Lydia Schofield 2015-17
Steph stares at the ground and whispers, “I’m sorry.”
And with two tiny words, everything is over. A year of hoping and wishing and smiles, collapsed in an instant. My eyes grow hot, like I’m going to start crying. Steph steps off the bus and is enveloped in the cold, the door sliding shut before I can say anything. I sit alone, breathing small, shallow breaths, trying not to cry or hyperventilate. Praying that no one else on this stupid bus can see how far from okay I am. There’s a voice behind me, whispering my name.
“Lola,” it hisses. “Lola! LOLA WOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME PLEASE?”
It’s not whispering anymore, it’s screaming. I turn around. There’s a girl perched on the seat behind me. She has dark hair cut to just under her ears, bulky black glasses and a blazing glare. She pushes a strand of hair behind her ear and raises an eyebrow at me.
“Hello Lola,” she says.
Cogs turn in my brain and something clicks. Something that should have clicked as soon as I heard her voice. The delay feels like seeing your reflection in the mirror and saying hello, expecting the reflection to reply. She looks like me, but not in the way my sister does. No. She looks like an exact replica of me.
She’s a reflection that’s replying.
I bite my lip, unsure, nervous. She scrunches up her nose. “You really shouldn’t do that,” she says.
I try to speak up, but I can’t. ‘How do you defend yourself against yourself?’ I think, frowning. ‘How is this even happening?’ I sit frozen, completely taken aback. She’s acting all defiant and cocky, as if she’s trying to prove a point.
The bus jolts into my stop and I still haven’t said a word. I pull my gaze away from the girl, forcing myself off the bus. I walk about twenty metres down the footpath before I let myself check if she’s still there.
I stop suddenly. She trips and slams into my backpack. She rights herself and stands, confident, despite her fall. “So…” she grins slyly. “What happened?”
‘I was rejected,’ I think. ‘That’s what happened.’
The reflection girl perks up. “Ah, yes,” she says. “You got rejected by that girl, didn’t you?”
“How’d you know that?” I ask, my voice showing more hurt than I want it to. I don’t want her to know about what happened with Steph. I don’t want anyone to know.
“Don’t stress,” she says coolly. “No one heard anything.”
“But how did you know?” I say, too quickly, too defensively. She raises an eyebrow.
“Calm down,” she smirks. “I know because I was there.” She pauses, giving me time to understand. “Do you really not get it? I’m you!” she says after I stay silent. She sounds annoyed now, more like a grenade about to go off than a person.
I start walking again, trying to put distance between myself and the grenade girl.
“You running from me?” she screams.
“Yep.” I walk faster.
A deep, guttural scream erupts behind me. I turn around to see her running towards me, angry and ready to fight. I drop my schoolbag beside me, bracing myself. She stops right in front of me, eyes blazing. She steps back and I relax, thinking she won’t attack. I’m wrong. She lunges, clawing at my head, screeching. I try to push her away, but she kicks me hard and I fly backwards. I flail, trying to pull her down with me, but she dodges my grasp.
I hit the concrete hard, all the air knocked out of me. She walks over to where I’m lying, looking down at me. I try to scramble to my feet, but she places her foot on my chest, pushing her weight into me. The heel of her boot wedges sharply between my ribs. I can’t breathe. She bends down and whispers, “You are pathetic, Lola.”
I shake my head. ‘No I’m not!’ My mind screams.
She sneers. “Steph would’ve told you herself! If she thought you were mature or capable enough for her, she wouldn’t have rejected you, would she?”
The pain in my chest subsides for a second as an emotional hurt replaces it. I stare at the girl, shocked. I don’t want to believe her. I want to tell myself she’s wrong. But everyone says I should trust myself more…
“That’s right,” she says. “Trust yourself. Trust me. I am you. Trust what I say. I say that you’re pathetic and a waste of Steph’s time. Forget about her. God knows she’s already forgotten about you.” She pauses. “I just hope you won’t beat yourself up about it…my mistake, you already have!” She grins and hits me hard across the face. My glasses smash into my nose and the world spins until everything is dark. All I can hear are her words replaying themselves over and over in my mind.
