It began unexpectedly in an old-fashioned way of coffee and wine. A mug left on a fence post was drained, and a glass of chardonnay went down in one slurp. Jon collected pieces of heavy dairy rubber and made a two-sided flip door into the house for her. Else would drop on to the old art deco couch, muzzle at a cushion, settle in, and wait for the fire to get going properly while he talked about this and that. She was remarkably light footed, a small Jersey with a purple ear tag, number 42, and would stand in the bail without the headlock until he had taken a litre or two and the pollard was eaten. A last lick of the feeder and she backed herself out, giving him a moment to move the stainless-steel bucket. The milk settled into Heart Attack Jack, more cream than other on the bench, easy to scoop, easy to over indulge. She spoke to the small herd outside of the house paddock but was not interested in joining them.
On what might have been a Wednesday a car came slowly up the steep track and three women from a Church got out and asked if he knew God. “No, are any of you looking for a husband?” Else came out through the flap and hooted, rippling lips, and showing her teeth. Those who had brought The Word left, faster than they had arrived. His neighbours, people often with lambs in their houses when a graziers warning was issued, became concerned. A car and an ambulance ‘dropped by’ to check on him. “Jon Andersson, some Scandinavian in there?” He did not want to implicate himself. “More of a silent H out of Collingwood originally.” While he was unsure of what day of the week it was, he did know the month, the year, and who the Prime Minister was. “Did I pass?” The bigger guy winked. “Flying colours.” Jon thought “Just like a pirate eh,” but knew it was better not to say.
Seasons went by, becoming more orange; three farms over a man drove a tractor into where the creek used to be trying to out run the European wasp plague, was spilled on to a rock and died there. The wasps ate him, then ate themselves when other food ran out. The height of the hill farm, on deep red volcanic soil protected them for a while, day and night were merging into russet and frost stopped. Else was having trouble standing and her long spine took on a coat hanger look, her sepia eyes dulling with the world. On an evening or morning, he closed her eyes when she went down not to get up again, outside the flap, where some clover still grew. He fitted the dredge harrow and sculpted out a place she liked over by the old soak on the high plateau where the native grasses held on. Jon teased the fork lift below her frame, carried Else more gently and more slowly than steps and placed her, patiently covering over what had been a life. He knew the taste in his mouth was tears.
Finally, night struck. The first hail hit red before turning white when more came down. The house wailed and shook on its long-legged stumps, as the lightning wrote on hills, torching what was left of struggling crops. Else’s flap sang to and fro with the thunder, and Jon fell asleep as rain beat its own march. He awoke to a long wheeze not his own. At the end of the bed a large black cat opened its yellow eyes, stretched out and licked at its shoulder. He realized he was alive when he stepped on the gift of the rabbit dropped by his boots. “Irish curry and stew then.” He got the fire going and as he stood the cat brushed against him, its back at his knee joint. “More of a jaguar, how about it Carl, mates?” They leave the house together to look on the new washed world and to check Else’s site. Carl also knows what Jon will find on the plateau, but that is he and Else’s business. The cat is a female but considers Jon will either figure it out, or is blind to the obvious in that human way.