Frankie Fey

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 28

A Reunion

A niggling worry played with Frankie's thoughts as he drove. What would he do if Prudence hadn't disposed of the cells that had begun to organise themselves in her womb after their artistic insemination? He had no sentimental attachment to the microscopic bundle, and hoped she hadn't developed any. No child deserved Prudence for a mother, and he wasn't ready to be a father. No child deserved to be thrust onto this earth, if it came to that. He took twenty deep breaths to avoid talking himself into depression.

According to the map, Prudence lived on a large block of land a hundred and fifty kilometres north west of Sydney. Satellite images showed it to be fenced and lightly forested. There were two large properties at the end of a road, and a small nature reserve, all bounded on three sides by the bend in a seasonal creek that wound in great loops across the plain. One property had a house. That'd be Prudence's. What it looked like he couldn't imagine. If she had designed it, it would be interesting. As he hadn't a telephone number or email address, he would arrive unannounced. He hoped she wouldn't be upset.

After leaving the main road, he bounced along a narrow, winding, unsealed track that followed the creek. Driving required concentration as there was a steep bank on one side and an equally steep drop to the water on the other. After several kilometres the track turned inland up a gentle slope, ending at a turnaround with three gates. Which one was Prudence's? Frankie got out to stretch his legs. A narrow wooden gate on the left was neatly labelled: "Walking Track to Possum Valley Falls". A few metres to the right a cattle-stop served instead of a gate, and beside it a rough sign: "Passionfruit. Ian van Dahl". The driveway descended steeply towards the creek.

Fifty metres to the right of the cattlestop an ordinary farm gate hung between a pair of hardwood posts. Assuming it was Prudence's he opened it, drove through, closed it, then negotiated a rutted, kilometre-long drive that climbed gently through a forest to a sunny clearing containing a single storied house built in warm, yellowish stone. Five evenly spaced Roman arches springing from slender half-columns created a classical façade. Four were windows, the central one the front door. A square tower grew from the centre of the tiled roof.

Frankie parked in a spot surrounded by flowering grevilleas. He looked around, took a deep breath, smiled at the rural peace, then crunched over coarse gravel to the solid wooden door. A manly pull on a thick rope set a bell clanging in the tower. The reverberations had faded into the surrounding hills before the massive wooden portal opened just enough to reveal an eyeball.

'What do you want?' The voice was Prudence's, so he assumed the eyeball was too.'

'To see how you are, Prudence.'


Annoyed with himself for not having realised that this was exactly how she would respond to an unannounced visit, Frankie snapped, 'I take that back! I don't give a fuck how you are. I came to make sure you got rid of the foetus, you miserable misanthrope.'

'Oh.' A brief silence, then, 'I disposed of it, so you can go now.'

Instantly penitent, Frankie softened his tone. 'Your house looks very fine, it reflects perfectly your organised mind.'

'Thank you.'

'Can I have a glass of water? It's been a long drive getting here.'

'You should always carry water in Australia,' she admonished, opening the door. In a loose, sleeveless shift of something pale blue that covered her from shoulders to knees, she looked smaller than Frankie remembered.

'You've not changed a bit.'

'It's only been a few months! Come on.' She marched off at a brisk pace towards a sunlit doorway at the end of a cool, parquet-floored passageway.

Frankie followed the pattering of bare feet, peering into the rooms on each side, but seeing little in the gloom. The space he arrived in took his breath away. The entire rear of the house was a high ceilinged gallery with a kitchen at one end, dining area in the middle and a lounge at the other. The outside wall was pierced at regular intervals by floor to ceiling windows, open onto a paved courtyard enclosed by buildings in the same golden yellow sandstone as the house. Everything was neat and spotless yet welcoming and comfortable. Prudence handed him a beautiful crystal goblet.

'There's spring water over there,' pointing to the far side of the sun-filled courtyard.

A large niche had been carved into the wall of the building opposite, containing a life-sized sandstone statue of a slim, naked woman standing with hands on hips, pissing into a waterlily. Frankie laughed and filled his goblet. 'Where does the water come from?'

