In my dream this morning I was back at my old school Vaucluse convent about to sit my final year English exam. In some ways I felt prepared. I had studied hard but for some reason it also felt like I was ill prepared as though the exam date had snuck up on me. I had earlier been shopping for clothes. I chose to visit Gidget in my search for a new jumper. I wanted something hip and colourful, something in an unusual style, something that might stand out from the conventional jumpers we wore every day. The shop was crowded and rather than queue for the dressing rooms I took a couple of jumpers I had already selected outside to my car and tried them on out there in the street. This did not seem such a remarkable thing to do until I considered the fact that it could look like shoplifting. How had I managed to walk so blithely out of the shop with two security-coded jumpers under my arm and not so much as one person batted an eyelid.
‘I need to get my jumper’ I said to Sister Marie as I ran back to the class room.
Now it was time to go for the exam. The entire year twelve class was lined up at the door ready to walk through the school gardens and into the assembly hall where we would sit our exam. Once Sister Marie, our English teacher had issued the order, we moved out carelessly in raggle-taggle groups of threes and fours all talking noisily. She did not object. It was fine for us to wander at our leisure to the tense destination that awaited us or so I thought. I was conscious of feeling that I would have liked more focus. Then I realised I had forgotten a cardigan or jumper. I would need one during the exam. It could get very cold in the assembly hall especially having to sit for hours.
‘Don’t bother,’ she said. But I had already gone and was back at the classroom, which was now sealed off at the downstairs entry way and I had to find some other means of getting to my school bag. I did eventually somehow in that magical way you do in dreams when doors disappear and flights of stairs can be mounted in a breath. I found one of the new jumpers, which I had eventually decided to buy and rushed back to the exam.
Reading time was already over and I looked at the questions. The exam paper was full of illustrations that seemed to come alive and to speak to me in much the way paintings come to life in the Harry Potter films. In the first question we needed to fill in the missing word, ‘mellow rhymes with…?’ I knew the answer as ‘yellow’ and was furious when I over heard one girl sitting nearby whispering the answer to another.
'They’re cheating,’ I wanted to call out. In my dream I am now ashamed to say, I dobbed, but Sister Marie did not seem to care. She was not nearly so fussed about the conduct of my fellow exam participants as I.
On one side I noticed a young woman sitting for the exam with her baby in tow. That will make things difficult I thought but the bab at that stage seemed contented and I thought to myself depending how well I go in finishing this exam, I’ll offer to help out with the baby to give the other woman a chance to finish her paper. On the other side of me my youngest daughter was picking through the paper. It was hard for her. She was only of primary school age, about six or seven.
There was a commotion outside in the quadrangle and the two cheaters got up and went outside to look. ‘More fools they,’ I thought, but then my youngest daughter wanted to join them. I tried to stop here.
‘Let her be, ‘ Sister Marie said. ‘It’s only a trial run for her.’
I knew my need to have things in order as I wanted them was over the top and tried to get back into the exam. The questions fascinated me. They seemed to be relaying a narrative in their own right. The story of someone who had lost her baby. Something akin to the details that exist in Helen Garner’s book, The First Stone – a complex plot I needed to untangle and analyse. The woman who had lost her baby refused to speak up about it and everyone else remained silent.