Experiment 37

by BarBar

Copyright© 2013 by BarBar

Humor Story: Sally has her own special way of doing things. Unfortunately, Sally forgot to allow for one important factor, and events spiral out of control. Note: This is intended as a stand-alone story, but it follows on from Experiment 36.

Tags: Humor   Tear Jerker   Slow   Nudism  

The sun jumped above the horizon and immediately cast its burning gaze over an ordinary Australian street in an ordinary Australian town. A hot dry wind whipped through the trees and whistled under the eaves. Air conditioners began to sing their daily buzzing song. In house after house, the occupants stirred from their restless slumber and began their preparations for a new day.

The third house from the end of the street was no different. The three occupants got out of bed and went through their usual routine in a similar way to most of the street's inhabitants. One significant difference was that one of the three came to breakfast entirely naked. Ten-year-old Sally Dunstan was the nudist in question. Her blue eyes sparkled beneath the fringe of her short blond hair. The purity of her fair skin was only marred (if you could call it that) by a fading inked pattern representing a chain of flowers that curled around her navel and then climbed up to the centre of her chest.

The complete absence of Sally's clothes was in direct contrast to both of her parents, each of whom was fully dressed.

Sally had adopted naturism as a result of spending the previous week with her friend Mona Puretti and the extended Puretti family at a cabin out in the bush. The Puretti family were all confirmed naturists and they were always active and noisy and emotional and affectionate. Their radically different lifestyle had forced Sally to start seriously thinking about her own life at home.

When Sally came into the kitchen, her father frowned when he saw that Sally wasn't wearing any clothes. He didn't say anything because he didn't know what to say.

"Good morning, Daddy," said Sally with a cheerful grin.

"Er!" said Sally's father.

She walked straight up to him and embraced him in a tight hug. Sally's father looked disturbed and held his hands out to the side. Sally let him go and stood back which was a relief to her father.

Then Sally turned to her mother, who immediately held her hands up as if to stop her daughter's inevitable approach.

"Good morning, Mummy," said Sally. "Did you sleep well?"

"Goodness! Sleep? Well..." stammered her mother. Anything else she might have been going to say was cut off when Sally ignored the outstretched hands and wrapped her mother in a tight embrace.

One of the waving hands came in and awkwardly patted Sally on the back of the head.

Then her mother put the heels of each hand against Sally's shoulders and pushed Sally lightly away. Sally didn't resist and stepped back from her mother.

Grinning cheerfully at her parents, Sally took a small towel and carefully draped it on her chair before sitting down. She rubbed her hands against each other and looked at the table.

"Mmm! Breakfast," exclaimed Sally. "Come on, sit down. It's breakfast time."

Both parents took their places and they all started serving themselves muesli and pouring milk into their bowls. Both parents poured themselves a cup of tea and Sally had a glass of juice. Sally chatted cheerfully, saying anything that came into her head, as her parents served themselves in silence. She took every opportunity to reach out and pat her father's arm or rest her fingers lightly on her mother's shoulder. Despite her best efforts, her parents basically ignored Sally and focused on each task as they did it, except that with each contact they would lean slightly away or twitch and brush nervously at the intruding hand.

Finally it was time to eat and Sally was forced to keep her hands to herself and stop her monologue in order to start eating her own breakfast. A silence fell over the table, broken only by the occasional tinkling as spoons lightly touched against bowls and the chink of teacups being lifted from, or replaced on, their saucers.

Sally looked back and forth between her two parents. They were each engrossed in the apparently serious task of eating their bowl of muesli and drinking their morning cup of tea. Sally looked down at her own half-eaten bowl of muesli, stirred it with her spoon and then looked back at her parents.

The silence was normal. Every meal in the Dunstan household was the same. Sally wanted to change that but she didn't know how. She sighed loudly and stirred her muesli again, making sure to clatter her spoon noisily against the sides of her bowl.

"Sally," scolded her mother.

"What?" chirped Sally.

Sally's mother opened and closed her mouth and then did it again. Finally her mother turned back to her muesli without saying another word.