“Don’t beat yourself up about it…”
I am Raven. I was born to the fearsome lord of our valley fourteen years ago. But then he tried to marry me off to a neighbouring tribe leader. So now I’m running away. Many fathers do this to their daughters but none shall do it to me. I am Raven and, like the birds, I will migrate. I will live with my grandmother in the woods. She is a sorcerer and she will teach me her ways. She will do this or she will pay for her resistance. I am a woman now and I shall take chances that real women must take. I collect my warmest robes from the chest beneath my bed. I would never be able to drag the whole thing with me. Not in this snow. No one in the village, no matter how brave or fearsome, would venture out in snow like this. Not even my father would go out in weather like this morning’s. And my father will certainly not be able to stop me today. He began his travels yesterday and he will not be back until tomorrow. He has gone to fetch the man I am to marry. The thought of this new husband makes me feel sick. At the bottom of the chest I find the old red cloak that my father brought back for me from a particularly victorious plunder. I don the cloak and, surprisingly, it still fits quite loosely. The cloak’s warmth envelops me instantly. Stuffing the robes into a sack, I glance over at my weakling of a younger brother. My father wants him to be chief and lord of the valley one day. And now, thanks to me, he will be. I am giving the weak waste of space a gift that he might never understand. I hope that one day, he may thank me for it. Once downstairs, I grab all the weapons I can, making sure to only select weapons that I know how to use and that my father will not miss. I fill the sheath and position it and one of the bows onto my back and load some wine, bread and meat into my sack. I slot the knives into my belt and hold the larger bow at the ready as I trudge into the snow, the heavy sack slung over my shoulder. My boots are as strong as my spirit and I do not feel the cold. I feel only my own strength as I push on through the rough patches of terrain. Out of nowhere I hear a formless sound. A howling. A wolf. I have shot a wolf before. It tried to attack my brother when he was sick a few years ago. It only took one arrow for the beast to be downed. I pull an arrow from my sheath and slot it in the bow. I am ready. No one can touch me. I have been walking since well before dawn and none shall stop me now. I hear a twig snap followed by a growling sound. The sound sends a chill down my spine and I try not to shiver. I drop the sack at my feet and draw the bow back, aiming toward the strange growling. I release the arrow just as a hooded man leaps from a hollow tree and catches the arrow in his paw-like hand. He has a wolf skin for a cloak. The fur around his head has dried blood stuck around the edges. I can smell rotten meat even from here. His face is strewn with cuts and bruises that move in strange ways as he snarls at me. This is not a wolf. This is not a man. This is an imitation. An imitation that I can slaughter. I am a woman now, after all. And real women can handle situations like these. I ready another arrow and release it, aiming at the beast’s heart. The arrow lodges itself in the centre of the beast’s chest. I hear a thump as the limp body hits the snow covered ground. The red of his blood spoils the innocence of the white, pure snow. The stain in the snow fades from dark scarlet to crimson to almost pink. It almost looks beautiful. I hear something like a footstep behind me and spin round to see another wolf-cloaked man, standing only a few paces from me. In one fluent movement, I pull a knife from my belt and thrust it into the second imitation’s chest. He howls in pain and drops into the snow. Two bodies. Two blood stains in the snow. I smile to myself proudly. “I knew you were strong, Raven,” I say to myself as I clean my knife in the snow, sling the sack back over my shoulder and walk off in the direction of my grandmother’s house.
Found Poem 1
No matter how wide you stretch your fingers,
Your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain
You want to heal.
My hands are covered in bruises,
Purple and yellow medals from my efforts.
I used to walk with my arms outstretched,
Grasping at sadness and sorrow.
I thought I was like Midas,
Like my touch could turn gloom to glow
And tears to a spark in a smiling eye.
I thought I could help
Maybe I was wrong.
Now, I walk with my hands hidden,
Tucked in pockets or arms crossed,
Shielding myself from the pain I could have changed.
I stand in a downpour of tears,
My hands in my pockets,
My socks soaked through the holes in my boots,
I’m up to my knees in disappointment.
This is not good enough.
Listen to the downpour,
Let the rain soak for face
Take your hands from your pockets open your palms wide.
They will get battered,
You will get bruised,
But sometimes you have endure and keeping shining,
Hoping and knowing that eventually,
Your light will reach where it is meant to,
You will finally catch all the pain you need to
And your Midas touch will be just enough.
Found Poem 2
Two thousand and seventeen years.
What happened during all that time?
Blossoming like flowers and wilting with time,
Empires rose and fell.
People dropped like flies.
Gained confidence, gained height
And there we were,
On the silver, beaming moon.
