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.

From Sappho to Abigail Ulman: Part one – Sappho

I love to write, write, write. For many years I wrote poetry, but then began writing short stories and later a novel.
My journey to creative writing began many years ago when I was a voracious reader as a young child. I had this burning desire to write my own stories, but was not equipped with the tools to do so. I can still clearly recall being told in primary school by my Year 6 teacher that I had no imagination. Later in high school English I clashed with my Year 9 teacher and helplessly watched my grades fall.

Yet, I was exposed to some literature in these years that captured my heart and still remains fresh in my mind. Romeo and Juliet in Year 10; the essays of James Thurber and other classic readers were followed by King Lear, contemporary playwrights David Williamson (The Club and The Removalists) and Ray Lawler (Summer of the Seventeenth Doll); the poets Judith Wright, Geoffrey Chaucer and John Keats; and classic novelists Jane Austen and Emily Bronte.

Through my own reading I discovered a range of popular novels from authors such as Wilbur Smith, Alistair MacLean, Ruth Park, Mark Twain, Colin Thiele, Jules Verne, Mary O’Hara, Ian Fleming, Arthur Hailey, Hammond Innes, Judah Waten, Marcus Clarke, and James Michener – all covering a spectrum of genres and writing styles.

But how was I to ever write a novel of my own? And where were those ideas meant to come from? High school English may have helped my appreciation of literature, but it never gave me the tools to explore my own writing.

As a teenager I began to write song lyrics, often adapting the lyrics to existing songs or writing my own lyrics to familiar tunes. These skills developed somewhat as I soaked up influences from popular music, rock and roll and folk songs. Later I began writing poetry, exploring a range of styles as I searched for my own voice. As my confidence grew I began to see myself as a poet, but not a writer of longer pieces. There was still a barrier to expressing myself in ways other than relatively short verse.

Much later, I began to explore writing longer prose pieces until that long extinguished ember burst into flame once again. As a mature age student, I now had the drive and the confidence to seek out the tools I required that would allow me to turn myself into a truly creative writer.

As part of my creative writing studies, I realised I needed to hear the voices of other women writers throughout history. What were there concerns? How did they express them? Were they really different to the novels and poetry written by men?
I began my journey with Sappho, the ancient Greek poet from the isle of Lesbos. According to Stung with Love: Poems and Fragments, Sappho was born after 630 BCE and died around 570. Most of her surviving poems are fragments, even though she was celebrated in her own time. While Stung with Love is a translation, I found ethereal beauty in her sparse words and musings on love and female concerns that inspired my own writing.

Ghost of innocence,
You took for your own
What I can never give again.

Farewell my love,
Saying goodbye is hard —
You meant everything to me,
I will never forget

Laying my head against your breast,
While you breathed words
Of sweet desire, I loved to hear
You singing the poems of Sappho,
Watching as you brushed your hair,
Slipping on a summer dress —
I loved the bright colours you wore,
Red lips, painted toenails,
Your sharp intelligence, witty tongue
That left me with shivers,
When you looked in my eyes,
Touching my hand gently,
Light reflecting from irises
As I lay mesmerised,
Intoxicated by the perfume
Of flowers against your soft neck,
How I met your craving
For burning desire
With my own tender sighs,
Succumbing to the beauty
Of moonlight on your skin,
Flower petals open
To relieve my frustrations,
Scattering violet, blue and yellow
Until only orange and red
Flash behind my eyes
In our exquisitely beautiful tryst,
Breathing affection against your breasts,
Yes desire — right there.

Then you kissed me goodbye,
Scalding my lips;
Everything is hazy
When I close my eyes
As I lay here alone.
My own heart is anguish
At your hot and cold;
I draw my arms
Across my chest
To remember your warmth —
If only I could look in those eyes
One more time.

