Just home from a fab biznic.com writing mastermind, and inspired to share a story..
Copyright Megan Ann Jones Ady 2008
The empty, enormous back yard felt dead to Molly after the vibrant life and energy of their old apartment in Parramatta. “But this is what we have always wanted!” Mother said, happily. “Wahroonga! We’ve arrived.” Molly’s tummy felt awful as she thought of her best friend Anoosheh and her teachers at Macquarie Girls’ High. Mother’s dive disturbed the calm of the swimming pool, making splashes which sparkled in the sun. Mother hadn’t seemed sad at all about Grandad dying, except at the funeral. Molly went inside. She slowly walked the borders of the vacuous rooms and stairways and spaces which Mother had assured her would feel like home in no time. She heard a knock. In Parramatta, there had been a little peep-hole in the front door. Not so in their luxurious new suburban home. Molly decided to risk opening the door.
Before her stood a handsome, tanned man whose green eyes sparkled like the sun on their swimming pool. He smiled. “Hi! I’m Pierre. I am here to meet Molly, my new Mathematics and French student.” He spoke with an accent. She stared back at him. “I’m Molly, but I don’t know what you’re talking about. Would you like to speak to Mother?”
He nodded, and she led him through box-filled rooms to the back deck. Mother smiled up at Pierre from the pool, moving like a mermaid, too happy about all Grandad’s money for Molly to understand.
The sheep, one of the new pets her mother had bought, rubbed its woolly back on the pool fence. Pierre inspected it. “You really should shear that sheep.” Molly didn’t answer. Mother, wrapped in a thick, creamy new towel, gracefully ascended the pool steps. Mother’s corner of the world seemed to Molly to be scripted from an old, romantic black-and-white movie, bearing relevance neither to the present, nor the pained knot in her gut which didn’t seem to be going away. “We were thinking of naming the sheep ‘Mouton’,” Mother said to Pierre. “You know, from ‘Le Petit Prince’.” Pierre stroked the sheep’s thick hair. “Mouton is masculine. This sheep you would have to name Agnelle, for a baby feminine sheep, or better, Brebis, for an adult feminine sheep.” Molly noticed the way his mouth formed the word ‘feminine’, and looked shyly over at him. He was looking at Mother. She was curious as to why that felt so disappointing. Mother smiled at him and twisted her fake blonde hair around her little finger. Molly wondered if she ever actually heard anything anybody else said. She noticed her elder brother Tim at the bottom of the garden, and ran towards him.
He was leaning against a gnarled old apple tree, his chestnut brown curls covering his face, strumming her guitar. His voice, which had finally fully broken, was deep and mellifluous. He was singing “Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky,” but stopped when he heard her. “Keep singing!’ she said. He didn’t answer. “Are you singing about moving house?” she asked. He didn’t answer again. Once upon a time, he had been her closest friend. Now, he was as vacant as their new house.
The pain didn’t go away, that long summer. It grew blunter, but it was still there. She could feel it acutely as she timidly touched her new, brown school uniform. It was just a week until she started at Ku-Ring-Gai High. The thought of being the only one with no friends scared her. She slipped into the smooth, stiff tunic and went outside. Brebis sidled up to her, nuzzling her hand, safe and familiar. Molly reached her arm around her belly. “You’re getting fat, Brebis!” she said. She was quite impressed with the way she pronounced the French ‘r’, which she had been working on with Pierre all summer. Brebis bleated, and nudged Molly. “How do I look?” Molly asked, posing like a catwalk model. Brebis bleated again, and Molly went inside.
Brebis disappeared, on Monday evening. “Take off your uniform before you look for her,” said Mother. Molly ignored her. The pain grew more intense. Everything else she loved had been snatched from her. In pale angst she searched, behind the shed, around the side of the house, inside every bush in the garden. On Tuesday, she and Tim knocked on the door of every house on their block, but nobody had seen a straying sheep. On Wednesday, she ignored Mother’s command and risked crawling under the house with the funnel-web spiders to find Brebis. The earth around her was dry and flaky, and irritated her skin. Cobwebs brushed her face and clung to her hair. She kept thinking she saw Brebis, and instead finding coils of wire fencing and broken armchairs and piles of charcoal slate tiles. As she wriggled through the tiny space beside the coiled, dead pumpkin patch, she decided to pamper herself with the strawberry bath bomb Tim had given for her thirteenth birthday. Through the deck windows, she saw something quivering on the couch in Mother’s study like a spider guarding its web. She wondered if it was Brebis, and peered in to see. She saw a muscular, naked bottom – Pierre’s, and a long, naked leg – Mother’s. Her face felt hot. She climbed back under the house to check Brebis wasn’t in the dark bit she’d been too scared to look in.
