I don’t have many clothes, but the bedroom is already taken up with Liz’s things, so mine are heaped, hung or boxed. My sewing machine is on a folding table that rattles and wobbles when I power through a long seam. Hardly ideal. The queen bed is covered in paper patterns, fabric and my ragbag of needles, pins, thread, sequins, you name it, it’s in there, elastic, braid, bias binding. Small scraps of silk I keep for whatever purpose, I don’t know. The bed is as bad as every other surface, and when I come home from class perspiring and damp even in my light summer dress, Liz meets me with a kiss and immediately we are looking for somewhere to lie in the heat of the moment but there is nowhere, not even the sofa or the floor is free. The kids, her three and my two, are still at school and day care so I pull the edges of the top bed sheet into a large bundle holding fabric, pins, scissors and all and put it on the already crowded floor and there is our space, the moment and the time for us to embrace, to forget the crash-wreck of our lives that leaves us scratching for money, for food, for rent, for work, for love. Why else would we be together in this dingy fibro cottage with overgrown grass and a lopsided wire fence except that together we can be stronger against the outside world, keep the wolf from the door, share the child-minding, the roof over our heads, even the bathwater one of us will throw all the kids in to blow bubbles while the other boils pasta and grates cheese. These minutes on the bed, our little doze after, are all the rest I will have in twenty-four hours, as soon as bedtime stories are read: not Cinderella, no fairy godmothers here, Three Little Pigs, because we know the wolf is real. Her kids are in their little room and mine are sleeping on the mattress on the living room floor and I come back to the tools of my trade, make some sense of the chaos, fulfil orders I have for twelve netball uniforms, three ballet costumes and one baby quilt. Liz will be out on nightshift and I will be half-asleep at four am when Zac, my eldest, wanders in to say, There’s a piglet on my bed, and when I hush him, tell him it’s a dream, bring him back to his damp little sleeping pillow, I find that he isn’t dreaming. There is a little blind sleek newborn kitten on the edge of the blanket. The black cat, our cat, who we have kept inside for fear of her wandering away in a strange neighbourhood, has given birth, and after a search we find her and two more kittens lying on a pink Disney princess dress in the dress-up box in the broken shower stall.
A graduate of the University of Sydney Master of Creative Writing program, Australian writer Julie Thorndyke’s two collections of tanka poetry, Rick Rack and Carving Granite, were published by Ginninderra Press. Editor of Eucalypt: a tanka journal since 2017, Julie also writes fiction for all ages, and has published two picture books with IPKidz. Her debut novel for adults, Mrs Rickaby’s Lullaby, was published in 2019. Find more from Julie at her website.