Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Thirteen

I was dreading the end of school holidays and as the last week of the break drew nearer I began to feel sick each morning. My stomach was churning so much that I couldn’t eat breakfast and I had to spend a long time in the bathroom.
Mum talked about taking me to see a doctor, but then she decided that a change of school would be good for me. A few days later she told me she had enrolled me in the same high school that Debbie and Rose went to. Once I found that we would be sharing a lot of the same classes I stopped being sick in the morning.
By the time the first day of school came around I was actually excited and looking forward to starting school again. Debbie and Rose met me at the school gate and we walked towards the red brick building together. Debbie seemed to know everybody and she introduced me to all of her friends as we walked along. I didn’t feel like the outsider anymore and nobody laughed at my red hair or freckles. I even found myself smiling and laughing with the other girls.
In the half hour before the bell rang for the first class of the year, Debbie entertained everyone with stories about her holiday at the beach. Some of the stories were so funny that I wondered if we had even been at the same beach together.
As usual, Debbie didn’t stop talking as I followed her down the corridor to the classroom. We sat next to each other for the first lesson and the teacher assigned everyone their lockers and a list of textbooks that we would need for each subject. We were then given ten minutes to find our lockers, take the keys from the lock, and get back to the classroom.
“Come on, Molly, our lockers are just around the corner so we can be quick,” said Debbie. I followed her around the corner to find a group of kids from one of the other classes were already standing at the lockers.
I looked at the piece of paper I had been given with my name on it and saw that I had been assigned locker sixteen. That will be easy to remember, I thought, because that is how old I will be on my next birthday. I walked over to locker sixteen to get my key, but there was a guy standing in the way.
I took a deep breath and said, “Excuse me. I need to get to my locker.” I waited for the nasty remark that would follow as the guy turned around, but instead he bowed and stepped to one side.
“Pardon me, mademoiselle.” His smile was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile back. Then Debbie was right beside me.
“Hurry up, Molly. We need to get back.”
I suddenly felt flustered as I rushed to get my locker key with this guy watching me.
“Hi Deb,” said the guy. “Who’s your cute friend?”
“Hey David, this is Molly. She’s new here, so be nice. Molly this is David.”
David reached out his hand, and I held mine out uncertainly. He took my fingertips gently and raised my hand to kiss the back of it softly.
“Enchanted, mon cheri.” My head was spinning and I felt like I was watching a movie scene from above rather than in my own body.
“Leave her alone, David. She’s already spoken for.” Debbie then grabbed my elbow and hurried me back to the classroom. I turned and looked back over my shoulder before we went around the corner. David was still looking at me and he smiled and waved. I waved too before Debbie jerked me into the classroom.
The morning went quickly and before I knew it we were back in the playground for our recess break. I was trying to find a way to ask Debbie about David but she beat me to it.
“You don’t want to get swept away by David,” she said. “He tries that act on all the girls.”
“Is that why you said I was ‘taken’?”
“Of course, I’m just looking out for you, Molly. Don’t give away your heart too easily.”
She squeezed my arm and smiled, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, of course.” I gave her a little smile back but I couldn’t get the picture of David’s face out of my mind, or the way he kissed my hand.
The next lesson was English and I found myself sitting next to Rose this time because Debbie was in a different class. I had found it hard to get to know Rose, and I wasn’t even sure if she liked me or not because we never talked that much. I kept worrying about it and I wondered if maybe Rose was really shy like me and was just overshadowed by Debbie. I decided to make more of an effort to get Rose to like me, but I wasn’t sure what I should do. Maybe if I tried to be more like Debbie then that would work.
“Isn’t it great being back at school?” I said, trying to sound bright, just like Debbie.
“It’s okay, I guess.”
“Well I’m excited.” Rose looked at me funny and was about to say something when the teacher walked into the classroom.
“Good morning class. I’m sorry that I’m late. For those that don’t know me, my name is Mr Norris.”
I groaned. Why did he have to follow me here when I was trying to start all over again?
“I think I see some familiar faces, so hello to you, and welcome everyone to Year 10 English.”
I looked around the room and all the kids were sitting up straight and paying attention to him. It was completely different from my old high school.
“We have a full program of study this year, but there will be three main strands. First of all, we will be studying the novels of Jane Austen.”
I sat up and suddenly started paying attention. Once again Mr Norris seemed to know exactly what I was interested in.
“There will be a major essay and a creative piece due at the end of Term One. Then we will take what we have learned from Jane Austen into the world of debate. Ultimately, I will be selecting a team to take on our colleagues at that other high school across town.”
He paused and looked around the class, and then his eyes fell on me. I quickly looked down at my desk because I knew there was no way I was ever going to get involved in a debating team, particularly if it meant coming up against those kids from my old school when I had only just escaped from them.
“For the rest of the year after that,” Mr Norris continued, “We will be studying King Lear and then putting on a performance for the Christmas concert.”
He stood and looked at the class with his black beady eyes, but I thought they looked kinder and more eager than I remembered them.
After school, I walked out to the front gate with Debbie and we talked about our first day at school. I told her how excited I was that we were studying Jane Austen, but she was more interested in having been able to catch up with all her friends.
I met Mum at the school gate. “How was your first day of school?” she asked.
“Fantastic!” I replied, and jumped in the car.
All the way home I told her about what we were doing in English for the year, but I didn’t tell her about that boy near my locker.
When I got home that night I finished reading ‘Pride and Prejudice’. My head was so full of Elizabeth and Darcy that I rushed to the library as soon as I got to school the next morning and borrowed a different Jane Austen novel. I was so eager to start reading that I sat at a table in the library and read the first chapter rather than meeting my new friends outside. I loved the way the words were so soft and gentle, and while I enjoyed the romance, I sensed there was some other message in there that I needed to figure out.
The copy of the book I borrowed from the library had illustrations in it and I fell in love immediately with the elegant dresses the characters wore. I thought if I tied a ribbon around the middle of my long white Juliet dress then it would look just like the real thing from a Jane Austen novel. I decided that I would try that with my dress on the weekend and I would have a go at doing my hair in that style as well. I studied the pictures closely and tried to work out how they got their hair tied up on top of the head like that. I could do that with a couple of ribbons as well, and with my naturally curly hair it should be easy to leave a couple of curls dangling down either side of my face. Mum should be able to help because she had lots of ribbons in her sewing room. I just needed to remember to ask her when I got home.
The bell rang and I quickly packed the book in my bag and hurried out of the library. I had five minutes to get some things from my locker before I had to get to my next class so I ran down the stairs as fast as I could.
When I got to my locker I found David was standing in front of it again with his own locker door open. He had the locker next to mine, but he was talking to a friend instead of getting his books out.
“Hi David, can I please get to my locker,” I said quietly.
David turned around and grinned at me, then stepped aside.
“Why if it isn’t mademoiselle,” he said, “What’s the rush, belle petite rousse?”
“I have to get to class,” I blushed.
“So do I. Why don’t you let me walk with you? I can show you the way.”
“It’s okay, I know where to go.” I closed my locker door and started walking away down the corridor, but then David appeared right beside me.
“So what brings you to our fair school?”
“Oh, ummm… we just moved here.” I didn’t really know why I lied, but I also didn’t want to tell him I had been at the other high school before in case he knew some of the kids from there.
“I have to go now,” I said as I reached the door to my classroom.
David put his arm across the door and blocked my way. “I’ll see you later, l’amour de la vie.” He brushed a stray strand of hair from my face and stepped to one side with a bow. I rushed past and sat in my seat feeling flustered.
“Where have you been all morning?” asked Debbie.
“Oh, gosh, ummm… I went to the library to get some books.”
“So that’s why your face is all red?”
“Oh, is it? Ummm… I was just running.” I opened my textbook and pretended to be looking closely at the words, but I was aware that Debbie was still looking at me curiously when the teacher walked into the room.
“Okay ladies and gentleman. Algebra…”
I opened my notebook and wrote down a little verse that had popped into my head,

“In that moment between breaths,
No more clouds, but light
Shining brightly, clear beauty.”

I looked at my words for a moment then closed my notebook and quickly opened my maths book. Then I noticed Debbie look away. ‘Oh my gosh,’ I thought to myself, ‘Did she see what I had written?’ I went red from embarrassment but tried to concentrate on what my maths teacher was saying.
“To solve an equation, you must find the common factors and cancel them…”
I needed to pay attention more, because I really had no idea what he meant. Debbie leant towards me and said, “Don’t worry, Molly. I can help you later.”
I looked at her and smiled. She really was my best friend.
After class, Debbie followed me outside and pounced on me straight away.
“What were you really doing before class?”
“I told you, I was in the library.”
“So how come I saw you walking with David?”
“Oh, ummm… he followed me from my locker. I was trying to get rid of him.”
“That’s not what it looked like to me,” she said. She looked thoughtful for a moment then added, “Say, why don’t you join us on Friday night? Rose and I go to youth group for our church. It’s a lot of fun and hardly religious at all. We play music and do lots of stuff… like reading poetry.”
“Oh, I’d love to Deb. That sounds like fun.” I was glad she had changed the subject.

When Friday night came, I put on my Jane Austen dress and tied my hair in a way I imagined that Elizabeth had worn. Mum then dropped me off at the hall where the youth group was held and kissed me goodbye as I hopped out of the car.
“Have fun, Molly. I will pick you up at eight,” she called behind me. I waved my hand without turning around as I walked toward the old brick building that stood next to the chapel of the church. When I saw a group of kids sitting around the front steps of the hall I suddenly felt really nervous and started to wish I hadn’t dressed so differently from everyone else. I didn’t know any of them and they just stared at me as I walked toward the group.
“Hi, I was looking for Debbie Long,” I said, trying to sound brave and confident but hearing the shaky softness of my own voice and wishing I was stronger.
“She’s inside.” One of the kids pointed inside the doorway, so I said ‘thanks’ and walked between them to go inside.
The hall was a rectangle with wooden floorboards and a stage at one end. There was a picture of the queen on one wall and the other wall was covered in posters that some of the kids must have made. There was a group of about a dozen teenagers sitting around in a circle and holding hands. Their heads were bowed and one of them was saying a prayer. I stood there awkwardly and waited for them to finish.
Debbie noticed me when she lifted her head and came bounding over to take my hand.
“Come and meet the gang,” she said brightly. I followed her nervously, feeling out of place and wishing I had never come. “This is Molly everyone, she’s coming to join us. She sings and writes poetry.” I felt myself blushing from embarrassment. I should have expected something like that from Debbie but I thought she might be gentler for my first time.
“Molly, I want you to meet everyone. You know Rose, of course, and this is Bruce, and Anne…”
Debbie went around the group and introduced me to everyone. Each one of them stood up and said ‘hello’ until there was only one guy left sitting on the ground. I hadn’t noticed him at first because I was so nervous, but now I saw that he had short sandy hair and looked a little shy. “… and this is Andrew. Andrew, this is the Molly I have been telling you about.”
Andrew stood up and I realised he was much taller than I had thought. He made me feel even shorter than usual as he reached out his hand. As our fingers met, I half expected him to kiss my hand like David had done, but instead he shook it gently but firmly. His skin was cool against my hot fingers, and I looked up into the most dazzling blue eyes I had ever seen. They were so hypnotic that I found myself staring into them for longer than I should have. Suddenly Andrew smiled and my heart started racing. “I’m really pleased to meet you, Molly. Debbie has told me so much about you, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy being part of our group.” I gave a little smile back, but I was too flustered to say anything. His voice was as gentle and smooth as his hand, and I realised that he wasn’t shy at all, just… I searched for the right word, confident? Controlled? Or something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He let go of my hand and I stood there awkwardly, realising everyone had been watching us.
Debbie suddenly put her arm around me. “Come and sit, we were just about to do some singing.”
I sat on the floor between Debbie and Rose, and the rest of the group spread around us in a circle. Andrew was sitting directly opposite me and he picked up a guitar and started strumming for a few moments. Then he lifted his head and looked straight at me as he sang. All the others joined in after the first verse, but I didn’t know the song so I just sat there with my eyes hypnotised by Andrew’s gaze.
When the song finished, Andrew held the guitar up. “Who else knows how to play the guitar?”
“Molly can,” Debbie leapt in straight away.
I felt so embarrassed that my face was burning as I tried to explain how I didn’t really know how to play properly, but Andrew stood up and brought the guitar over to me.
“Whatever you do, it will be beautiful,” he said.
I sat with my legs crossed and placed the guitar on my lap. I tried to remember how Shawn’s song went and I tentatively strummed a chord. It sounded okay, so I strummed a few more times and tried to find the rhythm. I was too embarrassed to look up, so I kept my head down and looked at the guitar and tried to pretend that I knew what I was doing. Then the words came to me and I opened my mouth to sing, “Can you imagine anything…”
My voice sounded hollow and thin in my ears and my fingers stumbled a few times, but I managed to get through the song and then looked up. Everyone in the group was staring at me. Some had their mouths open and I wished the ground would open up and swallow me. I could feel the tears coming and I was suddenly upset because I hadn’t been sad in ages and now Debbie had embarrassed me in front of all her friends. I was about to put the guitar down and run out of the hall, when Andrew leant over to take it from my hands.
“That was so beautiful,” he said kindly. Suddenly everyone started clapping and talking all at once and I couldn’t believe that they had actually enjoyed what they’d heard. I thought they were just being nice, but they made it believable and I started to smile as the tears went away.

At school the following week we began reading parts from Jane Austen’s novels. Mr Norris let the group move all the chairs and tables to one side and we sat on the floor in the centre of the room. We each had to read a page and then pass the book to someone else at random to read until everyone had taken a turn.
It was nice hearing the stories being read out loud, but each time the reader got to the end of the page I could feel the tension in the bottom of my stomach as I waited to be the next person picked. The book passed around the room and then it was David’s turn.
He took the book and started reading confidently. It was the ball scene in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Darcy was approaching Elizabeth to ask for a dance. David kept pausing for emphasis, just as though he was acting out the part rather than just reading it, and whenever Darcy spoke to Elizabeth, David would look straight at me. When he reached the bottom of the page, David reached over and handed me the book.
“It’s your turn,” he said.
I opened to the page where he had left the bookmark. I took a deep breath as I looked at the words on the page. Elizabeth and Darcy were still dancing, but Elizabeth had rebutted all of his approaches so far and was saying something about Wickham. I tried to speak but it came out in a whisper. I paused and took another deep breath.
“It’s okay, Molly,” said Mr Norris, “Just take your time.”
I looked up and he was smiling at me kindly. I turned my eyes back down to the book and started reading again, trying to sound confident but I could hear my voice wavering and I knew I wasn’t doing justice to Elizabeth’s remarks.
Eventually I got to the end of the page and looked for Rose and handed her the book. She smiled and squeezed my hand as she took it from me and then started reading.
Once everyone in the class had finished their turn, Mr Norris stood up and asked us what we thought was going on here. David was the first one to put his hand up. “Yes, David?” said Mr Norris.
“I think they both like each other, but neither is willing to admit it yet. Darcy knows he likes her, but she has developed a prejudice against him for some reason and so she is pretending to herself that she doesn’t like him. I think they will get together in the end.” He didn’t take his eyes of me the whole time he spoke.
“Thank you, David. That is pretty insightful, although we should watch out for spoilers. Does anyone else have a view?” He looked around the group, but nobody spoke up. “Molly White, how about you? What do you think is going on here?”
I had to take another deep breath and stop my heart from racing. Why did Mr Norris have to single me out? “Ummm…,” I began hesitantly. I had an idea in my mind but it was hard to form it into words with everyone looking at me. “Ahhhh…, I think, ummm, that Jane Austen is trying to make a statement about, ummm, relationships between men and women.” I started to warm up and feel more confident as the idea solidified in my mind. “I think she is trying to breakdown stereotypes that a woman has to say ‘yes’, just because a man asks her.” I looked up at David and smiled.
“That is an excellent analysis, Molly,” said Mr Norris. “You have struck right at the heart of the theme we will be exploring throughout the term. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?”
Rose leaned over and squeezed my hand again. “Molly, you were wonderful!” she whispered. I smiled at her and felt a flood of warmth in my chest.
“Thanks, Rose,” I whispered back.
“Okay, well I don’t think we have time for any more today. Make sure you have finished ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by the end of the week because next week we are starting ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Now we had better put the chairs and tables back and you can have an early lunch.”
I stood and started to pick up some chairs. “Here, let me carry that for you,” said David as he tried to take the chairs from my hands.
“Thanks, but I can carry them.”
“I know you can, but I just wanted to help.” I let him take one of the chairs off my pile, and while that made it easier to carry, I didn’t want to admit that to him.

