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Authors: Ilsa Evans

Flying the Coop

BOOK: Flying the Coop
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Ilsa Evans lives in a partially renovated house in the Dandenongs, east of Melbourne. She shares her home with her three children, two dogs, a multitude of possums and a psychotic cat.

She has completed a PhD at Monash University on the long-term effects of domestic violence and writes fiction on the weekends.
Flying the Coop
is her fifth novel.

www.ilsaevans.com

Also by Ilsa Evans

Spin Cycle

Drip Dry

Odd Socks

Each Way Bet

Broken

The Family Tree

Flying the Coop

I
LSA
E
VANS

First published 2007 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney

Text copyright © Ilsa Evans 2007

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Australia
cataloguing-in-publication data:

Evans, Ilsa.
Flying the coop.

ISBN-13: 978 1 4050 3786 0

I.Title.

A823.4

Typeset in 13/16 pt Bembo by Post Pre-press Group
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

The characters and events in this book are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

These electronic editions published in 2007 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

Flying the Coop

Ilsa Evans

Adobe eReader format 978-1-74197-805-6

Mobipocket format 978-1-74197-887-2

Online format 978-1-74197-928-2

Epub format 978-1-74262-385-6

Macmillan Digital Australia
www.macmillandigital.com.au

Visit
www.panmacmillan.com.au
to read more about all our books and to buy both print and ebooks online. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events.

To Robyna Leslie Evans and all her friends,
like Jenny, Fiona, Helen and Celia.
Also to all the staff at the Melba Centre in Mt Evelyn
and Burnett Court, Ringwood.
What a magnificent (and often unappreciated!) job you do.

CHAPTER ONE

C
hris first saw the farm on an overcast Saturday in the middle of July. She had been busy trying to tug her parka sleeves down over her freezing hands when something made her glance across to her right – and there it was. The charming old weatherboard with its deep, wrap-around veranda, the steeply graded tile roof with two dormer windows, the huge willow tree off to the side generously shading the gravel driveway, the clean, white fencing with the rolling greenery beyond, the scattering of cheerful chooks. It all looked like a romantically rural painting, where haywains would be just around the corner, and windmills, and small boys in broad straw hats fishing while a man sits on the riverbank chewing on a reed. Chris had always thought scenes like that, dripping with picturesque rusticity, just didn't exist. Too stereotypical to be real. But here it was – right in front of her. And none of that tasteful but deceiving black and white, or those tiny little photos that were guaranteed to be hiding something – no, this farm was a full colour 10 × 8, and holding pride of place within the pictorial plethora of properties for purchase.

Forgetting about the inadequate length of her sleeves, Chris moved closer to the quaint little real estate agency and stared.

She vaguely registered an agent within glancing at her hopefully through the plate glass, but she had eyes only for the farm.
Her
farm. Because it was speaking to her. Whispering – in a voice as light as the wind that would even now be sighing through that willow – and if she concentrated, just a little bit harder, she was sure to be able to make out the words she so needed to hear . . .

‘What on
earth
are you doing?'

Chris jumped guiltily, and turned to see her ex-husband's rather irritated face staring down at her. She opened her mouth to tell him about the farm – because once upon a time, a long while ago, it had been
their
dream to one day have a farm, with cows and poultry and crisp white fencing.

‘We've been waiting over there for
fifteen
minutes!' Garth thrust his head in the direction of the road and Chris, after closing her mouth, involuntarily glanced across to where both their cars were parked on the opposite side. In her Honda hatchback, only Grace's Doc Martens were visible, which meant the girl was probably lying back and listening to some head-banging music, while in Garth's 4WD, Cynthia could be seen sitting patiently in the passenger seat. And, as soon as she saw Chris look in her direction, she waved enthusiastically, her blonde tresses bouncing with the effort. Chris closed her eyes so that she could roll them without being seen. It was a trick she had perfected over the past four years. Unfortunately it often left a lingering headache, but then so did Cynthia – so what the hell.

‘And
where's
Michael?'

Chris opened her eyes and broke her silence. ‘Still in the toilet, so unless you want to go in there and investigate, you'll just have to wait a little longer.'

‘Well,
someone
has to!' Garth flashed her one last annoyed look and strode off down an alleyway next to the real estate
agency in search of his errant son. Chris shrugged philosophically and went back to staring at the farm.

The photo must have been taken towards the end of the day, as the sun was shown hovering amidst the treetops, casting them in a strange combination of orange and sepia that made them look almost magical. Underneath was the real estate agent's blurb, and Chris read it with mounting interest.

