Josefine Karla Hanrahan woke early on the morning of her eighteenth birthday and stood beside the window, fixing her eyes on the frosted landscape for a very long time. As it was warm inside her room but bitterly cold outside, the windows were moistened with misty condensation around the frames. The effect softened the landscape into a vista of Christmas card nostalgia. She was in a pensive mood, knowing it would be the last birthday she would spend at the boarding school that had been her home for a long time—almost a decade, in fact. She wrapped her fingers around a warm cup of cocoa, just gazing. A ghostly mist, rising up off the school’s artificial lake, hovered over the water. Underneath the cloud’s spectral belly feathers, a mother duck with a dozen little ones waded in from the muddy edge.
“Lucky little things,” she sighed deeply.
Lucky to have a mother taking care of them, she meant. She missed her mother all the time, but the pain was always sharpest on her birthdays. Outside on the lake, a duckling suddenly disappeared beneath the surface, leaving a ring of circles expanding outwards to mark where it had been. Josefine blinked, rubbed her eyes and counted. Just eleven. A water rat had swum under water and snatched the little bird from the very midst of its family. Its siblings kept paddling frantically after their mother, who sailed obliviously onwards, unaware she’d lost one of her brood.
“That would have been me,” the eighteen year old school girl thought, twisting her mouth into a sad grimace for the lost, unlamented baby duck. “I would have been the one snatched with no-one noticing I was gone.”
Unlike the little ducks, she was an only child—the only child of a dead mother and an absent father.
“Happy Birthday Josephine,” said the written script in the birthday card her father had sent her. Typical! Some new junior secretary hadn’t even bothered to check that her name was spelt the Danish way. Josephine indeed! Well, somewhere in the world, girls called Josephine were celebrating their birthdays with families who cared about them but, at Our Lady of Dolores College in Canberra, Josefine Karla Hanrahan was having a typically lonely start to her special day, lamenting the murder of a fluffy, yellow duckling whose mother couldn’t count.