Aggie unfolded the piece of paper and lifted it onto the tip of her forefinger. She balanced it there, marvelling that something lighter than a tiny finch could carry such a heavy burden. For all the pain the words on the page inflicted, they may as well have been carved into steel bars and chained to her body.
Five choices, one impossible decision.
In a sudden burst of anger, she screwed up the paper into a ball and threw it across her small kitchen, where it bounced off the freestanding stove and fell to the floorboards. There it paused, stretching its wings and growing in size once more, refusing to be silenced.
She would have to speak to Gideon.
She retrieved the letter and flattened it to check the details. They still had time, about a month, which wasn’t much, but enough that right now she could pretend this moment hadn’t arrived.
Shoving it into her colourfully embroidered leather handbag, she returned to the task at hand, which was to make a new batch of strawberry jam, preparing as she was for the Royal Adelaide Show in a couple of months’ time. The berries were out of season here in the valley, where the best local strawberries wouldn’t be ready until November at least. These ones had been sourced from Queensland, which provided strawberries for the southern states over winter.
She had just pulled out her digital scales to weigh the fruit as she washed, dried and hulled them, when her mobile phone rang.
She checked the screen. It wasn’t Holly, as she thought it might have been, and nor was it Savannah, calling from the cafe with some sort of business issue Aggie would need to sort out. It wasn’t a number she recognised but it was local, so she answered it.
‘Is this Agatha Hermann?’ a woman asked, gravely enough to indicate that she was not an enthusiastic telemarketer. This woman had something important to say.
Aggie’s gaze flicked to her handbag, in which today’s surprise letter was buried, wondering if this call was connected. ‘Yes,’ she replied, automatically moving to a seat. A cold winter’s draught slipped around the side of the kitchen door and she pulled her indigo cardigan tighter at her waist.
‘My name is Ingrid, I’m a senior nurse at Angaston Hospital.’
‘Is it Holly? Is she hurt?’ Aggie had visions of her daughter being struck down by a car on a desolate road while out walking.
‘Holly?’ The woman was momentarily thrown. ‘No. It’s Valeria.’ ‘Mum?’
‘Yes. She has you listed as her next of kin.’