Other Side of the Season, страница 1
Praise for Season of Shadow and Light
‘Another winning story of self-discovery, renewal and growth.’ Write Note Reviews
Praise for Simmering Season
‘A tangled web of family loyalties, guilt, secrets and would-be careers … A great read.’ Newcastle Herald
‘Showcases McLeod’s ability to portray life in all its facets. In its laid-back Aussie way, this novel reaches out and grips your heart.’ Rowena Holloway Reviews
‘McLeod has cemented herself as an Australian contemporary fiction writer to watch. Like its predecessor, House for all Seasons, this book is full of heart.’ Write Note Reviews
Praise for House for all Seasons
‘An enthralling read that will leave you feeling compelled to ponder your own childhood memories … A captivating story.’ The Australian Women’s Weekly
‘A painful exploration of estrangement, loss, truth, redemption and the power of wishes.’ The West Australian
‘Impressively weaves a tale of secrets, scandal, surprise and reunification.’ The Sun-Herald
‘A warm, engaging read, and such a great cast of characters.’ Dianne Blacklock, author of The Best Man
For believing in my story . . .
Jeannette McAnderson, Roberta Ivers and Larissa Edwards, Elizabeth Cowell and Clare Foster.
I prefer winter when you feel the bone structure of the landscape, the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show.
Andrew Wyeth, 1917–2009
The Blue Mountains, 2015
Sorry was all he’d managed to write this time, each shaking stroke of his pen scratching against the sheet of fancy paper. Unsaid, the solitary word seemed hollow and meaningless. There were so many things to be sorry about. Sometimes he was sorry he’d been born at all. But how did he explain that in a letter? Besides, who would care to know all he’d done–all that had been done to him?
Outside the guestroom, winter-grey mountains sat against a dawn sky brushed purple and gold. Soon enough the familiar mist would tinge everything blue. The haze was said to be oil particles emitted by eucalypt trees, but he knew it was most likely chimney smoke from nearby houses–homes that would be warm and welcoming of family and of friends. Wasn’t that how life was meant to be?
Not like this.
Not sad, not scared, and not sorry. And yet there was that single, unsaid word staring back at him from the page.
He’d already penned one brief note and addressed it: To Anyone Who Cares.
Three short sentences.
But this second note–this apology–was his last chance to explain what he was sorry about. He’d need to find the right words so she understood, so she’d know the truth. His version of the truth at least, because . . .
There’s another side to every story.
Watercolour Cove, 2015
‘Get that clodhopper of a foot off my dashboard, Jake.’
Her brother barely mumbled himself awake when Sidney thumped the solid lump of shoulder muscle sculpted from years of hauling heavy tubs of ice and freshly caught fish.
‘What’s up, sis?’ Jake flicked at the brim of his peak cap and slid the gold-rimmed sunglasses down his nose before looking around. ‘And what have you done with Byron Bay?’
‘Come on, get your act together,’ Sidney replied, noting the two-kilometres-to-town signpost. ‘We’re here.’
‘We are? Didn’t we only just cross over Mooney Mooney Creek Bridge?’
‘About four hours ago. You’ve been great company while I’ve been driving.’
‘Only four hours from Mooney and we’re already in Byron? Really?’ Jake sat straight. ‘The place looks different than I remember.’
‘Very funny. This isn’t Byron Bay and you know it.’
‘So, I take it the we’re here is a bit premature. Wake me when we get there, will ya? And do you think we can turn the heat down a little? A bloke could bake in this car.’
Her brother burrowed back into the seat, rested his chin on his chest and pretended to nod off again as Sid fiddled with the climate control knob, glimpsing her travel-weary face in the rear-view mirror and wishing Jake hadn’t got all the good looks.
‘I made an executive decision while you were sleeping.’
He peeked sideways at her from under his cap. ‘My big sister is making decisions on the fly? Since when?’
Jake was right. While her brother had inherited the impulsive gene from some distant relative, Sid, older by ten years, was usually more prudent–a mix of her mother’s cautiousness and her father’s need for order and routine. But with the recent overdose of motherly advice she’d received, and with life about to be flipped on its head in a matter of months–all routine out the window–a little spontaneity seemed like the perfect panacea. The detour wasn’t all that spur-of-the-moment, of course, but her brother didn’t know that yet.
‘Sidney? Out with it.’ Jake sat up again and appeared to take in the change of scenery. Where thick, unwieldy trees and shrubs had lined the roadside, the vegetation was now sparse and pruned to accommodate traffic signs, advertising billboards and local tourist drive information. ‘Where are we and what are you up to?’
‘Nothing!’ Even Sid thought she sounded like a guilty ten-year-old. ‘I saw the name of the town and I liked it. Watercolour Cove sounds special, don’t you think? And it’s a nice break from the highway.’ Sid had been enjoying the feel of her new car wending its way along the ribbon of bitumen that traced a wide river, on which an occasional boat floated at anchor, bows pointing into the breeze. ‘Is the view right now not more spectacular than Byron?’ she asked. ‘Besides, that town is overrated, overcrowded and overpriced–even in winter. We are both out of work, remember?’
