The school hall was timber, the exterior in need of paint. It was surrounded by playing fields of red dust that swirled in the wind. Along the fence line, the saltbush was dying; even it was defeated by the heat. Beyond the buildings, pink peppercorn trees. Lights wound through their branches, orange and black lanterns glowing brightly in the darkness.
A party. The community had jumped at the idea combining it with a school reunion. There’d been 11 kids in our class. Most had moved away returning for this one off event. The community welcomed the prospect of a get-together, it had united everyone in a frenzy of activity. Little else was discussed.
Helena was self-assured, confident of her position as the centre of attention. As usual, I took a back seat.
“I don’t know why you insisted I come to this party,” she muttered, applying more eyeliner.
“It’s important. The droughts gone on for so long, we need some fun. We need you.” My voice was encouraging.
“This isn’t what I call fun,” she muttered, the tight fitting black costume showing her figure to perfection.
On the mantelpiece in the ladies room, ornately carved pumpkins were carefully arranged.
We’d known each other a lifetime. I thought our friendship was different. I thought I could trust her.
I remembered our first day of school, moved by her tears; I’d grabbed her hand offering comfort. Helena needed people, to be adored and acquired new devotees with ease, discarding them casually.
We were childhood friends, forced together, limited by choice. She remained unchanging. I’d grown wary of her, realising what I had to lose. We stood side by side in the hot, stuffy room; hoping perspiration didn’t spoil our makeup. My costume was dark blue, covered in planets and stars. Over my heart, a crescent moon, its core chopped out by blunt scissors, leaving only the husk.
Helena had married well to a well-respected landowner. The property was a rarity because it still had water in dams. Her husband was more interested in sheep and cattle than his wife. Her flirtations, conquests were ignored providing they were discreet.
I’d married a year out of school, settling down to raise sheep on a struggling property. We were happy, David and I. Then I lost the baby, a girl child, a spider web of blood running down my legs, to form a glistening pool of despair at my feet. There wouldn’t be another.
Helena was a regular visitor offering comfort. Then David became another of her chain, and I lost more than my child.
She adjusted the zipper of her costume making the diamantes sparkle.
“Is Charles coming?” I asked.
“He finds these things a bore. Is David coming?” She licked her lips. I felt her long hands wrapping around my heart, squeezing out the joy, until only a dull ache remained.
I followed her onto the veranda.
A gentle breeze blew and the long figure in the peppercorn trees swayed. “You’re both in a skeleton costume,” I remarked, pointing.
She screamed. “David!” A rope was around his neck, the face distorted.
She looked at me.