Authors: Ananda Braxton-Smith
Maddy Frank has always lived in Jermyn Street. Always. But now her mum and dad are making her move from the city, far away to some place called Plenty. How will Maddy survive without everything and everyone she knows?
But what about her mysterious new classmate, Grace Wek, who was born in a refugee camp? Could Grace actually understand how Maddy feels?
Maddy Frank was angry. It was late afternoon on her tenth birthday and inside the 112 tram, she was considering running away from home.
Maddy had run away before, but she’d only been little then. And she hadn’t been angry, just curious. She remembered trembling with excitement as she slipped behind Mum and Dad. She’d walked out of the house, thinking to turn left and go to her best friend Sophie-Rose Baron’s house. But instead she’d turned right and found herself walking along the railway line. Thinking about it now, she could remember only the tracks, silver under the yellow moon, and a strong smell of diesel. She’d walked in her bare feet, balancing on one track at a time, and wondered where they were going and where they stopped. It had been like being somebody else for a while.
Maddy Frank was considering running away now because she was angry with her parents. They knew it. The tram window had become a mirror in the late afternoon light, and both their faces were turned on her like spotlights. She pressed her own face close to the cool glass and watched the streets pass. She named each one as they rattled by. Soon they would be home.
They passed Sophie-Rose’s street.
The next best thing to running away, she thought desperately, would be seeking sanctuary.
Maddy didn’t know if sanctuary was even a real thing any more. Supposing it was, she wondered where a person might seek it. She thought about seeking it from the parents of her friends. They were kind people. Reasonable people. Unlike her own parents who seemed to have forgotten what was important.
She imagined her friends Emma P and Emma D would give her sanctuary in a flash. And Sophie-Rose, her oldest friend, would make a bed in the shed and smuggle food out. But Sophie-Rose would oppose telling Mr and Mrs Baron – and Maddy knew she would have to go along. You couldn’t claim sanctuary in someone’s garden shed without telling that someone you were there.
Sophie-Rose had become a very secretive person lately. And she was stubborn. In fact, she could be difficult. She had developed buckets and buckets of what their teachers called
. Some of them said it was pure sulking and Sophie-Rose should pull herself together.
Only Maddy understood. It wasn’t sulking; it was boredom.
The thing is, Sophie-Rose couldn’t wait to grow up. Sometimes her impatience was like fire-ants under her skin. Maddy could feel Sophie-Rose twitching next to her at their desk at school. When it was like this, Sophie-Rose trembled and she kicked the desk leg and was occasionally mean to Maddy.
Maddy forgave her though. She felt sorry for her friend. She had this feeling that if she was mean back, Sophie-Rose would crumble into tears. And that would be worse than all her attitude.
And anyway, she knew it was because Sophie-Rose was too young for everything she wanted to do. Too young to take a tram or a train alone. Too young to leave the back lane that ran between her house and Maddy’s. She couldn’t even go to the shops by herself.
Poor Sophie-Rose was an adventurer without adventures, and waiting to be old enough was making her edgy. Lately at every meeting with Maddy and the Emmas, she stood away from the group with folded arms, her black eyes flat and her mouth shut tight. In the right mood Sophie-Rose could have every adult in a room shaking their heads and saying girls were very different nowadays.
But Maddy loved her and always had.
They had been born on the same day in the same birth centre. Their mothers also took them to the same parks and playgroups. They learned to walk together, and then to fingerpaint, sand play and read. They had gone to the same kinder and now they went to the same school. They had spent every single birthday eve camping in Maddy’s backyard, watching the stars and eating cakes made by Sophie-Rose’s mum.
As they got older, the birthday cakes got fancier. The first cake was in the shape of a simple moon. A flaming sun came next, with the flames made of pieces of a whole separate cake. The third was a butterfly – and then came a long list of fairy cakes starting with Tinker Bell out of
. Last night they’d eaten the Blue Fairy out of
, saving her delicious dragonfly wings until last. She could still see Sophie-Rose stuffing the silver veins of icing into her mouth.
When Maddy and the Franks got off the 112 tram, it was almost dark and Jermyn Street looked like it was made of light. The leaves on the trees flickered like candles in the last rays of the sun and the footpath leading home was a river of rose gold. Everything was filled with a glow that looked like it might blow away if you breathed too hard.
Maddy held her breath.
