© Helen Lowe
Published in Home: New Short Short Stories by New Zealand Writers, (Random House NZ) October 2005
The 'phone shrilled, louder than the alarm clock. I heard the screen door bang and the pad of bare feet on lino, Jenny's curse as she stubbed a toe and then her voice. "Jenny here. Hello! Hello? Anna?" A sudden silence that crackled in the quiet house. I found myself out of bed almost without thinking, pulling on jeans and jumper and going soft footed to the door, listening. Jenny's voice was calm, remote, steady. "What happened? When? Of course, yes. I'll be there as soon as I can. Tomorrow. Yes, yes, you know I will." A pause and then, quietly, "Yes, as soon as I can. You just look after yourself, ok?"
She did not say, I love you, be strong, but the words hung in the air. She put the receiver down very gently and stood looking at it, as though it could offer up some universal meaning. She didn't look at me, just turned and walked into the kitchen, began making a cup of tea. "Sean's dead," she said, just like that, in the same tone as you would say 'pass the tea' or 'I think it's going to rain today'. "That was Anna. I said I'd be there as soon as possible. Tomorrow." She shrugged away from the hand I stretched out to her. "Don't. Not now. Not yet."
She walked past me, out onto the back porch with its view of the metalled yard and muddied green paddock, the walnut tree rising above the corrugated iron of the hay shelter and beyond that the steep dun and mauve slopes of the mountains. High, bleak, austere. Impossibly isolated, impossibly remote. Her lips moved but I had to lean close in to hear. "Cold Cass. That's what he always called it. He couldn't understand why I wanted to stay on when Dad died. He hated it, said it chilled his soul. That's why he'd never come back, not even to visit."
She was silent, holding the tea cupped between her hands, steam rising in a fine lazy curl. "All his life," she said finally, "and then –" She turned, her eyes very dark in her pale face. "Anna said it was the last thing he said. Not her name. Not mine. Just the one word. Just 'Cass'. This place. Home." Then she put the cup very carefully to one side, sat down on the step and cried.