tilted my face up so that I was looking at him. “What has happened, Molly?”
“Josh…” The words choked in my throat. “Josh, I’m pregnant,” I suddenly blurted out.
“What? How? When?” He dropped his hands and stepped away from me. I couldn’t say any more and I looked at the ground in shame. “But… weren’t you on the pill?” He looked at me with horror as I shook my head. It had never occurred to me because we weren’t meant to do it.
“Oh my god. It’s not mine is it? Oh shit!” He turned away for a moment then looked back at me with anger on his face. “You stupid bitch.”
“Josh, please… I need help.” I reached for his arm but he pulled away violently. I took a step forward and he suddenly lashed out and struck me in the face.
At first there was no pain, only shock, but then sparks exploded behind my eyes and I fell to my knees.
“Oh god, Molly. I’m sorry.” He tried to help me to my feet but this time I pushed him away.
“Leave me alone,” I screamed desperately and ran to the door. “I hate you!”
I slammed the door shut behind me and ran blindly. I had no idea where I was going, I just ran and ran.
A man suddenly appeared in front of me and tried to grab my arm. At first I thought it was Josh, but then I realised it wasn’t and I pushed him away and kept running. I was out of breath and feeling sick and desperate.
I raced down the railway station steps and jumped through the carriage door just as it was closing. The train moved off and I sat in a ball on the seat, hugging my knees and wishing this nightmare would end.
I got off at Central and walked aimlessly along the platform. I had no idea what I was going to do next, until I saw the North Coast Express sitting at platform one. Without even thinking about it, I hurried over to the booking office and bought a one way ticket for the north coast. I knew there would be no returning.
“Do you have any luggage, miss?” asked the man at the counter.
“Sorry? Oh, no… no, I don’t have any.”
He looked at me strangely. “Is everything okay, miss?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine… thanks.”
He handed over the ticket and I hurried away from the counter. I looked back quickly as I boarded the train and the man had come out of his office and was watching me. I quickly looked down until I was inside the carriage, then found my seat next to the window.
The familiar smell of the railway carriage and the slightly uncomfortable seats reminded me of all those trips to visit Grandma when I was a child. I could almost picture Mum in the seat beside me, but of course it was as empty as my life. I knew then I would never see her again, but it would be better for her to remember me the way I was rather than seeing what I had become.
I closed my eyes as the train began to move slowly away from the station and I soon fell asleep.
I woke some time later with my face pressed against the glass of the window. It was cool against my cheek. I had no idea what time it was, but outside I recognised the green dairy flats of the coastal country so I knew I must have slept for a few hours. I sat up and was surprised to find there was a blanket over me. I looked around the carriage and all the other passengers were either sleeping or reading. I could hear some children talking excitedly in their seats a few rows behind me.
“Excuse me, miss. Can I get you anything?”
I looked up to see the conductor standing there.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I brought you a blanket while you were sleeping. You looked cold.”
I said ‘thank you’ and asked for a glass of water. When he returned I asked him where we were.
“We have not long left Taree,” he said. “Next stop is Kendall in about twenty minutes.”
“Oh,” I said, “I need to get off at Kendall.”
“I can let you know when we get closer, if you like. Do you have any bags that you need me to get for you?”
I told him that all I had was my handbag. He lingered for a moment, but when I didn’t say anything else he walked away. He looked back at me just before going through the door and smiled.
I looked back out the window at the sad eyed dairy cows standing amongst the lush green grass. There was so much about that landscape that made me feel at home. It had been so long since I’d felt that way.
The conductor came back shortly after and told me that we would be stopping at Kendall in a few minutes. I said ‘thank you’ again and he went away as I began to get out of my seat. I kept my eyes down as I walked along the aisle, swaying with the motion of the train. I was sure they were all watching me and commenting on the little bump in my tummy.
The conductor was standing near the door in the vestibule and he opened it as the train slowed to a halt at the tiny platform. I smiled and gave him a hug.
“What is your name?”
“Oh, I’m Matt.”
“Thank you, Matt.” I kissed him on the cheek and stepped across the gap to the platform.
Matt still had his head out the open door as the train moved away and he waved his hand and said something. I couldn’t hear his words over the roar of the diesel engine but I waved back.
A young couple and their children had also gotten off the train and they were being greeted by the children’s grandparents. I watched as they all walked out to the carpark, and then I was left on my own.
I walked over to the payphone at the corner of the station building and dropped some coins in the slot as I dialled the number. I waited while it rang, and then a familiar voice answered.
“Hi Grandma, it’s Molly.”
“Molly! What a pleasure, dear. What are you up to?”
“Grandma, I need help. I’m at Kendall station. Can Grandpa come and get me?”
“Oh sweetie, is everything okay? Sure, certainly, I’ll get him straight away. Don’t go anywhere, okay?”
“Okay, Grandma. I love you.”
“I love you too, Molly. We’ll be there in a few minutes, okay?”
