It’s been a few weeks since I completed one of my stories from Chuck Wendig’s challenges. I hope this will be one I get back on the wagon with…
Carly sighed and stretched her legs. The humid air wrapped her like a cloying blanket, the damp spicy earth and salt air mixing in the almost non-existent breeze. Sitting in the slightly cooler shade, Carly looked out at flattened wave after wave rolling in off the muddy ocean.
She looked over her shoulder at the car, filled to the brim with her belongings. The little green Mazda was covered with unlucky insects and travelling dirt, but that little car had always helped her get where she needed to go.
Cold drink was a glacier, crawling down her throat. The bubbles made her burp. As she drove, the wind down, her hair whipping her face, she felt fit to burst. A yell came pushing it’s way out and rode out the window on the wind. She tingled all the way from the head to her toes.
The sun rode low on the horizon, and she was driving into the pinks and oranges. She took a side road to a national park, threw up her tent with no fly and lay looking at the stars. Forgetting to get groceries, she’d just eaten the last chips and a banana. Her stomach rumbled but she felt full in a way she hadn’t in a long time. It was nice to be alone.
It was still grey when she woke. She crept down to the rocky pool near the campsite, diving in, the breath sucked out of her and into the cold depths. She broke the surface gasping, her body on fire. Floating on her back, she watched the lazy spirals of leaves falling, the skitter of wind across the silvery pond. The water drowned out the sounds, except for the sloshing on rocks, at the edge, far away from her. The water rocked her with a gentle, cradling hand and she let her mind drift away.
When the sky had regained its blueness, she swam to the edge and put her clothes back on, tramping back up to the campsite. The coolness of the morning was quickly burning off, the birds a harsh cacophony overhead, and she packed quickly.
Back on the road again, she watched the greens fade into dusty yellows and rust and the ghostly skeletal grey gums by the side of the road reached toward the sky. She drove on, the straight road all merging into one, the twists of a undulating snake she was riding northwards. She like to imagine in the heat shimmer that she was riding the rainbow serpent, back to the beginning, to a clean slate of a world.
That night she slept on a white sandy beach, tying a mosquito net to a tree, sleeping on top of the sleeping bag. The waves crept up onto the sand with a hiss, and the mosquitos head-butting the mesh and whining angrily outside. Carly wriggled her toes and sighed, her thoughts drifting away into the night.
There was a dusty sign swinging on a wire, which declared with spidery handwriting: Help Wanted. Carly turned down the dusty road, passing the trees hanging with greening mangoes. She smirked as testicles came to mind. She scooted in beside a big shed, parking the car beneath a scrap of shade from the shed.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed around the heavy machinery and the dirt floor.
She walked around and spotted a house, white-painted besa block with a tin roof darkly hinting at rust around the edges. The house had a few spindly trees casting some shade on the concrete verandah, on the white wooden steps leading up.
She knocked on an ancient screen door that banged loudly in its frame. “Hello?”
Out of the darkness inside loomed a figure with heavy steps; an older, slight man. “G’day.”
Carly stood back, suddenly nervous. “I’m here about the help needed. My name’s Carly Green.”
The screen door squeaked as the man stepped onto the verandah, the battered old Akubra resting about an equally lined face. “Don’t get too many women wantin’ to do farm work.” He stuck out a broad hand. “Jack Leary, pleased to meet ya.”
She shook the hand as she looked at the palest blue eyes she’d ever seen, crinkling at the corners. He regarded her with a wry smile. “You’re not from Bowen, are ya?”
Carly shook her head. “I’m…on a bit of a tree change, you might say.”
Jack nodded, and took of his hat, a hesitance plain in his stance. “It’s hard work on a farm Miss Green. I don’t have time for lollygaggers here.”
“I’m not a city softie, Jack.” Carly smiles. “I’m from out Armidale way originally.”
Jack nodded. “Wage innit much, but it’s enough to get by.” He looked past her to the car filled with junk. “I’m guessing, you might be needing somewhere to stay.”
When Carly nodded, he said, “Let me show you our old bungalow. Most folks get a place near town these days, but you may have to share later in the season.”
Carly worked hard for the Learys. Mrs Leary was the very picture of a farmer’s wife that Carly had in her head, until she was called out for a grief counselling session. Invited into the house most nights for meals, Carly browsed the bookshelf, learning that Mrs Leary had left an academic city life after falling in love with her once-young man.
The rhythm of farm life was easy for Carly. Up with the sun to a big breakfast, walking amongst the plants looking for the dark spots on leaves that signalled a proneto anthracnose outbreak. Jack had showed her the dark sunken craters of the advanced disease on fruit in the pages of a dusty and discoloured farmer’s magazine, reminding her of flesh eating diseases she’d seen from distant places.
She sprayed the trees with a fungicide, covered head to toe, fully protected. Jack hated the stuff, but he wasn’t going to let anyone else risk their health. She got good at throwing the net, covering up the shortened trees to protect them from the sneaky fruitbats and possums. At night, she would listen to them screeching with rage, unable to get at the fruit with the intoxicating aromas.
Picking time came, and that was what Carly began to love best. Her skin was brown, and she had a muscular frame from the heavier work. Other hands arrived to help; many new immigrants. To hear them sing in their own languages and chatter. She helped Jack organise them all. She loved the acidic tang of the sap as the stems were cut, that rolled down her arms and got sticky. Up on the ladder, with the leaves scraping together with their papery sounds, and the soft hum of others, she found the industriousness peaceful. Sometimes when the rain poured and the thunder rolled overhead, she’d take off to the beach and watch the ocean change, grow full of rage and thrash at the sand. She’d come back soaked, but feeling the ocean’s fury and the wind whipping around her made her feel alive.
The season finished, the other hands trickled away, returning to some other work, and she helped Jack pare back some of the trees for their next growing season. After a day of hard work, they reclined in wooden deckchairs beneath a tree, enjoying a cold beer, and Carly could feel the weight of a conversation coming.
“Jack,” she turned to him, catching a guilty look on his face. “It’s alright. I know the season’s over. It’s time for me to move on.”
That weekend, she packed up the car, took the last pay, and hit the road again. She looked at the photograph of her family, stuck to the dashboard, a little bit discoloured and faded from 6 months in the Queensland sun. She sat at the entry to the Leary’s farm, looking at the Bruce Highway in front of her, and tried to decide. South was back. North was…
She turned left. Home Hill…..100km. Carly smiled and wound the window down. She was still looking for herself, and for the moment, she still needed to be free.
This story is inspired by a favourite song of mine by a great Australian artist Missy Higgins, Going North. If you’d like to hear it, here it is! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oCcTokZpcM
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