chapter one

Everything had that muted sheen that things took when dust was in the air on a bright day. Smelt that way too – hot, dusty and bright. Slightly more sensitive on the brake than usual and holding his breath – as if that would make a difference to the cloud of top-soil frothing up – he slowed.

Jacob’s tires skimmed rather than grabbed the driveway then halted indifferently to his caution.

He snapped the door back conscious not to get too much grime on his hands. The sweat pricking up on his forehead would probably show up as dirt if he wiped it with anything that made contact with the dust. Wasted. That’s all he ever thought on days like this. All that top-soil wasted where it wasn’t wanted.

Jacob pulled his ruck from off the tray with a sharper exhale. Hardly adding to his professional image with its pea-green canvas slug up against his carefully pressed shirt, it clung to him where it hadn’t in the cool of the car. This dirt frustrated him. This heat frustrated him.

This job was an utter waste of resources. And if there was anything that Jacob hated it was waste. No, he wasn’t an unreasonable person – well he never thought so anyway. But things had a place. Dust was for the ground, doing its job growing crops, and he had a place too – and it wasn’t out here on a close to dilapidated farm house making a temp visa check.

If Jacob was being honest with himself, and usually he strove to, but the heat knocked his sense of reasonableness aside – if Jacob were to be honest, it was the fact that he had put himself in the position to have favours extracted from him that annoyed him about the whole thing. But Jacob was hot and he was unreasonable and had been all day, and perhaps even before the heat wave started and so he blamed Kate Mulligan for the put upon feeling that had pressed up from his stomach right up to his throat.

He tapped the vaguely cool screen-door impatiently and counted the seconds.

It wasn’t Kate that opened the screen-door and ushered him in, but a small blond boy in a diaper and nothing else. Grinning, the slightly boney looking child took his hand and tugged him in the house and bumped him along towards a shrieking further in the house with the kind of haste only a child can possess – the kind that defies the limits of ones barely formed borders of limbs and sticky-outie ribs.

Kate was stuck on the kitchen floor, plastered there, on her head and her stomach, by two more blond and sharp-framed children. Windmilling her arms and shrieking, the two boys on top her pressed against her with vigour which was the product of a mix of competitiveness and cooperation forged out of a desire to conquer. Jacob looked at the sight – part-woman, part-adolescent boy, part-toddler, with a kind of daze usually only afforded those having an out of body experience. The boy on Jacob’s hands pulled him sharply then, and losing his centre, he tilted just enough that another pull from the boy provided his swag with enough momentum to fold him to the ground with more clatter than he would have expected.

The silence that followed was punctured only by collective breathlessness. A hand came flying out from the mass of bodies on the floor next to him and a strangely lilting but ultimately muffled voice addressed him. Jacob cleared his throat – curiously now free of his feeling that he had been ill-used – instead, when he found his voice, it was laced with a strong thread of amusement.