From my round bedroom window in the attic, I watch the cloud of orange dust get larger as the four-wheel-drive makes its way up the parched dirt track that leads to our homestead. My heart races as the vehicle navigates its way around potholes the size of small craters, and I imagine old Aaron clicking his tongue as parcels bump and slide around in the back of his Land Cruiser.
Sweat streams down the side of my cheek and when the vehicle drives over the cattle grid, I race down the stairs two at a time and fly out the front door. As he parks, the red earth clings to my damp skin like soot, and the suns rays make my skin tingle. The midday heat bakes and sizzles everything it smothers, and I squint in the harsh light that hurts my eyes.
‘Do you have it?’ I ask as old Aaron opens the door.
He wipes his wrinkled brow with the back of his leathered hand and smiles, revealing his crooked teeth. ‘I have it right here, little Miss. Your dad around?’
‘Over in the shed, and I’m thirteen now.’
‘Not so little anymore then, eh?’
Old Aaron hands me a small brown box, and my hands shake. I run back to the house while turning to thank him.
Inside, the front door clangs shut behind me. I stride into the kitchen and place the package on the beaten table. The ceiling fan swirls hot air around me as I rummage in the kitchen drawer for some scissors. I cut a slit in the sellotape and my fingers fumble as I rip open the parcel.
My mouth is dry, and my throat aches.
Like many nights in the last few weeks, my eyes well, and my vision blurs—God, I miss her.
I blow out the air in my lungs and unwrap the tree decoration swaddled in tissue paper. Two silver bells tied together with a red ribbon jingle in my hands—a custom-made gift she ordered before she left us forever.
I head over to the Christmas tree and hang the last present my mom will ever buy me amidst the colourful lights that blink and flash.
Outside a gust of wind makes the window rattle in its frame and I smile with a knowing I’ve carried with me since the moment she passed.
Mom’s always here.
© Michelle Upton