We are still struggling to cure the common cold
We are fighting with our old
We still don’t understand
Our marvellously complex brains
But we built trains
And we built languages,
Dialects and pidgins and signs with our hands
So we could help to build our vast lands.
Linguists, are still debating what a word is.
Even after two thousand and seventeen years of all this
We still have far to go.
So much to learn, so much to know…
Are you ready?
Normally, I would never do something like this. It’s vandalism. It’s defacing school property. It’s wrong and I know it. But surely there’s some kind of exception for activism. Maybe. Probably not. Maybe I’ll do it anyway. Maybe I’m that kind of person now that I’m fire-belly angry. The bathroom door is already covered in so many scribblings, no one would notice if I added to it. And I’m not going to add something obscene like the writing that’s already here. I have to make my mind up soon or Ms George will send someone to look for me. I've been in here for ages. Normally, when the slurs and the homophobic jokes get too much I only spend a few minutes in the bathroom, deep breathing and composing myself. But today is different. Today, I have absolutely no desire to go back into that classroom. I don't actually think Ms George would care if I stayed in here for the rest of the period. One less student to teach. And I don’t think she’d listen to me about the kids at the back of the class, because the insults aren’t directed at me. Picking on gay people is different to picking on the gay kid. Teachers don’t have as much motivation to help unless there’s a specific target.
I turn back to the wall. I'm going to do it. I take the pen out of my pocket and find a tiny blank spot on the plaster. I write 'Happy Pride Month' in letters that don't look too much like my regular handwriting. Writing on a wall is harder than it seems and it takes a lot of effort to make the letters readable. I leave the bathroom a little lighter, which I guess is strange considering all I’ve done is write one little phrase. But it feels so much bigger than those three little words. I sit through the rest of the lesson, trying to ignore the words coming from the back of the room. I hope someone in another class is hearing the same things. I hope they'll see what I wrote and feel a little bit better. I hope they’ll leave a reply. Maybe this could be a start. Maybe this could lead to something.
I feel like I'm floating a little all day. Is that weird? That the tiniest bit of graffiti, breaking a minor rule, gets me this excited? Probably. But as my mum would say, "As long as you’re happy and not getting arrested, who cares?" I doubt you can be arrested for bathroom graffiti. If you could, we'd have way more students with criminal records.
Leo and Maxie are at our lunch spot when I get there and I must be smiling more than I think because Leo looks up at me and says, "Why're you so chipper? Did Ms George have spinach in her teeth again?"
"Something like that," I say as I sit next to him on the wooden bench. And I'm not sure why, but I don't want to tell Leo and Maxie about the graffiti. Partly because Leo will make some stupid joke about it. And partly because Maxie will be super surprised that I’ve broken an actual school rule. But mostly I don’t want to tell them because it seems too private. Like a secret between me and whoever else writes on that wall. Leo starts telling a story about something that happened in his cooking class and I nod along, my mouth too full of sandwich to say anything. I watch and listen quietly as his long arms flail around excitedly as he tells me about an icing sugar incident. He grips his dark curly hair in annoyance as he tells me about how the fire alarm went off again because someone forgot to set an oven timer. His eyes light up when Maxie laughs at his jokes. Watching Leo tell stories is like watching a stand-up comedian who only talks about cooking and basketball.
I finish eating and sit with my feet on the bench and my head on my knees. I zone out a little as Maxie and Leo start talking about one of their teachers and it takes me a second to realise that I’m staring at a girl across the courtyard. She has this Nutella coloured hair in longs braids and strong legs in tight jeans and the kind of thick eyeliner that makes her stare intense even from fifteen metres away. An intense stare that is aimed at me. I blush and look away quickly, angling my body toward Leo and Maxie to make it seem like that’s where all my energy is going. I steal another glance at her and she smiles at me before turning back to her friends.
“Hey, Maxie,” I say as soon as there’s a gap in conversation.
“Yeah?” she says.
“Do you know who that girl is?” I point to the staring girl.
“Umm.” She clicks her tongue pushes strands of raven blue hair out of her face as she squints at the girl. “Hazel? Yes! I think her name’s Hazel.”
“Is she new?” I ask.
“Nope,” Maxie says. “You probably just don’t know her because she’s not in the band.”
“We know people who aren’t in the band!” Leo says. “We know you, don’t we?”
