A soft heart may break, but a hard heart will shatter, I am holding yours in my hand. She put then pen down and pondered what she had written. Grim satisfaction welled in her own broken heart, buoyed by the sinister words. She read the words again, she crumpled the paper and through it in the bin. She leant forward and put her head in her hands. “Their hearts won’t break or shatter,” she thought “they will be glad to prune the twisted branch of the prestigious family tree.”
This was Victoria Sykes, she shifted her gaze from the computer monitor on her study desk to the enormous blank flat screen TV on her bedroom wall. It was her father Aaron’s gift for her sixteenth birthday. She aimed the remote at the screen, but then an ache in her heart made her put it down again. she had only turned it on once when it was first installed. Up flashed a picture of a little girl in the kitchen she bent down and looked through the glass door of the oven and squealed “Mummy, mummy I think they’re cooked”. Then the little girl’s dad walked in and picked her up and tickled her. He held the wriggling child for a moment then the screen went black. The happy scene rubbed salt in an already painful wound, the screen had hung lifeless ever since. Her seventeenth birthday gift was a cute Lexus hatch, the sleek burgundy lines complimented her red hair. Eighteenth was a VR headset and an array of other gadgets that lay in unopened packages under her bead. All so fascinating, so mind consuming and so devoid of the emotional nutrient she so desperately craved.
She was the only person at home now, the house was ghostly quiet. The morning sun lit the floor halfway across the living room through the ceiling high glass façade. People like ants crawled on the beach below her, a large container ship was visible, so far out to sea it seemed stationary. She looked longingly at her father’s favourite chair, the latest financial review lay on the coffee table beside it. She remembered the day so clearly six years ago. She had got up when she heard the coffee machine. Brurp brurp brurp, she made herself a milo and sat on the lounge and tried to distract him “Hey daddy there’s dolphins in the surf”
“Hmmm” he looked up for second
“I wonder where that ship is going?”
“Not sure honey” he didn’t look up
She sat silently for a while just looked sadly at the other side of the magazine, then took her milo back to her room.
Now the present-day Victoria did the same. The expensive ornate bed in the spacious room and the satin sheets she cried on. She reminisced the day she had shown her first boyfriend the house. When she showed him this room, she had sat on the bed while he glanced around and took in the lavish decor of the room, then he walked toward her put his hands on her shoulders, it made her skin crawl. He pushed her backwards, then lifted her skirt. She drew her knee back and drove her heel into his thigh. She was in a prime position to land the hardest possible kick coupled with the determination of a girl defending her dignity. The kick sent him reeling across the room, “They are called private parts for a reason” the fire in her own eyes met the bewilderment in his. “If that’s all you want from me, go pay for it elsewhere”. He gave her a sarcastic thumbs up and left. There was something strangely satisfying about the way he limped down the hallway, massaging his leg. Another two romances had ended in similar fashion. She turned to the study desk, there was a sketch she had drawn of a horse. She liked drawing and she liked horses. But she lived in a city with a family that hated both. She had often wondered what it would be like to ride a horse, there was magic in that thought. Was it scary? was it relaxing or fast and furious or maybe even dangerous? Did it hurt when you fell off?
He father was a stockbroker her brother a lawyer and her sister had married the owner of a large car dealer in Brisbane. Victoria was - - - well she was nothing. No career, just the fruitless twisted branch. She didn’t mind being the twisted branch on this tree, as far as she could see her family tree was a lemon. It looked nice from a distance, up close it was adorned with sharp pricks and sour fruit.
Her emptiness had driven out any relaxing thought. she wandered back out to the living room and looked over the green parkland that sloped down to the beach, a small creek ran along the bottom of the hill and into the ocean, a rickety wooden footbridge crossed it just below the house. She had tempted her father to take a walk down there just a year ago. They had chatted happily down the slope; she skipped across the bridge. Took her shoes off and placed them beside the bridge to collect on the way home. She finally had her fathers undivided attention and she was excited. One of her school friends had once joked “it would be cool to be invisible”. She was invisible and it was horrible. She glanced sideways at him as they walked across the beach. Then her heart sank as he pulled his phone from his pocket. He scrolled and scrolled as they walked in aimless silence. They got to the hard sand on the beach, he cursed when a wave washed around his feet, he scrolled and scrolled Victoria was walking behind him, he scrolled and scrolled some more. She stopped a watched. His daughters aching heart, heavily veiled by the latest great offers and profits he didn’t need.
