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West Australian Young Writers’ Contest

Miss i was awarded first prize in the Year 7/8 category for prose in the West Australian (name of our newspaper) Young Writers’ Contest on Saturday. It was a very moving piece of writing for us as it has an element of truth in it.

Here is a blurry photo of her receiving her certificate and cheque from teacher and author A.J. Betts. With a first and a second in two writing comps, her income from writing has reached three figures. No need for part time jobs here.

Her story was printed, along with others, in the Ed! section of today’s West Australian. With permission of the author, here is her story.

Fighting the Lost Fight 

Sarah

The world can change in an instant. Earthquakes can wreak mass destruction in less than seven seconds. Cyclones take seconds to rip houses apart. It takes one moment to ruin a family.

Oliver, Adam and Megan sat at the table which they had set themselves. I lean over the boiling water and drop the pasta in with the meat sauce. We’ve had pasta twice this week already, but it’s all I can cook. Matthew is supposed to be the cook. When I bring the bowl to the table, Megan and Adam slump in their seats.

“Pasta again?” Baby Megan is playing with the limp penne in disgust. My hand itches to slap her cheek, to make her feel the pain that I do.

“Yes, pasta again, until Daddy gets better,” I say. “Eat up.”

Later that night, I sit on Oliver’s bed and watch him sleep. He is nine years old, too young to deserve this. I sweep the honey coloured curls off his forehead and kiss it lightly, putting all my words of repentance and comfort into the gesture. He sighs in his sleep and rolls away from me. I shut out the light and close the door quietly before tiptoeing upstairs through the silent house.

“Hi,” I say as I undress and change into my pyjamas. The television is on, its quiet buzz filling the emptiness of the response not given. Matthew is lying in bed with his eyes closed and his legs tucked up under him, the way they always are when he is asleep. Only he’s not asleep. I check his breathing and stroke his hand, and tell him about my day. I can almost hear him sighing and saying ‘Sarah, you work too hard’, telling me off like a child in disgrace.

“I think I’ll go grab a drink,” I say absent-mindedly. I let go of him, pull his sheets tighter and walk downstairs. The kitchen is warm and smells of pasta and cheese and tomato. In the back of the fridge are Matthew’s Get Well Soon chocolates which I finger, tempted, but put back. Matthew can have them when he wakes up. When. If.

Oliver

We still have to go to school. In a way, it makes me appreciate it more. It’s like a haven of safety from all this home stuff. I have to suffer sympathetic glances and the stigma that goes with having a sick father. It is as if the other kids think my bad luck is contagious. The lessons are good though. Miss Paige gives me stickers and ticks on my work, but I know she just feels sorry for me. It’s no good now Mum won’t, and Dad can’t, look at it and be proud of me. Adam and Megan are eating in the kitchen when I come in. I check Megan’s school bag,and repack it almost completely. I swap her dolls for pencils and her biscuit for an apple. Mum walks in as a  bird flies through the open window and starts eating Megan’s unguarded cereal. It twitters nervously and then starts singing sweetly. Mum smiles slightly and my whole world lights up, but Megan doesn’t appreciate this. She yells at the bird and it flies off, frightened. You lucky thing, I think. You lucky wild thing.

Sarah

Oliver was standing perpendicular to the chess board, moving black and white pieces at the speed of light. He stops when I come in.

“Chess?” He offers. I shake my head. Matthew used to sit with the boys and teach them Anastasia’s check and castling. I can’t tell the difference between a pawn and a bishop. Oliver became so good that eventually his ability surpassed even Matthew’s until they played as true competitors. As I have nothing else to do on a Friday afternoon, I sit and watch him play. He declares stalemate and walks away. I watch him go and then, before I know it, I am sitting in his chair. The game looks so human that I am drawn to it. Suddenly I can’t help myself. I am jumping and sliding pieces until I catch the king and hold him above my head.

“Woo!” I yell.

“Very good,” comes a voice from behind me. It’s Oliver. He walks over and sits opposite me, opens my palm and puts the king back on the board.