Sally carefully took a spoon of muesli into her mouth and chewed it. She swallowed the last of her mouthful and gave her muesli another stir, but this time a little more quietly.

"Hey Daddy," said Sally. "Did you know that there are other breakfast foods? Apart from muesli, I mean."

Sally's father sighed and put his spoon down. He turned and looked at her but found the sight a little disturbing so he took his glasses off and cleaned them. Now that Sally was reduced to a pink blur he found that he could talk to her quite normally so he left his glasses off.

"Yes, I do know there are other breakfast foods apart from muesli," he said. "The Kellogg's company alone produces approximately 15 different trademarked breakfast cereals, along with a number of other food choices. But they are an American owned company so if you want to buy shares in Kellogg you will need a broker who specialises in purchasing shares on the US stock exchanges."

"Oh!" Sally blinked at her father. "I don't really want to buy shares in the Kellogg's company."

"Sanitarium also make breakfast foods, but they aren't a publicly listed company, so nobody can buy shares in Sanitarium," said Sally's father. "Sanitarium is entirely owned by a church. There are some smaller breakfast food companies that are publicly traded, though I wouldn't currently recommend any of them due to their current high levels of debt."

"I don't really want to buy shares in any food company," said Sally. "I only have twenty-seven dollars and sixty-five cents."

"Then why are you interrupting breakfast with questions about cereals?" asked her father.

"We always eat muesli for breakfast," said Sally. "I was thinking that maybe we could try a different type of cereal."

"We eat muesli," said Sally's father.

"Yes, but why?" asked Sally.

"Because that's what we always eat for breakfast," said Sally's mother, putting her spoon down so she could join the conversation.

"Yes, but why?" asked Sally.

"Because that's what we have in the cupboard," said Sally's father.

"Because we like muesli," said Sally's mother.

"Yes, but... " Sally stopped herself and sighed. "I was thinking that maybe next time we could try buying some other type of cereal, just to see whether we like it."

"We have a regular groceries order," said Sally's mother. "They deliver it each week. I don't like having to change the order. It increases the possibility of them getting it wrong if I change the order. I don't like it when they get the order wrong."

Sally took another mouthful of muesli and chewed it thoughtfully.

Sally's father, deciding the conversation was over, put his glasses back on, picked up his spoon and resumed eating.

Sally's mother picked up her spoon, frowned, and then put it down again.

"Why do you have twenty-seven dollars and sixty-five cents?" asked her mother. "That sounds like a lot of money for you to have."

"I have twenty-seven dollars and sixty-five cents because you gave me thirty-five dollars at Christmas and so far I've spent seven dollars and eighty-five cents. Also I found a fifty cent coin on the pavement."

"Goodness!" said her mother. "I hope you washed it."

"Of course I washed it," said Sally. "I wash all of my coins. You never know where they've been."

"Well, good," said Sally's mother. Not knowing what else to say about that, she picked up her spoon and resumed eating.

Sally chewed and then swallowed another mouthful.

"Daddy, why does a church own a breakfast food company?" asked Sally.

Sally's father looked at the spoonful of muesli that had been approaching his mouth and then sighed and put it back in his bowl. He took off his glasses again and turned to Sally.

"Churches are big business. Some of them have a lot of investments in a variety of fields. The Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing Company happens to be only one of the companies owned by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I am unclear as to why they own it except to say that I gather it is highly profitable for them."

"Oh!" said Sally. "I was picturing the little church down by the park. Mrs Dunnelly from over the road said that she's on the committee that runs that church. She organises the church fete each year to raise money for the church. I was trying to picture somebody like Mrs Dunnelly deciding to buy a breakfast food company with the money from the church fete."

"I believe that the church building down by the park, and the land it is on, is owned by the Uniting Church of Australia. The building and the land would be worth quite a good deal of money. Mrs Dunnelly and her committee only manage the proceedings within the building," said Mr Dunstan. "According to their advertisements, the money from the church fete either goes to charity or is used to support their day-to-day activities. Now could we please end this discussion so that I can get back to eating my breakfast?"

