Rudd’s heart pumps with the knowledge that there is not much time now. He watches the waiters rush to clear and deliver, then scans his eyes across the guests, searching for signs of concern, but he can see none. Even New Zealand Steve seems blissfully into his beer.
Then, as the last of the plates from the main course is carried towards the kitchen, the thunder arrives. Distant but definite, it drums closer, its scent gusting in on the wind, rich with static and wet earth.
Fear prickles up the back of Rudd’s neck and along his arms. It fizzes him with adrenaline. Unable to stay still, he decides to check on the bar area. As he strides around the edge of the lodge towards the dance floor, the wind hits him in the chest. It takes his breath, and flings it out into the darkness, leaving his lungs shocked and empty, waiting for the oxygen to come gasping back. Alarmed, Rudd abandons his mission and turns around, anxious to be back, close to the dining area and the guests.
He finds them as he left them, cheerfully seated and enjoying the moment, protected by the main body of the lodge. He listens to their chat, louder now against the thunder, and apparently unbothered by the static in the air. He reaches his spot between the kitchen and the tables, just as the wind forces its way around the building behind him. It flies in, and for a few short seconds it rips up chat, flaps fabric, tangles hair, and smashes empty bottles on to the floor.
Rudd moves quickly to help clear the broken glass. He and Tonderai are bent double, sweeping up the shards when the first of the rain comes in. It rattles across the verandah roof, lifting the laughter louder.
“This is it,” Rudd says.
“For sure,” replies Tonderai.
On the stage behind them the cake stand wobbles, but keeps its balance.
Rudd returns to his post once the broken glass has been collected. He tries to calm his mind, but it slips through his fingers, wet with the threat of flood and problems he still can’t imagine. He catches hold of it at last, and realises that he has not seen Simi for a while. His eyes sweep over the tables again, and he spots her, near the middle of the central row, next to Marybelle. She looks worried, but Rudd is reassured to see they are seated together.
He glances around the rest of the guests, and seeing no problems, decides to go and check that all the windows of the newly refurbished rooms have been closed. He hurries down past the swimming pool on to the lower walkway, and runs its length looking for anything that might be open. There is nothing. As far as he can see everything is shut, and the roof of the lower walkway is holding well.
Pulse tight, he turns and makes his way back up the stairs to his guests. As he reaches the verandah he is spotted by a young man on a nearby table, who raises his beer bottle in salute.
“Hey Rudd! Great meal.”
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2023