At breakfast the brother and the sister sit across from each other at the table. Light streams in from the big glass windows, bouncing off the blonde floorboards and warming their feet under the chairs.
They eat their Vita Brits in silence, both reading opposite sides of the cereal box. She eats quickly, hating how the biscuits go soggy once the milk has soaked the wheat soft and grey. He is patient, chewing small mouthfuls and swinging his feet. The skin on his soles make a brushing sound as his feet pass each other, calluses from all the days without shoes.
In the glowing morning he reads Asterix in his room, spread out on the carpet between the piles of lego and the toolkit he got for Christmas. Across the hall and past the big mirror, she practices clarinet but gets bored quickly. After playing ‘Bunyip Blues’ she sits up at her desk and writes a list of things she could do this week. Write letter to pen pals. Ask mum if I can invite Holly over. Think of costumes for book parade. Redress Polly and the other black doll.
The boy lay reading.
‘Come play cricket,’ she says.
‘Na, don’t want to, you always get to bat first.’
‘You can bat first then.’
Down the cool concrete stairs, past the hydrangea, and out into the yard.
She stares at him halfway down the driveway, tapping his bat on the bright gravel and squinting at her, thinking about the ball and whether to hit it at the house or into the neighbour’s. The ball comes hissing down the driveway at his torso. He bends his middle and flicks the bat, and the satisfying smack of the tennis ball on wood punches the midday air. Off to the neighbour’s yard. Six.
Another delivery down the gravel strip. This time quicker, aimed for the head. He hits it harder again, this time into the spiky native on the edge of the fence, where the birds hide from the cats. ‘You gotta get that, you put it in there,’ she calls down at her brother. He snarls back up the drive and ambles over to the bush. Prickles in his skin, he fishes the ball out from the nest of dead leaves around the base of the plant. Turning back, the tennis ball leaves his hand with a powerful flick. It sails through the air, and hits the girl in the side of her torso. Whack. She grabs the spot and struggles, the air thumped out of her. A mangled cry, ‘Maaaaauuuuuuumm!’
The boy races toward her, ‘You’re okay, you’re okay, don’t yell for Mum!’ But it’s too late, Mum’s up from her desk in the spare room, and staring down at them both from the concrete front steps. ‘You winded her. Go get your sister a cup of water. She’ll be right after a sit down.’ The girl gasps with a little more gusto than necessary, looking at her brother. He delivers the cup of water, then hurries down the back yard and up the wattle tree. He can hear his mum talking to his sister, who’s stopped crying, ‘Come in and watch some telly, you’ll be alright soon.’ He sits in the dark silver leaves and listens to the currawongs cawing in the afternoon light.
Dad comes home soon, and it’s rissoles for dinner.
After eight, they both clean their teeth and crawl into their beds. Four Corners murmurs in the lounge and the brother and sister listen to their mum and dad talk about work. She falls asleep quickly, her chest rising and falling in the dark room. Creeping across the hall, the brother slinks into his sister’s room, and crawls up at the bottom of her bed. He can hear her steady breathing, and with the warmth of her feet coming up through the sheet, he soon falls asleep.