My bricks are tumbling down, while my mortar crumbles to dust. Red dirt fills my rooms while lush grasses carpet my floors. Animals make me their homes while the wind blows through my heart. Once, I was filled with lust, laughter, sadness and tears. Anger and love ran rampant through my halls while children played hide and seek within my grounds. People say these walls can talk and I know this to be true.
I have witnessed many things: floods, drought, love, arguments, bush fires, wars. Truly amazing things have happened here. I was there when the dream started. When loving hands gently caressed my stones and lovingly spread my mortar. Brick by brick the dream spread. Room by room I was created. My family started small: first only one, which turned into two, then into more.
Generations passed till hordes have passed through my rooms, which had slowly started decaying. My people soon forget the love that started me. They forget I was there for them from the beginning. More and more I fall apart. Harsh winds thunder against my walls, chipping at my bindings. Rains will torrent down on my roof, washing out my inner workings. Fire creeps closer to my heart as the brilliant heat of the sun dries out my lush grasses. Soon I start to crumble and my people, without a regretful glance, leave me to my fate.
The years pass slowly and I see what happens to the countryside while I lose a brick here and there, and other people come and take a piece of my heart for themselves. I survive while others don’t, till I am a ruin of a home, nearly completely broken. Forgotten, my story is waiting in these walls. Waiting for a time when these walls will talk.
Amelia put her pen and notebook away and sighed. She drove past the weathered house every day as she travelled out of the township on her way to work. Every day she wondered what the story was with that house. Who lived there? What was its story? The poem she had just written in her notebook came to her while she sat and stared at the house.
‘Toot, toot!’ Amelia jumped, her heart in her mouth and cracked her knee against the steering wheel. Pain went through her body and Amelia felt her eyes start to water.
‘Shite!’ she hissed as a green car pulled up next to her.
The other car’s window rolled down and a blonde head popped out. ‘Yo, Amelia. Are you staring at that house again? Come to the Feddy for a drink! It’s Friday night and we’re getting ready to party.’
Amelia shook her head, ‘I can’t tonight Lissa. I have to finish my assignment. I need to email it off tomorrow.’
Lissa scowled, her face scrunching up in displeasure. ‘Come on, Meals. You never hang with us anymore. We’re going to have something to eat at the Feddy and go to the water tower for a smoke afterward. Your assignment can wait.’
‘No, it can’t. If I want to get my vet qualifications and replace Peter the pet killer then I have to study. It’s like an hour and a half drive to Lockston to visit another vet. We need one here. Only two days ago, over at the Tyler farm, they nearly lost a cow that had a difficult labour. As it was, they lost the calf.’
Lissa nodded. ‘Fine. Be boring. You know where we will be if you want to join us later.’ Lissa started her car and the back wheel spun for a few seconds, clouds of dust gathered and then she was gone.
Amelia started wistfully after the departing car, wishing she could go out. There wasn’t that much to do in a small country town but she was serious about replacing Peter. It just wasn’t safe to take your pets to him. One time a dog went in for shots and came home in an urn. She glanced back to the house for a moment and started for the second time in an hour. There was a girl in a cream frock standing in the doorway. Amelia’s eyes were sore after staring at the old colonial house for an hour, so she thought she was imagining things. ‘What the…’ Amelia looked again and rubbed her eyes. The girl was gone. ‘Well, that’s my cue. Home it is.’
Amelia gently threw her notebook on the passenger seat and started her car. On the drive home she noticed another store had a for sale sign on the window. Two minutes later she was pulling into her driveway. Her house was a classic railway house with high ceilings and thick walls. She even had an old-school cast iron stove that didn’t work in the kitchen.
The pitter patter of tiny furry feet greeted Amelia as she opened the door. A black cat wound itself around her legs and mewed. She bent down, hooked him in her hands and gave him a kiss. ‘Hey there Mr Yin. What have you been up to today?’
Mr Yin batted her nose and tried to bite her knuckle.