On Thursday she found a hole in the fence, and cautiously climbed into the grounds of the convent next door. She looked under a gum tree with low branches which created a hidden chamber. Brebis was lying very quietly on her side. Molly put her arms around her woolly middle, laughing with relief. Brebis grunted and pulled away. “Brebis, let me hug you! I’ve been looking for you for four days!” Molly patted her head. Brebis grunted again. “Come home Brebis! The nuns will be cross if they find us here.” She tried to push the sheep up onto her feet, to no avail. “I’ll get you some oats, little lamb. That’s something you can’t resist!” Molly splurged and brought back the entire bucket of oats, in celebration of finding her lost sheep. “Oats, Brebis!” she said, rattling the bucket enticingly. “Yum yummity yum!” Brebis just looked at her. Molly put the oats right under her nose, but she grunted and moved her head away. “Brebis, what’s wrong with you? Oats, little one, your favorite! Have you got an ouchy tick?” Molly began examining the rotund sheep’s fleece, carefully separating each row of wool. Brebis tensed her muscles, but didn’t push Molly away.
As she worked her way backwards, she noticed something sticking out from Brebis’ bottom. Molly crept closer, intrigued. Between the thick, dirty white wool around her bottom, something dark protruded. It was covered with tiny, tightly curled wet black wool. Molly saw a gush of slimy liquid, and what looked like blood. The patch of darkness grew bigger. Brebis was perfectly still. “You’re giving birth, Brebis!” Molly whispered. “You’re a mother.” Something round popped out, and twisted sideways slightly. Molly wondered what a newborn lamb’s face looked like, and leaned over Brebis to see. She gasped in shock. Where she expected to see a woolly face, she saw a crinkly baby face, eyes squeezed shut. A slimy body slithered out behind it. Brebis stood shakily up, turned and sniffed the creature she had birthed. She began licking it clean with her pink tongue. The creature made a noise. It sounded more like a baby crying than a lamb bleating. Brebis kept licking. Molly climbed through the hole in the fence to get Tim.
She couldn’t find Tim. She brought brought back a silver bucket of water for Brebis. When she returned, Brebis was licking her child’s cheek. The baby turned, its mouth open wide. Brebis bleated, and licked its tiny ear. Apart from its face, the baby was covered in thick chestnut wool. Molly gently opened its legs. She saw tiny, pink human labia, and frowned, confused. Gently she touched the labia, so soft in contrast to her own, so pale where hers were dark, so smooth where hers were wrinkly, so pure where hers were hairy. “Agnelle,” she said softly. “You’ve had a little Agnelle, Brebis! Want to name her that?” Molly carefully lifted baby Agnelle. Her wool felt warm and sticky. Brebis bleated and lay down. Agnelle opened her mouth and turned her head. Molly moved Agnelle to Brebis’ teat, and she began sucking. Molly’s back began hurting, from bending over, and she stood up. “You’re doing it all by yourself!” Molly said, surprised.
“Tim, put it in this sack and drown it in the pool. It’s not a proper sheep,” Mother said. Her tone was flat and cold. “Molly, bury it down near the compost heap.” Molly stared at her, ensconced in the silence which had surrounded them since the move. His chestnut hair covering his eyes, Tim took the sack and put Agnelle inside it. She began to cry. Brebis bleated and head-butted his knee. “Tie the top tightly.” Mother said. Tim obeyed. Molly kept totally still, her face blank. The pain had returned. Mother laughed, and twisted her hair around her little finger. “I’m going inside, but I’m watching you, so do it right,” she said, walking elegantly along the edge of the pool. Molly watched her swaying hips and hated her. Tim knelt down and put the bag into the water. As he pushed it down, the knot began untwisting. “Fuck,” he said. As he reached for the top two corners to tie them again, a little water fell into the bag. He looked inside. Molly watched his face, behind his chestnut hair. Tim’s expression softened, and a look of compassion came into his eyes. She hadn’t seen him looking kind since Parramatta Public School days, when they would play games together, walking to school across the bridge. He lifted the bag out of the water and carried it behind the shed. Molly looked up at the blank, black windows, unable to see whether Mother was looking out because of the sun’s reflection. Tim carefully lifted baby Agnelle out of the bag, protectively holding her close to his chest. He stroked her tiny cheek with his big, rough hand. “Hello baby,” he said. Molly grabbed the bag and jumped into the pool in her clothes, staying underwater as long as she could, holding up the bag to fool Mother. She came up for breath and went under again, wondering if it would work, wondering if they could save Agnelle.
Dark earth stuck to Molly’s wet clothes as she dug a hole and buried the empty bag. Mother hadn’t appeared. Molly put a twig on top of the earth, and another, in the shape of a cross. She searched among the leaves on the ground and found a red bottlebrush. She carefully placed it next to the cross, and added a crescent shaped gum leaf, signifying her best friend Anoosheh’s intriguing religion. She crawled through the hole in the fence.