'A spring up the valley.'

'And where does it go?'

'Into a cistern under the pavers, our drinking water reservoir.' Prudence was standing in the same pose as the statue of the young woman.

Frankie yelped. 'I've just realised! It's you! A brilliant likeness. Who made it?'

'Empirika. She's standing behind you. Tell her and then go back where you came from!'

The sculptress was a fit and visibly tough woman with hooded eyes that gave nothing away. Larger and slightly older than Prudence, she was dressed in a dark blue overall with leather gloves poking out of a pocket, sandals and a white cap. As she stepped forward she pulled the cap off revealing a tanned, shaven scalp. Frankie shook the other hand, surprised at its muscular strength.

'Your sculpture of Prudence is perfect.'

'Thank you.'

He turned back to Prudence. 'And the house is perfect too. How long have you been here?'

'This land was the first thing I bought when you and I started making money on stocks and shares, so just over four years. It's the house of my dreams, so it was the first thing I did. My father supervised everything and it was completed in three months. A record according to the builder. I used to come here on weekends and every holiday.'

'It's one of the most welcoming houses I've ever been in.'

'You crawl like a pro,' the sculptress sneered.

Unsure if it was a joke or serious, Frankie remained smiling.

'He's a much finer specimen than he appears in the video,' Empirika said grudgingly. 'Tougher, more muscled.'

'Don't get excited. He's going.'

'No he's not. I like him.' She turned to Frankie. 'Come and see what I'm working on while Prudence gets her fanny into gear and makes us lunch.'

'Rika's a bossy bitch, Frankie. Please tell me you've come to take me away.'

Was she serious or joking? Frankie couldn't tell.

Before he could find out, Prudence retreated into the kitchen and began banging plates and pots.

Shaking his head at the incomprehensible behaviour of women, Frankie followed Empirika into a large, well-lit, high-ceilinged studio in the building behind the statue.

Empirika appeared grateful for Frankie's praise of her sandstone sculptures of animals, and females.

'That sculpture of Prudence is extraordinarily accurate and lifelike. You are very skilful,' he said in genuine awe. 'It's an amazing likeness. You've even caught that slightly cross-eyed madness she emanates when concentrating. She looked like that all through our dance. Is that how you got the idea?'

'Yes, I made lots of stills from the video and worked from those as she'd never stand still long enough for me to work from life. Now I want to make one of you. It'll be a companion piece in a matching niche, and you'll be pissing too, because as I saw it, in the dance you both metaphorically pissed on middle-class prudery. Here you'll do it forever. What did your parents think of the performance?'

'They loved it.'

'Mine too, but Prudence has never heard from hers since. They were in the audience, you know.'

'I had no idea. Poor thing.'

'Poor me! She's been depressed ever since, worrying that you thought she was a slut. So I'm relieved you're here. Didn't you see how happy she was to see you?'

Frankie nodded, unwilling to admit Prudence's welcome had conveyed the opposite impression. But he was flattered that Empirika wanted to make a sculpture of him, so agreed to pose; not thinking to ask how long it would take.'

After an excellent lunch during which Prudence was as lighthearted and uncomplicated as she had been introverted and difficult at university, Empirika suggested they go for a walk.

'Good idea, it'll get my blood flowing before the drive home.'

The land was gently rolling, so was easy walking when there weren't patches of dense and prickly undergrowth. In sensible shoes, long-sleeved shirts and slacks because of branches and thorns, they set off at a smart pace, on the way disturbing kangaroos, galahs, fairy wrens and a hare from its set.

'You have to get rid of the hares,' Frankie said brusquely. 'They kill sapling trees. Any foxes?'

'I think so. Or they might be wild dogs. We hear then howling at night.'

'That'll be foxes. Get rid.'

'How? We don't want to use poison or those jaw traps.'

'I managed to get several with a bow and arrow around our place, but that was because they were so used to humans they didn't scent me soon enough and I got lucky. These wild ones can smell a human at two hundred metres, and I'm only accurate for fifty. But I don't mind having a go, it'll be fun. But baited cages are your best bet.'