‘Okay, okay. It’s dinner time.’ Amelia set him down and walked into the darkness of her kitchen, fumbling for the light switch. A shiver ran through her body, making her break out in goosebumps. She felt like she was being watched. She turned around but only Mr Yin was there, licking his whiskers.
After the two of them had their dinner, she settled in the lounge and started typing; Mr Yin curled up beside her, purring. Finally, at 1am, she was done. Her eyes tired and sore, Amelia sent off her assignment and closed her laptop with a yawn. Mr Yin was still sleeping beside her so she gave him a pat, feeling his black soft fur glide across her fingers. He shifted and gave her access to his belly which she rubbed for a few seconds then got up to go to bed.
The next morning Amelia felt more like herself. As she ate her pancakes she flipped through her notebook and came across the poem she had written the previous day. The words turned golden in her head and she knew what she was going to do with the day.
An hour later Amelia was in front of Kummara Town Hall. Kummara was a small town but it was rich in history. The town hall was filled with deeds and records, and it was here homes were listed. Amelia walked in and was greeted by Mrs Egan, a short elderly woman with grey-streaked hair.
Mrs Egan had steely blues eyes that belied her age and were piercing when she was annoyed. That day they were soft as she looked at Amelia. ‘My goodness. Amelia McKinnon. We never see you in here. How is your mother?’
Amelia smiled at the woman. ‘Hi Mrs Egan. My mum’s fine. She’s having a good time in Adelaide.’
Mrs Egan shuffled some papers and asked, ‘So, what can I do for you?’
‘I’m looking into who owns that derelict homestead about ten minutes drive out of town. I think it’s from the early nineteenth century.’
Mrs Egan closed her eyes for a moment, trying to place the property. A few moments later her eyes flew open and she clicked her fingers. ‘You’re talking about the old Jenson place. The family moved out of the area in 1953. We have been trying to get that place heritage listed for so long.’
Amelia was impressed by the old woman’s memory. ‘Why are you trying to get it heritage listed?’ she asked.
Mrs Egan raised her eyebrow in surprise.
‘I thought that you of all people would know that building’s history.’
Amelia shook her head and Mrs Egan continued. ‘Michael Jenson came over from Britain in 1870 and was commissioned to set up a veterinary practice. He was to service the Crown’s horses and the working animals of the settlers of this area. He made quite a name for himself and his family was quite well off. What is left of the homestead is only a quarter of what was originally there.’
Amelia felt her heart quicken at the thought of an old veterinary business.
‘Why did the family leave?’
Mrs Egan walked over to the computer and tapped a few keys. ‘Ah, here we go. Not bad for an old lady, hey? The computer records say they sold the property as it was extremely run down and the family wealth had dwindled in 1930 due to the market crash. They moved to Sydney to try their fortunes at another venture.’
Amelia leaned over to look at the computer too. ‘Who did they sell it to?’
Mrs Egan tapped more keys and then she frowned. ‘Hmm. It seems that the building was sold to Andrew O’Conner, who then died in an accident. Then the building was claimed by the Crown and left to rot.’
Amelia had a crazy idea running through her head. ‘Can someone put a bid on it to buy it?’
Mrs Egan stood back and stared at her. ‘Why would you want to do that? It is a complete ruin.’
Amelia shrugged, ‘I love that place. It calls to me.’
Mrs Egan turned back to the computer and scrolled down the page. ‘We had a team down there three years ago pricing the place and how much it would take to restore it. It was very pricey. The land and building itself isn’t expensive; 120,000 would cover it, but there are conditions to the sale. The new owner MUST restore it to its original state and turn it into a historical landmark.’
Amelia’s hopes went down the drain. She didn’t have that kind of money. It must have shown on her face.
Mrs Egan patted her arm and said, ‘Don’t worry about an old building, girl. Concentrate on your studies and get out of this town. Make a name for yourself, just like Michael Jenson did.’
