Late that morning, Nellie had been woken from a very deep slumber by the crystal clear sound of a male voice. “Hello?” was all that she heard. It sounded as if the young man was already inside her home. The bedroom door was open onto the living room, but the other door leading to the rest of the house was shut tight. The voice was so close that Nellie felt compelled to respond in order to avoid the vision of this unknown man appearing in the doorway to her bedroom. With an identical query in her voice, Nellie called out loudly. “Hello?” There was no answer. Clutching her dressing gown she walked immediately throughout the house. No-one was there. She breakfasted and went to get herself ready for what would turn out to be a significant day in her life.
Lunchtime came and went without any temptation to eat again. Nellie was on holidays and newly separated from her boyfriend. The boredom of another long hot summer afternoon stretched out before her. She impulsively snatched up her current reading material and headed out for an afternoon drive in the warm sunshine. Half an hour later she found herself in the vicinity of her childhood neighbourhood and drove in the direction of the large block of land where her home had once stood. The house was gone now. Even the footings which she had seen when she last visited, had now been removed. But, there it was, still standing in what had been the bottom of her father’s vegetable garden, a magnificent old plum tree. Nellie picked up her book and got out of the car. She wandered in the hot sunshine, down through what had once been an orchard.
As she came to the huge old plum tree she wondered why it had been left untouched across the years when all the other trees had been cleared. It had always been the biggest and most wonderful of trees. Nellie gasped when she looked up into the mantle of greenery above her head. She was able to make out the old floor of the treehouse she and her cousin, Alan, had insisted her father build for them. They had always marvelled at the height of their secret clubhouse, but now Nellie smiled to see that it was probably less than three metres off the soft green grass that miraculously still grew in the shade underneath this magical tree. Nellie smiled, remembering her mother sitting on that lush green grass reading the chapters of the Faraway Tree to herself and her cousin, all those years ago. She was saddened by the thought of Alan’s passing not so many months ago. She wished he was here to share the memories too. She so clearly remembered his gentleness and the smile that would light up his whole face and his blue eyes.
Tucking the book into the top of her jeans, Nellie tested the strength of the lower branches and then effortlessly hoisted herself up amongst them. The tree was still easy to climb and when she reached the platform of the treehouse, Nellie saw that it was still strong and sturdy. She then scrambled into what little was left of the frame and made herself comfortable on the large expanse of boards. It felt good to be there, hopefully concealed from anyone who might pass by. Without the house to obliterate the view, Nellie could see all the way out to the street and over the fences into the neighbours’ backyards. The old houses still stood. White sheets flapped excitedly on Mrs. Petersen’s clothesline strung across her far back yard. She wasn’t sure, but the figure hanging out the bedclothes could even have been the old neighbour herself.
Feeling tired, Nellie took out her book and began to read again about faraway India and the caste system affecting the lives of the young family at the heart of her story. Sunlight filtered through the leaves and freckled Nellie’s strong legs with mottled shadow. Soon Nellie was lost again in the world of the heroine and her troubles. When Nellie glanced at her watch she saw that twenty minutes had slipped by as she had indulged herself in the summer afternoon. Nellie placed her book to one side, removed her cardigan and secured it under her head. She stretched out to lie across the treehouse floor.
A gentle breeze swept some strands of hair across Nellie’s cheek and she brushed them away as she gazed in the direction where her home had once stood. Reminiscing, she almost imagined that she could see it taking shape again before her eyes. There was the back porch and the kitchen window where her mother would have stood to survey the backyard and her little daughter as she played. There was the wash house and behind it the old style antennae rising high against the red roof and the blue, cloudless summer sky. There was the rotary clothesline on which she pictured her bright red cotton dress, her lime green overalls and endless lines of white cotton socks. On the lawn she could see the white painted high jump sticks which her father had crafted for her and Alan to practise for sports day at their primary school. Nellie could almost see herself and her cousin, running and throwing themselves across the lightweight horizontal bar which rested tremulously on the nails in the uprights. The smell of the green lawns filled her nostrils and her thoughts.
She remembered the giant cotton reel spools which had once belonged to the telephone company. Her father had gotten them from his mate and brought home so that she and Alan could use them during their circus performances for their parents who sat on chairs brought from the kitchen for the Greatest Show On Earth. She remembered the costumes left over from dance class which found their way into little Nellie’s dress-up box. What a special closeness the cousins had shared. They had grown apart as they grew up but the memory of their childhood adventures still stayed firm in her mind. The smell of her father’s backyard incinerator wafted into her mind and Nellie recalled the chook house which had been kept at one time in the corner of the yard.
A little while later, Nellie was puzzling over the sound of chickens scratching when the noise of scratching and strong breathing broke into her reverie. She realised that quite some time had gone by unnoticed because the heat of the sun had started to wane. Then she heard it, for the second time that day. It was again, crystal clear, the sound of a young male voice. “Hello?” he said, wakening from her slumber. Nellie replied without hesitation, “Hello?” As she lifted her head, she could see emerging through the branches below, the blond head of her cousin Alan, as he climbed upwards. But, no. In the next second, the figure lifted his head and halted his advance to take in the vision above him. “Hello” he repeated. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you? I saw you were having a nap up here and I was afraid that you might fall. I was walking past on my way home and I happened to see you up here. I hope you don’t mind.” His smile lit up his face and his blue eyes. “My name is Alan. Are you okay, or do you need some assistance to get down again?”