IAN C. SMITH’s work has been published in Antipodes, BBC Radio 4 Sounds, The Dalhousie Review, Griffith Review, San Pedro River Review , Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.
Before we broke up we thought we knew about long-haul travel. Days dimmed in mid-afternoon, our attic walls furry, so we walked. Signs pointed across barnyard mud to fields where we lost crooked trails only to find them again pointing the way towards blue smoke above a serrated cottage roofline. Ducks streamed under bridges of stone past black-faced sheep between charcoal-sketched glimpses of a distant spire. Across disused railway embankments we roamed, and through farms, climbing stiles, squeezing between gaps in broad gates. We waited while a herd of cows ambled by, a line of pale hills blurring to violet in the dwindling light. Then a dark shape crested a rise tinkling like a band of wandering minstrels. Muscular horses pulled three wooden caravans against the backdrop of lowering sky. A whippet tethered to the last caravan placed its paws with deliberate care as those travellers nursing the secrets of centuries faced the roads ahead, their shadows falling across us. We didn’t stir until we no longer heard the sound of tiny brass bells. Our breath steamed as we stood there, her hair misted with diamonds, for minutes I wish I could experience again, these details imprinted on memory.
After we broke up, after I finished off our cheap bottle of Pig’s Nose whisky, I tramped November’s fields blackened in slow drenching rain, a train’s horn keening like a cello’s sombre drawn-out final note in the gloaming near the derelict WW2 air force base haunted by distant airwave voices, haven for crepuscular creatures, brave truth we might have sorted out stuck in autumn’s red, raw throat. Our poplars were being stripped of their sensuous splendour, one toppled, matted roots curling, exposed like wild sexual hair, her ripped open note with my cold hand inside the pocket of the seaman’s pea-jacket she gave me to ward off icy wind the previous winter that now lies encrypted in the same pocket hanging in exile in my wardrobe eclipsed by the silent dark. I read of letters turning up lonely years after long-dead soldiers posted them, the bereft gently kissing foxed handwriting, those letters better than grave markers, certain, astonishing, mementoes. I dislike evenings, their blanketing of days, thought I knew about the transnational blueprint, but travellers move on. I didn’t. I don’t need reminders. Rain needs no reminder to softly fall.
Trees threshed by fierce wind driving cloud, red-tinged, my nemesis, dark smoke plumes ten miles distant, branches cracking, light a hellish burnt umber, the state blazes, temperature soaring over forty degrees again, a regular horror now despite naysayers’ published scorn of climate change. The jack donkey’s coat fluffs in this wind, strands of his hay scudding before it. My neighbours silhouetted on their hill by shifting smoke are leaving. Driving past, they slow, peer at me, frowning, wave.
Possums scoured juiced orange peels on my compost heaps, inverting them to resemble white bra cups, like an art installation, contrasting with the dark teeming below, and now, above. The empty clothesline sways, days of pegged socks’n’jocks, colour, all gone, gone, children grown. Where six pink and grey galahs perch, silent, feathers ruffled, I sit under their melaleuca watching the car disappear, a Beckett character waiting. For what? So much I love is under threat.
I can’t imagine starting again, beauty razed but for echoed voices, these trodden paths to the heart. Walking about in circles, brittle leaves, small branches, crunching underfoot, grevillea, bottlebrushes, bravely flying their colours in this demonic blast, I feel as helpless as a crushed bird. An eerie soundtrack as in a film by Werner Herzog or Terence Malick would be apt.
My neighbours return, relay that we have been advised by phone to leave. Reluctant, I assure them I shall, voice, meant to sound upbeat, hoarse, aware of their kindness, my deserved caste as odd recluse, phone a seldom-used landline. A low-pressure change heads our way. Yay! The cavalry.
The trough arrives, favouring my position , cooling me and galahs, but imperilling others. I play back the evacuation message, make calls. My son in a city far away tells me to get going to my sister’s in town. Now. Ravelled with decision-making: cats, donkey, documents, photographs, cherished journals; my heart brimming, I secure windows, doors, take short-term essentials, leave this place, so beloved, especially its fragrance when soft rain begins to fall.
IAN C. SMITH’s work has been published in Across the Margin, BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Gargoyle, Griffith Review, Southword, Stand, & The Stony Thursday Book. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.