Tim and Brebis were sitting on a carpet of gumnuts and curly pieces of chestnut wool, their backs to her. Tim’s razor lay next to him. She could hear Agnelle gurgling. Tim spoke gently in a high sing-song voice. “Daddy’s here, little one. Daddy put a nappy on you?” Agnelle made a happy sound in response. Molly sat down next to Tim. He was trying to put a disposable diaper on Agnelle. Her wool had all been shaved, and beneath the soft stubble of fur left behind was pink skin. Now she looked like a bald human baby. Agnelle squirmed and the diaper fell off. Tim lifted her little bottom back into the diaper, humming to himself. Next to her bullet shaped head were Tim’s gray backpack, a box of diapers, a bottle, a tin of formula and a set of three brand new baby pajamas-with-feet, one pink, one yellow and one orange. Tim held the diaper in place and Molly opened the tab and stuck it down. “Victory!” said Tim. “Molls, we need to get her a birth certificate. Can you come to the San hospital with me and say you’re her mother, and that you don’t know who the father is?” Molly nodded slowly, thinking of Pierre’s tanned hand on her arm and Agnelle’s shaven skin and the way Brebis had grunted as she gave birth. “I named her Agnelle,” she said. “It means baby girl sheep.” Tim flicked his hair out of his eyes and glanced at her. She noticed how brown his eyes were, and realized he hadn’t looked at her since before the move.
She peered down at her shiny leather shoes as she climbed off the bus in her brown uniform. The others on the bus in brown uniforms didn’t wave to her. She felt lonely and unwanted as she walked down Kintore Street. She passed large, old houses and enormous gum trees, even older than the houses, their bark peeling off in silvery stripes. She jumped over the tree-root which had become familiar out the front of their house, and checked the mail. For the first time since they moved, there was something for her. It was a small, yellow, taped up package, the address typed. She ran around the back and into their basement room hiding place to open it. Agnelle was asleep in the coral pink crib she and Tim had bought at a lawn sale and painted themselves. She couldn’t get the tape off, and went back outside. The door locked behind her. “Fuck,” she said. Tim had the only key. She felt pleased, grown-up and slightly guilty to be using such language.
The house was quiet except for the soft ticking of their Austrian cuckoo clock. With a kitchen knife she cut open the package and pulled out a shiny new Australian passport, the kangaroo and emu on the front looking proud and official. She had never had a passport, and felt excited at the prospects it promised. Mother had been talking about taking them on a ski trip in Europe, Tim wanted them all to move to Benin, and she had begged to be allowed to visit Afghanistan with Anoosheh. She opened the passport. A cute photo of Agnelle smiled up at her. Surprised, she read ‘Name/Nom JONES, AGNELLE TIMOTHEA’, and wondered what plans Tim might be concocting. There was something else still in the package. She emptied it onto Mother’s clean cutting board, and two more new Australian passports fell out. The first one had a recent, surly picture of Tim, and ‘Name/Nom JONES, TIMOTHY BENJAMIN’, and the second a picture of herself she recognized from a hysterically funny session with Anoosheh in a passport photo booth in Parramatta last year, and ‘Name/Nom JONES, MOLLY MARGARETTA’. There was no passport for Mother.
She dived into the pool, disturbing its peaceful calm. Mother hardly ever swam these days. She was always out with Giussepe, the new Italian boyfriend she spoke of constantly but never brought home. As Molly swam underwater, twisting like the otter at the zoo, she pronounced herself a very lonely animal, too used to solitude. She surfaced and saw Brebis rubbing her back against the apple tree. She felt something of a traitor towards the sheep, for her part in weaning Agnelle. Tim and Agnelle had become a closely connected unit which Molly didn’t feel part of. Pierre had stopped tutoring her at the end of summer. Her new school was somewhere she was certain she would never belong, with groups for popular people and smart people and sporty people and artsy people, but no group for her, no friend like Anoosheh. She pulled herself out of the pool, at the corner where Mother had instructed Tim to drown Agnelle, and sunbathed, letting the warmth of the sun forget her pain, her loneliness and her old life.
