It is seven
o’clock, I just
heard the click as the clock hit the hour, and the bulldozer has
started up outside. We’re both in bed, her leg curled over my
thigh, her warm breath on my neck. We woke early, around six, smiled a
sad smile then rolled over and slept again. The noise alone is already
shaking the windows, the glass of water beside the clock is vibrating
gently. They’ll start with the laundry, then take the
so we’d best make our way there now.
I stand on the edge of the toilet seat while she pisses and look out
through the louvres onto the backyard. They must still be warming up
the bulldozer and having their smoke in the driveway down the side
because the backyard is deserted, bathed in morning sunlight. The only
tree, a plum, is showing its first blossom and a wave of genuine
sadness passes over me when I realise it will be the first thing to go.
She kicks me off the toilet seat and stands up on tip-toe to look
herself. I piss in the basin. The plum tree, she says. Yes, I say, and
turn on the tap. We climb back into bed just as the bulldozer revs and
moves and a shuddering sound can be heard as it turns from the driveway
into the backyard, taking the plum tree in its path; backing up,
revving, then moving forward again, manoeuvring the laundry into its
We lie in bed on our backs, I put my hands behind my head and she
nestles her head in the crook of my elbow. We lie like that for a long
time, lost in our own thoughts, then I get up again to make tea and
toast. Why not? I say, when she looks at me strangely.
Cracks have already appeared in the kitchen and the stove is covered
with a thin layer of white dust. The bulldozer passes back and forth
close to the kitchen window. I can see the driver from the chest down,
his left foot working the clutch. A voice shouts instructions: Back a
bit! Forward!—and I can hear the timber and plaster cracking
breaking. I stand at the kitchen sink waiting for the kettle to boil
and watch the big black wheel pass before me, so close that I can see
the scars in the rubber and tiny bits of debris embedded in the tread.
The kettle doesn’t boil, I check the switch, put my hands
it. I turn on the light switch but there is no light. I go back to the
bedroom and tell her—she’s half asleep and
really understand—then go out the back door and pick up some
pieces of wood. A man leans on a shovel—why a
nod to him. He just stares, doesn’t know what to say, then
disappears around the corner where the bulldozer is working. I bring
the old heat bead barbecue back in from the shed, set it up in the
kitchen, arrange some paper and wood and light a fire. When the flames
have died down I toast some bread on a carving fork and soon have a
saucepan of water boiled. She smiles, having smelt the smoke, then
laughs, seeing the blackened toast; we laugh together, so loud that we
can no longer hear the dozer or the cracking of timber in the kitchen.
We eat our toast and drink our cups of tea.
It’s going to be hot. The sun is already on the window and we
feel the new day’s warmth seeping through the blanket into
room. On these days we’d already be up, drinking our tea in
backyard in the sun. The planes flying in to land at the airport are
shedding silver from their wings as they bank towards the runway. Next
door’s cat is stretched out on the warm concrete, purring
with every breath. The first cigarette is hot and bitter, the smoke
hanging in thin clouds above our heads, and the light already so
intense that you have to squint to form a shape: the shed, the back
fence, the neighbours’ roof. These are the days when we are
happy, thankful for what we have. Small black ants march purposefully
beneath us, sweet air drifts to us from the jasmine on the shed.
A man is standing in the bedroom doorway. For some reason I think
it’s her father, though her father looks nothing like that,
perhaps the lawyer I’d jokingly said we should ask for, then
workman, which it is. He looks so awkward and fidgety that I almost
invite him to bed. He stands there fidgeting for some time,
not conscious of him so it doesn’t matter, she’s
again, it’s obvious he wants to speak but something very firm
persistent has got his tongue. I explain the situation to him as
clearly as possible: the house was unoccupied, we’ve lived
undisturbed for over three years, we’ve painted the hallway
the two front rooms, fixed up the front garden, kept the lawn down,
replaced three windows, cleaned out the back shed, pruned the plum
tree, made a vegetable patch, planted a passionfruit vine along the
back fence. He’s lit a cigarette and I realise he’s
looking at me any more and probably not listening either.
looking at her, I look at her too; the blanket has slipped down just
enough to reveal a breast and a nipple. It’s the strangest
then, for a minute or so, as he looks from his angle and I from mine at
the shoulder, the flank, the breast and the nipple, her hair on the
pillow, a streak of morning light on the wall beside her head. The
bulldozer starts up—I hadn’t noticed the
the moment is broken. I look at the clock—quarter past ten.
was smoko—he turns from the doorway and goes back to work. I
there looking, first at the empty doorway, then at her flesh.
