Here is the next part of Silent Order.
Chapter 21: Birthday Ballet
“Wow,” said Ben. “That’s a surprise.”
Merlyn was pleased. It was a surprise that was a year in the making. After last year’s birthday ballet lesson, Ben never did text Merlyn another lesson time as she had requested. A few reminders and some disappointment later, Merlyn pulled herself together with the thought that if she wanted to dance then it was unrealistic, unfair, and burdensome to expect Ben to facilitate her wishes. So, she embarked on a training and education regime which she had consistently stuck to for the whole interim year.
As Ben originally suggested, she went to adult ballet classes. She even advanced from the beginner’s class to the intermediate class. She had private lessons with appropriate teachers who took beginners. She added to her four-day-a-week dancing program: daily walks, a weekly yoga lesson, and plenty of home stretching based on what she learned in her yoga classes. Her fitness, strength, and flexibility improved out of this world. Mind you, her body hurt every single day. Usually, it was simple muscle soreness. Sometimes, it was injury. However, each injury taught her something important about what not to do in dancing.
By the end of the year, as she opened the large glass doors of the sandstone ballet building, she realised that she was beginning to vaguely feel like a dancer. As she walked through the empty corridors, normally full of talkative, energetic dancers (now on holiday), she recalled her catch-ups with Ben over the past twelve months. She had seen him about once a month. He had noticed that she was thinner and had more muscle tone but it didn’t cross his mind that she would have embarked on a serious dance training program without him. Not that he minded. He was rather impressed with the effort and self-reliance that it took.
For Merlyn’s part, the thing that she enjoyed most about this year’s lesson was a fleeting moment of relaxation in Ben’s eyes. Instead of having to carry her for the entire dance, he could, here and there, leave her to do her part and concentrate on his own. It was fleeting but it was there; a whisp of something new and alive. He could not have known how much that meant to Merlyn. What is dancing other than the desire for a moment of freely-given joint creation? It takes time but, even more than time, it takes trust. Trust, not so much in another – humans are so damn changeable – but trust in the part of another that does not change. The part that is whole and happy.
As Merlyn gathered her things to leave, Ben said unexpectedly, “I also have a surprise for you.”
“Really?” said Merlyn. “What is it?”
“I bought a house,” said Ben. “Not here in the city. Remember when my grandmother died earlier this year and she left the eight grandchildren her house in Store Creek to be equally divided?”
“Yes?” said Merlyn.
“I decided to buy the others out,” said Ben.
It was quite a feat to get the seven cousins to all agree to sell their part but eventually they did. Some needed the money. Some were practical and realised that a part-share in a country house with seven other families would be a disaster in holiday house time management. Some were kind and remembered that Ben was the only grandchild that actually lived there. He spent much of his primary school years in Store Creek, with his grandmother, due to his own family circumstances. Once he reached secondary school and his ballet training became serious, he needed to stay in the city.
“Come, see it.” said Ben. “After Christmas. In January. The garden will be wild by then.”
Garden? thought Merlyn. Since when did Ben care about a garden?
“Meet you at the General Store,” said Ben. “You can’t miss it.”
Chapter 22: Store Creek General Store
As Ben predicted, one couldn’t miss Store Creek General Store. It was the only shop in the tiny town. Less than two hours from the city, Store Creek huddled in green, hilly hinterland – yellowish hills in the drier seasons. The General Store lived alongside an old church, the quaint primary school, a dozen or so houses, and several unused buildings from businesses long since gone. No one needed a blacksmith or stables anymore. At its height, the stables fed ninety horses a day and housed forty-five at night.
Merlyn parked next to a row of thirty motorbikes. She was early and Ben wasn’t there yet. Sitting on the verandah, she watched the bikies who had taken over the entire outside area next to the vegetable patch. Mostly grey heads, with a few younger ones in-between, they were a motley-looking but well-mannered group. She gathered that this was their regular breakfast spot on their trips from the city. The store owner knew them by name and thanked them for carrying their own cups and plates back to the kitchen. Merlyn overheard them talking about one of their recent, self-appointed assignments; the protection of a mother and children from domestic violence. Apparently, they took it in turns to park conspicuously outside her house.
I wouldn’t like to be that man if he turned up, thought Merlyn. He probably didn’t. Abusive men aren’t brave. It’s so much more effective than police protection which is usually, “I’m sorry but we can’t do anything until something has happened.” Any poor woman and her kids could be dead by the time “something” has happened. I know who I’d be calling.
Turning to the wall next to her retro table, Merlyn read about the history of Store Creek. It seemed unclear whether the town’s name came first and the store’s second, or the town got its name from the store. The latter was a general store in the true, old fashioned tradition of being a post office, newsagency, bank, grocer, and tea room. It was also a semi-reliable source of wi-fi in an area that had limited and intermittent reception.
Beginning a hundred and fifty years ago, holiday makers took horse and coach from the last country train station and stopped at Store Creek for horses to be changed and people to be fed. It was three hours through grazing country to Store Creek by coach and then another three hours through the forest to their beachside destination. The people rode with mailbags which were lifeblood, at the time. The coaches were smaller in winter; three horses pulling ten people. In summer, that number jumped to six horses and twenty-five people. The dirt roads were muddy and slippery in wet weather. Sometimes, the passengers had to get out and push. Even in dry weather, some of the slopes were very steep and the driver held the passengers’ lives in his hands. In spite of the ups and downs of the trip (or because of them), the views were magnificent to behold. It was a great delight for tired, dusty people and horses to cool down in the ocean at the end of the journey. That six-hour coach journey, nowadays, took only forty minutes but Store Creek General Store kept its appeal.
Chapter 23: Nanna’s House
“You still have your grandmother’s sign on the gate,” said Merlyn as she pointed to the sign saying, Nanna’s House.
“Yeah, I know,” said Ben. “I keep thinking I’ll take it off but then I can’t quite bring myself to do it.”
There is probably a bit more “Nanna” in Ben, thought Merlyn, than he would want to know about, anyway.
The house was delightful; an unadulterated 1950’s house with furniture to match. It even had an old tube television.
“You have to get up to change channels,” said Ben with some annoyance.
He watched it at night because his phone reception was so bad that he mostly had no internet. It took him a while to get used to the tank water. It tasted delicious but showers had to be very short and flushing the toilet was a hit or miss venture because the water pressure was so low.
The feature of the house was the garden. Completely overgrown with an incredible array of plants, all growing beautifully and fighting for space. The fruit trees were covered with fruit. The flowers were glorious.
“Lucky that, here in this pocket, it rains enough to keep the garden going,” said Ben.
“Are you going to garden?” asked Merlyn.
“As if!” said Ben. “It’ll look after itself and when it gets bad enough, I’ll do something. Get someone to help.”
A few, happy hours later, Ben suggested, “Next time you visit, stay the night.”
Merlyn looked at him but he turned away and added awkwardly, “‘Cause, you know, there’s room… spare rooms…”
“Sure,” said Merlyn reassuringly. “I’ll help you with the garden.” She looked out into the wild mess of fruit and flowers; full of summer lifeforce. “We can all use a little help, right, Ben?”