“Shouldn’t you be heading home, Hannah?”
Hannah Graham looks up to see Peter Edwards, a tall and lanky guy, standing over her, smiling. She scans the large, open-plan newsroom that’s always filled with the constant whirring of copy machines, the tapping of keyboards, and one-way phone conversations. Potted flowers sit in various spots as a natural way of making the place smell nice. It’d been mayhem a few hours ago, when a number of terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, resulting in 137 deaths. But all the activity has now decreased, and the people on night-shift have started coming in. When she checks the time on her computer, Hannah realises her shift ended fifteen minutes ago.
Turning back to Peter, she smiles and says, “Yeah, I should probably get home.”
“I’m going down to the pub in a minute. Want to join me?”
“No thanks,” she says. “I want to finish researching the story I have to do tomorrow.”
“Fair enough. One day you might surprise me and say yes! Make sure you go home soon, though. You work a lot. You need to slow down, otherwise you’ll burn out.”
“Yeah, will do.”
“Good.” He pats her on the shoulder and adds, “See you tomorrow,” then walks away.
Peter likes to go to the pub. He’s not a big drinker, he just enjoys the social aspect. He often asks Hannah if she’d like to come. She constantly says no because there’s always something else she needs to do.
Hannah leans back in her chair, slips off her glasses, and watches Peter enter the lift. He gives her a wave before the door slides shut. She crosses her arms and puffs out a breath. He’s right: she has been working a lot. Already wishing she’d said yes to that drink, she packs up and leaves.
It’s raining when Hannah walks out of the ABC Ultimo Centre. She opens her umbrella and makes her way to Sydney’s Central Station, which is always packed with commuters. Its sandstone exterior and beautiful Grand Concourse reminds her of old movies.
Hannah grabs a seat on the train to Parramatta. The carriage reeks of tobacco and sickly-sweet perfume, making her want to gag. She examines her reflection on the screen of her phone. The foundation she put on this morning is still covering the dark circles under her eyes. It’s also still hiding her pale skin. I should spend more time in the sun, she thinks. At least her golden-brown hair is the same as it was when she moved here many months ago.
The train pulls up at the station in Parramatta. Hannah hops off and opens up her umbrella once again. She finds herself thinking about Peter as she starts walking the four blocks to her apartment building. He’s maybe twenty years older than her. She usually doesn’t find tall, lanky, older men attractive, but she finds him attractive. His skin is tanned and smooth, and he has those sleepy, come-to-bed eyes. He actually cares for her as well, goes out of his way to make sure she’s okay. She doesn’t know if that’s because he thinks her as a daughter or because he’s attracted to her as well. It’d make perfect sense if he saw her as a daughter. He was married for five years, but he and his wife divorced before they had any kids. Hasn’t been in a relationship since. Hannah hopes beyond hope it’s not the daughter thing. She wants him to be attracted to her. She often fantasises about getting stuck with him in the lift, or in the back room. How exciting would it be if he suddenly pulled her close and kissed her!
Hannah reaches her apartment – a simple but comfortable place that’s painted a dull white throughout – and walks inside, dumping her bag on the kitchen bench and slipping off her shoes. She opens the fridge and sees left-over KFC and McDonald’s meals, a half-empty tub of yogurt, and a BBQ chicken from the supermarket. After pulling out the chicken, she grabs some bread and makes a sandwich for dinner. She then heads over to the cheap fold-out table that serves as her desk. It is a sea of papers and notebooks; her laptop sits atop a pile of books.
Chewing her sandwich, she looks over her notes for the case she’s supposed to write an article about tomorrow. A local man disappears after stealing his neighbour’s car. He had no motive for stealing the car, and had no obvious reason to disappear. Today she’d looked into the possibility of mental illness, thinking that’s what he might be suffering from. It’s the only thing that makes sense to her.
Hannah eventually realises she’s still working.
She’s pulled many long nights since being hired by the ABC here in Sydney. She usually reads over notes, makes more notes, researches criminal cases, researches people she has to interview, and taps out emails to colleagues. Peter’s always telling her not to take her work home with her, but she keeps doing it regardless. What else is there to do? She’s got no family in Sydney, and not many friends either. The only person she feels close to is Peter.
