“You need time alone, Jen,” Stephanie told her as she pressed the keys to the cottage in her hands. “Go to Quiet Cove for the weekend; just relax and forget everyone else for once. Everything is there – you don’t have to do anything but get in your car and go! I’ll give you a ring in the morning”
Jennifer did just that. She got in her red mini and drove out of the city without a word to anyone. As she drove her thoughts went back to the moment nearly a year ago when Mark suddenly severed their year long relationship and walked out of her life. Again she felt the pain, the shock and the anger and bitterness that overwhelmed her in those first weeks. It was so hard withstanding the sympathetically knowing looks of her office colleagues and associates. It wouldn’t have been so bad had Mark not jilted her for her best friend just a few days before their wedding.
The departure of Mark from her life seemed to start a roller coaster of events that had her bouncing from one trauma to another. Her mother’s fall that resulted in a broken leg, followed by her father’s emergency appendectomy operation just a week later caused some anxious moments. After that, a series of minor mishaps occurred so that she felt drained and depleted of energy.
It was dusk by the time the little red car slowly bumped its way along the rough driveway to the cottage that overlooked twenty acres of Melaleuca scrub.
As she unwound her tall frame from the confines of the little car, she stretched out her arms to ease the tension from her neck muscles. She breathed deeply of the crisp clean air as a sudden gentle breeze gusted by, tantalising her nostrils with the salty odour of the ocean. First of all, she decided, she would make a cuppa and relax for awhile before exploring the cottage and its amenities.
A little later she was sipping tea and idly flipping through the pages of a magazine when she was startled by the sound of a man clearing his throat. Instantly her body stiffened and all her senses focused on the unexpected presence associated with the sound.
In the ensuing moments of silence, a passing thought that her imagination was playing tricks on her was dispelled when her ears picked up a soft snuffle. Then the coughing began. A fit of such painful hacking that she winced in sympathy.
No sooner had the coughing ended with a few painful rasping breaths, than someone whispered, “shush – be quiet!”
There followed scratching and scraping sounds that sent Jennifer into a spin. She looked around the room with wide frightened eyes seeking a safe refuge, or even a weapon with which she might put up some sort of defence. She could see no weapon and no means of escape.
“Shush – be quiet mate!” the same voice hissed.
“Oh, shut up” an irritable voice returned loudly.
Jennifer, still dithering in fear found a measure of courage. She remembered the telephone in the hallway and, slipping off her shoes, slid off the chair and began to creep across the room, her ears tuned to the whispering, scraping and scratching that went on like a broken record.
The creak of a floorboard stopped her in her tracks and she stood there holding her breath, listening to the all-engulfing silence. After a moment or two the sounds outside continued and she resumed her stealthy progress into the hallway. Just a few steps away the most wonderful sight in all the world, the telephone, her saviour.
She forgot to creep and all hell broke loose with yelling and shouting
and slapping. “Hey, look out!” “No. Over here, quick!” Jennifer ran blindly. Some seconds later she realised that the deafening screams filling her ears were of her own doing. She closed her mouth and looked around her.
She was quite surprised to find herself alone. Her hands were still clasped firmly on the door knob, the back door knob, which she now remembered she had been frantically trying to wrench off the door in her panic. In the dim light she could see a switch on the wall – she flicked it on and the entire back area lit up like a city street.
The sight beyond the back door; an outdoor living area plucked directly out of the glossy pages of a magazine, was so unexpected and so lovely that her fear dissolved. She unlocked the door and stepped out onto the patio.
“Hello!” A soft, pleasant voice greeted her, “say hello to Sam.”
Jennifer stared at the Major Mitchell sitting on the T-Bar perch to which it was tethered by a chain attached to one leg. She shook her head at the incredible thought running through her mind. “Sam? Oh no! Surely it couldn’t …” Her hand covered her mouth as though to smother a scream and then she began to laugh – a soft giggle at first and then hysterical laughter.
Sam fluffed up his pink crest. “Shush! Be quiet.” He hissed and scraped his beak along the perch.