Empirika was staring at him. 'It was you with the bow and arrow on all those social media sites!'

'You've a good eye.'

'You've a great bum.'

'Thank you.'

'I've now decided that in my sculpture you'll be aiming your bow and arrow.'

'I thought I'd be pissing.'

'That too.'

They turned west at a solid corner post and descended steeply along the boundary. A chain saw shattered the peace.

'Who's sawing trees?'

'Our horrible neighbour.'

'Ian van Dahl?'

'How'd you know?'

'The sign at his entrance. You don't like him, Prudence?'

'He's going to turn his property into a passionfruit farm.'

'It won't affect you, will it? It's a fair distance from your place. I doubt you'll hear him.'

'First there'll be bulldozers clear felling everything, piling the trees into heaps and burning them for weeks. Then they'll plough it. Then put in hundreds of posts, wire them, have vehicles coming and going day in day out, then if the vines grow there'll be sprays, weed killers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides and then pickers and trucks and…'

'Isn't his land too steep for crops?'

'I'd have thought so. And dry. I suppose he's hoping to use water from the creek.'

'But it's barely a trickle, is there ever any more water in it?'

'Believe it or not, it can rise in minutes till it covers the road.'

'Does that happen often?'

'We've been marooned twice already this year after heavy rain. We love it. It's like being on an island for a few days. That's why we think he's crazy because one good downpour will wash all his ploughed soil into the creek.

'Have you tried to discourage him?'

'He just laughs, what would two little girlies know?'

'Buy him out.'

'I've offered, but that just makes him dig in his heels. I imagine he thinks there must be something valuable here if we want to buy it.'

'Can I talk to him?'

'Be our guest.'

Empirika held two fence-wires apart for them to squeeze through, then jumped up, hung onto an overhanging branch and swung herself over the wires to land in a squat.

'You're a gymnast,' Frankie applauded.

'Used to be till I realised that strained joints come back to haunt you when you're old.'

'Sensible.' He looked around. 'There are still plenty of trees.'

'He's only making strainer posts at the moment with saplings. The tree-clearing comes next. The odd thing is he's always working on his own. We've never seen anyone else here. I don't even know if he has a family.'

They followed the clattering of the chainsaw down the boundary till it met the creek, and then across to a new tin shed where Ian was sawing saplings into three-metre logs. He was tall, lean and probably in his forties, with chiselled good looks, a dimple in his square, clean-shaven chin, sensibly short light brown hair, an open-necked bushman's shirt, jeans and work boots. He looked up, shut the saw down, placed it on the ground and approached his three visitors.

'We apologise for trespassing, Mr. van Dahl,' Frankie said pleasantly. 'We were out for a walk and heard you working and I was curious so jumped the fence and the others followed.' His smile was deliberately timid. 'Hope you don't mind.'

After a brief nod towards the women, the sawyer thrust his hand at Frankie. 'Ian. And you are?'

'Frankie.' Frankie grasped the hand and shook it.

Ian's lips stretched back to reveal slightly crooked teeth, but he wasn't smiling. 'What can I do you out of, Frankie?'

'Great spot for a house with the view across the creek to the hills.'

'Got to get the vines up and bearing first.'

'It's steep land for horticulture. Wouldn't the trees be more useful holding the soil together?'

Ian snorted derision. 'Those dumb clucks've been bending your brains, Frankie. Tree roots have nothing to do with erosion. That's just another greenie myth. They want us all to go back to the cave and chew grass. Either you're for progress or you're against it. What are you?'

'A realist.'

Ian frowned annoyance. 'I went to a talk by a really smart bloke, Doctor of something or other. He explained that it's all crap the changing climate and everything. He said god gave humans the earth to make a profit out of it, not to squat on it like dumb animals.'

'Are you religious?'

'What's that got to do with it? This bloke knows what god wants and why we're here.'

Frankie nodded sagely. 'Did he mention which god he was quoting?'