The bell rang for the end of the school day and I packed my bag and started walking out to the gate to meet Mum.
She had gotten my bike repaired weeks ago, but I still wasn’t game to ride it again yet. I had ridden it once a couple of weeks ago, but it felt strange and I was worried about falling off and hurting my leg all over again. I rode really slowly, much slower than I used to, and I nearly panicked whenever a car came towards me. Before I went too far I turned around and rode straight back home and put my bike in the shed. I didn’t tell Mum that I was scared of riding my bike, I just asked her if she could pick me up from school each day so that I could spend more time with my friends.
When I was nearly at the gate, Rose came running up behind me and called out my name. I stopped and waited for her, and then she breathlessly asked if it would be okay if she came home with me for the afternoon so that we could study. I was a bit shocked because I hadn’t expected her to want to spend time with me, but I asked Mum if she would be able to drive Rose home later.
Once that was settled we climbed into the car and Rose and I got comfortable in the backseat.
“That was so cool what you did in English today.”
“Oh, ummm… I just didn’t know what else to say.”
“Well, I think you have plenty to say. Are you going to try out for the debating team?” I looked up and saw Mum’s eyes watching me in the rear vision mirror.
“Are you kidding? There’s no way I would ever get picked for the debating team.” Actually, there was no way I would ever want to be anywhere near a debating team. I looked back at the mirror but Mum was looking away.
“You should do it, you would be good at it I think. You know I was on the team last year… with David.” I noticed Mum was looking at me in the mirror again and I blushed.
“So what do you want to study when we get home,” I quickly tried to change the subject.
“Well I was hoping you could help me with English, and I was wondering if you wanted me to help you with maths.”
I said I thought that sounded like a good idea and when we got home we had some afternoon tea and then locked ourselves away in my bedroom.
“What a cool bedroom,” said Rose. “You’ve got so many books in here, I can’t believe it.” I looked proudly at the collection of books spilling out of my bookcase.
“Well… I’ve always liked reading.”
“So what’s through that door there?” She pointed to the door leading to Stephen’s bedroom. My eyes followed her finger and I suddenly thought about all the dreams I’d had about that room over the years. Sometimes I went in there and just sat on the bed and looked out the window. Most of his things were still in their place and I think Mum snuck in every now and then and dusted. But it was my little escape world where I went sometimes when I felt sad or lost or lonely because I could feel his spirit in there more than anywhere else.
“Oh, it’s just a room full of junk,” I said casually. “Do you want to do English or maths first?”
Rose looked at me closely and I hoped she couldn’t see the sadness that had crept into my heart. “English,” she said. “I want you to tell me how you know so much about Jane Austen, because when we met on the train you hadn’t even heard about her.”
We spent an hour talking about how I had been going to the library and reading everything I could find on Jane Austen. There were so many books in there it could take the rest of my life, I told her. She asked if that was why I had changed my hair style and I nodded, feeling a little embarrassed.
“I like it,” she said, “Can you show me how to do it? Then we can be the Jane Austen twins.”
Instead of doing any maths we spent the next hour doing each other’s hair and talking about books. Rose said she had always liked reading more than doing anything else, but she said she hadn’t read as many exciting books as I had, and she always had to go and do the things that Debbie wanted to do and that interrupted her reading time. As I listened I felt my heart go out to her and began to realise why she was always the quiet one.
Eventually it was time for Mum to take her home and Rose gave me a big hug as she climbed out of the car.
“Thank you, Molly. See you at school tomorrow.”
I waved goodbye and hopped into the front seat beside Mum. She put the indicator on and looked over her shoulder as she pulled out into the traffic. We drove up the road in silence for a few minutes, and then Mum turned her head and looked at me.
“So… who is David?”
I looked out the side window so that she couldn’t see my face.
“Oh, he’s just a boy in my class.” When I eventually turned around Mum was looking at the road ahead, but I could see a smile on her lips.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Twelve

There was a bright light overhead hurting my eyes so much that I kept them tightly closed. I didn’t know where I was but I could feel something hard and cold against my side. Thoughts tried to move around in my head and kept getting lost in the fog.
“Molly?” a voice called out of the mist. “Molly, can you hear me?”
“Is she still with us?” another voice said.
“She’s still here, but the pulse is faint,” the first voice replied.
I didn’t know who they were, but when I tried to speak and tell them I was there no sound came out, even though I could feel my lips move. Suddenly I felt someone take my arm and press something sharp into it.
There were so many voices echoing in my head and they all seemed to be in a hurry. But I knew there was no need to rush now because the fog was starting to lift and I could see that it was night time and there were bright lights flashing and they looked so pretty.
“That leg is pretty bad. Is she hurt anywhere else?”
“It looks like she’s taken a knock on the head as well. There might be some internal bleeding, but it’s hard to tell until we get her to the hospital.”
But I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I just wanted to go home so that Mum wouldn’t be worried about me, and I knew there was something I wanted to tell her, but I just couldn’t get my thoughts to stand still long enough to be able remember what it was.
Suddenly Stephen’s face appeared in front of me, kind and smiling just like he always was. He waved his hand above his head and just as quickly as he had appeared he started to fade into the darkness. I tried to call out for him to come back but my tongue was too thick in my mouth and it wouldn’t move.
I heard a voice say, “One, two…” and then I felt myself being lifted. That’s when I felt the pain searing in my leg. I tried to remember why it hurt so much but no other thoughts could get past that intense pain.
Then I felt myself being lifted again, but it was gentler this time and I thought I must be floating in the air with my leg on fire until I landed and there was a loud thump like the door of a van being shut.
I was aware that someone was sitting close beside me and a soft hand was on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, sweetie. We’ll get you to the hospital soon.”
But I didn’t want to go to the hospital! I needed to get home and see Mum. My eyes began to fill with tears and my leg was really hurting as I felt myself swaying back and forth. From far off I could hear the sound of a siren, but it was starting to fade and I was drifting toward a dark cloud. I tried to open my eyes again but my eyelids still wouldn’t move.
I just wanted them to take me home.

“Molly?” I heard a lady’s voice calling my name and my eyes flickered open to see a woman dressed in white.
“Oh, so you’re back with us now, dear. You gave everyone a scare.” She smiled at me and I tried to smile back but my lips felt like they were going to crack.
“You should probably have a sip of water. The anaesthetic always makes you a bit dehydrated.”
She held a glass of water to my lips and I tried to sit up to drink but that made me feel too dizzy.
“You won’t be able to sit up for a bit, dear. I’ll let you rest for a while and maybe we can prop you up a bit later on. The doctor will be back to see you in the morning.”
She disappeared behind the curtain and I could hear her footsteps walking away. I looked around but all I could see were white walls and a little stainless steel dresser beside the bed I was on. High up on the wall was a window, but from the angle I was at I couldn’t see out it at all. I couldn’t tell if it was night or day.
When I tried to roll over on my side I found I was wrapped up tightly in blankets as though I was in a cocoon and I couldn’t move my body. But my arms were free and I reached up to touch my face to find there was a bandage around my head. It didn’t hurt, but I still felt like I was floating on a cloud, even though I could see I was lying in a bed. I started to feel queasy again so I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.

I later woke to hear someone crying out loud, but when I opened my eyes there was only an old lady sitting up in the bed next to mine and busily knitting.
“Is everything okay, deary?” she asked kindly.
I sniffed and realised that I had been the one crying.
“You have been asleep ever since I came in this morning,” she said as the needles moved quickly in her hands. I lay there with my eyes open and as I watched the movements of her fingers she reminded me of Grandma.
“The doctor came to see you a little while ago, but you were still asleep.”
She put down her knitting and reached above her head for a little button that was dangling down. “I should call the nurse. She said to let her know if you woke up.”
She pressed the button but there was no sound. The old lady went back to her knitting and I lay there wondering if I should tell her that the button didn’t work. But she kept chattering away and I felt too tired to say anything.
I didn’t feel queasy anymore but I had a headache and could feel a dull ache coming from my right leg. I looked down at my arm and saw a tube sticking out of it and it looked like there was blood. I could feel myself starting to cry again as I looked at the blood, when a nurse suddenly walked into the room.
“Ah… Good morning, Molly. You look much better this morning. There’s some colour in your cheeks. How are you feeling, dear?”
I had to choke back a sob as I tried to answer her. “Good,” I said very quietly.
“Well that is excellent,” she said brightly. “My name is Jenny. The doctor will be here shortly so you don’t need to worry about anything.”
She picked up a clipboard that was hanging on the end of the bed and made a note on it with her pen. “I just need to take your temperature — it won’t hurt,” she added quickly when she saw that I was choking back another sob.
Jenny placed a thermometer in my ear and held it there until it beeped, then she made another note on the clipboard. As she put it back on the end of the bed, a man dressed in a long white robe came into the room.
“Ah, so our star patient is awake, is she?”
I clutched the blanket and looked at Jenny for help.
“Hello, young lady. My name is Dr. Smith. I want you to relax because you’re going to be fine, but I wonder if you can tell me how much you remember about what happened?”
I thought hard, but it was all such a blur that I just shook my head at him.
“Okay, that’s fine. It will come back to you later. You’ve taken a bump to the head with a little bit of concussion. You might have headaches for a day or two, but you need to tell the nurses if they get any worse, okay?. Now I just want to look at your leg, if I could.”
I looked at Jenny again and she smiled as if to say it was okay. The doctor lifted up the blanket and looked concerned. “Ah, yes, yes. I think that will heal nicely.” I tried to lift my head and see what he was looking at but it hurt too much.
“Molly, you broke your leg, pretty badly in fact. We had to operate on it and I put a plate in there to help keep the bones in place while they heal. There’s no plaster but that bandage will need to stay on for a while. You won’t be able to walk on it for at least six weeks and then I’ll need another look at it.”
I listened quietly to what he was saying and tried to process it all. I kept thinking ‘six weeks, six weeks, six weeks,’ and then it dawned on me that six weeks would take me to the middle of the school holidays, which would mean that I would miss the play. All of a sudden that night came back to me; all the terror and excitement and the way Joel had looked at me, and … that kiss. Then I remembered the bike ride home and the car coming around the corner. This time I couldn’t hold back the sobs and I really started crying uncontrollably.
The doctor looked concerned and spoke quietly to Jenny. “I think you should make sure her parents visit soon, she is a little unsettled, which is to be expected of course.”
Jenny nodded and they both left the room. I turned my face against the pillow and let the tears make a little puddle on my pillow case. In the background I could hear the old lady’s needles going click, click, click.

It was later that day when Mum came to visit me. I was allowed to sit up in bed then and she sat with me all the way into the evening, right up until the nurses came and said that visiting hours were over.
I slept restlessly all through the night because I couldn’t get myself comfortable. I had never liked sleeping on my back and now that was the only position that I could lay in. I tried turning my head to the side but that only made my neck sore and it made me feel dizzy again.
Every time I started to fall asleep, one of the nurses would come into the room to do something and wake me up again. Then I would lay there in the darkness and stare at the dull light coming through the window. I wished I could see the stars from where I was laying. But I just felt a great lump sitting in my stomach and I ached to be home in my own bed. I found myself crying again and again throughout the night, but I tried to be quiet because I didn’t want to wake the old lady with the knitting needles.
The next day Mum brought some knitting with her and she spent most of the time talking with the old lady in the next bed, but it was nice to just have her there. She brought me a book to read and I took it out of the paper bag and looked at the title. ‘For the Term of His Natural Life,’ it read. The cover had a picture of a sad looking man wearing convict chains and there were arrows on his clothes.
I started reading while Mum sat and talked with Mrs Gould while they both knitted. I didn’t pay any attention to their conversation as I began to read about a man having a fight with his father and running away. I thought it was a pretty boring book, but I kept reading because I had nothing else to do in my hospital bed.
I thought the man was stupid when he was arrested because he wouldn’t tell them who he really was. He gave his name as Rufus Dawes and was sentenced to transportation for a crime he didn’t do and I made a little noise of frustration that he wouldn’t speak up. I looked up from my reading for a moment and saw both Mum and Mrs Gould had stopped talking and were looking at me.
I blushed and went back to reading as I heard Mum start saying something to Mrs Gould about how much I loved reading. I stopped listening because I didn’t want to get even more embarrassed and I wished Mum wouldn’t talk about me like that when I was right in front of her.
As the week went on and I got further into the book, I started to feel just like a convict trapped aboard a ship on the way to Australia. As I sat in my hospital bed I started to imagine that I was a convict and the tube in my arm was the chain that tied me to my bunk so I couldn’t escape.
Jenny came and chatted with me every day as she changed the dressing on my leg. She told me all about her little girl and how she was in kindergarten and just starting to learn how to read and how well she was doing. Jenny said her daughter’s name was Taylor and she and I would be great friends because we both liked reading so much. I didn’t want to tell Jenny how bad I was at school, so I just let her keep talking.
Late in the week I was given a pardon from my sentence and set free from the prison bed when the physiotherapist came to teach me how to walk using crutches.
My head was suddenly dizzy the first time I swung my legs off the bed, and then I nearly fainted from the pain in my leg as all the blood rushed down towards my foot. That first time I was only able to stand for a minute or so before I had to hop back into bed.
Eventually I made it to the corridor and back and then gradually went further and further until one day I made it all the way to the front door of the hospital. What I really wanted to do was look out the window so that I could see the clouds and stars and be completely free from my prison bed.
Then Dr. Smith came back to see me at the end of the week and said I could go home in the morning.
Mum brought a change of clothes for me to wear home and all the nurses came out and hugged me goodbye as I hopped down the corridor on my crutches. Jenny was waiting at the front door and she gave me a big hug and a kiss and dropped a few tears in my hair. That set me off crying as well, but this time they were happy tears as everyone at the hospital had made me feel so special.
I hopped through the hospital door to the outside world and blinked at the bright blue sky shining above me.

It was late in the afternoon and I was standing on one leg on the railway platform. My broken leg was aching as I leant on the crutches. It had been a week since I had left the hospital but I still wasn’t used to getting around on only one leg.
I was waiting on my own for Mum to come back from the booking office with the tickets so I watched people as they move about on the platform. Some of them looked like they had been rushing and were worried they were going to miss the train. I wasn’t worried though, because Mum had said we got here in plenty of time.
Suddenly there was a bustle of noise from one end of the platform and I turned to see two girls being farewelled by some guys that I guessed were their older brothers. I watched as the two girls went around the group of guys and hugged each one. They looked to be about my age, or maybe a little older and I watched them with interest because I didn’t know the girls from my school.
One of them was wearing a short floral summer dress and had white sneakers on her feet. Her long brown hair was tied back in a simple pony tail. The other girl was wearing pink shorts and a white top and sandals. She too had long brown hair, but hers was hanging loosely over her shoulders. What really caught my attention about these two girls, though, was that their faces were identical.
The brothers left and the two girls started walking toward where I was standing. I quickly looked away so that they wouldn’t see that I had been watching them, but one of the girls smiled and said ‘hi’ as she walked past me. I looked up and saw the happy eyes of the one with the ponytail.
“Hi,” I said back shyly. Just then Mum came out of the booking office with the tickets as the headlight of the train appeared further down the track. I started to feel excited as the train pulled into the platform because now it felt like I was really going on holidays.
There was crazy activity and noise everywhere as the stationmaster blew his whistle. The porter opened one of the carriage doors and I hobbled across the platform on my crutches.
“Careful with that step, miss,” he said kindly.
I hesitated, wondering how to step across the gap between the platform and the carriage.
“Put your crutches across first and then swing yourself over,” came a girl’s voice from behind me.
I turned to see who had spoken and saw it was the girl with the ponytail.
“Oh, thanks,” I said. I was a bit nervous about making the leap with everybody watching me, but I didn’t want these two girls to know that, so I took a deep breath and swung across exactly as she had said.
I turned to say thank you again, but the girl was talking to her sister.
“Come on, Molly, let’s find our seats,” said Mum as she walked down the aisle. I shuffled along behind her until Mum pointed out our seats about halfway down the carriage. As I was squeezing into my seat against the window the porter appeared again right beside me.
“I can look after your crutches, if you like, miss,” he said. “If you need them just call. It will give you more room,” he added quickly.
“Oh, thank you,” I replied. “That is so nice of you.”
He dipped his head and, clutching my crutches to his chest, he scurried away with a smile on his face.
I took my book out of my bag and then put the bag at my feet. I was still reading ‘For the Term of His Natural Life’ and had been wandering through the Australian bush with Rufus Dawes for a week. When I sat up again, I was surprised to see the girl with the ponytail looking over the back of the seat in front of me.
“Hi again,” she said. “I’m Debbie.” Her smile was so sparkly that I couldn’t help but smile back at her.
“Hi, I’m Molly,” I said in my softest shy voice.
“Hi Molly,” she said brightly. “What book are you reading?”
I showed Debbie the cover and started to explain to her what the book was all about.
“It’s about this guy that was sent to Australia as a convict, but…”
“Oh that sounds cool. What happened to your leg?”
“I had an accident on my bike,” I said.
“Ooohh, that must have hurt.” She suddenly turned around. “Hey Rose, come and meet Molly.”
Another face that was the mirror image of Debbie’s appeared over the back of the seat. I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart if it wasn’t for the different hairstyles and clothes.
“Hiya,” she said. She wasn’t as bouncy or happy as her sister.
“Where are you going?” asked Debbie.
I told her that Mum and I were going to the beach to visit Grandma and Grandpa. It turned out that they were heading to the same beach for a holiday with their cousins.
“That’s so cool,” said Debbie. “Maybe we can hang out on the beach together.”
I smiled and said that sounded like fun.
“What school do you go to?”
I hesitated, because I didn’t want my new friends to know about my school and how everyone thought I was a loser.
Just then the train pulled away from the station with a jerk and Debbie’s face disappeared for a moment. But she was back as quickly as she went and giggling because she had nearly fallen off her seat.
“Is everything okay here, miss?” The porter had suddenly appeared in the aisle beside Mum’s seat. I looked across and nodded. “Can I get you anything?” I shook my head and looked back to see Debbie grinning at me as the porter disappeared.
“I think he likes you,” she said with a giggle.
“Really?” I turned to look at him but he was gone.
“Yes, really! Haven’t you had guys chasing after you before?”
I blushed and shook my head.
“I don’t believe that. You’re so pretty and sweet. I’m sure all the guys at school are after you.”
My face was burning hot as I blushed even more and I was feeling uncomfortable that she had mentioned school again. But Debbie didn’t seem to notice and she kept talking to me for ages as the train rushed across the green landscape of scattered farms.
Every now and then she would bring Rose into the conversation and her face would suddenly appear over the back of the seat. But she never stayed for long and would soon disappear again. I think she was reading a book and I longed to be able to read mine as well, but I didn’t want to lose my new friend either.
Debbie kept talking until it started to get dark and the porter came back.
“I thought you might like a blanket, miss.”
I looked at him and blushed because of what Debbie had said. “Thank you.”
He bounced away down the aisle with a smile on his face again.
I settled back in my seat and turned my face toward the window to watch the evening settle softly across the countryside. After a while I could see my own reflection in the window as it started to get darker outside. My reflection looked sleepy but happy.
When I opened my eyes again I could see glimpses of lonely farmhouse lights in the distance and bridges and level crossings rushing past. The world outside was dark and cold. Every time I began to doze off again I was woken by a jolt as the train pulled up to the fairy lights of a foggy station. I wrapped myself deeper in the blanket, leaned my head against the cold glass of the window and tried to fall asleep again.
Eventually the sprawl of the city lay stretched out before me like a dark shadow on the ground as we descended from the Blue Mountains. The sky began to lighten as the train raced toward the coastal plain. I followed the path of a truck as it chased the train for a few moments before it came to an intersection while the train raced on. Then there were miles and miles of small backyards behind the houses alongside the railway line. One was full of junk, the next one neat and tidy. Some of the yards had washing on the line, and a voiceless dog barked at the train. Then the train slowed as it passed the old Mortuary Station and I had to sit up because Mum said we were nearly there.
The porter appeared again with my crutches as soon as the train moved slowly alongside the platform of Central Station. I thanked him again as I hopped down the aisle and climbed from the train carriage. I turned and he was standing at the door waving.
“Bye miss,” he called out.
There was an hour before we had to catch the train for the north coast, so Mum decided we should head to the café at the railway station for breakfast. Debbie and Rose were standing with their bags so Mum asked if they would like to join us. Debbie gave Mum a huge smile and said they would love to. She didn’t stop talking all the way through breakfast.
It turned out that Debbie and Rose were in the same year at school as me, but they went to Kinross College which was a private school on the other side of town to where I lived. The twins were nearly a year older than me and they had three grownup brothers.
By the time we finished breakfast, we had already made plans that the girls and their cousins would take me with them to the beach every day.
We still had a little time after breakfast before the train left, so Mum let me browse through the newsagent and buy a new book to read at the beach. I couldn’t decide which book I wanted, but Rose came and stood beside me and pointed to a book called ‘Pride and Prejudice’.
“You’ll love it, Molly. It’s so romantic.”

