A Willing Victim

Three months living out of a 1979 Datsun almost killed Ruby. Of course, there was the consolation of iridescent sunsets at Ricketts Point, the absence of house cleaning and the company of her grey Persian, Nala. Her bones ached in the frigid night air, even though the cat burrowed close.

In those early hours, the phone calls replayed in her mind. She clutched the sour-smelling doona and stroked her hair, her wet cheeks. Solar panels, the man had said. We can install them next week, but you need to make a five thousand dollar deposit.

 Ruby had frowned and flicked her Rolodex as she listened. He talked about significantly reduced power bills and selling back to the grid.

‘I’m rather busy,’ she said, glancing over at the television. A home shopping channel was on; a grinning blond man opened and shut his thighs against a metal contraption. The price flashed at the bottom of the screen. Nala weaved between her calves.

‘Call me back tomorrow,’ she said. ‘I have important business to attend to.’ She had put down the phone and poured Baileys into a shot glass.

The next day she found herself waiting for the call as if for a date. His honeyed voice. She imagined him—athletic, square-jawed with an enveloping smile.

Silly woman, she chuckled. He won’t be installing them. To her surprise, she knew she would buy the panels. Maybe he might keep calling.

Ruby prolonged the conversation, told him about her late husband and her gardening. A waterfall of words. For months, her lips had moved only for food and drink — it felt like a release.

She read out the numbers on her credit card as a sparrow hopped from one branch to another outside the window. From the laundry, the washing machine blared on spin cycle. A thin layer of dust coated the table in front of her.

The man never called again. The bailiffs did. Then came the letters of notice and hammering on the door.

Ruby drove to her old address. She levered herself out and surveyed the damage. Charred pieces of fibro littered the block, the chimney stood. Half her plaid couch remained, the blackened end like the jagged mouth of a cave. Nala leapt out and shimmied through the unlatched gate as Ruby opened the letterbox. As she had hoped, the business letter with the window bearing her name. Her hands shook as she ripped the envelope. A cheque for fifteen thousand dollars, nestled beneath the letter from the insurance company.

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