Her phone beeps. She digs it out of her bag, checks it, and grins from ear-to-ear.
Hey. I hope you took my advice and called it a night. Should’ve joined me. Great local band doing covers. Please say yes next time.
Hey Peter. Yeah, I came home. So tired! Chicken sandwich for dinner. Just going over some notes. Pub does sound good. I’ll come next time.
Hannah thinks about how different it was back home in Tasmania. She always spent time with family and friends after a day of work or study. It was her way of de-stressing.
She starts daydreaming about Tasmania.
Hannah lived the first twenty-one years of her life in the Tasmanian town of Richmond, famous for its elegant Georgian buildings that date back to the 1820s. Her parents owned and ran the local post office. They sometimes got her to help sort the mail and serve customers.
During summer, she’d eat ice cream and go to the beach with friends. She’d also have picnics on the village green with her family. The air always smelled of freshly cut grass, sunscreen, sea salt, and barbeques. In winter, she’d either spend her time in front of the fire reading books, watching TV, playing board games with her family, or drinking steaming-hot coffee with her friends.
Hannah dreamed about spending her whole life in Richmond, or at least somewhere in Tasmania. But the dream crumbled when she was at college. One of the subjects she took was journalism, which she really enjoyed. She wanted a job in the journalism industry because she saw it as a unique way to learn about the world and the people in it. But journalist positions weren’t advertised often on the island. If she wanted one, she’d have to move to the mainland. Though she didn’t want to leave all her friends and family behind, Hannah went on to study journalism at university. Because she’d also taken three other subjects, study dominated her life to the point where she rarely thought about finding a full-time journalism position.
The thought became a constant one again when she graduated. Deciding not to leave Tasmania if she could help it, she updated her resume and set about finding a job in the Tasmanian journalism industry. There were no vacancies at The Mercury, The Examiner, and The Advocate, so she sent expression of interest letters to Southern Cross News and ABC Hobart, but never heard back, despite sending follow-up emails. Taking up freelance writing, she realised, was risky: there’d be periods in which she wouldn’t get paid enough to cover the rent.
Realising that moving to the mainland was the only way to land her dream job, she got a job in Hobart as a receptionist in order to save money.
Deciding a blog would boost her chances of landing a journalist position, she set one up through WordPress and started writing about current events and issues that were important to her. She wrote at night after work, drinking strong, black coffee to stay awake, sometimes not going to bed until well after midnight. No-one suspected she did so, however. She always wore her hair neatly; her make-up masked any and all signs of sleep deprivation; and she frequently took great care with her choice of outfit every day.
One weekend, while she was browsing through her Facebook feed, Hannah came across a group called Young Australian Writers. She hit the request button and was accepted within ten minutes. There were quite a few resources that the group’s administrators had uploaded. Among them was a list of publications that accepted submissions. Hannah researched each publication to see which ones (if any) matched the type of articles she liked to write. She ended up writing pieces for The Monthly, The Saturday Paper, and Island Magazine. The Monthly was the first publication to give her money in exchange for an article. She’ll never forget the sweet feeling of pride when the money landed in her bank account.
About a year after she started the receptionist job, a journalist position was advertised at the Sydney branch of the ABC. The successful candidate would work on a mix of broadcast news and online articles. Hannah called her dad to talk it over.
“Give it a shot,” he said. “You’ve always wanted to be a journalist. This is the perfect opportunity. You can always come back and visit us.”
He was her number one go-to for advice and he had a point. Hannah applied for the job, mentioning her blog and providing links to all her published articles, and received a call three weeks later with an offer of an interview, to take place in four days’ time.
Hannah flew to Sydney the day before the interview. It was the first time she’d visited since she was five. The first thing that struck her when she stepped off the plane was how muggy it was compared to Tasmania. Soaked through with sweat by the time she got to her hotel room, Hannah turned on the air conditioning and had a cold shower. She then ordered room service and spent the evening preparing for the interview.
