Telling the Bees – Chapter 3
‘I hope they’ll keep the bloody grass under control, whoever they are,’ said Tom.
As the Homestead’s previous owner, a retired judge, had grown old and doddery, his visits to the family property had become infrequent and finally ceased. The fuel load of the neglected land had become a worry.
Paterson’s curse and St John’s wort spread unchecked in the paddocks. Nobody wanted to agist their animals on pasturage that was full of toxic weeds. Abandonment was a vicious circle.
Some summers the grass was chest-high before he could be prevailed upon to have it slashed. Eucalypt, wattle and pine saplings started to encroach from the margins.
The tiny community had the feeling of living on a powder keg when fire season came around – and that was getting earlier.
A few times Tom had taken matters into his own hands. Fording the shallow creek on his tractor, he’d pulled back the tangled wire of the collapsed fence and mown a broad swathe up the hillside on the neighbour’s side. It was a token gesture rather than a practical measure, but gave them the comfort of doing something.
Amélie snuggled in against Tom’s side, even though it was awkward to walk like that. He so rarely came for a walk these days, with the farmlet demanding so much time and effort. Her contribution was slowly diminishing, she thought sadly.
The trunks of mountain ash rose from the damp treefern understorey tall and straight as the pillars of a great cathedral. The forest was pierced now and then by the drawn-out calls of a male whipbird. Soft melodies of unseen shrike-thrushes and whistlers fluted down from the canopy, far and near. Tiny fairy-wrens and thornbills twittered as they passed.
While strong gusts buffeted the treetops, the air on the forest floor was still. A soft, fine rain was falling on the mossy path before them. The sound of water was all around: trickling, dripping, rushing. Magical.
‘Maybe I should …’
‘Shhh,’ she whispered. It seemed sacrilegious to break the spell of this place with human gripes and worries.
Tom glanced down at her with a frown, then his expression softened. ‘Sorry.’
They walked in silence for a while.
She thought about all they had here. From their early, carefree days in the Northern Rivers, through thirty busy years teaching in Footscray and Box Hill, they had always dreamed of this. Land of their own, self-sufficiency.
Now, after just seven years, it could be taken away. A few words from her, and the edifice of their dreams would crash to the ground. Instead of a life of meaningful labour, connection with the soil, there would be a long, slow decline. Endless tests, powerful drugs and debilitating side effects, clinics and hospital wards – and all ultimately in vain.
No known cure.
She would hold out as long as she could. She had only one life, after all, and she wasn’t going to relinquish it without a fight.
‘Sometimes I feel I’m losing you.’
‘Sorry?’ Had he really said that? She was so taken aback, she almost thought it another hallucination.
‘You seem so … preoccupied these days.’
‘Uh-huh.’ He nodded vigorously. ‘If there was something … if you weren’t happy with this life … you’d tell me, wouldn’t you?’
‘You ridiculous, silly man!’ She slapped his oilskin-clad chest lightly with tender exasperation. ‘Of course I’m happy.’
‘Then what is it?’
‘Nothing. Nothing at all,’ she insisted.
He sighed. ‘You’re the world’s worst liar, my love. I guess you’ll come out with it when you’re ready.’
She wheeled around in front of him, forcing him to stop. Then she took his head in both hands, looked him in the eyes, and kissed him hard on the lips. Her look was both tender and defiant.
‘Wow,’ he murmured after a long, close embrace. ‘Maybe we should … ?’
‘Go home and help each other out of these wet things?’
‘Bloody good idea!’
Following the aqueduct home took them above the Homestead. The property was largely concealed from the path by a thick barrier of trees and bushes, but there was one spot where a great fallen tree had ripped a breach in the wall of greenery.
Although impatient to be home, Amélie glanced down the hill, and brought Tom to a halt.
There was a white SUV outside the rambling house, and small figures moving between the outbuildings.
‘Signs of life at last,’ said Tom. ‘Good. I’ll pop over and say G’day later.’
‘Much later,’ she replied. ‘You may go when I’ve finished with you.’
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 4: Neighbours
Tom makes a social call.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are based on real places.