Sally smiled cheerily at her father, which he saw as a smear of white in the otherwise mostly pink blob. He turned back to his bowl of muesli, put his glasses back on and picked up his spoon.

She didn't do it deliberately but the next time Sally spoke happened to be just as he was bringing the spoon loaded with muesli towards his mouth.

"Did you know that today is Saturday?" asked Sally.

Sally's father grumbled quietly to himself as he carefully returned his spoonful of muesli to his bowl.

He turned and scowled at Sally. Since he still had his glasses on, that meant he was immediately greeted by quite a clear and precise view of her irrepressible grin and the expanse of her skin that was visible above the table – which is to say her naked chest and her naked shoulders and arms as well as her neck and face. He knew he wasn't supposed to look at a girl's breasts, except that Sally didn't have breasts so he wasn't entirely sure whether that rule applied to her. His father had given him a number of useful rules for dealing with people and one of them was that he shouldn't look at a girl's breasts. It was a simple rule and he generally found it an easy rule to follow.

His father had given him a separate list of rules for dealing with Sally, but unfortunately that had been back when Sally was an infant so a number of them dealt with making sure he didn't drop her if he was holding her and to make sure she wasn't left wearing a wet or dirty nappy. Well, Sally wasn't wearing a nappy so happily he could follow that rule without much effort.

Unfortunately, Mr Dunstan's father had died before he could change or add to the list of rules as Sally got older. Mr Dunstan had been left to work out his own rules for Sally and that had been an ongoing source of concern for him. For instance, this business of Sally being naked – he knew that when she was younger he had been allowed to help her change her clothes and give her a bath. Her being naked at those times was logical and therefore it followed that it had been okay for him to see her naked. But she'd been able to change her own clothes and have her own bath for quite a few years now and that meant that he wasn't supposed to help her change clothes or help her bathe anymore. But he wasn't sure what that meant for the rule about seeing her naked. It was all terribly confusing.

Mr Dunstan looked down at his bowl of muesli and then back at Sally. Even when she was wearing clothes, he would normally be able to see the skin on her neck and face so he couldn't work out why he was finding that part of her skin as disturbing as the rest of her this morning.

"Daddy!" said Sally. "I asked if you knew that today is Saturday."

He blinked and looked away – looking in several directions around the room before his eyes landed on the calendar that hung from the kitchen wall.

Carefully he took his glasses off again before looking back at Sally.

"Yes," he said, sounding a little terse. "Yes, I did know that today is Saturday."

"Well," said Sally. "Saturday after breakfast is when we always have our family meeting."

"Yes," said Mr Dunstan. "I am aware of that. I am, after all, the one who instituted the practise."

Meetings were an important way for an organization to function effectively. The family was like a small organization. Therefore a regular meeting of the family was important. That had been his own idea and he thought it was a good one.

"I just wanted to remind everyone that we should have our family meeting after breakfast," said Sally. "Because it's Saturday."

"It's marked in the diary," said Sally's father. "None of us will forget it. Now, I would like to get back to my breakfast rather than continuing this discussion. Breakfast time is for eating breakfast. Meeting time is the appropriate time for discussion."

Mr Dunstan polished his glasses and put them back on and then picked up his spoon and carefully resumed eating his muesli.

As he ate, George Dunstan was puzzling over Sally's behaviour and his reaction to it. Sally didn't usually try to talk so much during breakfast. But even on the odd occasion when she did, he hadn't become annoyed with her before. He was definitely feeling annoyed. He wondered why that was. Sally didn't usually annoy him. She often confused him, but she rarely annoyed him.

Melody Dunstan was recalling the unease she had endured when her previous brand of muesli had been abruptly taken off the market. She had agonised for quite some time before ticking the next available brand of muesli on the list for the grocery order and hoping that it would be adequate. It had taken over a week before the different taste of the new brand had stopped tasting wrong. Now she was quite comfortable with this brand and she shuddered at the thought of having to go through all of that again.