She hung up and I sat on the bench and waited. I felt like that little girl I used to be all those years ago, but she didn’t have this trembling turmoil in her heart. I was crying again, but this time the tears were just slowly trickling down my cheeks like raindrops on a window.
The stationmaster came out of his office after a little while and asked if everything was okay. I said I was just waiting for my grandparents. He nodded and said ‘okay’, then went back inside. Even though it was now early winter, the sunshine was warm against my face. It was so much nicer on the coast than it was further south.
I opened my eyes when I heard the sound of car tyres on the gravel in the car park, and then suddenly Grandma and Grandpa were standing there. I stood up and threw my arms around Grandma’s neck and began sobbing.
“Shhh, it’s okay, honey. You’re safe now.” She patted my back and I felt Grandpa’s large hand resting gently on my shoulder. “Come on, darling. Let’s get you home and have something to eat. You must be starving.”
I let them guide me to the car and I rested my head against my arm as I watched the coastal landscape through the window. Grandma and Grandpa were silent in the front seat and I closed my eyes and listened to the humming of the car’s tyres on the road. I felt like I was floating and soon the nightmare would stop.
Shortly after the car pulled up in the driveway and Grandpa hopped out to open the garage door. He climbed back in the car and drove slowly into the gloomy space inside. I could just make out the tools hanging on the walls and as I opened the door I was greeted by the familiar smell of grease and oil.
Grandma took my hand and we walked slowly up the footpath to the house. She was much older than I had remembered and not quite as sprightly, but her eyes still sparkled and I could see that she was carefully studying me as we walked.
“Now, you just sit there,” she said as we entered the kitchen, “And I will put on a pot of tea.”
I pulled a chair out from under the table and sat upright with my hands resting in my lap. It was calming and soothing now that I was here, and I knew what I had to do next.
Grandma buzzed around the kitchen, just like she had always done and she soon joined me at the table with a cup of tea and a plate of apple slice.
“Eat up now, love. You’re safe and sound.” She pulled her chair closer. “It has been so long since we’ve seen you. It’s so hard when you all live so far away, but what a lovely surprise to have you here.” She studied my face and I tried to smile. “Drink up your tea, you will feel better. And then you can help me make up the bed in the spare room. I suppose you would like your old room in the granny flat? You used to love sleeping down there when you were little. ‘Grandma,’ you used to say, ‘It’s like having my own secret little house.’ What a sweet little darling you were, and now look at you, a grown woman.”
Grandma’s reminiscences were tugging at my heart, and I could feel tears building up in my eyes. I blinked and wiped them away because I didn’t want her to see, but I could tell by the look on her face that she knew.
“You must come and have a look around the garden later. Grandpa has done such a wonderful job with the flowers and it looks so pretty for this time of the year. Do you remember when you used to look for fairies amongst my flowers? I’m sure you will find them there now.”
I couldn’t stop the tears this time and Grandma moved her chair closer and put her arm around me and kissed the top of my head. “You just have a good cry, darling, and when you’re ready to talk then we can talk. There’s no rush. We have all the time in the world.”
Grandpa walked into the kitchen and Grandma made a motion with her hand for him to leave us alone.
“Grandma, I just didn’t know where else to go,” I said in between sobs. “I have ruined everything.”
“Oh honey, I’m sure it’s not as bad as it seems. You can stay here as long as you want until you’re feeling better.”
I squeezed her hand and said ‘thank you’. “I just needed to get out of the city for a little while. I’m sorry to just turn up like this.”
We sat there quietly for a few moments, and then Grandma felt that I had calmed down a little so she said she just needed to check on the washing and would be right back. I had another sip of tea and tried to nibble a little bit of the slice, but it made me feel sick so I just left it on the plate.
I could hear Grandma and Grandpa talking on the verandah in hushed tones, before Grandpa’s footsteps disappeared down the pathway and I heard the car start. Just then the phone rang in the hall and Grandma’s voice carried faintly back to me as she answered it.
“Yes, she’s here now,” I heard her say. “She’s fine, a little upset but she’s safe now.” There was a pause, and then I heard her say, “Yes, he’s just gone to find him. I think that will help. Okay, I’ll call you later and let you know how she is.”
I heard Grandma put the phone down and she came back into the kitchen. “Now, if you could help me make the bed then you can have a lay down before dinner. A rest will do you good.”
I followed her down to the granny flat and the mid-afternoon light filled the room as Grandma pulled the curtains open. It was a nice and airy room and again it made me feel like a little girl to be back here. Everything looked exactly the same, and I walked over to the bookcase and ran my fingers across the familiar spines of the novels I had treasured so much on my visits here as a child. In the corner I noticed a basket that still held the dolls I used to play with.
