It was cooler in the orchid house than outside in the garden. Still, Walker thought, the air was hot, humid and heady with the scent of plants, especially gardenia and jasmine which were growing abundantly in terracotta pots either side of the bench. Living in the south for so long, he’d forgotten how intense the tropical Far North Queensland summers were.
Just then, a large Ulysses butterfly fluttered past them, the quivering of its brilliant electric-blue wings breaking the silence. He and Susanne exchanged a smiling look. Momentarily, they were both transfixed as the butterfly rested gracefully on an orchid before eventually disappearing.
“It’s lovely in here, isn’t it?” Susanne remarked.
“Yes,” he answered, thinking they might not get another chance to be alone before Christmas. He was due to leave on the third of January, so this was probably his best opportunity to talk to Susanne. He opened his mouth to begin to tell her what was in his heart when Jess and Denny appeared.
“The Toucan was jammed so we got take-away pizza instead,” Denny said, sounding slightly breathless. “Mum wants to know if you two would like some? There’s ham and pineapple or spicy Mexican beef.”
“Sounds delicious,” Susanne said brightly, rising quickly to her feet. “Count me in.”
“What about you, Uncle Walker?”
He managed a smile.
“Yes,” he said. “Count me in, too.”
The fly-screen door banged shut.
“G’day, love,” Alan said, not looking directly at her.
She lifted her face from the paperwork in front of her on the kitchen table.
“Dinner’s nearly ready,” she said, watching him wash his hands at the sink. “Susanne and Jess are at Mooraburra, so it’s just the two of us.”
“Spending a lot of time over there, aren’t they? How’d it go today?”
“Great,” Beryl replied. “Looks like we’ve got the upper hand.”
Alan straightened to dry his hands. He didn’t turn round.
“What happens if you save it?”
Beryl felt her jaw clench.
“They won’t demolish it.”
“And then what?” Alan asked, moving to the fridge, still without looking at her.
“It’ll be ”
“Same as it is now. A ramshackle old shed that no-one uses any more.” He opened a can of cola, gulped some down, then turned and met her gaze with a passive expression that made her feel like crying.
“Why are you so negative about it? Don’t you care about the history attached to the hall?” she asked her husband.
“That’s all in the past, Beryl. You’ve got to live for the future. The past has been and gone.”
Frustration pulsed in her head, for she would have appreciated his support. And not just about the Anzac Hall.
“Don’t you reckon some things are worth preservation?”
“Some things. Not everything,” he said.
She chewed her bottom lip for a moment and then, in a loud, fraught voice that surprised her, she said, “I don’t see how you can decide what matters and what doesn’t if you won’t give the past any real consideration.”
Alan stood very still, staring at her, his eyes empty of emotion.
Beryl waited for his response. But it didn’t come and she felt her hackles rising further.
“Our history is what makes us who we are. Yesterday shapes today. Can’t you see that?”
She wasn’t just talking about the Anzac Hall. She was talking about everything that had happened in their lives and their parents’ lives and their grandparents’ lives. Everything that had led to that exact moment they’d just arrived at, and he didn’t give her an answer.
He walked away.
Beryl exhaled. The ceiling fan ticked intermittently above.