Published in Overland Issue Issue 207.5: Winter fiction Writing Little People Jane Jervis-Read Maddy was in the third trimester of her first pregnancy when she had a strange dream: a vast desert, umber and red, with patches of scrubby vegetation. It was a place she had never been and yet which her dreaming self instantly recognised. Her chest felt open and wide, as if her ribcage contained this dusty expanse. She knew its presence as clearly and tangibly as she would know the feeling of her own mother sitting opposite her in a cafe and sipping from a teacup. A hot breeze, a new scent. Maddy’s dreaming nostrils pricked. Something was swelling on the horizon. Something was coming. ‘It’s hardly surprising,’ James remarked the next morning, as he manoeuvred around Maddy in the narrow kitchen of their apartment. He patted her belly and reached behind her for the milk. ‘Something is coming.’ He filled his bowl of cornflakes to the brim and moved quickly to the couch where the television was on. He pointed the remote and raised the volume. A polite clap, an American commentator. Maddy hated the golf. She leaned heavily on the counter and looked at James shovelling cereal into his mouth. He had eight minutes until he needed to leave. A striped tie hung around his collar, waiting for her to knot. Down below the trains had been running since five and the fading sunrise was still strewn through the clouds. Maddy stood on their little balcony and felt the breeze buffeting her ears. Off to the left the MCG towered, floodlights watching over the empty playing field like doting mothers over a crib. The cars were banked up along Punt Road and tiny people were making their way to work along the footpath. At eight months Maddy had taken leave. She worked at Market & Stockard as a human resources officer while James worked six floors above her as the manager of Accounting Services. Every morning since Maddy was twenty-two, she had risen at five minutes to seven, showered and blow-dried her hair, eaten two pieces of vegemite toast and been out the door by twenty past. She had been promoted to section manager a fortnight before she missed her first period. ‘But I’m on the pill,’ Maddy had protested to her doctor, who peered over the rims of his bifocals. ‘99.9 per cent reliable,’ he reminded her. ‘Did you do maths at school?’ Maddy had talked it over with James. He sat with his arm spread over the back of the couch. ‘You’ll be twenty-nine next year,’ he had said. ‘You could take maternity leave and be back in twelve months with thirty years good earning still in front of you.’ So it made sense, to James at least. ‘I think it would be good for us,’ he had grinned at last, pulling her in with his arm. As usual, Maddy’s mother rang at nine. Ruth lived in Castlemaine with her partner and couldn’t travel down very often. Maddy wondered if she felt guilty about it. Ruth had been in regular contact with Maddy since she heard about the pregnancy. ‘You know there’s a bed for you here if you need a rest,’ Ruth reminded her as the conversation drew to a close. ‘I know,’ Maddy responded, as she always did, ‘but I’m alright’. Two weeks ago, Ruth had snared them a Victorian pram in an antique store in Castlemaine. She had been thrilled to proffer her gift but as usual had forgotten to ask whether it was required. James didn’t like the pram. He never liked anything that Ruth gave them. He wanted a three-wheeled jogger like most of their friends had. But Maddy was pleased. The stroller had spoked wheels and an elegant hood and she imagined walking with it through Parliament Gardens – a plump, pink-cheeked baby swaddled inside. Maddy herself would be like Grace Kelly, or was it Audrey Hepburn? In high heels and capri pants with a scarf knotted under her chin. Maddy had wheeled the pram into the nursery, where it took up most of the room, and it sat there now amongst the other gifts, poised in anticipation for the new arrival. The final weeks passed slowly and the child was born in a private hospital, which had pale blue walls and a watercolour painting of a lake with swans swimming in it. The decor was in stark opposition to what actually occurred in the room over eighteen long hours and culminated in a deep slash to Maddy’s lower abdomen. The doctor brought the thing out of her and held it wriggling, squealing, up to the light. Maddy blinked her big dumb eyes and squinted. The gas had made it hard to focus. She thought that the child was exhausted of air: a natural phenomenon perhaps, that the skin should appear so dark. Someone took the baby away. There