I think this probably stands alone but if you’d like to read the foreplay, the first two chapters are here. The contract | Six Crooked Highways (wordpress.com) The Contract – What Kate did next | Six Crooked Highways (wordpress.com)
Flynn read the letter several times over, climbed on to the ancient TD-18 International Harvester tractor with its metal seat shined by three generations of ample backsides and drove out to do some ploughing. His plan was for the concentration on straight lines to bring him the peace to think clearly about what Kate had said. What wasn’t helping was the ‘love’ part.
His father had been a hard and harsh taskmaster and he found it difficult to recall any words of praise passing his lips. The most anyone could hope for was the odd grunting nod and a mumbled ‘Not bad’. His mother was only slightly better, with hugs disappearing by the time he went to school and a relentless ticking off of tasks when he came home. He understood they were hard years when they were trying to get the land into the condition that it needed to be in for long-term sustainability and there was little time for anything peripheral. And as he grew older he imagined that they thought that leaving him the legacy of the farm was, in the end, the only love that counted.
Breast cancer (deliberately left untreated he discovered later) took his mother in her late forties and five years later he found his father dead from a heart attack while repairing fences on a boundary paddock. When he picked him up, he half expected to be told to bugger off and get back to his work. Flynn made the necessary arrangements and stood dutifully solemn at their funerals, accepting condolences, but felt nothing. One day they were alive, the next day they were dead. That’s how life worked.
Women rarely entered his mind as he continued to develop the farm, with some occasional hired help. Those he had met at school seemed weak or unapproachable. After he left school, he would see them again in town, usually either flaunting what he imagined were country town fashionable clothes or pregnant or walking along with a tribe of whining kids trailing behind them.
He’d been ‘initiated’ by the town bike, Sally Sanderson, but he’d been so excited that he ejaculated before he even entered her. A couple of girls had pursued him (or his property) and once he had found himself suddenly engaged to Cheryl Clarke, not that he could recall popping the question. The next thing he knew was that has being paraded around the district like a prize bull with a ring through his nose. He hibernated for weeks before that blew over.
Then one day, when he was collecting his mail from the post office, in strode a statuesque female stranger. The coat and slacks could only belong to a city type and her long red hair hung in waves down her back. Her face contained eyes and a fixed smile that spoke of openness while still conveying concealed steel.
Having collected her mail, she strode out again, unfolded herself into a dusty, dented hatchback and sped off. In the background he could hear fragments from the tongues wagging. ‘ … new schoolteacher … not married … bit of a tartar in the schoolroom I’ve heard but the kids seem to like her … asked for wine in the pub the other day… drives like a maniac’. This woman had certainly entered Flynn’s mind and he was totally uncertain as to how to deal with that.
Up until then, he’d go into town for the mail and shop at random times, when the opportunity arose between jobs. Now he found himself on schedule to be there, coincidentally, when she came into the post office. She’d started nodding to him, as country people do, but with an odd, crooked smile on her face when she did it.
Kate made the first move. Instead of nodding, she asked him ‘I’ve heard that sometimes you take animals for agistment.’ After a moment, from the side of a barely opened mouth, he said ‘What did you have in mind?’
‘I have an ageing horse that I’d like to have close at hand.’
‘Not sure my fences are high enough to contain a horse.’
‘Oh, her fence jumping days are over. Besides, you could ride her. If you wanted to.’
They pretended to haggle over an agistment fee and then Kate said, ‘I’ll bring her up at the weekend.’
And so it began.
And now here he was.
Kate’s traveling car wreck pulled up at the veranda. She emerged, climbed the steps and sat in his Mum’s rocking chair and waited.
‘Not sure where to start’, he said.
She offered no help.
‘I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you’ he blurted, as if fearful that if he didn’t get it out quickly his words would be strangled at birth.
‘I negotiate every day, so I don’t know why I said that I wouldn’t.’
‘But there’s one thing. I don’t want kids.’ His face froze as he waited for the expected eruption.
Kate laughed and said ‘Thank God for that! The alarm on my biological clock has been driving me nuts but I was prepared to turn it off for you. Confession time. I spend all day with children and the thought of coming home for more was filling me with dread.’
They watched a pair of kookaburras land in the giant redgum that dominated the front yard.
Kate’s voice softened and she said, ‘That’s enough meaningful for one day. Let’s get deep.’
They didn’t make it to the bedroom.