The day was stinking, sticky enough that even the flies didn't bother doing anything. The occasional dragonfly drifts across the little sickly coloured pond and she imagines a swan floating through it. Dipping it's graceful neck into the water it would rise, spluttering and screeching as it realised it wasn't in the sparkling pond it's grace deserved. She flicks a strand of hair from her face, knowing the sweaty wind would push it back in a second. She really shouldn't be sitting on the veranda with a cup of tea; if the flies didn't want to grace the open air with its presence then nor should she. She can't be inside though. They were at it again, she hated when they were at it. Sometimes she almost wished they would fight instead, she could stand the fighting because it meant it would end with him leaving. The wind pushes a new strand into her damp face and she leaves it, letting it bother her eyelids. A small lorikeet comes and escapes the heat on the railing of the veranda and she leans towards it.
"How long can people have sex for anyway?"
Of course the bird doesn't answer, but pecks at the wood before shuffling to the broken chair. The leg was wobbly, but the lightness of the bird doesn't bother it.
"You wouldn't even know," she tells the bird. "It's all about primal instincts for you isn't it."
In reply the bird lifts off, for a split second letting a splash of colour fill her sight. The dragonfly has gone too and around her there is silence. Not even the heat makes a noise. She wonders what the heat does when it's gone. Is it like the sun and rests on the other side of the earth before rising in again, or does it just disappear, waiting til it's signalled to come again. She knows some things are silly to think, but she wants to think of anything to take her mind off what's going on inside.
The screen door behind her creaks and she turns. She hadn't them out so soon.
Instead it's just her cat, the young gray tabby slipping past the door she had left ajar. She wouldn't be able to get back in but she doesn't seem to care, slinking off to a spot of sun by her feet.
The cat, always drawn to sun, would sun be like any good hot water bottle.
"Minerva," she calls, scratching the arm of her chair.
The cat looks at her for a moment and rolls over.
"Minnie." Nothing this time. "You're fault then you turn into a freshly cooked lobster."
From inside the house she hears something clatter, and tried to block her ears to it. They used to try and hide it but perhaps it became tedious for them.
The cat turns over and gets up, stretching its back in a bridge-worthy arch. It looks up at her, and she holds out her hand. Taking the invitation it jumps up, settling itself into her lap.
"You're a sweetie." She pats the cat softly, scratching its head as it purrs.
The dragonfly returns to the pond, darting across its surface. She promised to clean it out one day, maybe even install a filter and put some of those giant goldfish in it. She'll never do it, but she likes to think about those things. At times like now, she'll think about anything.
Hearing another clunk from inside she rises, slipping the cat disgruntledly off her lap. Going to the corner of the veranda she bends down and looks underneath the railing. There's a tough stick by her feet which she picks up and uses to scratch a thin, small line into the wood. Flicking her nail to it, she counts.
The cat nudges her foot.
"Sixteen kitty," she says. "Sixteen in three months."
It doesn't surprise her that the cat doesn't care, and she scoops her back into her arms. Sometimes the cat was her only friend.
"You'll always be here for me won't you kitty?" Of course she hoped to outlive the cat, but it comforted her anyway.
Taking back her seat with the cat again on her lap, she watches the stagnant yard. She loved this place, the home she had grown up in and still grew on in. She wonders these days if she'll grow old in it, someone has to. The yard was wide, it was more like a field, and down the hill which she couldn't see was a few apple trees. There was a fence around the yard, but it was a small one to keep the neighbours sheep out and she would only see it if she went for a long walk. She had planned on going for one today, but the heat bore down. Her parents used to send them down to the apple trees to pick the ripe ones, and they'd come hobbling back with bags bursting at the seams. They'd the ripe from the overripe, and send the mushy ones into pies and good ones to their neighbours. She loved going to the neighbours, the one with the sheep, because they had two large dogs that could almost bowl anyone over if they tried. It had been awhile since she'd seen her neighbours, the dogs had probably died. In the early days of the empty house they'd come around often, bringing food, checking up on them, but that trailed off. They couldn't be cared for forever. Some god obviously thought that too.
The cat nudged into her neck and begun to tickle her with her tongue. She needs the cat in her life, something to fill the empty house. Something so it seems like it's full, something to make her smile and laugh, something to replace what did that before. That's what happened when her parents died, she turned to the cat to fill the empty house. Her sister turned to her boyfriend, and she did like him but it felt wrong, having him fill the emptiness. Even the cat at first felt wrong, like she was searching for hope in the wrong places.
"I'll never regret you though," she scratches the cat again. She'd had her for a year, her parents had been dead for two. People always used words like sadly passed, or regrettably gone, but she thought it hid the truth. They were dead and they would always be dead.
