Gina paused briefly as she passed the house. Since that night inside it almost ten years ago, she made a point to always check that it didn’t vanish back into the nothingness from which it had come. She still didn’t know who lived there and had never found the right moment to ask her father. Perhaps she had feared back then that he would have taken one look at her and knew what she had gone there to do. She would ask him whose house it was when she saw him today, she thought.
She didn’t need her umbrella anymore. The large guango and almond trees along the roadway would give them shade for the rest of the journey. It was a shame and blessing that Aubrey was asleep. His little eyes would have loved to stare at the big trees, but his slumber also allowed her to be alone with her thoughts for a while. She needed to rehearse what she was going to say.
As she rolled up the small umbrella and tucked it into the side of the diaper bag her mind drifted to Anton. A small smile formed at the corner of her lip as she remembered how relieved he had seemed when she stopped him that night, and how genuinely mortified he looked when she told him that dirty finger nails could cause deadly yeast infections. The smile turned to sadness as her mind raced forward to her actual first time. Given the choice now, she would gladly allow Anton to give her a yeast infection instead.
As she got to the more populated part of the small community, Gina wondered how many of the curtains had peering eyes behind them, and whether the news of her being in the area would make it to the Daley house before she did. She hadn’t told anyone when she was moving away that night. She wondered what they thought had become of her, and whether they assumed, as they watched her walking back with just a bag and a baby, that she she had fallen on hard times and was crawling back home. She straightened her back.
As she walked by Miss Gwen’s house she remembered that she had run into her daughter, Tasha, at the hotel a few years back. She’d never really been friends with Tasha, but as high school classmates, they had an unspoken agreement that they would leave home at the same time each morning and one would walk about 50 metres ahead of the other to the bus stop.
She remembered how shocked Tasha had been to see her at the hotel, as if she was either amazed that Gina was alive, or she wasn’t supposed to be seen with the man with whom she had checked in. Gina had been very anxious at work in the weeks after Tasha’s stay, always expecting that someone else from the community would have shown up there, but no one did. Thank you Tasha and your married boyfriend, Gina thought as she approached the black gate.
The first thing she noticed was the silence. There were no dogs running up to the gate to either scare her away or welcome her, which was odd. Neither could she hear any squeals or bleats coming from the back yard. It seemed as though even the birds that had been singing in the trees just moments ago had gone out to lunch. All she could hear was her blood throbbing in her head as she reached down to feel for the latch on the inside of the gate. It was locked, which was also odd. She took a deep breath and used the padlock to knock two times.
Nothing. She cleared her throat. “Daddy?” She held both hands to the sides of her mouth as if willing the soundwaves to only go into the house. Nothing. She knocked again with the padlock.
“Your father is not here,” she heard from a window in the shrill, stern voice inside the house. Suddenly Gina’s feet felt as if they had dissolved from beneath her. What was she doing here? Did she get the house? Was her father dead?
“Morning Miss Marcia.. Is he… Where does he live?” she asked, her treasonous voice cracking as she tried to harden it.
“Where else you think he lives? He’s at work. He won’t come back til’ night… Do you need something?” Marcia asked matter-of-factly, coming out to stand fully on the verandah. She looked much slimmer than Gina remembered her to be, and her hair was now almost completely white.
“I just.. I just came to look for him… I… will come back,” Gina stammered, turning away from the gate.
Just as she convinced her legs to return to her body, Aubrey decided to leave camp, letting out a loud cry as he awoke. She patted his back pleadingly and shushed him, feeling the woman’s stare burning through her back. She asked whether the baby was Gina’s.
“Yes… he’s a boy. He turns three months next week,” she volunteered.
“And you’re back in Pineapple Grove? In your mother’s old house?”
“Yeah,” Gina nodded. “For the time being…”
“Alright. I will tell John when he comes home. Take the baby out of the sun.”
Gina murmured ‘thanks’ and walked away from the gate as quickly as she could manage without running. Aubrey was still crying — he was hungry — and the more he cried the more she could feel her breasts hardening with milk and leaking into her shirt.
“Alright papa, alright alright,” she tried to soothe him as she passed by Miss Gwen’s house again. She silently prayed that the baby’s crying wouldn’t embolden any of her covert viewers to emerge from behind their curtains to greet her. She could barely breathe.
As she made he first bend away from the house she paused at a big rock — the one on which she used to rest her foot to wipe away with the red dirt every time she was heading into the town. She dropped the diaper bag beside it, raised Aubrey from his carrier, removed it and sat down to nurse him.
As she pulled her t-shirt’s neckline down to reveal one engorged breast, Aubrey grew silent with expectation as he waved his curled fists at her chest. She rested him across her lap and he latched on without her help, locking his gaze onto the tall almost tree that shot up into the sky above them.
She finally released her breath.