I felt like I was lying in heaven when I woke in the morning. The pillows on my bed were as soft as clouds and I was snug under the fluffy doona. Sunlight was bursting through the window and it threw pretty patterns across the mat on the floor. I couldn’t remember having ever felt so happy and full of life as I looked out the window at the cloudless blue sky.
I bounded out of bed and grabbed my crutches and hopped up to the house to join Mum and Grandma in the kitchen for breakfast.
“Good morning,” I said brightly and gave them both a hug.
“Well, you are chirpy this morning. It’s so good to see a smile on your face,” said Grandma.
I couldn’t help but smile at her even more brightly. I really didn’t know why I felt so happy, but I finished breakfast and hopped out onto the verandah to wait for Debbie and Rose.
I had just started reading when an old car pulled up at the front of the house and beeped its horn. Then I saw Debbie’s head sticking out the window.
“Come on, Molly. The beach is waiting.”
I quickly said goodbye to Mum and Grandma and made my way down the driveway to the car. In all the excitement I had forgotten to be nervous, but all of my shyness suddenly came flooding back when I realised there was more than just Debbie and Rose in the car.
Debbie jumped out so that I could sit in the middle of her and Rose and she took my crutches to put them in the boot. There were three guys sitting across the bench seat in the front.
“Guys, this is Molly,” said Debbie. As they all turned their heads to look at me, I sat there astonished to recognise the sandy hair and the lopsided grin of the guy in the middle.
“Blue!” he said, just as astonished as I was. “Blue, is that really you?”
All of the others sat there and stared at us with their mouths open. Not even Debbie could think of anything to say.
“Hi Shawn,” I said as coolly as I could, but inside I was bubbling with nerves and excitement.
“You two know each other?” Debbie screamed.
“Yes,” said Shawn, “Ages ago. I thought I would never see you again, Blue.”
The rest of the way to the beach was spent explaining how we had met when I was eight years old. Debbie was excited, but Rose seemed to show more interest in me than she had before. The other two guys in the car were Shawn’s brothers. The one driving was Neil and he was the oldest in the family. Shawn was the middle brother and Michael was a year older than me and the same age as the twins.
We stopped at the beach and climbed out of the car. It was the same beach that I had played on ever since I was a child, and I felt like I knew every curve of the sand dunes as they led around to that rocky headland that stood broodingly at the northern end of the beach. From where I was standing I could clearly see the pathway that climbed to the top of the headland.
“Come on guys, let’s get in the water,” Debbie squealed as she raced across the beach. She dropped her towel on the sand and then leapt toward the waves. Rose was close behind her and both girls screamed when the water crashed into their waists.
Neil and Michael were busy taking the surf boards off the roof of the car, and Shawn got my crutches out of the boot and walked slowly across the sand beside me. Neither of us spoke. I kept thinking about the little boy that I played with in the sand dunes and how he made me run all the time, but how I so wanted to do what he asked to make him happy.
We reached the spot where Debbie and Rose had dropped their towels and I laid mine carefully on the sand and sat down. Shawn flopped to the ground carelessly beside me and sat with his arm around one knee.
“Do you want to swim, Molly?”
“Oh, I don’t really like being in the waves. I like just sitting here.”
We fell silent again and I looked across the bay at the boats in the distance.
“Do you still read lots of books?”
I smiled and said, “Of course I do”. I pulled ‘Pride and Prejudice’ out of my bag and showed it to him.
“Do you want to read it together, like we used to do?” he asked.
I told him he might find this book a bit boring, but he kept insisting so I opened it up and started reading the first chapter to him. He lay back on the sand with his arms behind his head and listened to me reading. Every now and then I would glance across at him laying there with his eyes closed and smile.
I was nearly finished the chapter when Neil and Michael came up to us carrying the surfboards.
“Why aren’t you guys in the water?” Neil asked.
Shawn sat up. “We were just waiting for the surfboards,” he said.
“Well you could have helped, you know.”
Neil dropped two surfboards on the sand and with one tucked under his arm he walked down the beach toward the waves.
“So how about it, Blue?” said Shawn, “Do you want to go in. I can show you how to float on a surfboard.”
He looked so eager for me to say ‘yes’ that I couldn’t help myself, even though I was still terrified of the waves and was worried about my broken leg. I slipped my sun dress over my head and then felt self conscious to be sitting there in just my swim suit. I stood up awkwardly with my crutches and wondered how I was going to do this.
Shawn picked up both boards and I followed him anxiously down to the edge of the water.
“So what you need to do, Molly, is to lie on the board on your tummy and paddle with your arms. Just float like that and you’ll be fine.” He walked into the water up to his knees and then dived forward onto the board and started paddling to show me what to do. “Just go in between the waves,” he yelled back over his shoulder.
I could still hear Debbie and Rose squealing amongst the surf further out in the water, but I stood there uncertainly wondering what to do with my crutches and how to leap on the board all in one motion. My dilemma must have suddenly dawned on Shawn because he turned and came back to shore.
“Hang on, Molly. Let’s do it another way.” He took my crutches and put them back above where the waves were washing against the sand then he held the board at the edge of the water where there was a little foam left from the last wave. “Okay, lay yourself on the board on your stomach.”
I got to my knees and crawled onto the board, then took a deep breath and closed my eyes as I felt Shawn pushing the surfboard out into the water. I could feel the board rocking under my tummy and after a few moments I opened my eyes when I realised I hadn’t tumbled into the water.
I looked across and Shawn was right beside me grinning. “Now paddle straight into the next wave and you should go right over the top.” He had climbed on his board and I followed him as he started paddling like mad until I felt the water swell up underneath my board. My heart was racing and I was sure this time I would be thrown off. I didn’t want to even think about how I was going to swim with my broken leg if I ended up in the waves. But somehow I made it over the top with a splash of spray and then plummeted into the still water on the other side.
Before I knew it, we were way out in the deep water and when I turned the shoreline seemed to be so far away that I started to panic. The water looked so deep and if I fell off then I knew I would sink into the waves because I wouldn’t be able to swim with my broken leg and I knew I shouldn’t have come out here into the water, but then all of a sudden Shawn was right there beside me again. He reached out and took my hand. “It’s okay, Molly. Just keep paddling and you’ll be fine.”
His voice was calming and I relaxed a little bit. As long as he stayed close to me I was going to be okay, I told myself.
I heard a loud yell and looked up to see Neil standing on his board and crouching into the curl of a wave. He looked so poetic that I wished I could do that, even though I knew I would never be able to balance, let alone stand with my leg the way it was. Michael went past as well with a look of total concentration on his face.
I turned to Shawn. “You can surf too if you want, you don’t have to stay with me.”
“It’s okay, I don’t mind being here. I like it.”
I looked at him and smiled and he smiled back with that lopsided grin I remembered so well. We stayed out there like that for ages, just riding on the swell of the waves and paddling into the bigger ones so that we didn’t get washed back onto the beach. Once I got comfortable and relaxed a bit we started talking. There was so much I wanted to know about Shawn and what he had been doing all these years. He told me all about how he spent most of his spare time out surfing whenever he could.
“What about your school work?” I asked. He looked away and gazed out to sea.
“I don’t like school much,” he said. “I’d much rather surf and play my guitar than go to school.”
“Oh wow, you play guitar? I started learning to play a couple of years ago but it hurt my fingers too much.”
“Really? You should try again, it just takes practice.” He was beaming now and seemed excited to be talking about his guitar. “I could teach you,” he added. “I’ve got my guitar in the car. I always carry it with me everywhere I go.”
I tried to tell him that I wouldn’t be very good at it, but he wouldn’t listen.
“Why don’t we swim back to the beach and I’ll play you a song?” He started paddling and I had no choice but to follow him. I was glad to be getting out of the water anyway.
As my surfboard slid up onto the sand I crawled to my knees and was just about to try and stand up on one leg when Shawn suddenly picked me up in his arms.
“Oh gosh,” was all I could say as I felt myself being lifted. I didn’t know what I should do so I threw one arm over his shoulder and tried to hang on, but he was strong and I felt safe in his arms. I guess it helped that I was only a small girl. I looked up at Shawn’s face and he looked down and smiled at me and held me tighter as I felt the smooth skin of his shoulder against my cheek.
He laid me gently on my towel and then ran off to get his guitar from the car. I slipped my sun dress back on and put my shady straw hat on my head to keep the sun off my face. I was putting some more sunscreen on my arms when he came bounding over the sand dunes with a guitar case and flopped down beside me. He opened the guitar case and pulled the instrument out and strummed the strings.
“Let me sing you a song,” he said, then looked thoughtful for a moment. He started running his fingers over the silver strings and the most beautiful melody filled the air. Every note seemed like a drop of liquid crystal that just floated from his fingertips. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to start singing with a voice that sounded husky and soulful.

“Can you imagine anything?
As long as it could make your heart sing,
Go round forever like a golden ring,
Leave behind all this aching,
If you could be anything?

Can you imagine life on the moon?
Or sailing the world to a beautiful tune,
Find a tropic island, be marooned,
Or maybe hide in a cocoon,
As long as you don’t come home too soon.”

He stopped singing and hummed along with the guitar for a little while and then stopped. “That’s all I’ve written so far, I’m not sure what to say next,” he said with an embarrassed grin.
“Shawn, that was beautiful. I loved it.” I couldn’t believe he had written it himself and I suddenly found myself telling him all about how I had started writing poetry. I told him that I never showed it to anybody because it was just my way of capturing all those random thoughts that float around in my head. But I was so impressed that he had written his own song that as we talked I started to get an idea that I could help him finish it.
“Why don’t you have a go at the guitar,” he said and handed the instrument to me.
I placed it across my lap and tried to remember how to put my fingers on the strings. As I strummed the guitar made a terrible noise, and I was about to hand it back in embarrassment but Shawn wouldn’t let me.
“Take your time, Molly. Give yourself a chance.” He showed me how to make a chord and then when I strummed again it came out sounding like music. Shawn spent ages showing me how to make different chords and I knew there was no way I would ever remember them all, but I really started to enjoy being able to make this instrument produce such pretty sounds, even if I didn’t know what I was doing.
I kept practicing until the others came out of the surf for a break, and then Shawn took the guitar back and started singing. We all sat around in a group then and sang songs together, and while Debbie was the loudest, of course, she was soon encouraging me to sing out as well. My voice was more of a whisper compared with hers but I soon found that I was enjoying myself as much as I had when I sang on my own as a little girl.
For the next two weeks I spent every day at the beach with my new friends and we repeated the same thing over and over again every day as I read a chapter of my book to Shawn, before going out on the surfboards for a while, each time going a little further and further out. Then we would come back to the beach and sit around in a group and sing and play the guitar until it was time to go home.
Shawn always sat beside me and helped me in and out of the water. Every time I looked at him I felt butterflies in my stomach and I found myself laying awake in bed at night thinking about what we had been doing during the day and the way he smiled at me. As my cheek pressed against the pillow, I remembered how smooth his skin was.
But eventually it was the last day of my holiday and everyone was a bit quiet and sad at the beach that day. Debbie and Rose were staying for another week, while I had to catch the train home early in the morning. We sat around and sang songs as usual, but they were somehow softer and slower than normal. Someone decided to go for a walk to the headland, but I couldn’t go up the steep path because of my broken leg so Shawn stayed on the beach with me while the others went.
I was glad of the chance to have a last quiet moment together and when everyone had disappeared down the beach I pulled a piece of paper out of my bag. I had been working on some lyrics so that Shawn could finish his song and I started to sing to him.

“Can you imagine being back at school?
Would you still break all the rules?
Or would you just be acting the fool?
Maybe you’d be way too cool,
If you were ever back at school.

Could you imagine starting again?
Maybe this time we’d still be friends,
You’d be smiling, I’d have my zen,
There would still be moments when…
If we could start all over again.”

He sat there stunned and then pulled out his guitar and we sang the whole song together. The music from his guitar was so beautiful and our voices blended so well together that I felt like we were angels singing in heaven. Shawn closed his eyes when he sang and he looked so serious and cute, but then he opened them and saw that I was looking at him. He stopped playing and put his guitar down and leant forward and hugged me.
“I’m going to miss you so much, Molly.”
“I will write to you every day, Shawn.” I had hoped for something more, but the hug was nice and we held each other for ages until the others came back and it was time to go.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Eleven

As evening fell I sat on my bed and started reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I struggled to get into the story at first because the language was so strange and hard for me to understand, but I soon found a rhythm when I began to read it out loud and that helped me to make sense of some of the words.
When I suddenly realised that Juliet was nearly the same age as I was, I became even more interested in trying to understand what was happening in the story.
As I read through the first scenes I didn’t like the character of Romeo at all. He just seemed to be like all those other loud mouthed boys when he said he was in love with one girl but then forgot all about her the moment he saw Juliet. I was disgusted when he kissed Juliet for the first time, particularly after she had said that she didn’t want him to.
But I became so engrossed in my reading that instead of going to sleep I stayed up until late into the night, long after everyone else in the house had gone to be bed. I held my book in the light of my bedside lamp as I read all the way through to the scene where Romeo stood in the garden and watched Juliet through the window.
Eventually I got too tired to read as I had to fight to keep my eyelids open, so I lay the book beside my pillow and fell asleep with thoughts of flowers and masks and gardens and parties floating through my mind.
As I slept that night I had a strange dream where I was surrounded by my sisters. They were all jumping around and yelling ‘happy birthday’, and then Catherine was brushing my hair while Jasmine was putting makeup on my face. Samantha was dancing around the room and singing, and I sat silently in the middle of all this activity. There was a light coming through the window and I could hear the voices of lots of boys talking and laughing and yelling and fighting, but I never saw any of their faces. I turned and looked at my face in the mirror and smiled because I thought I looked pretty, but when I woke next morning it was still the same old me with all those ugly freckles.
I rolled over in my bed and found my book was still right next to my pillow where I had left it. I picked it up and started reading again, slowly rolling the words over my tongue to try and get the right feel and understand what was happening. I took the book with me out to the kitchen and kept reading all the way through breakfast and then I decided to go for a walk amongst the apple trees.
I kept walking until I was deep inside the orchard and far away from any human eyes. Standing in the shade of an apple tree, I held the book in one hand as I started reading aloud and pretended that I was performing in the play. I went back to the beginning, because that moment when Romeo and Juliet first fell in love with each other was starting to become my favourite scene. I looked through the branches as though I was looking out my window and imagined that a handsome Romeo was watching me from the other side and throwing sweet wishes my way.
When I got tired of acting I sat down with my back against the trunk of the apple tree and pulled a pencil out of my pocket to start writing in my journal. I wanted to write poetry in the way that it was written in the play, but the words just came out ugly and clumsy so I stopped doing that and just stared into the trees for ages and let my mind wander.
Then I got an idea that I should write a poem about how I felt about Romeo and Juliet. So I closed my eyes for a moment to try and compose some words. When I opened them I just let my pen wander across the page as I wrote,

‘When I was a young child,
I dreamed I was a singer,
Lifting my voice to the stars
Where everybody would listen;
I lived by the water with my sisters,
In a house of love, laughter and music,
Until one day I awoke as a teenager
Lost in a book of dreams;
When I closed my eyes,
Or disappeared into a daydream,
My voice would carry across the water
As I sang of love and tragedy;
I discovered ancient poetry,
The light breaking from the east,
And I was Juliet, no longer a child
But a woman deeply in love;
I sang with my lover in duet
As we promised each other
Eternity with a kiss.’

