December 2014

For the best

The Good Oil is delighted to publish a short story written by Isabella Brown, a Year 12 student from St Scholastica’s College, Glebe. Isabella’s poignant piece earned her first place in the 2014 Lionel Bowen Young Writers’ Award.

BY Isabella Brown

When I was young I’d see her silhouette creeping out when she thought I was asleep, the milky darkness of the sky and glow of street lamps pouring into the room and the thin, sea blue curtains I’d watched my father hang, years ago, curling out into the night. I heard her exhale and the fall of her feet hitting the wet concrete outside. I heard the crash of the surf against the concrete breaker down by the shore. I saw the window close with a slight screech and a thud. I heard her shoes slapping the path as she walked toward the main road, and the skitter of her bicycle as she left.

I’d seen my sister sitting on low brick walls with her boyfriend. Daniel, I think his name was. He worked at the small theatre on the main road, selling popcorn and waving around a pocket torch. He’d sling his arm around her sweatered form while throwing shining purple grapes into his mouth, just to make her laugh. He snuck her into the movies for free and sometimes I would go too, see movies above my age range and sit three rows in front of the pair of them. He gave me popcorn and ribbons. He gave my sister cigarettes.

Winter came and rain reacquainted itself with the parched seaside, washing away the clinging salt and marking an end to lazy afternoons of sun and surf. As time wore on it became less of a rediscovered friend, and more of a once acquaintance who invites themselves over one time too many. The constant drizzle dampened our slice of the seaside incessantly. I guess that winter is when everything fell down. My sister cried as often as the sky, my big sister who grit her teeth when she fell off her bike and blood dripped from her fingers, who lay with dry eyes open while our parents fought and I choked on tears. This sister sat on her bed, pillow clutched to her chest, the fabric stained with tears and saliva where she’d bitten it to halt the sobs. I think she learnt that off me.

There was yelling but now she was the centre of debate. Her name was flung like sharp barbs around the living room, scratching the walls.

I didn’t understand most of the shouted words. I was nine.

She grew bigger, my sister, and I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I must have associated her growing size with pregnancy. But the pregnancies I knew were coddled cooed over and bought presents for; revered. When the neighbour had a baby boy the street celebrated, their living room covered in blue gifts, presents and pillows and toys. The collection of motherly figures were crisp and caring, right out of sealed boxes and onto a stage which suited them. Their role was required and admired, and they played it well. The neighbour’s round figure was coveted, a little envied, I think. My sister’s was not. She was shunned, locked up; she left school four weeks from her final exams, and all her giggling friends vanished without anything so elegant as a puff of smoke.

When she was sent away my mother cried. I don’t know why. She had agreed, insisted, sided with my fierce father, but more than that, she thought it was the right thing to do. I’m sure she did. I’m sure my sister knew she did. My father didn’t speak anymore, he growled and he roared, he hissed. He turned into a dangerous, exotic animal, to be tiptoed around and watched with care. We have a tiger living in the kitchen, I’d whisper to my dolls, he eats boiled eggs and jam on toast.

We left her at the Salvation Army home.

Salvation; what a funny thought.

Her case was full and her coat mostly hid the bump. Her eyes were dry, but her lip bled. She hugged me before she walked up the stairs and through the wooden doors, with the stern matron who had forced her to farewell our parents. It’s a tired cliché but she was a different person before she left. I think I knew she would be at the time; it felt very much like saying goodbye. Father’s arm was wrapped around my mother, as though he was sad to see my sister go. He really might have been, after everything. When he reached for my hand I flinched. I don’t think he noticed.

She came back six months later with dark eyes and messy hair. She looked so worn, her skin looked ready to blow away, like she would be caught by the ocean breeze and billowed towards far off shores, her hands were rough. She had a square of chipped blue nail polish on her thumb. The colour of the sea. She lay in bed until father forced her out to do something. Forget it, he’d say, move on with your life, leave this behind. She cried out in her sleep sometimes, whimpered, I don’t think she knew. She called our parents by their first names, stood stiffly when they tried in vain to hug her, ate dinner alone until father got sick of her ‘moping’. She pushed carrots around her plate like boats in the gravy. I made the peas my crew.

I was looking for mints in her sock draw once, that was where she kept them because she thought I didn’t know. I found a pair of blue baby shoes. Never worn.

I think I put them on my doll. And tried to feed it mints.

Isabella Brown

Isabella Brown, a Year 12 student at St Scholastica’s College, Glebe, was awarded first place in the 2014 Lionel Bowen Young Writers’ Award for her short story “For the Best”. The judges described Isabella’s story as “The strongest piece of writing in the collection – a truly stunning piece of work that is beautifully crafted. This is a heartbreaking account of an unplanned pregnancy that is poignant and taut with the tensions of desire, disappointment and unrealised potential, viewed through the naïve narration of a younger sibling. Simply superb work.” Isabella’s story appears in an anthology published by Juvenilia Press.

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