Sally always hated the winter bonfire.
“Solstice!” her mother shouted from the other side of the house. “Have you got your robe?! And your coat? And your boots? It’ll be cold out.”
“I’m not going,” said Sally. “And it’s Sally, not Solstice. Solstice is a made up, crappy name.”
“What?” her mother, Griselda, was at the bedroom door now. “what did you say?”
“I said I hate the name Solstice. I get teased about it at school. The other kids say it must be the name of a dishwashing detergent. You can call me Sally from now on.”
Sally swallowed. It was not like her to defy her mother, who tended to be overwhelming. But she was 16, and she sensed the time had come.
Griselda was, for once, lost for words for a bit, then found her voice. “Why would you want an everyday, boring name that everyone else has? Do you want to be a sheep? Solstice means….”
“Yes, yes, I was conceived on the shortest day of the year,” said Sally, in a monotone. “And I should be blessed with my individuality bestowed on me….but Mum, I hate it.”
Sally paused for a minute to gather her courage. “And…..and I don’t want to go to the bonfire.”
Griselda, dressed in a tie dyed heavy long green dress, black boots and a hippy knitted hat that tamped down her long purple hair, just stared at Sally, her black eyes boring into Sally’s in the usual intimidating way.
The look of disbelief rapidly dissolved into anger, like a bank of blackening clouds rolling across the sky.
“You WILL come to the solstice,” said Griselda, her voice rising alarmingly, taking steps towards Sally, who was sitting on her bed, her back to the wall. “It’s important to me, to your brother Element and to Bronson….”
“I hate Bronson. That’s a shit name too,” said Sally, her own anger bubbling up alarmingly. “He’s a bully and a shit. How long have you been seeing him now? He’s not my Dad. And his real name is Brian. And your real name is Nicole.”
“Solstice, this is NOT a conversation for right now,” said Griselda, her teeth now gritted, and her fists closed at her sides. “We are going to go to that bonfire. We are going to dance. We are going to chant….”
“….and smoke a lot of weed and drink a lot of goon….’’ Said Sally, rather nastily, she knew, but she also felt a shot of joy. “You know it’s just a crock of shit, all that hippy bullshit, Mum.”
“Do NOT call me Mum!!! It’s Griselda……
“Nan told me it’s a made up name. Your real name is Nicole Irene Cockburn. Pronounced Coburn. You went to a Catholic school. Nan says you’re a drug addict. I want to go and live with Nan.”
Griselda strode across the room and held her hand up as if to slap Sally. She looked like it was a supreme effort to resist. Griselda dropped her hand, hard against her own thigh. She grabbed Sally’s arm and pulled on it. Sally resisted, and Griselda tried to drag her out of the room.
“F–k OFF Mum.”
“Come on. Bronson’s getting the car ready,” said Griselda. “I’m getting Element from his room.”
“Element doesn’t want to come, either….MUM. That’s what I’m calling you now. And if you don’t split up from that f–kwit Branson, who groped me last week, by the way, in the lounge room, I’m definitely going to stay with Nan. Nan’s already said she’s filled out the forms to send to child protection. I told her about all the enemas, the colonscopies, the dope you guys smoke, the goon, the times you pulled me out of school to do tie dying and forest bathing, the witch meetings we had to go to….’’
“Wash your mouth out, Solstice. I am not a witch. I will NOT have you talking like that. Come on, let’s go to the bonfire. It’s winter solstice! There’ll be kale chips! And kombucha!”
“It’s Sally, Mum. My name is Sally! Sorry but I can’t take it anymore. Nan told me that when you were 16, you ran away from home. You couldn’t hack Nan and Pop’s straight lifestyle so you ran off to a commune with your boyfriend Genesis. Whose real name was Brad, from next door.’’
“So consider this my running away. I want to go to school. Go to uni. Get a good job in finance. Earn a lot of money and live in the suburbs. Drink wine and gin and tonics. Have children and …and…. Get them vaccinated. And they’ll call me Mum, not some crappy made up shit name like Solstice…..’’
Sally was sobbing now, prostrate on the bed.
Griselda sighed loudly, and groaned. She turned on her heel, left the room and slammed the door.
Bronson was hanging around in the living room, in his tattered robes, his hair and beard long, his feet bare. In one hand was a lit spliff, and he dragged on it, not concerned by Griselda’s agitated state.
“Hey babe,” he said, as though he’d just woken up, which he probably had.
“Eh!” sighed Griselda, loudly. “Solstice cracked the shits over the bonfire, I think we’ll have to go without her. She was yankin’ my chain, threatening to run of and be a square. She’s at that age. I was a shit, too at that age.”
“yeah babe”: said Bronson, giving Griselda a kiss and stroking her arm. “She’s a teenager, man, she’ll be OK.”
And with that, they rounded up Element, and headed off to their friends’ farm to the bonfire, and where Element, being 10, was still happy to run around with his friends, scare the chickens and goats and chuck all sorts of stuff into the fire.