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Hackles
Kate Maxwell

Skies are darkening and that rumbling isn’t traffic on the bridge but thunder. His grey, loose lip curls. Tufts of tan, bristly hairs stand upright on his back. Currents spark about his spine, his sensitive nose, as he stands growling at the glass screen door.

“It’s all right, mate. Just a storm coming.”

 

Hand upon his haunches takes the shudder. And somehow, it catches, courses up my arm and into my afternoon. Usually, the torrent’s wash and wild dance through the trees cleanses: releasing the set of my shoulders, tightness of my scalp, as I exhale grime and tension into streaming gutters. But now, a dull throb in my temple begins to beat in time with dog’s guttural warnings.

 

I wheel my desk chair backwards and stand with him at the window. Another roll of thunder. A magpie flaps off into heavy air. It’s hot. Close and sticky like a toddlers’ clinging grasp. Charcoal clouds merge into a sullen mass. Dog shifts to barking when silver slashes sky and disappears in a microsecond.

 

Mum used to say, count the seconds between the thunder and the lightning and you’ll know how far away the storm is. She was a nurse, not a meteorologist, so I used to think that’s just something mothers say. I’ve since found out there’s some actual merit to its formula. But I’m sure she was used to dismissal. Accustomed to being the comforting background to our busy lives. Provider of meals, transport, and affirmations. She’d be rushing to bring in washing from the line, making sure the tomato vines were covered, or fretting that one or more of us had possibly left the house without an umbrella.

 

And here it comes. With a crack like a stockman’s whip, sky splits, and bursts. Flooding the little courtyard, in fast, blurring sheets of water. Dog paces at the door, the rat-a-tatting rain keeping rhythm with his yelping. Air is cooler already. I gulp a breath, feel my throat tremble, and then unexpectedly rain starts falling from my eyes too. Shoulders shake. And all I can see in that little courtyard tempest is her face at the end: her watery eyes, trembling cannula hand outstretched, her gushing heart. Hammering the balcony glass and my memories with guilt and loss.

 

Rain eases to a trickle, skies hush, and dog nuzzles my hand. Hackles down, he wanders off to lap from his water bowl. I wipe wet eyes with the back of my hand and slide the screen door open. Breath of wet grass, earth, and wood tickles my nostrils as I lean over the deck. Pink Frangipanni petals are strewn over the pavers like dead butterflies. Mum would have collected them and put them in a bowl of shallow water. She wouldn’t waste the broken, their scent still strong and sweet, an opportunity to extend a bloom.

Kate Maxwell has probably been a teacher for way too long. As a result, her interests include film, wine, and sleeping. She’s been published and awarded in many Australian and International literary magazines. Kate's first poetry anthology ‘Never Good at Maths’ is published with Interactive Publications, Brisbane. She can be found at https://kateswritingplace.com/