Molly’s Dreams – chapter six

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The school bell rang and I checked my timetable to see what room I was meant to be in, and my heart sank when I saw that it was a double period of health and exercise. I groaned and walked reluctantly toward the change room at the back of the gymnasium. I hated changing my clothes in the open with all the other girls watching me, so I hurried into a toilet cubicle and got changed in there.
I sat on the toilet lid listening to the girls in my class talking, and I waited until I could hear them walking out to the oval. I opened the door and poked my head out to make sure nobody was there, then hurried outside before I got into trouble for being late.
As I ran out into the sunshine, I was conscious of how bright my skinny white legs looked as they poked out of my shorts like matchsticks. All the other girls in my class seemed to have such perfect smooth skin. Mine was just covered in freckles and I always tried to hide it by wearing long sleeved shirts.
Mr. Norris was just marking the roll and luckily my surname was right down the bottom.
“… Sarah Walker?” he called out.
“Here, sir.”
“White, Molly White, is she here?”
“I’m here, sir,” I called out as I ran to join the group of girls.
Mr. Norris turned and looked at me for a moment with his beady black eyes, before looking down at his list and making a mark.
“Okay, that’s the lot,” he said. “Right, ladies, today we are playing soccer. Alison and Virginia, you two are the captains and you can pick your teams.”
I should have known those two would be the captains. They were always the teacher’s pets, no matter which class it was. Alison had long brown hair and a cute little upturned nose. She was one of the girls that had perfect skin, and she already had a boyfriend as well. Virginia was a stuck up rich girl with thick brown hair. She would have been really pretty if she didn’t always have a sneer on her lips. She had a boyfriend too.
One by one the two captains called out players to join their teams. I hated this part, and I started to get more and more embarrassed as the group of unpicked players where I was standing got smaller and smaller. Soon I would be the only left and that meant everybody would be looking at me.
“I’ll have Jane,” said Virginia. “You can have the fr…,”she paused and looked at Mr. Norris. “You can have the other one,” she said, pointing at me.
Mr. Norris blew his whistle and all the girls ran into their positions on the field. I ran over to the wing because that was where I had played when I was little.
All of a sudden play was under way and the ball came sailing my way. I froze and it bounced right past me and went over the sideline.
“Oh, you idiot. What were you doing?” Alison yelled.
Play continued and I tried to run around and look inconspicuous, until the ball came my way again. I started moving towards it this time when Virginia came running past.
“Out of my way, freak,” she sneered as she bumped me with her shoulder. She got to the ball first and kicked it down field.
I managed to keep away from the ball after that, but just before the end of the game the ball came my way again and there was nobody else near me. I stopped it with my foot, and then kicked it a little way in front of me and started running. It was just like in the dreams I’d had when I was a little kid and I thought I was going to score a goal this time. There was nobody between me and the goal post except for the goalie and as I drew my foot back to kick the ball Virginia came sliding in with her legs and knocked us both to the ground.
Mr. Norris blew the whistle and gave me a penalty kick, but Virginia laughed as she got up and stood with her hands on her hips glaring at me. “Hey, let’s watch the little freak kick the ball,” she said loudly.
I wasn’t sure what to do, but Mr. Norris told me to put the ball on the ground and then kick it toward the goal as hard as I could.
I wished I could just disappear because everybody was watching me, but I did what he said and put the ball down. I moved back a couple of metres and then ran forward and tried to kick it with my left foot with all my might, but it hurt my foot and the ball just rolled to a stop as the goalie came forward to pick it up.
Mr. Norris blew the whistle again and the game was over and we had to go back into the change rooms. I followed everyone back inside and disappeared again into my toilet cubicle to change my clothes.
When I thought the coast was clear, I opened the cubicle door and stepped out into the empty change room, except it wasn’t empty.
Virginia and Alison and a few of their friends were standing there waiting for me.
“So the little freak has finally come out,” said Alison.
I started to walk toward the door but Virginia moved across to block my way.
“We don’t like freaks around here,” she said. I tried to step around her but she grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I turned to face her when suddenly something hit me really hard in the face. My eyes went all blurry and I felt dazed as tears started running down my cheeks.
“Oh, look it’s a cry baby.”
“She’s crying freckles,” someone else yelled.
“Give it to her Ginny,” said another voice.
I felt a hand punch me in the middle of my chest and then I tripped over and fell to the ground. I looked up to see that I was surrounded by faces all staring at me and yelling things but I could no longer hear them. My head was spinning but everything had gone silent, and then I blacked out.
I woke up later to find myself in a white room. Through the door I could see the headmaster’s office and I realised I must be in the nurse’s room.
“Oh, you’re awake dear?” said the school nurse. “I’m told you had a nasty fall at soccer during health. Some of the girls brought you in here. You are lucky to have such good friends.”
I reached up and felt my face where it was tender. I also had trouble breathing because my chest hurt so much.
“I was just about to call your mother so she can come and get you,” the nurse said.
“Oh, please… don’t do that. I’m okay. I can ride home.” She looked at me doubtfully but eventually let me go.
I had to ride my bike home really slowly because of my chest, but as soon as I got home I raced inside and locked myself in my bedroom before Mum could see the bruise on my face. I didn’t know how to explain it to her.
I saw my writing journal sitting at the end of my bed and I picked it up and started angrily ripping all of the pages out of it. I kept going until every single page was screwed up and thrown on the floor, then I threw myself face down on my bed and cried and cried and cried.
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The night before I turned six years old there was a big storm that rattled the house throughout the night. The loud thunder and flashes of lightning were so scary I wanted to sleep in Mum’s bed, but she said I should be brave now I was about to turn six. As I lay in bed hugging Mr. and Mrs. Bear with my eyes wide open I thought the house was going to wash away from all the rain on the roof and the sound of the wind blowing outside.
I must have eventually fallen asleep because when I woke up in the morning the sun was shining brightly through the windows and I was six years old. When I looked outside there were big puddles everywhere and I quickly got dressed so I could go out and play in the water. Mum saw me from the kitchen window and yelled at me to come inside out of the wet grass. I got into big trouble for getting my shoes and dress muddy and felt terrible when she made me have a bath, even though it was only breakfast time. She said it was so that I would look clean and pretty for my birthday.
When I got out of the bath and was dressed again, everyone crowded around the kitchen table to watch me open my presents and I gave each of my sisters a hug and a kiss to say ‘thank you’. Stephen gave me a book about Pinocchio and I gave him an extra special kiss and hug before I was left alone to play with my new presents. I went into the lounge room and sat on the floor and read about how Pinocchio dreamed of being a real boy. But he was very naughty for telling lies and seemed to get into trouble all the time, even when he didn’t mean to. I thought that was why he told lies, because he didn’t like getting into trouble. I wondered what it would be like to be made of wood, but I didn’t think I would like to be changed into a donkey and get long pointy ears and hooves like Pinocchio did. I much preferred being a real girl and I hoped getting into trouble in the morning wouldn’t make my ears grow. I still felt a little sad, even after all the excitement of opening my presents.
After a while Mum came into the lounge room and told me I should go and have a look on the back verandah. I rushed to open the door and there I found a brand new girl’s bike, all shiny silver and yellow with huge wheels. It had a bow tied around the handle bars and a sticker on the tube that read ‘Little Angel’.
The bike was a bit too big for me but I found that I could get on by climbing onto a chair first then pushing off. I turned the pedals and suddenly I was flying up and down the backyard with my legs spinning round and round.
