By Grace Cassidy
My father’s house squats on the edge of the valley, half way up the side of a formation that’s too big to be a hill and too small to be a mountain, facing the snow-capped ridge on the opposite side. Grass is coarse and brown, always, and in the distance, the hills are burnished with gold.
Kangaroos settle under the arched branches of an old oak that sits awkwardly among gums and rugged bush. I watch them surreptitiously from the porch, tucking numb fingers into the folds of my dressing gown, feeling my cheeks sting with cold. There are five of them, nestled in the shade, two joeys that are wrestling, throwing fists at one another and tumbling over repeatedly, and three big ones that lounge at the base of the tree. One of them perks up, as if hearing something and locks eyes with me for a moment before turning its head away again. I release a sigh that turns to mist and watch it curl away from me as the sound of footsteps scuffing against stone reaches my ears.
“You’re up? Before noon?”
Jo comes to a stop several feet away. She isn’t looking at me. Her eyes are narrowed at the bright blue sky. The sun is harsh today. Out on the edges of the property, the dam is a small, silver mirror. It’s winter, so the sun isn’t warm, but it is blinding.
Jo is already dressed, probably preparing to head off in the next half hour or so.
I glance at the kangaroos again before looking at my slippers and reply, “Yeah.”
“How’s that going for you?”
She huffs a laugh and comes over to lean on the wall next to me. I can feel her watching me for a moment, considering, before she asks, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. ‘Course. Just—” I bite my lip. “I can’t believe we’re selling this place.”
The valley hugs the border of the capital. While we – that is, me and my dad and my step-family – tell people that we live in Canberra, the truth is that the house is in New South Wales. It’s not quite the middle of nowhere, with civilisation only a half-hour drive down long, uneven roads. But here, in the valley, it doesn’t seem that way. The drive-way is a kilometre long, the pipes are petulant bastards that refuse to let anyone have a good shower, and the nearest neighbour probably wouldn’t hear you if you were screaming.
I love this place. I love the quiet and the cold. I love that you can see all of the stars in the sky. I love the sharp scent of eucalyptus and the distant, rhythmic thump of hooves in the horse paddock. I love the way the setting sun hits the slopes on the other side of the valley, setting the whole thing on fire. I love that winter lasts here, rather than the pitiful burst of chill for one month that you get up north.
But maybe I love it so much because, at the end of the day, I don’t actually live here.
“So,” Jo says, plucking a loose thread from my dressing gown. “You heading back to Brisbane on, what, Thursday?”
I live with my mother, in Queensland: the humid, sun scorched state that engulfs the north of the east coast. I’m only here a few times a year, when I’m on break. But this small, stone cottage clinging to the edge of this windy valley, is my father’s home. So, it’s my home. It took me a while to figure that out, but it is.
Down in the driveway, a joey hops over the fence and sends birds screeching into the air with its landing. Over the snow-capped ridge, I can see the grey-blue blush of clouds forming.
“Looks like it’ll rain later,” I say, pointing.
Jo follows my gaze and smiles. “Well, you’re here.”
It always rains when I’m here. It doesn’t make any sense, but it does.
Jo makes a noise and pushes herself off the wall. “Your dad’s attempting to make coffee with the new machine, again,” she says, opening the front door. “Want to come grab a cup?”
I take one more look at the gathering clouds in the distance before following my sister inside. But even after I close the door, the image of the valley stays in my head, seared there like an afterimage.
I wonder how many more times I’ll get to see it, before I never see it again.