‘Change into second, and take the corner carefully.’

‘Why are we going this way? The hills are so yellow. There’s nothing out here.’

‘It’s the back way. The old highway. Originally it was a carriage track. Slow down, please.’

‘Mum- ’

‘Not that much. Keep your revs up. These flowers are looking a bit sad.’

‘Why can’t I drive on the normal highway?’

‘Let the clutch off gently. Have you seen all the cars on the highway? There are tourists everywhere, and they all want photos of the convict bridge. Cars are stopping, pulling over, swerving – you’re not ready for it.’

‘Annie has roses all along her front path. You should have brought her lavender. Anything purple, she likes purple.’

‘Lilac.’

‘Well, she knows about colour. I just don’t understand why we have to visit her today, of all days. I mean, if she was family-’

‘She’s as good as. Eyes on the road please.’

‘She’s so ungrateful.’

‘Slow. Slow. Slow. Keep it smooth. Annie’s lonely at the moment.’

‘At the moment? Didn’t she get a gardener recently?’

‘I keep on telling her she needs to downsize. That place is becoming unmanageable.’

‘How did she find the gardener? She must be paying him a bit to come all the way out here.’

‘I don’t know. You can ask her. Watch your steering.’

‘Stop nagging! I bet she makes him use the dunny in the shed.’

‘Well it’s understandable, she’s nervous about letting strangers into the house. And why do you assume it’s a ‘him’?’

‘I just always thought she wanted a son.’

‘What makes you say that, has she said something? What’s funny?’

‘Sorry. The other day Pete goes, ‘everyone’s so worried about Annie being taken advantage of.’ Then he’s like, ‘forget about the gardener, I’m more worried she’s going to do a number on him!’

‘How unkind. Slow down please.’

‘True, though.’

‘What’s the speed limit?’

‘How am I supposed to know, we’re out in the boondocks, there aren’t any signs!’

‘Your limit’s 80, remember?’

‘Okay, okay. Anyway, Pete knows what she’s like. Have you noticed how she’s started to wear coral lipstick?’

‘Look over there – that old building.’

‘Keep my eyes on the road or look at the building, I can’t do both!’

‘We camped out there once. Gosh, those crows….they always remind me of-’

‘Annie’s place. You too?’

‘Jesus, you’re becoming a leadfoot. If you don’t slow down this instant – slow down immediately or else I’m getting out of the car.’

‘Alright! You know she said she wants to keep the focus away from her eyes, now she’s getting older? That’s what she said, that’s why she wears the coral lipstick. Not pink, coral.’

‘It’s just as ramshackle as it was. There are abandoned farmhouses all over this part of the countryside. We spent the night there once.’

‘Who’s this?’

‘Oh, an old boyfriend. Before you were born, long before. I’ll never forget that morning, we slept in, we were having too much fun the night before and had to race back to town for work.’

‘Gross, don’t want to know.’

‘We were playing cards, darling. It was all very innocent. Although in the morning-’

‘Arrrrgh, make it stop!’

‘Don’t you dare take your hands off the steering wheel!’

‘I don’t like driving when the sun’s making all those shadows. It’s very irresponsible to make me drive on an unsealed road, you know Mum. How much further is it?’

‘In about 10ks the road joins up with the highway again. Slow down here, now why would you speed up if you’re approaching a hill?’

‘Okayyyyy. So was it a booty call? Did he live out this way too?’

‘A what?’

‘Wow, this is steep. I’m going to change down-’

‘Good girl, use your gears to brake. We used to call this section the landslide. I’m glad to see they’ve put in some markers.’

‘We’re going to be late. Annie-’

‘She won’t mind. She’ll just be painting.’

‘Hanging out with the ghost.’

‘What?’

‘When you had your little – breakdown, or whatever, and you made us stay with her-’

‘You said you wanted to stay with her.’

‘Mmm. Anyway, she told us there was a ghost in her attic. You know, next to her studio. She’d even given it a name. And the weird thing is, I think she really believed in it. It’s sad, Mum, she’s an old lady and she still believes in ghosts!’

‘She was probably was just trying to keep you out of the studio. You kids, you used to run wild there. Remember when she had you to stay and you lopped the heads off all her roses?’

‘Oh my god, is she still going on about the roses? I was bringing her a bunch of flowers!’

‘From her own garden. Give the car some juice, you don’t want to stall here.’

‘I knew it, I knew she’d never gotten over that. Seriously, she’s just not used to kids, maybe if she had some of her own then she wouldn’t have gotten so upset.’

‘Maybe. You can go up to fifth here if you like. So why didn’t you want to stay with her?’

‘I dunno. It just always felt really sad. Her house was always so quiet. Except for the wind chimes.’

‘Annie told me you tried to sticky tape them together. It left marks on the wood, she wasn’t very happy.’

‘They made the house sadder. That sound. When I change from fifth to fourth I always get scared I’m going to go into reverse by accident.’

‘You’re not going to go into reverse, not unless you really want to. I’d be in a lower gear now.’

‘Is that the highway over there?’

‘Slow down, and pull over. By those trees.’

‘What? I’m not speeding Mum, I’m only doing 80 -’

‘Pull in, try to do it smoothly, we’ll practise your parking later. I’ve just got to-’

‘What’s that on the fence?’

‘Don’t turn the car off, I’ll just be quick.’

‘Those flowers – they’re not for Annie.’

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