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Linda Judge: Growing Up With Strangers

Linda Judge: Growing Up With Strangers

Judge recounts her childhood between two worlds @ Meanjin. I could see my sister at the bottom of the hill that led to home and safety. She was younger and shorter than me and had fallen behind. Her face was red and I knew that she had started to cry, which would slow her down even more. When I reached our back gate I stopped and turned, leaving my hand ready on the lock. Fear for my own safety was replaced by concern for Liv, who had let out a shriek as he grabbed her. He was short and squat but much taller and stronger than Liv, who was only ten. I could see his thin toothless grin as he forced his lips forward, pretending she was his girlfriend. He told everyone for years ‘this my girl’ whenever Liv was nearby, despite the fact that she was now convulsing with sobs, twisting away from his drooling mouth. Beyond our back gate there were different rules from the world outside our front door. The institution out the back was a place where anything could happen. Although it was frightening, it was thrilling too and my sisters and I would spend all weekend roaming the grounds. Most of the residents of Kew Cottages knew that the doctors’ houses that formed the boundary between the normal world and the institution were out of bounds, so we learned to run fast and lock the back gate swiftly. Sometimes this line was broken and there was nowhere left to hide. Nothing was quite as terrifying as discovering, when you looked out the kitchen window towards the back gate, that it had been left wide open. We all knew better then to answer a knock on the back door. Normal people entered from Wills Street and rang the bell.

Once, a broad smiling face with cupped hands appeared at my bedroom window. An ordinary intruder would try to hide but this one looked directly at me, his stubby fingers pointing at my row of dolls along the shelf. His big round face and cracked tongue as he tried to speak were awful to look at, and the words that I could just make out from the other side of the glass didn’t make sense. For a long time when I looked at my dolls, I could see his small covetous eyes.

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