I spent all morning riding under the mulberry tree, through the gate to the front and then back again. Stephen said I was going to wear a track in the muddy lawn. Mum said when I got bigger I could ride up and down the laneway and then the lawn would be safe. The laneway was dirt and ran down the back of all the houses along our street and it’s where all the big kids played.
“Molly,” I heard Mum calling out from the back verandah. “It’s time to come in. I think Stephanie is here; I just heard a car pull up out the front.”
I jumped off my bike and ran to meet my best friend at the front door. “Stephanie!” I squealed and gave her a big hug.
“Hi Molly, happy birthday,” she said as she handed me a present. It was wrapped in purple paper with a pink ribbon tied around it. I was so excited that I ripped all the paper off in one go and there inside was a beautiful book of stories about fairies. “Oh Steph, I love it,” I said and gave her another hug.
“Why don’t you girls go outside and play for a while before lunch?” Mum said.
“Come on Steph,” I said. “Come and see my new bike.” We went out the back and took turns riding my bike around the yard for a little while.
“I’ve had enough of riding, Molly. Let’s go and play on the swings,” Stephanie said. I wasn’t tired of the bike, but I leant it carefully against the wall and followed Stephanie across to the swing set. I didn’t mind playing on the swings for a little while but it made me feel sick if I went too fast.
“Come on, Molly… go higher like me.” Stephanie was already swinging high, kicking her legs right up into the sky and she looked just like a blur. I tried to keep up with her and kicked my legs to make the swing go faster. Every time I went forward to the top of the swing I would feel like I was going to fly off into space, then my stomach would plunge as I suddenly started to swing backwards. Stephanie was giggling loudly and she kept urging me to go faster and faster. Each time I would kick my legs and go higher and higher, but then I started to feel dizzy. I tried to hang on until it suddenly felt like I was floating in mid air. Everything froze for a moment and then I started falling, down, down forever, until I landed with a thump on the ground. I was stunned for a moment, and then started to scream because my arm hurt where I had landed on it crookedly.
“Molly! Are you okay?” Stephanie jumped off the swing and put her arm around me as Mum raced out of the house. By the time she arrived I was sobbing uncontrollably.
“What happened? Let me have a look.” Mum felt my arm and it really hurt. “Well I don’t think it’s broken so you will live.” She picked me up and carried me inside the house. “You girls should play inside where it’s safer.”
It started raining again that afternoon and I could hear it pouring on our tin roof all night long. I lay in bed listening to the rain and wondering if it was ever going to stop. It gurgled down the drain outside my bedroom window and was so noisy that I couldn’t sleep, so I hopped out of bed and went into Mum’s room.
“Mum,” I whispered. “Mum, are you awake?”
“What is it Molly?” Mum said in her sleep.
“I can’t sleep. I’m worried about the rain.”
“Oh honey, there’s nothing to worry about. Hop back in bed sweetie and think about something nice.” I stood there for a while but she had gone back to sleep, so I went back to bed and lay there with my eyes open in the darkness. I couldn’t think of anything nice, all I could hear was the rain.
Eventually I did fall asleep and when I woke up in the morning there was water everywhere. The sky was damp and grey and the farm over the road looked like a lake with trees poking up out of the water.
I thought Mum might let me stay home from school for the day because it was so wet, but instead she dressed me in a yellow raincoat and gumboots and we walked to school with the rain dripping off my hat. The rain wasn’t so scary in the daylight after all and I began to enjoy walking along the footpath where everything was soaked and little streams flowed down the gutter. The grass looked drowned and sad and I could feel the soft cold mud squelching under my boots as we walked along. Mum wouldn’t let me jump in any puddles but every now and then I was able to make an extra splash as I went along that sent water spraying everywhere.
“Careful, Molly,” Mum said, “You don’t want to get your school dress wet or you’ll catch a cold.”
Once we reached the school, Mum wiped my face dry with her handkerchief and gave me a kiss goodbye on the cheek. I dropped my school port on the verandah outside my classroom but there was nobody there as all of the kids from my class were down at the back of the playground watching the river boiling and churning with murky brown water where normally it just bubbled along quietly. I ran down to join them and was amazed that I couldn’t even see the footbridge downstream any more as it was completely covered by water. I stood there staring at the water rushing past and wondered how many rain drops it took to make the river run so fast.
Some of the boys were yelling and throwing things in the river and I wondered if they would be turned into donkeys when Mrs. Mills caught them. A log came down stream, swirling around in the fast flowing water. “There goes a boat!” somebody yelled out. I wouldn’t like to be on a boat in all that muddy water. “Let’s sink it!” The boys started throwing rocks and sticks at the log to see who could hit it first, but none of them got anywhere near it.
I wondered what the fish in the river thought about all those rocks falling on them. I could picture them looking up at all the wet children standing against the fence on the school playground. Was it fun for them to jump out of the way of falling rocks or were they scared? Or maybe they had all been washed away in the flood and weren’t watching us at all.
I heard one of the boys say that if it kept raining the river would wash the school away. That didn’t seem possible to me, as the school was so high above the river. But I started to get worried about it because the river was already high from the rain over night, so maybe it didn’t have that far to go after all.
All morning in class I worried about whether the river was going to wash us away and every time someone came in or out of the classroom I looked through the doorway to check if the river was coming yet. I tried to think of which would be the best way to run. I thought of asking Mrs. Mills what she thought but she was sitting at her desk frowning so I didn’t say anything.
As the morning went on, I sat in class and watched fat rain drops running down the grey windows. I pretended they were racing each other to the bottom of the window pane and I kept my eyes fixed on one drop at a time until it won the race. Sometimes the rain drops would stop, as though they had run out of breath, until another drop bumped into it and then they would both race all the way to the edge of the window pane.
It was still raining at lunchtime but to my relief the river was no higher than it had been in the morning. It was so wet that we weren’t allowed in the playground and had to sit on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. It was very noisy with all the children talking together and the boys kept running up and down on the wooden floorboards. One of the boys pulled out a ball and started throwing it around until Mrs. Mills came out and told them to sit still and behave.
Stephanie and I sat in the corner to eat our lunches and read a book together. She liked reading as much as I did and we sat there with our heads pressed together taking turns to each read one page at a time. Her brown hair tickled my face, but I never felt as happy as when Stephanie and I would get lost in our little fantasy world, far away from the school playground where we had wonderful adventures in a magical kingdom.
“I’m never going to sit in a castle and wait for a prince,” said Stephanie. “I want to have adventures and explore the world.” She was staring into the distance across the playground where the rain continued to pour down.
“I’m going to do that too. We can explore together and discover our fairy wings and fight bullys and do all sorts of things.”
“Can you imagine,” she said, “A world where everything is coloured like a rainbow and you can fly through clouds made of fairy floss?”
“And the stars are made of sprinkles and you can taste them on your tongue.”
“Where we can chase dragons in the rain and sing songs together by our campfire at night.” She leant her head against mine and giggled. I smiled as her brown hair danced against my cheek.
“Yes,” she said, “That’s what we will do when we grow up!”
The sound of the school bell broke the magic and we had to get up and go back to class.
After lunch Mrs. Mills pulled out some paints and big sheets of paper and told us we could spend the afternoon painting whatever we wanted. I sat and thought for a long while about what I wanted to paint. I was going to start with a rainbow and a world full of colour; splashes of blues and reds and yellows in the sky and bright green grass with pretty purple flowers; in the corner was a castle made of diamonds with a princess standing on top looking out over her beautiful kingdom.
