Hot dust trickled over Hannah as she watched her father’s truck head down the long, tree-lined, gravel driveway.
She shaded her eyes as he turned left onto the dirt road. The dust cloud tracked his progress toward town and over the mountains to the sea and his new job on an offshore fishing boat.
Away from her and Mum.
All around there was silence. No cars, no people, just the odd bird call.
How weird, thought Hannah, and just a little bit scary when you’ve been surrounded by noise in a city all your life.
Mum needed her inside, but she wanted to look around the huge sun-browned paddocks surrounding the little stone house where they now lived. Surely, somewhere, on this enormous farm they called a high country station, there would be horses. Or ponies. Because she was only eleven and quite small for eleven, Hannah knew she wouldn’t be able to ride a full size horse, even though she’d never ridden. But a pony would be perfect.
With a sigh, she turned toward the door. Mum was probably unpacking. That’s if she hadn’t gone back to hide in the bathroom. The long trip south from Auckland to Lake Hawea had been horrible for her anxious, shy mother. Hannah tried to help as much as she could, but Dad didn’t understand it, any of it.
She stopped. Two riders and ponies trotted down the drive from where Dad said the owners’ homestead was.
One pony, with brown and white colouring, sashayed from side to side. The chestnut was perfectly under control. The riders looked like girls about her age.
“Hi!” called the one riding the flighty skewbald when they got closer. “I’m Aimie. You must be Hannah. Mum told me about you coming to live in the cottage.”
“Yeah, I am. Hi, Aimie.” Hannah replied, stepping back between the posts of their front gate as Aimie grinned from her sidling pony. Hannah didn’t want any of those hooves near her jandalled toes.
“This is Natalie. My pony’s Trixie and Nat’s is Rhapsody.”
Hannah smiled up at the girl on the pretty chestnut. “Hi Natalie. Rhapsody is gorgeous.”
“Nat. Don’t call me Natalie.” Her face was stony. “Only my mother does. Aimie knows better.”
Hannah glanced at Aimie who rolled her eyes with another big grin. “Oh, sorry,” Hannah mumbled.
Nat looked pointedly at Aimie. “Are we going for a ride or not?” She turned Rhapsody away to trot down the drive.
“Of course.” Aimie let Trixie follow her friend, the skewbald tugging at the reins. She called back to Hannah. “Hey, I’ll call by and see you tomorrow.”
“That would be great,” Hannah called back. But they were gone.
So there are ponies here. And girls her own age. One friendly and one definitely not so friendly. Hannah pushed open the door and shouted, “Mum! Ive just seen some ponies!”
Inside, everything cool and dim. All the drapes and blinds were closed against the bright sun of the late spring morning, only some of the lights on.
We’re not living like this any more, Hannah said to herself as she pulled up the blinds in the kitchen.
“Don’t!” came her mother’s voice from the hallway.
“Mum, there’s no one here to look in. It’s not like Auckland. There’s absolutely no one anywhere near this house.” Up went the next blind.
“Stop it, Hannah. I mean it!” Mum hugged the door frame, her face pale and scared.
“We can’t live behind curtains forever, Mum. I can’t! It’s beautiful here.” She eased back the drapes in the living room. “Look at those mountains.”
Her mother held tight to the door frame, the hallway dark and gloomy – and safe to her mother’s anxious way of thinking.
“Please Mum, come and look. I promise there’s no one here, just you and me and the mountains where Daniel might be working.”
The mention of her brother worked. Her mother stepped close enough to clutch the edge of the curtains and peek out at the view.
Daniel was the whole reason they were here, so far from their previous life in the hustle and bustle of New Zealand’s biggest city, that it seemed like they were on a different planet. Her brother was like her dad – loved the outdoors, hard work and adventure. None of them liked the city, especially her mother for whom the people, noise and busyness were overwhelming. But with Dad working on fishing boats based out of Auckland, at least they got to see him during his time off.
When Daniel announced he was moving to Lake Hawea in the mountains of the South Island to work as a shepherd on a high country station, Dad decided they should all move. And now she and Mum lived on the station next to the one Daniel was working on. Dad organised things so Daniel would take Hannah to town once a week to get the groceries, she was enrolled in the local school with the bus picking her up from the end of the drive and everyone hoped – longed – for the change to be a good thing for Mum. And if there was the smallest chance that she’d be able to learn to ride and have a pony one day, Hannah was all for the move, even though she left her best friend Macy in Auckland.
“Do you think we’ll see Dan today?” Mum asked, her hands white with clutching onto the curtain so tightly, her face anxious as her eyes moved quickly over the landscape outside.
“He said yesterday that he’d come, so I’m sure he will.” Hannah decided against opening any more drapes for now. A couple are better than none and at least Mum is looking outside. Not like normal. “Do you want a cuppa?” Sometimes she felt like the parent, not the child, but Dad was counting on her and Daniel to look after Mum.