Saturday 18th January 2014
The door was an awful green colour; lurid and streaked as though the paint had been splashed across it rather haphazardly. It was chipped along one edge – she presumed because it was grabbed there a great deal – and the knob was rusty. Two well-trimmed plants, their tops in perfect spheres, stood sentinel to either side of the entrance.
Chewing the inside of her cheek, she stepped back and peered up at the rest of the sprawling house. Made primarily of red brick and white washed wood, the building was a shambling two storey affair that seemed altogether too big for one person. It was planted firmly off-centre of the obnoxiously large block of land, wire fences ambling about across the paddocks in seemingly random patterns, a big red barn off to one side, a blue steel shed to the other; housing horses and machines respectively. A garage for the cars was nestled beside the house; it looked rather larger than it needed to be. But so far, that was just a trend.
This has got to be the wrong address, she mused, fingers drumming on the handle of her suitcase. I don’t ever recall seeing any of this before. Not that she could remember visiting the tiny town of Reich before anyway.
What kind of strange family had her mother kept sequestered about the country? Shading her eyes with one hand, she blinked up at the windows on the second floor. No, she was pretty sure this was the wrong place. One man did not need this much space.
Still, the number at the far end of the winding drive had been the one she was directed to. Which made this house the one she was looking for. Unless there were other properties on the same block. Did they do that out here?
Sighing, her suitcase clicking as its wheels crossed the wooden planks of the deck, she rang the doorbell once. It sang a much too peppy tune, preceding silence and then some loud clunking noises. Cursing followed. The door was wrenched open, revealing a short man with bright red hair, speckled white, showing his age. He blinked through his glasses and tilted his head as though thinking, before a smile burst across his face.
The little man blinked at her again. He had blue eyes, or eyes the colour of a stormy sky or maybe the ocean on a bad day. They were pensive and quiet, the kind of eyes one expects in a scholar. Which was fitting, since Bonnie had been told he was precisely that. Or rather… he was an English literature professor, spoke fluid German and had a fondness for poetic licence (which she knew from his yearly Christmas cards). He opened his mouth, and then closed it again without speaking. Then he opened it again. If he’d been the one observing this behaviour he would have made an eloquent comparison to some sort of fish… or large predator… no… he would have said something brilliant about it anyway. All Bonnie could think was that he’d make an excellent fly trap.
“Bonnibel!” he finally exclaimed, throwing his arms out and hugging her around the middle. It was like he was trying to lift her from the ground, probably something he’d done easily when she was four. “Come in, dear. Come in. My how you’ve grown. How old are you now? How was your flight? Are you hungry? I can boil the kettle if you’d like tea.” Endless questions.
Bonnie frowned at the little man, her uncle, he reminded her so much of her mother. Or what little she still had of the woman anyway. His voice was familiar, just like hers; this was going to take some getting used to.
“I’m sixteen in a few months. The flight was long,” she replied softly, eyeing the house. It was impeccably neat, but full of shelves and cabinets. There was so much storage that the space felt smaller for it. “I’m not especially hungry, I suppose because my body is still functioning on a different time zone. No tea, thank you.”
He waved his hands happily. “Of course, of course. You must want a rest though. Let me show you to your room.” The little man led her through the house to a back door. “I’m afraid I didn’t have enough time to clean up one of the bedrooms for you,” he apologised. “However I do have a granny flat out the back that your father used to use. He made sure my… things never spilled out there, it’s yours now, I suppose.” His face fell then, possibly regretting bringing up his brother-in-law. “So you can make yourself at home.”
They stopped outside of an equally red brick flat, concealed behind the house proper; it was small; a single storey cowering in the shadow of its hulking neighbour. It was connected to the garage she’d noted earlier, explaining its size. Her diminutive uncle keyed the door open and ushered her through. He was right, the space was clear of any unnecessary clutter. A kitchenette with fridge and basic cooking utilities, a connected lounge room, an island divided them, providing the only eating area she could see. A short hall led away from her down which she could see four doors, no doubt a bedroom and bathroom numbered among them. The third and fourth were probably a study room and access into the garage. Or maybe a closet.
“Uncle…” she began hesitantly, not sure if he was sticking her here to keep her out of his way or something else. He cut her off though.
“Please, Bonnibel,” he interjected swiftly, shaking his head. “Just call me Peter. Uncle is so dreary.” He then shoved a key ring at her, sliding it into her palm before she could complain. “The red bound one is for this flat, the blue one is for the house and the green one is for the garage. Nice and simple.”
Her mouth flailed at the freedom she was being handed. A fish out of water gasping for breath? A panting leopard after a long hunt? No, in the end it always came back to the fly trap. She wasn’t as eloquent as her uncle and similes, awful ones more often than not, were the best she could do at short notice. “Um… thanks? But, Unc… Peter… wouldn’t you rather… I don’t know, keep these for yourself?”
“Nonsense,” he shushed. “I work strange hours sometimes, I’d hate for you to get back from school and have to wait to be let in.” He smiled sadly now. “Besides, if you’re anything at all like your parents, you’re a responsible girl who won’t get into any trouble. You’ll be fine. The laundry is in the main house though.”
She returned his wan smile gently. “Thank you.”
“Oh you’re more than welcome, dear,” he said, some of his good cheer returning. “We’ll go get you enrolled in school in the morning, after church. Did you bring clothes? Did you ever go with your parents?”
Bonnibel chuckled at his enthusiasm. “Yes,” she murmured, fiddling with the handle of her case again. “We used to go every Sunday. I brought clothes with me, don’t worry.”
“Excellent. Oh you’re just going to love it here.” With that, Peter hustled from the flat, leaving her with her subdued thoughts.
It was hard to imagine liking this place; it was so small, so incredibly tiny that it had blown her mind in the cab drive into town. You could walk from one end to the other and not even break a sweat. Moving here, away from all her friends, all the places she knew, her old school, the park across from their apartment building with those little kids… Reich had none of that. Reich was just a small country town in the middle of nowhere, full of farms and church-going rurals she didn’t know. She didn’t even really know her uncle all that well.
Sure, he had the same red hair as her mother, the same red hair she’d inherited, the same pale skin, same small stature (admittedly he had blue eyes instead of green). Other than that though, he could be a stranger. Albeit a friendly one.
She sighed, not wanting to let negative thoughts bring her down. Bonnibel was positive she could survive her last two years of high school here. Even without her parents. Immediately, she shoved those thoughts away. No use dwelling on the past, on her parents, on any of that. She would make peace with the way things were now and move on.
Still, stifling the sobs as she unpacked in the lonely flat was harder than she’d thought it would be. Bonnibel left the picture frames she’d brought with until last, setting them on the table beside her new bed, hugging her pillow to her chest, crying softly into its ruffled pink exterior until sleep snatched her away.