As she made her way to the ABC Ultimo Centre the next day, she was struck by how tall the buildings were compared to those in Hobart. She also noticed that Sydney was busier than Hobart: it had a lot more traffic and pedestrians moving to and fro.
The interview was held in a hot and stuffy conference room in the ABC building. Sweat started forming on Hannah’s forehead within minutes of walking in. She sat down at the long rectangular table, opposite a panel that consisted of a journalist, an editor, and a HR officer.
The journalist, whose name was Declan, looked like he was in his early-forties. He had blue eyes, strong cheekbones, and close-cropped brown hair.
The editor, Terry, was a tall, slightly-built man who seemed to be in his fifties. He had a tousled mop of greying black hair, sharp silvery-blue eyes, had a hooked nose.
The HR officer, Samantha, was a woman in her mid-thirties who possessed jaw-length blonde hair with dark roots. She had tanned skin and hazel-coloured eyes.
Samantha got the interview underway when she asked, “How would you describe yourself?”
“I’m friendly and caring person who is reliable, hard-working, and honest,” Hannah replied.
“How would you make a good journalist?” Terry asked.
“I’d strive to write grammatically correct articles that are concise and error-free,” Hannah explained. “I’m able to meet deadlines; keep track of current events; and would be willing to take up work outside normal business hours. I also have the courage to accept criticism from editors. I’ve never behaved unethically, and will not follow illegal measures to uncover secrets behind a story.”
“How would you strive for accuracy and truth in your reporting?” Declan asked.
“All journalists should rely on facts and evidence, not emotions. I’d always analyse situations if there’s something more to them. If I’m successful in getting this position, I would endeavour to confirm the credibility of sources, and critically assess any and all incidents. Verifying information before drafting stories would be a top priority for me, as well.”
It was now Samantha’s turn to ask a question. “Why are you interested in this position?” she asked.
“I’ve wanted to be a journalist since college. Being one would allow me to learn about the world and the people in it. It would also allow me to develop the journalistic skills I’ve gained through blogging and freelance writing.”
The panel seemed impressed by her answers, but sat in silence jotting down notes. It was unnerving. Should I make a joke? Hannah had asked herself, heart pounding against her ribs. No, don’t be silly. Let them make their notes. Terry eventually said they’d read her past work and thought it was well-written. Samantha told her at the end of the interview that she’d be in contact within two weeks.
True to her word, Samantha called Hannah near the end of the second week. She’d been successful, and her start date was set. After resigning from her receptionist job, she moved to Sydney, living in a cheap hotel until she could find a permanent place to live. She found her current apartment a month later.
Hannah didn’t feel comfortable or relaxed at first. She was in an unfamiliar situation, after all. But she was soon on friendly terms with the majority of her colleagues. Peter, a seasoned journalist, took it upon himself to teach her a lot of useful things – something she was grateful for.
She started off covering events in Sydney, but eventually came to report on local crimes. She didn’t like covering them at first, finding them either horrifying, disgusting, or downright weird. But with so much crime to report on, dislike soon became indifference.
Hannah checks the time on her phone. Eight-thirty. She now feels too nostalgic to keep working, so she decides to call it a night.
After changing into her pyjamas, she slips into bed. Just as she gets comfortable, her phone starts ringing. Surely it wouldn’t be Peter. He knew how tired she was.
Letting out an irritated sigh, she checks the caller ID. It’s her dad, Stephen.
“Oh, hi sweetheart. Sorry, I know it’s late, but…”
“What’s up, Dad?” she asks, a knot forming in her stomach.
“I’m afraid your pop has passed away.”
The next morning, Hannah tells Peter she’s flying to Tasmania at seven p.m. so that she can attend her pop’s funeral. He insists on escorting her to Sydney Airport.
They arrive an hour before her flight is due to leave. After she checks in, they head down to the food court near the departure gates and grab coffee and sushi.
“So, Richmond’s where you grew up, yeah?” Peter says as they sit down at a table.
“I don’t know anything about that part of Tassie. Care to enlighten me?”
