It was just unfair Grandma gave Lilith the doll. All Vera got was a tin of pencils.
She unfurled Lilith’s sleeping arm. The doll’s eyes were hard in the moonlit room.
Halfway down the stairs, their mouser rushed between her bare legs. The doll fell from her hands.
Its porcelain face smashed when it hit the wooden treads.
Next morning, her father called her into the parlour.
‘I didn’t mean to, I just wanted a play,’ she began.
‘Damnation,’ he sighed.
He unbuckled his belt.
Afterwards, he took her onto his lap.
‘Hush now, Vera. It could have been worse.’
Part II: Just Business
Vera heard Harry Fulton on the veranda.
Her father rented the Fultons’ creek paddock for the weaned calves.
‘Margaret has another one coming along. Biddell’s offering us more money.’
‘I’m raising two girls.’
‘I’ll take one of your steers. Butchered. That’ll square us.’
Vera was skinning potatoes when her father walked through the kitchen holding his rifle.
‘Just going out for a bit, Vera.’
She heard the shot.
Two weeks later, they were checking the steers when she noticed the poddy calf was missing.
‘It wasn’t Freddy, was it Dad?’ she pleaded.
‘We all got it coming, kid.’
Part III: Awakened
Lilith opened the road gate and marched up the dusty drive.
Vera dawdled, fussing with the catch.
Bertie Fulton was mending a fence across the way. She walked over, leant on the wire.
‘Want a swim?’
They tramped through the dry brown paddocks, past the calves, towards the creek.
There was a pool surrounded by bush.
She tugged her tunic over her head, unfastened her brassiere. She shot him a glance, then shimmied out of her cotton underwear.
‘I know what I’m doing.’
He bent down, tasted her.
‘How could you know?’ he murmured. ‘At your age?’
Part IV: Lethargy
Bert stayed in the ute while Vera went into the surgery.
When she came back, she’d gone past crying.
He reached across to hold her hand.
‘I’m too young for it,’ she said.
He started the drive home.
‘It’ll be okay. I’ll work for Dad. We’ll fix up the old shearing shed.’
She looked across at him.
‘There are already six kids in your family.’
‘Maybe your father – '
‘He’ll kill me.’
Bert gripped the wheel tighter.
The blue sky stretched out forever, beyond the pasture, beyond the mountains. Eternity, succouring the human soul.
He exhaled. ‘I’m out of ideas.’
Part V: Fury
Lilith hid behind the banisters.
‘You’re a little fool. A damned little fool!’
She didn’t catch Vera’s reply.
‘Your mother, if she were here, she would die. She would die of shame!’
‘Well, maybe if my mother was here I wouldn’t be in this trouble!’
‘Don’t you –’ he began.
‘Don’t I what? Don’t I grow up? Don’t I become a woman? You only want to keep me here ’cause you couldn’t keep a hold of her.’
There was a crack, and she heard Vera wail.
‘Where? Where are you going to go?’
‘The other way from you!’
Part VI: Honour
Harry Fulton opened the screen door cautiously.
‘What can I do for you, missy.’
Harry closed the door and called his son.
He grabbed Bert’s elbow as he passed.
‘You been a fool?’
‘I love her.
‘Love doesn’t do a thing.’
Bert pulled free and went out onto the porch.
Harry saw the Moore girl fold herself into Bert’s arms.
‘He called you a no-hoper,’ Harry heard her say.
Bert took off down the driveway.
Ten minutes later he was back, rubbing his hand.
Harry strode outside.
‘You an even bigger fool now, son?’
‘He had it coming.’
Part VII: Hunger
The café was overcrowded. Vera smiled and moved along so they could share.
She sipped her Darjeeling.
Their order arrived: milkshakes, wedges of Black Forest cake, ice-cream and cream.
‘This’ll totally wreck my diet.’ The girl patted her flat belly.
Her friend giggled, ‘It’s positively sinful!’
She examined the translucent liquid within her cup.
She saw Bertie’s slender frame as he stretched out naked on that first hot afternoon, dappled in the soft light of the glade.
Vera swallowed quietly.
The waiter passed. She caught his eye and gestured to the empty teapot.
‘Thank you, may I have another?’