I sat up and read over what I had written and felt so happy inside that I just smiled into the dappled light shining through the branches above me.
At school the next day I kept looking inside my backpack to see my book sitting there, and I had this urge to pick it up and start reading. But I didn’t want my teachers or any of the kids in my class to see me reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’ so I just left it there. I was so itchy to read my book again that as soon as the bell went at lunchtime I headed straight for the library and found a quiet desk in the back corner. You weren’t allowed to take food into the library, but that didn’t matter because I wasn’t hungry anyway. I was so excited about reading my book that I didn’t feel like eating lunch at all.
All through the week I sat in the library at lunch time and read more and more of the book. As I read I felt little fluttering butterflies in the bottom of my stomach, but they were nice ones, not the sort that made me want to throw up. By the end of the week I had finished reading the whole book and I cried when they both died.
But I didn’t want to feel sad, so I started reading again from the beginning and kept going over those scenes that I liked the best again and again.
I had decided my favourite scene was the one where Romeo snuck into Juliet’s party, and I found myself wondering what it would be like to have some guy feel that way about me. I started daydreaming that I was Juliet and I began to look up other books in the library so I could learn more about the time that she lived in. On the weekends I wore long flowing dresses like the ones I saw in the pictures that I imagined Juliet would have worn, and I started brushing my hair more often.
One day I got game enough to ask Catherine to show me how to braid my hair, just like the way it was done in my dream.
We sat on her bed and she gently pulled a brush through the knots in my tangled hair.
“You have such pretty hair, Molly,” she said. “You really should look after it better.”
I knew she was just saying it to be nice, because I’d heard all those girls at school telling me how ugly my hair really was. Still, it felt nice to be allowed in Catherine’s bedroom for a change and to have her brushing my hair. She even showed me how to put on eye shadow to bring out the highlights in my eyes. She said just a little smudge of eye shadow would attract people’s attention to my eyes and they would see how beautiful they were. I felt my cheeks blush a little when she said that and I didn’t know what to say so I just sat there quietly and let her talk.
Catherine patiently braided my hair on either side and then tied the two strands back with a ribbon so that the braid sat like a tiara around my head. She brushed out my long curly hair until it was hanging down my back from beneath the braided tiara.
“You look gorgeous, Molly,” she said. “Why don’t you check yourself out in the mirror now?”
I slid off the bed and walked over to the dresser and looked at this strange girl in the mirror. Her eyes were wide open and looked astonished.
“You are so pretty like that, Molly. Any Romeo would fall in love with you straight away.” My face felt really hot as I blushed even harder then and I could see the bright red cheeks of the girl in the dressing table mirror looking back at me. Her eyes stood out bright and sparkly and I could almost believe that maybe what Catherine said was true.
I wanted to tell Catherine about ‘Romeo and Juliet’ but I felt shy about bringing it up, and then she said that she needed to get ready for her job as a waitress.
I said ‘thank you’ to her for doing my hair, and then ran back to my bedroom so that I could start reading my book again. As I turned the pages, my hand idly stroked the smooth hair of my braid, but I was careful not to spoil it by making it come loose.
My hair was still braided when I went back to school on Monday and I kept thinking about Catherine’s words as I floated through the corridors between classes. I wondered if there were any boys that would ever fall in love with me at first sight like Romeo did, but after a while I decided that there was no way that would ever happen to me because I was too small and quiet.
I was worried somebody would say something about my hair, so I tried to stay away from the girls in my class as much as I could during the day. But ever since the fight they had been leaving me alone. It was just as if I didn’t exist in their world, and that suited me fine as I was able to walk around the school and nobody paid me any attention.
As the weeks went by, it got closer and closer to the end of the school year. Mum said that we were going to catch the train to visit Grandma after Christmas and I was really looking forward to that because I hadn’t been there for such a long time. It was just going to be Mum and I because the other girls were now too grown up and busy to visit Grandma. Catherine and Samantha both had jobs and boyfriends and they were never at home very often. Jasmine was in her last year of school and she said she had too many assignments to do over the break and she didn’t want to go away anyway. So that just left Mum and me. That suited me fine as well because I liked being alone with Mum, particularly now that I was able to talk to her about things.
I was counting down the days until the holidays and every morning I jumped out of bed and marked another day off my calendar.
Then I was sitting in class one day, staring out the window as usual, when Mr Norris announced that we would be putting on a play at the end of the term.
“We have a lot of work to do over the next month. We need props and outfits and volunteers to help with everything. A letter will be sent home to your parents asking for their help,” said Mr Norris.
I wasn’t really paying attention because I was watching the way the clouds were slowly growing and changing shape in the sky. Being in a play was the last thing I would ever want to do. I had already started forming a plan in my mind to get sick so that I could get out of it.
“Auditions will be on Friday evening in the school hall. I will be putting a sheet on the notice board at lunchtime. I want you all to try out for one of the parts, or to put your name down to help behind the scenes.”
I decided that I wouldn’t be putting my name down anywhere. Nobody would notice if I didn’t show up anyway.
“Now, I imagine you are all anxious to find out what play we are doing.”
I looked around the classroom and nobody seemed to be interested at all. A couple of the boys were throwing paper balls at each other, while another one was yawning and stretching his arms above his head. Virginia was busy studying her fingernails and Alison was trying to hide a notebook under the desk as she wrote something in it. I thought she was probably writing a love letter to her boyfriend, or maybe trying to cast a witch’s spell. I smiled to myself at that thought and went back to looking out the window as a cloud shaped like a fairy castle slowly turned into an elephant.
“The play we are doing is by William Shakespeare and it is called ‘Romeo and Juliet’.”
Suddenly I sat up with interest. ‘Oh my gosh,’ a voice screamed in my head. ‘How amazing would that be?’ I suddenly had visions of standing at a window with the spotlight on me and Romeo looking up with his hands over his heart. But then my heart sank as the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I would never be able to do it. There was no way that I would ever be able to get up on stage and act in front of people. I sighed. But maybe I could help out with the sets after all. At least then I would be able to watch the play from behind the scenes.
There was lots of excited chatter after class and I heard some of the girls talking in the corridor while I was putting a book in my locker.
“You have to play Juliet, Virginia. That part is just so you,” said one girl. Virginia flicked her hair over her shoulder and pouted. I supposed she thought she was trying to look like Juliet but she looked nothing like her.
“And Joel can be Romeo,” she replied. “That would be just perfect.” She twirled around and all her friends giggled. Joel Kemp was Virginia’s boyfriend.
It made me feel sick to think that Virginia would be Juliet. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. I closed my locker and walked away with my head full of whirling thoughts.
When I got home I found Mum in her sewing room and told her that we were doing ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as an end of year play.
“Oh, really?” she replied with a smile. She didn’t seem surprised at all and kept poking pins into the fabric she was holding.
“I thought I might put my name down to help with props.”
“Oh Molly, you should be Juliet.”
“No! There’s no way I would ever get it. Besides, that part is meant for Virginia Williams.”
“You should audition anyway. You never know what might happen.” She stopped sewing and looked at me thoughtfully. I squirmed and looked away, because I didn’t want to tell her that I wasn’t game to try out for the part, but I think she knew that anyway.
After Mum kissed me goodnight that evening I lay in bed in the darkness with my hands behind my head and kept thinking about being Juliet. My heart was racing with excitement and I couldn’t get to sleep, but I also knew that I would never ever be able to do it.
For the rest of the week I kept thinking about the play and every time I walked past the notice board I quickly checked out who had written their names down for the auditions. Most of the kids had put their names down to help out with props, while a few had put their names under the minor roles. By Friday, only one boy had put his name down for Romeo, and of course that was Joel Kemp. I had a feeling that none of the other boys were game to put their names down against Joel because he was too popular.
There were only three girls that were trying out for Juliet, but everyone knew that Virginia was going to get the part. The other two didn’t stand a chance.
We had already started building sets in class and Mr Norris had said he wanted to keep the stage simple so that the emphasis was on the acting and the words. The class was split up into groups and each group was given a different part of the set to work on. My group was doing the scene for the party and we all had to paint trees and flowers on a canvas backdrop to make it look like a garden scene. Some of the boys were painting tables and chairs white and Mr Norris was busy walking around the room to make sure everyone was doing the right thing.
As I worked away at painting some flowers, I couldn’t help overhearing Virginia and her friends talking.
“It is going to be so romantic when Joel and I are Romeo and Juliet.” I grimaced because I still couldn’t stand picturing her being Juliet.
“You two make such a cute couple.”
“We do, don’t we?” Virginia replied. She stood up with her hands raised and a pained look on her face which was meant to be Juliet pining away with love. Virginia looked to me more like she had a pain in her stomach rather than being in love. She wasn’t doing any work to help out with the props because she was too busy prancing around the room and pretending to be Juliet. I kept my head down and just tried to ignore her but it still annoyed me that someone like her would get the part without even having to try.
When the bell rang for the end of the day I grabbed my bag and started walking out of the classroom, but Mr Norris called me back.
“Molly White, can I see you for a moment?”
I stopped in shock because no teacher ever wanted to see me, except when I was in trouble.
I turned around and walked nervously over to his desk. He looked at me over the top of his glasses with those beady black eyes and I felt tiny and helpless. I stood there and fidgeted while he stared at me for a moment.
“I notice you haven’t put your name down for the audition. I want you to try out for Juliet.”
“Me?” I was incredulous.
“Yes, you. I know you have been reading the play, and I think you could do a good job of the role.”
My mind was whirling, and I didn’t even have time to think about how he knew that I was reading ‘Romeo and Juliet’. I had tried to keep it secret from everybody.
“But Mr Norris, I couldn’t. Everyone knows Virginia is going to get it,” I blurted out.
“Not necessarily,” he said. “She needs some competition, and I think you are the one to do it. Think about it, Molly. I will be expecting you at the auditions tonight.”
My head was in even more turmoil than usual as I rode my bike home slowly. I kept replaying what Mr Norris had said and I searched for some hidden meaning. Was he trying to make fun of me? Was I being punished for not being the smartest kid in class? Did he really think I could do it? My thoughts kept going around in circles.
When I got home I told Mum what Mr Norris had said and she just smiled.
“I said you should do it, and it’s not too late you know.” She gave me a big hug and I took a deep breath and tried to stop my heart from beating so hard. I was being whirled along against my will, but I suddenly realised that I had to try. Just this once I had to give it a go and not be so scared.
Catherine was excited for me when she got home from work and I spent an hour in her bedroom as she did my hair. She took extra care to make sure every strand was carefully pinned into place. She said I didn’t need much makeup because I was already so pretty, but a little lipstick and eye shadow wouldn’t hurt. I sat as still as I could while she stroked the makeup onto my eyelids and carefully ran lipstick over my lips. I had never worn lipstick before and it felt funny and sticky against my tongue. Catherine told me not to keep licking it or it would all come off. She made me look in the mirror and this time I really did think I looked sort of pretty.
Mum wanted to drive me to the school but I said I preferred to ride my bike. I knew I would just feel sick if I sat in the car all the way there and riding my bike would help to take my mind of what I was about to do. I carefully packed my long white Juliet dress that I had been wearing on the weekends in my school bag and climbed onto my bike.
“Good luck, Molly,” Mum yelled as I rode away. Catherine was waving at me through her bedroom window and I waved back.
I pedaled fast as I rode along and kept trying to remember as many of the words from the play as I could. I repeated them over and over in my head, but I didn’t even know which scene we were meant to be doing for the rehearsal. The headlight on my bike threw a little beam on the road and I followed its jiggling path all the way to the school.
When I arrived there were already lots of cars in the car park and I carefully put my bike in the rack and walked slowly over to the hall. It was all lit up as though the play was already on tonight and there was lots of noise coming from the hall. My heart was racing a million miles an hour, but I kept repeating to myself, ‘You can do this, you can do this,’ even though I didn’t really believe that I could. Any moment, I knew I was just one step from turning around and running away.
I stood at the door to the hall and hesitated whether to go inside. I was just about to back away when Mr Norris saw me and called out.
“Molly,” he yelled over the noisy crowd, “Over here please, we are just about to start. Hurry and get changed if you have an outfit.”
I went into the bathroom and quickly got changed into my dress and then looked in the mirror to make sure that I hadn’t messed up my hair or makeup. The face that looked back at me was sickly and colourless, but then I heard Mr Norris call out again to say that it was time. I turned away and went to find out where I should be.
Mr Norris was at the front of the stage talking to Virginia Williams and the other two girls that were auditioning, when he suddenly noticed me and beckoned for me to join the group.
“What is she doing here?” I heard Virginia say. The other two just laughed but I tried to ignore them all.
“Okay, ladies,” said Mr Norris, “I want each of you to take one of these sheets. You can have fifteen minutes to read through your lines and then you each get a chance to perform on the stage. We are doing part of scene five from act one.”
My stomach was churning already, but it did an extra swoop when I realised that it was the scene where Romeo kissed Juliet for the first time at the party.
“You can read from your sheets, and Joel Kemp will be playing Romeo opposite you as he was the only one to put his name down for that role.” He walked off and I looked down at the sheet of paper in my hand. I knew all of these lines by heart because I had read through the play so often, but now the words seemed to jump all over the page just like my heartbeat.
I was nervous but the fifteen minutes went by in a flash and suddenly it was time for the auditions. One of the other girls went first, and I hopped from foot to foot as she read through her lines in a monotone. Virginia kept making comments all the way through in a stage whisper.
“Boring,” she said, and faked a yawn.
The second girl took her place, but she kept stumbling over the words and that made me feel awful for her. I just knew I was going to stumble over my words as well when it was my turn. I could hear Virginia sniggering and I felt sorry for the poor girl, but I really felt sorry for myself because I knew she would soon be sniggering at me.
Then it was time for Virginia Williams to have her turn. She moved gracefully into the centre of the stage and as she stood there like a princess I had to admit that she really did look beautiful. Joel was handsome as well and I looked at him for the first time as he entered the scene and then stopped in admiration of her beauty. I don’t know if he was acting or not, but for the first time I started to wonder how it would feel to have him looking at me in that way. He really did make a great Romeo. Virginia read her lines from the page, but she did a pretty good job and I was worried that it would soon be my turn. I knew I would sound awful.
She finished and walked towards me as she left the stage. “You haven’t got a hope, loser,” she said.
“Molly White,” called Mr Norris from his seat in the audience, “It’s your turn.”
I felt like being sick as the moment arrived and I walked slowly to the centre of the stage.
“Just take your time, Molly. Start when you are ready.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. Mr Norris waved his hand toward the side of the stage and then Joel walked out to join me. I couldn’t believe that I was standing so close to him now when he had never even noticed that I was alive before this.
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand…” he began. I stood there stunned to find myself in this situation. I couldn’t take my eyes of his lips as he spoke. “… with a tender kiss.”
There was silence as he paused, and I suddenly realised it was my turn. I looked down at the page in my hand to find my place and found the paper trembling so much that I couldn’t read it. My stomach was churning and I could feel my head spinning. I knew I was about to faint, but then I felt Joel reach out and take my hand in his. I looked up into his sparkling eyes and felt a shift in the universe. Suddenly it was just Joel and I standing there alone in the middle of this wildly spinning galaxy and he was smiling at me.
All of a sudden the words were right there on my tongue. “Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much…” I didn’t even need to look at the piece of paper in my hand as I looked into Joel’s eyes.
“Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?” he replied.
“Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer…” I was no longer aware of my surroundings as I felt myself floating on a cloud. “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.”
Joel smiled directly into my eyes as he moved closer. “Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take.” He leant forward and kissed me slowly and my universe tilted completed upside down as I closed my eyes and leant towards him.
My eyes were still closed as he pulled away slowly.
“Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.” We stood there for an eternity holding hands and staring at each other.
“Okay, that is excellent. I think we have found our Juliet,” said Mr Norris loudly from the front row.
Joel turned to face the empty rows of seats and bowed, but he kept hold of my hand. I think I would have collapsed if he had let go of me right then because my legs were shaking so much, but then he did let me go and I was suddenly surrounded by other kids from my class. They were slapping me on the back and everyone was clapping and saying how wonderful that was.
Mr Norris addressed everyone and told us all to go home and practice our lines over the weekend because there would be rehearsals every afternoon starting Monday. I felt like I was in a dream as Joel stayed close beside me until Mr Norris had finished.
I watched as he walked away across the stage, but then he turned and smiled at me before disappearing around the edge of the curtain.
I was still floating on my cloud when the evening finished and I changed out of my white dress and back into my jeans and tee shirt for the ride home. I found my way back out to my bike in the darkness and turned the light on as I started riding away. All I could think about was the way that Joel’s eyes sparkled in the spotlights and … that kiss.
The night was dark and although my heart was still racing, it was a completely different feeling to anything I had ever felt before. I was as light as a feather as I kept replaying the scene in my mind. I could still feel his lips against mine and every time I thought of the kiss my heart skipped a beat. I thought that was only in songs and I smiled because my heart really was skipping lightly.
I turned the corner as I got closer to home, when suddenly some bright car lights came out of a side street to my right. I grabbed the brakes hard as I heard the noise of its engine and then I was sliding in the gravel and the lights were right on top of me and I heard my leg break like a branch when the car hit me from the side.
Then there was silence and the universe had stopped spinning. All I could think about was the deep pain from my leg as I lay on my side on the road with my face pressed against the gravel. I heard a car door slam and then some voices were coming toward me as I slowly sank into the darkness.

