by Iris Carden
Karen tried to get comfortable. She'd been leaning with her head against the window for a couple of hours, with Tara's head on her lap. Gently she stretched her neck, leaning her head first to the left and then to the right.
The tiny blonde head on her lap stirred.
"Sorry baby, I didn't mean to wake you," Karen said, quietly. She didn't want to draw attention from the other passengers. The conductor had already looked at her strangely as she and the toddler got on board, with a plastic supermarket bag for luggage; Karen trying to hold both child and bag in her right hand so as not to use her left arm.
If she had been able to afford a sleeper, she and Tara would have had some privacy, and might have been able to sleep better. As it was, it felt like everyone was looking at them, and all she really wanted was to be where no-one could see, and to get some sleep. It seemed forever since she slept.
"The train woke me up," said the still babyish voice. "It keeps talking making clack clack clack noises, and I can't hear what it's saying."
"It's talking, huh?" said Karen. "What do you think it's saying?"
"I don't know," said Tara. "Is it something bad?"
Something bad? For so young a child to have a mind that immediately went to "something bad", it broke the young mother's heart.
"Something bad, no, baby, not at all."
Tara sat up, carefully rubbing her little eyes. One was still puffed and closed, the huge purple bruise making a travesty of the innocent face.
"What's it saying? Do you know."
"Yes, baby, I know. It's saying 'I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home.' "
Tara put her hand on Karen's forearm. Karen winced. She should have agreed to the xray. The nurse at the hospital had told her she really needed to have it done, that if it was broken and she didn't get it set she could cause a lot of damage. Karen had told the nurse, she would get it looked at as soon as possible. She just couldn't take the time to stay at the emergency room. Daryl would know to look for her there. She had to make sure Tara was OK and she had to go. Tara was all that mattered.
"Mummy," the big blue eye and the swollen purple lump looked up at her, "what's the new home like?"
Karen smiled. "It's where Aunty Kit lives."
"Who's Aunty Kit?"
"She's someone very special. A very good friend of Mummy's from when I was a little girl. She lives on an orange farm."
"Are all the animals orange?"
Karen allowed herself a little laugh. "Not that kind of orange. Oranges that you eat. Aunty Kit has lots of trees that grow oranges. They grow beautiful little white flowers, that smell lovely and there's lots of little bees that go hummmmmmmmm, and then the flowers grow into lovely sweet oranges."
"Will there be flowers and bees going hmmmm hmmm hmmm when we get to the farm?"
Karen tried to remember what time of year the orange blossoms were out. She couldn't. Childhood was a memory lost in a fog. So much had happened. And her arm hurt her so much. She found a Panadol in her bag and swallowed it dry before she answered. "I'm not sure. I think so. I think this is the time of year for orange blossoms, but I don't remember for sure."
"I want to see bees and flowers."
Karen kissed the top of her little girl's head. "Do you know that little native bees don't have stings?"
"What are natibees?"
"They're Australian bees. Maybe we can get a hive of them as pets."
"Pet natibees that don't have stings. And white flowers. And oranges. And Aunty Kit. All at our new home."
"That's right. All at our new home."
"When do we go back to our other home?"
Karen sighed. "Never, darling. We are never, ever going back there."
Tara paused before asking her next question. "Does Daddy know about our new home?"
Karen shook her head slowly. "No, baby. Daddy doesn't know about our new home. He's never been there and he doesn't know Aunty Kit. Daddy can't find us there."
Tara put her head back down on her mother's lap. "I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home," she sang in time with the train's wheels.
Karen leaned her head against the window, saw the reflection looking back at her, a tired transparent ghost, with the grey shadowy countryside gliding past behind her. A new home, she thought, and a very old best friend. Life is going to be good.