How to Be a Good Girl

I liked to lie beside you while you slept. The feathering
of the chenille cover, the afternoon sun easing
through the blinds. This was our secret.

As the hands creep to four, my role
is to peer through the venetians, spying the bus nosing
over the hill. ‘The bus is coming the bus is coming!’

You rouse. Shake. Splash water on your face.
Be at the kitchen sink when the others come
busting through the back door.

This was your safe trick: cleaning late at night
till everyone was asleep. (I was the straw that
broke the back.)

And I loved those afternoon naps. Waiting till your
breathing changed, your body unpicks. Watching
how your little finger lifts, like on a puppet string.

The tiny skin tags under your arm. The texture
of the space above the neck of your frock that drinks
the sun then falls all apart into wrinkles. The whip

of salt in the pepper of your curls. The soft bird of a
sigh. The lift of that little finger. The way your feet
sometimes shake for a moment.

Abandon. You were my desire.
And I worked very hard
not to need anything.

Beth Spencer

Listen to Beth reading ‘How to Be a Good Girl’ (1:39).


Beth Spencer’s books include Vagabondage (UWAP 2014) and How to Conceive of a Girl (Random House 1996). She has won a number of awards, including the 2018 Carmel Bird Digital Award for The Age of Fibs, and lives and writes on Darkinjung land on the NSW Central Coast.

© text and audio 2020