Father’s day

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You were there when I opened my eyes
You were there when I first smiled
You were there when I walked
And when I first talked
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

You were there when I first went to school
And when I first played in the pool
To throw me a ball
And catch me when I fall
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

You were there to watch over me
And to share in all the things that I see
You were there to keep hold of my hand
Until I was old enough to stand
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

One day when I’m old and grey
You’ll remember all the things that you say
When you laughed at my jokes
And shared all your hopes
‘Cause every day is Father’s Day with you.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Ten

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I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by darkness and a feeling of disorientation. My fuzzy mind wondered if I was still dreaming and falling through the night sky. Any moment I thought I might float through a cloud and land on the ground with a thump. Then I heard a whooshing sound and a long screaming whistle before the full moon suddenly burst into view as the train emerged from a long tunnel. The click-clack of the wheels on the track brought me fully awake and suddenly remembered that I was on my way to visit Grandma for the school holidays. I looked out the window and could see the moonlight sparkling on the dark water of a river and then I was plunged into darkness again as the train entered another tunnel.
I could feel Mum’s leg pressed against mine as she slept in the seat beside me. I rested my head against the window and closed my eyes again. I knew there was still a long way to go because Mum had said we wouldn’t be there until morning, so I curled my legs underneath my bottom and wrapped my arms around Mrs Bear to keep her warm.
I tried to go back to sleep but the rocking motion of the train kept waking me up every time I started to slip back into my dream, so I decided to just look out the window instead. Every now and then I could see the lights of a farm house in the distance, and I wondered about the children inside tucked up in their beds. I started to think about Ellen and hoped she was safe and happy. It made me sad because I knew I would never get to see her again now that she had moved so far away, but I hoped she wouldn’t ever have to worry about getting bruises on her legs again either.
Slowly I noticed that the sky was getting a lighter outside my window. There was a thin band of dark purple starting to appear through the trees, even though the stars were still shining in the blackness above. As I watched, the purple gradually turned into a light pink like the colour of my fingertips.
I looked at Mum’s face where she was sleeping beside me and wrapped in a blanket. There was enough light now for me to be able to see a little smile on her lips as she slept. I smiled too because I thought she must have been having a nice dream to smile like that in her sleep.
The sky was slowly turning orange as the train crossed another river and it slowed as we made our way up a long hill. There was a loud blow on the whistle and Mum opened her eyes. I could tell she was still sleepy because she didn’t move and just stared out the window with that little smile on her lips.
As Mum slowly woke up, she turned her head and smiled even more when she saw I was watching her. “Good morning, sweetheart. I think we must be nearly there. Have you got everything?”
I slid my feet down off the seat and felt for my backpack where it was resting on the floor. I put my book in the bag and held Mrs Bear tight as Mum stood up to wake the other girls.
The train was sliding into a little railway station and coming to a stop beside the platform as I followed my sisters to the door. All of a sudden the door was open and Mum was helping me jump over the gap between the train carriage and the platform and then I was standing in front of Grandma and Grandpa. It had been so long since I had seen them that I suddenly felt shy as Grandma started kissing everyone hello.
“Oh Molly, you keep growing all the time,” said Grandma. She wrapped her arms around me in a big hug and kissed my cheek. She smelled of soap and hairspray. I didn’t know what to say so I just hugged her back. “What’s the matter, Molly?” she said, “Has the cat got your tongue?”
Grandpa was busy picking up everyone’s bags and putting them in the boot of the car, and then I was squashed in the backseat between Jasmine and Catherine and we were on our way. I couldn’t see anything because the seats in Grandpa’s car were so deep that I had no idea where we were going, but eventually he pulled up and when I climbed out I was standing in the driveway of Grandma’s house.
Since we had been here last, Grandpa had built a little bedroom at the back of the garage and I slept in there with Mum. It was just like having a little house of our own and it made me feel important that I wasn’t just in Grandma’s house with the older girls. Rather than sleeping on a mattress on the floor like I usually did, I had my own bed covered with a beautiful quilt that Grandma had sewn. I sat on the bed and looked at all the little panels of the quilt and tried to work out the story they were telling. There were lots of pictures of cows and tractors and other farm things and I thought that maybe Grandma had made it to remind herself of the farm she used to live on with Grandpa all those years ago when Mum was a little girl.
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.
I worried about the boy all night, but when I got back to the beach next morning there was no sign of him. I thought he might have come back and destroyed my castle and drawing, but I was relieved to see that they had only been partly washed away by the tide and wind as usual.
I soon forgot all about him as I went back to rebuilding my sandcastle. As the morning sun climbed higher and the sand got hotter I sat under the shade of my big straw hat and read a bit more of my book. I only had a few chapters to go and wanted to finish it before bedtime so that I could start a new book the next day.
I became so engrossed in my book that I didn’t even hear anybody coming until suddenly a shadow fell across my page. I looked up with a sharp intake of breath as I saw it was the same boy again. I tensed, waiting for him to kick over my sandcastle or say something nasty, when he flopped down on the sand beside me.
“What are ya reading?” he asked.
I was so surprised by his question that I didn’t even think and turned my book around to show him the cover.
“ ‘Gold at Lambing Flat’,” he read out, “What’s that?”
“It’s a story,” I said softly.
“Can I read it with you?”
I was surprised again and just nodded. This boy wasn’t at all like I expected boys to be.
I opened the book and he leaned his head toward mine to see the page better. He got so close that his head pushed my hat back and I could feel his wiry hair tickle my forehead.
“Is that where you’re up to?” he pointed to the page. I nodded and he began reading. “J-James c-c-came to the c-c-cottage door. Mary, where are you he c-called…” I looked at him as he read and saw a big frown of concentration on his forehead. He kept licking his lips as though the moisture would make the words slide out of his mouth easier. I felt a little sorry for him because he didn’t seem to be very good at reading. “… the old man was down in the dry c-c-c-creek bed…” he paused for ages and stared hard at the page. “What’s this word?” he asked. My eyes followed his finger down the page.
“Fossicking,” I said.
He frowned again and his lips moved slowly as if he was trying to get them in the right shape to say the word.
“Fo-ssick-k-king. I wonder what that means.”
“I think it means ‘looking for gold’,” I said, “That’s what the book is about.”
“Oh, cool.” He looked around and picked up my stick and started scratching in the sand. “Do you want to play?”
“Ummm… I don’t know if I’m allowed.” My heart was racing and I looked down the beach again to see where the girls were, but just like yesterday they were a long way off.
“Come on, it’ll be fun. I’ll show you.” He stood up and held out his dirty hand for me. I hesitated and then reached my hand up and he helped me to my feet. His hand felt all rough and I didn’t like the way it was so dirty.
“First of all, we’re spies and we have to make sure nobody catches us. You need a name, so I’m going to call you ‘Blue’,” he said with his lopsided grin. “How old are you, Blue?”
“I’m eight.”
“Good, well I’m ten so that makes me the boss. Quick let’s get behind the bush before anyone sees us.” Shawn grabbed my hand and dragged me behind a banksia tree before pulling me to the ground. “We have to lay low,” he whispered in my ear, “But when I say ‘run’, we have to run to that tree over there, okay?”
I just nodded my head and was wondering why he called me ‘Blue’ when he yelled ‘run’ and took off for the tree. I jumped to my feet and tried to keep up with him but I kept stumbling in the thick sand. I was puffing heavily when I finally joined him at the foot of the tree.
“Good work, Blue,” he said, “We can rest for a bit now because the enemy don’t know we’re here.” We spent the next hour running from tree to tree, and each time I would get hot and puffed and my legs were starting to get really tired. We were resting for a moment in the shade of a big green tree when I heard Catherine’s voice calling.
“Molly… Molly, where are you?”
“I have to go,” I said to Shawn, “That’s my sister.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, “Just be careful you don’t tell anyone you are a spy.” The last I saw was his lopsided grin and then he was bounding away to hide behind another tree.
The next day I looked for Shawn when I got to the beach, but there was no sign of him again. I went back to my usual game of fixing my sand castle and then my drawing and had just sat down to start reading my book when I heard a loud “psssst” from behind me. I turned around and there was Shawn grinning at me from behind a tree. He came and sat down beside me with a thump, and just like the day before we read a page of my book together before he got bored and wanted to play a game.
“Today we’re soldiers,” Shawn said. “I am the Captain and you are Private Blue.”
“My name isn’t Blue,” I said, “It’s Molly.”
“I like Blue,” he replied, “So that’s you’re codename, okay? It’s because you’ve got red hair.”
I was a bit confused about what he meant, but before I could say anything he started laying out his plans.
“Okay Private Blue, we need to attack the enemy in that castle over there. We have to sneak up on them, and then throw these bombs at their castle.” He pointed to a little pile of gumnuts and banksia men on the ground.
“Stay low, and follow me,” he said. He filled his hands with banksia men and began crawling across the sand on his stomach. It felt a bit silly but I didn’t want to upset him so I did the same thing. As we got closer, he yelled “NOW!” and started hurling the banksia men at the tree. I threw mine but it didn’t go the whole distance. Shawn then grabbed my hand and dragged me behind another tree.
“Look out, they’re firing back,” he said, then made some noises like bullets flying through the air. We played like that again all morning until Catherine came looking for me to head home.
“See ya, Blue,” said Shawn. “You’re a lot of fun to play with, for a girl.”
“’Bye Shawn,” I said shyly and then ran down the sand dune to find Catherine.
As the week went on we played soldiers, and space men, and outback explorers, and one day we were even washed up on a deserted island! There were pirate ships, and monsters, and space aliens, and time travel, and giant bugs, and wading through swamps, and spying on the enemy, and we did so much running that I kept getting puffed all the time, but Shawn was always right there beside me. “C’mon Blue,” he would say, “You can do it.”
We never had time to just sit and talk, other than spending a few minutes each morning when we would read some of my book together. Because Shawn was such a bad reader, I started reading out loud to him and sometimes we would get through a whole chapter before we went off to play in the sand dunes.
We began to read ‘Storm Boy’, a story about a boy who lived with his father in the sand dunes of South Australia’s Coorong, and it was Shawn’s idea that we collect driftwood and build ourselves a humpy just like the one Storm Boy lived in.
“I’ll be Storm Boy,” said Shawn, “And you can help me save Mr Percival.” We wandered all over the sand dunes looking for a lost pelican to save, but the week came to an end before we found him.
I was sad when I had to tell Shawn that I was going to be heading home tomorrow and I didn’t know when I would be back again.
“No worries, Blue,” he said. “It’s just like when Storm Boy had to go off to school. We can play again next holidays.”
He bent his head down to reach under my hat and quickly placed a little kiss on my cheek before racing away over the sand dunes. I stood there and watched him until he disappeared. I didn’t know if I was sad or happy but I could still feel his rough lips against my cheek.
During the couple of weeks we were staying with Grandma, Dad and Stephen had hired a truck and moved all of our furniture and things to our new house. Mum said Dad had found us a big old house that was just on the edge of town and it sat in the middle of an apple orchard. She said it sounded like a really pretty spot and she couldn’t wait until we got home.
Dad had already started working in his new job on the railway and Stephen spent the time getting his things packed and ready to go to Western Australia.
As we neared the end of the school holidays, Dad drove up the coast to take us home. We all piled into the car late in the afternoon and waved goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa and set off back down the coast road toward Sydney.
Dad said we would have to drive right through the night because we had to be in Sydney by morning to see Stephen off at the airport.
The sun was just starting to set behind the mountain near Grandma’s house as Dad turned the car onto the highway and we joined a long line of car lights dotted up the hill as far as I could see.
Mum had made some sandwiches for dinner and as we drove along I ate them and watched the copper sunset getting darker until the trees alongside the road became dark ghosts.
Every time a car came the other way its headlights would light up the inside of our car for a moment until it looked like all our shadows were racing along the road, and then we were plunged into darkness again.
After a while I started to get sleepy and I leaned my head against Mum’s side. My eyes would flicker open every time a car went past, until gradually the lights were bobbing around on the horizon like ships at sea. I felt like I was floating on the water and sometimes one of the lights would suddenly come whizzing towards me and then disappear with a loud whoosh.
I began to dream that I was on a pirate ship that was all dark and sailing towards the lights. Shawn was there, standing at the front of the ship and staring out into the distance. Every now and then I heard his voice call out, “Come on, Blue, run!” before he disappeared over the edge of the ship. I leaned over the side to see where he went but all I could see were fish swimming around. They were big flat fish with bodies made from curved lines that wriggled and wriggled until they vanished when another bright light came whizzing past.
I looked up and this time it was Stephen standing at the front of the pirate ship. He turned his head and looked at me and just stared. I called out to him, but my voice didn’t make any sound. I tried to run but my legs were stuck to the deck of the ship and when I reached for him with my hand his face slowly disappeared into one of the bright lights.
I could feel sadness sitting inside my stomach and as the wind rippled through the ship’s sails I fell to my knees and started to cry.
All of a sudden the ship landed with a thump and I opened my eyes to see the sky starting to get lighter on the horizon. My eyes were itchy and when I rubbed them they felt wet from tears.
I sat up straighter and through the windscreen I could see the distant lights of the city’s skyscrapers gathered together like they were waiting for the nighttime to come back.
We were driving in traffic now, and I recognized one of the schools we had gone past the other time I had been through Sydney. The playgrounds were empty this time because it was still school holidays and the buildings stood in the early morning light looking lonely and sad.
As we got closer to the city centre all the tall buildings blocked out the morning sun and we started driving through shadows. Then we were on a bridge and the harbour below sparkled like a million diamonds. Little boats moved around on the water and there was a big ship tied up to the shore.
Dad had to keep stopping because of the traffic and I could tell he was getting anxious about being late because he started muttering, “Oh, come on,” every time the traffic lights turned to red.
Eventually we turned into the carpark at the airport and then we were all out of the car and running into the terminal. Mum had my hand and was dragging me along, trying to get me to run quicker but my legs wouldn’t go any faster.
Then we stopped running and there was Stephen sitting with some other people in front of a big glass window with a huge aeroplane on the ground outside.
Stephen jumped to his feet and gave Mum a big hug, then shook Dad’s hand and hugged each of the girls. When he got to me, he picked me up in his arms and gave me the biggest squeeze of my life as I wrapped my arms around his neck and started crying.
“Don’t cry, Molly,” he said, as he put me back down on the ground. “Let’s look at the plane I’m going on. It’s going to be fun.”
He took my hand and led me to the window and pointed to the plane. “Just count back seven windows from the front, and that’s where I’ll be sitting,” he said. I looked at the tiny little round windows and wondered how he would ever fit inside.
As we stood there, a lady in a blue uniform walked up to the counter and announced that it was time to start boarding.
Stephen went round and hugged everyone again, and gave me a kiss on the cheek. He picked up his bag and walked over to the counter and handed his ticket to the lady. Then he was walking down a tunnel with all the other passengers and disappeared from sight for a moment. I got a final glimpse of him as he stepped into the plane and gave a brief wave before the doors closed. We stood there and watched as the plane backed slowly away from the building. Then it turned and started going forward, getting faster and faster until suddenly it lifted up into the sky and was flying.
We all stood there silently and watched as it turned into a little black speck and then disappeared. My face was pressed against the cold glass as tears streamed down my cheeks.

