Larni’s fingers grip the steering wheel, knuckles whitening. Nanna didn’t sound well on the phone. She sounded old and tired.
A large shape on the road catches her eye. A full-grown wedge-tailed eagle picks at the bones of a mangled carcass, the latest road-kill victim of a hurtling road-train. She doesn’t have time for this.
“Can you guess how old I am?” she giggles, shoulders back, a few stray white hairs escaping the tight bun at the back of her head and snaking around her high cheekbones. The only lines on her face are the creases at the side of her mouth as she smiles.
“Come, tell me. Can you guess? I’m much older than you think, you know. Nobody ever guesses right.” She pats her slightly protruding stomach and rearranges her sari so it covers a little more flesh.
Alice stands facing the door, her hand quivering the key to the lock. The weighty shawl of barely acknowledged memories shifts uncomfortably across her shoulders. Were her white linen and lace wish-memories usurping the real events that occurred in this place?
Her mind tumbles, stumbles, hurtles backwards through blurred images, pitching and tilting through her own chequered history, until it finds a mere wisp of childhood. The little girl, clad in her red velvet dress adorned with a giant yellow ribbon around the waist, tied into a bow at the back, comes slowly into focus.
Marli sits in the dark, her knees drawn up to her chin, her breath coming in short sharp bursts. She is certain he can hear her heart beating; it’s hammering so loudly that her ears are reverberating. Her chest aches from where her knees are squeezed in tight by her arms. She makes herself as small and unnoticeable as possible.
Glimmer waited till the room was perfectly still, dark as pitch, and she could hear the child breathing steadily. Wings beating rapidly in a continuing figure of eight, an infinity of flapping, she hovered above the sleeping child.
She’d once seen a hummingbird hovering for nectar at a honeysuckle, body perfectly still, wings beating furiously, and she had felt a real kinship. The hummingbird, however, had stuck its tongue out at her, pulled a face, and flown of guffawing to itself.
Jack set off for the deli and his paper. It was always the same at this time of year; the air, pregnant with moisture, waiting for her waters to break, ankles swollen, and lumbering with each day.
Everywhere he went, Jack ran into yet another pressure-cooked person, red-faced, puffing, sweating like they’d just come out of a sauna. Jack had lived in this small town all his life, and the build up, just before the wet season, always led to foolishness.
She sat at the laminate table, head in her hands, completely spent. She had cried a lifetime’s quota of tears and there was no moisture left in her. She had become a desert of emotions, devoid of even the ability to smile wanly at her friends’ efforts to amuse her.
The trajectory of her life, this yawning chasm of mediocrity, each day of drudgery more laboured than the next, had drained the colour from her personality and her complexion.
For as long as she could remember Miriam had been “slowpoke”. The early polio, and later callipers on her legs had given her an awkward gait. She had tried to fit in with the others, waddling eagerly behind the tumbling, giggling group of friends.