We sit together on the top step of the old house on Avondson and watch the sun set. On the horizon, fine lines of fire and gold rise into the flaring sky. Behind the cypress trees, the hills on Boesmansfontein glow across the veld.
A heron calls in the Groenvlei marsh, hangs briefly in the air, its wings open against the sky. The light filters slowly through the dusty air before it sinks away in the dark, and the land is turned to shadows in the light of the moon.
"There's plenty cool drinks in the fridge, hey. You must just help yourself."
"I will, thanks."
Bats beat the air. A cisticola twitters in a bush somewhere. An owl with radiant eyes hoots, beats its wings and launches from a branch in a pepper tree at the side of the house. It swoops down, its creamy feathers thick and silent, and carries away to its nest some tiny sound, brittle and very faint.
Behind the hill at the back of the farmhouse, the saltpan glitters in the rising light of the moon. The dark vibrates and hums.
"We sit here every night," Benjamin says, "me and Mischief. We sit here, and we listen, look in the dark." The dog thumps his tail against a step. Benjamin reaches down and strokes his silky head. "It's okay, my dog. Good boy."
Mischief rests his head on my cousin's foot. His eyes move, blue and brown, watchful.
"Allan couldn't come with you?"
"Ag," I shrug, "it's a busy time for him, you know? The factory. His mother. Those uncles of his . . . Just as well he didn't come – the mice would freak him out. He's a city boy, remember?"
"That old dragon of a mother-in-law still giving you uphill, hey?"
I snort. "You just make sure when you get married one day, you marry an orphan!" I look at him. "I'm serious."
He laughs, a hard, short bark.
"Don't you want to get married, have kids one day?"
He drops his head between his knees. "Ja, of course I do."
His voice is muffled. "I just have to find the right girl."
"You lonely here?"
"I'd give anything to live out here."
Benjamin lifts his head from between his knees, and we both look up at the bright, light-pricked sky. He glances down at the step, half-turns to look at me. "I know how you feel about the farms. It's a pity."
"I should have married a farmer, become one myself." I force a laugh. "Instead, here I am, married to a city boy, living in Sandton. Who'd believe it, hey?"
"Ag well, at least you're married. You've got a husband. You'll have children one day. Your mother and father must be pleased?"
"I suppose so."
He pushes his fingers through his hair, crosses his arms over his knees. "I don't know," he sighs, rocking back and forth. "It's not easy, hey? We're never satisfied."
The moon hangs over our heads.
* This extract was taken from The Messiah's Dream Machine, the sequel to author Jennifer Friedman's memoir Queen of the Free State.