We left the airport and travelled all day to arrive at our new home just as the sky was getting dark. I was so tired that Mum carried me inside and put me in bed straight away and I slept soundly all night without waking at all. I had no dreams that night, just the blankness of sleep until I woke up with the sun and the birds in the morning.
I forgot where I was for a moment and just lay there in this strange room trying to work out how I had come to be there. Slowly as my mind started to wake up I took in my surroundings. The room had only one bed and it was along the wall underneath the window. From my pillow, all I could see out the window was blue sky with a few grey clouds that looked like puffy cotton balls. My toys were all in a box in the corner and my books were placed in a bookcase against the wall on the other side of the room. I guessed that Stephen had unpacked and put my books there, and I started thinking of him again and felt the sadness that was still sitting inside my stomach.
I decided to get up and see where I was before anyone else woke. I kneeled on my bed and looked out the window and marveled at the beautiful palette of autumn colours falling from the trees. There were piles of leaves in the yard and I could see a wisp of smoke rising into the air from one of the piles.
I couldn’t see where the road was from here because of all the trees, but I could see a laneway that I thought must lead back down to the road. The front yard had what looked like the traces of an old circular driveway and I could see where there had once been a fountain in the middle. There was another yard to the side of the house that was terraced with a rose covered archway leading to the lower level.
I hopped out of bed and went to the front door and walked outside to get a better look. The house had verandahs on all sides and I pushed the door open and stepped out into the crisp morning air. There was a building out the back of the house that I later found out had once been maids’ quarters a hundred years ago. Attached to one side of the house was a ballroom and there was a shed at the back that had once been stables. There were lots of rainwater tanks around the house and one of them stood on a tower high above me and I could see a little dribble of water running down its side. The tank looked all grey and rusty and I didn’t think I would ever want to drink any of the water that came out of it.
I went back inside and started walking quietly through the house to explore. At the front of the house was the lounge room, and when I looked into the next room I could see Samantha and Jasmine asleep in their beds. To the side of the lounge room there were two little rooms. One was the bedroom I had first come out of and the other one had Stephen’s bed and things in it, with a door that led outside. I went back through the lounge room and down a long hallway that ran down the middle of the house. A room at the end had the door shut but I could hear the sound of Dad snoring inside, so I guessed that was the main bedroom. There was an open door on the opposite side of the hall and when I peeked inside I could see Catherine’s head sound asleep on the pillow and her arm thrown over the top of the blanket.
I tiptoed away and followed the hallway as it turned right and led to a door on the side verandah. At the point where the hallway turned was another doorway that led into a dining room and at the other end of that room one door took me back into the kitchen and the other was a double door that opened outside to the ballroom. There were so many doors I thought I was going to get lost.
The kitchen was a huge room with a dining table in the middle. At one end of the kitchen was a large wood-fired fuel stove, and beside it was a door that led to an enclosed verandah with a walk-in pantry on one side and a little room on the other. Mum later used that little room for her sewing. Off that was the bathroom, and I soon discovered another bathroom that I could only get to from outside the house.
I found my way back to my bedroom and sat on my bed, looking out the window again. Mum had been right, it really was a beautiful spot and I felt a thrill of excitement as I thought about how much space there was to explore. It was just like the wide open spaces of Ellen’s farm, but so different because instead of being dry and dusty everything was moist and vibrant.
A few weeks later the school year started and I found myself having yet another first day of school as I sat beside Mum outside the headmaster’s office. My hands were in my lap and I was looking at my black school shoes peeping out from under my skirt. At least this time I was in the same uniform as the other children, but I still felt funny in my tummy as my fingers touched the unfamiliar fabric of my blue skirt. I needed to go to the bathroom, but Mum said I should just hang on because we would be going to see the headmaster soon.
There was another little girl sitting in the waiting room and she was swinging her legs back and forth in the air. Every time I looked up she was staring back at me so I quickly looked down again and wished the headmaster would hurry up. The girl started humming to herself and I sneaked another look and found she was still looking at me. Before I had time to look away again she suddenly grinned and poked her tongue out.
Just then the door to the office opened and Mum took my hand and led me inside. As I walked past the little girl her lips mouthed the word ‘bye’ at me. I just grabbed Mum’s hand tighter until the door closed behind us, and then I found myself sitting stiffly on an uncomfortable chair.
“Mrs White,” the headmaster said as he read from a piece of paper in his hand. “I see from these report cards that young Molly has struggled a bit in some subjects.” He looked at Mum over the top of his glasses and I felt like she was getting into trouble.
“Well, she is good at reading and spelling,” said Mum. I looked down at my bony knees which were now poking out from under my skirt. I slowly started pushing my skirt down to cover them and was hoping that nobody would notice.
“Hmmm,” the headmaster replied, “but a ‘D’ in mathematics! We need to try a bit harder, don’t we young lady?” Suddenly he was looking at me and I found myself nodding slowly. He put the paper down as though he had come to a decision. “Mrs White, she is very small for her age as well, and perhaps you should consider holding her back a year. I do have my concerns over her abilities, so for now I will put her in Mr Rogan’s class to see how she goes. He is very good with slow children.”
“She’s not slow, Mr Brown,” said Mum. I could tell she was getting a bit annoyed. “She is shy, and sometimes that has meant the teachers have ignored her when she actually needed help. She is a very bright child.”
“Indeed, Mrs White, parents always know what’s best.”
He looked over his glasses at Mum for a moment before standing up from behind the desk. Mr Brown opened the office door and offered to shake Mum’s hand as we walked out.
“You can leave little Molly with my secretary. She will take her down to the classroom.”
Mum shook his hand and before I knew it the interview was over. When we got outside, Mum gave me a hug.
“Be brave, Molly,” she said and kissed me.
I kissed her back and said goodbye, then followed the lady across the playground. I hadn’t realised before that people thought I was a dumb kid. I kept thinking about that all morning as I tried really hard to do what Mr Rogan asked. I wanted to show him that I wasn’t dumb, but the harder I tried the more the numbers in my book kept getting mixed up. Sometimes I thought I had the right answer but when I checked the sums, I confused myself and would change all my answers and then just try to guess the correct number. By the time the bell went for lunchtime, my head was spinning so much it was hurting and I knew the headmaster must have been right.
I followed the other children out of the classroom and they ran off toward the playground. I found a bench under a tree and sat down to eat my lunch. I pulled my book of ‘Storm Boy’ out of my bag and started reading the last few chapters again. Mr Percival, the pelican, had been injured by some hunters and Storm Boy was looking after him until he got better. As I ate my lunch, I found myself back on the sand dune playing soldiers with Shawn. I didn’t realise at first, but a little tear dripped down my cheek and landed on my book with a plop. I kept reading until Mr Percival had been killed by the hunters and then Storm Boy was sent away to town to go to school. I knew exactly how he felt as he sat in that classroom and all he could think about was the lost freedom of the sand dunes.
When I got home that afternoon there was a letter from Stephen waiting for me. I raced to my bedroom and jumped on my bed as I ripped the envelope open and started reading. Stephen told me all about how much fun the plane ride had been and the things he could see out the window as it flew across to the other side of Australia. He told me how he woke every morning just before dawn in the single men’s quarters in the mining village to get ready for work. He said the weather was really hot, but he rolls out of bed every day and does twenty pushups before climbing in the shower to cool off. During the day the temperature reaches over forty-five degrees celcius and Stephen said it was much hotter than the summers we have at home. He talked about how nice it is in the shower with cool water running over his face. He told me he was enjoying the work and felt great from having put in some long days and getting paid overtime. He was already planning his trip home when he had enough money.
He said he has a big breakfast in the mess every morning and then catches a bus out to the mine. He told me about how the iron red rocks shimmer in the early morning heat haze and how amazing it is to see the sun coming up over the hills as the bus crests the ridge and crawls down into the massive hole in the landscape. He sent some postcards in the envelope so I could see how big the mine was and how enormous some of the trucks were.
Stephen said that he works on one of the maintenance crews, fixing trucks, pipelines, machinery and anything else that needed repairs. He told me that a few days ago he was working on a leaking valve on the water pipeline when the pipe burst and drenched him with water. He finished the job and reported back to the foreman, asking if he could go home and change out of his wet clothes. Stephen said the foreman wouldn’t let him leave so he had to finish the day feeling damp. He told me in the letter he could feel a bit of a cold coming on and thought it was from getting wet and being in and out of the cold air conditioned buildings.
He finished off by telling me that he loved me and hoped that I was enjoying my new school and had made heaps of friends. I read the letter over and over again and started writing a letter back to him, trying to tell him all about how big the house was and how much fun we would have exploring it together when he got back. I didn’t want to tell him about school because I didn’t want him to find out that I was dumb.
I read his letter again and then turned out my light and tried to go to sleep. As I lay in bed, I kept thinking about the postcards of the open-cut mine and how I was dumb and didn’t know anything about numbers, and when would I see Stephen again and get to play with him. The thoughts kept circling round and round in my mind as I tried to get to sleep. Outside my window I could hear crickets chirping and the noise kept me awake.
I thought about getting up and telling Mum that I couldn’t get to sleep, but I was worried that she would just think I was dumb and tell me to go back to bed. So I kept laying there with my eyes closed and tried to think of something nice. My head was starting to get heavy when I heard the telephone ring in the hallway. I could hear Dad’s footsteps thumping down the wooden floorboards of the hall and his loud voice said, “Hello,” as he picked up the phone. There was silence for a little while and I strained my ears to hear what was going on.
I couldn’t tell what was happening so I hopped out of bed and snuck across the lounge room to listen and make sure nothing bad was happening. I heard Dad hang up the phone and as I poked my head around the door, Dad told me to get back in bed. But I could see that Mum was crying and I thought she must have been sick or something. Mum walked over and picked me up to put me back in bed and tucked me in. I asked what was going on and she said it was just the hospital in Western Australia and that Stephen was a little unwell and the doctors were doing tests. She told me not to worry and left the light on, but I couldn’t get back to sleep because now I kept thinking about what might have been happening to Stephen. Did one of those big trucks fall on him?
I lay there for ages and eventually I heard everyone else go to bed for the night. I tried to listen to the crickets and just concentrate on the song they were singing so that I could fall asleep, when I heard the phone ring again. I climbed out of bed and snuck to the door again, but then I realised that something really was wrong this time. I poked my head around the corner and I could tell by the way Mum and Dad and all the girls were crying that something really bad had happened. Mum looked up and said Stephen was gone. I was confused, but all of a sudden I felt my legs were shaking and the room began to spin. The last thing I remembered was Mum reaching out her hand for me just before everything went black.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Nine

Gradually the chilly winter winds began to ease and I started to notice a hint of spring on the breeze as the days grew warmer and new blossoms began to appear on the trees lining the streets. As the bright pink and white flowers bloomed, their perfume filled the air while I rode my bike to school without gloves for the first time in months.
Ellen and I had developed into best friends and we started doing everything together at school. Although we were both the same size, she was outgoing and talkative where I was shy and quiet. She lived on a farm and once I was allowed to spend the whole weekend with her.
I caught the school bus home with Ellen on Friday after school. It was really noisy on the bus with all of the children talking and squealing loudly all the way. Ellen and I sat together and she pointed out all the landmarks along the road and we talked about how much fun we were going to have on the farm. Every few minutes the bus would stop along the road and a couple of children would climb off, before the doors shut and we would start off again with a jerk.
All of the stopping and starting had made me feel car sick, but eventually the bus pulled up in front of a dusty gate on the side of the road and Ellen and I climbed off. The bus took off again, leaving us standing there in a cloud of dust and diesel smoke. We threw our school bags over the gate and then climbed over, before walking all the way up the hill from the main road. By the time we had made it to the house my legs were really tired and I couldn’t wait to sit down.
“Mum, we’re home,” Ellen shouted as we walked through the back door, the screen slamming shut behind us. The kitchen was bright and sunny and the late afternoon light that was shining through the window made the bowls on the bench sparkle. It was the cleanest kitchen I had ever seen, with everything neatly in its place. Beside the kitchen bench there was a large grey tabby cat that was curled up on the floor sound asleep. A ginger cat sat beside Mrs Lees’ legs, looking up and watching her moving around at the kitchen sink, and Ellen’s baby brother was sitting in a high chair and waving a plastic spoon around.
“Hi sweetheart. Hello Molly. You girls can put your bags in the bedroom then come out and have some afternoon tea.” Ellen led the way down the hall to her bedroom and we put our bags down on the floor then ran back to the kitchen. Mrs Lees had left a slice of orange cake and a glass of milk on the kitchen bench for each of us and I was glad to climb onto a stool and rest my legs while I ate.
“Okay girls,” said Ellen’s mother, “When you are finished you need to fetch the eggs and then wash up before dinner.”
I watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen as I ate my afternoon tea. It was the first time I had met her. She had long brown hair that was tied back in a pony tail. It made her look quite young and pretty. Her skin was smooth and tanned and her mouth looked kind. She was clearly Ellen’s mother because the same pair of brown eyes smiled gently at me across the kitchen bench that I was used to seeing in the school playground.
She was stirring something in a bowl and the ginger cat stood up and rubbed his face against her leg before he walked over to the bench and rubbed himself against my foot. I bent down and patted him on the head and he closed his eyes and purred. Ellen’s baby brother made gurgling noises as well as he waved the spoon around and smiled at me.
“Come on Molly, let’s go,” said Ellen as she put her glass down on the sink. I hopped off the stool and put my glass carefully beside hers and followed her outside. The screen door banged shut behind me as I raced to catch up with Ellen.
The chicken coop was at the back of the yard and its smell reminded me of the chicken shed I had seen at the show. Some of the chickens squawked loudly as Ellen opened the gate, and when she took a handful of oats from a bag and spread them around on the ground they all flapped around her and made a big fuss. “Here, chook chook chook,” she called, as she threw the little seeds on the ground. As the chickens were busy scrabbling after the grain, Ellen and I searched amongst the straw for the smooth brown eggs. She showed me how to carry the eggs by holding up the skirt of my school dress to make a little basket. I placed three eggs in my skirt basket and walked very carefully back to the house, making sure I didn’t drop any on the way.
It was dark by the time Ellen’s father came into the house and Ellen and I had already been in the bath and changed into our pyjamas. The baby had been put to sleep in his cot and the rest of us sat at the dining table and ate dinner in silence. I couldn’t help thinking how different it was to dinnertime at home where the television was always on in the background and the girls were talking all the time. We sat at a large wooden table covered with a lace tablecloth and there was a nice warm log fire crackling in the background.
I was a little scared of Mr Lees as I watched him slicing the roast beef. He had dark curly hair and eyes that looked at me from under thick black eyebrows. Every now and then I could hear his heavy boots shuffle around on the wooden floor. I looked down at his dirty trousers and thought about how they contrasted with the clean white lace of the table cloth.
“How did you go at school today, girls?” Mr Lees asked in a stern voice.
“It was okay,” Ellen replied calmly. She picked up the sauce jug and tipped some gravy onto her roast.
“What about you, Molly?”
“Oh, it was fine.” I spoke very quietly. My heart was beating fast and I was afraid to look at him.
“Sorry, what was that? You’ll have to speak up,” he said. His voice sounded very gruff and when I lifted my head I couldn’t take my eyes off his boney looking fingernails.
“She said it was okay,” said Ellen, spearing a potato with her fork.
“I was talking to Molly.” He didn’t take his eyes off me and his hands were still holding the carving knife.
I tried to speak again but my tongue felt as thick as a sausage and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. He kept staring at me, waiting for an answer, until suddenly the telephone rang and broke the silence. Mr Lees put the knife down and went to answer the phone. He was gone for a few minutes and when he came back and sat down he complained loudly to Mrs Lees about the high price of something. “How are we meant to make money when it costs twice as much as what we get for the crop?” he growled. He seemed to have forgotten all about me and as soon as we finished eating, Ellen and I were excused from the table.
We raced down the hallway to Ellen’s bedroom and sat on our beds talking until Mrs Lees came in and told us it was time to go to sleep. Ellen’s bedroom was long and skinny, with a bed on either side. At one end of the room there was a bookcase and a small desk while the other end had a dressing table covered with dolls. We lay in our beds and smiled at each other and kept talking in whispers, even after Mrs Lees had come back and turned the light out. It was amazing how our conversations could start with one thing and then float around like a butterfly going from flower to flower. Every now and then we would stop and try to work out how the conversation had flowed before giggling quietly from under our blankets.
We eventually stopped talking and I had drifted off to sleep, when I was suddenly woken by a loud voice coming through the bedroom wall. I couldn’t understand what the voices were saying but I could hear that Mr Lees sounded angry about something and his voice rattled the walls like a bass drum. Mrs Lees was harder to hear with her desperate soprano. Soon there was a loud bang and then silence. I looked across at Ellen but she had her back to me and seemed to be sleeping so I just lay there in the darkness and watched her breathing body moving up and down under the blanket until my eyes started to get heavy.
It was early morning when I woke the next day and I lay in bed and watched the curtain moving slightly in the breeze coming through the open window. Outside the window I could see the sun had started to paint the sky with pink and orange. The colours were reflecting on the bedroom wall, shimmering like fairy lights. I looked across at Ellen’s sleeping face where it was bathed in a soft pink fairy light that made her look so beautiful.
Somewhere in the distance a dog was barking and I could hear sheep baaing just outside the bedroom window. The smell of bacon and eggs came drifting through the doorway and it made my tummy start to grumble.
Eventually Ellen woke up and we climbed out of bed and walked out to the kitchen together to find Mrs Lees standing over a frypan cooking breakfast.
“Good morning girls, I hope you slept well.” Her eyes looked red and there seemed to be a mark on the side of her pale face. Ellen gave her mother a hug and I thought I saw a tear forming in Mrs Lees’ eye. “Breakfast won’t be long,” she said briskly, as she wiped the back of her hand across her eyes.
Ellen and I climbed onto the stools at the kitchen bench and we were soon munching on a huge plateful of bacon and eggs. No-one talked as we ate so I just watched Mrs Lees moving around the kitchen. She didn’t seem so bright and sparkly as she had yesterday afternoon.
After breakfast, we set off to explore around the farm. Ellen’s world seemed to be really huge to me as we walked from paddock to paddock. She chatted away as we walked and pointed to all the different parts of the farm. She told me the front paddock that we had walked through yesterday was sown to wheat over the winter. I could just see the green shoots starting to appear from the clods of dirt. Over the summer months, she said, sheep would graze the stubble after the crop was harvested.
At the bottom of the paddock was an old house that Ellen said was haunted. It looked really spooky and I didn’t want to go near it, but Ellen insisted on having a look through the window. I stood nervously on the edge of the verandah while she stood on her tippy toes and peered through the dusty window. She said it was too dirty to see inside so she was going to try the door.
“No Ellen,” I said quickly. “Come on, let’s go.”
“Aw, c’mon Molly. I’ll just be a minute.”
I could hear the door creak as she pushed it open. I squeezed my legs together in agony. The inside of the house was dark but I could see a dusty old arm chair facing the doorway, like it was waiting for its owner to return. Ellen stuck her head inside for a moment before changing her mind.
“Maybe we should do this another time,” she decided. Suddenly there was a noise inside, like the sound of something being knocked over and hitting the floor. I’m not sure who was first to run but we were both tearing across the paddock as fast as we could. My gumboots were flopping against my legs as I ran, stumbling across clods of ploughed dirt. I was sure there was a monster after us and I could hear Ellen breathing heavily beside me. It was only after we reached the other side of the gate that we stopped and looked back. The ginger cat that had been in the kitchen yesterday was watching us from the open door of the haunted house. He opened his mouth and yawned.
I looked at Ellen and her brown eyes were laughing. “It was only the cat. Why did you run?” she laughed.
“You ran too,” I said and giggled.
“That’s because you started running.”
We laughed at ourselves and walked off holding hands towards some sheds that were just over a rise. One of the sheds was really high and had an open front. Ellen said it was the tractor shed and it was where the tractor and some other machines lived to keep them out of the weather.
Near the side of the tractor shed we found a few poles made from cypress pine saplings and it was Ellen’s idea that we should make a teepee from them. We dragged the poles all the way down to the backyard and set them up to make a frame. Mrs Lees gave us an old sheet to wrap around the poles and soon we had the perfect cubby house for a couple of girls to sit and talk or read books. We planned to spend the night in our cubby house, just like Wombat, Mouse and Tabby Cat from Ruth Park’s books.
Mrs Lees made sandwiches for lunch and we took them outside and sat in our teepee to eat. “We could live out here, you know,” said Ellen, “And nobody would ever be able to bother us.”
“It might get a bit cold at night,” I said.
“Nah, we would just have lots of blankets to snuggle under.”
I started to think of Mr and Mrs Bear and wondered if they would enjoy sleeping in a teepee all the time.
After we finished eating lunch, we starting exploring again until we saw Ellen’s father walking across a paddock hunting for rabbits with his ferrets and dogs. We sat hidden in the long grass and watched him from a distance. Ellen explained how the ferrets were sent down the rabbit burrows and the dogs caught the rabbits as they shot out the other end. I watched as one cute and furry grey creature launched out of a burrow.
“Oh my gosh, there’s one,” I pointed excitedly. Suddenly one of the dogs pounced on it and brought the rabbit to Mr Lees. He took it from the dog’s mouth and I was horrified when he broke the poor thing’s neck and put it in a bag. One moment it was so full of life and activity, and the next its body was slumped like a piece of old rag. I felt so sad for the little rabbit and wished it had gotten away. All I could think about was the bruise on the side of Mrs Lees’ face.
Still in shock, I let Ellen lead me away to a smaller paddock in front of the house where her mother’s car was parked. “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” she said as she climbed into the car. I thought we were going to pretend that we were driving but Ellen was able to start the car by turning the key.
“Can you drive?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Watch this”.
We drove around and around the paddock a couple of times; Ellen was laughing her head off, but I was a little scared. Suddenly we slid to a stop. Ellen revved the engine but we didn’t move as the car bogged in the freshly ploughed dirt.
Everyone was quiet that night as we waited for Ellen’s father to come home. After dinner I was sent to have a bath, but I could hear yelling and the sound of someone being smacked carrying through the thin walls of the bathroom.
We didn’t talk much at bedtime that night. Ellen said she was too tired.
“Are you okay, Ellen?” I asked cautiously.
She didn’t answer but I could hear her sniffling in the darkness. I climbed out of my bed and slid under the blankets with her. “I love you Ellen,” I said, as I wrapped my arms around her warm body. We fell asleep that way until I was woken from a deep dream when the bedroom light suddenly turned on.
“Wake up girls, I need your help. Get your clothes on.” It was Ellen’s father, dressed in his heavy work boots and dirty jeans.
I was still half asleep as we stumbled outside, following a torch beam across the dark paddock. The night air was chilly and a light frost sparkled in the torchlight. We seemed to be wandering aimlessly and I thought Mr Lees was going to take us to the haunted house.
I was shivering from the cold when suddenly an old ewe appeared in the circle of light. She was having trouble and Mr Lees bent down to assist her, gently drawing out a little lamb and depositing him on the grass. As he made contact with the cold ground his limbs twitched and I could see his ribs heaving.
The ewe seemed to be just as thrilled as I was as she pushed her nose at the new arrival. We did this a number of times through the night until eventually I found myself back in my warm bed, thinking about all those little lambs and how gentle Mr Lees had been with them.
Warm sunshine greeted us the next morning as Ellen and I raced outside to count the number of new lambs that were frolicking around the paddock. We rescued about half a dozen little lambs that had been abandoned by their mothers during the night and carried them one by one up to the house.
Mrs Lees set up a little nursery for the lambs on the back verandah that she made from an old child’s playpen with some blankets on the floor for warmth. Ellen and I followed her into the laundry where she showed us how to put a scoop of powdered milk into a bucket of warm water and mix it around until there were no more lumpy bits.
I filled a baby feeding bottle with the powdered milk mixture and Mrs Lees showed me how to teach the little lambs to suck the teats. I sat on the verandah with my legs crossed and held a soft little lamb in my arms as it squirmed and wriggled on my lap. It took me a few goes to get my lamb drinking because every time I poked the teat in its mouth it would push the teat away with its little tongue and then start wriggling a bit more until I nearly dropped it. Eventually my lamb got the idea and I clung tightly to its warm body as it sucked noisily at the teat.
After all the lambs had been fed, we put them back in their pen and they snuggled together in the corner and fell asleep. Every now and then I would look in the pen and smile at the lamb that I had fed. I had decided that I would call him ‘Woolly’ and sometimes he would lift his head when he saw me looking and make the tiniest little baa because he knew that I was the one that cared for him.
Ellen and I spent the whole morning playing on the verandah and watching the little lambs in their pen. They were nothing like the lambs I had seen in my picture books because they looked so skinny and wrinkly, but they were really lively and noisy. Their wool was so much softer than anything I could ever have imagined and I wished that I could keep one as a pet. Ellen said we weren’t allowed to keep them as pets, though, and as soon as they were big enough they would have to be put back out in the paddock with all the other lambs.
Mrs Lees brought lunch out to the verandah for us, but she told us that we should leave the lambs in peace for a while and go and play in the yard instead. Ellen said it was too boring to play in the yard, so we wandered around the shearing shed looking for something to do.
There were some old doors leaning against the wall in a corner of the shed, and Ellen suddenly had an idea that we could use one to make a raft. It was really heavy and it took ages to drag it down to the dam, but we eventually made it, even though I thought my arms were going to get pulled out of their sockets.
Ellen found an old coke bottle in the dirt and smashed it against the side of the raft to christen it. She said that it was what people did when they launched new ships. We pushed the raft into the water and quickly climbed on board. It leaned precariously to one side as we floated out into the middle of the dam, and every time one of us moved the raft would bob up and down in the water until we were both wet and giggling.
I felt like the whole weekend had been a dream from a story book. “We are just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I said with a smile.
“Who are they?” asked Ellen. She was lying on her back with her arms behind her head and her feet were dangling in the water.
“Oh, they’re from a book that Grandma gave me for Christmas last year.” I started to tell her about all the things that Tom Sawyer had gotten up to, how he was always being naughty and getting into mischief. Ellen said she knew exactly what that was like.
After a while I started to get cold from being wet, so Ellen suggested we hop off the raft and start catching yabbies. We ran up to the house and Ellen took some meat out of the fridge, before running back down to the dam. She found a piece of twine near the fence and tied the lump of raw meat to one end, before throwing the line out into the water with the other end tied to a stick on the bank. We then waited in the warm sunshine while I continued to tell her about how Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry went to live on an island and pretended they were pirates.
Eventually the line started to move slowly and with a very delicate touch Ellen drew the twine in until the goggling eyes of a yabby began to appear. She leant forward and scooped the yabby out of the water with her hand and I screamed loudly as it suddenly started waving its claws around and crawled backwards towards the dam. Ellen bravely picked it up behind the head and dropped it in a bucket. When I looked in the bucket I could see the yabby’s eyes looking back at me and it waved its claws around wildly. Ellen asked if I wanted to have a go, but I was happy just watching her catching them.
As she threw the raw meat back into the dam, I moved a little further back up the bank. I decided that I didn’t want to live on an island and be a pirate after all, but I wasn’t game to tell Ellen that.

