Mixed Messages

On opposite sides of the planet, Shelley had snow and Deirdre had sun – yet each wanted what the other had!

SUBJECT: Hi from a cold and frosty February morning in Brighton!

Hello Dee,

How are you today?

Another heavy frost this morning. The weatherman said it could be down to -3, but Briar and I aren’t worried. We enjoy these crisp, cold mornings for our walks in the woods. The watery sun makes the frost glisten, and it looks so pretty.

Jenny came over on Sunday with the kids. They loved playing out in the garden, throwing snowballs and making a snowman. When it got too cold they piled in and we had lots of lovely hot chocolate and biscuits, huddled round the fire.

Jenny’s thinking of going back to full time work. She’s asked me if I’ll take care of the kids after school. I said I’d be thrilled to. They’ll keep me company while Bill’s at work.

Well, must get the washing out of the machine so I can get it dry. No chance of it going outdoors! Never mind, I love the aroma of freshly laundered clothes in the house.

Email me back soon. Take care.

Shelley xxx

Shelley clicked send on the email to her sister, then shut the laptop lid. She pulled herself up from the kitchen table to see to the washing machine.

As she dragged the wet clothes from its belly she groaned.

It wasn’t spinning at all well. It would take ages to dry them on the small and already dilapidated clothes horse.

She glanced out of the kitchen window and surveyed the frost perched on the washing line. No, there really wasn’t any point.

Why had she offered so quickly to take her grandchildren on after school? She loved them dearly but didn’t want to be tied every day.

She’d seen her own children on their way and now it was her time to do something.

But what? It would have to be something she could do in school hours.

She’d had a few part-time jobs over the years, to earn a bit of money and get out of the house, but nothing she’d wanted to do long term. She hadn’t worked for a few years now.

It didn’t help that Bill worked such long hours and even when he did have some time off, was reluctant to go away anywhere.

She’d told him it was time he slowed down a bit, but he’d told her that was nonsense.

The thought of the mandatory stroll with Briar made her shiver. More like mandatory slip and slide. She’d better make sure she wore her sturdy boots.

Deirdre was no doubt nice and warm out in Brisbane. She tried to picture her sister sitting in the garden with a fizzy drink and a straw, resplendent in sun hat and shorts.

“Come on, Briar. Let’s get this over and done with.”

SUBJECT: Hi from sunny Oz!

Hi Shel,

Enjoyed your email yesterday, but -3? I can barely remember what that feels like now! It’s 26 in the shade today already, and it’s only 9am.

I’ve spent the last few mornings tidying up the garden. It’s coming along nicely. I’ve managed to plant up some hibiscus and grey myrtle this week, both very pretty. It’s wonderful spending time out there now.

My friend Holly has asked me to meet her in town at Queen Street Mall for lunch and a spot of retail therapy. I love a girly trip out.

Take care, sis. I’m going out on the patio now for my breakfast.

Love Deirdre xxx

Deirdre looked out onto the garden, gripping her bowl and cup. No, she couldn’t face the heat.

Having meals outside more often was one of the things she’d looked forward to when they’d contemplated the move halfway round the world. However, the novelty had long since paled.

She tried to picture Shelley’s view from her dining room, one she hadn’t seen in twenty years.

It would be evening in England now – what… nine, ten o’clock? They’d always said they’d go back for regular holidays but had never found the time.

“I bet they’re sitting by a roaring fire as I speak, Tigger,” she said to the cat fussing around her legs for its feed.

The phone rang. Deidre put her cup and bowl down and strolled over to answer it, in no hurry.

“Hello… Oh, hi, Holly… Yes, I’m still on for lunch… Yeah, see you at twelve.”

She placed the phone back on the sideboard. Driving into the centre of Brisbane on a day like this was the last thing she needed.

She mopped her brow with a tissue from her pocket, as if to illustrate her point. Why couldn’t she have just said that to Holly? Too late now.


Good morning, Dee – though I guess it’ll be late afternoon with you, I think. Hope you had a good lunch – was it yesterday? I lose track of what day it is with you!

No chance of me getting out today – it’s snowing! I’ve attached a photo. There must be about six inches already. Briar’s going crazy in the garden. I don’t think he’s ever seen snow before.

Still, it’ll be nice to stay all cosy at home. And Bill can’t get to work, so I’ve got company.

Got to go, he’s calling to me about coffee! Apparently I’m the ace coffee maker, according to him!

Cousin Barb says Hi, btw. Maybe, one day, you’ll get to say hi in person!

Take care,

Shelley xxx

OK, OK, I’m coming!”

Shelley thrust the mouse across the mat to click the turn off button. Standing up, she surveyed the scene from the kitchen window.

