Evening had fallen while Hera was speaking. Discreetly, her housekeeper had come out and lit the lamps on the terrace. The light sparked auburn fire in Hera’s hair and disappeared without trace into her companion’s thick black locks. A cool breeze had risen, bringing with it the sound of the waves breaking on the stony beach at the bottom of the cliff, far below them.
For a while, the two women sat in silence while Hera drank her wine and got her breath back. She watched as the woman opposite her lit a cigarette, the brief burst of flame illuminating sharp cheekbones and an almost masculine jaw-line.
“You look so much like her,” Hera said, her voice distant like the wash of the surf. “Like she did when I first met her. How old are you now, seventeen? We always said you looked like her, but now… gods, Rana, you actually look like her. Exactly like her.”
Rana took a breath, visibly changed her mind about what she’d been going to say, and blew sweetly-scented smoke across the shadowed terrace instead. “There are some things I still don’t understand,” she said, noting the way Hera gave a tiny flinch every time she spoke. Apparently she didn’t just look like her mother. “I hope you don’t mind me asking. I know you must be tired. They executed Patrick. What about the others? The ones who died.”
Hera leaned back in her chair, and the tension in her face eased. “I’ve told you everything I know about them. We didn’t even notice at the time, how many deaths there were. They were padded out with all the stuff that never makes it into stories, when you tell them. All the tiny insignificant things that make a life. Sometimes… I guess the hardest thing to accept is that things just happen. Even death.”
Rana leaned forward on the table, and carefully crushed out her cigarette. “Interesting you should say that. Because you see, I have another question. Why did you kill my mother?”
Silence fell, velvet and smothering. It was too dark to see if Hera had paled. She shifted uncomfortably, eyes flickering away as Rana simply calmly watched her.
When the awkwardness became too great, Hera said, “I didn’t… She fell down the stairs. She did. It was an accident. I don’t know why you think…”
“The time, ” Rana said, her voice devoid of inflection. “When you got to Glen’s that day, he asked you the time. Later on, he checked what time it was, and it was later than he’d thought. Because you lied, didn’t you, about what time you arrived? It turned out not to be necessary, but you gave yourself an alibi for the time you killed her. You were too careful. What happened?”
Hera leaned back in her chair and ran her hands over her face. Silently, Rana lit another cigarette, and passed it across to Hera, who took it automatically. “She was going to leave. She told me all of that, how they killed Patrick because of me, how she did everything for me, took my life in her hands and did whatever the hell she wanted with it, and she was just going to walk away. Leave me to calm down, like I was a child. She walked away, and I followed her. I kept telling her, I had questions, she owed it to me to stay and explain. And she kept, ugh, basically patting me on the head and telling me not to fuss. Afterwards, I realised I was upsetting her, that she was stressing out, but at the time I just… I needed to know, to understand.
“We went all the way through the dance room like that, and then in reception she stopped and she said… Her eyes were all swimmy with tears and she told me that she’d have done anything for me. That to see Patrick had just taken-” Her voice cracked, and she had to stop, rocking gently back and forth. “He’d taken by force what she wanted but knew she could never have. That she was in love with me. That she knew it was completely hopeless, but she’d been in love with me for years.
“I couldn’t… It wasn’t true. But I couldn’t understand why she would say it. She walked away, I caught her at the top of the stairs, grabbed her arm. She pulled back, told me she had to go, that she had to get out, and I thought, well if that’s what you want, fucking go then. And I pushed her. I didn’t mean to. I never meant to hurt her. It was an accident.”
“You pushed her.”
“Down the stairs. Down the stairs that had no hand-rail.” Rana sat, impassive, watching Hera cry across the table. “You know, don’t you, the story of Horus? How Isis conceived him from a dead, infertile man, and how she hid him and kept him safe until he was grown. What was the first thing he did as an adult?”
Hera took a deep breath, and stilled. Her distress seemed to drop away from her, calmness filling the void. “He took revenge against Set, who murdered his father.”
Rana nodded, and poured them both more wine.
Hera gave a short puff of laughter. “Laura, she was so upset when you were born. I thought it was post-natal depression. But she’d been so sure you were going to be a boy. It was Peter, wasn’t it? Who told her it didn’t matter. That you could be a girl, and still be Horus. That it was a change you could make without losing the essence. And so Laura dies, not Peter, and it doesn’t matter. We still end up here.”
Rana shifted uncomfortably, a shadow of uncertainty falling across her face. “I wish perhaps we hadn’t. I loved you, Aunty Hera. You were so good to me when I was little. And I remember, after Laura’s funeral… I remember you coming to join me and Peter. You tried so hard, so very hard, but he was never for you, was he? You could never quite be my mother. Just as well. How horrible would that have been, him living with the woman who killed his heart?”
There was a muted thump as a large brindled cat landed on the table. Hera reached out automatically, to stroke and steady it, and as it turned to lean into her hand it knocked over her wine glass. Dark liquid spilled over the stones of the terrace.