Mrs. Mills walked around the classroom, looking at everybody’s paintings. “Molly, you haven’t even started yet!” she exclaimed when she came to my blank page. I looked down at the white sheet of paper in front of me. “You are such a naughty girl, everyone else has nearly finished. What have you been doing?” I tried to explain what I wanted to paint but the words got stuck in my throat. It was so hard for me to talk to Mrs. Mills because she always seemed to be angry. She stood there with her hands on her hips waiting for my answer when suddenly there was a commotion from the other side of the classroom.
Two boys had started painting each other – one had a blue nose and the other had green paint on the tips of his ears. Some of the children were laughing but they quickly stopped as Mrs. Mills stormed across the room. She was very cross and made us all pack up our paintings. Instead, we had to get out our maths books and spend the rest of the afternoon doing numbers while she tried to clean the paint off the two boys.
I went back to staring at the rain drops running down the window panes and wished the river would rise high enough to wash away all of our maths books. That wouldn’t make me sad at all.
It finally stopped raining after a few weeks and eventually everything dried out. There was a loud cheer in the classroom one day when Mrs. Mills announced that we would be going on an excursion to a rainforest. She frowned at the noise and then said we wouldn’t be going anywhere if we couldn’t control ourselves better than that. When the boys at the back of the room eventually settled down, she told us about how we would be visiting a very special place that was one of the last patches of big scrub rainforest that used to cover most of the coast before it was cleared for timber and farms. At recess, Stephanie and I were excited to think we were really going to be explorers.
I could hardly sleep for the next week until the day of the excursion arrived. Mum packed sandwiches for my lunch in a bag and she made me wear sturdy shoes and long pants, even though I thought it would be too hot in the rainforest. She drove me to school and kissed me goodbye before I hopped out of the car and joined all the other children waiting on the footpath for the bus. It was running late and Mrs. Mills was trying to keep everyone quiet and sensible, but there was just too much excitement about the trip. Eventually the bus came around the corner with a cloud of greasy smoke and some of the children cheered. Mrs. Mills frowned at them and told us to line up and be quiet.
Stephanie and I sat together on the bus and watched the world passing by outside the window. It felt like we were making the first steps on our journey of being carefree explorers of the world. That was until I started to feel car sick. I closed my eyes and rested my head on Stephanie’s shoulder as we drove along, trying to ignore the way my stomach churned as though it had been dropped into a washing machine. This wasn’t how explorers were meant to feel.
Soon I was in a magical place with a dense leafy canopy, unusual birds and the sound of rushing water that made me feel peaceful. There was nobody else around and I wondered where Stephanie and the other children were. I started to feel a little afraid when I realised I was all on my own, but explorers should be determined to be brave so I started to look around my surroundings. The dense atmosphere of the rainforest was closing around me and the path was wet and slippery. I knew I was lost, but I had to keep moving through the seclusion and smell of decay, carving my way through the scrub and searching for a hidden kingdom. When I got tired, I sat down on a log and started to feel hungry. I thought about the little snack Mum had packed in my school bag and closed my eyes to rest. I could feel the log swaying and I started to feel car sick again.
Suddenly I opened my eyes and Stephanie was right there beside me, resting her head against mine and the school bus was pulling into a car park. I grabbed my bag as we all piled out of the bus and lined up like little soldiers while Mrs. Mills read the roll. I could already hear the wind whispering high up in the trees and an occasional cracking noise like something was moving through the bushes. It was just like in my dream.
“Sounds like there are monsters in there,” said Darren. I didn’t like the sound of that but I couldn’t think of any other explanation for the noises in the bushes.
“Don’t be so ridiculous,” said Stephanie. “You’re the only monster here.” Some of the other boys laughed and Darren pulled an ugly face.
“Well you better watch out for snakes then,” he said. “They like to eat girls, particularly cry babies like Molly. They sneak up when you’re not looking and take you in one big bite.” He made a biting action with his hands right in front of my face and nearly knocked me over, but Mrs. Mills came over and saved the day.
“That is enough of that,” she said sternly. “Okay everybody, take your buddy’s hand, we are going for a walk on the nature trail first. Make sure you walk carefully and don’t get lost.”
I grabbed hold of Stephanie’s hand and we followed Mrs. Mills down the path, surrounded by towering trees that went so high I couldn’t see the tops. Ferns hung over the path and I had to brush them aside as I walked along. I was looking carefully for snakes because, although I didn’t really believe Darren, I wasn’t taking any chances.
As the morning went on we looked at all sorts of strange plants and Mrs. Mills explained to us how they all lived together in the rainforest and some plants protected other plants from the heat and how the plants were home to lots of little animals. She told us how the early settlers were timber getters that chopped the trees down with axes.
Suddenly we came to a clearing that opened onto a river. There was an old wooden wharf and Mrs. Mills told us this was where the timber getters had once loaded logs onto boats and sent them down the river. She said we could rest here on the grass and eat lunch before heading back toward the bus.
High in the trees I could see dried grass and broken branches and the trunks were covered in mud. Mrs. Mills said it was from the floods recently and I was amazed at how high the water had been and what it must have been like here when the water was rushing past. Now it was nice and peaceful by the side of the river and I could hear the water burbling along. I was glad to sit down and rest my legs and I thought how nice it would be to paddle my hot feet in the cool river.
As I ate my lunch I kept trying to imagine what the countryside must have looked like all those years ago before the bush was cleared away by the timber getters. I started thinking about the people that had lived here before the timber getters and what had happened to them. I turned to Stephanie after finishing my sandwich. “Steph, what do you think happened to the people that were here before the timber getters? You know, the Aboriginals.”
“I don’t know.” Stephanie looked at me over the lid of her drink bottle. “Why don’t you ask Mrs. Mills?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” I said, not wanting to attract any attention to myself.
“All right, I’ll do it.” She turned around to face our teacher. “Excuse me, Mrs. Mills, Molly and I were wondering what happened to the Aboriginal people that were here before?”
“Well that is a very good question, Stephanie. I’m glad you asked. You see, once upon a time there were a lot of people living along the coast. They moved around for food depending on the season and they had many sacred grounds. A lot of it was destroyed by the timber cutters and the Aboriginal people were hunted away. Around this area they were known as the ‘Bundjalung’ and a lot of them were killed by the white settlers in the early days. Any way children, it is time we started heading back to the bus.” Mrs. Mills stood up and told the class to pick up any rubbish from the ground and line up with our buddies.
I sat looking sadly at the water and thinking about what Mrs. Mills had said. I wanted to know more; I wished I could say I was sorry to all those vanished people. I wanted to understand what it had been like for them.
“Come on, Molly.” Mrs. Mills called. “It’s time to go.”
We walked back along the same path past all the tree ferns and strange plants, until suddenly there was a lot of yelling from behind me. One of the boys had brushed against a stinging fern and was screaming from the prickles in his leg. Mrs. Mills took him by the hand and we were all marched back to the bus as quick as we could. I was glad that Mum had made me wear long pants after all.
When I climbed back on the bus I saw Darren’s leg all covered in red spots and Mrs. Mills was putting ointment on it. There were some tissues covered in blood on the seat beside him and I could see tears on his cheeks and he was sobbing. His face looked sad as he sat on the bus seat and all of a sudden I could feel tears building in my own eyes. As I walked past his seat I stopped and offered him a lolly from my bag of snacks to make him feel better.