“If you can just grab that corner,” said Grandma. “It’s not as easy as it used to be,” she chuckled. I took the other side of the sheet and together we spread it across the bed and neatly tucked in the corners. We did the same with the top sheet and then a blanket and quilt cover. “Now if you need an extra blanket, there’s a few in the cupboard. The nights have been getting pretty chilly lately. There’s some soap and a washer in the ensuite, and I’ll just get you a towel.” She pulled a towel out of the cupboard and laid it on the end of the bed. “Why don’t you have a rest now? I’ll come down and get you before tea time, okay?”
I nodded and hugged her again and she left me in the room alone.
I walked over to the bookshelf and pulled out ‘Gold at Lambing Flat’ and opened it up. Inside the cover I could just make out the faded words, ‘Molly loves Shawn’ written in my untidy, childish handwriting and circled by a shaky love heart. I closed it and put it back on the shelf because I couldn’t bear the emotions it was stirring.
I picked up one of the dolls from the basket and sat on the bed with it on my lap. I knew I had to go before I changed my mind, so I put the doll back in the basket and walked to the door. A glance showed that Grandma must have gone back into the house and I quickly closed the door behind me and hurried down the footpath.
It was easier to be moving, even though I was soon breathless, but I felt like I was saying farewell to all the little familiar things from my childhood along the way. I walked past the swimming pool where I had played in the baby pool, past the picture theatre with its boarded windows and faded posters announcing some long forgotten show. I walked over the bridge across the river and watched the pelicans skimming over the water, searching for scraps from the fishermen’s co-op and the sandbars that were showing at low tide.
As I finally reached the sand dunes, I was feeling faint and unwell and I sat to try and gather my thoughts. It was here that I had drawn my sand pictures and read my books, not far from where Stephen had helped me build sand castles. It also wasn’t far from where Shawn had sat with me while I read to him, and he had later shown me how to play the guitar. I looked at the waves crashing on the beach and thought about Rose and Debbie laughing in the surf. I missed their smiling faces; Debbie’s laugh and Rose’s quieter more thoughtful voice.
I thought about how meeting both of them had changed my life so much until I had discovered that I wasn’t the stupid ugly girl I had always thought I was. All those times we shared our thoughts and ideas and homework, and how Rose fell in love with Jane Austen as much as I did until we were the triplets.
But we weren’t the triplets anymore. Everything had fallen apart because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. They had gone away and somehow I had found that I hadn’t learnt anything after all when I let Caroline push me around in the bank.
I looked up as a family walked past. I recognised them as the same ones I had seen on the train earlier that day. The two young children were racing toward the waves and then running away laughing as the water splashed around their ankles. The husband and wife walked along slowly holding hands. I looked back along their footprints that disappeared into the distance and thought about how someone’s travels could bring them to this point.
And it was that point that I was trying to avoid thinking about, until suddenly his face sprung into my mind. I still couldn’t understand it, when everything had seemed so perfect and forever and then he had to go and leave me like that. It was hurting now, and I found it hard to breathe as I remembered the look on that woman’s face. That was meant to be our love, but instead I was left discarded in the corner like an old rag. Then I thought about the child growing inside me and that now familiar icy stab of fear plunged through my heart. I wasn’t ready for this and it was all so wrong; the wrong time, the wrong person, the wrong everything.
I was feeling sick again and I knew it was time. There was nothing else to be done and I stood and made my way to the path that led to the top of the cliff. It was funny in a way, because this was the first time I had ever been to the top of the cliff. First I was too little and was always left behind at Grandma’s by my sisters. Then I couldn’t join the others when I met Debbie and Rose because of my broken leg. But now there was nobody to stop me and I climbed carefully through the rocks to reach the windswept grassland at the top.
The young family was behind me now and I could hear the children calling out as they climbed the path. I stopped as they ran past and I watched the parents smiling after their children. Their heads bent together and they kissed lovingly and didn’t notice me at all.
I watched them walk on, and moved myself toward the edge of the cliff. Clouds drifted in the baby blue sky and I felt like I could reach out and grab them. If I could float away on the clouds then maybe all of my troubles would come to an end.
The late afternoon breeze whipped the hair around my face and the cold chill pressed my thin cotton dress against my belly. I was vaguely aware that I had been crying again as I tasted the salty tears on my lips and looked at the rocks far below. One step is all it would take, and then I would be free from all the turmoil and the loneliness.
My hands had stopped shaking and there was no more fear, just quiet certainty of what I was about to do. Then a pain stabbed through my belly. I closed my eyes and had trouble breathing again. One more step – I tried to gather the will to do it. I could feel a fainting fit coming on and I knew I had to act right away before it was too late. I took one more moment to breathe in deeply, and then I heard a voice calling across the coastal heath.
“Molly,” it called desperately, rising and falling with the wind. “Molly, where are you?”
Just one step I told myself. Just one step.
I opened my eyes as the voice called again.
“Molly! Stop, you don’t have to do this.” It was much closer this time. I turned around slowly and I could see the look of distress on his face.
“I’m sorry, Shawn,” I whispered as I fell into the darkness.