Forty year old Welsh mum Isobel Richardson can cope with most things; her husband's redundancy, a shortage of money, three spirited kids and a demanding old house. She sees the loss of Leo's job as a chance for new beginnings and her drive and determination propel the family towards a sparkling new life in Australia. However, Isobel's mother Helen is devastated. Cold and unsupportive, she rejects Isobel's invitation to join in the family adventure and throws the guilt card firmly down on the table. Isobel is horribly torn, but Australia's promise of opportunity becomes irresistible and despite the difficulties, she truly believes they are doing the right thing. However, when the family lands in Oz and the longed-for dream unfolds, unbearable guilt at leaving a broken Helen behind is compounded by the pain of missing absent son Ben - and all the while Mother Nature is hatching some plans of her own. Isobel is reduced to a tearful mess, pushing Leo away, snapping at the children, overwhelmed, scared and irrational. Worn down and confused, she inches closer and closer to running back to her mother and the life she knew in Wales. After all, she reasons, Leo and the children don't need her now. Has the great Australian dream really eluded her after all?
One of the saddest things in the world must be to get to the end of your life and wish you’d done things differently. ‘I wish I’d got married; I wish I’d never got married; I wish I’d got married to somebody else; I wish I’d taken this course, or tried that job, built a career, had children (or not); I wish I’d been kinder, thinner, richer; less selfish, more generous.’ Imagine lying on your deathbed and thinking ‘Damn! I didn’t do it after all.’ Isobel thought she’d rather die now than face that.
This didn’t mean though that she wasn’t thankful for the life she already had. She thoroughly enjoyed being Isobel Richardson and didn’t want to change herself as such. She admitted that she’d like to lose a few kilos but then, who wouldn’t when you’re a short forty-year-old with a fondness for chocolate biscuits?
Isobel didn’t want a different husband or family. She and Leo had produced three healthy children and they lived in a pristine corner of Wales with verdant land and a stunning coastline. Isobel reminded the children that people in urban Britain saved up all year just to come to Pembrokeshire for their holiday. Ben, Jacob and Becky didn’t know about that. It all seemed very tame to them, but having known nothing else they didn’t yet understand that growing up here was an absolute gift.
Isobel adored her home, no doubt about it. She and Leo had put everything into their four bedroom Georgian house. A filthy dump when they bought it cheap from the bank thirteen years before, it had become their very own money pit. Isobel sometimes wondered whether the renovations would ever be finished, but she cherished the old place – annoying quirks, never-ending work and all.
So, with a wonderful family and a lovely old home, was she greedy to want something else? Not more money, or things, or love – but more out of living. Was she selfish to dream of broadening her horizons?
It bothered Isobel that her pining was so intense. It was a major distraction; a nagging sense of time passing. A mid-life crisis perhaps? Isobel smiled, picturing herself as a stereotypical cougar, dashing out at forty-five in leopard-print leggings to hunt down the nearest toyboy. No. It wasn’t a middle-age angst issue. The thing that chipped away at Isobel, that kept her awake at night and lay rocking gently at the edges of her consciousness all day, was a compelling desire to move to Australia.
~ * ~
What was it about that word Australia that made her want to go there? Its mere mention caused Isobel’s stomach to dissolve, like a lovelorn teenager, hopelessly pining for an unreachable pop star idol. Isobel and Australia had never met either, but that didn’t stop her dreaming.
Familiar yet exotic, Australia seemed like a fantasyland of blue sky, blue sea, endlessly sunny days and no worries. A place where sun-dappled locals cheerfully prospered, relishing their opportunities and casually making enough bucks to toss another shrimp on the barbie; ‘The Lucky Country’ where a bit of hard work and a can-do attitude seemed to get you through; where, at the end of a hard day’s yakka, there’d be sizzling steaks and frosty beers with a bunch of mates on the verandah.
Isobel pictured tanned healthy types, surfing and cavorting on the beach, fluorescent zinc-painted noses, bush hats and sunglasses. She lived it all in her imagination – right down to the tropical trilling of cicadas on balmy evenings, creaking ceiling fans in charming homesteads, glittering silver and white cities, glassy oceans, Qantas planes – the lot.
~ * ~
The British winter had been relentlessly dishing out its usual fare of hacking coughs and ‘flu bugs with months of bleak weather yet to come.
Isobel folded her arms across her chest and huddled into her cardigan. Sweaty and shivery, she stared through the kitchen window at the rain slashing horizontally across the back garden: persistent, cold, and very, very Welsh.
She turned round to the TV where Neighbours was reaching its daily cliffhanger, and peered past the action to the background scenery, awash in sunshiny colours. Isobel glanced back through the window at the streaming garden under its canopy of granite clouds. She thought about the blue again and cursed the grey. The dreary afternoon ticked by. Isobel wondered what the weather was doing in Sydney.
After a few minutes, she stirred guiltily and strode out of the kitchen into the hall, which felt dank and chilly after the Rayburn-heated heart of the house. She gathered herself up into her full-length winter coat, pulled on her boots and opened the huge black front door.
Alfred the cat shot into the hallway, a tabby flash flicking cold wet fur against Isobel’s legs. She gasped and hopped backwards as he flew down the passage and crouched on the kitchen step. Too late, Isobel spotted a wriggling shrew between his clenched jaws and Alfred set up a terrible yowling sound.
‘Oh God, Alfred, not now!’ she cried, slamming the heavy door against the weather. She scooped him up, ignoring his dog-like growls of rage, carried him to the back door and dumped him onto the kitchen windowsill outside. Alfred opened his mouth in surprise at being out in the wet again and the shrew bolted.
Isobel was glad the tiny creature had escaped, but the palaver had made her late for the school run. She hurried back to the front door.
An icy gust hit her square in the face as she ran down the two wide steps to the road and windy rain slapped around her head as she fumbled with the car keys and threw herself into the driver’s seat. Shivering, she slammed the door and as she pushed wet hair off her face, her nose suddenly unblocked. Scrabbling for a tissue, she realised the bottom of her coat was trapped in the door, and heaved it open again to a vicious spray of rain. The sodden hem rested wetly against the side of her leg, quickly soaking through to her skin.
Isobel groaned and resumed her hunt for a tissue, finding nothing in her pockets but an old petrol receipt and a long-lost store card. She gritted her teeth and pinged open the glove box hoping for the miraculous sight of a mini-pack of travel tissues, but after several moments of fumbling through junk, all she came up with was a packet of Wet Ones.
Full of cold, crotchety and uncomfortable, Isobel cast her mind back to the sunny, easygoing bluer than blue sky she’d just seen on TV. Holding a Wet One to her nostril and breathing through her mouth, her expression hardened with resolve. ‘One day,’ she swore to herself, ‘one day, I’m going to live on Ramsay Street.’
Born in 1959, Nene Davies is technically a Baby Boomer and hopes that's a good thing. She lived in England for her first ten years, until her parents returned to Wales where Nene was raised in beautiful Pembrokeshire. In 2002, Nene and her husband packed up their three children and emigrated to Australia.
Nene's short story The Edge was commended by FAWNS in 2009. In 2012, her short story Miss Understood was published by Narrator Australia, Day One appeared in Foreign Encounters by Writers Abroad, Santa's Helper Helps Herself appeared on the ABC Open website and Nene's writing group e- published Ten Minute Tales. Her first novel Distance was digitally published in June 2013 by Really Blue Books, Australia. Nene lives her dream in sunny Brisbane and writes full-time.
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