And now Sally wanted to try some other type of cereal instead of muesli. Melody didn't understand why anybody would want to deliberately put themselves through so many changes when it wasn't necessary. But then, Melody didn't understand a lot of things that Sally did. This morning, Sally's behaviour was particularly disturbing to Melody – in addition to the nudity, that is. She wasn't sure what was different but she definitely felt disturbed.

Sally scraped the last of the muesli from her bowl and ate it, apparently oblivious to her parents' inner turmoil. She put her spoon in her bowl and sipped her juice, glancing back and forth between her parents. They were both eating silently, each completely absorbed in their own activity.

The contrast between meals with her parents and meals with the Puretti family couldn't be more stark. The Puretti meals had been noisy and turbulent. For the first couple of days, Sally had felt overwhelmed, despite the Purettis doing everything they could to make her feel welcome. Such chaotic meals had been so far from anything in Sally's experience that she didn't know how to act. Gradually Sally had adapted and by the end of the week with the Purettis, she had been a little more comfortable and was able to join in with the variety of conversations that flowed constantly and noisily around the table.

It had actually been something of a relief for Sally to get back to eating with just her parents. But she did miss the conversations and her attempts to start one this morning had been less than a roaring success.

The rest of breakfast proceeded in silence as each member of the family was absorbed in their own thoughts.

Once breakfast was finished, the family worked together in a well-practised routine to quickly clean the dishes and return the kitchen to its usual spotless condition. Then Sally's parents moved into the front room and sat on the sofa while Sally went skipping down the hallway to her bedroom. She pulled an exercise book off the shelf above her desk and checked that the title on the front cover said "Family Meetings." Next she took her ruler and collection of coloured pens out of her desk drawer. Then she skipped back down the hallway to join her parents in the front room.

Sally sat down on the floor behind the coffee table that sat neatly in front of the sofa occupied by her parents. Carefully Sally put the ruler down parallel to the edge of the table. Then she lined up her pens above the ruler. Finally she put the exercise book down and opened it, flipping through the pages until she found the first empty page.

With her ruler and her red pen she carefully ruled a margin exactly 2.5cm in from the side of the page. Swapping between black, green and blue pens to distinguish between different sections, she started to write in her careful, primary-school-neat cursive script.

Family Meeting Saturday January 28th

Present: George Dunstan, Melody Dunstan, Sally Dunstan.

"I'm ready," said Sally. "First item on the agenda is Dad's report."

The agenda had been designed by her father and was written out on the front page of her book but they had done this often enough that Sally didn't need to refer to it.

"Hmm, yes, well," said Sally's father, taking his glasses off. "I seem to have covered everything yesterday during dinner. As I told you yesterday, my trip was very successful. I visited a number of businesses that I do reports on and was able to interview a number of people involved in running those businesses."

Mr Dunstan continued, providing some extra details about his journey and then went on to say that next week he would be returning to his usual routine of working in his office at home every day.

Sally carefully made notes in her book about her father's week. She rather proudly used neat dot points the way she had learned in school the year before rather than attempting to write it all out in sentences. It meant that she could more or less keep up with what her father was saying, rather than having to leave sections to fill in later. Sally had been very proud when her father had first suggested that she could write out the record of each meeting instead of him doing it each time. At first she had found it to be a lot of work, but now that she knew how to do dot points it was much easier.

When her father had finished his report and Sally had finished making her notes, she looked up.

"Is there any discussion about Dad's report?" she asked.

Her parents both shook their heads.

Sally frowned. There was usually some discussion. Even Sally didn't have anything to say. Then Sally realised that the discussion about her father's week had happened the previous evening at dinner. There didn't seem to be much point in repeating it all.

Sally changed pens to a different colour and carefully printed a new heading.

"Okay, the next item on the agenda is Mum's report. It's your turn, Mummy."

Mrs Dunstan scowled down at the floor. "I went to that conference in Adelaide. It was awful."

