ROSIE’S WAIT

It was the end of yet another long day without Jim. Rosie glanced down at the scratches she had made on the cement slab outside the kitchen door every sunset since Jim had taken their wagon to buy supplies in their nearest town. There were ten. She bent down stiffly to make the eleventh, pausing as always to scan the horizon one last time before she did so.

She scattered a handful of grain on the ground and stood in the fading sunlight while their remaining hen and her six chickens picked daintily at the seeds among the dirt. Rosie wiped her hands on her apron that was no longer white before picking up her needles to continue knitting a sock for Jim. The ball of crinkly wool – which came from an old jersey of his – fell out of the crook of her arm and rolled towards the edge of the slab.

Rosie ignored it and leaned against the warm wall as the four short straight needles winked in the sunlight. She smiled in anticipation of Jim’s pleasure when he tried on his new socks. As she clicked her needles, barely looking at what she was doing, Rosie tried to imagine where Jim could be. This time he had travelled to the town on his own; Bert, their neighbour, had felt too ill to travel.

‘I ought to check up on him and Teresa,’ she thought idly. She really should, but what if she was away when Jim got home? It took nearly half a day to reach the Reardon’s farm on foot. Teresa would be starved for company and keep her there too long, so she would have to sleep over. She dismissed the thought tiredly even though she too felt very alone.

Rosie shuddered involuntarily as the shadows deepened and darkened the small shed that housed spare wagon wheels, tools, their single furrow plough, twine, wire, and wooden grain boxes. She glanced up at the thatched roof of their little cottage and sighed. Jim would surely return after she had spent yet another long dark night alone in the tiny bedroom with the small window that she kept firmly closed while he was away. She lit a candle indoors and placed it on the rough wooden table. Rosie would have tea with the last hunk of bread for supper. Then she opened her well-worn notebook and reached for the stub of a pencil stored in its spine.

The scuffed leather cover of Rosie’s journal held her innermost thoughts faithfully recorded over the twenty years since she and Jim had moved into the cottage to scratch a living from the farm he had purchased when old man Penny had died from a heart attack. He had no children and a nephew who had inherited his farm divided it into four. Jim had purchased the cheapest portion. She and Jim had not been blessed with children either – only hard work with few returns and their abiding love for each other.

The sun had only just peeped over the horizon when Rosie placed a bowl containing her bread dough on the broad windowsill outside the kitchen. She picked up the rough besom and swept the inside of their cottage and then hoed their small vegetable garden to clear the weeds. Rosie tugged at the weeds growing in cracks around the walls of the cottage and then drew water from the hand pump some distance away. Once the bed linen was soaking, she turned her attention to the sock she was knitting. She had needed to turn the heel during the light of day.

It was mid-afternoon when Rosie made up the bed with sun-kissed sheets. She had darned the crocheted bedcover and polished the brass bedstead until it glowed. The cottage smelled of baking. She had scrubbed the wooden table which now sported a small linen cloth and a tiny vase of wild flowers Rosie had found growing near the wash line.

As there was no meat, Rosie set about making a large vegetable curry by adding fresh vegetables to the dried beans she had cooked earlier. She went outdoors to pick a bunch of parsley growing in a pot near the hand pump. Only doves called in the hazy heat of the afternoon. Rosie wondered about the goods Jim had taken to sell in town: two bales of wool from their small flock of sheep; bundles of firewood; pumpkins and butternut squashes; a few jars of apricot jam … she hoped the townsfolk would be generous.

Rosie donned her clean apron, ran a comb through her freshly washed greying hair and rubbed some of her precious store of cream over her face, her work-roughened hands scratching her skin as she did so. As the sun neared the top of the Eucalyptus tree towering above the corner of their yard, Rosie took up her usual station at the kitchen door.

Her hands were still. The pair of socks were displayed on the freshly made bed. Rosie listened to the wind soughing through the trees, breathed in the aroma of bruised Eucalyptus leaves, and smiled at the hen and chickens pecking among the dirt. She had just scattered a handful of grain for them when she thought she heard a shout.

Rosie scanned the track that wound around the side of the hill before dipping into some hidden curves before reappearing a short distance from their humble home. There was nothing – just as there had been nothing to see for the past eleven days. Nonetheless, Rosie added more wood to the stove and went out to fill the large enamel kettle at the hand pump. There was a lightness in her step and hope in her heart.

“Rosie! Rosie my love, where are you?”

Jim’s voice! Rosie rushed out to see the wagon slowly creaking along the rough track towards the cottage. She waved and called out. After eleven days of silence, her voice had forgotten how to work. Instead, Rosie gathered up her voluminous skirt and ran down the slope to meet her husband.

They watered the two oxen and let them into the paddock. Rosie exclaimed over Jim’s purchases: seed, shears, a box of nails – all things they needed for the farm. Jim handed her a small crate of eggs safely nestled in straw, a bag each of sugar and flour, as well as a tin of tea leaves.

“I got most of the things on your list, my love.” He winked at her. “I’ll come in after I’ve washed at the pump.”

Rosie took down the large china tea pot they had received as a wedding gift thirty years before. Her hand trembled slightly as she spooned in the tea leaves.

“You’re a blessing to me Rosie.” Jim breathed in the aroma of the freshly baked bread mingling with the vegetable curry simmering in the cast iron pot on the stove. He saw the rice soaking in water and admired the flowers on the table. “This is like coming home to heaven.” He hugged Rosie closely and handed her the wicker basket he had kept hidden from her. “These are for you,” he said simply.

Tears coursed down her cheeks as Rosie unpacked two lengths of printed material, a bar of scented soap and a jar of cold cream. There were two books – a gift from a friend – as well as a box of pencils. “Jim, this is wonderful!”

“Ah, the best is yet to come.” Jim held out his enamel mug for a refill. “Sam Nicholls bought some cattle and will drop off our cow when they pass by tomorrow.”

“A cow!”

“Our very own cow. It’s been two years since poor Dotty died.”

“We’ll be able to have fresh milk and make our own butter again!”

Rosie’s wait was over.

Advertisement