As the hot summer weather came along, streaky white clouds started to float in the wide blue sky each day. Every morning I would look out my bedroom window and wonder if it was ever going to rain again, because I hadn’t even seen a drop of rain in the whole time since we had moved here from the north coast.
I hadn’t been invited to stay at Ellen’s farm again, but Ellen often stayed with me for the weekend so that we could play together. In the warmer weather we spent most of the time on the weekends at the swimming pool.
“Come on you two, hurry up,” Samantha called from outside. She was always in a rush to get to the pool. I just liked to take my time and enjoy the walk with Ellen. We walked holding hands and Ellen never stopped talking.
“We’re coming,” I called out from the kitchen. I was dressed in pink swimmers and a white tee shirt and Mum was busy covering my face in sunscreen. She always said she was terrified of me getting sunburnt and so she slopped extra layers of sunscreen all over my nose. I had to close my eyes tight so that I didn’t get any sunscreen in them because it really made my eyes sting. As soon as she finished I put my hat on my head and tucked my towel under my arm then raced outside to catch up with the others. The girls had already set off, so I climbed through a hole in the fence next to the rusty iron shed in the backyard and hurried after them. Ellen climbed through the hole behind me and our sandals raised little clouds of dust as we moved quickly across the dry ground, skipping to catch up with Samantha, Catherine and Jasmine.
Samantha took her hat off as soon as we are out of sight of the house and I watched her straight black hair bouncing against the back of her white tank top as her long brown legs strode along the footpath. I thought she should have kept her hat on or she would get sunburnt.
Ellen and I caught up to the girls when they stopped to wait for the traffic at Hoskins Street, and then we all ran across the bubbles of melted bitumen to get to the park. The sun had started to get quite hot by then and the grass in the park was brown and spiky. There was a little bit of shade every now and then from a row of date palms that lined the footpath through the middle of the park. Each time we came to a tree, Ellen and I would stop in the shade to rest before racing each other to the next tree.
As we stood in the shade for a moment, I looked up and saw some high school boys watching us walking through the park. I hurried after the girls when I heard one of the boys say something and the other boys started laughing. I wasn’t game to look around again when another boy whistled loudly. Catherine and Samantha didn’t seem to notice though as they just kept on walking. Samantha was busy pushing some stray hair behind her ear, and when Catherine leaned toward Samantha and whispered something they both giggled. Samantha looked back over her shoulder to where the boys were standing. I started walking a bit quicker in case the boys followed us, but we were soon at the safety of the pool entrance.
It was cool in the shade of the little shop at the front of the pool, and I lined up behind Catherine as she paid the lady behind the counter. As soon as we went through the turnstile, the bigger girls disappeared into the change room and Ellen and I raced to put our towels down on the grass. The pool was surrounded by soft grassy lawns, and there was a big shady peppercorn tree in one corner.
“Last one in is a rotten egg!” yelled Ellen. She was already half-way to the pool so I just dropped my towel and raced after her, leaping into the cool clear water. At first the water was so cold it took my breath away, but then I bounced to the surface laughing and Ellen splashed water in my face.
“Ellen!” By the time I splashed back, she had already swum away from me like a little seal and I started chasing her. She swam much faster than I could but she eventually slowed down until I caught up to her. We spent the whole morning in the water like that, swimming around, playing games, and chasing each other until we eventually got tired and climbed out to lay on our towels for a rest. I lay there watching all the colourful bodies splashing around in the pool.
“I wonder where the girls have gotten to.” I looked around the pool from my towel but I couldn’t see them anywhere amongst all the rainbow coloured swimmers.
“I thought I saw them over there earlier,” Ellen said as she pointed toward the back fence. I looked over to where Ellen was pointing and saw a group of teenagers sitting around on their towels. There was Samantha was lying on her side, one tanned knee propped up in the air. She was talking to a boy and running her fingers through her hair. I thought he looked like one of the boys that had been outside in the park and he was lying on his side as well. They seemed to be leaning quite close toward each other.
Catherine was lying on her stomach with her eyes closed. Every now and then she lifted her head and said something to the others, then lay down and closed her eyes again.
I kept looking around until I found where Jasmine was. She was with a different group of girls, sitting on the edge of the pool with her feet splashing in the water and talking to her friends.
I turned back to Ellen, content now I knew I hadn’t been left behind. “Wouldn’t it be great if we could play here forever and never have to go back to school?”
“Except when your fingertips get all wrinkly from the water,” Ellen laughed. I smiled into her sparkling eyes and felt as happy as the sunny day.
“Ellen, what are those marks on your legs?” Suddenly Ellen’s eyes lost their sparkle and she looked down at the blue-grey bruises at the top of her thighs. They were normally covered by clothes, but I could see them clearly now she was in her bikini bottoms. There were four of them, shaped like fat sausages spread out in a fan.
“It’s nothing,” she said quietly, “I just bumped them.” She didn’t want to talk about it and I was sorry that I had brought a cloud across our sunny mood, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Ellen… I’m really sorry. Was it your Dad?”
“I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s just swim.” Ellen leapt up from her towel and jumped in the pool. I sat there feeling helpless for a few moments until I thought of asking Catherine what I should do. I stood up and walked over toward her group.
As I got closer I could hear them talking.
“It seems Lauren is the flavor of the month,” said a girl in a strawberry-coloured bikini.
“I know, both Peter and John have asked her out.”
“Oh my gosh, what did she say?”
I tried to get Catherine’s attention but she had her back to me, so I stood there uncertainly for a moment.
“Hey Catherine, is that your little sister? How cute!” one big girl said. I felt my face blush bright red and the boy that was talking to Samantha looked up and grinned.
Catherine sat up and didn’t look very happy to see me standing there. “Molly, what do you want?”
“I wanted to talk to you, about Ellen.”
“Can’t you do this at home?”
“It’s just that she is sad. I made her sad about the bruises on her legs.”
Catherine stood up. “Okay Molly, let’s get an ice cream.”
As we walked toward the canteen I told Catherine about the bruises on Ellen’s legs, and how she wouldn’t talk to me about them. I told her that when I asked if it was Ellen’s Dad she ran off. Catherine gently put her hand on my head. “Why don’t you just go and play with her. I think she just needs you to be her friend and make her happy.”
Catherine bought two ice creams, and I took one over to where Ellen was sitting on the side of the pool. She was looking down at the water and slowly kicking her legs back and forth. I sat down next to her and gave her one of the ice creams. As we sat there eating together silently, I put my arm around her wet shoulder and she leant her head against mine.

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.

One afternoon I came home from school to find Stephen laying on his bed and listening to the radio. His hands were behind his head and his eyes were closed. There were clothes carelessly thrown all over the floor.
“You’re home early,” I said as I threw my school bag on my bed. Lately he was getting really down in the dumps and I was worried. He didn’t normally throw his clothes all over the floor like that.
He opened his eyes and turned his head to look at me, sadly I thought. “I lost my job today, Molly. They just told me they were putting some people off and I was the newest starter so I had to go first.” I didn’t know what to say so I just gave him a little smile.
“Well, at least we can play together again, can’t we?” I said hopefully. He just looked at me for a moment and then turned his head away and closed his eyes again. I didn’t know what else to say so I just sat on my bed quietly and read my book.
After a while he sat up and put his feet on the ground. “I’m sorry, Molly,” he said. “Do you want to go and play in the tree house?”
I closed my book and we both went outside to play. The afternoon sun was still hot, but it was nice and shady in the tree house. Stephen helped me climb up first, and I sat on the platform with my legs crossed while he climbed up the ladder.
“What do you want to do?” I said.
“Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you just play and I’ll watch.” I watched his face but he had closed his eyes again and was leaning back against a branch of the tree.
I started playing with a doll, making her climb up the tree, but every now and then I would look up to see if Stephen was watching. He kept his eyes closed for ages, but then he started talking about going away somewhere, maybe to Western Australia to work in the mines. Mum had recently received a letter from an uncle who worked over there and he said Stephen could easily get a job there if he ever wanted one.
“But you don’t want to go all that way, do you?” I didn’t like hearing him talk like this. Usually he was so happy and fun to be around.
“I might have to if I can’t find any work here.”
I was worried about him going away, but a week or so later he found work picking fruit at a local orchard. He took me with him one weekend, out amongst the green leafy cherry trees and the hot red dirt between each row. Stephen showed me how to pick the cherries by twisting them with my fingers and then putting them in a tin until the farmer came to collect all the full tins.
After a little while my fingers began to hurt so Stephen said I could stop picking. I sat on the ground under the shade of the tree instead and started to read my book. Every now and then I took a cherry out of the tin and popped it into my mouth. They were different to the mulberries I had eaten before. Some of the cherries were a little tart and made me pull a face. In the afternoon I got tired and lay on the ground and watched Stephen climbing on the ladder way up in the cherry tree. It reminded me of when I watched him climbing trees when I was little. I closed my eyes for a little while and all I could see were red cherries dancing before my eyelids.
The cherry picking lasted for a few weeks and then Stephen started working for a builder. He told me he spent the day carting bricks and things around. It seemed like everything would be okay and he would be happier, but then he got put off by the bricklayer because there wasn’t enough work around.
Soon after another letter arrived from Western Australia to say there were some apprenticeships available. I saw the forms spread out on Stephen’s bed and he just stared at them all afternoon. It was a few days later that he came home and filled the forms in.
“I just can’t bear being out of work any longer, Molly,” he told me in bed that night. I lay there with tears forming in my eyes because I couldn’t bear the thought of him going away.
He was really excited a couple of weeks later when he got a letter to say he had been accepted. I found out he was to start in a few months time after being cleared by a doctor and some other things. At least that meant he would still be at home for Christmas.
Then I got a letter from Ellen; she told me that she was going to stay in Melbourne with her mother and wasn’t coming back. To top it all off, Dad came home one night and said we were moving again.
I was very sad and confused when I went to bed that night. Everything seemed to be happening at once. I sat on my bed with my legs crossed and started to write a long letter to Ellen to tell her my sad news, but every time I tried to use my pen the page was blurry with tears. I wanted to tell her that I would be her friend forever and would visit her in Melbourne one day.
Stephen came and sat on the end of my bed. “Don’t worry, Molly. I won’t be gone that long. Once I’ve got some experience for a few months I’ll be able to come back here and get a proper job.” He gave me a big hug and I left wet tears all over his shoulder. Eventually I finished the letter and popped it in the mail box.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Eight

