Two plaits fell, hugging each ear, dimming the hum of the water as she walked along in her pinafore dress. Her elder brother, Michael, and his friend, Pete, ran past her knocking her schoolbag to the ground. “Go away!” she screamed. They ran ahead laughing and kicking water at each other’s ankles. She screwed her face up into a wrinkled mess as she picked up the collage and put it back into her schoolbag. She straightened the crumpled corner where the word MUM was written in blue glitter. The nametag on her bag was a little worn but you could still make out the name Mallory written in green crayon.
She balanced on the moist pebbles, swinging each leg out as she went from one stone to the other, on the brink of falling with each step. Her eyes wandered down a few feet to the spring water that embraced the specks of coloured rocks around her. She had never seen anything swim there except an occasional frog, lounging near the edge to cool from the summer heat. Michael’s chuckles dulled as the boys went further away from her, becoming replaced by a stirring from the bushes nearby.
A rabbit came through some bushes, further down the stream, which marked the edge of the forest that her parents told her she was not to walk through. Gentle patters accompanied the rabbit’s cautious hops towards the river. Their rhythm increased the closer it got. Even so she stopped dancing along towards it and instead played with the band holding one of her plaits together. Miss Hooper had taught the class about the wild animals near the stream that week. Since then, Mallory was desperate to see red dragonflies. When they were asked to draw their favourite insect, hers spat fire on what she labelled the gross toads. She was frustrated to hear that they were, in fact, not related to real dragons but didn’t lose hope in seeing one that would prove her theories. She remembered Miss Hooper’s exact, disappointing words when she told them that most animals never came out of the forest because they were scared of school children. Mallory had asked her teacher why that was, arguing that children weren’t scary due to littleness but she explained, in her dulcet tones, that children are immense compared to tiny mammals. Unfortunately for Miss Hooper, the rest of the lesson was side tracked by the concept of mammals mixed with knee-shaking impressions of large fairy tale monsters towering over the class room hamster.
Mallory tried to stay as still as possible so as to not reveal her intimidating stature to the rabbit. She thought back to how Michael had measured her to be two inches taller this month. Water flowed towards the rabbit’s gentle mouth. It drank alone. Mallory imagined, in that moment, smaller rabbit children waiting on their mother’s return so she could show them a clear pathway to the stream. She scratched a circular blister on her wrist. Bruises and burns occasionally irritated Mallory’s arms but Michael was usually there to tend to them with ointment before school.
The rabbit shrugged its ears up as it lifted its head just above the water. It looked back to where it had come out from only moments ago, feeling its back paws around in the dirt. Mallory had pulled the band out and was twisting strands of her hair, feeling them tangle between her fingers.
Leaves bumped into one another in a bush a few feet behind the rabbit. Mallory dropped her arm down and grabbed the handle on her book bag with both hands. A breeze swept those loose hairs across her face. With a squint she saw the rabbit look back to the stream and slowly kiss the water, although, when telling her mother later that night, Mallory swore that it hadn’t actually sipped. Without forewarning, a fox leapt out, its legs outstretched behind the rabbit. Streaks of light penetrated their way through cracks between branches, illuminating its fur to be the colour of ember flakes. With one quick swipe it took the rabbit back to the forest. The shrilled cries, the rabbit’s and her own, alerted Michael’s attention back to his sister. “Hey do you want to be late or what?”
“Oo scared of being late! Poor Mikey,” Pete slapped his arm using little energy to hold in his laughter. Mallory wiped the hair back off her face, letting it hang on her shoulder. It had partially protected her eyes from the event. His sister stayed there, ignoring Michael.
She stepped off of the stones and crouched down holding her ankles for a while then wandered down along the side of the stream, pacing slower than before. She hovered close to where the rabbit had been and kneeled down, looking to her side as though it was still there. She placed one hand over the other then dipped them into the stream until the water caressed her palms. Mallory raised them up and touched her lips to the water, sucking at it until her hands were empty.