The ground wouldn’t yield. Anna poked at it with a three-pronged steel fork until she had blisters but it was baked hard. A film of red dust settled on her arms, her hands, her throat; dust that had been disturbed by her digging, dust that only wanted to lie still, dust that couldn’t be removed easily, even with soap and scrubbing.
She’d bought seeds. She poured water, watched it evaporate in the dry heat. She took the sieve, shook out the stones and the cairn grew. She poured more water; watched it seep into the earth and the dry dust become dark red rivers.
‘Meet me at the bar near the old place,’ he said.
She came into the City hours too early, walked around the streets and sat in a café. She thought about what he might look like now, what they might say and left.
Home again, she continued to dig but her blisters hurt and her arms were tired. She sat back on her heels and looked at the moon, a huge red harvest moon, and that night she dreamt of a stone baby, the faint outline of a face and curled fingers, the weight of it.
‘You didn’t come,’ he said, next time he called. ‘Why wouldn’t you meet me?’
She was hot in her kitchen and leant over the sink to open the window. The cold ceramic shocked her stomach.
‘Anna? Are you still angry I left? I couldn’t wait for you to decide, you know that.’
She watched him walk up the long road, the dust kicking around his heels as he approached the house. He was bent over under the weight of his rucksack and wore a thick beard. She couldn’t see if he smiled when she raised her hand.
He embraced her. There was the roughness of unwashed clothes and the odour of dried sweat, both familiar. When he stood back the air was sharply cold.
He followed her inside, sat at the table and watched as she moved around her kitchen, putting together food and drink. When the bread was cut and the butter softened and the tea properly stewed she handed him a china cup. His long fine fingers held it delicately.
‘It’s a waste of effort.’ Michael nodded outside, at the short sticks, marking her seeds, the small cairn beside it. ‘You know nothing survives this heat.’
Ghost pain, deep in her womb, took her breath.
‘What is it?’ Michael asked, but she wouldn’t tell him now.
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