 Want to get away from it all?
       Need your own slice of paradise?

LOOK NO FURTHER
!!

Rare opportunity to purchase a thriving free-range egg business. Fully accredited, well-established and with ample goodwill, this freehold business has been in operation for nearly forty years. Purchase covers all amenities, buildings and equipment, including a huge barn and a two-storey, 3 bdr home with office, WWC, country kitchen and wrap-around veranda. All set on a beautiful twenty acres. THIS ONE WON'T LAST!!!

What are you waiting for?

Chris nodded fervently as she read the first two questions. Yes, she
did
want to get away from it all and, yes, she
did
need her own slice of paradise. In fact, she needed two slices – with whipped cream on top, and perhaps a strawberry or two. As she finished the blurb, she put her head to one side and sighed deeply. What
was
she waiting for? A free-range egg farm, no less! It even suited her convictions – because she
always
bought free-range. Ever since she had watched a documentary about six years ago which showed the suffering endured by caged hens, and the malformations on their posteriors – coincidentally the very same posteriors through which the eggs must pass – well, she hadn't bought anything but free-range from that time on.

For a self-indulgent moment, Chris closed her eyes and pictured life on the farm.
Her
farm. Merrily sprinkling grain at dawn to a cackling pack of hungry hens, watching the children saunter off to school up a meandering country path, spending each evening on that wrap-around veranda, on a white wicker rocking-chair, sewing or knitting. Or perhaps even shelling peas. Chris grinned at herself, because maybe that was going a tad far. But even sans pea-pods, it would be heaven. Absolute heaven. Her own thriving business, complete with ample goodwill, far away from the city, and Garth, and Cynthia, and her former life. And now she could clearly hear what the farm had been whispering earlier –
you need me, you want me, come away with me, escape, escape, escape . . .

‘Toilet paper. Everywhere.' Garth loomed into her peripheral vision, immediately shattering the image of her scattering grain from a checked apron. ‘That kid needs help.'

‘Of course he doesn't.' Chris gazed longingly at the wraparound veranda. You could really hide in a veranda that deep. There'd be all sorts of nooks and crannies.

‘Is that right? So what sort of kid spends twenty minutes wrapping himself in toilet paper?'

‘An imaginative one.' Chris took a deep breath. God, what she'd give for the odd nook, or even a decent-sized cranny, right now.

‘A
vandal
, you mean.' Garth suddenly seemed to register that she wasn't paying him a great deal of attention. ‘And what on earth are you staring at anyway?'

‘How many vandals wrap themselves up in toilet paper?' Chris finally turned to her ex-husband and regarded him pensively. ‘When it comes to anti-establishment type behaviour, it's not very–'

‘That's a farm!' He peered closer. ‘My god, it's a
poultry
farm!'

Chris raised her eyebrows but Garth ignored her, choosing instead to read the real estate blurb with a frown. As she watched him, Chris had a momentary flashback to another picnic, many years ago at the Hanging Rock races, where a much younger Garth held his glass of champagne aloft and threw his head back as he laughed. A deep-throated belly laugh that spilt the champagne – making him laugh all the harder. Blonde hair, blue eyes, ruddy complexion. Sun glinting on crystal, champagne pooling on the grass, and a surge of happiness that cemented the moment in her memory forever.

‘What a load of crap.' Garth waved his hand at the real estate board disdainfully. ‘You don't seriously believe this stuff, do you?'

‘Of course not.' Chris sighed, and glanced back at the window. ‘But wouldn't it be lovely? And don't you remember how
we
used to say that we'd have a farm one day?'

‘Yeah, same as I used to say I'd go white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon, or sleep with Farrah Fawcett Majors. None of them were ever going to really
happen
, were they?'

‘I don't see why not.' Chris stared at the farm stubbornly. ‘Besides, you've probably got a better chance with Farrah now than you had back then. Have you seen her lately?'

‘But I don't
want
her now, that's the whole point. You know what your problem is?' Garth went on without waiting for an answer: ‘You need to grow up. Because it's all still fantasy with you. Like, what do
you
actually know about farms, or poultry?'

‘I had poultry once. Before you.'

‘Come on, this is stupid.'

‘What's it to do with you anyway?' Chris started to feel angry. ‘It's
my
life.'

‘And it's
my
time you're wasting!'

‘All clean now.'

They both stopped mid-glare to glance down at the small,
seven-year-old ginger-haired boy who stood between them with tear-streaks across his freckled face. Chris's heart lurched and she automatically covered his small sweaty hand with one of hers while she used the other to pluck scraps of toilet paper off his t-shirt. ‘Oh, Michael. What'd you do now?'