The dragonfly, still flitting across the pond, rests for a moment on the side before taking off again. Maybe it had noticed the dirt-covered rocks beneath its feet and decided it was better to be in the air.
She takes a big gulp of her tea. It's beginning to go cold but she doesn't really mind. As long as it wasn't stark cold she'll drink it. Her sister doesn't like tea but he does. She doesn't want to think about him. She likes him, but she doesn't want him to be in her mind right now.
She lifts the cat onto the ground and pick up her tea.
"C'mon Minerva, want to go for a walk?" The cat lifts its leg up and scratches its ear in reply.
"What if I carry you there?"
She stops her scratching and sits upright.
"Here we go sweetie." She drags the cat up into her left arm and hooks it on her waist like a baby. The cat was small and unlikely to grow more and she liked that.
Out from the veranda the sun bore down, a stagnant heat that created another layer of sweat. Quickly she ignores it and walks on at a steady pace. As a child she'd always stop and the pond and look down, seeing if any new creatures had crawled its way into there during the night. The clear water rarely showed anything.
This time though she continues on, not wanting to spend too much time in the sun. The cat, maybe sensing the heat, fidgets in her arm.
"You can go down if you want." The fidgeting stops.
Even with her steady pace by the time she reaches the apple trees she's feels like she jumped into a pool of steaming water. She puts the cat down and she immediately gives herself a shake.
This time of year there's no apples, but the trees are covered in a thick layer of leaves. With her back to the trunk of one she rests in the shade, sipping her tea.
Someone had suggested burying the ashes under the trees but she said the ashes should be somewhere everyone can get to. She was actually afraid, terrified that every time she saw the apple trees she'd see her parents.
Reaching up she pulls a leaf off the tree and twists it around in her fingers. She had named each of the three trees. The smallest was called princess, because she was small and dreamed of being a princess. The one on the other side was called sheep, because if she climbed to the top she could sometimes see the sheep in the field next door. She rarely climbed them these days, she was too big to easily fit within the branches without ending up looking like she had walked through barbed wire.
She shifts her back against the middle tree. If she could call one tree her favourite, it would be this one. Not for any particular reason, but only because she had decided she should have a favourite and it would be this one.
"Minerva, don't go too high." The cat was slinking across the branches, able to easily manoeuvre around it.
She used to sit in the tree for ages, dangling her feet down and looking back towards her home. She enjoyed watching nothing but the grass.
She finishes her tea and props the cup in the ground. If she ever has to leave the home, the hardest thing would be leaving the trees. They held her childhood and her dreams and these days she felt it was all she had left of the past. Her home was no longer her home; her past had been taken away in a sudden and left behind an empty house. She hated that it had been filled with something of the future, something that wasn't childhood and innocence and dreams. It had been filled with him, and she wished some days that she could open the door and push him out like she did with the dust on the floor.
The heat is stifling, and the shade of the apple tree only brings the flies closer.
"We won't stay here long Minnie." She glances up amongst the leaves and finds the cat in the tree above her, dangling in the branches she once sat in.
Looking back in the direction of the house she knows she doesn't want to return until they're done. It shouldn't be long now, and if she takes a casual walk back to the house the sweat on her face might blur her sight. It would be easier to look at them.
"Alright Minerva, I'm too hot, let's go."
The cat jumps down and lands with a soft thud, immediately looking up at her with pleading eyes.
"You're walking yourself back."
She picks up her teacup and eyes the tree in the middle; her favourite tree. When she was in trouble as a child she would run to the apple trees and climb into her favourite, letting the cool leaves hide her as they tickled her skin. She thought she could hide forever, she would the apples each day and never have to leave. As she waited for someone to find her, or to accept that she had to return to the house, she would slowly eat an apple. Always only one, because if she was there for a while she would have to ration them. For that one slow-eaten apple, the tree would be her home. Sometimes she thought about changing the name of the tree, but every time she sat upon it she knew she couldn't.
She looks back towards the direction of the house, the place that been left empty and filled with the wrong things. Resting her hand on the apple tree she smiles as if it's watching.
"You'll always be Home."
The cat nudges itself against her leg and she sighs. She pulls her into her arms and lets the cat rest against her side. Holding the cat in one arm and the teacup in the other she returns to the house, walking slowly despite to be sure.
At the point she pauses, and glances down into the murky water. She'll clean it out one day, she promises to herself. From the pond she can see the shapes of two people in the lounge room window.
"Come on Minnie, we can't hide forever."
With a look back towards the now-hidden trees she remembers how she always thought she could. She wonders if even the apple trees feel the emptiness. She knows they don't, as long as the leaves grew and the apples flourished they would be full. More than ever she didn't regret the name of her middle tree. Even when her house felt empty, at least she had one home that would always be full.