Two

Two lovers bring the world in balance,
Seeking a blend of
Harmony and co-operation,
Friction and opposition.

You are dark,
You come to me at night
When I am at my weakest,
Mysteriously appearing
From the corners
Of my mind
And taking me
With your cold heart.

I am light,
Waiting for you
Through my daydreams,
When everything is clear
And I am strong.

You take me with your strength,
Overcoming my weakness
And devouring my warm centre
With your hot dagger.

I am emotion,
Clinging to the waves
Left behind by your soul
And crying for the times
You have offered me your body
But closed your eyes to my heart.

Molly’s Dreams – Chapter Five

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It was a few weeks after my birthday and the winter sun was smiling on my face as I carefully parked my bike in the racks at the back of the school playground. I wasn’t late for a change and had been feeling a little better since my birthday. After thinking everyone had forgotten about me, it was nice that they were all home to give me a surprise and for the first time in ages I felt like I belonged there.
I almost smiled to myself as I closed the lock on my chain. I loved this late July weather because, even though the air was still chilly, there was a hint that spring was just around the corner. The wattle trees were covered in bright yellow flowers as if they were millions of tiny stars all bursting to shed their light. It was hard feeling sad when everything was so pretty.
I breathed deeply to smell the fresh air and swung my bag onto my shoulder. I was finally strong enough to face a day at school and turned towards the playground.
As I got closer to the school building though, I had to walk past a group of senior girls. They were sitting on a bench and I kept my head down and hoped that they wouldn’t notice me. Even though I was looking at the ground I couldn’t help see their smooth shiny brown legs out of the corner of my eye as they baked in the sun.
I was right alongside them when I heard one of them call out.
“Hey, check out the freckled freak,” she said to her friend in a loud voice. I tried to walk a bit quicker to get away from them.
“Oh my gosh, look at her. They’re all over her face.”
“Better watch out, Ruth,” the first one said loudly, “Redheads have a fiery temper, you know.”
“I’d like to see her try. She’s so little as well.”
I had gotten past and was trying not to run.
“Hey, carrot top,” one of them yelled after me, “Why don’t you come back and talk to us?”
I reached the school building and pushed the door open, but I could still hear them calling out and laughing as I hurried inside.
I half ran to my locker, trying to hide my face by pretending to be in a rush to find my books. A curly lock of hair fell across my face and I brushed it away impatiently. That damned red hair was the cause of all my troubles.

