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Hearts on a String

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“Don’t have kids unless you’re prepared to put their lives ahead of your own shit.”

-Franky’s Unapologetic Guide to Living Life



Maxine pulled her coat tighter as she wandered through the park. She could hear the exultant cries of children playing in the distance, taking advantage of the beautiful weather as they raced around with their friends.

She smiled indulgently at the sound.

A few feet away, sitting on a bench facing out at the playing field watching enraptured, was Boomer. Maxine reached her in seconds.

“Booms,” Maxine greeted her, startling Boomer from her fascinated watching of the kids at play.

“Hey Maxi,” Boomer said and her whole face lit up. She grabbed the carrier bag next to her and hauled it onto her lap, allowing Maxine to demurely perch beside her, “I, er, got ya sumfin’ from the shop. Checked the dates and stuff ‘cos food poisonin’ is the last thing you need, yeah?”

Maxine smiled gratefully as Boomer pulled an egg salad sandwich from the bag.

“I read up that chemo can make ya tired and that eggs have protein and stuff to help,” Boomer shrugged, uncertain.

“That’s so sweet,” Maxine reassured her and she pulled the container open quickly to show her that it was appreciated, “and it looks delicious, thank you.”

“Yeah, no worries,” Boomer nodded, looking more confident, “so how long is your lunch break?”

“I have a client at 2pm, so I have…” Maxine checked her watch, “thirty minutes.”

“Busy day?”

“A lot of paperwork,” Maxine rolled her eyes, causing Boomer to snort, “I’ll be grateful for the appointments this arvo.”

“And how will ya…” Boomer struggled for words, “errr, like how will it all affect your job an’ stuff?”

Maxine placed her sandwich down as she looked out over the playing field thoughtfully.

“We’ve hired a new member of staff and Bea said she’d take on more of the day-to-day running. I… don’t honestly know, Booms.”

“Sorry,” Boomer blurted out apologetically, “didn’t mean to drag the mood or anythin’.”

“You’re fine,” Maxine smiled, before tactfully changing the subject, “so lunch in the park, hmm?”

Boomer looked wistfully over at the playing field.

“Yeah,” she said, “me mum used to take me here as a kid, y’know? She’d sit on a bench with her thermos- course now I know it was probably filled with vodka- and she’d watch me an’ Trina play sometimes, when she wasn’t busy doin’ other stuff.”

Maxine and Boomer both fell silent as they watched the kids running around, screaming as they tagged each other.

“I always thought I’d bring me own kids here,” Boomer revealed, still watching the kids so she didn’t have to witness her friend’s reaction, “always assumed I’d have some with Daz one day, before he turned into a cheatin’ prick.”

“You’ll find someone, Booms.”

Boomer snorted. She waved a hand over herself self-deprecatingly.

“Who’s gonna want me?”

“Any guy would be lucky to have you,” Maxine reached over and clasped Boomer’s hand tightly between her own. Boomer looked down at their joined hands and sniffed.

“Nuh,” she shook her head, “you have to say that ‘cos you’re my friend.”

“Oh, Booms.”

“Did you ever want kids? I guess you can’t now ‘cos you…”

Maxine didn’t really want to talk about it but felt that right now Boomer was baring a little piece of her heart. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give a little piece of her own.

“I discussed it with Gary once.”


“Yeah. We agreed to wait until after… everything. Find a surrogate. Of course, I found out later he would rather have another man in his bed instead.”

“The cheatin’ bastard.”

Maxine laughed softly and Boomer smiled.

“That sucks.”

“It does,” Maxine agreed, “we were going to use my own sperm. I froze some before my operations.”

Oh fuck,” Boomer’s eyes lit up, “that’s well smart, Maxi.”

“It was. But now with all this… it would be selfish to bring a child into the world if there’s a chance I’m going to leave them all alone in it.”

Maxine closed her eyes.

“Nuh,” Boomer shook her head, “you can’t live like you’ve got a death sentence and give up your dreams. Even if you die, which you won’t, but even then, bringin’ new life into the world is not selfish, it’s not. Besides, they won’t be alone. They’d have me, yeah? And Franks, and Bea, and Allie.”


