By Tamara Hunter
His voice had tripped over into whine about five minutes earlier. His lips tugged downwards, his eyes wrinkly messes of dismay.
“I’m hungry,” he repeated, drawing the syllables out to illustrate his agony as completely as possible. He opened one eye, a furtive sweep, to check we were listening.
“Well I’m staaahving too,” the other one said. “You don’t hear me complaining.”
I opened the window and dangled the bag of Freddo Frogs between thumb and forefinger, the plastic wrapping slapping noisily as it fought to disappear into the slipstream.
“One more whinge,” I said clearly, “and the frogs get it.”
There was silence from the back seat as they contemplated the odds. Mum WAS kind of crazy, you could hear them thinking. She just might do it. She definitely might do it.
I tossed the bag into the passenger seat and glanced back at the two of them. One dark, one fair. Two freckled noses, one now sulking and the other pointed in the direction of the big beyond. The odds were they would get the frogs yet. I might be crazy, but I was soft, too. It was softness that had led us here – three soft suckers humming along in a clapped out Cortina as dusk fell on a highway so lazily daubed they’d forgotten to add the signs.
“Do you think he’ll look any different?” the older one said after a while.
I thought for a bit. It was hard to know how to answer any way but honestly.
“He might. He’s been pretty sick. He can’t eat much these days.”
“Maybe we can give him a frog,” said the other, convinced chocolate held healing powers beyond those possessed by any crackpot quack.
It was dark when we crested the last rise on the red dust drive, the farmhouse lights a dull break in a backdrop of country stars. I bundled the gently snoring boys, one by one, into the spare room’s sagging double bed and tugged at my day-old dress.
I rounded the doorframe and stopped short. He was almost unrecognisable. Not the man we’d run from, the kids and I, five years before. He looked like he hadn’t had a good meal since.
“I’ll get you some soup,” I started, but he waved a finger.
“No,” he said. “No food. Don’t care for it these days.”
He opened and closed his eyes a few times, staring at the bedroom ceiling while I stood silently – acclimatising; cloaked in caution.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” he said at last. “Thought I’d die from waiting. Not from want of food, but from lack of you.” He turned his head, grey eyes momentarily warmed by the need that had once driven us into bed and onto the table and rolling over the soft grass behind the saleyards.
I shut the image out. Didn’t need old aches to be reawakened. Not now.
“I brought them,” I said. “The boys. Have your fill tomorrow. We leave at two.”