Hannah explains that the land Richmond sits on was once occupied by the Merrimeneer people. The area was explored after the British colonised Tasmania as in 1803, and lots of coal, sandstone, and limestone was discovered. The Aboriginals had maintained good soil as well, so a prosperous farming and mining settlement sprang up. Richmond was born. An army of convicts arrived soon after and were assigned to public works, erecting houses, stables, barns, shops, and hotels. The settlement transformed into a fully-fledged town in just a few years. It is now a major tourist drawcard.
When it’s time for Hannah to go, she and Peter hug for the first time. Hannah doesn’t want to let go. The hug makes her feel safe and supported. Goosebumps pop up all over her skin. She relishes the feel of Peter’s body pressed against hers.
“If you need to talk, just call me,” Peter says softly. “Any time. Promise?”
“Promise.” She regretfully pulling out of their embrace and adds, “Thank you.”
The two-hour flight allows Hannah to reflect on the happy times she spent with her beloved pop.
His name was Robert Graham, and he was a very kind man who would make you think you were the most important person in the world. He always wore flannelette shirts and baggy shorts, even in winter. After working as a stockman and drover for several years, he bought a vineyard on the outskirts of Richmond. He’d always dreamt of owning a vineyard and producing wine. He later met Katherine, a pretty, innocent-looking young woman with flowing golden-brown hair. Known to her friends and family as ‘Katie’, she was sweet and kind-hearted person who was also resourceful and brave. Robert fell for her straight away, and she eventually fell for him as well. They got married, and Hannah’s dad was born a year later. Stephen obviously left home and started a family of his own, but Robert and Katie stayed at the vineyard for the rest of their lives. Robert would sell the wine he made via an online store, and sometimes at the well-known Salamanca Market. Hannah used to spend a lot of time at the vineyard with her grandparents, especially during the school holidays. Robert taught her how to play Solitaire, and Katie bestowed onto her the basics of knitting and sewing. She helped them around the property as well: she’d pick grapes; mend fences; and mow lawns.
In 2005, Katie suffered a fatal stroke. Robert was devastated. Although he kept up a light-hearted and humorous façade, he was a depressed man underneath. In 2014, he was diagnosed with lung cancer (a result of smoking up to three packs of cigarettes a day since his late-teens) and given only months to live. Though he lived for another three and half years, his passing has been a huge blow to his family. Hannah still can’t believe he’s gone.
The vineyard has fallen into her father’s hands, and he’s planning on selling it after the funeral. He’d struggle to maintain his own home and a vineyard at the same time. But Hannah doesn’t want it to be sold, believing Robert and Katie had put too much work into it for their only son to just let it go.
It’s eight-thirty p.m. when she lands at Hobart International Airport. Even though it’s technically night-time, the natural light of day hasn’t faded away yet. I love Daylight Savings, Hannah thinks to herself. The air is fresh, fresher than the air in Sydney.
She gets a taxi to her mum and dad’s place in Lindisfarne. They’d moved there during Hannah’s first year at uni. It’s a modest two-bedroom house that was built in the 1980s.
Hannah hugs her mother and father tightly when she arrives.
“I’m sorry,” she says into Stephen’s ear, crying.
“It’s okay, sweetheart. He’s not suffering anymore.”
Robert’s funeral is held three days later in Richmond’s local church. There’s a cemetery off to the side of the sacred building, where he is to be buried alongside his beloved wife.
Hannah finds it impossible to hold back her emotions during the service. Tears blur her vision as she stares at the coffin, finding it hard to comprehend that her grandfather is inside. Her mother, Monica, holds her hand throughout the service. “Just remember all the good times you had with him,” she whispers in her ear.
Afterwards, when everyone gathers at the vineyard for Robert’s wake, Hannah slips around the back of the modest brick house and calls Peter.
“It was really hard, but I’m all right. We’re all at the vineyard now.”
“Good to know you’re okay and that the worst part’s over,” he says. “I should’ve gone with you though. Only if you wanted me to, I mean.”
Hannah is caught off-guard. She doesn’t know what to say at first. “I think that would’ve been nice, but work is always so busy. Two of us taking simultaneous days off would’ve made management really mad.”
