Alan heard the vehicle arrive and looked across the rows of pineapples to where it had parked beside one of his sheds. He pushed his leather bush hat back and squinted to see who it was. He wasn’t expecting anyone and didn’t particularly want a visitor.
Someone waved, but he couldn’t tell who it was because the bright sunshine and the arches of spray from the overhead irrigation system threw a watery haze over the plantation.
He stood still for a moment.
“Cooee!” A woman’s voice came from the distance. At first he gave no reply. He took his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his brow. The voice got louder. “Cooee!” Then the figure came into clear view. It was Kate Patterson and he could see she was happy about something.
“G’day,” he said. “What brings you over here?”
“Good news,” she said enigmatically.
He glanced at his watch and realised then that he’d completely missed lunch, and he was suddenly starving.
“I was just about to head up to the house.” Unaccustomed though he was to extending invites of any sort, he could see she was hoping for one, so he went on, “How about I get us a couple of glasses of ginger beer and you can tell me this news of yours, eh?”
“That’ll be beaut.”
Making their way to the homestead, Kate asked him about the farm and how things were going with the plan to convert half of the 500 acres to a newly developed drip irrigation system, which studies had shown would significantly increase the pineapple yield. He was surprised she knew about the proposed trial and asked her who’d told her about it.
“Who do you think?” she said, glancing sideways at him.
“Someone from the Agricultural
Co-operative Group?” he guessed.
“No,” she said. “Beryl.”
“Beryl?” He wasn’t expecting that and his surprise must have shown because Kate laughed.
“You know, it always amazes me that you blokes seem to think we girls talk about nothing more than fabric conditioner and what’s on the telly.”
“I can’t imagine Beryl talking about the farm very much, that’s all.”
“Actually, she talks about it all the time. And you. She talks about you, Alan, and how hard you work. She’s incredibly proud of what you do here.”
He was even less prepared for that, and he hadn’t the words to say what he thought about it and how it made him feel, hearing that his wife was proud of him. They’d become so indifferent to each other recently. His fault, he thought, because he hadn’t been able to tell her what really bothered him about harking back to the past.
“Well,” he said, desperate to steer the conversation as far as he could from the uncomfortable thoughts creeping round the dark recesses of his mind. “I’ll be happy if the new system increases the yield to a thousand trays per hectare.”
When they reached the veranda, Kate took a seat and Alan went straight to the kitchen where he grabbed two tumblers. Then something, however, stopped him in his tracks and he found himself staring at Beryl’s apron which hung from a plastic hook on the wall. Been there for ever, that plastic hook, he thought.
At one time, Beryl had dropped hints every other day about wanting one of those modern fitted kitchens. But she’d stopped asking. Why, he wondered now. Then, as he stood alone in the kitchen which was normally filled with her good-natured, loving presence, he understood with painful clarity that it was because she’d accepted that she wasn’t going to get what she wanted.
He shook his head.
I miss her, he thought. I miss her so much.