Sally took a moment to realise that her mother wasn't going to say any more. She looked down at her book and wondered how she was supposed to summarise her mother's report into dot points without actually writing out everything. She changed pens to go back to the colour she was using for dot points and carefully wrote:

==> Conference, Adelaide, Awful.

"And last night you had sex on a towel with Daddy," Sally finally added.

Sally's mother looked at Sally and then at her husband and then nodded. "Yes."

"And was that good?" asked Sally, hoping to have something more to write.

"Goodness," said Sally's mother. "It was sex."

Sally stared at her mother who just sat there and fiddled with her fingers. Sally's mother was usually more talkative than this and Sally was disappointed at the short answers she was getting. Realising her mother wasn't going to say anymore, she shook her head.

"I'll take that as a yes," said Sally, finally.

Then she carefully wrote:

==> Sex, on a towel, with Daddy, good

Sally stared at the two dot points she had written for her mother's report and compared it to the eight she'd written for her father.

Swallowing her disappointment, Sally fell back on the routine of the meeting.

"Is there any discussion about Mum's report?"

Sally's parents shook their heads.

Sally sighed to herself. This meeting was going much faster than normal. Family meetings had always been something she looked forward to each week because it was the one time when they all really talked to each other and she enjoyed that. Maybe having discussions at other times weren't such a good idea if they were going to ruin family meeting time.

Sally changed pens and put a new heading.

"Okay then, it's my turn to give my report."

Sally looked down at her book. She had so very much to say and she didn't think she'd be able to write dot points and say it all at the same time. She decided that it would be okay to fill in the dot points for her report after the meeting.

"Well, last week I went to stay with Mona and her family for the week in their cabin out in the bush. It was a very interesting week and I had a lot of new experiences. One of those was being a naturist, which means that I spent the entire week naked..."

Sally proceeded to tell her parents some of the highlights of her week. Both parents listened attentively, though her father never actually stopped cleaning his glasses.

Sally ended up not saying as much as she had intended about the week. Some of it she had already said and she felt silly repeating it. And it occurred to her as she was talking that most of the events that she had found fascinating were completely foreign to both of her parents so mentioning them would require a long explanation of what was involved and they would probably end up not understanding anyway.

As a result, Sally ended rather abruptly by saying " ... and then we came home. And since I liked being naked I decided to stay that way."

Thinking she was finished, her parents stirred and her father put his glasses on.

"Oh!" said Sally, suddenly remembering something she had to add to her report.

Her parents immediately sat back into the sofa and her father took his glasses off again.

"I start back at school next Tuesday after the summer holidays. I'll be starting Grade 5 and my new teacher will be Miss Little. I'm going to miss Mrs Shoram. She taught me a lot of things, including the proper way to run and write up experiments and how to write dot points. But I'm looking forward to having Miss Little as a teacher."

"School?" said her father. "Will you be going to school like ... er..." He waved his hand at her body.

Sally looked down at herself and giggled but then she frowned.

"Daddy, you're supposed to wait for me to finish my report before the discussion."

Mr Dunstan leaned back and nodded. "Quite right. I wrote those rules so I should adhere to them. Please continue."

Sally opened her mouth and then closed it again. Then she tried again.

"That's the end of my report. Is there any discussion of my report?"

"Yes," said her father. "Will you be going to school naked?"

Despite knowing what her father was going to say, Sally giggled again as a picture of herself, standing naked in front of her class, flashed through her mind.

"No Daddy. I don't think that's allowed. I have to wear the school uniform."

"Well, good," said her mother.

"Does your uniform still fit you?" asked her father. "You appear to be a little taller than you were last year."

"I checked all of my uniforms and tried everything on last weekend before I went away," said Sally. "I'll have to buy a new shirt because one of my old ones is damaged. And I have to buy a new pair of bathers. But everything else still fits me. I intend to go to the school shop on Monday to buy the new shirt and bathers."

"Will they put that on your school account?" asked her mother.

"Yes, Mum. We just have to fill out what I need on the form and you sign it. I have the form in my room, so you don't need to come with me to the shop."

"Well good," said her mother.

