The crossroads are next to a Circle K and a drycleaner, but it’ll do.
‘He will rue the day he hurt me,’ says Ellie, and Velma rolls her eyes.
She scratches in the dirt by the road with her sneaker. ‘I’m the one who’ll be doing it. If he’s gonna rue anything it’ll be me.’
‘I didn’t ask you to do it.’
Crickets and frogs creak. Velma shifts her shoulder bag. ‘He probably won’t show.’
Much later, patting down the topsoil with the back of the shovel, Velma remembers other tools like it, thinks about all the bones that must be in the earth, thinks about getting old but never dying, puts the shovel in the shed, makes a pile of pancakes.
It’s easier to live behind the diner and use the diner’s kitchen than bring the old trailer up from its pastures, and Velma likes the dark shapes of the empty booths and the ghost-blue of the tiles in the light that spills out from the back rooms.
He doesn’t show but Velma and Ellie do the thing anyway, and when they get home their mother is gone. This is unexpected but not shocking. Her trumpet case is gone as well, but none of her clothes. Ellie looks at Velma, trembling, but Velma feels calm.
‘We did this?’ says Ellie, and Velma sort of shrugs, finds some Band-Aids for their hands.
Washing the cuts on her hand and her sister’s hand she says, ‘Do you feel different?’
Ellie nods vigorously.
In the diner Ellie is picking at the pancakes and has the look of remorse Velma has grown familiar with.
‘We should have done something with it,’ she says, and again, Velma rolls her eyes.
‘They eat dogs in China,’ says Ellie with a small smile, and Velma snorts.
The trailer is empty and lit by the inconstant glow from the burning book. Ellie insisted on setting it on fire; Velma found a suitable container (a metal bucket) while Ellie paced frantically, tears streaking her new mascara. Now it’s on fire and she’s calmer, and Velma dares to put an arm over her shoulder.
‘It’s not so bad,’ she says, giving her a squeeze.
‘It is the worst thing that could possibly happen,’ says Ellie.
Velma considers this. ‘No,’ she says. ‘It could be worse. We haven’t come away with nothing.’
Ellie looks at her with wet eyes, and Velma feels her voice fail even as she says it.
‘And we’ve got each other.’
Cuts take a long time to heal in the tropics.
By the time the sisters’ wounds are just lines they know for sure their mother’s not coming back, and people’s eyes have started to slide right over them, and they’re okay with that, they guess. After a while they start selling their mother’s jewellery and it’s worth more than they thought, and then the diner is for sale and they’re grown women and they buy it, and make the vanilla iced tea the way their mother used to, and successfully raise chickens and when something with teeth and claws gets into the coop they take care of it and always feel slightly hollow and responsible for everything bad that happens in the town; responsible for the floods and the children washed away, for the Ross River fever, for the dead pets, for the audacious softness of the grass on their property, for the failing sugar mill, for the rot and the wet and the fungus, and although they feel responsible they feel no guilt because guilt lives in your soul and theirs aren’t there any more.
Ellie washes the dishes. ‘We did the right thing, I guess,’ she says.
Velma says, ‘We could do more.’