The Dunes

A single egg separated to form them. Yet Tamasine and Orla had rarely been apart. Once her twin met the boy, Orla spent more time alone. He was heavyset with the air of someone ready for a fight. Tamasine said she felt safe with him.

‘That’s because he’s scary,’ said Orla, eyes narrowed. ‘You’re safe because no one else wants to go near him. He has shifty eyes.’

‘Jealousy,’ sighed Tamasine and flicked a sheaf of blond hair over her shoulder. They sat opposite each other on their single beds, the Roman blind tapped on the edge of the window in the late summer breeze. Their beds were unmade and strewn with magazines, nail polish bottles and discarded clothes.

Orla pondered the word. Maybe she was, a little. The boy had dragged her sister into a fast-moving current whilst she stood lost on the shore. Tamasine walked with a saunter, her hips swayed. She wore bright pink lipstick and a trainer bra beneath her school dress. She spoke of them hidden in the high grass at the sand dunes, the rumble of the surf muffling it all.

Orla imagined what it would feel like to be chosen. For a boy to lie down with her and unbutton her dress, his fingers edging up her inner thigh. She blushed.

It was after school on a Friday and she waited for the train. Tamasine had been held back as her English assignment was late. Orla watched a plastic bag billow over the platform as an announcement crackled through the loudspeaker. A huddle of young mothers gathered near her, their prams arranged in a semi-circle. Grey smudges shadowed their eyes and their summer dresses were crinkled. Only a few years older, yet their faces were careworn, their postures slouched.

The sun prickled her skin and she shaded her eyes.

‘Hallo,’ a voice came from behind. She turned to see the boy, Rupe. Tamasine’s boyfriend. ‘I thought we were going to meet on the corner?’

Orla hesitated. His devouring gaze made her stomach swirl and her mouth dry. She touched her hair and gave a tentative smile.

‘Oh, I forgot. Sorry.’

‘Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go. You’re on the wrong platform, you duffer.’

Rupe seized her hand and led her down the stairs to the tunnel beneath the tracks. It reeked of stale urine and decomposed rubbish.

The train had just screeched to a halt on platform six. A surge of panic rose in her chest as they sat at the back of the carriage. Rupe’s hand was on her knee as they sped towards Cronulla, brick veneer houses a brown blur outside the window, lurid graffiti zigzagged on paling fences.

A pang of nausea as she ventured another smile. ‘Beautiful day,’ she said.

‘You’re acting weird, Tams.’ He shrugged and kissed her neck, his lips warm and slippery. Orla tried not to shudder.

Her mother would be slicing carrots for the casserole. Her snack of two digestive biscuits and a glass of lemonade waiting on the bench. The squeak of the Hills hoist as Mum pegged washing and her laughter as she bantered with Mrs Anderson over the fence.

At Cronulla station they jumped the gate to avoid the ticket collector. The descending sun turned the footpath orange as she followed. A broad back, close-cropped brown hair. The dunes appeared as they came to the top of a hill. Beside them the road hummed with traffic.

They reached the bottom of the hill and the beach. Salt-tinged air caressed her cheeks. The dunes towered near them, burnished ripples of sand undulated towards the vast sea, its teal waters winking light. The grasses whispered as they moved forward, as high as their shoulders. Orla held her breath—enclosed in a secret, or caught in a trap, she wasn’t sure. The grass tickled her calves and Rupe sat down in a small gap. He patted the space next to him. All she could see was olive green grass, sea, horizon and the deepening blue of sky.

‘It’s time, Tamasine,’ he said in a quiet voice.

Orla’s voice was high and thin. ‘Time for what?’

‘For this.’ He leaned over and kissed her hard, his tongue pried into every part of her mouth, his hand snaked up her thigh. She gasped and pulled back.

‘I’m not ready.’

Rupe panted, his face blotched red. ‘You said you were, last time. We planned this.’

Without waiting for an answer he pinioned her to the ground. She squirmed as he ripped her underpants off and kneaded her chest with his other hand. The metallic sound of a belt buckle as he undid himself.

‘No. No, I don’t want it.’

‘Yes, you do.’

Searing pain, warm trickle, rhythmic grunts. Orla wept in silence, sand clutched in her hands. The susurration of the grass and the endless roar of surf. The vast blue above as she rose from herself, her mind suspended.

It was almost dark as she travelled home on the near-empty train. She held her dress together where he had ripped off the buttons, sticky between her legs and dusted with sand. A middle-aged woman touched her shoulder and she recoiled.

‘You all right, love?’

A mute nod and the woman left her alone. A blue light flashed from her driveway as she staggered up the street.

***

The other women were kind, if a bit frazzled. Orla’s room was tiny, but big enough for the bassinet to stand next to the single bed. Magpies nested in the gum outside her window and squawked in tandem with her boy at dawn. Mum visited once a week and held him while she showered. Once she had seen her friends at the supermarket, shrieking with laughter. She ducked into the cleaning aisle, heart thundering as she touched her greased tails of hair.

Another time she saw her sister in the street. Tamasine stared at the mewling infant in the pram, before her gaze traversed Orla. Pity and scorn flitted across her features. She walked on without a word.

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