A Sustainable Dream
Kayla took her coffee to the veranda and sat back in the old rocking chair, looking out as she did to survey the landscape. The scene before her was one she had imagined so often: lush gardens; trees laden with fruit; vines, canes and bushes overloaded with berries; a forest of colour as vegetables grew to abundance. Tiny blue wrens and robins with their bright red breast flew from tree to tree; wattle birds fed on the cyclamen and higher above a flock of black cockatoos screeched their way across the sky. Beyond towered the mountains, their colour ever changing with the seasons and the light.
The beauty of it all still caught Kayla, the realisation of a life’s dream. She had worked so hard to have her own slice of heaven; juggling two jobs while James was raised by his teachers during the day and her parents most other times. She had thought she would never make it, until her father passed her the newspaper one morning, a bright red circle highlighting a rundown old farmhouse. She had fallen in love with the place on sight and the price was within her grasp. A small mortgage was all she needed to become the new owner of Tier View Farm. A mortgage – and the job to pay it.
Tier View Farm was three hours’ drive from the city, a short ten minute drive to the nearest town. Kayla despaired finding work until she stumbled across the local school and learnt they had need of a librarian. Two days a week gave her the income to finance the loan and support her son. The school gave her the means to follow her dream. Her dream gave her so much more. She found a deep satisfaction from the knowledge she could finally be the mother her son needed and wanted, and not someone who simply kissed his forehead before rushing out to the next money earner.
She sipped her coffee, closing her eyes as she pushed off the ground to set the chair on its rhythmic sway, enjoying the sun’s rays warming her face. Could life get any better? She smiled at the distant rumble of the bus, the shouts of the children. Moments later came the sound of James’s feet crunching along the gravel path followed by the click of the front door.
‘Home!’ he called.
He emerged onto the veranda, his school bag most likely dumped by the door.
‘Mr. Jones wanted me to give you this.’ He passed her a letter. Turning to go back into the house he paused. ‘There’s rumours the school is closing.’
‘Who said that?’ Kayla frowned.
James shrugged. ‘Some kids at school.’
Kayla opened the letter. It was brief, requiring her to come in earlier the following day. ‘I doubt it, James.’ She put the letter away, dismissing the moment of fear James’ words had introduced.
‘How was school?’
‘What did you do?’
‘No.’ At fourteen James’ conversational skills were typical of many his age and Kayla had long since given up trying to coax more out of him.
‘Don’t forget to empty your school bag and change out of your uniform,’ she called as he headed to his room, ready for another afternoon of video games. Kayla sat back and sighed. Despite her neglectful upbringing James had turned out to be a good kid. He helped her with scarcely a grumble, and he worked hard around the property. She’d been surprised when he said he loved it too. Growing up a city kid she expected he would hate living in the country but the lifestyle came naturally to him, and he’d grown strong and healthy in the year since their move.
The next morning Kayla arrived at the school to find the entire staff of eight crammed into the principal’s tiny office. The groundsman was present alongside the teachers, aide, and administration assistant. Kayla had never seen them all gathered in one spot before.
The Principal, Mr. Jones, cut straight to the point. ‘You’ve no doubt heard the rumours.’ He cleared his throat before continuing. ‘I’m sad to say they are true. Our funding has been cut; the government deems small schools to be a waste of money and resources. The school will close at the end of term and we will merge with the school at Narellan.’
The shocked silence was followed by a barrage of objections.
‘That’s an hour away! They can’t expect the children to travel so far!’
‘What about the community?’
‘What about our jobs?’
Mr Jones shook his head, hands raised for quiet. ‘The permanent teachers will have a job at Narellan, but there are no guarantees for anyone else, and I’m sad to say the opportunities for more jobs in the school are not promising.’
The questions continued but Kayla heard none of them. She saw only her home, owned by another; she and James thrust back into a dingy suburban rental. In this community a single shop covered the basics: food, petrol, post office, newsagent, general store – all rolled into one. The school provided her only chance of work. Without it, she could not afford her mortgage. Her dream was dashed.
At home, dinner was subdued. A whole school assembly had been held so James knew the worst had been confirmed. Kayla found she couldn’t eat, pushing her vegetables around her plate instead.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ she whispered. ‘We’ll have to sell up, move back to town.’ She glanced at James. ‘At least you’ll be able to see a little more of your grandparents.’ She forced a smile. ‘They’ll be pleased to have us nearby.’
James shook his head. ‘You’re looking at this the wrong way mum.’ He looked at her with genuine surprise. ‘I can’t believe you’re giving up so easily.’
Kayla returned her sons shocked look. ‘What do you mean?’
‘We have the farm. It’s only small, but there’s enough land here. We could make money from the garden.’
‘We’ve got too much produce, you’ve said so yourself. Why not sell it? That should help pay the mortgage; buy us a few extras. Your cooking is awesome mum; and your preserves have improved. We could survive on what we’ve grown.’
‘Oh James … that is a wonderful thought, but we’d need to hire help for that – it’s too big a job just for me.’
‘I’ll help,’ James said.
‘When? You’ll have to leave an hour earlier to get to your new school; you wouldn’t be back till dinner time. You’ll be too exhausted, and in winter it will be too dark.’
James rolled his eyes. ‘So home school me. It’s not like you can’t teach. You’re giving up too easily mum. Besides, I like it here.’
Kayla felt a weight lift from her shoulders as she imagined a new future: fresh produce in summer; jams, chutneys and preserves in winter. The farm house had an old cellar, already filling with produce. With James’ help, it was possible. And that would be her dream truly fulfilled.
Bio: Heather wrote this piece as a challenge – to write a piece putting Todorov’s theory into practice – to start a story at a place of equilibrium, introduce a disruption and have the characters find their way back to a different equilibrium. The further challenge was to keep the story within 500 words. Heather says that the story has grown somewhat since then – into what you see today!
You can find more of Heather’s writing at her blog, Dreaming Awake, at http://heatherj22.wordpress.com