"Perhaps they should let you go to school naked," said her father. "It would reduce the expenses."

Sally giggled and then stared at her father – amazed that he had made a joke.

"Good one, Daddy," said Sally.

Her father blinked. "Good what?"

"That was a good joke, Dad."

"What joke?"

Sally stared at her father for a moment and then shook her head. "Never mind. Is there any more discussion about my report?"

Both parents shook their heads.

"Okay then. The last item on the agenda is general business. Does anybody have any general business?"

Both parents shook their heads.

"Well, I have one thing. It's something I learned about last week."

"And what was that?" asked her father.

Sally took a deep breath.

"The thing is, Dad," said Sally. "You know how you told Mr Puretti that I had to join in the family activities?"

Her father nodded.

"Well, Mr Puretti said that an important family activity was getting cuddles before bed-time. Every evening, all the kids sat on the lap of one of the adults and got a cuddle. So Mrs Puretti told me to sit on her lap and get a cuddle. Well I did that and within about two minutes I started crying. Soon I was crying so hard that I thought I was going to melt away into a puddle."

"You were crying?" said Sally's mother. "While Mona's mother was holding you?"

"Why were you crying?" asked Sally's father. "Were you sad? Did somebody hurt you?"

"Maybe you had colic," said her mother.

"Nobody hurt me, nobody said anything mean, I didn't know why I was crying. I just started crying. It was very confusing. It was very upsetting to be crying when I didn't know why I was crying."

"That seems strange," said Sally's mother. "Usually when you cry, there is a reason. You cry when you are sad and you cry when you are hurt. When you were a baby, you cried when you were hungry but you seem to have stopped doing that. You've never cried without a reason. Mother said that if you cried and I couldn't find a reason then you might have colic and I should take you to a doctor."

"There was a reason, Mum. It's just that I didn't know what the reason was at the time."

"Oh!" said Sally's mother. "I'm glad there was a reason."

"So why were you crying?" said Sally's father.

"Mr Puretti explained it to me," said Sally. "It turns out that there's such a thing as touch deprivation – or some people call it touch starvation. Babies need to be held and cuddled a lot or they don't grow up right. Most people, no matter how old they are, need to be touched regularly by other people or their minds can get strange."

"I've never liked people touching me," said Sally's father. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable. And I don't like touching other people."

"Yes, Dad, but you're different. Most people like to be touched – as long as it's done nicely. According to Mr Puretti, they don't just like it, they need it."

"I've never liked people touching me, either," said Sally's mother.

"You're different too, Mum. You're different the same as Dad. That's probably why you get on so well together."

Sally frowned and looked back and forth between her parents.

"You two touch each other," said Sally. "Not often, but sometimes."

"We don't touch each other very often," said Sally's father.

"Why?" asked Sally.

"Because neither of us like being touched," said Sally's mother.

"The other night when you were dancing, you were touching then," said Sally. "That didn't seem to make you uncomfortable."

Both of Sally's parents looked surprised. They looked at each other and then back at Sally.

"But that was dancing," said Sally's father. "You have to hold each other like that when you dance. That's one of the rules for dancing."

"Mr Puretti said that old-time dancing was a ritualised way of touching and holding other people. It allowed people to have physical contact at a time when society wouldn't let anybody touch each other in a casual way. He said that nowadays boys do it by wrestling on the floor and playing sports and dancing in the mosh pit where they all cram in together and jump up and down. He said that's how boys overcome the way today's society stops boys from casually holding and touching each other."

"Well!" said Sally's mother. "Wrestling?" She shivered. "Goodness!"

Sally giggled. "It's just as well you didn't have any boys, Mum. The Puretti boys pushed and shoved and wrestled all week. Mona said they're not hurting each other, that's just their idea of fun."

"Fun?" said Sally's mother.

"Yes, Mum. Fun. Sometimes even us girls got involved and joined in the wrestling with the boys. It was kind of fun but I found out that I'm very bad at wrestling."

"Well!" said Sally's mother, looking shocked. "Wrestling?"

"Yes, Mum. Wrestling. I never did anything like that before."

