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Experiment 3

Child Alone

page 4

Child Alone.

Philippa ran down the track to the beach, calling out to Mark over her shoulder - "Last one in's a donkey!"

She knew she was safe because Mark was behind her and the path was too narrowed by the gorse on each side for overtaking. They weren't supposed to race - the old path was far too steep and was usually arange and stocky with mud because of the trickle of creek that usually ran down it. But today the ooze had been baked dry and crumbly by the sun and you just had to run, even though the knobbly clay hurt the underneath of your feet so that you had to bend at the knees with every step.

She could see the beach round the gorse no. About thirty more steps down to the flat rocks. She took longer, leaping strides, then tried to drag herself back and stop as she felt her legs overtaking her body. She fell on the sun-cracked track, hitting her side hard and rolling on down from the force of her fall, her towel sticking onto a gorse bush as she slackened their hold with the jarring of the fall. She fell down to the first smooth pummice rock on the beach and lay there still - her leg throbbing as if her heart had been knocked loose and was now beating in her thigh.

"Last one in's a silly donkey!" yelled Mark and his feet tore past her face, splashing and churning out into the waves.

It doesn't hurt at first, she thought, it never does when you first fall. It's afterwards.

She pulled up the side of her togs to see the graze. How did it bleed when her costume wasn't torn? She hobbled back and dragged her towel off the bush where it had stuck itself open like a net over black-current bushes and went back to the rock, squinting at Mark out in the water and hoping that he could see her limp.

Mark had stopped running and was standing up to his waist threshing his arms around in the water and waiting for Philippa to charge straight in for a fight as she usually did. But today she didn't run - but just stood there watching him.

" "Ya! you old donkey" he screeched, and his voice sounded pale and thin in the sunlights.

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Philippa flopped down on her tummy on a flat, pinklava rock and felt sick. "I'm going back" she called.

"Just cos I beat you, you stinker."

The pummice began to burn her bare legs. She lifted them up quickly and shoved the screwed-up towel under her knees. The sun was bad. She must go up to the house. She felt her hip where she had fallen but it still felt soft and ordinary. She thought of Mrs Robinson and her sunlamp treatment which was meant to burn away the cancer and how it ate away all the flesh and muscle instead. The sun was hotter than any lamp could be - and she stretched out her fingers in front of the sun and could imagine then with no flesh - just sagging, crepe-paper skin with maybe chewed bits and ragged black edges with her white bones showing through. She curled up her legs tight under her so that the sun could get at less and covered them with Mark's towel which was soggy and cool from having been dropped in the scum at the edge of the waves when he dashed in.

Philippa wondered how she'd forgotten for so many days about Mrs Robinson in hospital, and how Jane who'd seen her said that her eyes stood out like a frog's because she was eaten away after the sun treatment. But she supposed she'd forgotten for a while because the sea had been so warm and blue and other people who didn't have cancer in the family didn't have to worry and so made her forget too.

She'd forgotten for a while that day when she first knew... the day that her nother had come for the school medical check-up. The doctor and Mother hadn't realised that she had either heard or understood the... "And are there any family complaints, Mrs Ashenden? Any allergies for the records?" - and her mother's headshake, then - "Well, cancer is not hereditary, is it? Two of my aunts died of that." "Perhaps you could tell me in here" the doctor said quickly, "while Philippa gets dressed in the other room,"

And Philippa knew that cancer was hereditary and that she might have it in her.

Not long after her mother's death she thought she'd ask cousin what it was she'd died of. John had said "Oh, of T.B. or cancer or something. We went to the funeral." John had never heard of Mrs Robinson and never seen the horrible coloured picture of cancer in the American magazine as she had. He probably thought of it as measles or something. Philippa knew that it was cancer and not T.B. because Mother page 6had never coughed, but she'd always bruised herself easily, which Philippa knew to be the most dangerous sign.

She felt her bruise again. Still ordinary... or was it? ... and she pressed harder. Yes!That was it... all hard and tight. No, just a bone after all. But she mustn't press too hard or it might really start up.

Mark was zooming round the beach with a boy from next door. I mustn't let him know what Mother died of, she thought. If he ever asks me I'll say T.B. - not that boys get it anyway - its only women like mother and the two aunts and Mrs Robinson.

She picked up her towel and got up quickly, because the sun made you limp and heavy and if you didn't move quickly you couldn't get up at all. "I'm going home, Mark" she called. "the sun makes me sick." He and his friend were wading slowly out to sea. Mark didn't answer but pointed back over his shoulder and said in an intentionally loud voice - "Anyone'd think she was dying. Gee, sisters are stupid."

Philippa dragged her towel over her shoulder and walked slowly back, watching the glaring track carefully climbing round the smallest bumps. She wouldn't tell Mark that maybe she was dying. How like a martyr she was. She mustn't ever let the others know that she knew. It would worry them too much. Like Mary she must keep some things in her heart.