She drifted into sleep, encased in consoling heat. She wriggled a little every so often--the hot cobbled stones around the pool quickly grew uncomfortable. An explosion of cool water cascaded over her. It was Tim, jumping in right next to her, laughing uproariously, water dripping in rivulets down his wet hair. “You look like a rat in the rain!” she said. “Yeah, but you love me anyway!” he replied. She splashed back, her eyes twinkling gleefully. He winked at her, dove under water and swam butterfly up the pool, his stroke slow, smooth and strong. In his wake something sparkled in the water, drifting laconically downwards. She jumped in and grabbed it and it slipped out of her hand. Her second attempt was successful. She surfaced to find out what she had retrieved. In her hand was Tim’s Tasmanian Tiger fang, whitish-yellow and sharp, hanging on a worn leather choker with a rusty key and the brown and black West African trade bead she had given him for his fifteenth birthday. “I wish Tasmanian Tigers weren’t extinct” she said, handing him the choker. “Mine isn’t” he said. “My Tasmanian Tiger is out there hunting still, stalking high on a cliff where nobody can find him.” He climbed out of the pool, shaking his curly wet hair, a million water droplets shimmering in the sun and clinging to his smooth brown skin. “Hey Tim, our passports arrived. Where are we going?” He brought his finger to his lips. “Benin. Don’t tell Mum!” Molly did a backwards somersault in the water and began swimming butterfly up and down the pool, curling like a dancing African snake, powerful and strong. She imagined a hot, brown country, stretching out beneath a fierce sun, dotted with lions, cheetahs, and leopards, running wild and free. And running with them, almost keeping up, Molly, Agnelle, and Tim.
Tim was lying facedown in the water, very still. It was the same corner where Mother had instructed him to drown Agnelle. She saw him from her window on the way to her morning shower and wondered what he was doing. She came out with a turquoise towel wrapped like a turban around her freshly washed hair and an apricot towel around her body. Tim was still there. She ran downstairs, past Mum who was painting her nails pink, across the deck to the edge of the pool. “Tim!” she cried, breathless. He didn’t answer her, and lay there in the water, perfectly still. She tried to lift him out. His cool arm slipped out of her hands. “Tim, what’s the matter?” She jumped into the pool and lifted his head. The apricot towel fell like a delicate petal into the water and slowly sank downwards. “Tim?” His neck wouldn’t bend, and there was blood on his face. “Tim.” She began to cry. His head went under the water, and she pulled him back up. “Tim, you’ve got to breathe. Come on. Breathe, Tim.” His face, his lips, his neck were perfectly still. She began to sob. He slipped back into the water like a sinking ship. She grabbed the choker around his neck to pull him up again and it broke in her hand. She hugged the back of his head and sobbed. “You don’t know I love you.” Her words were muffled by the water and the back of his neck and her tears. “You said ‘But you love me anyway!’ and I didn’t say yes. You don’t know I love you Tim.”
Pink, trembling nails surrounded her and lifted her out of the pool. “What have you done?” Mother said. Molly pulled the turquoise towel off her head and wrapped it around her naked body. “My boy” Mother whispered, clutching Tim’s mottled fingers, kissing his blue hand. Molly gently lifted his face out of the water and kissed his forehead. His skin felt cold against her lips. “Get out of the way Molly” Mother said. Molly stumbled as she tried to stand up, the tears on her face warm and wet. Tim’s choker was still in her hand. She touched the sharp point of the fang and imagined Tim, a Tasmanian Tiger high on a cliff where nobody could find him. She began to sob. She ran to the basement and locked herself in and lay on the floor, sobbing and shaking and shouting Tim’s name. She sat up and saw Agnelle in the crib crying, her mouth and eyes wide open, no sound, no tears. Molly lifted the tiny creature out of the crib and held her close to her chest, as Tim always did. She trembled, tears shaking both their bodies. She lifted the bottle of formula Tim had made up and left on the counter and put the teat in Agnelle’s mouth. She sucked eagerly, gulping it down. “He loved you, Agnelle,” Molly said. “Tim loved you.” She unzipped Tim’s gray backpack with her free hand. “And he knew you loved him.” She stuffed in all the baby pajamas, the formula and the diapers. Agnelle cried, and Molly held her tightly. The bottle was empty. “You can have some more. Soon.”
She ran down to the apple tree and let Brebis lick Agnelle’s face one last time. Brebis bit the turquoise towel and pulled it. Molly kissed Brebis on the nose and let her have the towel. She rearranged Agnelle on her hip and walked naked across the deck, the sun sparkling on her breasts and Tim’s chestnut curls and Mother’s pink nails and the absorbed strangers. In Mother’s room, she selected three of the seven credit cards hidden inside the ugly alligator skin purse. In her own room, she carefully put Agnelle onto the bed and slid into her favorite blue jeans and pink crocs and orange T-shirt. She tied Tim’s choker around her neck and stuffed the passports and the entire contents of her underwear drawer into Tim’s bulging gray backpack. “We’re going to Benin!” she said, lifting the baby into her arms. “I’ll take good care of you, little Agnelle.” She looked down through the window at the crowd of paramedics, her pink mother, Tim’s body and the empty water. She twisted the fang, hanging around her neck. “Tim, where have you gone?” she whispered.