“True, but I couldn’t care less about management right now. I’ve been kicking myself. I know how upset you were about your pop’s passing, so I hate myself for not going down with you to support you. I mean, I know you’ve got family and friends down there, but I would’ve liked to be there for you as well.”
“That’s so lovely. Thank you. Look, I’ve gotta go. How about I call you tomorrow night?”
“Great. Talk then. Go.”
Hannah walks back and sits on the front porch of the house with her mum and a few the family friends. They reminisce about Robert while drinking coffee, soaking up the late-afternoon sun while a breeze rustles the leaves of the nearby trees, creating a chant-like song. The air smells of grass, eucalyptus, and ripe grapes. As they talk, a sense of contentment falls over Hannah. She hasn’t felt so at peace since before she moved to Sydney.
Sydney isn’t her true home. Tasmania is.
A crazy idea suddenly pops into her head. What if she bought the vineyard from her dad and moved back here? She could start freelancing and blogging again, maybe even create her own magazine or newspaper! But the vineyard must be worth well over a million dollars. Her savings wouldn’t even make the deposit. After several conversations with Stephen, they come to an agreement: instead of trying to raise the finance to buy it, Hannah will pay him rent while living onsite.
It all sounded perfect, except for one thing: Peter. The idea of leaving him behind in Sydney made Hannah’s chest ache. She feels so close to him that she can’t bear to be away from him. She calls him later that night and tells him how she feels.
“Oh Hannah. Wow. Umm,” he said. “Well, how would you feel if I followed you over? I’d obviously need to find a job first, but…”
“You mean that? I’d be so happy. God, that sounds crazy.”
“It’s crazy all right. I mean, I’m actually willing to move for you and we haven’t even been on a date!”
Did he actually just say that? Hannah thinks. Did he just admit he’s into me? Oh my God! If he is into her, she wants to take it slow. Most of her past relationships have failed because they’ve been rushed.
“Let’s start with the pub after work when I get back,” she says. “We can take things from there.”
“Sounds great. Can’t wait to collect you from the airport!”
“Me too. Can we have another one of those long hugs?”
Hannah’s co-workers are surprised when she gives four weeks’ notice the day she returns from Tasmania. They all knew it was her dream to be a journalist. But they didn’t try to convince her to stay.
Hannah and Peter maintain a professional distance during the day, then, after work, head to the Star Bar, a luxurious and intimate bistro and bar with unique spaces spread over three floors! They sit next to each other in the relaxed, lounge-like Amber Bar.
“Can we talk?” Peter asks after taking a sip from his drink. “Total honesty?”
Hannah immediately feels off-balance. When her ex-boyfriends asked if they could talk, it was never about anything good. “Sounds serious,” she says, starting to tremble. “Should I be nervous?”
“Maybe,” he says, reaching for her hand. “Four weeks and you’re gone. Till then, I’d like us to make the most of every spare minute. Really get to know each other. Dinners, walks. That kinda thing. Just as long as it includes endless conversation. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” Hannah says, squeezing his hand.
“Great. Let’s start now. Tell me about growing up in Tassie.”
Hannah’s first evening back in Tasmania is a cold and wet one. Dark grey clouds hang low in the sky as rain pelts down. The unique, earthy smell associated with rain fills the air.
Inside the vineyard’s cottage, Hannah kneels in front of the lounge room hearth and takes her time to build a fire. She carefully stacks each piece of kindling before adding larger sticks, then small split logs, followed by one large piece of seasoned wood, just as her Pop had taught her. The smell of wood fire smoke fills the room as the flames grow.
As the fire takes hold, Hannah shuts the fireplace’s small glass door and sits on the frayed tapestry chaise with her notebooks and laptop. She smiles as she types the title of her first freelance piece in a long time: Could Your Best Life Be Back Home?
I would like to thank Maggie Veness for proofreading this story and providing me with valuable suggestions and feedback.
Source: Tasmanian Times https://www.tasmaniantimes.com/2021/01/short-story-tasmania/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=short-story-tasmania