“Rana. No.” The voice came from the darkness, the shadows around the door to the house. Rana turned, straining to see. Hera didn’t need to. She smiled slightly, sadly, and continued to caress the cat.
Glen stepped forward into the flickering light. “You can’t have her, Rana. She’s still under my protection.” He watched, without a flicker of expression, as the young woman dropped her gaze, uncertain. “I was sorry to hear about your father. I wish you’d told us before the funeral.”
“Peter?” Rana reached for her glass, her hand a little unsteady. “We were out past Abydos, in the middle of nowhere, and in that climate… I wasn’t going to bring him back down the river. Mrs Addinghurst was not happy about that… But then, we hardly needed her money any more.”
Glen moved to stand behind Hera, and kissed the top of her head. “Where will you go now?”
“Home,” Rana said, without hesitation. “We’d been out of touch for so long, but when I got back to an internet connection… The earthquakes. You saw?”
Hera nodded slowly. “We talked to people back home. The whole frontage fell off The Carnarvon, right into the street, those big arched windows Laura loved so much. And the House… the cellar flooded. It’s full of mud. We lost everything. And then…” She looked up at Glen, unable to continue.
He took over. “All over the city, the river banks cracked open, and slumped. Trees fell. The gum tree fell. The ground opened up. They found Patrick’s body.”
Rana nodded, as if this were something she had simply been expecting. “So many people have lost so much. Nothing is sure any more. The foundations of their lives are shaken. They need certainty. Leadership. Faith. They’ve waited for so long, and nothing came. Nature abhors a vacuum. Aunty Hera, you have Laura’s papers?”
Hera’s shoulders dropped, and the cat leapt gracefully down from the table and disappeared into the dark. “Some of them, yes. Can you read Demotic?”
“Of course. I need her plans. She didn’t foresee this, but if she had… She was too early. Now, the time is right. I’ll go home, and help rebuild. While I’m there, it would be completely understandable if I tried to find my step-father, the man from whom I was stolen as a child.”
Glen raised an eyebrow, which disappeared beneath a wave of soft brown hair. “Michael Rogers. From whom you demanded to be stolen.”
Rana shrugged coolly. “I was just a little child. None of that can be my responsibility. And he’s the only parent I have left. You’re still in touch with some of the others?”
“Only Darren now,” Glen replied. “There aren’t many of us left. We don’t know what happened to Richard.”
Rana gathered her things and got to her feet. “I’ll find him. I mean, I should look him up too. I’ll let you know when I’m settled, and you can send me those papers.” She paused, watching Hera and the cat, her expression unreadable in the dim light. “Aunty Hera, you should know. What Laura said was true. She loved you. Like that, not like you loved her. And Peter knew. That’s why… so many things. He knew the whole time.”
Hera made a choked sound, and Glen dropped his hands to her shoulders. “Are you all right to get back to Sydney by yourself, Rana? It can be confusing in the dark. I’d invite you to stay the night, but I’m not going to.”
Rana swept back her long black hair and shrugged. “That’s okay, Uncle Glen, I understand. I think I’ll be back anyway, later. Perhaps you can have me then.” She left the terrace through the garden, the cat stalking behind her.
When she was gone, Glen took a deep breath, and sat down. “Are you all right?”
Hera took his hand, and shook her head. “Not at all. Gods… we’d had it so quiet for so long, and she turns up and brings it all back again… All of it and worse. And now… do you think she’ll do it? Finish Laura’s work?”
“Oh, I think so. She has everything Laura left her, and now everything Peter left her, and soon she’ll have access to everything Michael Rogers has to give. You’ve changed your will, haven’t you Hera? If what’s left of the Carter Club after the quakes don’t make her Isis on sight, I’d be astounded. To be brutally honest, Laura couldn’t have set this up better for her if she’d planned it. She couldn’t have been as like Laura if she’d grown up in her mother’s shadow.”
“And with her mother’s love. Laura adored her. Do you think she will be back? Rana, I mean.”
He laid his free hand on top of their joined ones. “Yes, I do. You know she will. She wasn’t ready this time. She’s not grown yet. She hasn’t come into her heritage.”
Hera bit back a sob. “I never meant… I would never have hurt Laura. Not on purpose. I don’t know what you must think of me.”
“Oh, Hera.” His voice was full of smiling as he drew her head to his shoulder and cradled her. “I knew. I’ve always known.”
Hera laughed shortly, a sound full of tears and tinged with hysteria. “Of course you did. You always saw more than you should.” She sat up and stretched. “Do you want to stay the night? It’s a long way back in the dark for you, too.”
He smiled, and got to his feet, picking his way carefully around the broken glass. “I’d like that, very much. Will the cats mind?”
She took his outstretched hand, and they walked towards the house together. “Of course they will. That’s their job.”
“That and taking care of you. Hera… When she comes back, I won’t be able to stop her. Aren’t you… don’t you mind?”
She stopped, and turned to kiss him, pushing the soft wave of brown hair back from his eyes. “I can’t mind. This is the story we chose to tell. And that’s how it ends. There’s nothing to be done about it.”