"But you were naked," said Mr Dunstan.

"That's right," said Sally. "So what?"

"Girls and boys wrestling together while they're naked?" asked Mr Dunstan. "I'm sure that's against the rules."

"No, Daddy, it's okay as long as everybody is having fun. And it was fun. Being naked just makes it harder because there's no clothing to catch hold of."

Sally realised that she had become sidetracked. She needed to get back to her main point.

"But anyway, as I was saying, the first few times that I was cuddled I would start crying and Mr Puretti thinks the reason is that I am a bit touch deprived. He said the solution is to make sure that I get hugs and cuddles whenever I can. After that, the whole family hugged me and cuddled me all week. It took me two days to stop crying each time they did it. They were all hugging me – grandparents, aunts, uncles, parents, brothers, sisters, little kids, everybody. I don't think I went a single hour without getting a cuddle from someone. Every cuddle made me a bit happier and a bit less uncomfortable. By the end of the week I was feeling very happy and very comfortable. Much more happy and more comfortable than I usually feel."

Sally wriggled and looked nervously at each of her parents in turn before continuing.

"Now, this is the difficult part. I'm not with the Purettis anymore. I'm here. So that leaves it up to you. I need you to try to touch me and cuddle me so I can keep getting that happy feeling. I don't want to end up with my mind going strange."

The room fell silent. Mr and Mrs Dunstan looked at Sally and then they looked at each other and then they looked back at Sally.

"But neither of us like touching," said Mr Dunstan.

"I know," said Sally. "Mrs Puretti said that if you can't do it, then I should cycle over to their house every day and she would give me an extra big cuddle when I got there."

"Oh dear," said Mrs Dunstan. "It sounds like something parents really should do."

"Maybe we should try just once and see if we can," said Mr Dunstan. "I used to hold you when you were a baby. I wasn't supposed to drop you so I held on very carefully. Maybe I can do that again."

"George, you've always been braver than me," said Mrs Dunstan. "You should do it."

"Oh!" said Mr Dunstan, looking worried.

Sally bit her lip. "Maybe it would help if we were dancing. You said dancing didn't feel like the kind of touching you don't like. Maybe something simple like a basic waltz would do it."

Sally stood up and moved away from the coffee table. Mr Dunstan stood up and walked over until he was standing in front of her. They both hesitated for a moment as they each tried to control their nervous trembles – though each was nervous for a different reason.

Finally Mr Dunstan stirred and bowed forward slightly. "Miss Dunstan, would you care to dance?" he asked formally and held out his left hand, trying to overcome his nerves by resorting to the formal moves he had been taught before his wedding.

Sally had been taught what to do in dance class. She tucked one leg slightly behind the other and dipped gracefully into a curtsy, her hands fluttering out from her sides where they would have been holding her skirt – if she had been wearing a skirt.

"Why Mr Dunstan, I would be delighted," Sally replied, sounding equally formal.

Sally daintily placed her right hand in his outstretched left hand. Mr Dunstan turned slightly and used their joined hands to lead her to the centre of the room. Once there, he turned and held their joined hands out sideways. Sally smoothly slid into place, standing in front, but slightly to the side of him. She placed the fingertips of her left hand lightly on the front of her father's right shoulder. Then Mr Dunstan brought his right arm around at right angles to his body and positioned his hand behind her so that it was just brushing Sally's skin below her left shoulder blade. The differences in their height meant both had to make a few adjustments to the "classic" waltz pose, but they both made them so smoothly that the entire process seemed like a single, well-rehearsed manoeuvre.

At this point, Mr Dunstan blinked and stopped. "There isn't any music," he said.

"That's okay," said Sally. "At dance class, we often practise without music. Mrs Crankston just calls out a count and we move as if her counting is the music. I'll count to get us started, but after that just keep the counting going inside your head. Okay?"

Mr Dunstan nodded and Sally started counting, "One two three, one two three. And let's go, one two three, one two three,..."

