They had been driving in silence for almost an hour, the muted gold of stubble fields in the car windows cut by sudden slashes of green. Wellington was far behind, yet Stella still had the urge to plead with Alex to stop the car and let her out, let her go. Every minute she stayed silent the car sprinted forward, carrying them farther north; every minute made going back more daunting, for already they had travelled farther than she would be able to walk.
The morning was overcast, and every so often rain spattered the windscreen. Along the verges, or on the boundaries between farms, the tree canopies were the deep ivy-green that settles into leaves towards the end of summer. The few houses they saw were set snug in the dips and curves of the low, yellow, rain-blurred hills. Sturdy dwellings surrounded by harvest machinery and the neat blocks of hay bales, they stood well back from the road as if to discourage visitors. To Stella, each one appeared to be a small intact kingdom, and to drive on stirred in her a feeling that was close to grief. At that moment she wished for nothing more than to belong in one of their modest kitchens, to stand at the sink gazing out at the clouded sky as she washed breakfast dishes, or to sit at a scrubbed pine table with a mug of tea. She might be waiting to take a cake from the oven, listening to hours of talkback radio while she went about her chores. Instead she was in the car with Alex, speeding north. There was little traffic in either direction, and she had not seen a bus stop. She must have been mad to have agreed to come.
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