Line after line, straight as a die, carefully tended, yet wilting. No water. The tanks are nearly dry. She gets down on the dry ground to pull out the weeds bare handed, with nails roughened and darkened with soil, not able to be scrubbed clean. The weeds pull back, not ready to release their hold on the soil. A little dig around the roots, they come clean. Annie carefully piles them together to burn under clear plastic in the midday sun, before putting them on the compost.
The sun is warm on her back. Annie wonders how she came to be here, far from her beautifully appointed home in the inner city, with a courtyard and potted palms as a token reminder of the natural world. The kitchen that had been fully equipped with all the modern conveniences (Peter had done all the cooking), and the vegetable basket that was refreshed by the housekeeper who came in three times a week. Perfect vegetables, no blackish marks, no wormholes, no digging, no torn nails.
Her office in her past life was far from the ground, up on the 15th floor of one of the more famous high-rises in the city, one the taxi drivers knew well, picking up fares from the driveway bay. Work was hectic. Long hours, lunches with boorish clients, dinners with even more boorish bosses. Being seen was the objective, and talking the talk. Peter always said that it wasn’t the toilers who got anywhere, it was the spoilers. The money was obscene. And it was squirreled away by Peter every month. He had computer programs to track the share market, the real estate, the mortgages on the mortgages. He even had a computer program for the housekeeper, who had to input her every expenditure. He was proud of it. The housekeeper grumbled.
Annie had not minded. It helped her budget her cosmetics, clothing and shoes. She waited until the sales to buy the best and then would breathlessly tell Peter about the savings, waiting for his response. A few times he acknowledged her good money habits, other times he bit his lips together with a silent reproach.
Clouds are building in the sky, a tantalising promise of rain, soon to be blown away by the hot westerlies. Annie sits back on her haunches, brushing wisps of hair back into the hairband, and stares out at the tinder dry scrub. She is glad to be alone, surviving by her wits, trying to win back a green square from the brown land, to beat the blue, blue sky empty of liquid droplets. She needs to be alone, craves it. The city rush now frightens her, the smog burns at the back of her throat, her chest tightens and her eyes water. She doesn’t want to go back there. It is calm here, in her small square of freedom.
The rows of carrot tops and beet are followed by bushes of roma tomatoes, big steak reds and smaller cherry tomatoes. Annie squishes a few aphids and grasshoppers, adding them to the compost.
The clouds remind her of the day on the yacht. Peter and Annie were enjoying a quiet day on the water and both had fallen asleep.
Annie awoke to the sound of thunder. Big fat drops of rain landed on her bare arms, followed by teeming sharp splinters of rain. Peter swore, yelling at Annie to drop the sails, and why hadn’t she told him, kept an eye on the weather. It was always Annie’s fault.
The boat rocked violently, Annie slipped, held onto a rope. Lightning streaked across the now black sky. Peter, bloodied and bruised, stared across at Annie, fear showing in his eyes. He fell onto her, crushing her legs with his weight. She grabbed out at him, caught his shirt, letting go of the rope. Peter’s shirt ripped and he was tossed aside. The wind rocketed the boat, treating it as a small dinghy. She snatched the rope back, tied it around her waist, and reached for Peter. Waves crashed over the edge. Annie coughed out the sea water and blindly groped for Peter. He was no longer there.
The funeral was over quickly. Peter’s aunt, his only family, attended. There was no viewing. Peter’s body had been washed ashore but the crabs had eaten into soft tracts and taken his eyes. The verdict was that Peter’s head had been smashed in and he was dead before he hit the water. Annie was pleased that he had not struggled in the water, that it had been over quickly for him. He had feared the water, it was her idea for him to face his fears head on and buy the yacht. Peter could not leave the challenge, and often went out on his own, leaving life jackets behind. Annie felt responsible.
She puts the garden tools aside and stands to stretch. She wipes her brow, smearing dirt across her forehead. Life here is much simpler. Each day rolls out the same, out of bed by dawn, a meagre breakfast, out in the garden before it heats up too much. There is little money now but her needs are met by the sun and dirt and the green. She waits for rain. This patch is her sustenance, Peter long gone from her life.
She looks about her. The dry scrub runs up to the fence line of steel and barbed wire. The guards are watching the perimeter. Annie has never tried to run, she is here for life, but they are there, always, watching over her patch of green.