Writer

Rod Mackay

Out of the Asylum, Western Australia

SPLINTERS

 

20


It was her idea.
The whole fiasco.
Well, not the breakdown.
The permanent splintering.
But the steps that led up to it.
They were all hers.
I would have followed her steps anywhere back then.
But the outback? Christ.
We approached from the West. The lavish jade waters of the East Fremantle river-mouth behind us. The desolation beyond the sunrise-blushed peaks of the Darling Ranges ahead. Why we’d want to leave paradise and aim our ticking 1992 Land Rover at... nowhere... nothing… was beyond me.
"Goddamn outback. What does that even mean?"
She smiled at me. The way she knew weakened me. "You'll see."
She grew up on a farm, in Nhill, Western Victoria. She spoke of it like some oasis even though Nhill is in the middle of nothing. Nhill's claim to fame is being the first town after Melbourne to get electricity. I think the place blew a fuse shortly after.
We drove for five hours that first day. The country changed from parkland to khaki forests to spindly grassy plains masquerading as sheep stations. We spent the night in a B&B that was a done-up shearing shed. We ate sausages at the farmhouse and washed down damper, cooked over a forty-four-gallon drum, with home-brewed beer.
The next day was a seven-hour straight shot inland. We stopped at a sagging tin service station called Handy's before bumping down a dirt track chased by an angry dust cloud. My questions about where we were going were shushed. My complaints were ignored.
We camped on a ridge and watched a sunset that looked like God tripped and spilled his paint set. The night was like being lost at sea. Until the moon rose and the shadows lulled the land to life etching dreamtime memories onto our hearts in the utter silence.
She woke me at dawn, with a kiss, and we watched the sky turn from raspberry sorbet to peppermint cream. We rattled the Land Rover for another few hours until the track petered out against a rock shaped like the face of a sleeping prince with a single windblown tree for a crown.
"We're here," she said.
"We're where? There's nothing here."
We camped for two days before discovering the battery was dead. She’d brought a satellite phone. She called for help. They said it would take a day or two. We were in no hurry. The sky beyond the sleeping prince bewitched us five times a day while we waited. His crown of branches unfurled spindly fingers and embedded permanent splinters under our skin.
I am going back there.
In spring.
When the air is cool and still.
She isn't coming.
We lost her last year.
Her liver.
She was queen of the world six months before.
Three kids through university.
Two grandkids.
I'm going anyway.
To lean back in the crook of the sleeping prince’s crown while the night twists its tales.
Maybe I'll break down again.
And they'll take a while to find me.