High clouds were piling to the west. It was hot, and the humidity was building. The farm was finally in working order, and I had run out of excuses to put off visiting Storm.
On most days I could see her riding in the distance. She seemed so peaceful; I didn’t want her wound reopened because of me. I had to work out why her mother was up in the forest the day my memory stopped. A memory came back to me unbidden: falling. The cats, the White Waylander and the Grey Blanket, waiting below. Me, catching up slowly. But this time, the memory replayed slower. I saw Waylander turning her head up to look at me, her eyes shining like mirrors. There were shadows next to the cats. I saw the ledge, and then I hit it.
I shook the memory away and finished my breakfast, glanced out at the gathering clouds. If I went over to Kathy’s place now, I might beat the rain. I corrected myself. With Kathy now gone, it was now Storm’s place.
I went through the orchard, Blanket padded behind me down across the paddock. I turned back and looked at the farm. Satisfied that once again it looked well kept, I picked up the little grey cat and crossed the creek. Before Waylander went missing, I would have had to carry her across too.
For at least a century, nothing had changed in Kathy’s farm. It was like going back in time, the old post and rail fences, the faint smell of a burning wood stove. Everything neatly arranged, with the horses eating out in the fields. The huge stables were decorated with wrought ironwork along the sides, surrounded by trees. But now everything seemed different.
Blanket ran ahead, a grey blur heading into darkness. I could hear Kathy’s daughter working a horse in the round yard and called out to her, “Hey Storm, got a moment for a visit?”
Storm shouted back, “Depends. Come on through.”
Kids born in the bush have loud voices. Voices that carry and echo off valleys. I walked into the stables. A dark, open area was smelling of straw, horses, and leather. Light streamed in from the roof, hitting an iron thrasher tucked away out of the weather.
A row of saddles and bridles with old harness rigs behind. Kathy’s saddle was separated on a ledge by itself.
Back out in the sunlight, a young woman in riding pants and a broad-brimmed hat walked towards me.
Storm had been working hard; sweat stained her clothes. She looked older, thinner.
“Oh, hi.” She held my eyes for a moment and said, “You look wrong.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
Storm replied, “Well, usually you are nursing some small hurt. Sorry, you look too healthy. Ok.”
She got me to take her place running a small fat pony around the ring.
I nodded at the green fields, “Good season.”
“Too good for this one, she is a greedy-guts. I have to work her each day to stop her foundering.” Storm took her hat off and wiped her brow.
I asked, “You been riding a lot?”
Storm answered, “Pays the bills. I make enough money by agistment, taking racehorses from Sydney and a couple of hacks from town. The horses all need work.”
She handed me the reigns and lunging whip, “Keep her moving. I will be back in a moment.”
She went back in the barn. I could hear her splashing at the water barrel.
I picked up the pace, getting the pony back to a trot.
With a rumble in the distance, the sky changed color as the afternoon zephyrs pushed dark riders across the sky. The first drops of rain fell, ice cold.
Storm took the long reigns and lunging whip, put her hand on my shoulder, “Come on, and let us get inside.”
As the rain began to come down harder, she led the pony into the stables and unbuckled the rig in a single movement. I saw a flash of grey in the darkness near the thrasher. I wandered over to look, remembering what it was. “Hey, you don’t mind if my cat chases mice here for a bit, do you?”
Storm said, “You kidding? She spends most of her time here when you are off. Come up to the house. I have a confession to make.”
For a split moment, it seemed like old times. Then I froze. Now I was going to have to talk to her about her mum’s death. I was not sure how to do this. I wondered whether Kathy got herself killed trying to find me. That made it my fault. I had to find a way of dealing with this.