Love & Muddy Puddles
by Cecily Paterson
Young Adult Romance
Date Published: 1/2014
Thirteen year old fashionista Coco Franks has finally made it into the popular group when her dad decides to move the whole family to the country so they can 'bond'. Social death is looming, her shoes are covered in mud and all Coco wants to do is get herself back to her city friends. After all, things can't get any worse, right?
Over the next few weeks I perfected the look that I called The Half Roll, where I opened my eyes as wide as I could, looked from side to side and did a slight downward roll of my eyeballs. It wasn’t enough to get me into trouble with Mum who had a thing about rolling your eyes—it usually merited a toilet clean—but it was just enough for me to say, Really? Are you kidding me? Is this the way it’s going to be? I’m definitely better than this.
I did the half roll when I saw the shed that was going to be our new house. Seriously? This is disgusting. Gravel on the floors, no proper walls—just corrugated iron—with a ‘kitchen’ that was nothing more than a portable stove and a camping fridge attached to a noisy little generator. I did the biggest half roll I could do when Dad set up my ‘bedroom’, which was basically a bed behind a shower curtain. I didn’t even have enough room to put my suitcase out permanently. Every time I wanted to get dressed I had to hoick it on to my bed, choose my clothes and then put the thing away again.
The only thing I didn’t make a half roll face for was the pit toilet. Yes, it smelt, but there was no mud, stinging nettles or leeches, and I guess I had to be grateful for something. I still made sure I checked for brown snakes (actually, for snakes of any colour—it’s just that the brown ones can kill you) every time I went though. It would have been earth-shatteringly embarrassing to have ended up in hospital with a snake bite on my bottom.
Plus, I was trying to minimise the risk of dying in a place where I would probably have the most unfashionable funeral ever. Knowing Dad as I now did, it would be quite likely that he would bury me in a field somewhere and forget all about me. There would be no headstone with an elegant quote, no quietly sobbing people in black hats, no flowers and no yearly visits from my grief-stricken friends coming to lay memorial bottles of nail polish and rolls of sushi on my grave. No. If I was going to die I would have to wait at least 12 months until I got back to the city where I could do it properly.
Josh and Charlie took to the new life like they had been living it forever. They chopped firewood, helped Dad clear space for the house and explored the property with the kind of energy that you get when you put a brand new set of batteries in a set of slot cars. Vrooooom.
I was left with the run-down, mismatched dodgy batteries. The bargain bin, no-name ones with rust and grit on the ends. I hardly had enough energy to get out of bed.
“Come on, Coco,” Charlie said to me every morning. “Let’s go check out the creek/back paddock/olive grove,” or whatever it was that day that was taking her interest. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t really feel like it,” I said. “I’ll just stay here.”
She looked at me concerned. “Are you sure? Do you want me to stay with you?” I shrugged and smiled at her, but it was a weak smile. “I’m okay here.”
She stayed for three minutes but then her curiosity got the better of her and she was off. “I’ll be back later. Promise.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m just tired.”
It was mostly true. Everything was an effort. With no electricity in the shed, I couldn’t believe how much work it was to do even a simple thing like take a hot shower. You had to pump the water from the tank into a drum, build a fire underneath it to heat it up, wait three hours while it heated and then fill the camp shower with buckets of hot water. After that, if you got three minutes you were lucky.
Dad showed me how to do it in the first week. I gave him the half roll and even went to a full roll (out of sight of Mum of course) when he told me that he expected me to do it myself after that. But I couldn’t imagine living without a shower at least once a day so I went through the whole rigmarole every day for a week before finally giving it up as a joke. There are limits to how much work I will do—even if it’s to keep clean and maintain standards. I admitted defeat (but only to myself) and stuck to a simple face and hands routine with a bowl of warm water in the morning and a weekly shower and hair wash.
Life was ridiculous, difficult and grubby. I mean, this is the 21st century, right? As I told Charlie almost every day, people invented electricity and toasters and hairdryers for a reason—because life is better with them. But there was no convincing Dad. He was hopping around every morning like an excited bunny, talking to builders and making plans and marking and measuring and sticking rods in the ground and reading books and talking to Josh about farming and other stupidly boring things that made my head spin. At night he was holding his hands out in front of the fire, sighing and saying, “Oh, now this is living. This is how it’s supposed to be.” Half roll. Please. Charlie was talking about horses, and could she get one eventually, wearing muddy gumboots, jodhpurs and cowboy hats and sitting on fences like she’d never seen a city in her life. Even Mum, who I thought for sure would have cracked once she realised she’d either have to wash the clothes by hand or take huge loads to the Laundromat a half hour’s drive away (and that’s after she’d made it up the driveway from hell) seemed to be enjoying it.
