by Katherine J. Barrett
The house had lain vacant since spring and the two lollipop trees on the patio were sucked dry by the summer wind. Lollipop trees. That's what Jeremy would have called them, globes of green on a stick except these had whithered to brown and she'd soon wrench them from the pots and heave them over the garden wall. No idle feat on her own for the wall stood eight feet high and the wind lashed.
Ross might help when he came home from work though he wouldn't see the point of tidying the garden. A year max,
he'd said. They'd stay a year, just as they had in the last house and in all the ones before. Ross was hot, he'd said that too, so hot the company kept tossing him around. Every new shop in every new country, he was a spark. She didn't feel it.
A gust ripped the patio door from her hand and slammed it against the concrete exterior of the house. It was a Dutch door and precisely positioned to hook the roaring south-easterly and flap like two rigid flags on a pole. She shifted the laundry basket to her other hip and wrestled it shut, the bottom half then the top. Jeremy's fingers. She glanced to the gap near the hinges. He'd always trail behind her as she carried wet laundry, and she would lift him and hold him against her belly as he stretched his arms to fasten each piece of clothing with five, six, seven pegs. She still hung the laundry with too many pegs. She'd cleared the shelf of pegs at the Pick 'n' Pay in town. On account of the wind.
She crossed the patio, between the pots of dessicated lollipops to the far corner of the yard and a plastic-coated line laced between two metal posts. Looking up she saw sky and the terracotta roof next door. The wall obliterated most of the neighbourhood. Damp shirts and towels swayed as she placed them but in an hour would be bone dry and horizontal, and she would have to bring them inside before they wound back on themselves and cocooned the pegs and line. Ross said she should get help, hire a domestic, but she didn't mind the work. There wasn't much.
She had an hour. She would walk. The blue button opened the security gate and closed it again behind her. No sidewalks. The streets lay empty, as if swept of vehicles and people. She followed the cul-de-sac to the edge of the subdivision where the pavement ended and open hills rose up. From her door the land looked barren but from here, from her feet and onward, grew tangles of low-lying brush, curious knobs and swords of plants with blue-grey leaves as thick as dinner plates.
Nothing moved. Unlike the palms whose willowy fronds lurched and stretched as if to pluck small children from their own backyards, unlike the sinewy eucalyptus, trunks leaning uniformly west, unlike herself, also alien and buffeted, the brush abided wind. Still, but not dormant. She crouched to cup a shrivelled seed pod and count six colours of flowers. A bird landed in the dust, twitched its tail and flew off.
She dropped the basket of clothes on the rug and lowered herself into the sofa. Beaten leather, dimpled and cracked and looking like it came off the animal yesterday. Authentic,
Ross said, as if he'd killed it himself. Cold, she thought, even in this heat. As cold as the skins and masks still crammed into moving boxes. She ought to sort those out. She ought to fold the laundry. She sat, two feet on the rug and eyes out the window of the Dutch door to the hills where fresh plumes of white lifted over the crest.
Ross will want to know what she did today. Did she join the library or visit the rose garden? Did she invite the neighbours in for tea? They've been awfully friendly, dropping off those tourist brochures and all.
He'll say little of his own day and she wouldn't ask but she'd wonder, again, how he kept going, task to task, place to place. As if nothing had changed.
The bedroom door knocked against the threshold. She could hear it down the hallway, an arrhythmic rattle in tune with the gusts outside. Every door in the house rattled, even with the windows shut, even with those friendly brochures stuffed in the frames. And in a few minutes, with the next forceful blast, the bedroom door would blow open and send another draft down the hall. The bathroom door would bang, the guest room door would knock, and the restless clamour would glean from her mind any memory that might have set root.
A click of gate as Ross returned, late. He smiled and apologized. Brush-fire over the ridge,
he said. Traffic's backed up to let the workers through.
She returned her gaze to the hills where the plumes had rounded and blackened. She thought of the tough, knowing vegetation and reckoned the wildness in small things. A flicker on parched land. An invisible wind. A tiny virus in a child's brain.
Ross reassured her about the fire, how he'd stopped to question the workers and how they planned to etch a break on the far side of the ridge. How she would be fine. It's under control,
he said and moved to hold her.
Don't. Let it burn. Let the wind wail and fuel the flames. Let the smoke roil through shattered windows and the heat scream open what has wizened. Let it all collapse and scar the earth. It will grow again. But you have to let it rage.