She kept counting and Mr Dunstan lurched into a fairly creditable version of the simple box-step moves associated with the very basic waltz. He didn't dance quite as smoothly as his initial moves might have suggested but Sally didn't mind. Sally followed his lead carefully, having to stretch her steps slightly as he was used to dancing with Mrs Dunstan who had noticeably longer legs than hers.

After counting for a little longer, Sally stopped counting and the two of them kept moving in time.

"That's it, Daddy. We're dancing," said Sally, her excitement clearly audible in her voice. "Just take smaller steps and it will be perfect. That's right, Daddy. That's much better. Now keep going."

Mr Dunstan's eyes were wide with surprise. "We're dancing, Sally."

"Yes we are, Daddy. Isn't it wonderful?" said Sally, not noticing the tears that had started trickling down her cheeks.

"We're touching," said Mr Dunstan. "I'm touching you."

He nearly stumbled to a stop in his surprise. Sally wasn't sure that holding hands and the way his fingertips were just brushing her back should really count as touching but she didn't let that stop her.

"Don't worry about that, Daddy. It doesn't count because we're dancing."

Sally was now having trouble seeing because of the tears streaming out of her eyes and down her cheeks.

"Melody, something's wrong," said Mr Dunstan. "She's crying."

Sally stumbled to a halt but didn't let go of the waltz pose. She swayed and leaned in slightly which resulted in her father's right hand advancing across her back until he was touching her spine.

Mr Dunstan automatically followed her sideways swaying by stumbling into a shambling two-step.

"Are we slow dancing now?" he asked nervously. "I didn't hear the music change."

Sally leaned forward slightly and rested the top of her head against her father's chest. By that time she was sobbing quite dramatically.

"Why are you crying?" asked Mrs Dunstan. "Are you hurt? Are you sad?"

"Maybe it's colic," said Mr Dunstan, starting to panic.

Sally couldn't speak but she shook her head. She moved in a little closer and slid her arms around her father's chest and held on – more to prevent herself from falling than from any conscious decision.

"Er..." said Mr Dunstan.

Sally's knees gave out slightly and he felt her slip.

Mr Dunstan's arms automatically wrapped around her. Then he remembered that he wasn't supposed to drop her so he held her even more tightly.

"Maybe she needs feeding," called out Mrs Dunstan, also starting to panic in response to Sally's loud sobbing. "Maybe her nappy needs changing."

"She's not wearing a nappy, Melody," said Mr Dunstan. "I already thought of that one. Maybe it's that touch-thing she was talking about. I don't like it if it makes her cry."

Sally had felt her father's arms wrap around her and squeeze. Her sobbing cut off and her mouth hung open as she felt an enormous surge of emotion rush through her.

For the first time in her memory, Sally was being hugged by her father.

The surge of emotion was so powerful that it over-rode every other thought, every other emotion, every other action in her body – even the automatic ones, like breathing.

Sally's entire universe hung suspended – frozen in that single instant.

Then Sally's vision greyed out and faded to black. She slumped, senseless, in her father's arms.

"Melody," called out Mr Dunstan in a panic as he realised his daughter had gone completely limp in his arms.

A part of him instinctively wanted to immediately back off and avoid all of that uncomfortable contact. Another part of him instinctively wanted to cradle his daughter and stop her falling. Fortunately the second set of instincts won and Mr Dunstan found himself awkwardly collapsing to the ground with an unconscious Sally in his lap.

Mrs Dunstan saw what was happening and squealed in panic.

Then long-forgotten training kicked in and she ran straight to the phone.

Quickly she dialled 000 and held the phone to her ear.

"Do you need ambulance, police or fire service?" asked a man's voice.

"Ambulance," cried Mrs Dunstan. "I need an ambulance. My daughter has collapsed."

She heard a couple of clicks and then a woman's voice came on.

"What city please?"

"Emmerton, New South Wales," replied Mrs Dunstan. "I need an ambulance."

"Yes, ma'am," replied the woman. "What is your location?"

"I'm in my front room," cried Mrs Dunstan.

"And what is your address?" asked the woman.

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