This is a tiny, tiny extract from my current work-in-progress. A novel whose draft title is The Book of Ruth. It is the story of a family growing up in a small riverside town in northern New South Wales after the Second World War.
Beth, lying belly down on the pier, her hair and hands hanging down, the tips of her fingers grazing the surface of the water as it runs. The paleness of her exposed neck.
Beth playing Uno with Ruth and her parents. Sitting on the lounge room floor near the coffee table, all knees and elbows and long, bare limbs. Her clothes all thin and loose and falling down her arms. Leaning up against Ruth, absently scratching at the skin between her own toes. Grinning when she cheats. Smiling coquettishly at Ruth when she throws down her cards.
Beth asleep in the hammock beneath her house when Ruth comes back from her check-up at the hospital, four beads of sweat–as perfect as clear pearls–on her upper lip.
Beth riding home from god-knows-where on a stolen bicycle. Veering drunkenly up the dark river path to Ruth’s house. Beth smelling like patchouli and pot, like beer and smoke and sweat, putting her arms around Ruth and letting her head flop onto Ruth’s shoulder. Pressing her forehead to Ruth’s so that Ruth has to breathe in every breath she exhales. Beth held so close Ruth can feel her breasts and hips and knees. Beth’s toes lapped over Ruth’s.
Those kisses in the dark. Deep and earnest and true — while you’re wrapped up inside them — but strange and distant as a dream when they’re over. Beth pulling away, falling back into the wet grass and laughing. Crying. Tears rolling down her cheeks while she grins at the sky. ‘Is this all there is?’ she says, not hearing the wrench inside Ruth, the terrible fall she can’t confess.
Ruth pulls Beth up and they make it back to Ruth’s room, where Beth falls spreadeagled like a thin starfish on the bed.
Ruth sits in her little desk chair drawing sketch after sketch of Beth, sleeping so carelessly, then curled up like a small animal, then awake and smiling ruefully, wiggling her fingers at Ruth, asking her to come and hold her and forgive her and more.
‘You’re all I’ve got. The only one who gives a damn,’ Beth says before she falls asleep.
With every sketch Ruth feels she is getting closer to expressing something essential about Beth. Each line that catches the exact curve of her shin, or her brow, of the way her fingers curve as she pushes back her long, thin hair. The shadow of the fox within her caught, staring out from behind those shadowed eyes. The irises flooded black.
She imagines herself taking Beth into a gallery into the city. The clean, white walls. Glass doors. Clean water in the distance. Champagne in gold-rimmed coupes. And her own paintings on the walls. Taking Beth’s hand and leading her into some as-yet-unrevealed room where her works hang in the glossy half-light of a dream. ‘Look,’ she will say, ‘It’s you.’
Beth will look at the images one by one. The champagne will go flat in her glass. Tears will wink in her eyes when she sees how well she has been known. How closely she has been observed. How deeply seen. She will look at these images of herself as a child, as a girl, as a woman, and wonder at what a stranger she was to herself, through all those years. Wonder that someone else knew her better than she knew herself. Loved her.
Every line. Every shadow.