She stood still to see how far he would walk before he realised, she wasn’t there. Arms folded tightly and teeth clenched. She dropped her arms limp by her side her shoulders slumped, she turned and walked back, put her shoes on and dragged the lead ballast in her heart back up the grassy slope to the house. Her father returned home a short time later, but he never mentioned her disappearance, maybe didn’t even notice.
Today she had the solution to all this, she had donned a long white dress and a black leather jacket. She walked down the grassy slope the mostly white outfit with a small amount of black, complimented well with the red of her hair. She put her hand in her pocket and felt the reassuring back of the razor blade. She would soon be wearing a lot more red.
She came to the bridge, she loved this spot but would have to wait until it was deserted. She sat on a rock beside the path a small tree partially obscured her view of the bridge. A young woman in tights jogged along the path and over the bridge. A grey headed old couple hand in hand. Two young lovers. Then a middle-aged man walked slowly along the path staring aimlessly at the ground before him. His black hair streaked with grey. He was obviously not a local, he wore moleskin trousers and a checked shirt with the sleeves turned back. he stopped on the bridge lent on the guard rail and looked down at the creek that flowed below him He raised his head and stared unseeingly out to sea. He interlocked his fingers and held them up like the brim of the hat he was apparently used to wearing.
He seemed like he had a weight on his mind. Curiosity spontaneously ignited in Victoria's mind, had he fought with his wife? did his best friend die? Talking to strangers was dangerous, this was ingrained in her from a young age, but really what could he do worse than what she was about to do herself. She stood and walked toward the bridge she walked over to the guard rail a metre and a half from him, she put her hands on the rail, gazing sadly at the one jewellery free finger. She followed the man's gaze for a moment, perhaps the white caps that clung to the top of the waves reminded him of the cowboys in the rodeos he probably watched, maybe he was one of the cowboys.
“Uh hmm” she cleared her throat to get his attention. He turned slowly to see who the newcomer was, his jaw dropped, the shock thinly veiled on his face. Victoria wondered what was wrong with her, had she partially transformed into a werewolf.
“I am sorry” she took a step back “I don’t mean any offence”
“It’s ok” he said “you freaked me out, you’re a dead ringer for my daughter” the mans country drawl matched his clothing. She had never heard the term "dead ringer" before, but the context told her what it meant.
The man shook his head in bewilderment “You could be her twin sister; except she doesn’t have one”.
The conversational ice broken; she was amazed at how easy he was to talk to. Where country people always like this?
“Is she here somewhere? could I meet her? This is cool.” Victoria bubbled with excitement. His daughter would be a country girl and maybe she loved horses to.
The mans eyes wandered back to the ocean then looked down at the bridge decking. “She’s here ok but not for much longer”.
“Oh” Dread rose in her heart “what’s wrong?” although his reaction told her all that mattered.
“Pancreatic cancer, we came here for specialist treatment but none of it worked, just a waiting game now”. His sad words nailed the lid on a coffin of hope.
“And theirs is nothing they can do?” she said
“Nah, kept asking sign this so we can try this, it might help, I think the doctors knew it was a lost cause, but it was all good money for them” why he was telling her all this, she didn’t know, the hurt in the hazel eyes suggested he just had to tell someone. “It’s been the worst roller coaster of hopes and despair” He looked out to sea again then looked back “You have no idea what it’s like to lose a child until you do”. Those innocent words rattled Victoria to the core. She put her hand in her pocket and felt the razor blade.
“I am sad I couldn’t have met her” she said
“Me to, probably should head back” he said “I have been sitting there for days I just had to clear my head”
“Ok” she turned to climb the grassy slope but turned to face him again, “what’s your name?”
