1. As he did every morning, Phillip Tarrant raised Hannah’s electric bed to 45 degrees and prepared her first feed of the day. The routine was so familiar now that he poured the formula into the sachet on the wall hook, connected the feeding pump to Hannah’s nasogastric tube, and administered 200mls directly into her stomach, almost without thinking. Afterwards, he gave his wife a bed bath, put her in a clean incontinence pad and dressed her in one of the loose maternity dresses she’d bought when she was pregnant. As a result of the catastrophic brain and spinal injuries she’d suffered, Hannah was almost totally paralysed; the only muscles in her body she could still move of her own volition were those in her left eye and she was able – with effort – to open and close her eyelid. Her facial features were frozen in a shocking grimace: her right eye was scrunched shut, giving her left eye a startling, Cyclopean intensity, and her shrivelled lips jagged down sharply as if pulled by an invisible wire. Hannah’s facial paralysis made disinfecting her mouth – a procedure which had to be carried out at least four times a day – a protracted and gruelling process. Phillip showed no signs of impatience, however, as he worked the swab around her teeth and gums. On the contrary, he wiped away the drool that ran down her chin and spoke quiet words of encouragement to her with a devotion that was truly touching. And all the time he coaxed her and stroked her hair, Hannah’s bulging, blue eye stared at him with implacable hatred. When the morning duties were completed, Phillip gently carried his wife’s atrophied body to her wheelchair and manoeuvred her through the house to the winter lounge. Here, he picked her up again and placed her carefully on a green recliner, which he positioned in front of the picture window. He liked the thought of Hannah enjoying the view across the Ovens valley and being able to watch his comings and goings during the day, like his mother used to do when she was alive. Phillip eased the recliner back so it was at just the right angle, arranged Hannah’s warped legs on the foot rest so they weren’t touching, then took each of her buckled hands and lay it tenderly in her lap. Her head was twisted into her left shoulder and he put a cushion behind her neck so that, as well as seeing outside, she could watch what was going on around her in the lounge. ‘There you go,’ he said when he was sure everything was as it always was, ‘all nice and comfy.’ He kissed her lightly on the forehead, and drawing himself up straight, wandered to the window and stood with his hands behind his back, gazing out at the blue-grey shadow of Mount Buffalo in the distance. Hannah’s solitary eye, as fixed and unblinking as the polestar, glowered at him, and one thought repeated itself, obsessively, over and over in her mind: Cut wood, you son of a bitch, cut wood, cut wood, cut wood…. It had to be today. Time was running out. Three mornings now there’d been frost on the grass outside. Three mornings Hannah had prayed for the same thing. Three mornings she’d been disappointed. Phillip watched a kangaroo with a joey in its pouch grazing on the lawn close to the house. Every now and again it paused in its eating, sat back on its thick tail and listened. ‘Look, Hannah,’ he said, turning around to make sure she was looking. ‘A mother and her joey.’ He spoke the words with a sentimental reverence that was spiked with irony. Her eye closed for a moment. When it reopened it burned with even greater intensity, but Phillip had turned to watch the kangaroo again. Startled by a sound beyond the range of human hearing, it hopped away down the hill, following the gravel driveway for 150 metres or so before cutting into the eucalypts that grew thickly at the front of the property. Phillip watched until it had disappeared from sight, then suddenly seeming to notice the temperature, he shivered and rubbed his shoulders. ‘It’s getting cold in here!’ He looked towards the empty wicker basket beside the wood burner and frowned. ‘I’d better cut some wood. Looks like winter’s finally arrived.’ Hannah was almost glad her face was paralysed as she could never have kept the wave of excitement that surged through her from showing on it otherwise. Her heart began pounding rapidly in her chest, but her face remained as expressionless as a mannequin’s; only her ragged breathing gave any indication of the roiling emotions she was feeling. Her chance had come, her chance had come at last. If Phillip went outside to cut wood, she would make her move. Yes, she would make her move. She could do it. She’d proved that she could do it. If love could move mountains, then what couldn’t the virulent dark matter of her hatred do? Instead of picking up the wicker basket, however, Phillip hesitated, his hands on his hips, his bottom lip worrying at his blond moustache. ‘I’d better check on our guest first,’ he said, and his expression grew solemn, thoughtful. ‘She’s a very stubborn girl. It’s as if she set out to spoil everything from the start. It’s disappointing, really disappointing…’ Hannah’s ghost self sprang from the recliner and sank her nails deep into the jelly of his eyeballs….but her real self, her dead self, what was left of Hannah Tarrant after the kombi van had rolled over her, remained sprawled in the chair like a puppet whose strings have been cut, unable to move even a finger or twitch a toe. Only her left eye moved as it followed Phillip. He went into the hallway, and pausing in front of the cellar door, took a bunch of keys from his pocket, found the one he wanted, and forced it into the lock. Yanking the door open he paused momentarily and looked back at Hannah. ‘I’ll tell her you said hi,’ he grinned. At that moment a burst of gelid winter sunlight lit up his face – the frameless spectacles, the weak chin, the full lips, the bird’s wing of blond hair neatly brushed across his forehead – and Hannah’s stomach heaved with revulsion. For the millionth time she asked herself how she could have married this man, how she could have married this monster? And for the millionth time she yearned to turn back the clock. The clock that can never be turned back.