Hush might have stayed awake for the morepork that was cloistered in the pines beside the house; but in the first days of her second year, a sheep had kicked the sense from her ears. Her mother said it happened. She also said Hush had a father who sailed and a brother that went to India. Hush considered the idea of a father or brother as the joggers took her mother down the hill. One or the other might have braced the coffin on a shoulder, the eyes low. He might have sunk beneath the box as if the weight of her death had bent his bones. But the woman was bungled down the gravel path at an undignified lean; so that Hush pictured her mother’s brittle hair flat against the wood.
The house was not quite upon the hill. A bungalow, painted white, plain as a goose; it sat amidst four large pines. There was no garden, and no netting at the windows. From the outside, with the curtains flung, you could see yourself - a guilty mug upon the shadows. The front door was swept of living things, and had a bulbous handle. A priest had seen the inside, but that was long ago. At the mother’s death, a stranger moved in. He was only a stranger in the sense that he hadn’t put a toe inside the house.
Seb was the first man who didn’t tell Hush what the wind said as it pushed up the hill. He didn’t purse his lips, like a boy kissing, and imitate the birds. He didn’t take her hand to his throat and hum, like the one who caused Hush to be unnerved by the point of an Adam’s apple. When Seb cradled Hush, he held her hand and murmured. The first kiss had been in the wild grass in front of the house. It was dusk. The sky was aloof and the distant sea was steel in her eye. He pushed her back, crushing the paspalum, and wound her hair tight in his fingers. Her mother watched from a window.
Beyond the mother’s figure, was boredom; walls with pastel shades that met with architraves like leaves to a branch. The ceilings were stained with the rain that once got through, and the furniture was cold, delicate; feminine. When he came, Seb gave Hush a new bed. She couldn’t have him in her mother’s because of the hollow in the mattress. He also bought a set of drawers, third-hand, for a hundred dollars. She had dashed down the lawn to see the joggers carting the mahogany chest up the hill. It’s alive, she thought, as it kicked about with its short legs.
The first night he slept in their room, Hush took hours to fall to sleep for all the excitement of his finally being there. At intervals, she felt him shift or scratch. But, just before the dawn, she woke alone. She had not expected to find, so quickly, that all was a dream. She cast out her hand to bar the glare and found the moon burning through a gap in the drape. Her deafness poured, new again; and her eyes wouldn’t see. She spun her face from the window and blinked upon a shape at the doorway – soon, a head; shoulders. It could not be her mother who was stiff within the darkness of the churchyard far below the hill. At once it was Seb moving toward the bed. He bumped the mattress; fell hard upon her foot with his knee. She laughed then, lurching out to clutch the pain. And soon, with him beside her, she felt “Hush…” upon her ear; a warm breath that, somehow, she heard.