Excerpt from Chapter 1

Track 1 – My Perfect Cousin

Here I am at the police station. I sit in a chair, swinging my feet and wondering if they’ll ever be able to reach the ground.

‘Hi!’ I say when Mum arrives. She gives me a hug so tight, it makes me pant when I talk. ‘A lady with a Chihuahua found me. He’s a little dog from Mexico that yaps and nips and shivers. Can we get one? Pleeease?’

Mum ignores my question. ‘Dot Kelly! Your father and I have been frantic! Frantic! Do not wander off, ever again!’

The police are looking at me and laughing, even though I didn’t do anything funny.

‘You should’ve kept a better eye on me!’ I tell Mum.

‘What did you think you were doing?’

‘I was bored, so I went to look for records. Can I have a record?’

I already have one record. The cover is yellow with a picture of teenagers listening to music. The man at the party gave it to me. He said it came all the way from England. The song tells funny Beatle maniacs to go away because an ice age is coming. The man told me to look after the record because it’s the future. The future’s bright, he said. I keep the record hidden between my mattress and bed. It’s my treasure.

Mum grabs my hand and pulls me out of the police station and down Malvern Road. We’re both stomping.

‘You should be happy to see me!’ I say. ‘Next time, I’ll stay with that lady and her Chihuahua forever. I’ll name him Jason, teach him tricks and we can join the Young Talent Team.’

We march home. Mum’s not listening to me. I mutter to myself anyway. I’m mad at her and I’m imagining how nice it would be to join the Young Talent Team.

‘You can sit at home and drink your dumb tea and you’ll see me on telly, in my sparkly costume, singing with Tina Arena. I’ll be famous and everyone will want to talk to me. But I won’t talk to you. And then I’ll stop having that annoying dream about Major Tom’s capsule.’

I stop talking. I remember that my dream is a secret, my first secret. In the dream, I’m floating through space in a capsule. No people, no music, just me by myself, forever and ever. My stomach is a rock on mornings after I have that dream. I pretend this secret dream is a piece of paper with a rude drawing on it, fold it up tight and put it away.

Mum is walking fast, so I trot to catch up.

***

I stand outside, looking at our house. The paint is peely and the roof isn’t straight. Dad has planted some flowers, but weeds are growing too. When I stare long enough, the shapes of the window, porch and roof make a face that’s smiling at me. All the houses in Prahran look the same. I like them.

I liked the place where that party was, too. It was far, far away; somewhere called the Dandelion Mountains. There are lots of little green frogs there, red mushrooms and fat gumnut babies, who live under the ferns and dance and eat cake on the moss.

‘You, go straight to your room,’ Mum says, as she unlocks the front door. ‘Have a good, long think about being more careful in the future.’

‘The future’s bright!’ I shout, but Mum has already disappeared down the hallway.

I stomp into my room and half-shut, half-slam the door. Obviously Mum’s forgotten it’s the Year of the Child, so I sing the ‘Care for Kids’ song as loud as I can.

When I’m tired of singing, I lie on my bed and have a think. Maybe this isn’t my real family. I could be a kidnapped princess. Maybe there was another girl at the hospital, a girl with brown hair and mud eyes, like the rest of the Kellys. Grandma says they’re the emerald green eyes of Ireland, but they look like mud to me. Maybe a prince and princess were hiding from KAOS agents, so they had no choice but to swap their pale baby with that other girl. This could explain why I have that dream no one else does.

Mum comes into my room, and gives me a hug and a kiss, and tells me she was only angry because she was really, really worried about me. She loves me so much that if anything ever happened to me, she wouldn’t know what to do. Then she sings me a song about a dusty lady who doesn’t know what to do with herself. Mum isn’t very good at singing.

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The Bunyip

The bunyip lives in my toilet, and he wants to snatch me. He takes the children deep into the forest, and hides them by the billabong. They have to stay children forever, and keep the bunyip company. He’s bigger than a man, but no-one knows what he really looks like, because he’s covered in mangroves and mud. He likes cold and dark places, and needs to be near water, which is why he waits in the toilet for the children.

Every year he brings winter, and he waits for the children to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. The houses are built for summer, and they can’t keep out the cold from the ice that’s the bunyip’s breath.

The bunyip can only snatch you if you believe. He hides in the shadows waiting for you to believe. You move slow and pretend you don’t believe. You breathe deep to steady your heart beat. He’ll snatch you when you panic. I always make it back to my warm bed, but sometimes he’s right behind me, and if I run he’ll snatch me.

Once there were twins who could talk to each other without talking. The bunyip snatched one but not the other. That’s how we found out about the billabong deep in the forest. The twin whispered to her sister that they are all there: the children that disappeared without a trace, who were in the newspapers for a while then forgotten about. The children who never got to be born. The children whose parents thought they were in a coma in a hospital bed. They are all there, by the cold, muddy billabong. And they can never leave.

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The Bachelors

At first Granny would only whisper when she spoke about the bachelors. That’s why I only ever heard snatches of what she told the cards ladies, but I knew it was something exciting and delightful, like a slice of her lemon meringue pie. I was a skulking, flappy-eared child; always hovering around adults rather than playing in the garden with my cousins.

“Go outside and play, Timmy boy,” Granny would say, and reluctantly I’d trail away into the garden.

I didn’t seek out my cousins though. Instead I perched below the open sunroom window, listening to the ladies within.

Granny’s long dead brother Morris had been a bachelor, she told the cards ladies, and she loved him dearly. Morris was a private, proper man, so the fact that he never married was not up for discussion. However, one day he came home so shocked from an occurrence that he simply had to share it with Granny. A friend from the RSL had invited him around for afternoon tea. On the appointed day, Morris turned up, his Scottish Terrier in tow, eagerly anticipating a Marie biscuit and a chat. The door was opened by an elegant personage wearing a silky black negligee and immaculately applied make-up. My dignified great uncle was so shocked that he ran all the way home, his little Scottie trotting obediently after him. Morris wasn’t that kind of bachelor.

Granny’s hairdresser was also a bachelor, but of a more extroverted variety than Great Uncle Morris.

I was shy of Charles and always hid when he paid Granny a visit, usually in the pantry off the kitchen where he cut Granny’s hair.

“Why does Charles talk in that way?” I asked, once he’d left.

“In what way, Timmy boy?”

“He talks like he’s excited about everything.”

“Well, he leads a very exciting life.”

“What does he do?”

“Oh, he goes to a lot of parties and has some very artistic friends.”

The next time Charles came round to cut Granny’s hair, I ventured out of the pantry and sat at the kitchen table, pretending to read a Famous Five book, but really I was watching Charles. He was wearing pants and a shirt like Dad did, but around his neck was a floral cravat that shimmered and rustled as he flittered about Granny, snipping off wisps of her hair. His tales of parties and galleries and Europe were far more exciting than the bedtime fairy stories my parents read me. From then on, I always happened to be reading in the kitchen when Charles came round to cut Granny’s hair.

Granny went to mass twice a week and she prayed with rosary beads. One night I was round at her house sitting in front of the fire, rearranging crackling mallee roots and briquettes with a poker.

“Timmy boy,” Granny said. “Don’t you ever forget that God loves all people. It makes no difference to him whether they’re a bachelor or a married man.”

“Yes, Granny,” I replied, but I didn’t know what she was talking about.

Granny died when I was ten but I think she already knew that I would be a bachelor when I grew up.

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