Every surface outside was smothered with white. It was a featureless, nothing kind of landscape.

What if it went on snowing for a week, two weeks? She broke out into a panicky sweat.

She’d been hoping to have a look in at the job shop, see if there was any part-time work going.

She hadn’t told Bill yet. He’d never been keen on her part-time jobs, thought they dented his male pride.

Heaven knows what she’d do with Briar though. She hadn’t worked since they’d got the dog, so he was used to having her at home all day.

“You’re a long time with that coffee,” said a voice.

Shelley, in a world of her own, twisted round in shock, but it was only Bill, framed by the doorway.

“Couldn’t do me some toast while you’re on, could you? Trying to get a conference call going with the architect and the site manager. They’re all stuck at home, too.”

“Yes, of course,” she said. “When do you think you’ll be back to work?”

“The later, the better. I could get used to the one-minute journey from the bedroom to my office.”

Shelley smiled but didn’t reply. There were a lot of things she’d like to get used to, but him working from home, twenty-four-seven, wasn’t one of them!

A few more holidays or days out with him, now that would have been a different matter.

Yes, she needed some time away from the house.

SUBJECT: Hi from Oz

Hi Shel,

Thanks for the photo. Good grief, snow! It doesn’t seem possible looking out at the glorious sunshine here.

Ben was out to work super early this morning and I couldn’t sleep, so I took myself down to the beach to watch the kite surfers.

I feel like I’ve had a whole day already, and it’s only 8.30!

Must be nice to have Bill home for a change. Give him my love. And say hello to Jenny and the kids from me. Oh, and cousin Barb of course.

You’re lucky having the family on your doorstep. It’s not a five-minute trip going to see Matt and his family in Perth.

But they’ve got their own lives over there, and they’re doing just great. What more could you want for your kids?

Yeah, my meal with Holly went well. Didn’t buy a lot myself, just a couple of novels. We discussed plans to go to the Boondall Wetlands at the weekend with our hubbies.

We’ve been a few times with our bikes – they have great cycling paths out there.

I’ll let you know how it went next week.

Love Deirdre xxx

And it’s another scorcher in Brisbane today,” said an enthusiastic voice on the radio.

Deirdre leaned over to switch on the air conditioning.

“Like we need telling,” she said, fanning herself with a magazine.

The two paperbacks she’d bought the other day lay on the sideboard. She browsed the back covers while she drank her tea.

These should keep her occupied while Ben was working late at the uni, catching up on marking and other paperwork.

“Lucky Shel, eh Tigger? Getting to have her man home for a few days.”

Tigger brushed his face back and forth against his mistress’s legs, purring serenely.

“At least you love me, puss. Or at least, you love my cupboard,” she laughed, bending down to stroke her soft fur.

Why had she agreed to the day at Boondall with Holly and Greg? She’d wanted to suggest to Ben they did something together, alone. Maybe a romantic weekend in a hotel somewhere.

More likely he’d have to work the weekend again and she’d end up playing gooseberry to her friends, who were only recently married so still all lovey-dovey.

For the fifth time that week, she flicked non-existent dust off the windowsills with a cloth. She surveyed the estate outside, the wide streets, the large timber and tin houses, as a chirpy song played on the radio.

It had been her dream to live here, close to the sea with loads going on.

What she’d give to see it all draped with a thick blanket of snow, to have a roaring fire in the ornamental grate in her sitting room. To see some old faces. Yes, what she’d give…

It was a cold, wet journey to the airport that morning.

Shelley stood in front of the departure board, hopping from foot to foot like a child who could barely contain her excitement, waiting for the gate number to come up.

She’d been lucky to get a plane seat cancellation so quickly.

She hoped Bill would forgive the impromptu outing, and the dip into the savings. And that Briar would forgive her for his unscheduled holiday with her cousin Barb. And that Jenny would… No. She was going to forget them all, for a while.

Most of all she hoped that Deirdre wouldn’t be too put out by her uncharacteristic spontaneity.

When the gate number came up, she picked up her bag and hurried off.

“Sun and fun, here I come!”

Deirdre wiped the perspiration from her brow for the sixth time that morning.

Boy, that had been a stressful journey on the Airtrain to the airport, but finally she’d arrived. She felt like the holiday had begun, waiting for the gate number for the first leg of her journey.

How long had it been since she’d been abroad, let alone seen the old country? Too long.

Ben had been happy for her to go. He wouldn’t miss her for a few weeks, though she wished he would.

It had been kind of her neighbour to agree to feed Tigger in her absence. She hoped Shelley wouldn’t be too shocked by her arrival.

What a surprise it would be!

With the gate number up, she pulled her travel bag up onto her shoulder and set off.

“Snow and roaring fires, here I come!”

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