‘I was only being a mummy.' Michael's bottom lip quivered as he narrowed his eyes at his father accusingly. ‘Like in the olden days, you know. I was gonna surprise you all.'

‘Certainly surprised me.' Garth met Chris's eyes with a wry glance and for a split second looked just a little like the younger Garth, with the laughter, and the champagne, and the sense of humour. ‘Took ten years off my life.'

‘Good,' muttered Michael as he clutched his mother's hand.

‘Ah well.' Garth ruffled the boy's already messy hair, sending several flecks of toilet paper floating to the ground. ‘Okay, mate. How about we forget it? Let's go get an ice-cream instead!'

‘Can I help you?'

Chris glanced with surprise at the middle-aged man who had materialised at her elbow. Crowned with a toupee that looked like a rodent pelt, he was dressed in a double-breasted brown pinstriped suit, under which could be seen a rumpled white shirt and a navy tie that looked like it had been fastened by a five-year-old. As if he'd read her mind, the man made a rather ineffectual attempt to straighten his tie and then, giving up, smiled half-heartedly at them both as he waited expectantly. At a loss, Chris stared at him, wondering if he were perhaps homeless.

‘No, no,' Garth replied jovially, putting his hand under Chris's elbow as he started to usher her, with Michael still attached, over towards the kerb. ‘We were just looking.'

‘Hang on.' Chris planted her feet. ‘Are
you
the real estate agent?'

‘Ah . . . yes,' he replied doubtfully and then, as if realising how unsure he sounded, gave an emphatic nod. The rodent pelt immediately slid a centimetre down his forehead, exposing the edge of what looked like a reasonably sized bald spot.

‘So you're selling that farm there?' Shaking herself loose from Garth, Chris pointed towards the picture in the window. ‘The free-range egg farm?'

‘You're interested?' The real estate agent sounded incredulous. ‘
You
? In that farm?'

‘Why not?'

‘A farm!' yelled Michael gleefully, forgetting all about his thwarted attempts at mummification. ‘A farm! Are we gonna live on a
farm
?'

‘Definitely not,' snapped his father as he grabbed Chris's elbow again, this time a trifle more firmly.

‘Garth, let
go
!'

‘You don't often get properties like that on the books, you know,' blurted the real estate agent, as if he had suddenly remembered his training. ‘It's a little beauty. Three-bedroom house, twenty acres of prime land, huge barn, thriving business. Places like this don't last long, get snapped up real quick . . .'He petered out as the fierce tug of war Chris and Garth were having over the possession of her elbow intensified.

‘Chris, for Christ
sake
!' Garth finally let go of Chris's elbow and she staggered backwards a few steps, with Michael taking immediate advantage of her lack of balance to free himself. He quickly hopped over to the window to study the farm on offer.

‘Do I take it that you're
not
really interested?' asked the real estate agent, with a strange mix of disappointment and relief.

‘Of course she's not,' replied Garth through gritted teeth.

‘I beg your pardon?' Chris drew herself up to her full height, which was still a good eight inches shorter than Garth's six feet. ‘I don't need
you
to speak for me.'

‘Mummy, c'n I sleep in the huge barn?' Michael tugged on her sleeve. ‘It c'n be my bedroom.'

‘Look, Chris–' Garth took a deep breath – ‘enough now.
Enough
. You know perfectly well you couldn't manage a farm. And you've got what you wanted – you've annoyed me. Okay? Happy now? Congratulations. So can we go?'

‘Uh-oh. Mum, look – it says “This One Won't Last”. Does that mean it's no good?'

Chris didn't answer, because her entire attention was on Garth – and on what he had just said. Taking it for granted that this was all about
him
, that she would be doing this simply to annoy
him
. And, as she stared, something snapped. Something deep inside; blossoming through her brain with a cold fury that blurred her vision. How
dare
he. How incredibly egotistical, how presumptuous, how . . . how bloody
typical
. When, just for once, she was thinking about herself. About how
she
would like to wake in the morning to the sound of livestock rather than traffic, or take a deep breath of fresh air instead of smog, or be her own boss rather than part of the ratrace. Just like they'd dreamt about, way back when Garth had happily helped her build castles in the air. And, sure, she knew it wasn't terribly realistic. But she'd only wanted to ask the price. Not to buy – just to
know
, to fantasise about. Maybe even for the future – for the day when she didn't have children ensconced in schools, and a house, and a job, and all the other paraphernalia that was anchoring her to her inner-city life.

BOOK: Flying the Coop
4.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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