TITLE: sweet adversity
The Emu Swamp Children’s Home – 1930
Today was a good day to break a bad rule. Addie McAlpine straightened her tiara, grinning at the bold idea. And with a bit of craftiness and good luck, she’d get away with it.
Tucking her pinafore into the legs of her bloomers, she climbed the paddock gate and gazed over the wide-eyed audience.
Addie wriggled her toes in the short, leather boots from the hand-me-down box – a size too big, and scuffed. Their row of shiny buttons on the side of each boot made up for that though.
Breezes from the distant Blue Gum Ridges carried the tang of eucalyptus; and a hint of autumn. Surely only good things happen on such a day.
Addie flung back her velvet cloak in a dramatic gesture. The gate wobbled. Her audience watched, jostling each other. She ignored their unease, and from the back of her memory came her grandfather’s voice.
Relax those neck muscles, Adversity. Breathe through your nose, right down into your middle. That’s right; fill that belly full of air. Now your chest. Hold it. And release, through your mouth. Slowly.
Addie breathed in again, then her voice rang through the crisp air – clear, powerful and filled with longing.
‘ROMEO, ROMEO! WHEREFORE ART THOU, ROMEO?’
The Jersey cow in the front row rolled her eyes in fright. She bellowed again, shoving her backside into the herd. They jostled and panicked. All seven cows bolted across the paddock to safety, their full udders swinging.
‘Come back, girls,’ Addie yelled. ‘I haven’t finished.’
When the cows returned to chomping grass, Addie grinned and jumped from the gate. Did William Shakespeare ever face a stampeding audience? Perhaps the cows would’ve preferred a song instead of Romeo and Juliet; she knew plenty of songs. Something bouncy? Like young Jack’s favourite, A Bicycle Built for Two. Addie hummed the catchy melody – a perfect song to teach the orphans. And Matron Maddock’s stupid rules could go jump in Tin-pot Creek, including the one about NO FRIVOLITY ALLOWED.
Through the trees came the strident clang of the kitchen bell. Breakfast time!
‘Oh, bloody hell!’ For a fleeting instant, Addie cringed, imagining her mother’s horror at the number of rude words she’d learned. She raced across the field, her boots slipping and her cloak flapping. It didn’t pay to miss a meal at the Emu Swamp Children’s Home.
‘ Blast and damn!’ Addie cursed again. She’d forgotten the basket of washed sheets waiting to be hung on the clothesline. If Matron Maddock discovered she’d been acting Juliet for the Jersey herd instead of finishing chores, she’d cop an earful. Performing Shakespeare from the paddock gate would definitely come under the No Frivolity rule.
Addie raced towards the laundry building, choosing a shortcut past Matron’s office in the Home's main building. Risky, but worth it.
The sandstone structure squatted under the gum trees, solid, squalid, cold. Like a giant toad. Mould streaked the blocks, leaves choked the gutters and