Raining again. Third day in a row. She opens her cookbook and turns to Nan’s tea cake. She always has the ingredients on hand.
Soon the house smells of apple and spices and memories. She tries some while it’s still hot. She’s made it for years but it never tastes quite right. Maybe next time.
In general I consider myself a city girl. I don’t have a problem with bugs, or with getting dirty, but in the end I like the luxuries and conveniences of city life too much to live anywhere else. There are times however, that I get a pull in my chest that makes me want to get away from it all.
When I was living in Canberra I went to visit my Dad who was living nearby at the time. I set off in the early afternoon, and the longer I drove the further away I got from what I deemed civilisation. After about half an hour I reached the small town I grew up in, still looking the same as it did ten years ago when I last was there. I kept driving into the hills, remembering how out of the way this place was. First I lost the radio station I was listening to. Then I hit the dirt roads. My phone’s reception dropped out soon after that. By that point I started worrying about what I would do if I got into trouble; I had no way to contact anyone, and only a few people knew where I was.
Finally I arrived at the tiny village where Dad was. I found him, we had dinner together, I talked to a few people I hadn’t seen since I was seven, and we headed back to where he was staying. The house was made out of bits of other houses, cobbled together to almost make a real house. It had electricity now, which was a step up from last time I was there. It was surrounded by paddocks, empty save for the lone horse who knew the way to the local pub better than its owner. There was a single, tiny street with a single streetlight a few metres away.
At one point in the night I went outside to go to the bathroom and looked up at the sky when I noticed how bright it was out there. I stood, stunned, as I stared up at the universe spread out in the sky above me. The cold temperature that had been so pressing earlier didn’t seem that important as I took in the thousands and thousands of stars and felt very, very small. I realised that I am just a tiny speck on a ball of rock that is just a speck in that mass of stars. All my worries seemed very insignificant. I was both joyous and deeply terrified in a single moment, and that has stuck with me all these years later.
Every now and then I go out on my balcony and look up, hoping to see what I saw back then. Instead I get a blank, black space, sometimes with a solitary star lonely in the darkness or a plane trying to trick me with its light. I try to convince myself that the lights of the city are a good replacement, but the hollow feeling inside doesn’t let me believe my own platitudes.
Instead I stick with this yearning for something more. I want the stars as well as the city lights, but I know in my heart that I can’t have both. It is the choice I have made to stay in the city, and it is this that makes me want to cry as I stare out at the single star I choose to see.
Amelia was still amazed that she agreed to this. For some reason she ended up at a little cafe in her home town, meeting up with someone she hadn’t seen in ten years. Maybe she was drunk when she agreed to do this; that is the only way this made sense.
She had vowed to never return to this place when she left, a wilful sixteen-year-old yelling back into the house as she stormed out the front door. “This is the last you’ll see of me!” Was the last thing she said to her mother all those years ago. So much for that. She sighed at those memories and lit another cigarette, more for something to do rather than anything else. She raised an eyebrow and silently dared her mother to say something about it, but a slight wrinkling of the nose was all she got. Amelia was a little disappointed, but not surprised; Claudia Dalton was all about keeping up appearances, and wouldn’t give Amelia the opportunity to start a fight in public.
At some point over the years Claudia had gotten old. She had always been a formidable woman, one that always knew best; you never argued with her unless you wanted to be greeted by silence for the next week. But Amelia noticed as she studied the woman sitting across the table from her that there was a weakness to her now, a sadness to her eyes. She wasn’t scared of her any more; Claudia had no power over her, so what was there to fear?
Amelia had kept in contact with her sister over the years, and Claire had mentioned that their mother had softened over time. Then one day it was mentioned that Claudia wanted to see Amelia again. She had been asking about her, maybe even feeling some sort of remorse? Claire was just as baffled as Amelia, but was persistent in her efforts to get them to talk. She had always harboured a hope that they would be a happy family again.
They sat in silence, contemplating their own thoughts. Claudia picked at her salad while Amelia cradled her coffee and recognised a girl she went to school with, avoiding making eye contact. Finally Claudia broke the silence.
“You’re not hungry?” she asked in a small voice. Amelia slowly looked down from the sky, shook her head and took a sip of her coffee. The smallest of frowns appeared on her mother’s face. “You are too skinny, you should eat. You’ll never find a nice boy looking like a twig.” Her voice hardened and Amelia remembered childhood dinners of being forced to eat all her vegetables until she threw them all up again.
A similar frown appeared on Amelia’s face. “Oh, in that case I better order a steak!” She replied. She motioned at the waitress to come over and ordered another coffee, lighting up another cigarette at the same time before turning her attention back to Claudia. “I told you I’m not hungry. You’re not making my decisions any more, remember?”
“I’m sorry, I just…” She trailed off as she tried to organise her thoughts. “Can we start this again? How have you been?” Amelia shrugged, not making this easy.
“I’m fine; Claire could have told you that without me having to come back to this shithole and wasting both of our time.” Her new coffee appeared and she focussed on that instead. “Look, I don’t know why you’re caring about me all of a sudden, but I am basically only here to get Claire off my back.” She stubbed out her cigarette butt, grinding it into the ashtray a little longer than was really necessary. “As soon as I finish this coffee I’m getting out of here and back to my life.” They sat in silence again until Amelia had almost finished her drink.
“I really am sorry, you know.” The small voice was back. Claudia sagged in her chair as the fight left her. “I’m sorry I was so hard on you, Amelia. You were just such a strong-willed child. You reminded me of myself so much, and I didn’t want you to make the same mistakes as I did.” She smiled sadly. “Your sister was always better at working out how to deal with me; You just got so stubborn.” Amelia snorted at her mother’s admission.
“So you figured the best way to deal with me was to just overpower my will?” Amelia’s voice rose in anger, and the other people sitting nearby started looking over at the pair. “That is possibly the dumbest fucking thing I have heard in a long time.”
“Don’t swear in public.” Claudia muttered, causing Amelia to smack her hand against the table top.
“I am a grown woman, who could have her own children to deal with right now. You haven’t had anything to do with me in ten years. You have no goddamn say in my life any more, so don’t tell me what to do!” She stood and rummaged in her pocket to produce some money for her drinks and threw it onto the table. She glared at her mother, who looked up at her in surprise, before walking off.
The other patrons of the cafe looked away in embarrassment as Claudia put her fork down deliberately. Helplessness crossed her features before she closed her eyes and held her hand over her mouth. After a moment, her composure regained, she stood and walked inside to pay.