By Eileen Herbert-Goodall
Outside her window, the eucalypt swayed and its crooked-finger branches quivered in the breeze. Watching it, Janice was curious about the duration of its existence. Undoubtedly, the tree would out-live her. She shifted her gaze and surveyed the landscape. A sea of rolling brown hills and grey gums swamped her vision. In the distance, heatwaves shimmered. Those familiar with Stonefield understood the place was a paradox: possessing a sheer visceral beauty, its remote isolation could cut a person’s psyche to the core.
The sun had risen only two hours before, yet her husband was long gone. He would be working with the stockmen, droving the cattle to an area with better feed near the banks of the Gladys River, a waterway cutting through the property fifty kilometres north. The men would take days to reach their destination, but it had been a necessary venture. With livestock losing condition, the drought was stamping its mark.
Moving away from the window, Janice approached the dressing table where a framed photograph caught her eye. The picture had been taken on her wedding day, almost twenty years earlier. She and her husband were standing in front of the eucalypt, surrounded by a gleaming carpet of grey-green leaves. Behind them the sky was a deep, infinite blue.
They’d been happy once. Evidently, things changed. People changed.
Janice looked towards the ceiling and momentarily studied the ornate embossed patterns before leaving the room. She moved down the hall, listening to floorboards creak beneath her step. The morning light shone a diffused pink as it spilt through panels of glazed glass ahead.
Raja the cat appeared from behind a door. Janice stopped, letting him twist around her ankles. Bending down, she ran a finger along his knobbly spine; instantly, he arched his back. Janice contemplated taking him, but quickly dismissed the idea. She needed to be practical. Besides, he was a hunter and more than capable of surviving on his own. Straightening, she took a breath, then let it escape as a long, slow shudder. ‘See you, boy.’
Opening the front door, she crossed the veranda, stopped and shielded her eyes against the glare. There wasn’t another living soul in sight. She could hear the windmill beside the shed squeaking as it turned in the breeze, its sound punctuating the silence.
Hardly more than a few feet away, the dual-cab stood waiting.
She strode towards the vehicle, opened its door, and slipped behind the wheel; the keys were in the ignition. Hot air slid into her lungs, causing her chest to tighten. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the suitcase on the backseat where she’d left it the night before. Janice started the engine, released the hand-brake and drove down the dirt track. Glancing in the rear-vision mirror, she took in the homestead’s grand proportions. She wondered when, exactly, the residence would fall into disrepair and crumble.
Nothing lasted forever.
Her voice was soft as she spoke aloud. ‘So long, John,’ she said. ‘Take care.’