A single windscreen wiper struggled to swathe through a surge of torrential rain that danced and spilt across the hard synthetic roof stretching its elasticity to breaking point. Thor was angry and he didn’t mind who knew it. The car’s interior was dark except when the headlights from the occasional oncoming car briefly spotlighted a solitary figure hunched over the thin black steering wheel. Aimee Hamsun was totally absorbed with keeping her car from drifting into the other lane as she opened a packet of cigarettes while continuing to look ahead.
‘Well, there’s no escaping this now,’ she said out loud. After driving for over an hour, Aimee still resented the telephone call from her brother.
‘They’re saying maybe tonight. With any luck she may hang on till the morning. There’s nothing more anyone can do.’ Harald had remained calm, letting his words settle before continuing, for he knew his sister all too well.
Harald was the reliable one - consistent and dependable. On many occasions, Aimee’s family wished her brother’s common sense had drifted to her end of the gene pool. Although five years younger, Harald behaved and spoke like he was the older sibling. As children it was always Aimee who seemed to be in trouble. Once, when staying at their grandparents’ house, Aimee found an assortment of old tins and proceeded to apply thick lashings of black enamel paint onto the back fence, car port walls and the rims of her Pop’s pride and joy, the Nash. Harald had taken some persuading to join his sister in opening the lids with an old screwdriver, but as he watched her paint in wide arcs over everything in sight he fled to alert the adults inside the house.
‘Well everybody, she’s at it again.’
Harald stood at the doorway with folded arms and raised eyebrows. While his mother went outside to inspect the carnage, his grandmother remained seated, more concerned with the seriousness in his voice than any prank his sister might be involved in. Louisa Hamsun was puzzled by Harald’s apparent mistrust of being a child and upon her daughter’s return expressed her concern.
‘There’s something not quite right with that child.’
To which Margaret replied, ‘Nonsense, he’s just trying to do the right thing, I’m thankful I have at least one child who does what they’re told.’
Isa, as she was affectionately known, was not convinced. In Aimee she saw herself - a strong willed child living in the moment, in Harald she saw a boy trying to grow up to soon.
After Harald’s phone call Aimee sat in silence, weighing up her options. Much to her surprise, her default scatter-gun approach to life fled to the background.
The airport won’t open till morning, and with no guarantee I can get a flight. If I drive I’d have an eight or ten hour advantage, but at what cost? What condition will I be in? Aimee wondered.
Aimee’s pathological hatred of waiting tipped the scales in favour of embarking on an overnight drive instead of enduring an anxiety ridden night before heading for the airport after not much sleep, to then wait in a queue before waiting for a flight. Aimee’s plan to drive through the night, or at least, for as long as she was able, would not only reduce the distance between her and Isa but it would also kill time that would otherwise fuel her anxiety.
The look in Jess’ eyes said more than any words could, and before she knew it, Jess was helping her to pack a bag.
‘I wish I could go with you but I have to look after the ranch,’ Jess said, as she’d carried Aimee’s bag out to the car. Aimee began to cry as she watched Jess place the bag onto the back seat.
‘Thanks sweetie.’ Aimee wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself. The enormity of what she was about to do was brought into clear focus by having to say good-bye to Jess.
‘Take care. Call me if anything happens, or if you just want to talk.’
‘Okay, look after the geese, especially Annie, and don’t forget the seedling delivery is due tomorrow.’
‘Just go, will you?’ Aimee sobbed again as Jess hugged her.
‘I’m not sure I can do this.’
Jess looked her in the eye waiting for a signal to support Aimee either way.
‘I have to, I can’t stay here.’
Aimee checked her purse and cigarettes before sitting in the driver’s seat. Turning the ignition and lights on vented some of the pressure. A final wave and it was up the steep bumpy track which acted as a driveway then onwards to the highway.
Aimee smiled as she visualised Jess the next morning surrounded by hungry geese snapping at the hessian feed bag. Much to the amusement of Jess’s family, Aimee had determined that feeding time was her task. Aimee enjoyed helping out around the farm. It was a foreign world, far removed from what she had experienced in the city.
