Maya is eleven years and ten days old and I am eleven years and five days old and we are at her house in Yarralumla. It’s the first Saturday of the holidays and we are clattering leggily around the kitchen, piling Milo into oversized plastic cups and watching it float to the top as we pour the milk.
Maya’s brother Thor walks in, farts, and leaves. We jump up and run, giggling, spilling milk and Milo all over ourselves. Outside we spray each other off with the hose. Maya strips and flings her wet, heavy clothes onto the pavers. She runs around naked, yelling at me to join her, her skinny little body flashing brown in the sun. I strip down to my undies but that’s as far as I’m going because it’s not my house and her brother is inside and anyway, she doesn’t have the little black hairs wriggling out from between her legs like I do so I keep my cottontails on and run with my arms crossed.
Thor is in his room listening to music and I can hear Nirvana telling us to come as we are.
We spend the morning wandering with delicious aimlessness around the sun-bleached Canberra suburbs. We invent games. We are miniature gods of our own tiny universe. One game we call Might and Power. We walk along the streets and plunge our hands into the thick firethorn bushes, grabbing handfuls of the glossy red berries. I am afraid of grabbing a spider as I reach into the glistening mess of leaves but I do it anyway and my fear is never realized. According to our carefully devised rules we toss the berries hard against the concrete footpath and run along, mad and breathless, trying to squash them before they roll into the gutter. Whoever squashes most wins and it’s never me.
Later on we make a doll out of panty hose, fill her with the stuffing from an old cushion and draw eyes on her with a Magic Marker. We find a frozen pea on the kitchen floor, put it in her head, say it’s her brain and call her Claudia Schiffer because somewhere along the way we have grasped the idea that supermodels are dumb and that you can have brains or beauty, but not both. We keep her with us, until her stockinged body has stretched and sagged and the stuffing has balled around her middle.
After lunch we pick crab apples from an old lady’s yard and crouch behind her red Torana to eat them, puncturing their skins with our teeth. Maya’s face wrinkles and contorts as the sour juice oozes onto her tongue and I laugh and so she laughs and we laugh until we are weak and helpless and crying. The old lady comes outside and tells us to “bugger off” and we stumble away along the street, still laughing convulsively over nothing and everything, arms interlinked. We stand on a bridge and throw the apple cores into the stormwater drain and I can smell the mossy damp of the water where it pools in the dark tunnel below.
The day decelerates as we play horses in the empty lot by the school. I am Zelda, a bay thoroughbred, galloping fast across the wide, flat grass, whinnying and prancing. I shed my fragile little-girl limbs and am magnificent as a mare. The summer air is warm on my neck and I can see traceries of sweat forming in the dip between Maya’s shoulder blades. Thirsty, we sneak through the fence to drink rubbery water from the hose in the driveway next door. When the low-slung sun makes the shadows big and deep we wander home, tired from our day of existing so boldly.
As we get home we see Thor leaving the house. We run in and sidle down the hallway to his room because he is the only teenager in the house, which makes his room a glorious treasure trove of stuff-we’re-not-allowed-to-see. It smells in there and is dark and still warm from his body. His blankets are folded roughly to the side and there is a boy-shaped patch imprinted on his sheets. We open his wardrobe and shuffle through the mess of clothes. Maya finds some deodorant and sprays me with it and I yell because now I’m going to smell like a boy.
We pull out the drawers of his bedside table and in the bottom one we find a pile of magazines. Lips and breasts stare up at us and we look at each other, mouths wide. This! This is treasure! We grab the top two and pelt out of his room, not knowing quite why we’ve stolen them, or why we need to run. Halfway down the hall we see Thor. “Oh shit,” screams Maya, giving us away. If we’d just sauntered past, he might not have noticed, but he looks us up and down, sees what we’re holding and runs at us. “You little fucks!” He yells and I’m scared and don’t know what to do, but Maya, who is smart and bold, grabs a clothes horse, pulls it open and shoves it in his way and somehow, somehow he gets tangled in it, falls forward and is trapped. We run. He’s yelling at us and we’ve never run so fast because he’s loud and big and we have something of his that he probably shouldn’t have and neither, now, should we. I start running toward Maya’s room, feet pounding on the floorboards but Maya grabs me, finger to her lips and pulls me in a tiptoe toward her parent’s room. We climb in the dirty clothes basket, which is big enough for the two of us and cover ourselves with wrinkled shirts and dusty jeans. We sit there, skin pressed close, breathing hard, awaiting our fate, and I can feel Maya shaking and that makes me scared because she’s the brave one, she’s the brave one. Thor thunders in and I feel sick and I grab Maya’s hand and she grabs mine back and our hearts are loud in my chest and her nails are in my blood and I’m scared and he’s swearing. “Bitches!!” We’re Bitches and little Cunts and where the FUCK are we? Right now, we don’t even know. He swears and picks up the lamp and smashes it against the wall and I think I’m going to faint with the fear and I wonder why these women in these pages are so valuable to him, and suddenly feel sorry for all the ones we left there, in that drawer.
Eventually he leaves and the house quietens down and we hear Maya’s mum get home from work and come upstairs. We take the clothes off our heads but stay in the basket and she laughs when she see us and asks what we’re doing there. Thor was chasing us, we say and she tells us it’s okay, we can get out now. It’s okay. It’s okay, she says it twice. He was just playing.
No. I think. He’s too old to play.