To me, this is almost non-fiction because a great deal of it is true and happened. I tried to style this in a way where the age of the writer, their voice on the page, is ambiguous, indeterminate.
Well, that was my intent, any way.
I hope my fellow nine-year-old, as we were in this story, is doing well.
I have fond memories of childhood. It was a time of learning, growing up, and finding your way. It brings back memories of simpler times. Some of that I have tried to channel with this piece.
As an aside, I continue my quest for spirit appreciation with pay day bringing to the palate: Canadian Club Whiskey. I’m finding it quite plain. Mixing it with Coca-Cola, which I unfortunately didn’t have on me, I’ll have to try.
On the back of CCW, is this story. #suddenlyinspired
We were two nine-year-olds in the playground.
She was angry at life. Her mother had died and it was her first day back at school.
Unsure, avoided glances in the corridors assured her that they knew. Whispers from the staff room trickled down to hushed morning discussions at the drink fountain.
It was a car crash.
There were questions they wanted to ask. Questions that they knew were out of bounds. It was an unwritten rule, and much like the out of bounds area that only year fives and above were allowed in, you weren’t meant to broach these things.
How did it happen?
Who was making her lunches now that her mum was gone?
Who was dropping her off to school?
What was it like not having a mum?
How was she feeling?
Was she sad?
Did she need a hug?
We were hanging out in our usual spot. The spot by the sandpit with the monkey bars, and the log roll, and those chains wrapped in tyre material you could spin around on until you got dizzy. Some kids were good at doing a lot of spins.
Today was no different to any other day. I got on with balancing on the log roll, and occasionally climbing on top of the rail. It was more fun to use playground equipment as it wasn’t designed. She was sitting in the sand digging shallow holes and refilling them with sand. We sometimes buried our change from buying ice-creams in the sand, wondering if someone would find them. It was usually the twenty-cents we hid. Garlic bread at the canteen was twenty-cents. Someone would be really lucky. A pile of twenty-cents would buy a lot of garlic bread. Or Nutella breads. They were fifteen cents. I think garlic bread was more popular.
I asked her how she was going. She was okay.
She asked me how I was. I was okay. I told her it had been a while since I had seen her. She agreed.
Conversation was sporadic. I talked a lot more than her today. What she shared, was whatever she wanted to, and vice-versa. It had kind of always been like that.
I’m not sure if pressure is the right word, but if it were, there never was any.
Being an active listener was a difficult job. You had to be quiet and listen to someone else’s thoughts. You had to think about what they were talking about. You had to have empathy and compassion, and you learned not to judge. You got to hear them. I don’t think I’ve met anyone since who understood things quite like she did.
I asked her if she was okay with being back. She said she was.
I asked her about things that weren’t the kind I thought she would be asked.
She told me Jasper still liked sitting under her dad’s car.
No, she didn’t take him for walks.
She told me they had Chicken Treat for dinner the night before.
No, she hadn’t wanted the sweet and sour pork with special fried rice from Amelia Li’s. Li’s was in the town shopping centre. I usually bought one spring roll from them after I went in for a look at the snack aisle at Woolies.
Yes, she had thought about Bruno’s Fish and Chips.
We both thought takeaway was special because it was a sometimes thing. It was even more special because Chicken Treat was the only real fast food place in town.
We both agreed that the smell of yummy food, takeaway fried chicken especially, would make you hungry, when it was almost mealtime and you had already raided the fridge. It would be bad if you had eaten two Vegemite sandwiches for lunch and you didn’t have room.
Food journeys had consistently been a discussion topic between us.
I was glad she didn’t mind the questions I asked— food, or otherwise.
They were banal.
No, she hadn’t been watching the shows on ABC from three to five in the afternoon. She did watch Toasted TV some mornings. It had been pretty boring lately.
Yes, she had played basketball on the weekend. She was good at it. Her cousins had forced her to but. They ended up doing practice shots only. She told me it had been good to get out in the sun.
I had always liked when she told me about what she did. They were like little gems of detail, unique in their own way. I liked hearing about life outside of the uniform.
She asked me about what I had been up to. I talked way, way more than she did.
I had been riding my bike after school. I would zip around the backyard as fast as I could. We had dug these massive holes in the dirt. They were about half a bucket deep. We ran the hose until they were full of water and the dirt was all muddy. It was our backyard BMX trail and we would ride our bikes over the holes, like obstacles you had to pass. It was hours of fun. Then we would have to hose our bikes down because they got very grubby. We would cover our bikes in blue tarpaulin and lock them to the security grills on our bedroom windows to make sure no one stole them.