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I closed my writing journal and hopped off my bed to go and find Mum. She was standing at the kitchen bench peeling potatoes and I walked over and put my arms around her waist. She turned and kissed me and we both cried together as the words poured out and I told her all about everything that had been happening at school and showed her what I had been writing in my journal.
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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.
Suddenly I could smell hot chips and I giggled as I started spiralling down to join the other seagulls where they were fighting over a packet of chips. I landed with a thump and opened my eyes to find Mum was sharing out chips into little paper cups for my sisters to eat.
Outside the window, the landscape had turned swampy and in the distance I could see tall chimneys billowing out smoke. Hidden in the trees was an old car body that looked all rusty. The boot was open and Mum said that was how the people had gotten out of the car.
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 trying to find some 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 this 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 with just an occasional bend.
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.
Every couple of days I wrote a letter to Stephanie and Mum let me pop it in a mailbox along the road somewhere. I missed Stephanie a lot and I often wondered what she was doing.
“Looks like we are 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, but 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.
We spent the first night in a caravan park and I started school the next day while Mum and Dad tried to find a house to rent. It was just like starting my first day of kindergarten all over again. I sat there looking at my feet while Mum talked with the school headmaster. He looked like he was a hundred years old and as dry and gnarled as all those trees along the road. His eyes were cold and grey as they looked at me without interest.
When Mum left I was taken to my new classroom by a lady with shoes that clicked loudly on the tile floor of the corridor. She knocked at the classroom door and pushed it open to be greeted by the noise of strange children chattering and giggling. I was taken across the classroom to meet my new teacher, Mr Anderson, who was sitting at his desk reading a book. Slowly, the class started to become quieter as some of the children noticed a new girl amongst them. I could hear the ones at the front whispering to each other and I just knew they were all looking at me standing there in my unfamiliar school uniform.
When the lady left, Mr Anderson stood up with me at the front of the classroom. He held his hand up until everyone was quiet and looking toward the front. “Class, this is Molly White. She has come to join us here in 1KA so I hope you will all make her welcome.” I knew my face was bright red, I could feel it burning and I heard some boys toward the back of the room whispering to each other. I just wanted to run away and I knew the tears were starting to form in my eyes. “Molly, there is an empty desk over near the window so you can sit there. Okay class, it is time now for maths so I want you to open your books at chapter three and we will have a look at number lines.”
I slid into my seat and opened the book Mr Anderson had handed me, but everything looked blurry and instead of number lines I saw rivers of tears running across the page. Warm autumn sunlight was shining through the window and I could see wisps of cloud drifting by in the blue sky as Mr Anderson’s voice droned on about something to do with numbers and lines and hopping from one to four. I thought about the railway line and wondered how many hops it would take before I got back to Stephanie.
At lunchtime I sat on a bench in the playground. It was all bitumen and there was no grass, just lines marked out for all sorts of games. It was like one of those unhappy playgrounds I had seen when we were driving through the city. I looked at the sandwiches in my lunchbox, but I didn’t feel at all hungry because my stomach was tied up in a little knot. I started to think of Stephanie again and began to cry.
After a while I noticed someone had sat on the bench next to me. “Are you okay?” I heard a little voice say. I could see a pair of white cotton socks and dusty black school shoes poking out shyly from beneath a checked school dress.
“I thought you looked sad,” the voice said again. “I wondered if you would like some of my vegemite sandwich.” The voice belonged to a little girl, about the same size as me with a face covered in freckles. “My name is Ellen,” she said.
“I’m Molly,” I said quietly as I finally found my tongue.
“Don’t be sad, Molly. School isn’t that bad when you get used to it. Do you want to come and play handball?”
“I don’t know how to,” I said.
“Well that’s okay, I can teach you.”
She took my hand and we walked across to where a crowd of girls were lined up watching two other girls hitting a tennis ball to each other with their hands. As we stood in the line, Ellen explained that I was meant to hit the ball to the other person with my hand, but it had to bounce before going over the line. If you missed it or hit the ball outside the squares then you were out and had to go back to the end of the line. Everyone wanted to get to the king’s square.
Soon it was my turn and I stood in the square opposite a big girl with short hair. Suddenly there was a tennis ball flying towards me and I threw my hand at it but missed completely. Some of the girls giggled as I walked off to the end of the line.
“Don’t worry, Molly,” said Ellen. “You’ll soon get the hang of it.”
Before I had a chance to have another go, the bell went and we had to go back into class. “Let’s play again tomorrow, Molly,” Ellen said. “You’re going to have a lot of fun.” I wasn’t so sure that I would be able to hit the ball so I was glad that the bell went and saved me from further embarrassment.
The classroom was kept warm by a log fire. Ellen was a fire monitor and she asked Mr Anderson if I would be allowed to help her gather some logs from a box outside the classroom before we went back to our desks.
Ellen told me there was an old man that worked at the school and one of his jobs was to keep the firewood box stacked with wood for the classrooms. She said he was a bit creepy and that I should keep away from him, but there was no sign of the caretaker as I followed Ellen to the back of the classroom. She skipped along and seemed so happy and that made me feel a bit lighter, but the logs were really heavy and I got dirt and little bits of bark stuck all over my school dress when I carried them back to class.
The fire was in an iron box, like a little stove, and I watched Ellen carefully open the door and rake among the embers with a poker. When the flames were dancing around like little devils, I passed her a log and she put it on top of the fire. A shower of sparks and smoke rose into the air and me cough.
When I got back to my desk, I saw that my hands were all dirty. But I wasn’t game to ask Mr Anderson if I could go to the bathroom to wash them so I tried to wipe them clean on my school dress. My hair smelled all smoky as well and I started to worry about what Mum would say when I got home.
Then I began thinking about home and I realised that I didn’t even know where home was, or if we had one. I looked out the window at the clouds again to try and stop myself from crying, but a couple of teardrops still leaked out and fell on my cheeks.
I looked around and saw Ellen watching me. She gave me a little smile and I tried to smile back but my lips wouldn’t move in the right shape. Things improved later in the afternoon, though, when we had some quiet reading time. I picked a book out of a box that was on the floor and we were allowed to sit on the mat in the middle of the classroom and read. Ellen came and sat next to me and held my hand and I felt like I was in kindergarten all over again.
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 the 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. There’s not much room anymore. 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 noise.
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 would be another roar and more banging and a whistle would blow, 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.

It was Easter soon after we arrived in town and the weather turned bitterly cold. Mum had to buy me a new jumper because it was so much colder than on the coast and all my old jumpers were too thin. In the mornings my breath puffed into the air like smoke and it burned my lungs. I had to hug my arms around myself all the time just to stay warm.
That is when Mum first got sick. I was in bed when I heard Dad talking on the telephone. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but soon there were footsteps in the hallway and I could see flashing lights coming through the window. I hopped out of bed and looked through the doorway. I started to cry because all I could see was Mum on a stretcher and some men in white coats pushing her out the front door.
“Mum!” I called out.
“Get back in bed Molly,” Dad said sharply. Stephen was beside me and he took my hand and led me gently back to bed.
“It’s okay Molly,” he said. “Mum is just going up to the hospital for a bit. She isn’t feeling very well.”
“Is she going to be okay?” All I could think about were those dry old trees.
“She’ll be fine. The doctors will look after her.”
I couldn’t sleep at all that night after that. I kept worrying about Mum being all lonely up at the hospital. She still wasn’t home when I woke in the morning. I climbed out of bed and found Catherine in the kitchen making breakfast. I asked her if she knew when Mum would be coming home and she said that Mum was probably going to be in the hospital for a few days. She told me to go and get myself dressed in my school uniform and then come back to the kitchen and help her cook breakfast.
Catherine already had some porridge cooking on the stove and she showed me how to keep stirring the porridge so that it didn’t stick to the bottom of the saucepan. When the porridge started to bubble I had to turn the stove off and let it cool for a while before it could be served into bowls.
I sat with the girls and ate my porridge quietly while they chatted about high school. Stephen had already left for work before I had woken up and Dad wasn’t home from last night.
The girls all rode their bikes to school, and because Mum wasn’t home to walk to school with me, Catherine said I could ride my bike with them. It was the first time I had ever been allowed to ride my bike to school and I was really excited, even though I still felt sad because Mum wasn’t home.
We set off together, riding in single file along the street toward school. I had trouble keeping up because they rode so fast, but Catherine stayed back and rode slowly with me. She kept looking back over her shoulder and calling out to me, telling me when to stop for cars and when to get going again. Before long we arrived at school and Catherine said goodbye and then hurried off to catch up with Samantha and Jasmine. I climbed off my bike and wheeled it through the school gate and left it parked in a bike rack.
As I sat in class through the day, I kept thinking about Mum and wondering what was happening and why she was sick. It made me feel sick and I couldn’t eat my morning tea or lunch. I sat with Ellen at lunchtime and told her all about how some men had come to the house and taken Mum away to the hospital last night. I thought it was strange when Ellen asked me if my Dad had done something to her. I told Ellen that she had just gotten sick, but I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel like playing handball or anything so we just sat there holding hands and Ellen told me about a time when her Mum was in hospital. Ellen said it was only last year and her Mum was in the hospital for a whole week and then came home with a new baby. Ellen hadn’t been able to see her all the time she was in hospital because her Dad was too busy working to be able to take her. I started to worry about what would happen if I couldn’t see Mum for a whole week. I asked Ellen if she knew where the hospital was and she told me that it was at the top of the hill, just past the high school.
All afternoon I kept thinking about what Ellen had said, and by the time the school bell rang at the end of the day I had decided that I was going to ride my bike up to the hospital to visit Mum. I couldn’t stand the thought of going a whole week without seeing her. I wondered if I should tell Catherine where I was going, but then I started to worry that she might stop me from riding up to the hospital so I decided that I would just go on my own.
I climbed on my bike and set off toward the high school. I knew it was only a few blocks up the hill from my school from what Ellen had told me. There were lots of other kids riding their bikes home from school so I just followed what they were doing and pretended that I was heading home as well. I kept my head down as I rode past the high school, just in case one of my sisters saw me. But I was soon past all the teenagers without being spotted and then I could see the big white hospital building right in front of me.
The hill was quite steep and my legs were really tired by the time I rode up the hospital driveway. But I had made it and I let my bike coast to a stop in front of the door. I climbed off my bike and walked inside the building, but I didn’t know where to find Mum. A lady in a white uniform asked if I needed help and I told her that I was looking for Mum.
“What is your Mum’s name, sweetheart?” she said in a kind voice.
“M-M-Mrs White,” I answered nervously.
“Oh yes,” she said, “I think she is sleeping, but if you promise to be really quiet then I will show you where her room is.”
The kind lady took my hand and we walked down a long white corridor together.
“So what is your name, young lady?” the kind lady asked.
“Molly,” I said quietly.
“Oh, what a pretty name! Well here we are, Molly.” She started to whisper, “There’s a chair beside the bed that you can sit on. Just make sure you stay really quiet and don’t wake her, okay?”
I nodded and climbed onto the chair where I could see Mum’s face resting peacefully against the pillow. Her hair hadn’t been brushed and it was all knotty and spread out. I knew Mum wouldn’t be happy to see her hair so full of knots and that’s when I realised that she must have been pretty sick.
I sat and watched her breathing. She looked peaceful but her face was very pale. Her eyes were closed and every now and then she would move a little. I lay my head on my arms against the edge of the bed and watched. I thought that if I looked away she might disappear. Her hair framed her face with a red-golden glow; I could see the lines on her face – the ones around the eyes where they crinkled when she smiled at me; small creases on her forehead when she frowned if I did something wrong. I could see a small pulse beating in her neck; as long as that kept going she would be okay, I kept saying to myself.
Eventually I felt Dad’s hand on my shoulder. “Come on Molly, time to go home before the hospital closes.” My hands felt numb and my eyes were all blurry as I leant over and kissed Mum on the cheek. She hadn’t even woken up to look at me.

After Mum had been in hospital I began to ride my bike everywhere on my own. She started to get better and eventually came home but for a long while she wasn’t able to do much out of the house and I had to find my own way around. School was only a few blocks from home anyway and I could easily ride and park my bike in the racks at the back of the playground. My sisters soon stopped waiting behind for me to ride to school with them, but I was able to find my own way there. Every time I got on my bike I could feel the wind blowing deliciously in my hair, and the sound of my bike’s tyres humming along the road made me feel wild and free.
In the mornings before school it became my job to ride my bike down to the corner shop to buy a loaf of bread and a carton of milk for Mum. I had a basket at the front of my bike to carry the groceries, and when I got home I put the change into my moneybox. Every now and then I would pick my moneybox up and feel how heavy it was getting and give it a shake to hear all the change rattling inside.
After having porridge for breakfast I would kiss Mum goodbye and rush out the back door to get on my bike again for the quick dash across the road between the traffic then around the edge of the park until I arrived at school. In the afternoon my bike would be waiting patiently for me, eager for the journey home again.
Just down the road from home was a greyhound racing track. It was dry and dusty and on Saturday nights I could hear the noise from the greyhound races. Some cheering and muffled announcements over the loudspeaker drifted through the window as I tried to sleep. Sometimes on the weekend I would ride my bike through the gates of the greyhound park and ride round and round the car park, dodging broken bottles and tin cans scattered on the ground. I soon learnt that I had to watch out for catsheads, those terrible sharp thorns that would lay hidden in the grass waiting to puncture my tyres. Mum went down to the bike shop one day and bought me thorn proof bike tubes and Stephen had put them on my bike, but they were still no match for catsheads.
I didn’t get to play with Stephen much anymore now that he had a job, so I spent a lot of time on my own. One weekend I rode out of town, leaving behind the giant peppercorn trees that lined the main street, riding past the ornamental apricot trees on the smaller side streets, past the greyhound track, past the bulk grain storage silo that I had seen on my first day, until I found myself free as a bird and pedalling into a wilderness of twisted gum trees, dry gullies and flat paddocks of dusty wheat stubble.
The backyard at home was really huge but it was overgrown with weeds and shrubs and looked just like a jungle. Stephen made a tree house in the stump of an old tree down the back, cutting some foot holes so I could climb up and sit on the platform he made from old. It was about six feet off the ground and Stephen showed me how to climb up there so that I could sit and read, looking down on the world from my castle so high.
I was slowly reading my way through ‘Oliver Twist’. Mum had given it to me for my birthday but I had to take my time so that I could understand it properly – some of the sentences were just so long and confusing. I saw a reflection of myself in the orphaned baby who lost his mother when he was born. At night I lay in bed, terrified of the dark and worrying about what would happen to me if Mum got sick again. I was the same age that Oliver was when he was taken to the workhouse and asked for more to eat.
The more I read, the more I found myself lost on the narrow streets of London, a small and timid child. I trembled with fear when threatened by Fagin, and as my fingers turned the pages anxiously I ran when chased by the crowd from the bookstall. From high in my treehouse in the middle of this dry, dusty plain, my mind wandered the cold, wet streets of that far away city.

From Sappho to Abigail Ulman: Part two – Gwerful Mechain

Taking a great leap forward in time, I discovered the poetry of Gwerful Mechain (1462 – 1500). Women poets in Wales had been active from earliest times to the middle ages, however male dominance of public culture meant the writings of many of these women was largely silenced by time. Gwerful Mechain’s poetry is evidence of the vibrant participation of women in the Welsh bardic tradition and there is evidence that Gwerful engaged in poetic dialogues with male poets, albeit often adopting a female point of view, as she should. I purchased Welsh Women’s Poetry 1460 – 2001: An anthology (published by Honno Classics) and discovered a whole world of women’s poetry that I had been unaware of. My favourite would have to be I’r cedor (translated as ‘To the vagina). Inspired by this middle ages period of women poets, I wrote a novella based around a young woman from the 21st Century suddenly finding herself in 1435 and the world of Gwerful Mechain.

From Lady Evilynn
Gwenllian opened the door of the tavern and we walked inside. The noise was raucous as a mixture of men and women talked and drank. There was a small stage and a man was standing up there reciting poetry. He finished and there was a roar of laughter. A woman stepped up to the stage in his place and began reciting a poem. I was surprised to see it was the older woman from the clearing. She was one of the witches as well. I turned and looked enquiringly at Gwenllian.
“That is mother,” she said. “Wait, and listen.”
“… you rogue of poets, how can you stand… with the weight of a penis held in your hand. If you take my advice, and nothing is finer, you have much better balance with a delicious vagina.”
The crowd in the tavern roared even louder with laughter at this and some men slapped the male poet on the back. “She got you there, Sean. Yes, that was a harddwch.” The guy called Sean looked sheepish, but seemed to take it in all good fun.
The woman climbed down from the stage and walked over to me. “Well Evilynn, I am so glad you have finally made it. Welcome to my house of hwyl. Relax annwyl and have a drink. We will talk later. There is so much to talk about.”
Gwenllian took my hand and we sat at a table toward the back of the room while the night of festivities continued all around us. “It’s like this most nights,” said she said. “The local villagers come to hear the poets and there is regular jousting between the men and the women. You know we have lots of women poets here and most are better than the men, and they don’t have to sugno I fyny to the masters for a living like the men do.”
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “I have been studying these poets! That’s what I was doing before I came here.”

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Seven

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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 always 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 on 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 there 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. There was no time for thinking on a descent like that as it snaked down the hill and I just had to hang on and concentrate on the road.
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 decided I wanted to keep the paper so 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.
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When I was seven 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 and I felt so sad.
I went back to writing my story and tried to remember as much of it 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 because I kept dreaming about clowns and rides and fairy floss.
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 take in the sights, smells and sounds of the farm displays and the sideshow rides.
The first thing I saw was a display of vintage cars and antique motors sitting in the warm spring sunshine, and then we were off to the noisy poultry pavilion. All the different coloured birds were amazing to see, and so noisy with all their crowing and clucking. Stephanie and I then headed to the main ring 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 the sound of galloping hooves attracted my attention and Stephanie and I hurried over to watch the horses.
Next stop was the woodchop, where big men in singlets were preparing their logs. The clock started running and with axes swinging, chips flew through the air and the logs disappeared before my eyes.
Then we moved off to the pavilion full of arts, crafts and local produce, and it was there we found 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. Mum bought some tickets and Stephanie and I climbed into the same car. She steered because she was bigger than me and 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.
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.”
“Aw yuck!”
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, “Because 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 quiet 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.

Angel of the night

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Sleeping angel,
Child of the night,
Lost in your dreaming,
Creature of my love.

Softness of her skin,
Caresses on your cheek,
Breasts rising and falling,
Touch of her fingers.

Where are you now love?
The secrets of your soul,
Nurturing your happiness,
My love flowing with yours.

Sleeping angel,
Hold me tight,
Lost in your dreaming,
Creature of my love.