Then, as she always did, she laid her hand flat on the fence at number one. The warmth leaked from the bricks into her palm. This was usually the moment of Maddy’s deepest homecoming. The best part of the day. To stand at the start of Jermyn Street with her hand on the first fence always made her heart swoop a little.
As he always did, Mrs Bentley’s bulldog, Winston, was slobbering gently down the path of number one to meet her, asthmatic and beaming. He’d been waiting since half past three for her to come – but tonight something was wrong. Maddy looked through him like she didn’t know him, and when he whined to remind her, she didn’t hear. So Winston flopped down in the grass with one leg stuck straight in front and wheezed sadly instead.
Maddy started to run the fence line.
At number three, Miss Patel’s sandy greyhound, Mumtaj, waited to lick the air around Maddy with a careful, curling tongue. Mumtaj was too well-mannered to lick people on their skin, but she was too doggish not to want to with all her heart, so she usually just tasted the air around a person’s face. She liked mouths and noses best. But today Maddy didn’t even slow down and Mumtaj sighed back to her old couch on the verandah.
At number five, three of Gunter and Franco’s six Burmese cats lay flat out on the warm path. They always ignored everything, especially dogs, and Maddy always ignored them back on behalf of Winston and Mumtaj. Two of the cats sat on each of the gateposts, and one slept under the lemon tree. Today they turned their neat heads as Maddy’s fingertips drummed along their corrugated fence. But they watched with bored full-moon eyes and didn’t even blink.
There were no animals at number seven, and number nine had only birds in cages. Maddy’s fingers traced the line of the picket fences. She got a splinter from number seven but she left it in – the sharp pain felt right for this day. This terrible day. This worst birthday.
She’d finished running the fence line now. And it was still no good. It was still all changed. The Jermyn Street glow was fading already.
Then she came to number eleven.
This fence was tall with so much razor wire tangled along the top that Maddy couldn’t see the house. Inside lived a tall grey-skinned man who never talked, only whispered to himself, and his black long-legged dog who never barked, only growled. The dog paced inside the fence line all day, matching people on the footpath step for step. You could hear him in there sometimes, growling at shadows. When she passed number eleven Maddy usually walked close to the road.
But not this evening.
This evening she stopped by the gate. She could hear the dog’s wet breath through the fence. She laid her cheek on the still-hot metal and it felt good. On the other side the black dog stopped breathing. Then he growled, low and threatening. You could hear the teeth in that growl. You could hear the wild dog, the wolf.
Maddy’s finger throbbed from the splinter.
Her heart pounded from the black dog’s growl.
And her eyes ached from ignoring her parents.
Maddy Frank thought she was going to cry, but instead, she found herself growling back. Baring her canine teeth. Snarling.
Nobody in Jermyn Street had ever done such a thing. The black long-legged dog was silent for a moment. Then he let out an enraged howl that set off all the other dogs in the neighbourhood. Maddy let the howling wash through her. It felt satisfying.
Only when the tall man came out did she move and then she ran. Hard as she could with her new birthday sandals slapping the footpath.
At number thirteen Mr Sorrenti’s mini Jack Russell pack rushed to meet Maddy at the fence. Nobody but the Sorrentis knew how many Jack Russells there were. They never stayed still long enough to count and they were slippery as fish to hold. Maddy ran straight past and the Jack Russells turned like seals in a tank and raced alongside her.
Mrs Sorrenti stopped watering the tomatoes in her front yard to call hello.
But Maddy didn’t stop.
“There’s no reason to be so angry,” panted Dad, catching her by their front gate.
Maddy gave him a look. There was a reason to be angry, actually – a very good reason to be very,
angry. In fact, just off the top of her head, there were eight good reasons.
Winston and Mumtaj.
The Jack Russells. Mr and Mrs Sorrenti. Their tomatoes.
Even the snooty cats and the caged birds.
Even the black dog.
And there was another thing. Something loitering inside her mind. Something she didn’t want to look at.
Before today she was somebody.
She was Maddy Frank, Keeper of the Street and Queen of the Back Lane. Friend to Dogs. Runner of the Fence Line.
Now all that was flying away.
The moment her parents had told her the news, her life had flown apart. Everybody and everything she loved started rushing and slipping like the Jack Russells. The moment they’d told her, she’d become nobody. Maddy Frank, Homeless Person.