was a squeal of metal against the floor. Something was happening in the corner of the room that was causing movement and noise. When the baby was brought back to her, washed and swathed in a towel, Maddy saw that it was black. Eyes wide, black down fluffed up on its head, perfectly alive and well and with black skin, slightly darker at the wrinkle of its elbows and around the genitals. Maddy took the child in her arms and trained her focus on the little girl’s face. There were purple shadows under the baby’s eyes and the skin was goose-pimpled there. So the baby was tired too. Maddy kissed the hot forehead and the baby cried. It screamed. Maddy understood that scream. Her own heart pounded mutedly under her chest. Soon her milk was going to come. Her mother came first. ‘Well this is queer,’ Ruth said, sitting in the visitors’ chair and removing her gloves by the fingertips. Maddy held the baby close to her breast. The hospital nightgown stuck to her skin and a fuggy haze still sat around her. ‘It certainly is,’ she agreed. ‘It certainly is,’ quipped James from the corner. He nursed his head and swallowed another handful of panadol. ‘I think we might have some Spanish blood,’ Ruth reported. Her hat was still perched on top of her head. She always dressed up when she came to Melbourne. ‘I’ll look into it.’ When James left the room – where was he going? – Ruth leant in towards her daughter conspiratorially. ‘Have you been going bush, Darling?’ she whispered. Maddy laughed. She couldn’t lift her gaze from the face of the child. She did not understand but it did not matter. One day the baby was going to talk and then she was going to walk and then run. They had a world to show each other, Maddy knew. She smiled at the baby and the baby looked back at her with grave and serious eyes. They called the child Sunny. It was an inspired choice by Maddy, made the day after the birth, which entirely disregarded the fact that they had pre-chosen Amelia for a girl and Thomas for a boy. The name came out of Maddy’s mouth without her first considering it. James turned to look at Maddy and Maddy looked back at him, equally surprised. His lips were slightly open as they had been since the caesarean and his bottom eyelids still seemed to be hanging a little lower than usual. The nurse hesitated for a moment, looked from father to mother and back to the child, then recorded the name on the form. It was difficult trying to persuade James that she had not been unfaithful to him. Was he at last persuaded? If she had been more shocked it may have been easier to convince him of the utter strangeness of this thing – that she, who as a child had never been allowed out without a sunhat and he, with a honey-coloured tan in summer and a smattering of freckles across his face, had borne this. But it didn’t seem to matter very much at first, when Maddy nursed the little bundle in her hospital bed and the room and staff still swayed about them. They got in the car a day-and-a-half later and drove back to the apartment, and still it did not seem to matter. The child was perfect, incredibly perfect, with ten miniature toes all complete with miniature toenails, and glossy eyelids which were closing in peaceful composure. James worked hard and was promoted. Maddy stayed at home with Sunny, who was a good sleeper and a good eater and quite a good crier when she felt the need. People came to visit them at first. Friends from school and university and one or two from work, bouncing their own children on their knees. But they were awkward, Maddy could see. Even good friends seemed reticent and one of them spoke openly about how betrayed she felt. ‘How could you not have told me?’ Melissa had cursed, and when Maddy tried to explain it Melissa had almost spat on the floor between them. ‘Save it Maddy,’ she had said and left. The weekly mothers’ groups and afternoon teas to which Maddy had been promised invitations did not eventuate. She felt she was being denied entry to the club of motherhood her friends had been eager to welcome her to only a few months ago. ‘He has this birthmark,’ her friend Andrea was saying about her own plump son, cringing with amused embarrassment. The other friend laughed, reaching for a piece of crostoli. The child’s birthmark was a tawny colour, above his left ear and was about the size of a fifty-cent piece. ‘The doctor said it will fade but I barely want to take him out in public,’ Andrea joked. Maddy nursed baby Sunny, who was warm and strong inside her jumpsuit and wriggled to be let down. But it was queer. Ruth was right. Maddy let