Annie Kelly stood on the verandah, pulling the cream knitted shawl around her shoulders. She looked out at the familiar view from her home at Piccadilly House. The windswept, overgrown gardens and untidy path leading down to the creek needed some attention, but she just didn’t have the energy these days. Behind her towered Mount Lofty. She smiled softly as she remembered all those years ago. They’d been married just a few weeks when they’d discovered this place together.
‘Did you know that Mount Lofty is the highest point in the Adelaide Hills, my darlin?’ Harold spread the picnic rug out before them, the green-check tartan blending with the grass. They’d sat there for hours, taking in the view of the pretty little town below and dreaming about their future. He ran a protective hand over her growing belly. ‘This is where we will raise our family,’ he’d announced. Later that year when her daughter Marie was born, Harold had cried tears of joy, and the judgment of her family back in Ireland was all but a distant memory, as they made a new life together in Australia.
Sprawled across the valley below was the sleepy village she had called home now for almost fifty years – set amongst a wide ribbon of rolling hills, she remembered when Summertown had been a bustling market garden. The green hills were dotted with rows of vines, and while it was a much busier town now, an air of tranquility remained.
On a hill to the left was an old convent, now an art gallery with its very own chapel. Across town, nestled into the side of the hill sat the Scenic Hotel, where you can sink into brown leather chesterfields in front of a roaring log fire, and quite easily consider staying forever – and some had done just that. Across the road, was the Mulberry Cafe. The original owner had been Annie’s dear friend Caroline and they had spent many an afternoon in the courtyard under the canopy of the old mulberry tree, sharing a pot of Earl Grey and chatting away the day. Annie could see Caroline’s cottage from her verandah. The windows were all boarded up now. Oh, how she missed her friend.
Suddenly, the wind picked up and Annie drew her shawl more tightly around her, as she watched the sunflowers dance in the morning sunlight. She crossed the verandah, stepped down onto the gravel path and climbed the slate steps up to her rose garden. The sweet scent of her roses reminded her of Harold. Sitting together on the wooden garden seat he’d made for her, looking out the vineyard and reflecting on life and family.
‘I christen this seat The Gratitude Bench,’ Harold had declared as he’d held her hand while they watched their grandchildren play in the garden. But that was a long time ago. Alex and Michael were all grown up now, and Alex had moved to Melbourne to live. My goodness time flies.
Marie’s voice startled Annie. She could hear steps on the gravel path.
‘Mum, where are you?’ Marie called.
‘I’m up here, dear,’ replied Annie.
Marie appeared, hands on hips. ‘What are you doing? It’s freezing out here… And it’s really not safe for you to be climbing these steps all by yourself.’
‘I’m perfectly alright, dear. I’ve just been thinking about…’ Annie’s voice trailed off.
‘Thinking about what?’ Marie snapped.
‘Oh, I’m sorry dear. I was thinking about…well, Alex.’
‘Right…’ Marie sighed. ‘Well anyway, it’s too cold for you to be sitting out here without a coat. I mean if you get sick, it’s going to be me that has to look after you, isn’t it? Marie climbed up the last three steps. ‘Now, please Mum…come inside…’
‘Yes, dear. Of course.’ Marie grabbed hold of Annie’s boney arm, guiding her mother slowly down the steps.
‘Ahhhh, it’s Nicholas,’ said Annie as she walked into the kitchen, Marie following close behind.
‘Not a worry at all. We’ll see you in a bit then.’ Nicholas set the phone down and turned to see Marie and Annie. ‘So, where have you two ladies been?’
‘Well, it seems Mum has been up to the rose garden…again…all by herself!’ said Marie.
‘How lovely,’ Nicholas replied.
Marie frowned. ‘It’s not lovely, Nicholas. She could’ve fallen. Not to mention how cold it is this morning.’
Nicholas put his arms around Marie’s waist. ‘My darling, wife. There is no need to fuss. Now, would you like a cup of tea?’
Marie pulled away. ‘I’m too busy for tea! Anyway, who was on the phone?’
Annie noticed a flicker of sadness cross his eyes. ‘It was Michael,’ replied Nicholas, quietly. ‘He’s coming up the hill for a visit later this morning.’
‘Oh, that’s wonderful. He’s such a good boy,’ said Marie as she disappeared through the dining room doors, humming to herself.
Nicholas turned to Annie. ‘Cup of tea, Annie?’
‘Ooh yes please, Nicholas. Thank you.’
Annie sat down at the kitchen table, tracing the circular design on the coaster with her finger. ‘Nicholas…? Annie asked inquisitively. ‘Have you heard from Alex lately?’
‘No, not for a couple of weeks. Why?’
‘Does that seem a little strange to you?’
‘No, not really. Alex loves her job and she’s very busy at work at the moment.’ Nicholas gently placed a cup and saucer on the kitchen table in front of Annie.
‘There you go, Annie,’ he said.
‘Thank you, Nico.’ She blew on the hot tea softly to cool it down, and took a sip. ‘Mmmmm…Earl Grey, my favourite.’
‘Harold makes me Earl Grey tea every morning too,’ said Annie.
Nicholas turned and gazed out the kitchen window. ‘Yes…I remember,’ he said.
‘Nico…where’s Harold?’ asked Annie.
‘Ummm, Harold’s not here right now,’ he said, his back to Annie.
‘Oh.’ Annie sipped her tea as Nicholas went back out to the winery office, but she had a nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right.
A yellow post-it was stuck to the top of the green Teledex. Annie squinted to read the note: Do not call Alex. Well that’s strange!
‘Nicholas…?’ Annie called.
Nicholas peered around the doorway, his wire-framed spectacles perched on the end of his nose. ‘Yes, Annie?’
‘Well, I just phoned Alex…but there was no answer…’
‘It’s 9.30, Annie. She’d be at work. Remember?’
‘Oh, of course,’ Annie replied.
The sound of a car driving up the long gravel driveway set the dogs off barking.
‘Oh, that must be Harold, now,’ Annie said happily.
‘No, Annie. That’s probably Michael.’
Marie rushed in to the kitchen. Lifting the red cast iron kettle, she shook it a little to check the water level, and lit the gas burner.
Michael walked in to the kitchen. ‘Hi Dad. Hey Gran,’ Michael bent down to kiss Annie’ on the cheek. Annie smiled.
‘Hi son,’ Nicholas said. ‘So, what’s new?
‘Not much,’ said Michael, reaching down to pat the dogs.
‘Michael,’ Marie interrupted. ‘What kind of tea would you like sweetheart?’ she asked.
Nicholas crossed his arms. ‘I thought you were too busy for a cup of tea…’
‘Oh I’m never too busy to have tea with my baby boy.’
Michael rolled his eyes and sat down next to Annie at the kitchen table.
‘So…did you guys hear about Alex?’ asked Michael.
‘What now?’ asked Marie.
‘She quit her job!’
Annie fidgeted with her teaspoon turning it over and over in her hand. She looked up slowly, her eyes open wide. ‘Who is Alex?’
Michelle Bini is a second-year Creative Writing undergrad student at Flinders University. Her young adult short-story, The Final Note, received a commendation in the Write Spot International Autumn Writing Competition and short-listed for the Tom Howard Australian Short Story Writing Competition in 2004. She has co-authored a screenplay treatment for the Australian dramedy ‘Malcolm Why’, and she was invited to join the Australian Writers’ Guild and South Australian Film Corporation’s Writing For Film Initiative in 2011. Michelle now works full-time, while studying part-time. She is working on her first novel set in South Australia, as well as dipping into short stories, poetry and film – and can often be found cafe-hopping with her beloved MacBook, while drinking copious amounts of coffee.
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