Bright Objects

8 August 2018 Mirandi Riwoe

Bright Objects

Illustration by Michelle Pereira

The gardener crouches low, his khaki-clad bottom protruding from the bushes. The afternoon sun flickers through the top branches of the apple tree, dapples the skin on the back of his legs.

Treading across the thick grass, Heather wonders what he’s up to. The pink azaleas droop, tired from the excesses of spring, but the hydrangeas are spruce, skirting the fibro shed. Cicadas hum high in the trees and her mum’s canary chirrups from the patio. But she can also hear another sound. A whirring, almost. Intermittent.

She approaches him, leans low, and whispers, “Matt, what are you doing?”

He half backs out, his finger to his lips. Gestures for her to join him.

Finding a gap in the branches, Heather inches her way in. Twigs comb her hair, leaves brush her cheeks. Her right knee creaks a little, and her trousers are so tight it’s difficult to kneel. She must get back into yoga. Into the gym. Anything. 
She pauses, mid-crawl – in the clearing before her, in the shade of the acacia’s branches, is a mosaic of blue. Shards of clothes pegs, water bottle lids, half-a-dozen Rosella tail feathers, triangles of plastic that make her think of the packet of Oreos in her desk drawer, blue straws like the ones from the cafe on Thomas Street where she sometimes treats herself to a decaf iced coffee. Skim milk, of course, but with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

She glances over at Matt. His heavy cheeks are ruddy, and there is a peppering of sweat under the curl of dark hair that falls across his brow. She wants to slick her finger across his forehead, wipe the cool moisture into his flushed skin. But of course she doesn’t.

A bird picks his way through the treasures. His plumage has an inky sheen. His bright eyes match the blue of the lid he clasps in his beak. He bobs back and forth, and Heather realises the buzzing is coming from him. A rather drab, brown bird perches nearby, her head to the side, contemplating his efforts. His rhythmic trill becomes louder, more insistent. His satin wing sweeps high, an avian flamenco dancer.
Matt grins at her. When his face is relaxed she can see the grit that has made its way into his laugh lines. 

She follows his cue and crawls out from the bushes.
“What a beautiful bird. What is it?” she asks, as she wipes grass from her knees.

“Bowerbird.” His eyebrows lift in surprise. They’re bushy, and make him seem stern when he’s digging in the red dirt or planting the rows of cabbage. “Haven’t you ever seen one before? All that prancing around was to lure the hen into his bower.”

“And all the blue things?”

He gives a lopsided shrug. “Proof that he’s a good catch, maybe?”

They walk across the garden towards the house.
“How’s your mum?” he asks.

Heather thinks of the savage line that jags across the marbled skin of her mother’s hip. The toilet seat on a stand. The compression socks.

“She’s doing well. The operation went well.” She shades her eyes against the sun. “It’s lucky you could fit her into your schedule. I don’t think she’ll be up to gardening again.”

“You can take over,” he teases.

She laughs. That won’t be happening.

“So, back to Sydney when she’s better?” he asks.

She places her hand on the back door handle. Feels the ridges in the brass. “No. I’m thinking of staying on.” Skittish. Heat rises to her face. “I’ve found a bit of work in town.”

Her phone rings from the living room.

“You’d better get that,” he says, walking back to the spade he’s left lying near the vegetable patch. “I’ll catch you next Wednesday.”

She wonders how old he is. Not young. But not old. Definitely older than she is, although he doesn’t seem to have greys launching surprise attacks along his hairline like she does.

It’s her sister on the phone. After discussing their mother, Heather finishes the dishes. The suds slide from her wrist, drip from her flushed fingers. The skin on Matt’s fingers is rough, like on a knob of ginger. But she likes the look of them. You could depend on them. She wipes her own damp hands down her pants.

Taking a basket to collect the dry clothes from the line, she opens the back door. She swerves to avoid stepping on the petals strewn across the top step. She stoops, dabs at a blue hydrangea petal. It’s dewy, and curls against the warmth of her fingertip. Looking up, she can just see the tail end of Matt’s truck, bumping its way down the driveway.

Mirandi Riwoe’s (@m_riwoe) novella The Fish Girl (2017) won Seizure’s Viva la Novella V and was shortlisted for The Stella Prize. She is the author of two crime novels and is prose editor for Peril magazine. Her work has appeared in Best Australian Stories, Meanjin, Review of Australian Fiction and Griffith Review.

First published in edition 593.