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Clementine thinks her cousin Fan is everything that she could never be: beautiful, imaginative, wild. The girls promise to be best friends and sisters after the summer is over, but Clementine?s life in the city is different from Fan?s life in dusty Lake Conapaira. And Fan is looking for something, though neither she nor Clementine understands what it is.
Printz Honor Winner Judith Clarke delivers a compassionate,...
Clementine thinks her cousin Fan is everything that she could never be: beautiful, imaginative, wild. The girls promise to be best friends and sisters after the summer is over, but Clementine’s life in the city is different from Fan’s life in dusty Lake Conapaira. And Fan is looking for something, though neither she nor Clementine understands what it is.
Printz Honor Winner Judith Clarke delivers a compassionate, compelling novel with the story of a friendship between two young women, and of the small tragedies that tear them apart from each other, and from themselves.
“Introspective, quiet prose, authentic coming-of-age characters and appreciation for the social values shaping Australian women in the mid-20th century make this a moving read.” —Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review
"In this story of love and sadness, Clarke's baroque, metaphor-rich style matches the high emotional pitch of early adolescence-the iron loyalties, the rage at injustice, the shame of capitulation-all set against a stark and lovely Australian landscape.” —Horn Book Magazine
“Mum?” whispered Clementine. “Mum, when will we be there?” She was whispering because her mother sat so very still and quiet, her knitting abandoned in her lap, her head resting against the back of the seat, eyes closed. She might even be asleep.
“Mum?” Clementine shifted along the shiny seat until she was right up close, reached out a hand, and lightly brushed her fingers across her mother’s soft cheek. “Mum?” she said again, so softly it was hardly more than a breath. Mrs. Southey sighed and moved her head a little but she didn’t open her eyes. She was asleep.
Clementine slid back into her own seat. She rested her elbow on the windowsill and stared out at the gray-gold paddocks rushing by—paddocks and paddocks and paddocks and then a single twisty tree, quite gray and leafless, a dry creek bed full of stones, more paddocks, paddocks—“Aa-aah,” yawned Clementine, and, stretching her legs out, she began to swing one foot, slowly at first, and then faster and faster until a shoe fell off and plopped onto the floor. “Aa-ah-aaah!” she yawned again.
Oh, it was such a long way to Lake Conapaira! So long it seemed they’d been traveling for whole nights and days, for weeks and months, like the explorers Mrs. Carruthers had told them about in history, who crossed the mountains and the deserts and the whole of Australia, from sea to shining sea.
But Clementine knew it had only been a day. Only a day since Mum had woken her this morning, so early that it had still been dark outside, with the moon down low in the sky, a raggedy old moon that looked as if something wicked had taken a big ugly bite from its side. It was still dark when the taxi came to take them to the station, and the rattling old train that hurried them into the city was well past Auburn before Clementine saw a single lighted window. The window had no curtains, and Clementine could see inside a kitchen where a lady in a green dressing gown, with pink curlers in her hair, was putting a kettle on for tea. By the time they reached Burwood there were lots of lighted windows, and the tiny lamps of shift workers’ bicycles coming home along the streets, and at Central a pale light was creeping into the concourse, thin and gray as the gruel fed to orphans in fairy stories.
The pigeons! Clementine had never seen so many, whole flocks of them, strutting and squabbling, rising with a great clattering sound when a long luggage trolley rattled by, and feathers like gray snowflakes drifting down from a sky that was plainly morning. She cupped her hands and a single feather landed gently on one palm; it felt warm and mysterious, soft as thistledown.
“Clementine! Hurry up! What are you doing dawdling about back there?” Mrs. Southey was wearing her hot-and-bothered look, her face flushed, and her second-best hat with the bunch of fat cherries slipped sideways on her curls. She frowned at the feather in Clementine’s hand. “Put that down, it’s dirty!”
“No it isn’t, it’s new, it hasn’t been anywhere!”
Mrs. Southey snatched the feather and sent it spinning down onto the tracks, where it would get run over by a train. “Your hat’s on crooked,” said Clementine coldly, but her mother took no notice. She grabbed her daughter’s hand and tugged her along the platform where the Riverina Express stood waiting, its huge black engine making short, sharp spurting sounds, as if it were eager to be off. A long string of carriages trailed behind it, skirts of bright red dust beneath their windows.
