As I walk the boundary of my property after dusk, I don’t trust my eyes. I’m trying to make sense of various shapes around me. Shadows lurking behind trees are like people hiding from me. Bushes, jutting out from the ground, like boulders. The earth under my feet is indistinct, uncertain, and trips me.
Somewhere to my left I hear the thudding of a kangaroo racing by. I’m amazed by how they can do this in low light over rocky ground and through thick scrub and trees. Behind comes a rustle. I’m hoping it’s a wombat or echidna. It’s too hot for snakes. Forty degrees Celsius earlier today, thirty now. Too hot for them to be active, anyway.
I remind myself I’m out here because inside is an oven, with the walls radiating heat. But it’s the pictures on the walls I’m afraid of. The big grins and sparkling eyes, telling tales of pleasant days and joyful families.
I should be cooking dinner, but the kitchen is empty. It still has all its plates, skillets, stocked pantry and fridge, but not the patter of small feet on the old floorboards or a child running to tell me something, or the friendly chatter of a partner come in to tell me about their day.
I want to see small figures running up and down the hall, jumping up and down on beds, or crashing off couches. I want to share a drink with someone, flirt with them, maybe steal a kiss.
The kids, all grown up, are long gone, just like any laughter, giggling, or hint of human contact. They want me to sell the place. They’ve wanted me to put it on the market for some time.
Last night I found myself outside one of their bedrooms. It was late. I stood waiting for an opportunity to sneak in so I could listen to their breathing. I thought, if only I could slip inside, hear soft air floating in through a nostril and out of a mouth, the most soothing, sleep inducing sound for a parent, everything would be okay.
When I opened the door, the room was barren and only then did I remember it had been this way for five years.
Brendan went first. That didn’t surprise me. He could barely contain his glee the day he packed up all his stuff into his girlfriend’s station wagon and drove away. I expected him to dress me down before he left, saying something similar to what he’d said before about how I’d treated his mother poorly.
Jill left a year after him. She didn’t like when I met new women. I thought she would see my moving on as a good thing, trying to get back some of the unhappy years Susan and I had spent together.
The last woman I invited over found me outside of my bedroom. I had been knocking quietly, seemingly not wanting to bother whoever was inside. I remember thinking Susan was on the other side of the door. I had been tapping quietly. I didn’t want to disturb her.
When Susan was still alive, my rapping never troubled her because when I entered she would be awake, waiting for me, even if she just had chemo and had been vomiting and was exhausted.
In those months before she went she never said much. She only watched. Her eyes were the only thing that moved, the only body part not eaten away by the cancer.
She wasn’t angry anymore. Her eyes were big, but distant, darting and scared. I focused on those. I couldn’t look at the rest of her.
The moon is coming out. About half an hour ago it came up through the trees, throwing a glassy blue light. Looking off to the distance, flashes from a storm light up the sky.
As the moon moves higher into the sky, clouds pass over it, momentarily covering it, extinguishing all the shadows, and throwing me into complete darkness. My eyes strain to see anything.
The cloud passes and everything is visible again. After a minute, another one comes across, and blackness descends once more.
As it comes out from behind a cloud, the light from the moon reminds me of texts Susan would send. I never knew when one was going to arrive, illuminating my phone, pitching me into despair.
I would be outside then too, trying to get through a day. My phone would buzz with a text. She’d need help to go to the toilet, to get dressed to sit outside, to eat when she was too weak to prepare anything or hold the cutlery.
She detested the indignity of it, but worse was her requesting me to come hold her. I never knew how close to get, or where to touch her. Her body, the flesh and strength gone, felt cold, withered and like it might break.
A chicken clucks from the hen house down the hill, fifty metres away. Maybe there’s a fox out tonight, prowling the coop, looking for a way in.
The clouds start to thicken, throwing a blanket across the moon and sky and everything into complete darkness. The fox will like that. I move down toward the sound, noisily, clumsily, spooking a couple of kangaroos, hearing their thudding again, and hopefully scaring whatever’s making the chickens cackle.
I turn back toward the house. I’ve left a light on. I almost expect to see someone inside, come to the window to look out at the night sky or for friends coming around. People don’t come round here anymore.
The light inside the house flickers. My rational brain thinks it’s the grid under pressure from all the air-conditioners pumping cool air into homes, giving people relief from the relentless heat.
The light fails, throwing the house into darkness before it comes on again. This happens twice in quick succession.
The flashing light, is it a sign? Is it Susan trying to make contact?
James Hannan is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. His work has appeared in Styluslit, Literally Stories, Prole, Fiction Pool, Litro, Bourbon and Blood, Last Surviving Story anthology, the Wild Goose, Brain Drip, the Big Issue, and New Matilda.