Her kettles coos while chickens cluck behind the mesh door, darting from its slap against the frame at every seventh wave the wind gushes from over the sand dunes.
She leads me to the garden. My cupped hands warm and moisten like the tropical ferns ambushing decorating rocks. Ornamental skulls in various sizes stare ironically from planter boxes and garden beds like lone plastic icons celebrating a win in the war against humanity in victorious colony; all man’s trophies for skills in engineering ironically destroying the environment for which we thrive in just by existing.
“Greg’s collectables,” she points to the garden.
“I know,” I say. Greg has always had a thing with skulls, even at uni. It’s something I could never understand the intrigue of but which I accepted due to his career as an anthropologist. There’s one particularly realistic one staring me down, it’s eye hole sockets are tear drop-shaped and I feel sympathy for it’s ironic placement in such a garden of life. There’s a cactus planted in its head and one of the chickens is pecking the eye holes.
“How is Greg?” I ask her.
She gulps hot tea with vigour then bends like a large rimu tree in the wind. “Greg is fine. A little quiet these days, since his accident.”
“What accident?” I ask.
“Sorry, it’s just been so long since us old friends caught up, it’s like we don’t even know each other anymore!”
The bottom of the tea cup eclipses her face so I can’t see her eyes and even though it feels too hot to drink, I down my tea all at once; I have to get to the bottom of it. I flick the wet bunch of tea leaves into the garden.
I watch the chicken draw a long worm from the skull’s eye socket.
“What accident, Sue?” I demand. Her cheeks pulse and redden.
“Greg’s a good human, but a bad husband, Sylvia.”
“Sue, where is Greg?” I feel like one of her chickens, stamping my feet around in her garden while she sways above me.
“I can take you to him.” Her lips crease, they are a crooked estuary reaching for the open ocean via the lowest, quickest means.
We stare, just two humans with x-ray goggles looking right through each other.
“Greg always liked you. You are so transparent, literally and figuratively. Not like me, elusive, meat-packed me. Would you like another cup of tea?”
I can feel the wind brushing against my cheeks, now more fierce than when I first arrived. I can see its effect on Sue, she is swaying wild, left to right, forward and back. The ferns are washing about in wisps and I can see the chickens’ feathers ruffling, shuffling about like a deck of cards, even the shovel pitched in soil wavers. But the cactus, just sits there, still and laughing.
“Sue, listen to me. I need you to tell me where Greg is and I need you to tell me now.”
“Greg…Greg! Baaaaaah hahaha!” She picks the shovel from the garden and finally, the wind gets its turn to wrangle it too.
“Sue, put the shovel down. Please.”
“Greg! Ahhh har har har har haaaaaaah!”
It swings now and I curse the wind, begging it to help rather than hinder. I run past the garden and through the laundry to the front door. My feet trip on the bristly welcome mat, I slam on to gravel and cement.
I can smell green. I hear red. I feel black. I taste silver, and I see blue.
“Sylvie, are you okay?”
Greg’s feet are standing between me and the head of his Ford Falcon. I can hear the tick of the engine cooling; coolant drips onto the metal driveway.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
Sue comes tumbling out, covered in soil, wielding the shovel.
He helps me up, I dust myself off. “Greg, you’re alive!” His tear-drop shaped eyes pull crows feet across his brow.
But he doesn’t hear me. He has Sue by the elbow, guiding her upstairs and I hear him say, “Sue, time for your medication darling.” The shovel slumps against the house boards.
I’m sitting in my car, hands on the wheel and it occurs to me that we aren’t as young as we used to be.
The wind caws but the seventh wave doesn’t sound so loud now.
ENDNOTE: My creative writing students at school made me write a ‘horror story’ for Halloween earlier this year. I disappointed and failed them with ‘adulthood’ unfortunately. I think that by using ‘mental ill health’ as a possible driving perspective for ‘horror’, really is what popped the balloon for them. All in all, they approved anyway. Probably because I gave them lollies for lunch.