“He’s in the train. Oh, hurry, Clementine.”
In the train. A small butterfly of hope fluttered inside Clementine’s chest. “Is he coming, then? Is Dad coming with us?”
“You know he isn’t. How many times do I have to tell you?”
“So why is he in the train?”
“He’s seeing to the luggage. In you go now!” Mrs. Southey pushed Clementine up three small steps and into a carriage marked Car D. A row of open doors along a narrow passage showed tiny rooms neat as ships’ cabins, and Clementine saw her dad in one of them, hoisting their big suitcase up onto the rack.
“Is that our room?”
“Compartment,” corrected Mrs. Southey, stepping briskly inside it, taking off her crooked hat, running her fingers through her mussed-up hair. She opened one of the tall cupboards set into the wall and Clementine caught sight of herself in the big mirror on the inside of its door: a skinny little kid in a tartan frock with tartan bows in her hair, standing in the doorway as if she wasn’t certain whether to stay out or come in. The little room didn’t look big enough to hold three people, though Clementine was so small for her age that people often mistook her for seven, or even six, instead of nine. Her eyes were gray, a dark gray that was almost the color of charcoal, and there was a faint dusting of freckles over her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Her bobbed hair was the most ordinary sort of brown, so straight and smooth and slippery that the lovely hair ribbons Granny Southey bought for her wouldn’t stay on; they slid down and fell into the dirt and lost their bright new shine.
Her father pushed the big suitcase as far back on the rack as it would go. Then he turned around, wiping his hands down the sides of his trousers, and said to her mum, “When you get to Coota, make sure you call the guard to get it down for you. Don’t want to start your visit with a strain.”
A strain sounded awful to Clementine. “What if the guard doesn’t come?” she blurted. What if he didn’t come and they couldn’t get the suitcase down and Mum got a strain and then they got carried on past Coota to other places where they didn’t want to go?
“You’re such a little worrier, Clementine,” said her mother, but her dad winked and said cheerfully, “Of course he’ll come! No doubt about it!”
She took a small step into the compartment. Outside a sharp whistle blew and the pigeons rushed up in a clatter. “Better be off then,” said Dad, kissing Mum on the cheek and catching Clementine up in such a fierce hug that she could feel the buttons on his shirt press hard into her skin. Before she’d got her breath back, he was gone. He was outside on the platform smiling in at them, a beautiful smile that had a kind of sadness in it, as if she and Mum were going away forever instead of only for the summer holidays. The train began to move, and his face disappeared from the window like a light that had been turned out. She pressed her nose against the cold glass and saw him standing among the pigeons and the empty luggage trolleys and the little groups of people waving, getting smaller and smaller and farther and farther away, until the platform vanished, and the station itself, and the railway workshops—and they were rushing past the dark little houses of Redfern with their cluttered yards and skinny cats and sooty, sickly trees.
And after Redfern came Macdonaldtown and Newtown and Stanmore, their narrow streets bathed now in soft buttery light, with whole crowds of men on bicycles riding off to work, and a green bus pulling away from the stop outside Ashfield station. Croydon and Burwood, then Strathfield, where their train stopped to take on more passengers—all these were places whose names were familiar to Clementine, stations they always passed when she and Mum came in to do shopping in town. Homebush and Flemington, Lidcombe, Auburn and Clyde. Granville and Merrylands—that was theirs, that was home—and how strange it seemed that the train didn’t stop there, but raced on swiftly by as if the place where they lived was nothing special after all.
She could see the Avenue, and the big house on the corner, with its glassed-in veranda, where all day long old Mrs. Cowper sat in the sun and waved to passersby. And there was Carlyle Street, and the Catholic school, and the old wooden house where the Brothers lived, and behind it the tops of the big trees in the park, and across from the park—though you couldn’t see it—was Willow Street, where Clementine and her parents lived at number 33. And all of this passed in such a narrow moment there was barely time to clap your hands: you looked, and it was gone. The train rushed on through Guilford and Yennora, places that were still familiar because Yennora was where Granny Southey lived, but then it was stations whose names Clementine didn’t know, and orchards and market gardens and thick green bushland that went on and on and on. If the train stopped and they had to get out, how would they ever find their way back home?
