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The Almost Life

Monday dawned just like every other Monday before it for the last seventeen years. Slow, quiet and filled with an increasing sense of unhappiness for Tanya Burton. She had felt it every morning for a year now and it seemed to be her constant companion throughout the long days.

The farming life is often lamented by day dreaming poets and writers as a lonely one, but Tanya knew better than most just how lonely it was. The bed beside her was empty, the Phillip shaped groove grown cold. The house slowly ticked around her as the morning sun rose through the Eucalypts outside to warm the corrugated iron roof. She swung long muscular legs out of the bed and scrubbed at her face, looking out the window to her garden and to the wheat fields that lay beyond. Their stalks swaying majestically in undulating waves as a breeze rolled down from nearby mountains. She waited as the sun began its day’s journey, taking a few minutes for it to break through the trees and bathe the wheat tips in golden light. She closed her eyes and breathed in deep as it finally appeared, caressing the fields, kissing her closed eyelids through the windows. The faint smell of toast and coffee made its way down the hallway and she opened her eyes as her moment of utter solitude was over, an intrusion of domestic awareness.

Glancing at her bedside clock she sighed, stretching as she rose to don a faded dressing gown and warm slippers. Stopping by the bathroom, she stared at the stranger who peered back at her. Who was she really? This old woman who stole her eyes and mouth every night and tormented her from behind a pane of glass. She turned the ancient tap and splashed icy water over her face, wincing as the cold took her breath away just for a second. Not for the first time she wondered whether breathing was over rated.

With a second stolen glance at the stranger in the mirror, she squared her shoulders and walked out of the bathroom. Not ready… but ready, to face another long and lonely day.

 

“Eat your toast, Sam. You wanted that second lot so eat it.” Tanya turned empty eyes to her son who was attempting to sidle away from the breakfast table, toast untouched.

“Sorry mum, I thought I was still hungry. I guess the Milo filled me up, hey?” He gave her a quick peck on the top of the head and darted out of the kitchen, grabbing his school bag from beside the door; he was out and running down the drive to catch the school bus before she could even say I love you. Tanya looked at the toast and the glass that Sam had left on the table. His lips had left a milky smudge on its edge. A solitary drop had escaped and run down the outside of the glass, leaving a small opaque pool at its base. Her hand paused in mid reach. She thought about her pregnancy with Sam and how amazed and in awe she was that she was growing another human being. A part of her and a part of Phillip. Even he had been excited and told anyone who would listen how he would have a boy who would work alongside his father and take on the land one day. His farmer mates would nod sagely and Phillip’s eyes would crinkle up in preparation for his booming laughter. She loved to hear him talk about how it would be, with a son who would be born on his land and then one day have it all for himself. It never got old for her – she would encourage him to talk about it, believing that for Phillip, a son of his own would do what she had so far been unable to do and heal his scars.

There were words that were never spoken between the two, but the weight they had as they rested on hardened shoulders, was palpable to them both. In their two year old marriage, they came to a tacit agreement that some things just weren’t meant to be discussed – but with a baby on the horizon, Tanya prayed that it would be the bandage that held them together, giving him, and them, time to heal.

A crow cawed on the porch outside, bringing Tanya back to the kitchen, hand still raised to pick up the glass. With a silent admonishment for her mental wanderings, she tidied up quickly, a sudden desperation blooming in her to get outside, escape the house and its memories.

 

When the sun reached its highest point and burned through the gaps in her straw hat, Tanya stopped for a break. Her garden was a demanding creature, full of high maintenance roses, delicate daisies and primrose; bulbs springing up between ornamental grasses carefully planted to look random. Terracotta pots overflowing with herbs, lettuces and strawberries were dotted throughout the garden beds, and along the back fence, plum, apple and peach trees were coming into flower.

Tanya stretched out on the cool grass under the fruit trees, crushing fallen blossoms with her heavy boots. Pulling off her hat, she ruffled the hair plastered across her sweaty brow and took a long drink from the water bottle strapped to her gardener’s belt. Surveying her little patch of happy, she felt at ease for the first time that day. Tending to her plants, pulling the never ending weeds, was a physical release – her time to do and not think and when it was done, she always felt lighter and better equipped to deal with the next twenty four hours. Her toughened hands in the cool rich soil offered a connection to something she still loved; an echo of her former self, a whisper of the person she ached to be but couldn’t figure out how to become. Lying back, her head resting on her upturned hat, she gazed up through the branches of the apple tree, seeking the vast blue sky. Imagining herself swept up and out of this existence, to go where the wind carried her. As if hearing her thoughts, a small blackbird hopped into her view carrying a blossom in its ruby red beak. It looked down at her as she looked up at it, and then without warning it leapt into the air, swooping deftly through twisted branches and out into the sky above. She watched it go, dipping and diving as if to say, it’s easy Tanya, just do what I do... but, uncomfortably earthbound, she could only wish herself after him. She blinked and he was gone. A single tear escaped her eye and rolled unhindered to the grass below.

An unedited excerpt from one of my NaNoWriMo short stories – NOV 2011

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