Sparkling tinsel, along with Till’s collection of holiday tea towels – printed with maps of places she’d been to, with a man who wasn’t you – ruffle along the homemade clothesline.
You’d been proud stringing that twine between candlebarks, just weeks after you moved to the area called, almost comically, Christmas Hills. ‘Heath the handy-man,’ you’d quipped, but Till had only briefly looked up with those pool-blue eyes. She’d spent hours in silence the first few days – bunch-legged on the Kmart banana lounge with her hair the colour of custard powder, her book stained with Lipton. But this was before you were three. After Luke came along, Till took to walking him nightly – up and down the grevillea-lined ridge, his peach-soft head smelling like her and just a little of Sorbolene cream.
Luke and Honey lie in front of the telly while the anchorwoman – lavender-lipped – eagerly keeps track of the soaring heat. The word ‘catastrophic’ appears on the flickering news ticker, alongside a story about rising sugar levels in supermarket bread. Recently home from IGA, you remember the cordial you’d meant to buy for Till: Pine-lime Peach Paradise, always on sale. But this is moments before you look out the dusty window, to a blur of wallaby thumping through scrub – faster than you’ve ever seen one move. Later, but not much, you hear the sound of a lone car horn, along with the screeching of fleeing rosellas, leaving nests of green-feathered chick and silver wattle behind.
But it’s noon now and you lean up against the cluttered mantelpiece, sweat pearling across your skin. Honey whimpers. You try to remember if Till’ll take her Saturday night gin with tonic instead – her uncut hair sticking, just slightly, to the back of that moon-white neck. There’s the smell of burning toast, then the smoke alarm’s trill. ‘Just me,’ Till calls through redwood kitchen doors, and you realise it’s the first thing she’s said to you all day.
A north-westerly blows as you add some sheets to the line, making them bloom back onto you – cocoons of white linen, just brief relief from oven-like heat. You watch the chooks, clustered around thin strips of shaded driveway gravel. They’re Christmas beetle-black and open-beaked. They’re shimmering.