Hilltop: A Literary Paper. Volume 1 Number 3
After breakfast Margaret wandered off by herself. She did not want to be with the grown ups who never did anything interesting and the five year olds were just a bother because she always ended up by having to keep an eye on them. When you were thirteen you didn't want to play with children and the rest of the family were fussy and stodgy.
She did not know what to do with the morning. She did not want to walk south to the river because it made her tired walking miles and miles through loose sand and she did not think it worth the effort on such a hot day. She thought of going north towards the little stream, for that was not so far. She could walk along the beach and come back by road. She liked the way the sandhills fell back as the stream reached the sea and closed in again as you followed it up. Further on where it was very hot and sheltered there was pig fern as high as your shoulder and nasturtiums and convolvulus growing wild. After the dry lupin land this wilderness where she could feel things grow, was a most important discovery; but as she had been to the stream yesterday and knew exactly what it was like, there did not seem to be anything new to be found there she did not know what to do with herself.
She wandered aimlessly on, skirting a line of young pine trees which grew vigorously among the sandhills. When she was much older there would be quite a shady belt of them. Now they were nothing. She swished through the coarse, brown grass thinking that if the trees were bigger they might be worth climbing if you liked climbing. But you could hardly climb these—they had only about five or six strong branches. She stopped beside one of the trees and put her foot between the trunk and the first branch and then stood upright on it. The end of the branch curved up pas her head. She leaned forward and caught hold of it and doing so dislodged her feet. The branch yielded to her fall like a piece of elastic; until she was no longer above it but hanging underneath. It was quite exhilarating.. She thought how much she would have enjoyed it when she was younger. She got to her feet and tried it again. The branch dipped and swung, the air rushed by, the sky flew away. Flying was probably like this. She did it twice more. The last time she gave herself a good downward push to make the swing sensational, but her hands did not turn quickly enough and she had to let go. She hit the ground with a thud.
There was a movement's darkness and then everywhere pinpoints of light. She could not breathe. She was suffocating. There was a terrible pain in her chest; and a great sea of darkness waiting to overwhelm her. She fought it back desperately; she had never before experienced such an inside pain. Her stomach was smashed; she had broken her back most likely; she would die. The darkness was going now because she was keeping very still, but she knew she was done for. She lay noting everything very carefully, nothing everything very carefully, waiting for her senses to blur.
Looking up she saw the sky overhead, very blue, very far away; she saw the brown branches of the tree rising upwards to soft green leaders; she saw the grass beside her, sturdy and brown, growing past her in the sun. Even the toi-toi bush grew strongly in a sandy fashion, raising bedraggled feathers above her. These things seemed far away, yet very important.
She knew suddenly that everybody who had died before her had reached this, and that everybody who had lived after would come to it; and for a movement she felt herself one of this multitude and her thoughts were silenced by fear and awe; and then in another instant she was by herself again, alone and terrified.
I will not die, I will not die, she cried passionately. But immediately a whisper seemed to say—
Oh yes you will. Yes you will. You've got no say in it now.
This is unfair she thought, horrified at the meaning of it. I am only half-grown.
The other part of her which she was always having to live with now, said, you've had thirteen years. That's your lot. What do you make of it?page 5
It was unfair, and she could not make anything of it.
Perhaps she should call out for help. No, they would come and make a fuss and want to move her and she would die in agony in a bumping car. Everybody would be pretending for everybody else's sake that they weren't really upset, and they would tell her that she would soon be better, and they would promise bicycles. This time she could not stand it. She would just stay here quietly by herself. She did not move; but lay waiting.
Far away an aeroplane was droning. She could hear the breakers rolling in on the beach. She moved her arm slightly so that she could feel the sand in her fingers. It was hot and gritty. It must have gravel it in, even here. She raised her shoulders very carefully to see if she was right. A sandhopper jumped on to her arm. She shooed it off. She did not feel as bad as she had thought. She tried sitting up very slowly. Nothing happened. Perhaps then, if she stood up very very carefully, she might be able to go slowly towards home and get to her bedroom without being seen. With infinite care she drew herself on to her feet, using the tree as a support. She was astonished that she felt no pain whatever. She began taking little footsteps and found she could walk quite easily. Her eyes opened wide with surprise, there is nothing wrong with me she thought. I am not going to die at all!
A wave of joy swept over her and she wanted to dance and dance among the sandhills. She had escaped! She had escaped!
But the other part of her said there had never really been anything to escape from—she had just been very silly that was all.
There is front of her stood the tree that had caused all the trouble. She looked at it with distaste, but some feeling stopped her from touching it. She didn't think she'd try that again for a while. She was too old to be swinging in trees anyway.
What was she going to do with herself now? Now that she was living what would she do?
She began to walk away through the lupins kicking the grass angrily because she had straight hair and legs like pipe-cleaners.