AUSTRALIA • by Richard Sensenbrenner

My spaceship lands in Australia and I come out with a big gun, to shoot lions. Mommy won’t let me have a gun. Mommy asked me where I wanted to go on vacation. I said somewhere where there’s no relatives. She laughed.

In Australia, we can draw, and paint all the time, and no one makes us go to school or be a waitress so we can shop at the grocery store.

Australian lions—

“Daniel?”

Mrs. Gotch’s glasses are on the tip of her nose, again.

“Are you doing your math problems?”

“I will.”

“Bring your work here. Let me see it.”

I show her my picture of Australia.

“You drew all over your math worksheet. How are you going to do your math problems now?”

Everybody’s giggling. They’re making me smile.

“Do you think you can draw pictures while everyone else does math?”

“Can I?”

“All right, young man, we’re going to the Principal’s office.” Mrs. Gotch crumples up Australia.

“No!”

And throws it in the garbage. Everybody sees me cry. 

Australia.

Her hand is dry. She walks too fast, to make me run. I cry. I can’t see. I want to kick her but I’m scared.

PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE

I’m going to jail. Mommy!

Mrs. Gotch points to the chairs I see from the hall in the mornings, next to the plant. “Sit over there.”

I sit in the red one. Then I sit in the yellow one.

Mrs. Gotch calls the secretary Helen and goes in to the Principal’s office to talk to him. What’s going to happen? Can mommy come to jail, too? The plant is pressed up against the window. His leaves are turning brown at the tips. Helen waits til I look at her, then shakes her head and works on her typewriter, tick, tick, tock.

The worksheet machine that makes the math problems is steel, and smells like glue.

Mrs. Gotch comes out of the Principal’s Office. “Your mother is going to come and get you, now.”

“Thank you.”

Mrs. Gotch frowns at me and goes.

***

All the leaves in the Australian jungle have brown tips. Lions are out there. I hear them roar. My gun is bigger than me and is hard to hold up. My spaceship is not that far away. It is smaller than I am. I don’t think I can fit into it, even without the gun.

A big, dry hand hits the ground, crumpling it. I point my gun at it. It gets up on two fingers and starts walking toward me. Get away.

Voices. I fell asleep. Mommy’s here.

“Hi, Sweetie.” Her wrapper-round sunglasses are on her head and she drew her eyes like a cat again. “What happened?”

I cry. “—threw Australia in the garbage.”

“Mrs. Johnson?” The Principal’s sleeves are rolled up and he lost his tie.

“Ms.”

“If you’ll step into my office?”

“I’ll be with you in a minute.” Mommy shakes her head, smiling, “Another in the Australia series? We’re going to have to buy more magnets for the refrigerator. You wait here and then we’ll go.”

Australia.

The Principal steps aside and let’s Mommy walk in first. “So kind of you,” she says. The door shuts.

Helen sighs, “Don’t know what this world is coming to.” Tick, tick, tock.

Mumbles through the door. The water fountain in the hall starts to hum. Why don’t they give the plant water from the water fountain?

“No, you…” Mommy’s voice. Mumbles again.

Helen shakes her head, Tick, tick, tock…

The door opens.

Mommy comes out. “Ready? Let’s go get your coat.”

The hall is longer when you’re leaving the Principal’s office. Mommy’s heels click. She walks like a cat. Mommy squeezes my hand and looks at me like she does when I cry.

“Let’s just go.”

“We are going. Where do you want to go?”

“Australia.”

“We have to make our own Australia.”

“I saw it on a map.”

“That Australia is not our Australia.”

“Nobody’s like us here.”

I run to the back of the room to get my coat. It’s the last one left on the hooks.

“Here we are.” Mommy takes Australia out of the garbage. She sits on Mrs. Gotch’s desk, Indian style, like gym, and looks at it.

“It’s all wrinkly.”

“I think I can Iron some of it out. I see your father’s disregard for perspective. You know, you didn’t do any of the math problems.”

“I know.”

“Promise me something? Next time, do the math problems first and then draw on the back of the worksheet. More room for us on the back. Which desk is yours?”

“This one!” I run and sit in my desk.

Mommy has her chin on her hands and elbows on her knees. “Let me look at you for a minute. Maybe. I’ll paint a picture of you at your desk. Would you like that?” 

I’m drawing a picture of her like this.


Richard Sensenbrenner formally studied to be a writer a long time ago at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He was then forced to get “a real job,” which turned out not to be the end of the world. Sometimes, at a meeting, his pen will drift to the margins of his legal pad and the outline of a story idea will begin. He has recently been published at Ancient Paths, The Corner Club Press, Down in the Dirt, and No Extra Words.


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