Mrs. Agnes Moorehead was sitting on her porch with her sister Annette sharing a pot of tea they had just brought out of the kitchen. Annette’s daughter Mimi, twenty-three months old, had been left sitting in a pool of sunshine by the kitchen door eating a melon slice.
The two sisters had not seen each other for a year and now that the child had been embraced many times there was much to talk about, being women and sisters.
Annette was here for two weeks. Agnes’s husband Tim was in India for a month’s IT project.
Mimi stared down at the ant who drank from her melondrip, then lowered her fat finger down on both the drip and the ant. Heavily. With grave intent.
Agnes’s best and only dog, a female blue named Mrs Dickens, had lost a litter of two pups to wild dogs some time ago and she hadn’t been the same since. She had turned wary of the house and only came close with reluctance. She no longer slept by the porch step. She no longer barked.
Agnes was telling her sister about the dog. ‘ I miss the big girl’s company, ‘ she said, ‘ especially with Tim away, and she goes away for days sometimes. I only hope she isn’t going wild on me. I worry about what’s in the forest up there.’
Mimi got up and followed the trail of ants that wound along the floorboards, down the three concrete steps and then into the backgarden. There they disappeared into the grass.
The little girl stood in the sunshine amongst the flowerbeds and flowering shrubs, she looked through the open gate just a little down the pathway. Beyond that the many rises and slopes of the old stallion’s paddock, unfenced now, and on the crest of the slope the towering canopies of the top forest, thousands of acres of wilderness.
The little girl walked through the gate. Blonde hair and yellow pyjamas, no slippers – still holding the lemon rind. Mimi would sing to herself when she was happy and she always walked in straight lines.
The two sisters only paused when the teapot was cold and Annette went inside for a refill and to check on her daughter.
Mrs Dickens watched the very small person coming straight up the hill towards her. The dog was lying on a bare patch of stony ground between two surfaced boulders and she could see all the way down to the farm and the creek beyond. Mrs Dickens spent most of her days here as this is where she fought the dog pack that had torn up her puppies. Here is their scent, their blood stains.
This is what she guards.
The dog sat up when she heard the women calling.
Mimi walked up to Mrs Dickens and stopped for the first time since she walked through the gate, fifteen minutes ago. They looked at each other steadily, eye to eye. Then the child smiled and moved on, straight on, into the trees of the Top Forest.
The big cattle dog stood up, and with an ear for the little girl behind him watched Mrs Moorehead running down to the creek. Then she saw another person come out of the back of the house and look up the hill towards the stony patch.
Mrs Dickens sniffed the air and growled softly, then silently turned to follow the little girl into the forest. She quickly caught up with the yellow pyjamas and by slipping from tree to tree, and at a distance, managed to keep apace with the little explorer.
Mimi didn’t mind the silence and shade of the forest, she only saw the flashes of sunlight around her feet. The Bellbird calls. She hummed with her own happiness and walked and walked.
Mrs Moorhead was on the phone.
‘ Geoff, Geoff it’s Aggie. Can you get over here as quick as you can, we have a little girl missing. My niece. Hurry please, she’s been gone for half an hour already. ‘
Geoff Southern was the eldest son of the property owners next door and without wasting a moment he ran out of the house and into a large shed where he kicked his little Kawasaki motorbike into life. Then he roared down the gravel drive and gunned the bike overland to the Moorehead place.
The sisters had searched along the creek first, Annette not daring to think that her little girl had gone down there.
‘ Blast that dog, ‘ said Mrs Moorehead, ‘ if I had her around we would have a better chance of finding the child before it gets too late. ‘
Mimi walked her golden way through the forest, not noticing the leech that touched her bare ankle and fell away; the flat red tick that dropped onto her arm from an eucalyptus leaf before sliding off onto the ground – or the nest of bull-ants that boiled out of their mound-top as she walked by. She didn’t notice Mrs Dicken’s worried face either as the dog watched her from behind a fallen tree.
How to turn a little person like that? A big working dog can turn a running steer by nipping at its ankles, a wild dog with brute fury, and an unwelcome visitor with just a show of teeth.
What to do here?
Mimi got tired.
She sat down, laid down.
Mrs Dickens padded up to the sleeping child and lay down next to here, awake and listening, just hearing the whistles from the farm and the whine of a motorbike as it climbed through the fields.
Geoff had already searched the stallions paddock and was now slowly riding along the edge of the forest whistling for the dog and looking for any sign. The women were frantically searching the creek banks again.
They were all very worried now.
When Mimi awoke and saw the dog beside her she immediately set up an almighty uproar. Red-faced and bawling with fright, hunger and cold, and as scared as a two-year old can be. She got up and ran away.
Right into the dog.
Crying even harder the little girl got up again and ran the other way, and right into the dog again. Mrs Dickens just stood and watched this very distressed child get up for the third time, hoping that this time she would run in the right direction.
At three o’ clock Mrs Moorehead decided to ring the police and get more men on the search. The little girl had to be found before dusk. Geoff had cleared the largest fields and was now in the top forest on foot as he had to hear as well as see. Annette was so stricken with worry she could only roam the creek banks and driveway, hoping to find the child asleep somewhere. Knowing that she was not.
Mimi though was asleep, this time up by the stony patch and with the big dog beside her again. Back into the late sunshine. Mrs Dickens thumped her tail a couple of times and she softly touched the child’s face with her muzzle. Mimi got up straight away and took hold of the dog’s ear and Mrs Dickens woofed quietly as the pair of them started off down the hill, towards the farmhouse and the setting sun.
Snr. Constable Terry Hayes was in the kitchen with Mrs Moorehead and Annette. He was looking at a map of the property spread out on the table and talking into his mobile phone. The two sisters were sitting by the cold stove unable to speak for a moment as their thoughts took hold.
Mimi was lost. Had been for three hours now.
Geoff came into the kitchen by the back door, dusty and tired, and he headed to the fridge for a drink. ‘ The dog’s back, ‘ he said to no one in particular.
‘ Silly old coot, ‘ said Mrs Moorehouse, still angry that Mrs Dickens hadn’t been able to help. Snr. Constable Hayes put down his phone and looked up at Geoff who was scarfing down a pint of cold milk.
‘ What dog’s that Geoff? ‘ he asked.
‘ Mine, ‘ said Mrs Moorehouse, ‘ she’s been missing all day, as usual. ‘
Then the dog barked once, from the front porch.
‘ Hang on, ‘ said Mrs Moorehouse, ‘ that’s not right. ‘
They all remained quiet as Mrs Moorehouse whistled the dog in for dinner, and they stayed quiet as the big dog came jogging down the hall and into the kitchen – heading straight for Annette, who sat with her head down and her pale hands twisted and writhing together. The dog pushed her wet nose into Annettes’ hands and wagged her tail.
Mrs Moorhead was on her feet and out in the hallway so quickly the crash of her overturned chair nearly drowned out her joyful shout.
‘ Sis, the baby. She’s here. ‘
header pic tenterfield sunset, lifted from nbmnews