By Sarah Giles
A long time ago I wrote to you. I wrote to you and I begged you for rain.
Your parched sky and dusty red ground with deep cracks that seemed to grow wider with each passing day. Long black fractures in the chalky clay. The grass was crumbling into dust and blowing away in the wind, leaving the sheep that usually wandered around the paddock out the front, with nothing.
The consequences of you had seeped into our home.
Dregs of coloured water were pulled out of the tank and into the shower. We bought bottled water for drinking and cooking. We limited flushes. We showered over a plastic tub and used the water to salvage what was left of our garden.
The day you finally broke he was asleep. He slept ’til midday. I woke him when the first drops fell, it was only spitting really but it was rain. It was a miracle.
He sat next to me on the steps of our house and drank coffee in silence. Looking at the dead grass, the empty flower beds, the brick footpath.
‘Needs sweeping,’ he said.
‘Needs a lot more than just sweeping. Now the rain’s come we can fix the garden. We’ll head into town and buy some new flowers, maybe sunflower seeds. What do you think about us growing our own veggies?’
‘Bad for the economy.’
I picked up a flower pot and tipped out the old dirt. There had once been daisies in that flower pot. We picked them out together at the Bunnings in town.
He held my hand and pulled me toward the cheap flowers near the register.
‘What do you think of these?’ he said, pointing at some hot pink Geraniums.
‘They seem a little too fancy for us.’
‘We’re not fancy enough for Geraniums?’
‘What about the daisies? The purple and white ones?’
‘I’ll only let go of the Geraniums for yellow daisies. They’re classic.’
He held a plastic pot of bruised yellow daisies to his chest and looked over his glasses at me. Eyebrows raised.
‘Agreed,’ I said. ‘But can we pick a better batch. Those are all manky.’
‘These flowers are not “manky”,’ he said. ‘They are underdogs. They are the bad fruit nobody buys, as the great Missy Higgins would say. No, I’ve bonded with these flowers. I’m buying them.’
The dirt fell in clumps on top of the dead daisies.
‘A veggie patch will never grow out here,’ he said. ‘One rain fall doesn’t mean shit. It’s still a dead foundation.’
But it wasn’t dead. The ground wasn’t dead. It was just thirsty.
‘I reckon it’s time we get some more chickens. I miss the girls,’ I said.
I put the empty pot on the step beside him and padded out toward the chicken pen. It needed some work done. The wire had begun to rust in places and the door was broken at the hinges.
I’ve fixed all that now.
‘What’s the point if there’s a chicken hawk in these parts that’ll fly off with them?’
‘They’ll be okay if we secure the pen properly, and if we keep an eye on them when they’re out in the garden.’
‘What about foxes?’
‘We’ve never had any issues with foxes before.’
He grunted. He was doing that a lot, usually in answer to a question. Next, I was sure he’d start on about the risk of snakes. But he didn’t. Looking back, I don’t think he cared enough.
I stood out by the chicken pen and let the rain drench me. I wanted the fabric of my shirt to cling to my shoulders, for my feet to get muddy, for water to fall from the ends of my hair.
‘I don’t know why you’re so intent on all this bullshit,’ he whispered into his mug.
‘What’s the fucking point?’
‘I’m just trying to look after the house. Why is that so bad?’
He threw the mug down on the bricks and it shattered. Coffee sprayed over my calves and ankles but was quickly washed away by the rain.
I picked up each and every piece of the cup later that night and it rained down on me.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said.
He said nothing. His fingers were tangled in sleep matted hair and he pulled.
‘What is bloody wrong with you?’ I said.
‘I fucking hate this place,’ he said. ‘I hate the drought. I hate the ugly dead fucking grass. I hate that I can’t take a shower for longer than two minutes. I hate— ‘
He looked up at me through the cloudy lenses of his glasses.
‘I hate every fucking thing.’
Sopping wet, feet buried deep in mud, I stared back at him.
‘I’m moving back to Melbourne,’ he said and stood up.
He slammed the fly-wire door against the frame and it swung back open again, smacking against the wall, splintering the old weathered paint.
The pint glass in my hand had cracked when I brought it down on top of the bar. There were shouts of glory and I snatched a twenty out of the hand of my opponent.
‘Try me again, I dare you,’ I said as I stumbled into him.
‘You’ve made your point, bitch.’ He spat on the ground at my feet and pushed through the crowd and out onto the street.
I laughed until tears made my vision blurry. Then I put my head on a stranger’s shoulder.
‘I’ve never seen anyone look so poised while taking down a misogynist.’
When I looked up, I saw glasses, finger-smudged and broken.
Later we were walking along Collins Street and the backs of our hands touched for the first time. I grabbed his and squeezed.
‘You’ve got a crack in one of your lenses,’ I said.
‘I’m too poor to get it fixed.’
He waited for my train with me, even though he lived in the city. We drank bottled water to sober up, and he kissed me on the forehead before the doors of my train closed.
The door bounced back from the wall. He dragged himself and his bags through it, knocking over the flower pot on his way past.
I watched him pile his things into the boot of the sedan and drive away, spraying dirty water behind him.
I stood unable to move next to the chicken pen. For a minute, but it could’ve been an hour for all I know, I stared at the empty flower pot rolling across the bricks stopped by the remnants of the broken mug. The dry patch of cement where the car had been was disappearing one drop at a time.
And, quietly, to myself and to you, I wished he would never come back.
I got to work on the garden the next day. The small rain turned into a big storm that lasted all night. Water actually pooled on top of the ground, all of the cracks had filled up.
I took the ute into town and picked up a few sun flower seeds, a few pansies, bags of mulch and some new gardening gloves. Some new hinges and sheets of wire fencing.
When I came home there was a note on the door. It was from the police. I called the number written on the piece of paper and I spoke to a sergeant named Geoff. He told me that there’d been an accident that night.
It started raining again that afternoon. It didn’t properly stop for a week, and you were officially declared over a while after that. I’m sure you remember.
I replaced the daisies and hung them from the white painted frame of the veranda to keep the chickens from sitting on them.
The veggie patch is the best thing I’ve ever done. I have fresh carrots, tomatoes and squash growing right now, alongside my herb garden where I grow parsley and mint and basil. I’m thinking of expanding the patch and growing some eggplant too, but I’m not sure.
I still time myself and shower over a tub. And the chickens, by the way, haven’t once been attacked by a hawk or a fox or a snake.
I don’t miss you.
Image by: Pablo Blanes