'Didn't know there was more than one.'

'There's one for everyone' Prudence said sweetly. 'Even for people who prefer money to nature.'

Ian picked up his chainsaw, drop-started it and advanced on his visitors who scurried back to their side of the boundary.

'Let's go for a swim.' Prudence set off at a trot.

'Great, but we're heading in the wrong direction.'

'I thought you'd checked a map.'

'I did.'

'And you didn't notice we live in a pocket. The creek makes a one hundred and eighty degree turn around the northern end of both properties; flowing north along the western side of Van Dahl's place and south along the eastern side of ours, where we've an excellent swimming hole.'

'Brilliant! Lead on.'

There wasn't much water, but a large hole in the stony bed was deep enough to relax in; not enough to dive.

They stripped and basked in the cool water till they chilled, then spread themselves over warm rocks to dry.

'That was so perfect,' Empirika sighed.

'Does it ever dry up?'

'Hasn't so far. We think it's a spring.'

'I see it's not only your head you've shaved.'

Empirika looked down at her groin. 'I hate clutter. Hair to me is clutter. I need to feel neat and smooth.'

'You've succeeded in looking very sleek and uncluttered.'

Empirika smiled. 'Thanks. And Prudence likes not getting a mouthful of hair when she gobbles.'

Frankie laughed and looked at Prudence's thick thatch. 'You don't mind being cluttered?'

'Rika's so strong she can grab a handful and lift me up by it.' She looked appraisingly at Frankie. 'Does that shock you?'

'Whatever gives you pleasure makes me pleased. I actually like you, you know.'

'Yes. I know. And I appreciate it. You're not bad either.' Her smile was gentle, almost fragile, and set Frankie wondering.

Back at the house the sun was setting.

'It's too late to go home tonight,' Empirika stated. 'Stay, and after a bite to eat I'll make some drawings to familiarise myself with your body.'

'Not too familiar, I hope,' Prudence remarked lazily. 'Familiarity breeds contempt.'

'Men are so different from women,' Empirika announced with a sigh after an hour of sketching from different angles. You've so many muscles. Even in your buttocks, not to mention thighs and groin. I should have studied anatomy. Now I understand why the great artists dissected corpses. I'll have to work it out for myself. And I imagine there'll be even more muscles visible when you're tensioning the bow. At art school I was criticised for drawing with too much detail, they said my work lacked feeling. But I don't really see something until I've tried to draw it as accurately as I can.'

'If its any consolation, Rika, yours are the first sketches and sculptures I've liked by a contemporary artist. So stick to your guns.'


'I'm off to bed,' Prudence stated. 'What time are you going and when will you be back to rid us of our hares?'

'Directly after breakfast, and I'll probably come back tomorrow night. But don't worry if I don't. I've no idea what's happening at home. You see I've decided not to take a phone when I go to India, so I'm getting used to being without it.'

'What're you going to India for?'

'To find nirvana. There's a monastery in the Himalayan foot hills that sounds interesting.'

'Probably a tourist trap for weak-minded westerners. You'll be sharing a doss house with fifty drug befuddled US and European no hopers and filling the coffers of the locals.'

'Yeah, probably.'

Frankie spent the night on a futon in one of the front rooms behind the arched windows. Sheets and a duvet were in a carved wooden cupboard. A full-length freestanding mirror, desk and chair were the only other articles of furniture. A door communicated with a forest-green tiled bathroom. A door on the far side of that opened into an identical room to his.

He opened the window wide, spread the sheets, took a shower, did fifty push-ups and sit-ups, then slept without waking.

On the other side of the central passageway, a larger bedroom, small office, walk-in wardrobe and ensuite bathroom comprised Prudence and Empirika's domain.

At first light Empirika came in to Frankie's room and tore off his bedcovers. 'Stay like that!' she demanded. 'I want to sketch you.' Squatting beside the futon she drew quickly with concentration. Five minutes later she stood. 'Thanks. I like to know what people look like when they first wake.'

'What do I look like?'

'A sleepy Priapus.' And she was gone.

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