I told her about the most fun thing I’d done: rides on our washing line. It was an old steel Hills Hoist. I would hang on to one of poles that formed the line’s cross-shape and push off the ground. I’d spin around so fast on the washing line, it was like flying. I would do little running take-offs as the spinning slowed, and then I’d be flying again. It was the best thing ever.
We talked about awesome rides. We decided if theme park rides ever came to town we would eat fairy floss and do all the crazy ones, the ones everyone would be scared of going on. They would be the most thrilling. The Street Party was the annual town event when the streets at the whole centre of town were closed off for one big event with food and music stalls, and rides. It was at Christmas time, ages away. I’d seen the rides but never gone. They looked like scary rides. We could start with those. She thought that would be a good idea.
She paused and walked over to the monkey bars.
She told me that it was different.
She missed doing stuff. She missed stuff. Her aunty had been helping out at home, taking care of little things like meals and washing. They weren’t really little things. Her aunty had taken her out a few times.
Things at home when it was just them were hard.
They were lost without her.
She woke up some days disbelieving. It wasn’t real. It was a bad dream.
Silence punctuated her thoughts.
Her eyes were dry as she spoke. They were eyes searching for answers. She hid her sadness. She was frustrated. She didn’t want this to have happened. She was angry that it had happened. Then she was resigned that it had. Then she was angry. Then it was not real. Then it was.
Where was fairness? Why?
Why did it have to be her? She told me that was constantly in her thoughts.
I didn’t know what to say that would be consoling. How could anyone console someone who’d lost their mother? Was that even possible? Even grown-ups would struggle with it. I recall awkwardly telling her that I didn’t know what to say but I would be there for her. I moved to sit next to her on the monkey bars. I told her if I could help in anyway she could tell me, and I would. She nodded.
She returned to the sand and we were quiet for a bit. It was a reflective, comfortable, okay silence.
She dug a bit more in the sand.
She looked up and smiled. Her eyes barely crinkled and her lips barely moved, but there was the tiniest hint of a smile. I hoped maybe it meant she was feeling a tiny bit better in this moment or at least that she was okay sharing that with me.
I guess in a way it told me she was resilient. Things would not always be okay, but she would be okay.
From everyone around her, she needed their acceptance not curiosity.
She needed company not words.
I would try to do that. I just felt useless at it.
She laid back on the sand.
She told me she had forgotten to mention the chips from Chicken Treat. Sharing our chip-trying escapades was one of the things we did. The chips had been hot and crispy which was good because sometimes if you went at dinner time and they were busy you could get rushed chips. They could be soggy and oily or burnt. She would have given them to Jasper if they had been. It was good to know.
I went over to the sand and threw off my shoes, and wriggled my feet into the sand. It was nice and cool.
I remember that it was a hot day. We had our hats. It was lucky that we had both remembered them or we might have been stuck in that esky of an undercover area. Or worse, it was such a nice day we might have overlooked the dangers of borrowing from the spare hats basket.
The siren rang. ‘Eeeeer. Eeeeer.’ It was a strange siren, our school siren.
Lunchtimes always felt like an eternity. It was sad when they came to an end. We walked back to our class. We both agreed we weren’t looking forward to silent reading. At least there was library in the afternoon, which meant going on the computers to do ICT work then having free time that was either spent playing computer games or doing actual reading. Most kids didn’t choose reading.
As we walked back to class, she put her hand on my shoulder.
‘That was a bit fun you know. Not really like old times but I would eventually have had to be back.’
‘I’m glad. Peyton, let’s hang out after school, if you’re okay to.’
‘I am,’ she nodded, ‘Where?’
‘How about, the washing line?
Line up, line up to be spun around on the highest spin cycle in the ride of the century,’ I said in the best gameshow host impersonation I could do.
She looked at me with raised eyes, the puns well and truly sinking in. She sighed with a look like she had given up on me as a friend.
‘You know, I’m not okay to be back. That was the worst thing I’ve heard from anyone today,’ she said half-exasperated, half-serious, and half-amused, if it were possible to be all at the same time. Maths was never my strong point.
I couldn’t help but smile.
I’d spent lunch asking lame questions about her dinners, and now I’d gone and dropped washing line puns in the hopes of getting her spirits up.
Somehow, I think we were both okay with that.
Two-player Miniclip online games would be alright this afternoon.