Writer's Retreat – Chapter 1
The fireplace in the kitchen draws well. There’s wood stacked out the back. When you run low, just text us and Bob will drop off another trailer load. There are two full bottles of gas. They should last you the winter, but the service station out on the highway will deliver more. There are numbers for tradesmen on the board inside the back door, in an emergency. But – phone reception isn’t great. If you can’t get a signal, try the top of the big dune or ten minutes walk up the track towards the road. Oh and watch out for soft sand across the track after a storm. You can get bogged without a 4WD. There’s a shovel in the outhouse.
I think that’s it. Let me know if you need anything at all. If you get lonely, drive over to the farm for coffee and a chat. Otherwise, we’ll keep out of your hair, as agreed.
Wishing you a productive winter!
Trisha and Bob xx
I fold up the note. Damn. I took phone reception – and more importantly the internet – for granted. After a few moments’ blank despair I review my options. Pride wins: this city girl is not getting back in her car and heading home for Melbourne with her tail between her legs.
I’ll have to be thrifty with my internet use. Forget FB, Instagram, and Pinterest. Stuff WhatsApp and Twitter. The digital detox will be good for my head and probably my work too. No distractions. If I get really stuck for research, I can jump in my ute and hit the public library in Warrnambool. It’s only a 20-minute drive to civilisation.
The bluestone cottage is snuggled on the landward side of the barrier dune, among moonah trees. The angular, architect-designed houses further up the coast perch on the dune: they enjoy grandiose views over Belfast Bay but suffer the blast of winter gales. This cottage was built with shelter in mind, in an age that valued views less than survival.
I’m going to be happy here. This place will look after me.
Exploring my home and workplace for the winter takes all of ten minutes. A snug, sturdy little place; squat and symmetrical under a tin roof. A short entrance hall leads to four timber-floored rooms: bedroom and sitting room at the front; big kitchen diner and small storeroom at the back. A separate bluestone outhouse contains a bathroom, laundry, and tool store. (Expeditions to go pee – in the icy black of a winter’s night. Yikes!) The wood is stacked against the outhouse wall under a tarp. The stack is as tall as I am, and as long as the wall: Bob has been busy.
It takes an hour to unload the ute and find homes for books, clothes, laptop, wetsuit, food, booze, favourite kitchenware, coffee beans and grinder, coffee pot, guitar, bedding, towels. ‘Way too much shit, Mum,’ in Adam’s words. (You’re only 21, kiddo. A mature adult needs her comfort.)
The wardrobe and drawers in the bedroom smell musty. I decide to leave my clothes in their bags until tomorrow when I can give the place a good airing.
It’s half-past five and I’m losing the light. Time to start the fire. A brief, frantic search for matches and firelighters comes up trumps. (Seriously: where is my head these days? I should have brought my own.) Plenty of dry kindling and newspaper.
Soon, split redgum logs are crackling in the grate. Trisha is right: it draws to perfection.
Dinner turns out to be a bowl of chips and half a bottle of shiraz. I’m elated in anticipation of this new adventure but also tired from the five-hour drive. I turn in early.
I wake up in the darkness and fumble for my bedside clock. 02:34.
What is that noise? Just the creaks and murmurs of an unfamiliar old house; the roar of the surf; the breeze in the moonahs; a possum in the apple tree outside the kitchen door. Or something else. A low, sonorous rumble, like a sleeping person breathing softly. A person. Breathing.
I grip the heavy, rubber-clad torch and slip out of bed, bare feet on the rug, then cool timber boards. Just enough light from my clock to make out the door. Softly I turn the handle, step out into the hallway. It’s coming from the kitchen. Fight – or flight? Out the front door, into the dark – or into the kitchen, where it is breathing?
Fight, if necessary. I’m done with flight. I turn on the torch, grip the kitchen door handle and open it swiftly wide, sweeping the room with the beam of light. Nothing. Wait – there, by the dying embers of the fire, a squat shadow …
I snap on the kitchen light. A large tabby cat lifts its head enquiringly, blinks. Apparently reassured, it tucks its head back under its tail, closes its eyes, and resumes its deep, contented purring.
‘Hello, Puss! What are you doing here? Did you sneak in while I was unloading? You can’t stay, you know …’
I open the back door. ‘Out you go.’ A chilly wind slips in. The cat’s coat gives a shiver, but the head stays firmly tucked under its tail as if to say ‘Ain’t happenin’, girl.’ I never did have much authority with animals.
Stuff this. I’m not going to chase a cat around the kitchen in my PJs. Then let all the warmth out of the house.
‘Okay, you win. For now. First thing in the morning, you’re out of here.’ I return to my warm bed.
When I wake again, daylight is flooding into the room around the curtains. Heavy-headed, pushing the tangled hair from my face, I pad out into the kitchen. ‘Mornin’, Puss! Time to go …’
Next week in Writer’s Retreat:
Chapter 2 – Settling In
Alice settles into her new life – and meets some interesting local characters …