She kissed his head a thousand times but he did not stir from his deep, adolescent sleep. The mother in her wanted to shake him awake and make sure he understood every possible thing. But somehow, she managed to stand back and more like a guardian angel, trust that her love would flow into his dreams.
The drive to work allowed her to process the long separation that lay ahead. Her children would not return until the spring and the winter would be a terrible endurance. The divorcee in her took perverse comfort in the fact that Scotland is no fun park and the chance that her sons would actually enjoy the trip they were taking with their bastard father was slim. Their travels would be dominated by grey, sunless days, tepid cups of tea and piles of medieval rubble.
But as her own days began to shorten, she found herself struggling to stay afloat. Her diet reduced to tinned soup and cask wine. Her evenings were spent under a blanket in front of the television or in bed. She would listen to the sounds outside; the neighbour’s dog crying as it huddled in the cold, the tired nurse and her young adult son screaming and smashing their way through his growing ice addiction, and the rats and possums gleefully moving into her roof to escape the cold as they did every winter. She cared about none of it.
When the longest night of the year finally arrived she felt utterly depleted and, so, was slow to react when a loud thud suddenly came from the back of the house. At first, she assumed it must be a gum tree branch falling onto the roof or maybe it was a bloody possum. But when the thud came a second and third time, making her bedroom wall shake, she knew something out of the ordinary was happening outside.
For the first time all winter she felt a surge of energy rush through her body and her breath quickened as she got out of bed and went downstairs to investigate. She was not a brave or intrepid person and her journey, first to the laundry for a torch and then to the backdoor, was a reluctant one. She had to push hard to get herself out into the night.
To her immediate relief, all seemed quiet. Nothing glowed, no supernatural being leapt out of the dark and as she shone the torch around the garden she recognised only familiar things; staked tomato plants, a garden hose, a broom. But as the torch light moved on toward the stone wall at the back of the house, a less familiar scene began to reveal itself. Several flower pots lay smashed on their sides and one was covered in something dark and dripping. Then she began to pick up sounds. Not the loud thud she had heard before, but softer, subtler noises; a shudder, a breath. She peered into the darkness, trying to make sense of it all and then something glistened in the torch light, the gleam of an eye.
A giant kangaroo lay on the ground, panting, shuddering, its head bloodied and impaled on a steel spike that was sticking up at the end of a garden bed.
It was not uncommon for roos to come flying over the back fence on their way to water holes on the other side of the hill. But the contained space of her backyard would immediately disorient them and they would jump frantically around the perimeter of the house, looking for a way out.
Normally, with some effort, a stray kangaroo could be corralled back up to the edge of the property and over the fence to more familiar open ground. But on the longest night of the year, there had been no benevolent guard standing by to help this giant creature and it had become trapped in the narrow space between the back of the house and the stone wall, eventually tripping and falling to its end.
In spite of her squeamishness, she felt compelled to move closer to the dying kangaroo and somehow try to ease its suffering. But it became startled and tried to pull away, ripping and tearing its head even more horribly on the stake.
Summoning all the calm and comfort that she could from the mother and guardian angel within, she knelt down next to the large, quivering body, and locking onto the creature’s desperate gaze, sat silently with him until the light left his eyes and his body was still.
A giant solstice moon appeared slowly from behind a cloud and shone down on the pair in the garden.
She saw out the remainder of the winter with a lightness in her step. She abandoned her duna for the garden, where she spent her time restoring order and preparing the beds for the coming season. She knew that soon the earth would shift in its orbit, bringing the spring and her children back home.