Amelia left the Town Hall feeling sad. The sun hit her face and the heat warmed her skin. It felt good letting the sun’s beams soak into her being. It was coming to the end of summer. She would miss the warmth and glow that summer brought. She got into her car and drove back to the Jenson Homestead where she stared at the ruins of the house. Knowing what she now knew, Amelia could see what Mrs Egan was saying. It was obvious that the shell that was left had been part of a bigger whole.
She ducked under the fence and touched a weathered stone. It was rough and grainy. Tall yellow grass carpeted the floor and grew everywhere. She followed the layout of the building, trying to imagine a veterinary clinic. Goosebumps covered her body. That feeling of being watched was back and stronger. Amelia spun around, catching sight of that woman again. ‘Hey!’ she called out, but the woman ran off.
Amelia followed her, hoping to ask why the woman was watching her. The unknown woman led her on a merry chase through the tall grass. Finally the woman stopped and stood with her back turned. Amelia panted as she stopped and actually saw that the woman was wearing a long dark blue dress, the kind someone would have worn centuries ago. The woman’s hair was pinned to the top of her head and she worn an apron with a dog’s paw embroidered at the bottom.
‘Who are you? What are you doing?’ Amelia called out, very confused.
The mystery woman still didn’t answer but she pointed to a rock.
‘What…?’ Amelia had her hands on her hips and felt sweat trickle down her spine. The sun was in her eyes, so she looked away for a moment. When she looked back the mystery woman was gone. ‘I’m going crazy,’ she whispered to herself.
What was so special about that rock? Amelia carefully walked over and bent to examine it. The rock seemed ordinary enough to her. It was grey, rough and had moss growing on it. Something about the way it was shaped tugged at her. It was too uniform, like it had been carved. Amelia stepped back and looked at the area as a whole. What she saw shocked her. The homestead had been huge. She was standing in one of the rooms and, if she was not mistaken, the rock was part of the chimney. She walked back to the rock and examined it a bit more. Why would a ghost, for Amelia was honest with herself, why would a ghost point to a random rock in the countryside? There had to be more to it. Amelia ran her hands over the rock and, just as she was about to give up, her fingertip snagged on a dent. She poked a bit harder and jumped when a piece of the chimney came apart. A dark hole beckoned her but she didn’t want to put her hands in there.
Amelia picked up a thick stick and stuck it into the hole. A small metal box fell out with a clang and Amelia was excited. She held the box in her trembling hands and sat down in the grass, the rocks digging into her bum. The box was held together with a small antique lock that would not give, even after all these years. She picked a medium sized rock and brought it down on the lock. After two strikes the lock fell open and Amelia was able to open the box.
Three Years Later:
Lissa looked at her friend with pride. Today was the day all Amelia’s hard work had come to fruition.
Amelia adjusted her hat and double-checked her clothes were perfect. ‘Shall we go to the ceremony now?’
Lissa laughed and hooked her arm through Amelia’s. ‘I think it would be the perfect time. We’re all so proud of you, Amelia. I wanted to let you know. We gave you so much crap about always studying but look at you now!’
Amelia blushed and waved off her friend’s compliments. It had been hard work but now it was all over with and the town need not ever have to use the animal killer again.
They got into the car and started the journey to the ceremony. As they pulled up, Amelia sat there and stared at her new practice. It was beautiful. A light caught her eye and she nodded a thank you to the woman in the trees.
Lissa opened her door, got out and said, ‘There’s no backing out now, Mealy. We’re all waiting for you.’
Amelia laughed and got out of the car. The whole town was crowded around the ribbon that surrounded her new practice. The Mayor, a portly man named Sean, gave her a pair of scissors.
‘Welcome. Thank you all for coming today. I promise to be the best veterinarian I can be. Your pets and animals will always be safe in my care. I now pronounce the heritage Jenson McKinnon Veterinary Clinic open for business.’
Tarran Jones on Facebook: www.facebook.com/tarranjones13.com.au
The Australian Literature Review