herself consider her daughter’s appearance properly once the fuss within her immediate circle had subsided. The first months of motherhood had seen Maddy operating in survival mode but now she had a little time to think. She thought of nights out she had enjoyed with friends late last year, which in honesty were few and far between and didn’t usually extend much past eleven on a Friday night. Could her drink have been spiked on one of these occasions, and she carried away by some dark-skinned man and returned to the bar intact so that neither she nor her friends were any the wiser? Or had she experienced some sort of a psychotic episode – gone home with a stranger and completely erased it from her memory? As a teenager her mother had warned her about getting into spa baths with boys, but she was pretty sure that a) you could not actually get pregnant that way, and b) she had not been in any mixed-gender spa baths in the last year. No matter how often Maddy thought about it, she failed to make any sense of the situation. It was easier for other people, she thought sadly to herself, to have that seed of doubt about her. It was barely ten months before Sunny walked, markedly before any of Maddy’s friends’ children. The doctor said Sunny’s gross motor skills were developing at an impressive rate and that she was a healthy, curious child. He steered clear of the question of paternity, even when Maddy tried to broach it. She had wondered if this was something that happened from time to time, or which children sometimes grew out of. But the doctor had only frowned and possibly blushed a bit (in sympathy for her transgression, she assumed – he had been Maddy’s doctor since childhood). He waited for her to finish talking and then said, ‘Skin colour is genetically determined. There are no other factors, unfortunately.’ The ‘unfortunately’ part annoyed Maddy. It was probably owing to her healthy curiosity that Sunny began to refuse to ride in the pram. Maddy tried coaxing her into it with a bear she liked but Sunny was determined and if she happened to wake from a nap within it, would indignantly cry to be set free. But Maddy still loved that pram. It had an old-fashioned beauty that conjured her grandmother as a young mother and the world she must have inhabited, strolling with fat little Ruth in the carriage. A little bell rang as they entered the store. It was the same shoe store to which Ruth had taken Maddy as a child and she was surprised to find the rows of lace-ups and the sweet smell of Scotchguard still familiar. The shop assistant wore a twinset with a pearl button. She was some time coming to assistance but eventually knelt before Sunny and took her foot to measure. Sunny squirmed away. Maddy put her hand on Sunny’s shoulder and the shop assistant persisted with polite firmness. She went into the back room and returned with a stack of boxes. ‘If you don’t mind me asking,’ said the woman when she returned and opened the first box, ‘Is she adopted?’ ‘No,’ said Maddy. Sunny wriggled against her. ‘No, she’s ours.’ These conversations would be harder once Sunny could speak. Maddy stroked her daughter’s leg and hushed her. Sunny was grizzling now because the woman had the sandal on her foot and was trying to fix the buckle. It was too small. Maddy looked at the shop assistant, who briefly met her eye and returned, with some difficulty, to getting the next shoe onto Sunny’s plump foot. Sunny kicked her legs unhappily. ‘It’s getting more common,’ said the woman. ‘Children of mixed race. All sorts of things are getting more common.’ Sunny hollered then and the woman pressed her lips together and removed the shoe. Sunny was usually a placid child and had never thrown a tantrum. Maddy squeezed her around the shoulders again and offered a stumbling, useless explanation of why shoes were necessary but Sunny looked up at her with confused accusation. Her little feet were too broad – they didn’t seem to fit into any of the styles available for a child of her age and Maddy couldn’t help wondering if the shop assistant was being gentle enough trying to cram them in. The woman was sweating at Sunny’s feet now, a nebula of discarded shoeboxes and scrunched tissue paper surrounding her. The final straw for Sunny seemed to be a particularly inoffensive maryjane with a daisy embossed in the toe, at the sight of which she let out an ear-piercing scream. Customers handling their own small children turned around to look. The shop assistant narrowly avoided another swinging foot to the face and stood up. She pulled her cardigan around her bosom and looked pointedly at the wailing child. Maddy took the cue. Outside, Maddy took up the pram and tried to place Sunny in the carriage. ‘Please,’ Maddy reasoned, ‘get in the pram just this once.’ But Sunny lifted a shoulder towards her cheek in refusal. She stiffened and fought in Maddy’s arms until she had her feet on the pavement. So Sunny would have to go barefoot, for now at least. Maddy pushed the heavy pram along the pavement, manoeuvring past cafe tables and A-frames. Soon Sunny was waddling contentedly alongside, oblivious to the fact that Maddy’s heart was still racing and her fists were shaking around the pram handle. She was embarrassed by Sunny’s behaviour in the shop and distressed to have seen her child distressed, but it was more than that. Maddy felt rage. Why hadn’t she spoken back to that woman? People at the cafe tables turned to look at them. Their eyes checked the child’s bare feet. Maddy felt her face burning, but Sunny was happy. She stopped to pet a dog tied to a signpost. ‘Careful,’ scolded an older woman in a red scarf. She was looking at Maddy. ‘Careful with that dog.’ Maddy looked back at her. Sunny was patting the dog’s head heavily. The dog raised its eyebrows with disinterest. The steam of the hot shower cleared Maddy’s head and sloughed away the grease and bustle of the streets. James had already showered and was sitting up in bed with the lamplight trained on the Financial Review. Maddy rolled her bath robe off her bare shoulders and let it drop it to the floor before getting into bed. James made a comment about the price of some shares he was watching. ‘James,’ said Maddy. He didn’t react. ‘James,’ she said again and he raised his eyebrows without shifting his focus from the column of numbers. Maddy looked at his fine Roman face, high browed and straight nosed. She let her gaze travel down the sinew of his neck to where his bony shoulders were wrapped in perfect skin. She would have liked to touch him as she would once have touched him. He sniffed and turned a page. Maddy wriggled down under the thick doona. She felt her big breasts move under her singlet and one soft leg spread against the other. She closed her eyes. Each week James would leave them a list of things to do. Maddy wasn’t at work after a year as they had planned, but she could still be productive with her time. James handed her the list as she sat on the couch with Sunny, and started to outline one of the points to her. He never seemed to sit down anymore. Maddy sighed. The sound of the television was rising in her ears, drowning out his voice. She couldn’t find the energy to argue or the words to explain it to him, but it was virtually impossible to get anything done in town – pushing the pram and carting the gear, nappy bag and snacks and bottle and toys, with Sunny waddling barefoot behind, stopping to poke at shop windows and crumpled cans and trails of ants inching over the pavement. Why was she still bothering with that pram, anyway? ‘Okay?’ James said, interrupting her thoughts. He was smiling down at Maddy in a way that made her stomach turn a little, what was it? Those slightly raised eyebrows and his lips in a straight smile. She realised with horror: it was managerial. Maddy took the piece of paper. ‘Thanks,’ she said before she could stop herself. Sunny rolled her head onto the thigh of Maddy’s jeans and smiled up at her. Maddy stroked the soft skin of her forehead and her downy brow. ‘You’re beautiful,’ she whispered to the child, who glowed and reached out a hand to touch her mother’s face. A few months ago James had stated Sunny’s ‘special needs’ as the reason to delay Maddy’s return to work. Maddy had nodded, avoided his eyes, but nodded. In reality she knew Sunny didn’t have special needs. She hadn’t spoken yet, it was true, but she was smart and was funny and could put two and two together just as well as any child, or would be able to soon enough. The truth was that Maddy couldn’t see herself back at the firm. She couldn’t imagine pushing her soft body back in tailored slacks and jackets and employing a professional demeanour. Her brain felt like a crumpled face-washer most of the time and the thought of meeting performance targets made her want to jump in the car and drive a long way in the other direction. ‘You’re right,’ she had said to James, who was leaning with his hand against the bench. ‘I’ll stay home with Sunny for another year.’ James bristled as his mind did the maths. ‘Six months should do it,’ he had said. Now he wriggled into his jacket and blew two remote kisses as he closed the door behind him. Maddy changed the channel and leant back into the couch. She had begun to hate the apartment a little. It had an airless smell and the walls felt tight. It always seemed a bit too hot or cold. Sunny sat against the base of the couch. Her glossy eyes followed the movements of animated characters on the screen. ‘Come here,’ said Maddy, reaching towards the child, who looked at her and then back to the program. Her skin looked paler, was it possible? It had lost the velvety darkness that sunlight gave it. Maddy knew they had been staying home too much lately and watching too much TV. Maddy’s friends with small children no longer asked Sunny over to play. Maddy had gleaned some hint of gossip that her child was thought of as being rough with the other children. It was true that there had been one or two occasions when Sunny had bumped or hit another child in play and made them bawl. It was never deliberate, but was the sort of thing which happened all the time between toddlers and none of the others had been maligned in such a way. Maddy tried extending the invitation herself and sometimes her friends came, smiling stiffly and holding their children out before them as they entered the apartment. They watched the kids too carefully in play and Maddy could feel, quite simply, that it was not fun. Her friends usually left when the hour was up. To begin with Ruth had called too often and then not often enough. Once Sunny was six months old, Ruth seemed to have regarded her duty as done, and relaxed back into the routine of life in Castlemaine with her partner. ‘Well you do stand out, I suppose.’ Ruth had conceded during a phone call last week. ‘Would you consider moving up north?’ Maddy rolled her eyes. Her mother could be infuriatingly flippant, though she generally meant well. ‘And what would we do up north, Mum?’ Maddy asked. ‘You could find a job, Sunny could go to school and James could continue doing what he’s doing now.’ ‘I don’t know how competitive the corporate finance market is in Darwin, Mum.’ ‘No,’ said Ruth, gritting her teeth or smiling politely, ‘But like I said – he could continue doing what he’s doing now.’ Maddy thought about visiting Ruth in Castlemaine – she could take the Peugeot with the child seat in the back and listen to music on the way. She imagined the slowly expanding paddocks rushing past the car window and the green silhouettes of rugged hills rising up against the long grey sky. She imagined Sunny’s face in the rear vision mirror, her big eyes tracing the scenery. It was only laziness that stopped Maddy from making the trip. She reprimanded herself silently from the couch. Her breasts were spilling carelessly from the loose dressing gown and she smelt of milk, of course, but didn’t care. No-one was visiting. ‘Do you want to move?’ Maddy asked James that night when he came home and busied himself in the tiny kitchen. He was watching the soccer over her head and starting to chop vegetables for dinner. James frowned and shook his head definitively. ‘This place,’ he said, ‘will be worth a mint in another decade.’ It’s already worth a mint, Maddy thought. ‘But it’d be nice to have a garden for Sunny to play in,’ she said and James nodded and sliced through something on the board. ‘But in a year she’ll be at pre-school,’ he said, ‘and she can play in the garden there. Right Sunny?’ Sunny did not respond. She was sitting on the carpet with an empty milk carton and was driving a little doll through its open end. Sunny rarely looked up when her father said her name. No wonder he thought she had special needs. ‘Sunny,’ said Maddy, later that night when they sat on the couch and James washed the dishes loudly. ‘Where’s Daddy?’ The child looked at her expectantly but did not move. ‘Sunny,’ Maddy tried again, reaching for the child’s warm hand, ‘where’s Daddy?’ Sunny understood most simple directions these days, and would go and get her bottle or a towel from the other room if she was asked to do so, but she stared back at Maddy now and didn’t raise a hand. ‘Sometimes I think about that dream,’ Maddy told James when they lay in bed. He had not turned out the lamp yet and the newspaper was folded into a quarter in his hands. ‘Do you?’ James didn’t look up at first but Maddy could tell from his voice that he knew which dream she meant. ‘It’s funny,’ she said, ‘I’ve never even been to the desert.’ ‘And why would you? There’s nothing there.’ ‘It’s a big part of the country, isn’t it?’ ‘Only geographically,’ said James. ‘Economically it’s almost a hindrance. All that empty space and nobody can live there.’ ‘But people do live there,’ said Maddy. James turned to look at her. His eyes were cool and blue. ‘You know what I mean,’ he said and reached over to put out the lamp. Darkness fell over them and Maddy listened to James’ body moving down under the covers. He discarded his second pillow and exhaled. ‘I feel fat,’ said Maddy. She rolled towards James and reached for his hands. They lay at either side of his body and had to be pried free, but then he allowed it. Maddy moved his cold fingers around her hips. ‘See?’ she said. ‘You are fat,’ James teased. Maddy guffawed. ‘But anyone’s fat compared with you.’ James laughed. He repositioned himself on his side and pressed his hands around her bottom. His breath smelt sweet and clean. At three years old, Sunny was rejected from the local kindergarten, the private girls school which she was expected to attend. ‘I don’t understand,’ James complained, leaning on the receptionist’s desk in his best intimidation act. ‘We were told one year ago that she was on the list.’ The receptionist shrugged – somebody’s daughter, no older than sixteen, blonde hair blow-dried straight. She scanned the computer screen. ‘Numbers are full this year. It could have been a system error.’ ‘Well, what about next year?’ Maddy interjected. She squeezed the warmth of her daughter’s hand in her own. The receptionist screwed her nose and scrolled down. ‘Doesn’t look good,’ she said. ‘And there’s a waiting list for the waiting list.’ When they left, the receptionist kept her eyes on the computer screen until the very last minute when they flashed to Maddy. ‘What about next year?’ James repeated incredulously as they exited the kindergarten gates. Sunny followed. ‘What were you thinking Maddy? And have her be a year behind?’ Maddy shrugged. ‘God Maddy,’ said James. ‘Ever since you quit work…’ ‘Ever since I quit work, what?’ They reached the Peugeot and James blipped the doors open. Sunny scrambled into the bumper seat. ‘Nothing,’ he snapped. ‘God, nothing.’ He started the engine and sped out of the car park. The waiting list was the same at the other privately run kindergarten on their list and the Catholic place in the suburbs flatly said no. The manager said she knew it was old-fashioned but they were still obliged to keep to the rules of the church. ‘Give it another hundred years,’ the woman had said, rolling her eyes, wringing her hands and showing them towards the door. The last place they visited had not been on the list. Maddy spotted it in the Melways and James grudgingly followed her directions. The community centre was on the northern edge of the city in a flat-fronted brick building set off a main road. Maddy walked ahead down the drive and James followed, trying to hurry Sunny along. He was saying something to Maddy – perhaps he was protesting – but she had tuned him out for now. The front door was unlocked. Inside, the centre felt like an old house, which had been gutted and renovated and never quite finished properly. There was a thick layer of pale green paint over exposed pipe-work. Maddy followed the noise to the main room, where fifteen or so children were engaged in different activities. From the other side of the room, a woman a little older than herself caught her eye and lifted her chin in acknowledgement. She was sitting with a knot of children around her legs and was holding a book. Sunny tugged free of James’s hand and plodded over to where a small boy was pushing a truck along the carpet. She was a sturdy little figure standing beside him in her quilted dress, watching him load up a tray of blocks. Maddy giggled and looked at James. His hands were balled down in his pockets and he looked back at her directly. ‘We’re pretty full,’ explained the teacher when the afternoon session was over. She looked tired and pushed a pen into her messy hair. ‘But we don’t like to turn people away.’ The children’s parents arrived to collect them and Maddy couldn’t help but notice all their different colours of skin. She felt like her mother, making an observation like that; for some reason she had not noticed it in the children. A tall African man arrived and waited for the boy with the dump truck to pull on his parker before they left. ‘You’re serious about this place?’ James asked as they headed for the car. Maddy smiled. She looked at Sunny who was loping happily behind, red pencil tight in her fist. ‘Why not?’ Maddy shrugged. ‘They seem alright.’ Did James disappear from view then, for a few seconds? Maddy opened up the car and helped Sunny inside. When they got home James walked ahead of them and pressed the up-arrow on the elevator. Maddy held Sunny against her breast. In the mirrored doors she saw the child’s plump brown legs hanging comfortably from the trim of her dress and the dirty soles of her feet. The silence in the lift was worse than it had been in the car, where Maddy had rolled down the window a little for the sound of the wind. As they travelled upwards, she and James were holding their breath. Sunny looked at her in the mirrored wall, as if to say ‘Oh gawd.’ Inside the apartment, James dumped his keys and headed for the study. The study door caught on the pram, which had been moved in there for space, and he tripped inside and jarred his knee on the steel frame of it. James cursed loudly. Sunny and Maddy looked at each other. James re-emerged from the study, bottom first, trying to force the pram through the doorway. It was awkward and seemed to be too wide to come through the doorframe, no matter which way he jerked it. Finally it clattered through, nearly rolling over the top of him. James swore again, pushed the huge thing out of the apartment and into the hallway. Maddy watched him go. He crashed into the wall and left a long black trail before reaching the elevator. Maddy went outside and looked over the balcony for James to reappear on the street. He was like a soldier, or a toy soldier at this height, and he threw the pram down soundlessly on the nature strip. How tiny he was and how far away. A pigeon swooped onto the balcony below, intercepting Maddy’s view. Was I ever like you? she wondered. She wished then that he would leave, if only for a little while. But James gave the pram a final kick and turned to come back into the building. Sunny didn’t speak for a long time. Maddy read early childhood books and consulted her doctor. The man was useless. Since Sunny’s birth he had been confused and embarrassed. He had a red face and a bald head from which the scalp was slowly peeling. He pushed his bifocals up the bridge of his nose. ‘Ah Madeleine, what can I do for you?’ ‘It’s Sunny,’ she said, easing herself into the chair and letting the child loose to the floor. ‘Oh yes?’ he feigned surprise. ‘She still hasn’t spoken.’ ‘Children develop at their own pace,’ the doctor said, focusing briefly on the child who was picking at a curled thread in the carpet. He turned over a paper on his desk. ‘Give her time,’ he said. ‘Or I could prescribe Valium?’ ‘For Sunny?’ ‘No,’ he grimaced. Maddy frowned. ‘That’s okay,’ she said. ‘Thanks anyway.’ They muddled out of the surgery together. Maddy helped Sunny into the car and strapped her in. From the front seat Maddy stretched her arms out in front of her and gripped the steering wheel. A few hot tears rose in her eyes. Maddy let them fall. In a moment she would turn the keys in the ignition and start the engine. She would drive into the city where the last few items on their list of chores could be completed. On the way to the city she would pass the turn-off to the highway. Maddy looked at her daughter in the rear-vision mirror. Sunny was buckled into the child seat and her hands sat resting in her lap. Her brown skin was translucent in the winter sun and her copper eyes stared patiently out the window, waiting for the view to shift. (Old pram image on previous page via Shutterstock.) Jane Jervis-Read Jane Jervis-Read is a Melbourne writer. Her work has been published in Eureka Street and Cordite Poetry Review and features in the current issue of Inscribe Magazine. More by Jane Jervis-Read Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. Related articles & Essays 5 First published in Overland Issue 228 6 April 202231 May 2022 Writing What happens when authors stop listening to their editors Jessica Stewart When I moved into a second career in editing and publishing, friends told me that working as an editor might temper my love of books—that a professional eye might spy previously unnoticed flaws. I dismissed this, but they were right. Before, if a book left me restless, dissatisfied, annoyed, I would simply close it and move on. Now, I know what is wrong, why I, the reader, feel short-changed. 3 First published in Overland Issue 228 22 November 202131 January 2022 Writing Precarious words Jennifer Mills Eight years ago, I wrote a short piece for Overland called ‘Pay the Writers’. I was fed up with being asked to work for ‘exposure’. It was a time when a lot of writing work was moving online, and this work was often unpaid. Writers were at risk of losing our incomes entirely. If anything needed some exposure, it was the working conditions of freelancers.