“You can’t take the king away. You checkmate it,” he explains. It makes my mind boggle. The king is actually safe on the square he is on, but dare he move, he will be taken.

Adam

That day

Oliver, Megan and I are waiting for Mum to pick us up from school. Megan is swinging around a pole, and Oliver is checking his watch. Mum is fifteen minutes late. The last children slowly fade away. Half an hour. Finally Mum shows up, forty five minutes late. Her eyes are full of tears and she is pale and drawn. Oliver climbs into the front seat and holds her hand.

“Mum?” He asks anxiously. Mum takes a shaky breath.

“It’s your Dad. He just had a grand epileptic seizure.” The car falls silent. It is obvious she has just said something terrible.

“He did what?” I ask. Mum bursts into tears and Oliver glares at me. We sit there, just us four, in the middle of the road, for ages.

Oliver

One week after

Have you noticed how people always seem to hate the smell of hospitals? Well, not me. I hate the pretence. The nurses wear bright clothes and matching smiles, the halls in the children’s centre are lined with balloons, the chairs are a cheery orange. We are in the oncology ward, which turns out to be cancer, sitting in those orange chairs and looking at our Dad. Mum is whispering really quickly into Dad’s ear. He’s awake and he looks fine, which doesn’t make sense to me. People with cancer don’t laugh and tell their families not to worry. They don’t ask if their children have had a good day. Dad can’t have cancer. Then the doctor comes in, his face grim.

“Matthew has three CSN Lymphoma brain tumours,” he says. Mum gulps.

“Can you elaborate?” The doctor looks at us nervously and opens his mouth to say something before changing his mind and coughing.

“CSN Lymphomas are rare and extremely dangerous. The seizure activates them and usually kills the patient. We can operate, but Matthew’s third tumour is in a very delicate part of the brain and will probably be too dangerous to operate on.” He stops and clears his throat.

“Can you and I have a moment alone, Mrs Williams?” Mum nods shakily and ushers Megan, Adam and I outside. Adam starts flicking the water bubbler between hot and cold. A puddle forms under his feet.

“Careful,” I say absent-mindedly. Megan is standing at the foot of a vending machine, trying to reach the chocolate bar in the top row. I finger some change in my pocket and amuse her by making the treat fall. It’s amazing how quickly I fall into the routine of looking after my siblings.

Doctor Stralow

12 days after

Matthew Williams is probably one of my worst cases. Even if the surgery does manage to get rid of the two, safer tumours, there will still be one, extremely dangerous, growing. Not to mention, his chemo is costing $20 000 a month. He’s kids are so young; he’s so young. I catch a taxi home and collapse onto the beige leather couch.My girlfriend Isi sits beside me.

“Good day?”

“Terrible. I’ve got a patient with a seven percent chance of living,” I say gloomily. Isi sighs and rubs my shoulders.

“Thanks baby,” I say.

Sarah

8 months after

I creep into our room.

“Hey baby,” I say quietly. Before I climb into bed, I kneel at the window and pray. I’ve started doing that a lot lately. I climb into bed and rest my head on Matthew’s chest, feeling the slow rise and fall of his breath before I sleep. The next morning, the bed is cold and I can no longer feel his chest moving. I place one hand on his papery cheek.

“Thank you,” I say as tears well up inside my eyes and throat. “And goodbye.”

*miss i is in year 7.

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6 Responses

  1. OhMyGod, she’s a natural! No wonder she’s into triple digits!

  2. Wow- so raw and so real! Tell her congratulations. Xxx

  3. This girl has talent. She writes well beyond her years!

    (I still can’t respond privately to your comments on my blog – darn! – but I wanted to let you know that I’ve made a booking for the OT next month. Will keep you posted!)

    BIG congratulations to Miss I. She is one clever lass, and should definitely consder being a famous author when she grows up!

    xx

  4. She is so talented….good for her. Congrats xo

  5. Wow, I’m blown away. You must be so incredibly proud. xx

  6. Wow, no wonder she won! What a fabulous writer she is and I ADORE reading works by young people. It’s just amazing what they have to say and it’s a gift to see their world through their own eyes. x

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