When I first started school I felt very important as I got dressed in my new school uniform for the first time, although my feet hurt from those shiny black leather shoes. I was wearing a pale blue checked pinafore and I had a little school port to carry my lunch and a big smile on my face as I walked out to the car with my leather shoes creaking. Mum took a photo of all us children standing beside the car before we headed off to school, all lined up in height from Stephen down to me with the sun shining in my eyes.
As we got closer to the school, the smile started to slip from my face and I began to feel sick in my tummy and my head ached. Mum said it was just butterflies and they would soon go away, but I didn’t like this feeling very much. A teacher met us at the school gate and Mum introduced me. “This is Molly,” she said smiling at the teacher. “Molly, say hello to Mrs. Mills.” But I didn’t want to say hello. The butterflies had flown away with my voice and I just wanted to hide behind Mum’s legs.
“Molly’s a bit shy,” said Mum.
“That’s okay,” Mrs. Mills replied in a stern voice, “We know how to deal with shy children. Come on Molly,” she tried to take my hand but I started to cry and pulled my hand away from her; I didn’t want to go with this strange lady with the grey hair and glasses. Mrs. Mills was determined though and soon I was marching through the school gate to join all the other children starting kindergarten.
I was scared and kept my eyes on the ground, trying to stop the tears in front of all these strange children. “Look at the little cry baby,” yelled a boy in long shorts scornfully.
“Leave her alone Darren,” one girl said. She came over and asked me my name.
“M – Molly,” I tried to say in between sniffles.
“I’m Stephanie, Molly, and we’re going to be friends,” she said bravely. “Don’t worry about Darren, he’s just a boy.”
I gave Stephanie a little smile as the teacher told us all to line up. We then had to march to a classroom holding the hand of the person next to us. I was glad I had Stephanie’s hand to hold; it felt warm and soft while mine was all cold. Stephanie had a nice face with straight brown hair that hung past her shoulders. She was taller than me and seemed to be much more confident than I was.
Once I got inside the classroom, the morning was spent colouring in a piece of paper that had our names on it. I already knew how to recognize mine — M – O – L – L – Y — and I coloured it in like a pretty rainbow. We had some time before lunch so I started drawing a few butterflies on the page, when Mrs. Mills came past and looked over my shoulder. “That is a lovely drawing Molly, but try to stay inside the lines,” she said. “You left-handed children are always so messy!” I was still not sure if I liked Mrs. Mills so I didn’t answer and kept my head down. I didn’t think my drawing was messy at all.
As I looked around the classroom, everyone else was busy working on their pictures. The sun looked nice shining through the windows and it threw shadows across the room. One wall was lined with a bookcase, full of colourful books that I longed to explore and as I stared at their different shapes I wondered what exciting things were inside. The wall had some posters on it; one showed a fox jumping over a dog that was on the ground sleeping. Other posters had pictures of animals with words written above them. Alongside the doorway was a picture of a tall giraffe. It reached nearly to the top of the door and had little lines and numbers on it.
I lifted my head and stared at the ceiling which was painted white and had long bars of fluorescent lights shining down. I looked at them until my eyes felt dazzled and when I blinked I could still see those strips of bright white light against the back of my eyelids. I kept my eyes closed for a few seconds until the white strips began to go blurry and then slowly turned black.
There was a clock above the door and I could hear it ticking loudly in the quiet classroom. Tick, tick, tick, it went as I watched the little hand sweeping around so fast and I wondered why the other hands didn’t seem to be moving at all. I thought about Mum and what she would be doing right now. Probably vacuuming and dancing around the house to the radio. If I was home right now I could be playing with my dolls in my bedroom. Tick, tick, tick… I watched the clock and started to feel myself yawn. The door was open beneath the clock and I could see the playground outside. I was starting to get bored and I wriggled around in my seat to get comfortable. I wished I was out in the playground and running around in the fresh air.
I looked around the classroom again and saw heads bobbing up and down all over the place and other children wriggling in their seats. The desks were arranged in squares, with four children to a table, and these were spaced around the room like the petals of a flower. My desk was brown and had a little hole in one corner. Underneath the hole there was a small shelf and I started to amuse myself by poking my coloured pencils into the hole.
Sitting at the desk with me were Stephanie and two other girls, but I couldn’t remember their names. Stephanie was concentrating hard on her drawing and I watched the way her eyes moved up and down with the pencil. She had a little frown on her forehead that made her look grown up and wise. The other girls were also busy with their drawings. One of them had blonde hair tied up in a pony tail that swished around as she coloured in her name. The other one had straight brown hair that was cut short to just below her ears. She had her head down on her arm and was staring intently at the pencil dancing across her page. Every now and then she yawned and I could see the redness at the back of her mouth.
At the front of the room was a blackboard and Mrs. Mills’ desk. She was sitting at her desk and reading a book. ‘MRS MILLS’ was written in huge white chalk letters across the blackboard. I wondered if she would smile more if she had used coloured chalk to write her name. I looked down at her desk which had some books and other important looking things on it in black containers, all neatly stacked in rows. They looked like little soldiers ready to march as soon as Mrs. Mills gave the command. She was wearing a brown skirt that covered her knees and she had thick black shoes that clomped on the wooden floor when she walked. Her hair was pulled back very tight from her face, making it look like her eyes had been stretched so that she could watch the whole classroom at once. She looked very scary when she was sitting at her desk and when I saw her eyes watching me I quickly looked back down at my drawing.
At lunchtime we were allowed to sit on seats on the verandah outside the classroom to eat lunch. I had some sandwiches with vegemite and Stephanie had fish paste. We swapped half our sandwiches and I was sharing my little packet of sultanas with her when Mrs. Mills came out of the classroom and told us that we could play on the grass for a little while until the bell rang.
There was lots of noise coming from the boys running around and chasing each other, playing one of those rough games Stephen had told me about. Stephanie and I walked down to the playground and lay on our backs on the grass, looking up at the ribbons of cloud floating by and talking about fairies. She told me there were fairies everywhere in her garden at home and that she liked to talk to them, but only when no-one else was around. I told Stephanie that I would like to be a princess one day and she said that her fairies could turn me into a princess if I liked. I was smiling to myself at that thought, when suddenly the clouds disappeared and some boys were standing above us.
“There’s the cry baby with funny hair,” they taunted.
“Leave us alone,” said Stephanie.
“Make us,” one of the boys replied.
“I’ll make you all right,” said Stephanie as she stood up and pushed one of the boys. “I said leave us alone!”
“Look, the cry baby is crying again,” said the boy named Darren. It was true, I wasn’t as brave as Stephanie and I was ashamed to find my eyes were full of tears again because these rough looking boys scared me so much.
“Go away Darren or I’ll tell Mrs. Mills,” Stephanie warned. The boys ran off laughing and she put her arm around my shoulder. “Don’t worry about them, Molly. Darren lives near my house and he’s really just a big chicken.” Just then the bell rang and we had to go back to class. I rubbed my eyes so they didn’t look so red but they still felt wet.
After lunch we were allowed to sit on the floor on little mats while the teacher read us a story about Harry the Hairy-nosed Wombat and his fight against men who wanted to build a new road over the top of his house. Mrs. Mills let us lay down as she read about Harry’s burrow in the desert. My eyes felt heavy so I closed them for a minute while her voice droned on.
