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Authors: Maureen McCarthy

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Careful What You Wish For

BOOK: Careful What You Wish For
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About the author

Maureen McCarthy is the ninth of ten children and grew up on a farm near Yea in Victoria. After working for a while as an art teacher, Maureen became a full-time writer. Her novels are firm favourites and have been shortlisted for numerous awards. The In Between series was adapted from scripts Maureen co-wrote with Shane Brennan for SBS TV. Her bestselling and much-loved book
Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude get a life
was made into a highly successful four-part mini-series for ABC TV. Her most recent novel is
Somebody’s Crying
. Maureen has three sons and lives in Melbourne.

Also by Maureen McCarthy

Somebody’s Crying
Rose by any other name
When you wake and find me gone
Flash Jack
Chain of Hearts
Queen Kat, Carmel & St Jude get a life
Cross my heart
In Between series

Careful What
You Wish For


Once again a big thank you to the supportive team at Allen & Unwin, in particular Erica Wagner and Susannah Chambers

First published in 2010

Copyright © Maureen McCarthy, 2010

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax:     (61 2) 9906 2218
Email: [email protected]

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74175 857 3

Cover and text design by Sandra Nobes
Cover photo by Getty Images
Set in 11½ pt Minion by Tou-Can Design
This book was printed in September 2010 at McPherson’s Printing Group,
76 Nelson St, Maryborough, Victoria 3465, Australia.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

For my two totally different
but wonderful sisters, Michalea and Patrice.
And in memory of Gabrielle, our beautiful sister,
who lived and died with such faith and optimism.



























hey always felt the oncoming trains way before they saw them. The rickety wooden footbridge would shudder a little and there would be a clanking along the tracks getting louder and louder, building to a roar.

Ruth and Mary Ellen considered it to be good luck when a train passed. They would grin in anticipation, hold hands and shut their eyes.

‘Here it comes, Ruth! Here it comes!’

‘And it’s coming for us!’

‘For you and me, kiddo!’

‘Make a wish!’

‘You too. Make a wish!’

Ruth had been scared witless the first time. She’d clung to her aunt and screamed as the long train hurtled by, hissing and shuddering beneath her like a weird angry animal. It still sent a shiver of fear down her spine. All those fast-moving tonnes of steel racing past, only a few metres from her body!

When the train had gone they would turn to each other.

‘What did you wish for, Ruthie?’

‘You first.’

‘An oak tree growing through my living-room floor,’ Mary Ellen might say.

‘Hmmm.’ Ruth grinned, and tried to imagine it.

‘What about you?’

‘Finding a million dollars in a hole in the backyard when I get home.’

‘Wouldn’t that be fantastic! Did you get another in?’

The aim was to make three detailed wishes before the train had gone, but they usually only managed two. Somehow there was never time. It was against the rules to work them out in advance.

‘Those red bathers.’

‘Oh yes, the red bathers. Want to know my second?’


‘To take you to China with me next year.’

‘Oh!’ Just the idea of it made Ruth shiver with delight. ‘

‘We’ll see. We’ll see.’

Not long after that day, Ruth and her aunt were in luck. Two trains were coming from different directions and they were going to pass each other at the bridge. Surely this would be a day for three wishes.

‘What did you wish for?’ Ruth yelled over the clanking of the first train.

‘Let’s wait until the next one’s gone.’

But by the time the next train had thundered by, Mary Ellen was bent over double and her face was white. She was holding her side and gasping a little as though she couldn’t breathe.

‘What’s the matter?’ Ruth said in alarm.

‘Just a pain,’ her aunt whispered, leaning both elbows on the wooden railing.

‘Did you eat something weird?’

‘No, no … I’ll be right in a minute. Let me have a little rest.’ She squatted down and peered through the railings and Ruth knelt beside her.

‘Did you make a wish?’ Mary Ellen asked.

But Ruth only shrugged; something about a big bedroom, painted in yellow with secret stairs leading up onto the roof, but it didn’t matter anymore. Mary Ellen’s face was so very white and there was a film of perspiration along her top lip, even though it was winter.

‘Let’s go home.’

* * *

Mary Ellen lived alone in a big old apartment block near the city. Her flat was three floors up and overlooked a wonderful sprawling park that ran alongside the river. It was always immaculately neat, orderly and
. There were things from all over the world dotted around the place. Most were from her aunt’s many trips to China: painted stones and vases, figurines, paintings and tapestries, and usually a story behind each one. Ruth loved nothing better than lying on the floor listening to stories of her aunt’s travels.

‘I have something for you,’ Mary Ellen said as they walked up the steps to the front door.

‘What is it?’ Ruth asked. As far as she was concerned, it was enough just being there for the day instead of going to the football with the rest of her family. She hadn’t been expecting a present.

‘Come and see.’ Her aunt ushered her inside.

Mary Ellen disappeared into her bedroom for a while, emerging with a very old and battered box. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string and was about twice the size of an ordinary shoebox.

‘For you.’ Mary Ellen handed it to Ruth.

‘Thanks!’ Ruth took the box and looked at her aunt shyly. ‘It’s old.’

Her aunt nodded. ‘I was around your age when I got it,’ she said. ‘You going to open it?’

‘Yes.’ Opening parcels was Ruth’s favourite part of presents, so she took her time, while her aunt watched. She cut the string and carefully peeled off the heavy sticky tape. Only at this point did she notice a lot of faded Chinese lettering on the outside of the box. A rush of excitement hit her.

‘What does that mean?’ she asked, pointing at the Chinese letters. Her aunt spoke fluent Mandarin, and taught it and Asian History to university students.

‘It says
Attention: precious goods
.’ Her aunt smiled, pointing to each word. ‘And this bit here says
Be careful of these precious goods

’ Ruth looked up at her aunt enquiringly. But Mary Ellen only laughed.

Ruth’s hands trembled slightly as she tried to get the lid off. It seemed to be stuck, so she slid her thumbnail underneath. Heart in her mouth, she gingerly eased off both sides of the lid and … gave a sharp yelp of surprise and stepped back.

Inside the box was a big grey
. It had sharp claws and thin, spiky hair all over its body and it was …
wearing clothes!
Baggy trousers made of faded sailcloth covered its hind legs, and the red striped shirt and serge jacket had the tiniest buttons imaginable.

Ruth was fascinated. The worn leather boots on its back feet and the cuffs on the jacket made her smile. Was it
? She shuddered.
Of course it couldn’t be.
But the long nose with whiskers, the thin mouth and sharp white teeth, only just visible, added up to something so lifelike that … it almost seemed it could be.

Ruth forgot about her aunt and stared in complete wonder at the strange creature lying in the box. The rat’s slightly battered appearance pulled at her heartstrings in the oddest way. Was it a toy? Was it old or young? Sad or happy? The sly expression on the pointed face, the long black tail, sharp claws and patches of bristles, the little hole in the jacket and mud on the boots, even the grime around its neck and under the claws, made it look wise somehow, as if it had seen a lot. It was like a little gnome or a strange elf from a dream, ugly and yet weirdly beautiful too.

Ruth suddenly laughed out loud. It was the queerest, most exceptional thing she had ever seen.

‘You like him?’ her aunt asked.

Ruth nodded, hot, suddenly, with the truth of what she was about to admit. ‘I love him.’

‘Oh good!’

BOOK: Careful What You Wish For
3.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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