“I don’t count!” Maxie laughs. “I was in the band when you met me!”
“Yeah, but you only played percussion.”
I steal another glance at the girl as Maxie and Leo start arguing about whether band kids are the least social kind of kids at our school. Hazel is saying something quickly and with a lot of hand movements. Her friends burst out laughing and she looks over at me. I blush again and look away. Maxie catches a glimpse of my red face and grins.
“Oh my god!” Maxie says, her eyes wide and excited, her hands flapping with energy. “You like her, don’t you Nell?”
“What?” I say. “No I don’t.”
“Of course you don’t,” Maxie smiles, sitting back, cocking her head to the side. “How stupid of me to think such a thing. You’re just very, very warm?”
“Shut up,” I say into legs, cheeks still burning.
The next day, I'm at school too early because mum is worried about the traffic. This happens far too often. As soon as there's more than a five percent chance of rain on the forecast, mum gets all worked up about how bad the traffic will be. So she's insisted on dropping me off twenty minutes before school starts and I'm one of the only students here. Again. Maxie won't be here until after class has already started and I can't see Leo anywhere yet, so I decide to check on the graffiti. Because I'm acting super nonchalant about the whole thing and I’m definitely not freaking out at the possibility that someone might have actually replied to my message. And I’m definitely not scared that one of the homophobic kids has read it and replied with their stupid comments. Nope. Not at all. I try to ignore my bubbling nerves as I open the bathroom door. I lock the stall door behind me and lean on it. Taking a slow, deep breath, I allow myself to look.
There's a response.
Actually, there are two responses. Sort of. Someone has angrily scribbled out my whole message in blue biro, leaving dents in the wall. The same person has written, ‘NO’ in scratchy letters next to it. The second response is just little purple hearts drawn all around the message. They must have been there before the blue biro scribbler because some of the hearts have been scribbled out too.
So maybe I’m getting a little addicted to this. Maybe this graffiti is giving me strange rushes of adrenaline and courage because I take out my pen and write, "What's your problem, scribbler?" So I guess I’ve started an argument. Which is unlike me. Usually it’s Leo and Maxie who are the ones standing up to people and voicing their opinions and I just quietly let everyone else state their points. But now that I've had a reply, now that I know there are at least two people who've read and reacted to the message, I want to keep going. I want to know who these people are. Who's the scribbler? Who drew the hearts? I want them to know my opinion and I want to change things in this school.
All morning, the graffiti is all I can think about. It's eating away at my brain and my attention span. My French teacher, who is probably the nicest teacher in the entire world, notices and comes to check on me.
"Nell," she says, eyebrows furrowed into a concerned expression. "Ça va? Are you okay?"
"Oui, Mademoiselle. I'm fine."
But I can tell she doesn’t believe me because she says, “Do you need to go outside for a bit?”
I nod and leave the room. I feel a little bad for not telling Mademoiselle Katie about the graffiti, but I don’t think I’m comfortable with her knowing. I don’t want to tell her that there's someone in this school with a biro and so much disdain for queer people that they’d scribble out some harmless graffiti. And I don’t want to tell her that I graffitied school property. I don't think she'd be too impressed by that. And I'm certainly not going to tell her that I'm hoping that the girl who drew the purple hearts is queer and cute and willing to talk to me outside the bathroom wall. And I don't tell her how comforting that would be, to know that Maxie and I aren't the only two queer girls in the whole school.
When I reach the bathroom, the end stall is empty and there’s a new reply from the Scribbler that reads, "You shouldn't be proud of something that isn't natural.”
I clench my jaw. I don't know how to respond to that. Thankfully, the purple pen of the heart drawer has responded for me. "This isn't an organic food shop, this is life. What's 'natural' or not doesn't matter. We shouldn't have to hide from people like you." The comment makes me smile and I take my pen out to write, "Thank you person," and draw an arrow to the purple comment.
It's warmed up nicely by recess and Leo and Maxie and I sit backwards on the bench, our backs to the sun, feet in the garden, soaking up the warmth. Maxie's talking superhumanly fast and she seems to think that what she's saying is important but Leo and I can't understand any of it.
Eventually, Maxie takes a breath. "Don't you think that's just ridiculous?" she says, which is the first sentence that I've been able to decipher for about five minutes. She looks to us expectantly, her eyes bright and waiting.
"Yes," Leo says. "I've got no idea what you're talking about but, yes, it's probably ridiculous."