It was nice at the end of my burrow, all curled up in a ball sound asleep. From far above, I could hear the distant sounds of daytime, birds singing and the wind in the trees. A human voice could be heard from far away, but I was so snug that I ignored it. Then I thought I heard my name being called — “Molly,”— but that couldn’t be right when I was away out here in the desert. It got louder: “Molly! Molly, wake up.” Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder and I sat up on my reading mat, blinking my eyes against the bright sunlight. Some of the boys were giggling behind me and I could feel my cheeks getting hot. I wished I was back in my burrow.
After reading time, Mrs. Mills took the class outside for a photo. The boys were pushing each other and being stupid until Mrs. Mills yelled at them to stop it. She lined us all up in rows, with some of the boys standing on a bench at the back and a row of children standing in front. I stood with Stephanie but I could feel Darren’s knees digging into my back. I tried to ignore him and stood really still because I didn’t want Mrs. Mills to yell at me, but I didn’t feel at all like smiling for the camera.
Eventually school finished for the day and I ran to the front gate to find Mum waiting under a big pine tree talking to some other mothers. “’Bye Stephanie,” I called, waving my hand.
“See you tomorrow, Molly,” she yelled back.
‘Looks like you found a friend,” said Mum. “How was your first day of school?”
“It was horrible,” I pouted. “Some boys were mean to me”.
“Oh Molly, that’s not very nice. I’ll talk to Mrs. Mills; I’m sure tomorrow will be better. The second day always is.”
“Do I have to come back?” I whined. I couldn’t see how it would ever be better.
“Of course you do, Molly. You’re a big girl now”. I didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I could feel hot tears welling up in my eyes again and I just wanted to get as far away from the school as I could.
When I got home I played with my dolls and teddy bears and tried to forget about school. I had two favourite teddy bears; one was a soft pink bear with a bright pink ribbon around her neck that I was given when I was a baby. The other was an old scruffy brown bear that had belonged to Stephen when he was little. One of his eyes hung loose and he was missing lots of fur on his body. I called them Mr. and Mrs. Bear and I loved them both so much that they shared my pillow and I hugged them every night as I fell asleep. Sometimes when I woke up in the morning Mr. and Mrs. Bear had slipped right down under the blankets to my feet.
Now I was at school I sat Mr. and Mrs. Bear on my pillow and read to them. Mrs. Bear looked very interested and leaned toward the book, but scruffy old Mr. Bear looked a bit bored as his loose eye dangled down. I think Mr. Bear was a bit sad sometimes and longed for the days when he was a strong, young bear with lots of nice fur. I tried to make him happy again with my reading.
“Molly!” Mum called out from the kitchen. “It’s time for bed sweetheart, you’ve got school tomorrow.” I could hear the sound of the jug boiling as it blew a whistle of steam.
“I’m nearly finished Mum. I’m just reading my book.”
“Five more minutes then, while I have a coffee.”
“Okay Mum.” I settled myself back down on the bed, lying on my tummy with my knees bent and feet crossed in the air; Mr. and Mrs. Bear were waiting expectantly. “All right guys, let’s find out about the cow in the canal. ‘Once a cow was eating grass…’”
Reading became my favourite part of the school day. I loved books and it was fun when the words had begun to make sense to me. I liked wrapping my tongue around the sounds and the way they felt in my mouth.
I was not so good at numbers at school, but I enjoyed playing with the cuisennaire rods because I liked all their colours and the way they could be stacked together to make pretty patterns. Mrs. Smith tried to explain to me how the red rods were worth two and the green rods were worth one and that if you put them together you had three, but I could still only see two rods so I just didn’t get what she was talking about.
As the school year progressed I began to learn how to do handwriting as well. With my little fingers clutched around a wooden pencil, I had to take down the words Mrs. Mills had written on the board and put them in my exercise book. No wonder it was called an exercise book because by the end of the day my fingers were so sore from gripping the pencil it felt like they had run a marathon across the pages. As my fingers got tired my hand would drag over the page and smudge all the letters until I couldn’t tell if I had written ‘dog’, ‘fog’ or ‘bog’.
Every now and then the end of my pencil broke and I had to put my hand up and ask Mrs. Mills if I could sharpen it. There was a mechanical pencil sharpener bolted to a cupboard and as I turned the handle it ground the pencil until it looked like a little sausage being eaten by a machine. Sometimes my pencil ended up so short that I could barely hold it in my fingers. Then the words danced all over the page and I couldn’t follow the correct slope at all, no matter how hard I tried, until the words eventually got washed down the slope by a flood of tears and Mrs. Mills told me again how messy my writing was.
Once we were able to write letters and words, Mrs. Mills started teaching the class about composition, where we had to copy down sentences from the blackboard about sly brown foxes and lazy dogs, before making up our own sentences. I couldn’t think of anything to write so Mrs. Mills suggested that I write about a family pet. I sat and thought for a while and then decided I would write about the cat and how he was grey and fat and he always sat. Mrs. Mills walked around the room as we were busily writing and she stopped to look over my hunched shoulders at my book. She pointed to the page with her ruler and told me there was something missing and that it was far too untidy. She said it looked like a spider had spun loopy webs of letters across the page and I had to fix it up before I could go home. I stared hard at the page for ages, but I couldn’t work out what she wanted me to do that would make it look any different so I just traced over the letters again with my pencil. That just ended up making an even bigger mess and the fat cat still sat, but now he was looking black from the pencil instead of being grey.
Later on we were given work books where some of the words in the sentences were missing. I took my pencil and filled in the gaps, sometimes using ‘to’ and other times using ‘too’ because I figured at least some of them must be right. None of this made any sense to me and we seemed to do it for hours after lunch until I could hardly keep my eyes open any longer.
The best part of the school day was when I was allowed to take books home and read them overnight. Once a week we went to the school library and we were allowed to borrow two books at a time. The first time I went into the library I just stood there amazed at how many books there were, all lined up in shelves that looked like they would have reached all the way up to the stars if the library roof didn’t stop them. There were so many books to read that I didn’t know where to start. I just wanted to sit there forever and read every single one of them.
One day we had a man come into the classroom with a guitar on his back. Mrs. Mills said his name was Neil and he started playing some songs as the class sat on the floor and listened. Neil had wild fuzzy hair and holes in his jeans and his guitar sparkled like diamonds. He was tall and spoke softly, but when he started playing the songs were so beautiful that I couldn’t stop my feet from moving. I enjoyed it when we were allowed to sing along and I loved the way singing made me feel so good, as if something alive was coming out of my body.
When I got home I told Mum that I wanted to play the guitar. “Perhaps when you get bigger, Molly,” she said. “You know, girls don’t usually play guitar though, maybe you should just be a singer.” But I was already bursting with music and I couldn’t stop thinking about Neil’s sparkly guitar and how the beautiful notes fell from it like starlight as I walked around the house singing ‘Morning Has Broken’ again and again.
“Oh Molly, stop singing,” Samantha yelled from her bedroom, “You are so hopeless. I’m trying to do my homework.” I could hear the radio that was playing in her bedroom get louder and she slammed the door shut, so I went into my bedroom and sang to Mr. and Mrs. Bear as they sat on my bed listening to me.
I sang about being followed by a moon shadow, and although I didn’t really know what it meant, I liked the sound of it, sort of mysterious. I also liked singing that other song about things blowing in the wind. I felt like I knew what that one meant; something that you can’t quite name, but it is out there anyway, blowing in the wind like a butterfly and if you could only catch it you would find the answer.
Every night I sang while I was having my bath, trying to get my voice as low as it would go as I sank down towards the bubbles. Then I tried to sing really high like an opera singer and I lifted my face up to the bathroom ceiling. “Molly!” Mum called from the kitchen, “Stop being so noisy in there and hurry up and finish your bath.”
“Okay Mum,” I called back. I felt like I had finally found what I wanted to be when I grew up. “I listen to the wind, to the wind of my soul…”

