It was the broken-resolution end of January already, and Sandy was
sitting in the kitchen drinking decaffeinated coffee with her ovens
green, digital-clock display panel flashing, if you could believe it,
HELP HELP HELP instead of the time. Last night, full of the beadyeyed
purpose a late-night joint always gave her, shed stood there
trying to reprogram it to bring the clock back without making
the bloody oven alarm go off, pressing and fiddling and relighting
the stub of her roach, until finally shed sworn at it and given up.
So now it was signalling her for help. Her oven, for crying out loud. An appliance.
And even though she couldnt fix the timer, the clock still ran with a snickering whirr, a nasty little calibrated sound of time mouse-wheeling itself determinedly away, even if she was sitting here marooned in the long slack middle of the afternoon, picking hard candle wax off the tablecloth and waiting for the caffeine rush that would never come.
Sandy raised the mug awkwardly in her left hand and took another sip. She was right-handed but her friend Alison had made these mugs on her new pottery wheel a few years back and Sandy had loyally bought them, and there were fragments of grit embedded in a dribble of glaze on the other side, just at the point where you sipped. Just one little gravelly flake of grit, but enough to drive you nuts. It was hard enough picking the things up with the lumpy handles Alison had stuck on. Proletariat cups, Sandy would think as she washed them roughly in the sink, hoping to break one so that she could justifiably throw it out. Nothing would kill them. They were made to withstand a revolution.
Shed recognised the handwriting as soon as shed fished the envelope out of the mailbox, felt that little twisting jump of tension. No return address, of course. And inside, just a postcard, one of those free ones you get in coffee shops, with his message scribbled on the back.
Would like to ring Sophie for her fifteenth birthday. Please let her know. Ill call around 6.30 your time. Hope life is treating you well. And a mobile number. That was all. As if he was paying by the bloody word.
Was life treating her well? Sandy frowned, lifted a splatter of candle wax with her fingernail from the batik cloth. Everybody seemed finally to have accepted resignedly that this was the state of play, she thought: you let life happen to you. In it came like a party-crasher, ignoring any plans you might have had for yourself, and treated you to whatever it had in mind.
And you just sat there and took it. Nobody ever said, for example, how have you been treating your life? which made you sound a bit less passive, at least. Maybe that could be the start of an article, something she could write for the community-centre newsletter, or even the local paper.
Did he really have to be so terse, even in a postcard? Not that his brusqueness surprised her that was Richard all over, exactly as she remembered. Hope life is treating you well would be just what she would have expected one of a couple of careless, studiously distant sentences as if hed spoken to her last month instead of about five years ago.
Sandy, in uncharitable moments and OK, these surfaced occasionally, she was the first to admit believed that Rich did this on purpose. Whatever he was doing now, and God knows he was evasive enough about that, he made a point of being somewhere exotic around Christmas and Sophies birthday, just so he could write things like Greetings from Dharamsala! or Not sure if this will get to you, boats not docking in Borneo till next week.
Like this one: 6.30 your time. Please. As if he had to calculate time zones. Like he was going to call from bloody Bhutan.
Excerpted from The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy. Copyright © 2011 by Cate Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Grove Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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