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51 • the pact They live a long way out. Isolated. Few neighbors. Few cars ever passing the front gate, which, though the property is large, is not far from the house. A few hundred meters at most. She is alone because her husband is up on the mines. Their first season on the place didn’t bring a wheat check. That augured well!—they tried to laugh it off after drinking too much. That was their nature, what they liked about each other. They’d both been farm kids whose parents had sold up during hard times in the early eighties. They knew it was foolish buying out on the very edge of the growing zone (or rather, on the edge of the arid zone), but the risk seemed worth it. They were desperate to get out of the city. To go home. But Lucy Downs—both of their mothers had been called Lucy— was the best they could afford. Two thousand hectares of dust and patches of thinned gimlet and salmon-gum woodlands thick with wild goats. They laughed at the “Downs” bit, as the dust rolled in waves back and forth over the spread. But it was a sign of optimism. After all, it was hard to tell if they were Southern Cross 52 j o h n k i n s e l l a actually in the wheatbelt or the goldfields. There was always hope of the plough unearthing a nugget! She hears a vehicle coming down the dirt driveway, and freezes. She loves the aloneness so much that an unexpected presence is more than a fright; it alters her concept of reality. Assuming a threat, she goes to the pantry and takes out the loaded rifle. She walks carefully to the front kitchen window, eases the half-curtain back, and sees a middle-aged man in greasies and akubra getting out of aToyota. His red cloud kelpies are on the back tray, chained to the cabin, barking excitedly. Shut up, boys! the man says to the dogs. He has a thick accent. Maybe German, she thinks. But if so, it was a long while back. It is an ocker-German-English accent. She leans the rifle against the wall near the doorframe, and opens the door, carefully and silently snibbing the flyscreen. Heat tumbles into the cool house.With her rough “stranger greeting” voice, she speaks through the wire. Gidday, she says. Can I help you? Gidday, he says.Yeah, lady. I mean, we can help each other. She feels the pull of the rifle, but ignores it. Confident as anything, she says, I don’t get ya. Should say who I am, he says. I own EagleView about twenty k’s down the road. Few places between us, but out here we still call each other neighbors if we’re on the same stretch of nothing to nowhere! He coughs a tobacco laugh. Right, she says. Uncertain. The dogs are shaking with excitement and half choking themselves trying to jump down into the dust, into the traces of sheep shit. Anyways, you’ve got caltrop up along the road round your front gate. Saw the yellow flowers through the gravel dust. Can’t miss those little bastards. No, she says flatly. You haven’t been here long.You know what caltrop looks like? It was a rhetorical question. Not really sarcastic, more neighborly mixed with blokey condescension. She forgets 53 t h e p a c t about the rifle.Women are not a big part of this man’s life. Probably a bachelor farmer. Yeah, mate, grew up on a farm. Hmmm, well, he says. Guess they’ve just flowered and you missed them driving out in the dust. It was that storm we had a few weeks ago that brought ’em up. Not much rain—barely filled half a rung of my big tank. But enough to stir the caltrop. Little bastards—spikes made in hell. Yeah,their name comes from a kind of antipersonnel weapon. He looks at her in disbelief. A mouthy woman, he might be thinking. But he kicks at the dirt and says, I wouldn’t know about that, but they’re worse than damned double gees. And poison doesn’t seem to work. Have to get out there and pull ’em out. And walk around in a pair of thongs to collect the jacks. We’ve got a pact on this road to alert each other if...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780804040501
Related ISBN
9780804011372
MARC Record
OCLC
778435180
Launched on MUSE
2012-02-08
Language
English
Open Access
No
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