The day began with a clear blue, reaching from the foothills behind the house all the way to the high country of the south. A hint of winter in the snow-capped peaks. The sheep were already spread out across the sloping front paddocks, their noses nudging the grass to warm it with their breath before they chewed. While in a paddock down on the flats a tractor is towing a steaming trailer of silage.
Manuel had called these late autumnal days ‘saints days’, when everything around is perfect and it rubs off.
Liv filled the coffee pot smiling and stood at the stove whisking the milk to froth and watching the sky brighten. A blue four-wheel drive ute pulled into the driveway. A light dust trail hung in the air as it came up and parked in front of the house. She added more milk to the pot. Jorey was early.
He was wearing a new black shirt, the creases still showed from the packaging. His jeans were clean and he had on brown suede boots. He took the steps two at a time to the deck. A strong smell of aftershave crossed the doorsill with him.
‘Bell up?’ he said.
Bell walked in to the kitchen. Her eyes rolled toward the three mugs of coffee on the table. She went up to Jorey and kissed him on the cheek. He blushed and glanced over at Liv.
Bell’s hair was tied back and rolled under. She was wearing a white shirt open to the third button and tight faded jeans tucked into brown cowboy boots. She looked like a wrangler, Liv thought.
‘You’re early,’ said Bell.
‘Justine is meeting us at eight.’
‘Coffee first,’ Liv said.
Bell looked at Jorey.
‘I don’t want anything in my stomach before we go up. Just in case,’ she said.
‘You’ll be fine,’ he said.
Liv dropped into the void of the gaping stainless-steel sink, dismissing the chatter, a deep grip on that place of emptiness, wishing for immunity from her own misguided notions. She stood holding her coffee. It was hot in her mouth and on her tongue and it burnt the back of her throat before it landed in her stomach with a hard, fiery smack. She straightened her back and blinked back the jolt. A tui in the flax cackled and called out to a mate. Liv’s nose was dripping. She reached into the pocket of her jeans for a tissue and spilled coffee on the lino floor. She mopped it with the same tissue and dropped the tissue in the compost bucket under the sink.
‘Wrong bucket, Liv, tissues don’t compost, remember,’ Bell said.
Liv fished out the soggy lump and placed it on the bench.
Jorey stood beside the fridge fidgeting with the magnets. ‘We should get going,’ he said.
Bell tipped her coffee into the sink where a slick, muddy pool clouded the bright bottom surface. She looked at Liv.
‘Enjoy the day on your own,’ Bell said.
The back wheels of the ute kicked up a cloud of dust as it lurched onto the tarmac and headed west. Sunlight caught in the driver’s side mirror like a flash of knowing. It was one of those days when the providence of the saints could go to hell, Liv thought.
She tipped out Jorey’s untouched coffee and rinsed the three cups under the cold water and placed them upside down on the bench to drain. She scraped out the black grounds from the coffee pot into the plastic container beside the sink and rinsed it and placed it upside down beside the cups. She tossed the wad of tissue on the bench back into the compost bucket. For a while she sat at the kitchen table and picked at something sticky under the edge. It was the first time she had seen him wearing anything but overalls.
The next clear day, he had said. He would ask Justine to take her up in the top dressing plane. There is nothing like a bird’s-eye view to put things in perspective.
The phone rang. She let it ring then changed her mind and grabbed the receiver from the holder on the wall beside the door.
The caller asked for Bell.
Liv offered to take a message.
‘That’s not necessary. Does she have her car?’
Perhaps because he didn’t give his name or declined to leave a message, Liv felt wary.
‘No,’ Liv said.
‘Is the car on the property?’
She studied the open cupboard under the sink. The compost bucket was full. Another job. The day was hers. A silver Audi coupe, registration BELLA1, was parked under a dust cover in the garage. It had been there since Bell arrived. BELLA1. It wasn’t an arbitrary decision.
‘Thank you,’ he said, and hung up.
The chickens were scratchy and had tipped the self-regulating water canister from its dish. Liv hurried the birds into the outside run and filled the feeding trough with grit and wheat before closing the roost off while she cleaned out the damp straw into the wheelbarrow. The straw went into the number one compost bin behind the garage. Through the spider-webbed garage window, Liv could make out the shape of Bell’s car under the cover.
She pegged out the sheets and towels, then went into the vegetable garden and cut the straggly leaves off the silverbeet that she threw over the fence into the orchard. The chickens bolted from their run on cue to the pile of greens and spent the rest of the day foraging under the fruit trees. Liv made a chocolate cake and iced it with melted chocolate. She ate two pieces for lunch. In the afternoon she de-headed the cosmos, cornflowers and marigolds, swept the deck and front and back porches, read a book and forgot about the phone call.
She must have dropped off to sleep. She didn’t hear the truck arrive. Two large, polite men, one with a goatee, one with a cap, stood in front of her on the deck. They had a repossession notice for a 2011 silver Audi coupe.
She offered them coffee and cake, but they were in a hurry and declined.
They didn’t need the tow truck. Liv gave them the keys from the dresser in Bell’s room.
You should have made your payments, Bell, she thought. It’s theft. Liv knew all about theft.