‘You’re a crap liar, Sidney. Never been your strong suit. What gives? The idea was to check out the job scene. There’s always something going in Byron, and the further north we go the warmer the winter for cold frogs like you.’ Jake attempted to adjust the temperature control again but she slapped his hand away.
‘I agree there’s probably more jobs, but there’s also more people vying for them. Don’t you think the odds might be better in a small, out-of-the-way place like this?’
Jake eyeballed his sister. ‘And how out of the way would that be?’
‘Oh, only a few kilometres from the Pacific Highway.’
‘There’s that face again, Sid. I’ve known when you’re fibbing ever since you told me the tooth fairy forgot to leave money under my pillow. Now, how many is a few kilometres?’
‘Ah, about twenty-five, give or take a kilometre or so. Anyway, I need to refuel.’
‘And a twenty-five kilometre detour from the country’s busiest highway was your best option?’ Jake inspected his wristwatch as Sid pulled up beside a diesel pump at the small garage in the heart of the Watercolour Cove township. ‘Right-o, then. It’s too late to hit the highway now. It’ll be beer o’clock soon enough, I reckon. This town better have a pub.’
• • •
‘No pub!’ Her brother repeated the petrol station attendant’s answer as the bloke robbed Sidney of an exorbitant amount of money for one night’s villa accommodation in the caravan park behind the garage. ‘I’ve heard of the pub with no beer, mate, but what kind of Aussie country town doesn’t have a hotel?’
The attendant shrugged. ‘Renovations. Closed till July.’
‘That’s a whole month away.’
Another shrug. ‘Best time, really. First day of winter. Not many people c
‘Told you so, sis.’
Sid slipped the credit card back into her wallet. This trip was going to cost more than she’d first thought–money that would’ve been better off earning interest until the end of next month when she planned to be back home, in time for Sydney’s July sales. She’d need to buy furniture and other things to set up her own place, because she wasn’t staying at her mother’s any longer than needed. Mid October was her absolute deadline. If she could survive her mother that long.
‘Fish co-op only operates till two pm.’ The attendant handed Sidney a giant key tag, the words Gumnut Cabin burned into a varnished piece of wood. ‘The Fisho’s Club on the other side of the cove is good for a beer and it’s walking distance. Follow the path from the breakwall, down along the beach and up the other side. You’ll see it past the jetties, but before the co-op. Bistro’s always open and not bad, as long as Cook’s having a good day.’ The mechanic with the winter tan flicked his wild mane of surfer-boy bleached hair.
‘I like my seafood,’ Jake said.
‘In that case, you might want to take the car and follow the river along the bottom of the mountain behind us. A few kilometres along you’ll find Moonlight Oysters. Best Sydney rock oysters in the country.’
Jake took the villa key and his sister’s elbow, guiding her out of the small shop. ‘Oysters! Okay, now we’re talking. Come on, sis, your shout.’
‘Maybe tomorrow, Jake. I really don’t want to get back in the car right now. Let’s walk the main street and we can check out the Fisho’s Club for dinner tonight.’
Her brother stopped to survey the short length of divided road, the median strip down its centre planted out to add colour: flowering gazanias, brilliant pigface and small clumps of purple lobelia dwarfed by the spiky and unwieldy reeds of a mysterious grey-green plant.
‘Don’t get too excited about the main street,’ he said.
Shops lined only one side of the road, while opposite there was open space–a beachside reserve with a poorly placed public amenities block that partially obstructed breathtakingly beautiful estuary views. Someone had painted a seascape over the squat brick building and, although clever, the finished artwork was no substitute for the real thing.
Halfway along the street the footpath detoured into a paved courtyard ringed by more small businesses: a café and takeaway with wooden tables and chairs fixed in place, the market umbrellas folded away and stacked in one corner; a tattoo parlour called Squid’s Ink; and a hairdressing salon called Salt Spray that had fifty per cent off foils.
Sid needed a spruce-up. She might feel like crap more often than not these days, but she didn’t have to look like–to use her mother’s expression–she had given up caring completely. Natalie didn’t mince her words, her critical business eye and expectations flowing over to her family, like criticising her daughter’s increasingly frequent fashion faux pas. Natalie always looked immaculate. Not a single strand of bottle-blonde hair was ever out of place, her make-up faultless from breakfast to bedtime.
At the last shop in the small courtyard, in the only section of window glass not obliterated with anti-government posters, Sid caught her own reflection: the comfortable track pants that were pulled a little too tight, the shapeless hoodie hanging a little too loose, and more hair out rather than in the elastic band. Mourning her job, and the seven years of her life she’d lost building up Zeus Design Studio, Sid had ditched business suits for comfortable pants and oversized jumpers, and given up complexion-enhancing make-up, expensive foils to enliven her mousey-brown hair, and styling products–all potential poisons according to a magazine article. Instead she rediscovered a love of face freckles and no longer bothered to cover the sprinkling that had speckled her nose and cheeks since childhood.
Once over the shock, Sid tried to see her unemployment status as liberating. With time on her hands, and the odd bit of freelance work to keep money coming in, she was at least eating three healthy meals a day and trying to think positive about herself and her future.