“Oh” he said he took out his wallet and handed her a business card, "Warialda Rural" was the company name, his name was Phil Evans.
“What's your daughter’s name?”
“Sally” he said. She walked up the slope to the house. Sipping a coffee, she adopted the same empty stare as Phil, out over the ocean. There was nothing romantic about the strong attraction she felt towards Phil. She woke thinking about him the next morning. She knew a seed had been sown.
She prodded her computer into life and typed “Sally Evans Warialda” The first page was headlined “Local Community Mourns a Tragic Loss.” A tear trickled down her cheek, she had passed already. Victoria gasped at the face that smiled back at her from the screen, Phil was right, she could have been her twin sister. What was special about Sally, that her death was local headlines? If Victoria had continued with her plan, she was sure the neighbours either side might not even care. She read through the article, Phil was just a humble servant at a local store and owned a small farm. Sally worked at a childcare centre. The words “childcare centre” plucked a string somewhere in Victoria’s heart, a chord resonated with music she had never heard before, nothing special nothing grand just a childcare worker and a farmers daughter. “Maybe” thought Victoria “Just maybe nobody is nothing in a small town”. Another new chord, half an octave higher, chimed from somewhere deep inside her.
Victoria moved on to face book, and there was Sally Evans again. In the profile picture, she was standing back to a timber railed fence, one foot on the rail behind her with her knee cocked forward. Her head tilted forward so her hat blocked the view of her face. A chestnut horse held its head over the fence resting its bottom jaw on her shoulder and her hand rested on its nose just above its muzzle. Victoria stared for a long time. The jeans were heavily stained on the inside of the thighs, her checked shirt had a torn sleeve. Victoria would never have worn something that stained and tattered, but no picture could have spoken more loudly of contentment.
She scrolled through the photos, there was one of Sally on the horse, its mane trailed in the wind as did the long red hair. In another she was turning sharp around a barrel of some sort. Perhaps a competition, did girls ride in rodeos?. Then she was standing in a spotlight, her right hand held up a dead fox by the tail, the left held a rifle. She had captioned the photo “What does the fox say? - - - nothing cause I shot it.”
Victoria couldn’t imagine a young girl with a rifle. In her comfortable suburb, guns were tools of evil. But in the country with foxes stealing lambs and chickens, maybe they were another facet of life. Then Victoria’s heart stopped, a lead pencil drawing of a horse almost the same as the one she had done herself.
Victoria drew a simple parallel between her life and that of her- - - well was it wrong to say twin sister? Victoria, the spoilt rich girl had everything she wanted and nothing she needed. Sally had everything she needed and nothing she wanted. Who was the happiest? That was a stupid question.
Victoria knew the seed in her heart had taken root. She had unfinished business down at the bridge. She walked down the grassy slope and onto the bridge. She took two razor blades from her pocket, one made of steel, one of cardboard. One that could slash her wrist and drain her life away, the other might slash the bubble of sadness. She held both for a moment. She tested the sharpness of the steel blade, shaving a tiny sliver off the edge of the card. then making a circle with her thumb and forefinger she tucked the razor blade between them and flicked it high into the air it sailed over the creek, she closed her eyes so she wouldn’t see it land. She placed the card back into her pocket one by one she removed the expensive rings and did the same as she had with the razor.
Now in the driveway suitcase in the boot she set course westward. She would reach the tiny western town late this afternoon and ask if she could fill Sally’s place at the childcare centre. She would drive to the Evans’s farm and ask if she could rent a room, she knew they had a spare. Her phone lay dormant on the passenger seat, she hadn't left a message for her parents, she wondered how long it would take them to notice her absence. Not long, the vacancy in the garage would be the give away. The country people may accept her, they may not, what did she have to lose? Maybe Sally might have a sister or a brother who could teach her to ride a horse, maybe shoot a fox, and maybe, just maybe they might give her a nickname. Maybe Vicky or Vico or even Ginger. A new name might compliment the new life growing in her heart.