Bronwyn Calder (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand)
Mangawhai was a magical fairy land, except for Great Aunt Greta who sat in her chair and clacked her false teeth at you. Sally hated her and was afraid of her. Mostly Sally and Bruce sat outside when Mum and Dad visited. That was after Aunt Greta said Sally should be in borstal and Sally had gotten into big trouble with Dad.
But the beach was wonderful. Miles and miles of white sand, empty in those days, but for the gulls swooping over the waves and the odd dead sheep.
The waves were big, blue, and mostly very gentle. They would just pick you up and let you out among boiling bubbles in the shallows. The waves were so clear Sally could see Bruce swimming through them, his hair parted in front as he pushed through the water. Sally and Bruce made sandcastles, sometimes letting them dissolve in the rising tide, sometimes stomping on them themselves. Dad wore sandshoes when he swam because he was afraid of cutting his feet.
Mum taught them to make patterns on the wet sand with their feet and they swung along behind her singing the “Gypsy Rover” very loudly. In those days they swam a long way down the beach where there was no one else. Sometimes, at low tide, they dug for tuatuas, up to their waists in the waves. One day Aunty Riley went in after tuatuas in her dress and got completely soaked. She loved it! There were rock pools where they poked anemones and sometimes caught crabs. The tuatua fritters were always too sandy to eat, no matter how carefully Mum and Dad tried to de-sand them.
After Aunt Greta said Sally should be in borstal, Dad tried to hit her and put his fist through the shower wall instead. Dad swore and stomped out of the house, so it was Mum who caught up with her.
“How many times?” Mum – big and strong and very angry. Sally tried to scrunch up smaller and smaller in the corner by her pillow. Smaller and smaller so Mum didn’t have so much of her to hit.
“Come here!” Mum yanked at her arm. Sally tried to hang on to the headboard. She was screaming so hard now; she couldn’t stop screaming.
“Stop that racket!” Thwack, with the strap. Whack whack. On Sally’s legs and bottom, her side, the small of her back. Far away she could hear Bruce crying. What did he have to cry for?
“Now you go and apologise to your aunt and your father.”
She stopped, standing back, breathing hard. Her face was red. Her left hand cradling her strap arm as if it was sore.
Good, Sally thought.
“No!” she said. “I hate them and I hate you!”
Whack whack whack!
Sally ran away from them, down the long hard beach toward the gulls, pretending she didn’t belong to them. They weren’t even there. She was alone on the beach with the gulls and the waves and never had to go home. Sally pretended she was on a desert island. She was washed up there alone to make her own way, to survive.
Behind her she could hear them singing and dancing on the sand. Dad was back along the beach, sitting under the umbrella reading the paper. He couldn’t get the cricket on the transistor here. Mum and Bruce were making swirling patterns with their feet and singing loudly. Sally scowled at them and turned away. She was stranded on a desert island, all alone. She had to find wood and make a fire. And find fresh water, and dig for tuatuas. She’d have to eat something. Then one day a dashing pirate would find her and save her.
“Sallee!” Bruce’s voice sailed to her on the wind.
She kept running, along the hard sand and the water washing white and green. She ran through the shallows where the rivulets ended in lacey foam. She skipped away from the bigger waves as the water splashed up her thighs.
Mum and Bruce were back a long way now, poking under rocks and into pools.
Sally walked more slowly. She could see the next outcrop of rocks: brown jagged shapes scattered into the waves. The sun glinted on the sea past the rocks, sparkly like a mirror. The scraggy hills came right down to the beach here and a mob of sheep grazed just through the fence. The fence collapsed where it met the sand and sheep crept around the end to wander the beach. And she thought about being cast away on a desert island and being rescued by pirates.
Bruce was running along the beach toward her now, so she started running again. If I just keep running, she thought, they won’t be able to get me.
He stopped and poked his stick in a pile of sand. “Ew!” he yelled. “Dead sheep.”
Sally kept running.
Bronwyn Calder is a New Zealand writer who has just completed a Masters of Creative Writing at Auckland University of Technology. She lives in Auckland with her husband and two daughters.