I’ve been writing short stories for a few years and I thought , periodically, I would offer one, as a change from travel.
She was drawing a picture in the dirt, in the nature strip outside where she lived. It was a house with a chimney with smoke coming out of it. She’d seen pictures of houses with smoke coming out of chimneys in a story book her Grandma had given her.
With a stick, she drew a pathway and flowers with round petals, all the way up to the front door. She looked at the broken concrete leading to her door and wished she could have flowers – when Mummy woke up – when she was better.
Last night Mummy was naughty so Daddy smacked her. When Daddy smacked Mummy, Mummy had to take medicine and stay in bed all day. She ran her finger down the pathway with flowers alongside it, then her whole hand, backwards and forwards, until the picture was again dirt.
The little furry dog from the house next door skittered past and she jumped to her feet and chased it, stopping at the top of the hill to watch it run down to the fence along the railway line at the bottom. She wasn’ t allowed to go near the railway line. She wasn’t even allowed to stand at the fence looking through as the trains passed, their wagons filled with coal from the big open-cut mine where Daddy worked. They always went past slowly and sometimes the driver looked up and waved to her.
A shrill voice rang out but the dog ignored it. It relieved itself on a fence post, sniffed its way along the base of the fence and disappeared into a patch of scrappy bushes on the other side of the hill. It wasn’t supposed to go down to the railway line either but it always did. Maybe it was looking for another dog to play with. Maybe it was lonely.
She wandered back, her bare feet sinking into the soft, cool dirt of the nature strip. She could tell when her mum was up by the blaring of the radio but the house was silent. She kicked her foot against the rusted wire of the gate, over and over, the harsh, metallic sound soothing her.
‘Do you have to do that?’ rasped her mother from the bedroom. ‘It’s getting on my nerves.’
She eased herself down the gate post and slumped onto the ground. She could hear voices from the end of the street. There were children down there but she wasn’t allowed to go and see them. She wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers. They were kicking a football. She had a football once but Daddy squashed it when she was naughty and now she just had a pram and a doll and some pencils.
Soon she would go to school and then she would play with other children all day. They had books at school. She loved books. Sometimes, when she was good, Daddy would read her a story before she went to sleep. She would sit on his knee and his arms would go around her to hold the book and she would lean back against him and so she always tried to be good. She wished Mummy would be good, too, then Daddy wouldn’t have to smack her.
The whistle of the train echoed from the paddocks on the other side of town. She jumped up and ran, her feet stinging from the summer heat built up in the concrete path, up the hill onto the patches of coarse grass that still survived. She could hear the rumble of the wagons and see the engine in the distance, black with wide yellow stripes around the middle, and its powerful hum already pulsated through her feet. When it got closer the humming would get louder and it would be like a hundred bees inside her. They would lift her up and carry her over the fence and she would sail above the train until the last wagon was gone.
The little dog scurried past her, down the hill to the fence. She watched it prancing backwards and forwards, barking madly. She looked down towards her house, back at the dog and back to the house. The curtains were shut – her mum was asleep. The wind blasted her hair as she raced down the hill, skipping and jumping, skidding the last few feet to the base of the fence.
From down here she could no longer see the engine coming. If she could get higher she would be able to see the driver close up as he went past, see him smiling at her, laughing at the bees inside her. She dug her toes into the wire and started pushing herself up. There used to be barbed wire on top of the fence but someone had pulled it off here and it had never been replaced. The air vibrated around her as she rested her knee on the metal rail that ran along the top of the fence.
The train was a giant snake, slithering its way along the track, a snake with no end. If she could get even higher she would see its tail. Grasping the wire with both hands she moved her weight from her knee to her foot and dragged the other up beside it.
She could see the driver’s face clearly now, frowning at her. Soon he would be smiling – laughing. As he rumbled towards her she let go of the fence, stood and threw her arms wide. The bees carried her up and out, over the snake. She could just see its tail as the shriek of its whistle drowned out the mad yapping of the dog and her mother’s scream.