“What if Bea got hit by a bus tomorrow? Would she have been selfish havin’ Debs?”

“It’s not the same thing-”

“-you’re not dead, Maxi.”

Maxine paused, struggling for words.

“I mean,” Boomer looked out at the kids continuing to play, completely unaware of the trials and tribulations that came with being an adult, “the child would be, like, a gift to the world, yeah? You’re kind, you’re determined- shit, you’re so fuckin’ brave- so… it wouldn’t be selfish to bring a kid that had all that too into the world.”

Maxine reclined in surrender, absorbing Boomer’s logic in silence as they both looked out over the playing field. Boomer glanced surreptitiously at Maxine every so often, waiting.

“I have so much shit going on, Booms,” Maxine uttered softly, “what if I screw them up?”

“Nuh, that’s the thing ‘bout havin’ children,” Boomer said with a grin, “all you gotta remember is to put them above your own selfish shit.”

Maxine laughed.

“You sound like Franky.”

“It was one of her rules,” Boomer replied, chuckling, “I asked her to put it in there special ‘cos… well, you know me mum.”

Maxine watched Boomer’s face turn pensive at the mention of her mother. Not for the first time, Maxine considered all what Boomer had gone through under her mother, the emotional and physical abuse, the neglect, and wondered how such a childhood could create the woman sitting next to her. It was like Boomer took everything that she had been victim of and turned it on its head. Aside from the occasional outburst of anger, Boomer was everything her mother was not. Her capacity to love was boundless, and Maxine marvelled at how good she would be as a parent.

“Enough of this shit, eh?” Boomer changed the subject, heaving herself off the bench, “you ‘aint got a long lunch so if we’re gonna get ice-cream we gotta move.”

Maxine laughed and stood up.




“Do you think I should mention it to Debbie when I call her?”

“Mention that you’re thinkin’ of havin’ a taste of the McMuff?”

“Fuck sake, Franky.”

Franky laughed, mobile phone pressed up against her ear as she pulled the keys from the ignition. She unbuckled her belt.

“What are ya scared of, Red?”

Bea was silent on the other end of the line for a moment, but Franky waited her out.

“… what if she is not okay with it?”

Uh oh, Franky thought with wide eyes, serious time.

“I get it. I’d be shittin’ myself too,” she said evenly, choosing her words with care, “but Debbie is a good kid, you raised her right, and she’s never had a problem with me, right?”

“You’re right.” A relieved sigh from Bea came through the speaker, followed by a deep breath.

“Hey, Red?”


“She might be surprised,” Franky cautioned, “and she might need some time to wrap her head around her mum wanting to date women. Just… don’t mistake that for her rejecting you and don’t assume the worst, yeah?”

“Easier said than done,” Bea chuckled, “But Franky? Thanks… turns out you’re actually not the selfish cow you try so hard to be.”

“Ooof,” Franky grinned, “don’t go sentimental on me now, it’ll make our sex talk later really awkward.”

“You just had to ruin the moment.”

“Love ya too, Red,” Franky opened her car door and got out, phone now jammed between her ear and shoulder blade, “now I gotta go; hot date an’ all that.”

“Thanks again and enjoy!”

Franky hit ‘end call’ and slammed the door. She jogged up a neat path, framed either side by a variety of colourful flowers, and knocked on an elegant green door. It opened within moments and as Franky watched, Bridget’s eyes widened as she took in the sight on her doorstep.

“Franky,” she said glancing around, “what are you-?”

“- had a free night. Wanna fool around?”

“Ran out of bars?” Bridget leaned against her doorframe, arms crossed, amused, “you’re now making house calls?”

Franky stepped forward, her face within inches of Bridget’s as her warm breath ghosted over her ear.

“Tell me you don’t want me,” she whispered, low. Bridget shivered involuntarily and it was enough; Franky’s eyes gleamed wickedly.

“We can’t do this,” Bridget groaned, as Franky’s lips hovered so close, “what about Bea…”

“She’ll never know, I swear.”

Frankyyyyy.” Her name was long, drawn-out, and desperate, and Franky delighted in it.