Although never having much contact with pets as a child, there was something about the array of wildlife on the Harper’s farm that made her content - whether it was the geese screeching at each other, dogs running around the paddock or just watching cattle munching on the grass, it all seemed to make sense. Aimee was as happy as she’d ever been.
Aimee’s rented farmhouse was situated in prime farming land in a hamlet which consisted of properties ranging from single plots to larger, more commercial, parcels of land. Jess’ family owned the neighbouring property. At first they’d kept their distance, content to observe their new neighbour settle in, but slowly over time, Aimee became part of their lives.
Aimee didn’t make friends easily but she and Jess connected straight away. Their friendship flourished despite their different backgrounds and personalities. Jess was intrigued by Aimee’s stories of the music business, performing live and the people she had met, whereas Aimee was struck by Jess’s down to earth simplicity and boundless enthusiasm for everything.
Jess even convinced her, contrary to Aimee’s better judgement, to help clear the lantana from the shared fence line. Later, while recuperating under the shade of a tree with sweat stinging her eyes, Aimee admitted to enjoying the battle over the seemingly never ending invasive weed. Jess lovingly watched over Aimee’s attempt at a vegie patch - laughing at Aimee’s attempts at pruning.
‘You are supposed to nurture and stimulate growth not butcher them,’ Jess teased.
Time together created an array of touchstone memories - countless walks with the dogs, sitting on the veranda drinking endless cups of tea and chatting away about everything and nothing. There were late night dinners and copious amounts of wine, something Aimee took great pleasure introducing to Jess.
Aimee showcased her taste in music with varying degrees of success. Jess tried to listen to Synchronicity, Kind of Blue and No Angel however, being foremost a party-girl, Jess’s natural inclination was to dance, which meant the two of them often ended up arm-in-arm singing along to Like A Virgin, She’s So Unusual and anything by Bananarama, much to Aimee’s chagrin.
When the Harper men were away Aimee helped Jess and her mother tend to the never-ending tasks that kept a working farm humming along. Aimee nicknamed the farm El Rancho and while it consisted mainly of cattle and Aimee’s beloved geese in a bid to diversify, Marie Harper started up a native seedling business, where she propagated a range of native plants so that neighbouring properties could re-generate their cleared land.
Life in the country had been a significant step for Aimee. At first it had been the lack of background noise that Aimee latched onto. She loved the still nights and was fascinated by the countless stars pin-pricking the darkest night sky she’d ever seen. Jess pointed out the reason they could see such an abundance of stars was due to the absence of street lights which intrigued Aimee no end.
One memory that stood out was the afternoon, not long after Aimee moved in, the entire Harper family descended the steep gravel driveway with a basket of organically home-grown fruit and vegies to welcome their new neighbour.
As she was upstairs, the first Aimee knew of anyone trying to find her inside the cavernous timber framed house was the sight of a lone figure walking along the back veranda. Then she heard voices coming from the kitchen.
Aimee was stricken with anxiety, not knowing what to do. Thoughts of being invaded or robbed were overwhelmed by the incongruity of being alone on a property with acres of trees surrounding her. Aimee had welcomed and embraced being alone with typical bravado, so the relaxed manner and speech of the people invading the house added to the surreal situation.
Aimee heard a young woman’s voice then footsteps up the steep wooden stairs that led from the lounge room to the loft where she had arranged her musical equipment.
‘Hi there,’ Aimee called out as she walked towards the stairs. The two women looked at each other, both embarrassed by each other’s awkwardness.
‘We brought you a basket, a welcoming present,’ Jess hoped it looked more impressive than it sounded.
‘Thanks,’ Aimee tried to sound enthusiastic and grateful, but her tone fell somewhere in between. Aimee stared at the family who had converged at the bottom of the stairs waiting for some indication from their host as what to do next.
Fighting her natural tendency of wanting to be alone and the unwanted pressure of having to interact, Aimee guided Jess down the stairs into the kitchen to inspect the wicker basket full to the brim with avocados, mangos, strawberries and homemade jam.
As she drove into the night, Aimee remembered the rest of that afternoon sitting on the veranda drinking tea watching the dogs run up and down the hill as they got to know each other.