A Short Story by Rose Brimson
The way they wrote about it, Anna thought it’d be easy. Well, at least easier. It always went the same way – they waltzed into a country town, bought a run-down place, got it all fixed up real schmicko – and all while they completed novel after novel. Because of the peace. Because it was country. Because that’s how it’s done when you’re a writer.
It hadn’t worked for Anna.
She’d bought the house – a run-down old place that would once have been a queen, and could become one again. The list of tradies in the window of the one and only shop that sold any type of food product was so old the paper wasn’t just yellow – it had gone crackly and grey at the edges, softening off to baby poo yellow-orange in towards the centre, but the actual centre was unreadable – a dark urine brown-yellow that hid the letters as effectively as solid matter.
When she spoke to the proprietor, he’d laughed. Not a bit of a giggle laugh, a big and hearty from the bottom of his soles laugh.
“What? You wanna tradie? ‘Round here? That’s a good one, that is.”
The stamps of dust she’d created on the march home sat in the still air. When she turned around she could clearly see her path laid out. No breadcrumbs required in this town. A small group of locals stood outside the shop, all roaring with laughter and pointing her way. She sucked in a breath.
She’d sell it and move … somewhere else.
The real estate agent tried hard not to laugh; Anna tried not to snap at him. A question niggled at her until it popped out.
“How long was it on the market before I bought it?”
The thump of her body as it hit the floorboards and caused a rolling creak in the old timbers was the only thing that told her she’d fallen. She felt no pain. The words rang in her head like a bell plummeting from a belfry. Hit her on the head. Gong. Again. Gong. Again. Eight years. Eight.
If she had to live in this place for eight years – no, the place wouldn’t last that long, it’d fall to pieces; she used her fingernail to scrape away a layer of soft timber from the floor. If she just left it and walked away? Could she start again?
How many times would that make it? The first time she’d ended up living on the streets and barely survived. The second time she’d lived in a shed with only three sides until … The third time was after the bushfire and the house she’d built and all the things – everything – she owned gone to ash. When she’d been allowed back to check on things, there was nothing. Nothing. She didn’t recognise it. And no insurance, no heart to do it all again. Walked away. The fourth time she’d left with nothing and changed her name and the way she looked (and carried a hidden weapon for a long time) until she got used to the new person. The fifth time was another fire, not a deliberate fire, an accident, bad wiring. All gone. Everything. That time there was insurance, but that was worse than walking out with nothing. They didn’t give her the choices she would have made for herself, and because she didn’t like what they offered, no payout. No recompense for the loss of everything. Again.
Now. She was here to begin again. To do something with her life. To follow her dream. And it had all turned to shit. Again.
Why? Why did she keep going? What had she ever done – in this life or any other – to deserve this again? What?
Her feet stamped up and down on the old floor as she lay on her back. The disembodied voice of the agent gurgled for a while and then stopped. The screen went dark. The room went dark. Anna lay there, her torso still, but hands and feet smacking against the wood in a rhythm that matched her thoughts and the pound of her racing heart.
Again and again. Over and over. Everything gone. Everything. Everything.
A small amount of cash, but not enough to buy another house – not even in this town! No wonder the place had been so cheap! Another lesson learned the hard way!
A single hot tear slid down the side of her face. It plopped onto the floor and raised a blob of dust as heavy as oil. Something hit her cheek, scratched.
“Ow!” Anna sat up and felt her face. Wiped. Looked. Just dust. No. Something sparkled. She shook her head. That little spike of hope was something she’d have to learn to ignore. Nothing good every happened to her. Ignore it.
“Hello in there!” The deep voice rolled like thunder through the hall of the tomb of a house. She chose to ignore it. They’d go away. Eventually.
Thump, thump, thump.
Anna leapt up.
“Hey!” she yelled. “I didn’t say you -” she stopped when she saw him. Huge. So tall he had to duck to get under the door frames. Deep blue eyes that looked almost black with a silver twinkle as he looked down at her. A half-smile hid in the cracks of a face that laughed a lot, if those lines were any indication. Glimmers of grey in the whiskers on his chin. He leaned his long arm towards her, hand open, palm up.
“I’m Bud – Rod down the shop said you’d be needing a hand.” White teeth peeped out from the full lips when he flicked his tongue out to lick his lips. “I’m the local fixer-upper – can do anything you want.” He leaned down. “Just don’t tell the Council that.”
Anna realised she’d slid to the floor again. She saw her hand lift into the air and grab his, felt her body as it rose like a zephyr into the space of the real world. His skin was hot, his hand was firm but not ragged, not hard. Not what she expected.
“Don’t dig up the floorboards,” Bud said. “Ol’ grump used to own this place is ‘sposed to have buried all his gold dust under there!” He laughed, the sound a warm rollick of gentle waves.
Anna dusted herself off.
“Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “And I think I could definitely do with some help.”
copyright Rose Brimson 2017