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180 • the offering It was a long, hot walk from town to their new “making-a-go-of-it place” in the paddocks. She was angry because she’d trusted him. A small house, almost a shack, two pencil pines, and acre on acre of painfully long dry grass. More than a fire risk; they already had one foot in Inferno. And no bloody car. He’d lost his license for DD, and she’d never had a license. Both were hanging for a drink, and had walked into town in the heat with thirty dollars on them, craving a cold beer, but knowing they had to get by until Thursday, and there was practically no food in the house. Thirty dollars, they’d mused. Two bottles of sherry, bread, rice, oil, potatoes, and a cabbage. That was it. They jammed the brown-paper bags of sherry into the plastic bags alongside the food. They held a bag each. After a few steps he stopped, and started rolling a smoke. He licked the paper, handed it to her, and rolled a second one for himself. Wagin 181 t h e o f f e r i n g She didn’t look him in the eye, not even when he lit hers, then his, with his Bic, studying it in the light to see if the gas would last. Fortunately, Dave had left them a packet of rollie tobacco and papers for a housewarming. Gotta start home brewing, he’d said to her earlier, as they’d walked briskly, mostly silent, along the gravel, then on the bitumen into town, cars passing close and slowing down enough to make them feel uncomfortable. He was a big bloke but, well, wasted looking. She was “mousy,” some said unkindly. She spoke. Finally, she spoke. Maybe the frost is thawing in this damned heat, he thought. Then he laughed to himself. About ice. He’d recently kicked the habit, and put them through hell. She looked at him like he was a gibbering idiot, and he shut up. He shut the fuck up, then wondered what she’d actually said. He hadn’t really been listening. Usually she’d repeat it for him. It’s a shit of a walk. It’s a shit of a house. It’s a shit of a place.What had possessed him to drag them to a town that worshipped a giant concrete ram . . . ? Yes, that was it; much better. He hustled alongside her, trying to keep up. And then disaster struck. The bag he was carrying—it had to be his—split, and the sherry bottle smashed to the ground. Medium-dry sherry flooded out through the torn brown paper bag. That’s yours, she shrieked.You’re not getting any of my bottle! He stared dumbstruck at the ground. The bread was about to fall through the same tear, and something moved his hand to catch it. She kept walking as he fixated on the mess.With his sandshoe, he scraped it to the side of the path. Kids probably walk along here, he told himself. He looked around for a bin, then abandoned the thought, and the site of the disaster. Cabbage in one hand, bread in the other, he loped towards her, resisting the urge to look back over his shoulder. He’d have to be 182 j o h n k i n s e l l a really sweet to her now if he was to get a swig of hers. She was like that. But then, so was he. They had rules. Their relationship survived through having rules. Especially when things were at their most stressed and difficult. But as he was catching up, something strange happened. Maybe it wasn’t quite an epiphany. But looking at her grubby skin-tight jeans, and that arse he almost worshipped, the determination of her stride in the scorching sun, both of them without hats, and bucketing sweat, he thought, No, no, I won’t even try to cadge some of her bottle. I’ll hang out. Tonight I’ll make dinner. I’ll make something out of the little we’ve got. From their last place, there were still some herbs and spices, including a packet of dried chilli. She loves chilli, he thought. Beside her again, he said, Sorry, darl, really sorry. I’m not going to try and cadge from yours. She shot him a suspicious look—she knew him...


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