This story is by Lorraine Hurley and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mel couldn’t decide if her trip was more confusing or the most utterly fantastic two days of her life. Maybe it was both, she thought, as she stared back at her husband Tom from the comfort of a cane whitewashed chair that adorned the veranda of their house. Mel still didn’t quite grasp what had happened to her or why. She could only look at him and now realise that this was where she was meant to be. The itch having been scratched was now a memory to cherish, but never forgotten.
Three nights ago, she was sitting on that same cane chair when Tom arrived home to the bungalow just before dusk. The dust from his Jeep could be seen kicking up from the start of their long driveway. It threaded through the trees lining the unsealed track as the wind blew it towards the creek. They had been very fortunate to have been left the property by Mel’s Aunty Jo when she passed away. It was only revealed upon her death that this secret little escape, a hobby farm known as Bligh Marsh, even existed. Mel liked to imagine Jo sitting up here with a cup of tea guarding her little piece of serenity but as her passing would betray, it was more likely a double of mezcal over ice cut with lime juice from the property. Jo had apparently been nursing a liver with cirrhosis for many months unbeknown to her family.
Tom slammed the door on the classic 4-wheel drive, headed up the stairs to Mel and fell into the chair opposite her. It was a humid evening, and the sounds of cicadas seemed to get louder to accompany the sounds of the house with its creaking floorboards and melodic flapping of the screen doors against the house. This was a welcome irony to Mel since the silence from Tom was deafening. Tom was the type to completely shut down when they would fight. It triggered Mel and Tom seemed to know that far too well. His lack of response would force Mel to keep talking, often digging a hole for herself. This night was no different. The fight would end with Tom not uttering a single word on the topic and Mel huffing as she headed off into the lowly lit night for a walk.
As Mel wandered towards the creek, she noticed her neck, back and arms carried tiny beads of sweat fuelled equally from her frustration with Tom and the heaviness of the thick warm air. She hitched her dress up towards her waist and began stepping into the water to cool herself down. The pleasure was instant, so she continued in until her dress was saturated. Mel felt the weight of the dress holding her down and didn’t mind the feeling of being grounded. It wasn’t till she tried to get out that an invisible force seemed to drag her back. She pulled harder, striding towards the creek edge, but it was only tiring her out, her upper body quickly exhausting. The last thing she remembered was glimpsing a full moon before slipping under. The moon light followed her briefly in, illuminating the cloudy water slightly before disappearing completely.
The darkness coupled with the muteness of all sound was almost hypnotising, as Mel found herself in a kind of medicated state. Just then a hand thrusted through the stasis and pulled Mel by her flailing arm out of the water. As air found her lungs once again, she gasped and heaved and let her body be lifted to the safe warmth of the grass and to solid ground beneath her. The air was different now and the light of day forced open her eyes to absorb her surroundings. She was at the same creek, her property, but it was daytime and the capable arms that had carried her were not Toms. Somehow, she knew to call him Evan even though Mel was sure they’d never met.
“What are you doing my love?” he asked her smiling broadly. “I understand wanting a swim in this heat, but you’d have been safer taking off the dress”, he winked playfully. Mel was herself silent in reply for the first time, confused but not afraid, physically still waterlogged and desperately trying to focus her thoughts. Who is Evan? she wondered.
Soon enough, Evan had sorted her out in dry clothes and poured her a mezcal with lime to enjoy on the veranda. Mel smiled awkwardly, immediately thinking of her Aunty Jo.
“Mel, are you ok?” Evan asked her, “Were you trying to drown yourself down there?”
Mel could feel Evan holding her in his sights now, his playful expression gone and replaced with genuine concern. She finished her drink before answering. “I’m ok, I feel good. Just a badly enacted plan to cool down, I promise.” Mel hoped this would stave off further enquiry for now. After a long pause, it did.
“Well judging by your empty glass, I would say you gave yourself a little scare then. Here, have my drink, you need it. I’ll rig us up a couple more” said Evan. Before he left the veranda though he did something Mel realised she had needed every day from Tom but had been denied. He took the side of her face in his hand gingerly and kissed her forehead. She realised the affection made her feel seen. When Evan came back with drinks, Mel felt herself smiling at him. She would eventually let her guard down. After a few drinks, her and Evan would seek out each other’s comforting arms under the much-needed mosquito nets. Mel would enjoy the most magical of evenings, to the point where she assumed that going to sleep would reverse things. She was wrong.
By the second day of waking next to Evan, Mel realised she felt like she had been on the best first dates ever. That stage when everything is perfect in a relationship, and no cracks have been found yet. Evan was fun, electric to be around and very affectionate, everything she knew she had been accusing Tom of not being. It was easy being with Evan. It wasn’t until she had time to reflect, with Evan at work, that she first noticed it. All their chats were superficial, small talk. Maybe that’s what I want though, thought Mel as her mind turned to Tom. Tom and Mel could talk for hours and get really into the deep stuff. They were good friends first and had slowly developed a dependable love for each other, but it had forced Mel to question whether stable companionship would be enough.
Mel found herself thinking about sipping a mezcal later that night and headed to the lime trees by the driveway to fetch some fruit. She thought of Jo and how she had died. The cause of her death. The story she had learned about Jo and her mezcal with lime on the veranda. Was it all connected? Was it this place, these trees? Mel questioned as if asking the wind itself. Just then a spike from the lime tree dragged across her head as she tucked in to grab some limes and drew a little blood across her eyebrow. At the blood trickling over her cheek, Mel felt faint at the sight and collapsed to the ground.
An arm holding her upright and a voice calling her brought her out of the daze. As her eyes focused, she saw Tom’s face and beyond him were the wheels of his Jeep stopped on the driveway beside where she lay. She reached up to feel her head. No blood but a headache. “You got hit by a bird I am guessing” Tom said as he pointed to some feathers on the ground, “Dam near knocked you out!”. As she sat down into the cane chair on the veranda, Mel quickly realised she was glad to be back. Tom was attentive and apologetic. “I’m so sorry about last night” he said solemnly as Mel became struck by the fact that an extra day had passed for her. “When I couldn’t find you this morning before work, I thought you’d left me” said Tom with genuine regret, his eyes searching her face for an answer. When Mel conveyed that leaving him hadn’t crossed her mind, they embraced with such mutual gratitude that it seemed to change the air between them.
Later that night sitting on the veranda, Tom holding her hand, he asked if there was anything she needed. “Could you pour me a mezcal on ice with a bit of lime please” asked Mel as she settled into the back of her cane chair peacefully. Tom squeezed her hand with care and replied as Mel stared out towards the creek. “Mezcal? I’ve never heard of that…. Do we have any?”