I started learning how to swim soon after school began and on Saturday mornings I had to walk all the way down to the swimming pool with Mum and my sisters. I wore new pink swimmers to the pool and a big floppy hat to keep the sun off my face.
On the way to the pool I had to walk past the old cemetery. Even on the warmest day the old gates look cold and gloomy and long grass grew around the graves. Stephen once said that ghosts wandered around in there and I walked a little faster and kept my eyes on the footpath rather than looking up at the grey and lonely headstones. Mum and the girls didn’t seem to be bothered though and I tried to walk in the middle of them where it was safe until we got to the end of the block.
Then we walked across the railway line and left the cemetery far behind and my legs suddenly got tired from walking so fast that I started to lag behind. Every now and then I had to run to catch up again because they wouldn’t wait for me.
Eventually we reached the pool and the girls ran off to join their friends as soon as Mum paid and we walked through the gates. There was a little bit of time before my swimming lesson so Mum let me play in the baby pool for a while. I liked being in the water but it was always freezing cold at swimming lessons and I couldn’t stop myself from shivering and my lips sometimes turned blue. Mum put yellow floaties on my arms to stop me from sinking and she had to blow them up until they were big and puffy and squeezed my arms so tight that I could feel my fingers tingling.
Jumping in the baby pool was fun because I could touch the bottom and make lots of splashes. I liked the feeling of the water on my body, how it moved against my skin and I could feel myself pushing through it like swimming through honey.
One of the first things I learned to do in my swimming lessons was to float on my back until I was able to just bob up and down with my arms spread like a starfish. Then I learned to move my hands and feet and push myself across the pool. It wasn’t so easy when I was on my front because I couldn’t breathe and the water filled up my goggles and stung my eyes. I took a few arm strokes and then rolled over to take a big breath while facing the sky.
After a while, Lisa, the swimming teacher, took the class to swim at the deep end. Everyone lined up on the edge of the pool and one by one we had to jump in and paddle across to the teacher. I was at the end of the line and I started to get more and more nervous as it came closer to my turn.
“Come on Molly, you can do it,” Lisa called out from the middle of the pool. All the other children had already swum out to her and back to the edge and there were some faces watching me from the water. But the bottom of the pool looked so far down and it was such a deep blue and the teacher was swimming so far away from where I was standing. My toes edged forward slowly, feeling how slippery the tiles were. I could feel tears building up in my eyes as Lisa called out again more sternly. “Molly, if you don’t get in then I will have to climb out there and throw you in!”
I started to back away from the slippery edge of the pool, when suddenly there was somebody behind me and I was being pushed towards the water. I started to scream and fell to the ground in a panic. Everything seemed to be a whirl of colours and noise and when I looked up all I could see was the grinning face of that boy, Darren, from school laughing at me. “Molly’s a scaredy cat, Molly’s a scaredy cat,” he taunted.
Just then I heard Stephanie’s voice. “Leave her alone, Darren.” In a flash of blue bikini my best friend raced across the grass to confront my tormentor.
“Darren, go and sit down over there.” My swimming teacher climbed out of the pool and pointed to a bench near the canteen. She didn’t look very happy at all. “Leave the girls alone,” she said sternly. I was sitting on the ground crying when I felt Stephanie’s hand on my shoulder. Lisa walked over and took my hand. “Come on girls; let’s go back down the shallow end. Perhaps we will try the deep end again next week.”
I didn’t want to get back in the pool, but Stephanie was watching me so I tried to be brave and finish the swimming lesson. The water felt really cold then and I shivered the whole time until my teeth started chattering.
Eventually I was allowed to climb out and Stephanie and I lay on our towels to dry in the warm sunshine. I could hear the sound of splashing and laughter but there was no way I was getting back in the water. With my face pressed against the towel, I watched a line of ants marching across the concrete toward the grass as Stephanie talked brightly to try and cheer me up.
On the way home from the pool Mum bought me a bag of mixed lollies full of freckles, custard whirls, redskins, and jelly babies. The sun was high in the sky and I shared my lollies with Stephanie as we walked along. I soon started smiling and chatting again as we skipped across the cracks in the footpath and tried to catch up with Mum and the girls before we got near the cemetery.
When swimming lessons finished I started playing soccer on Saturday mornings instead. Catherine and Samantha walked with me to soccer while Mum did the grocery shopping. They talked about boys and things along the way so I skipped ahead, enjoying the late winter sunshine.
Soccer was played on a huge area at the edge of town, with lots of fields covered in colourful groups of children chasing balls around. Parents stood along the sidelines talking to each other and yelling at the children, with their words punctuated by whistle blows. I loved being able to run around in shorts and a tee shirt, sometimes getting really muddy without anyone getting cross with me. I played on the wing and ran up and down as fast as I could. Every now and then the ball came my way and I tried to kick it really hard.
My game was usually one of the first to be played in the morning and when we got to the soccer fields I left Catherine and Samantha behind and ran across the grass to find Stephanie and the other children in my team. They were easy to find because I just had to look for the colours. My team wore white shorts and a maroon shirt. We were called ‘Hotspurs’ and I thought that made us sound fast. I didn’t really like the colour of the shirt because I felt like it drew attention to my red hair, but I usually forgot about that after a while once I started running around.
Before the game the coach gathered us around and told everyone what position they would be playing. I didn’t usually bother to listen though, because Stephanie and I always had to play on the wing anyway. I wished we could play next to each other.
“… so if we get the ball from the kickoff…” Mr. Brennan was Darren’s father and he had the boys gathered around him and was drawing lines in the dirt. They were all looking intently at the ground while Stephanie and I stood to one side and talked to each other. We were the only girls in our soccer team, but some of the other teams had lots of girls. Sometimes I wished I was playing in a team that had more girls in it, but I was glad that Stephanie was on the same team as me.
“… and then we spread it wide and draw the fullback…” I don’t know why they even talked tactics because Darren hogged the ball every game we played anyway.
“Okay guys. Let’s go for a warm up run around the field.” The boys took off, running as fast as they could. Stephanie and I jogged along slowly behind them, taking our time so we could still talk. Every now and then Stephanie did a cartwheel as we went along. I tried too but I didn’t seem to be able to get my legs go over properly and then Stephanie laughed at me.
“Molly, you just need to try and keep your legs straight. Don’t bend at the knees, you put one hand down and over you go.” She did another cartwheel to show me how it was done. She was really good at it but she did do gymnastics after school. I had another go and Stephanie tried to help by grabbing my legs as they went up. We both ended up in a heap on the ground giggling.
“Come on girls!” Mr. Brennan yelled across the field. “It’s nearly time to start the game.” We got up and ran across the soccer field to take up our positions. I played on the left side, which I really liked because I’m left handed.
The whistle blew and Darren kicked off. “Here Darren,” Stephanie called out, but of course he didn’t pass the ball to her and just ran down field with it.
“Kick it wide, Molly is clear!” Mr. Brennan yelled out from the sideline. But Darren didn’t kick it wide. Instead, he tried to beat the fullback himself and then lost the ball. Suddenly I was running as fast as I could all the way to other end of the field to try and catch up with the ball but the other team had already kicked a goal before I could even get to halfway.
I walked back to my position and waited for the referees whistle to restart play. The game went on like that for the first half and I spent all my time running up and down the sideline. In the end we were down two goals when we came off to have some oranges. We got five minutes break and Mr. Brennan was yelling at us the whole time.
“… we need to mark our players guys. Look for the opening and go for it…”
I didn’t pay any attention again because I figured he was really just yelling at Darren. I liked it when the oranges were sweet and delicious, but I didn’t like the sour oranges we got sometimes. They made me pull a funny face when I tried to eat them.
I ran back on the field for the second half with some orange stuck in my teeth. I was trying to pick it out with my tongue and I didn’t hear the referee blow the whistle to start play. Suddenly the ball was flying towards me and it nearly hit me in the head.
As I played I could hear the voices of my sisters talking on the sideline. I knew the girls didn’t think I was very good, because I could hear them laughing at me. Samantha’s voice was saying something about how funny and cute I looked as I ran around. But I wanted to show her how good I really was and maybe score a goal one day.
I got my big chance late in the second half when the ball came my way right in front of the goal. I lined up my kick and got ready for my moment of glory and could already picture the ball sailing past the goalie and into the back of the goal.
“Come on Molly, you can do it. Go Molly. Kick it!” I heard voices yell out as I drew my foot back, with my eyes on the ball just like the coach always said. Nobody would laugh at me ever again. The soccer ball was covered in black and white shapes, turning slowly as it rolled towards me; I knew exactly which black shape I was going to kick, but suddenly I felt a push from behind and landed right on my knee as a boy from the other team ran past and kicked the ball away. I sat on the ground holding my leg and started crying when I saw the blood on my knee. All I wanted to do was run away and hide.

To the end of the line

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My chin was resting on the window sill
And my face was pressed against the glass
And my eyes watched the trees and cows and sheep
And emus flicker past as the train
Raced across the western plains,
While the rocking carriage set the rhythm
And the wheels counted out the beat
And the whistle sang its tune
To the cars waiting at the crossing,
Biding their time,
While the train kept moving on,
Over creeks and dry gullies,
Through a cutting and over a rise,
Past small forgotten stations
And lonely wayside stops
That try to tempt me to stop
For a while, join them in the pub,
Sow some seeds, put down some roots…
But there’s no time for that,
As the train hurry on to the destination
That waits somewhere down
Those long silver rails,
Lingering over the horizon,
Amid the dust and mirages and heat haze,
Across the distance that lies between us,
As the train takes me closer to the future
And further from the past,
Running away from those places left behind,
With hopes and dreams
For new adventures waiting
At the end of the line.