Sitting beside Ana, on a matching wicker deckchair angled in such a way as to encourage conversation between the two people occupying them, is the wrong man.
If I told him, she wonders, would it ruin my life?
She opens her mouth and closes it again. Picks up the glass of riesling to her right and takes a sip. This moment is almost perfect. The southern New South Wales sky is fairy-floss pink and a warm breeze tickles her hairline. It’s starting to smell like summer – citronella and faraway traces of backburning. The kids are at their grandparents’ until seven. Billy, the dog, is curled up beside her, waiting for dinnertime. She lives in the house with the swimming pool and the French doors and the deck looking out onto dense bushland, just like she’d always wanted. The deck he’d built with his calloused hands. She looks down at the dark timber panels.
The foundation upon which her whole life has been built. He’d tell her that if you muck around with the foundations of anything, the structure will collapse. And you’ll have to start again. ‘Not very efficient,’ he’d mumble, before climbing into his truck to tear down a perfectly beautiful cottage to make way for a lifeless monstrosity.
She hears him breathe a forced sigh from the chair beside her and fury rises in her chest. For a moment she thinks she might hate him, and then remembers, slowly, that she doesn’t.
If you asked Ana what her first memory was, she’d answer like she’d been thinking about it. She’s in her Baba’s backyard and there’s a hole in the fence and she can see a spider. It’s growing. Getting bigger and bigger. But the memory isn’t really about the spider. It’s about the people behind her. Her Baba and Deda. The way Baba always shook her head when Deda made her laugh. How she sat with her knitting needles and yarn, lost in her fingers, while he sat across from her, reading another book about World War II. And how one of them would look up, every so often, and smile at the other. As if to say: Even after sixty years, I miss you when you’re someplace else.
That’s what love is to Ana. Her parents were the same. And Ana, for most of her marriage, had been the same. Until it all went wrong. Tonight, as tended to happen, the tone of the sky changes, a reminder that some things don’t stay good for long. Twilight falls and darkness envelops the bushland laid out before them. With her elbow propped up on the dusty armrest, her head resting heavily on her hand, she notices things she hadn’t before.