Maxie rolls her eyes and leans forward to look at me. “Nell! Did you hear what I said?”
“Hearing and listening are two different things,” I say because I definitely heard what she said but she didn’t make it easy to comprehend.
Maxie sighs. “Your loss,” she shrugs. “You’ll just have to live with the fact that you’ll never know.”
“What a pity,” Leo sighs, feigning disappointment. She frowns and pokes his arm. I tune out of their conversation and my gaze floats across the yard. Hazel and her friends are sitting in a doorway. Hazel’s legs are curled up under her and her hair is out and flowing down her back. She’s kind of hypnotic.
“Oi!” Leo laughs, poking my arm. “What’re you looking at?”
I bite my lip. “Nothing.”
He pokes me again. “Tell me!” he says, poking with both hands. I laugh and push his hands away.
Maxie perks up. “Is it that girl?” she asks, drumming her hands on her knees.
“No.” I say quickly, trying so hard not to blush.
“Nell,” Maxie says seriously, stopping her drum rolling hands. “You have to go talk to her.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“You’re blushing,” Leo smirks. “You want to.”
“Go!” Maxie says, gesturing wildly. I glance over at Hazel. I could. I could so easily go over there and talk to her. It’s only a few metres and a few words and then…
The bell goes and Maxie groans. “You’re not getting out of this that easily,” she warns me as we walk to our classes.
As soon as the bell goes for lunch, I head to the bathroom to check on the graffiti. I know it's kind of sad that I'm obsessing over it so much, but I can't help it. I need to know if there's a reply. I need to know who the Scribbler is and who the heart drawer is. Plus, it's just dawned on me that I could use the graffiti as evidence of 'unacceptable language and behaviour' at school. I could show a teacher. I could actually change this.
But when I get to the bathroom, there's someone in the last stall. It could be the Scribbler. It could be love hearts girl. My heart races. I could know who they are! I turn on the tap and wash my hands slowly, waiting for the stall door to open so I can see who they are. And then, once they leave, I can see if they left a message. I realise that just washing my hands looks a bit suspicious, so I splash some water onto my coat and rub at it as if I've spilt something. The stall door opens and I try to look as subtly as I can at the girl. It's Hazel. She has one hand in the pocket of her denim jacket. She smiles at me – which makes my stomach flutter – washes her hands and leaves. I race to the stall. Thank god there's no one else in here to see me being so weird. There's a message from the Scribbler - some misspelt Bible quote - and a purple message from love heart girl. The purple message says, "Let's prove this kid wrong" with a phone number written next to it. My chest tightens. This is so strange. Why is there a number? Do they want me to text them? They don't even know who I am. I take a photo of the wall and another of the phone number then rub the purple numbers with my finger. It smudges perfectly. The ink's still wet. It was Hazel.
I race out of the bathroom to where Maxie and Leo are sitting. Hazel and her friends are sitting in the doorway again. Maxie looks up at me curiously.
"Why’re you in such a rush?” she asks.
I shrug, sit down next to her and pull out my phone, typing in the number from the graffiti.
“And where’s your lunch?” Maxie asks.
“Forgot it,” I say. I turn back to my phone and type, Purple hearts? This is the red-pen-Happy-Pride-Month girl. I press send.
Across the courtyard, Hazel's phone beeps. She looks down at it, grins and types something.
My phone buzzes and Maxie frowns at me.
“What is going on?” she asks, shaking her hands in my face.
I shrug and read the text, Thank god you're not Miss-blue-biro-and-angry-letters. Who are you? Can I talk to you? I look up from my screen and Hazel's standing right in front of me. She holds out her hand.
"I love your work," she says as I shake her hand.
"Yours is pretty neat too," I say.
"We should meet up sometime," she says. "Are you free after school?"
I can feel myself blushing. "Today?"
"Yeah. I'll meet you here when the bell goes?"
"It's a date then," she grins and now she's blushing too. “See you then.”
As she walks across the yard, Maxie’s fidgety, percussionist hands are drumming on my arm.
“Nell,” she says. “You have got to tell me what’s going on.”
I grin and tell her everything. As I talk, I glance back at Hazel. She grins at me, blushes and turns back to her friends. I was right, I think. Three little words did change something.
