Going home: A short story from one WILD Words Competition Winner
The WILD Words Competition winner for fiction, Sarah MacDonald, explores nostalgia, memory and a sense of home in her short story Going Home.

There is a yellow beach in my mind. I know the damp tang of casuarina that hangs in the air there after rain; I have seen the water when it storms and the dunes are swallowed into the bruised belly of a winter sky. I collect shells along the water’s edge — cowries and scallops, baby-pink in their folds — and wish that I could place them into the pocket of an anorak and later run my hand along their contours and maybe smell the salt on them still.

“Shouldn’t be much longer now. Wish this rain’d piss off.”

Street lights drift over your face in swabs of sallow orange as we drive, pooling for a moment in the hollows there before the darkness catches up. A steady, warm rain sways in the headlamps and you hunch against it, both hands gripping the wheel.

“At least it’s not so humid now.”

You grunt. Your eyes stay forward and so I watch your profile from the passenger seat: a furrowed brow, a speckling of grey starting to show by your temples. I wonder how long I have missed that for. You glance to your left and catch me and I register my own flinch as you reach out and squeeze my thigh.

“Cheer up. You know how lucky we were to get this job.”

How lucky you were, I think, but don’t say it. In the real estate description: two beds, one bath, the opportunity for a garden. I wonder what I will grow here beneath this tepid rain; something fast flowering so that we will see it bloom before we leave. Of course, you say that this time will be different. Like all the other times, this time, things will work out. Perhaps a row of lavender by the window — but no, they like a sandy soil.

An ambulance passes and in the back seat the baby stirs but does not wake. I dream of drying racks of lavender, running the stems through my fingertips and tucking sweet-smelling pouches between her little dresses; of shells washed up by storms lain in salty puddles on windowsills. I watch road signs disappear and between street lights I catch my own reflection in the slick glass of the car window — a mess of hasty lines sketched out against the night and, lately, the ink seems smudged. We drive inland.

“What do you remember most about being a child?”

“What kind of question is that?”

I shrug.

Silence, and then:

“Nothing much. You?”

I remember walking by a night-time shore to a fire on the sand. Fevered sparks that splintered away towards black water and blinked into nothing there on gentle waves; the weight of my father’s jacket on my narrow shoulders and the smell that lingered in its folds, of Marlboro Reds and the spilt innards of fish. I remember my mother’s hands in the garden, dirt beneath her nails and in the creases of her hardened palms as she teased weeds from between the swaying curls of sweet-peas; how her gentleness with those blushing petals stirred a curious ache in my chest.

“Nothing much.”

In the back seat the baby mumbles something in her sleep, turns to the window so that honeyed light from the industrial estates falls across her cheek and could almost pass for moonlight. Is this what she will remember? Will she whisper to someone she loves one day of sleeping with a suitcase at her feet; of late-night voices raised through thin walls and heavy silences in the morning?

I close my eyes against the gentle thrum of the rain. There is a yellow beach in my mind, and I breathe in the sharp air that blows there from the south. A gannet is circling far out across the bay; I point and a little girl stops to watch it hanging alone in the grey. From a great height the gannet drops like a sleek white stone. I think of the shock of the water as it hits, and then the cool blue softness and the quiet of the deep, and I smile.

Sarah MacDonald is a Sydney-based journalism and law student, content editor and freelance food blogger. She loves slow Sunday night dinners, good books, early-morning Pilates classes and fresh flowers from the farmer’s market. Find her on Instagram @sarahsspoonful