“Mum, do you know how to get home from here?”
Her mother glanced carelessly out the window. “I suppose so, at a pinch,” she said.
“Will Dad be home?”
“Of course not.” She consulted her little watch. “He’ll be at work by now.”
Work was why Dad couldn’t come with them to Lake Conapaira. While they were away at Aunty Rene’s, he would go to the factory in the mornings, the same as any day. He would make his own sandwiches in the kitchen like he did when Mum had been sick with flu, cutting the bread too thick and the corned beef raggy, then he would ride off on his bicycle, and in the evening he would come home again. He always came home at the same time, five thirty, and as she set the table for tea, Clementine would listen for the soft tick-tock of the chain as he wheeled his bicycle up the path, past the kitchen windows and down toward the shed. He would come home in the same way tonight, only there would be no one to listen for him: the kitchen would be all shadowy when he walked in through the door and the table wouldn’t be set, because it was Clementine who always did this, smoothing the creases from the tablecloth with the red cross-stitched border which Mum had made for her glory box when she was a girl, laying out the place mats and the knives and forks and spoons. Tonight the table would be bare and shiny, and there wouldn’t be anything for tea.
“Mum?” Clementine grabbed at her mother’s arm. “What will Dad have for tea tonight? What will he eat?”
“I don’t know, Clementine.”
Clementine pulled anxiously at a strand of her slippery hair. She dragged the end of it toward her mouth.
“Don’t chew your hair! How many times do I have to tell you?”
“But, Mum, if Dad doesn’t have anything to eat, then—”
“Your father will have plenty to eat. He’s having tea at Aunty Rita’s place while we’re away.”
“Oh.” Clementine sank back into her seat with a small sigh of relief.
Aunty Rita and Uncle Jim were Mum and Dad’s best friends; they lived in Randall Street, only one suburb away, in an old house with a big palm tree in the front yard.
“And then will he come back to our house, to sleep?”
“Of course he will.”
Their house would be dark by then, dark and empty and sitting silent in the street. But that didn’t really matter because Dad wasn’t scared of the dark—whenever Clementine woke from a bad dream it was always Dad who came to com-fort her and he never bothered to switch on the light. He sat on the edge of her bed and held her hand in the dark and the dark became soft and friendly and he would stay there until Clementine had gone to sleep, even if that took a long, long time.
And now uneasiness took hold of Clementine again, like a small cold wave creeping over sand. “Mum?”
“Will he be there when we get back?”
Because they were going away for a long time, a whole four weeks, and what if he forgot about them, and went away? There were girls in her class whose fathers had gone away: they had gone out the door and never come back again. And Lizzie Owens had never even had a father.
“Who?” asked her mother, frowning. “Do you mean your father?”
“Of course he’ll be there. What ever made you think he wouldn’t be?”
“Nothing,” whispered Clementine.
“You shouldn’t worry so much, Clementine.”
“But I have to ask things, don’t I?” cried Clementine. “I have to know things, so I won’t worry.”
“Yes, but—” Her mother sighed, leaned closer, and placed a soft little kiss right in the middle of Clementine’s forehead, like you might fix a stamp, very neatly and exactly, on a very important letter.
“You’re a funny old thing,” she said, and then she pushed down the arm of the seat between them, took a big pillow from the narrow cupboard, and made a little bed for Clementine. “Take your shoes off, sweetheart,” she said. “Try and have a little sleep.”
“But I’m not tired.”
“Just try. You don’t want to be all sleepy and cranky when we get to Cootamundra, do you? When we change trains?”
“No.” Clementine took her shoes off and curled up along the seat. There was just enough room for her to fit, and the pillow was so big and soft and deep that in no time at all she was fast asleep.
Excerpted from The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke.
Copyright © 2009 by Allen and Unwin.
Published in 2010 by Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.