It was warm and the wind was low, whispering through the trees as we walked down the dirt paths towards the beach. The light was blocked by the canopy and we made slow progress, concentrating on our footing in the shady undergrowth. She was quiet, barely speaking as we clambered over fallen trees and loose rocks. As soon as the sand of the beach was in sight, the smell of salt water suddenly present in the air, she picked up the pace. She took the lead, taking confident strides through the tangled ti-tree. And then we were out of the claustrophobic tangle of trees and the sun was beating down on us again, shining hot and strong. My feet slid in the sand and the sun glistened on the calm blue of the endless ocean.
Kate stood close to the water, just out of reach of the small waves that crept up the beach, edging towards her boots before retreating back into the blue. I could feel sand edging into my socks as I stood beside her, looking out to the gently curved horizon. I had been nervous before, but as the silence stretched out between us, I felt myself relax. We listened to the waves crashing lazily at our feet and watched the rhythmic pulse of the water as new waves formed and broke further out to sea.
“If only we had a boat,” Kate said after a while, squinting in the light. “We could sail away.”
“Where would we go?”
“Anywhere,” she said. “Melbourne maybe.”
“To be with Harriet?”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I shouldn’t have said them. She looked at me, hurt, cheeks flushed, hurt.
“Sorry,” I whispered. “I know you miss her.”
I took a few steps back and sat in the drier sand. She hesitated before sitting down beside me, her skirts spread out on the warm sand and her hair catching the light as she completely ignored my gaze.
I felt like it was Christmas again and we were sitting in the alcove on the cliffs together. There was the same tension in the air, the same sense that we were sharing her sadness. I felt that she expected me to take some of the hurt, relieve her of some of the gloom that Harriet’s absence had caused her. I said nothing because I didn’t know what there was for me to say. As we watched the clouds and the water being whipped by the harsh wind, I felt that I was letting her down.
I had to say something. I had to try to comfort her.
“You can talk to me, you know,” I said. “It’s not the same as talking to Harriet, I know that. But it’s better than being alone.”
She smiled, just a little. Like she was trying not to laugh.
“I know,” she said. “Thank you.”
She looked at me then, looked deep into my eyes. I don’t know what she saw in them, but she cracked up laughing.
“What? What’s so funny?”
It took her a moment to calm down and when she did, red in the face, she said, “Your mother thinks you’re sweet on me. I heard her say it.”
I froze, my stomach dropping. She watched me, waiting for my reaction.
When I said nothing, she nudged me. “It’s true, isn’t it?”
“No,” I said, too quickly.
She smiled, satisfied with herself, and looked out to the waves.
“Oh well,” she sighed. “It’s because you think Harriet’s too pretty for you.”
“No, it’s not!”
She raised her eyebrows, challenging me to say more. I felt heat rising in my cheeks. I wanted to speak but the words were all stuck in my throat, scared to come forward.
“I-I didn’t say that …”
She didn’t believe me, it was written on her face in the crinkles that formed when she smiled.
“Admit it, Albert Jackson. Admit that you fancy me.”
There was a voice, a hopeful little voice, at the back of my mind that was whispering, ‘This is your chance, Albert! Tell her!’ Maybe, just maybe, I could admit to her what had been buzzing in the back of my mind since before Christmas.
“You’re smarter than me, Kate Gilbert,” I said. “You think you’re too good for me.”
She didn’t say anything, but something in her face changed. She was shocked, surprised that I was being the bold one for once.
I didn’t mean to say any more, but the words fell out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“My father says there’s nothing to stop me from asking for your hand,” I said. When she gaped at me, unable to form words, I continued, frantically filling the silence. “I’m hardworking, Kate. I would be a good match for you. Even though Mother thinks you are hot-headed and not as pretty as you are quick. Your parents would be glad to have a son-in-law like me and my father says you would make a good wife.”
She scrambled to stand up, sand flying everywhere. I stood too. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking, but I had a feeling I had gone too far.
“Are you asking me to marry you?” she asked, her voice strange and tight. She was breathing hard, eyes wide.
“Yes. Yes, I think I am.”
She looked as if she was about to cry. Like I’d insulted her.
“I won’t marry you, Albert,” she said, shaking her head like a metronome. “I won’t.”
My chest was suddenly too tight to breathe or speak or move. I watched helplessly as she ran back up and the hill and through the bush away from me. The tears came then, and the terrible squeezing in my chest that made it hard to get enough air. I stayed on that beach for a long while, trying my best not to be heartbroken.