‘Are you listening, sis?’ Jake tugged at the ponytail Sid favoured these days. A few months ago she would have started each morning wrestling with a round brush and hair dryer to coerce the waves into a more corporate look. Now she couldn’t be bothered. Maybe her mother was right and Sid really had started to give up completely–and not just on her appearance. Then Sid found the letter scrunched up in the bin and she finally had a mission, something to take her mind off everything else.
‘Sorry, Jake, I guess I’m more tired than I thought. What were you saying?’
‘I told Mum we’d ring when we got to Byron,’ he repeated. ‘Better call and fill her in.’
‘No!’ Sidney snapped. ‘I mean, yes, we can call, but maybe we shouldn’t tell her where we are–exactly. It’s not as if a small detour matters and she might worry. Besides, she’s only been in Melbourne a couple of days. Let her settle in. We know how full-on a visit to Aunty Tasha’s can be.’
‘Sidney?’ Jake’s questioning, the way he strung out his words, always sounded a little bit like a song. ‘What exactly are you up to?’
‘Nuh-ah! That is not your nothing face. That face right now is your uh-oh flippin’ fishcakes face. And I will tell Mum, you know. I’m not too old to dob on my big sister leading me astray.’ The conspiratorial squint told Sid he was kidding, easing her concerns.
‘As if she’s not upset enough with the business shutting and everything else. Let’s not worry Mum about our change of plans.’
Jake stepped in front, blocking her path. ‘Tell me, Sid.’
‘Okay, okay. I found something.’
‘Something like what? Gold in them big ol’ hills up there? Or is there sunken treasure in the little cove, me hearty?’
‘A letter. Can we keep walking, please? It’s cold.’ She darted around her brother, forcing him to catch up.
‘I’ll keep walking if you keep talking,’ he said. ‘Where did you find this letter?’
‘At home. In the bin. Mum had thrown it away.’
‘Sidney, you’re doing my head in.’ They crossed the road, heading for the crescent-shaped stretch of sand that the bloke at the bowsers said would lead them to the Fishermen’s Club. ‘You owe me an explanation–I’ll have a draught beer at the same time. Come on. Get a move on. A man could die of thirst at this pace.’
• • •
‘Well, flip me a fishcake!’ Jake looked up from the letter in his hand when Sidney returned with a glass of pale ale for him and a lemon squash to quench her unquenchable thirst. With any luck the sugar would help hold back the headache from becoming any worse.
‘So, now you know as much as I do.’
‘And this is why you’ve dumped me in a town with no pub,’ Jake said. ‘Hmm! Might it not have been better to ask Mum? Or are the two of you still playing no talkies since the last argument?’
‘Ask her what? Why she’s never told us we had a grandfather living only a seven-hour drive north of Sydney? And why, when he’s extending an olive branch and asking to reconnect with his son, she decides to throw the letter in the bin unanswered?’
‘That might’ve been a start,’ Jake said. ‘You obviously knew she hadn’t sent a reply.’
‘I did ask her, sort of.’ Ice cubes bobbed in Sid’s glass as she poked at them with the striped drinking straw. ‘I fished around when I first found the letter two weeks ago.’
Jake gave a little snort. ‘Sis, you fish like you drive.’ He folded his arms on the table and shook his head. ‘I knew something was going on with you two. The atmosphere at home has been colder than a Tibetan tin toilet seat.’
‘Try living there.’
‘No thanks.’ Jake sculled his beer. ‘One visit a week is enough for me. So, what did Mum say?’
‘She told me she was respecting our father’s wishes, then promptly reminded me, i
‘Then we kind of argued–again–about something. I can’t remember what. You know how Mum is always changing the subject when it suits her.’
Kind of argued was a bit of an understatement. Their mother had been furious. In hindsight, confronting her about the letter over dinner that night had not been very smart, considering recent events–especially since mother and daughter hadn’t seen eye to eye on much over the years.
‘And then?’ Jake stared harder.
‘I told her it wasn’t right to keep something like that from us. Dad was the one with the family issues and since he’s not here anymore surely you and I can choose whether or not we reconnect with our relatives.’
‘So, this little detour away from Byron was planned.’ Jake sounded miffed. ‘And you figured you wouldn’t let me in on the secret until when?’
‘We can still get to Byron. In the letter our grandfather mentions a beach house in Watercolour Cove. I was curious to see the place–and it’s not far out of our way. I thought a couple of days here wouldn’t hurt.’
‘And the fact that this grandfather is in prison doesn’t add a degree, or two, of difficulty?’
‘I hadn’t decided how that factors into my plans. Still haven’t.’
‘And so here we are,’ was all Jake said.
Sid followed her brother’s contemplative gaze to the cluster of beach shacks set back along the foreshore, their front yards wild with dune vegetation. ‘Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.’
‘No worries, sis. Maybe it’s not such a loony idea after all.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I didn’t see too many houses as we drove through town, and if this grandfather of ours really has got a property in Watercolour Cove, well, just check out those little beauties on the beach. Pretty awesome if he owns one of those joints. Visiting the old bloke may put us in his good books and his will. Good move, sis.’ Jake winked.