The days sorted themselves into a routine of food, chores, schoolwork, more chores, more food and more schoolwork. I did the half roll when Mum first pulled out books and pens and things. “Why even bother?” I muttered under my breath. “If we’re going to live in Middle Earth, I don’t think we need algebra. I’m sure that hobbits didn’t learn biology.”
As it turned out, there was a benefit to doing school at the farm. For one thing, it didn’t take so long. I spent three hours doing stuff we took six to get through at school, so I was definitely saving time. The question was, though, for what? There was no TV, no internet, no electricity, nowhere to go and nothing to do. There was also no one to talk to.
Or so I thought.
Do you like the spotlight or lurking in the shadows?
I am a bit of a spotlight girl, but then I like to go home to the shadows and recover. Venturing out now and then sounds a lot more do-able to me than living out there. I prefer to have days where no-one has to see my face without makeup, if you know what I mean.
How many books are in your TRB pile?
Right now I’m LOVING Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I usually have a pile of books I’ve picked up at the library to get through (often about nutrition and children’s picky eating habits) but right now I seem to be through all of them. Perhaps that means it’s time to go back there… That didn’t really answer the question, did it. On average, about eight.
What is next on your to read list?
I bought my dad the new John Grisham novel for Christmas and when I was staying up there one night in January I read half of it. I knew that Dad hadn’t actually read it himself yet so I wasn’t cheeky enough to steal it from him to finish it. Meanwhile it’s now March and I still don’t know what happens, so I think I’m going to have to get over there and borrow the book.
What one item would you eat for the rest of your life?
Food? Fresh fruit salad. Hands down, no question. If you’re talking ‘not food’ items, it’s probably going to be my fingernails. I have bitten them on and off since I was four and I honestly can’t see me stopping anytime soon.
What is the last thing you bought?
This morning, the groceries. (Boring, I know.) Also some hot glue sticks for my hot glue gun. I’m making a twig wall hanging for my newly decorated family room.
People who don’t listen and who just keep talking even when it’s obvious no one is really interested. Also loud breathing and snoring, and dripping taps. Also, children who don’t put their shoes and bags into the specially cleaned out ‘shoe and bag’ cupboard, children who don’t eat the food I cook for them, children who draw all over my stuff… you get the idea. (Come to think of it, I have a lot of pet peeves.)
Pizza or Pasta?
Pizza, but particularly from Terry’s Pizza, the most amazing restaurant in a tiny New South Wales town called Gunnedah, which is where I lived for four years in high school. You’ve never had toppings piled so high. Although these days I choose not to eat either pizza or pasta too much as I’m trying to shed a few pounds.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have regular days where I lie in the foetal position on my bed, miserable and wanting to escape from the world. Most of the rest of the time I appear confident, capable and energetic. I go really, really full steam ahead, like 120% all the time but I wear myself out utterly and completely every three or four weeks or so.
If you had 24 hours alone how would you spend it?
See, this is a trick question. How would I *like* to spend it is easy: on a quiet beach on holidays, in a new swimsuit, 10 pounds thinner, with no kids to disturb me. How I would *actually* spend it is by sleeping in a bit, making bacon and eggs for breakfast, and then worrying so much about not wasting all the precious time I had to myself and trying to work out the very best thing to do that I’d make myself anxious, spend the majority of the time on Facebook and then feel really annoyed with myself at the end.
If you could meet one person who has died who would you choose?
My great-grandmother. She was a Scottish migrant to Australia in 1912. I’d like to know what she was like when she met my great-grandfather. They had 9 children and lived through two wars and the Depression. By the end she was so tired and bitter that she never actually spoke to her husband, even though they lived in the same house. I’d like to have seen what she was like before the fatigue and disappointment kicked in. She’s a future book project, but I’m going to have to do a lot of guess-work.
What do you do in your free time?
I don’t have a ‘job’ as such, with a preschooler still at home, so all my time is ‘free’, which also means none of it is. I like craft, blogging and writing books. I have to do cooking and cleaning, because, you know, Four Children. I sleep, obviously, do Pilates and take walks. Good books are awesome, and a clever movie script will get me every time. I do volunteer work in our community and raise money for our school too.
Can you share a little about the current title you are working on?
It’s called ‘Smart Girls Don’t Wear Mascara’ and it’s about Abby Smart, a (yes, smart) 12 year old girl who has been in charge of her little group of friends forever. The problem is that Buzz and Jessie are starting to get restless. They’re just not that passionate about musicals or clubs and all the things Abby is still into. They’d rather be chatting with Sam and Ollie or downloading music on Buzz’s new ipod. When new girl Stella arrives at school, Abby can’t believe she’s actually wearing makeup. ‘Smart girls don’t wear mascara,’ she says. But Buzz and Jessie have pretty much already seen their freedom and they like it. Obviously Abby and Stella are going to clash. Stella’s not a very nice person and it’s going to get pretty ugly. In the end Abby will have to work out how to have friends without needing to control them all the time.
No, thank you!
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