“C’mon, Gidge,” Franky breathed, her hand coming up to brush against her cheek, “one more time, promise. You can afford to be a little less ethical.”

Bridget scoffed at the terrible remark but dragged Franky into her house by the lapels of her jacket. As she pushed the jacket hurriedly from Franky’s shoulders, attacking her neck with bruising kisses, Franky sighed, ecstatic.

What Bea didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her, and Franky was always good at putting her own life first.




Bea looked at her phone for the hundredth time that evening.

“‘So, Bea, do you have any hobbies?’” she mimicked a date, rolling her eyes, “‘Oh yeah, I often find myself staring at my lockscreen on the weekends’.”

Suddenly, as if reminded of Bea’s existence, the phone lit up, vibrating. Bea took several steady breaths before snatching it up off the counter. She hit ‘answer’.

“Hey Debs,” she said excitedly, “how are you doing? How has your week been? Have you been eating okay?

“Hey, mum,” Debbie laughed at the onslaught of questions, “what are you, the Spanish Inquisition?”


“So, what’s up since… a week ago?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Bea breezed, her tone belying her nerves as she paced back and forth in the living room, “Maxine has started treatment this week, so I’m taking on a lot more at the salon- not that it’s much, just some more administrative and-”


Bea paused and took a deep breath.

“What’s going on?”

“What do you mean?” Bea forced out a throaty chuckle, but felt her palms sweating. Was it hotter in the room? She was lightheaded. Had she drunk enough water?

Why was everything muted?

“You’re rambling,” Debbie responded promptly, “you sound nervous, and to top it all off, you’re pacing,”

“How did you-”

“-You sound like a dinosaur when you walk, mum. There are people out there watching their glasses of water tremble thinking it’s Jurassic Park.”

“Okay,” Bea breathed in, long and drawn out. Debbie laughed again on the other end of the phone, though it was nervous.

“Now I’m scared,” she said, “Is something wrong? Talk to me.”

“I… errr… I…”


“I want to try dating women,” Bea suddenly blurted out. Debbie went silent on the other end of the phone and Bea pulled the device away, checking to make sure she was still on the call. It would be just her luck that the call cut out before she said it. But Debbie was still there, the time on the phone still steadily counting.

She brought it back up to her ear.



Bea remembered Franky’s words: don’t assume the worst. She may need time to process.

“I… I understand if you need time to think it over or to just take it in or…” Bea stumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose with her free hand, “… look, I was talking to my therapist and I realised that maybe- well, I guess I haven’t had the opportunity to explore and that’s not because of you or your dad, I don’t regret any of that because I have you, but lately I have been questioning who I am looking for and what I want and…”

Still silence on the other end, and Bea felt tendrils of fear grip her tightly.

“I-I just wanted you to know because I have a date this week and-“

“- a date?”

“Uh, yeah,” Bea felt relief as Debbie’s voice came back over the line, small but so very there, “I went out with Franky and Allie and- anyway, Allie offered to go on a date with me, y’know, to see how it feels and if it’s what I want.”

“So let me get this straight,” Debbie said softly, almost to herself, “you decide one day after a session with your therapist that you might like women, and Allie- your best friend- offers to take you on a date… to see how it feels.”

Bea could sense the tension, even at a distance, and knew that she wasn’t overreacting; Debbie was definitely not excited by the turn of conversation. Just like that, Bea felt her newfound resolve slowly start to crumble away. Did she call Allie? Tell her no? How did she brush it all off? Could she brush it off?

All Bea knew at that moment was that Debbie clearly had a problem with it, and she would always put Debbie’s feelings ahead of her own.

“I’ll call Allie now,” she said decisively when Debbie continued her silence on the other end of the line.

“Don’t,” Debbie responded, her tone odd, “don’t do that, just… I have to go, mum. I’ll call you- I just need a moment. It’s not every day that you have this conversation with your parent.”

“You come first, Debs,” Bea reassured her, feeling so very helpless but trying to remember Franky’s words once more and silently allowing Debbie her space, “take your time, okay? I love you to the moon and-”

She heard the tone. Debbie had ended the call.

“- back.”