The date comes up on his screen, September five. Instantly he sees a round face, lightly freckled. Her wavy hair is light brown.
He’s known her two brothers for years and her two elder sisters, both of them young ladies in their late teens. But this is the first summer he and she have noticed each other: she’s 11 years old and he’s fourteen. While the slow afternoons make everyone else drowsy, the two go for walks to nowhere in particular. They talk comfortably about their mums and dads and their brothers and sisters. They both come from large families and there’s lots to tell. Last week it was his birthday. Hers is in spring. One afternoon they find themselves at the far end of the island. There in the long grass they sit. Something tells him to move closer. He kisses her. Soon after they walk back to their families on their neighbouring boats.
The next afternoon he looks for her, but she and her mum have gone shopping in town on the further shore.
He doesn’t find her the next day either.
On the third day her elder sister says she went back to Geelong with Dad to buy her schoolbooks. He confesses to the elder sister he’s missing her. Her response surprises him: Sometimes a young girl can feel confused if she has feelings she’s never felt before. It can scare her.
Summer ends and they don’t meet again. Most years he thinks of her on September five.
He’s about sixty when he buys a book by John Marsden. Its title is ‘This I Believe’. In it he reads the credos of one hundred eminent Australians. One essay is written by a woman shortly before she dies, too young, of breast cancer. A companion essay is written by her eminent daughter. He doesn’t recognise the surnames of the two women. The essays move him. He notes the dates of birth and death of the mother. She has been dead now for some years.
Every year, on September five, he thinks of her.