It’s all going to pieces, I say to myself: I know what I mean
I don’t feel false at all.
I make love to her quietly. She hardly wakes, neither at the sound of
my soft moaning nor the shuddering outside. I kiss the nipple that the
man had seen but it’s no longer mine, it moves away from me,
sinks softly into her breast at my lips’ touch and
rise again. She’s getting old, I think—how
old?—within what seems like an instant her flesh has lost its
spring. She rolls away from me, perhaps sensing my thoughts, and I roll
away from her. The clock is bouncing on the bedside table and the glass
of water is gone. Nothing lasts, nothing lasts; neither this nor
anything that comes after. Days dance on a pinhead, months fly up to
the moon; already the laundry’s gone. We lie back to back for
very long time.
I must be dozing, daydreaming, because now we’re somewhere
She’s wearing her old cotton dress with the hole under the
I’ve pulled on a pair of jeans and am carrying a T-shirt. A
opens up before us, a park I remember from long ago: we sit by the pond
and throw crusts to the ducks. One comes up close and almost pecks her
bare foot, she grabs me tight and buries her head in my chest and I
laugh. We can still hear the noise of the bulldozer though it now
sounds more like a plane flying low overhead and all of a sudden
we’re surrounded by a cluster of gnats. She tells me
they’re attracted to the heat of our bodies, that she heard
on the radio and that it’s all perfectly true, so we wade out
into the pond until we are up to our necks and stay there like that
kissing for a while until the gnats have gone. Then we’re
again, I mean dozing inside the dream, because for a long time all I
know is that our eyes are closed and nothing at all is happening and
when I open my eyes she has just opened hers too and I say: Were you
dozing? And she says: Yes, I just opened my eyes then. We laugh, and
the dream is broken, the dream or the memory, I’m still not
and a veil of white plaster dust has covered our lids.
You’ll have to go now, says a voice. It’s the
again. I push her gently, whisper in her ear: We have to go.
already afternoon. Out the front they have a caravan waiting for us,
fixed to the back of a four-wheel drive. A woman is standing with the
door open, a clipboard tucked under her arm. She’s very well
dressed, her hair is shiny and she gives off a faint scent of green
apples. All the neighbours are standing around, restraining their
children and dogs; I smile at them as we walk towards the van. Please
don’t move around too much inside, the woman says, and she
the door behind us.
It’s not a particularly new caravan, nor is it particularly
clean. I run a finger across the fold-down table and pick up a smudge
of black grime. We sit ourselves down opposite each other at the table
and the van begins to move; I pull back the curtains a little with my
hand and look out; the neighbours are now standing on the footpath in a
line, watching us go. My partner reaches into the cupboard above us and
finds a can of tuna, I reach into the drawer beside me and take out a
can opener and two forks. We eat the tuna, spearing a small chunk each
with our forks, first she, then me, in turns, like a tea party;
occasionally the tin slides across the table, first towards her, then
towards me; we push it back into the middle each time and smile. The
tuna lasts a while, there’s nothing else to do, neither of us
wants to get up and move about because of the woman’s
instructions. We’re very tired, but nor do we want to sleep;
we’re both very anxious in a way to see what happens next.
We travel for some time, through the parted curtains I see factories,
car yards, paddocks of dead grass, all bathed in rusty twilight. Huge
steel pylons march away to the horizon, the powerlines slung between
them. On and on, on and on. She looks out her side, I look out mine. I
close my eyes and remember the story of a ride in a troika through the
vast Russian wastes; thatched huts outside the window, the
driver’s greatcoat dusted with snow, the horses’
tossing, white breath from their nostrils. I spend some time
remembering this story in all its detail before opening my eyes again.
The caravan has stopped. Everything is quiet. The woman opens the door.
Sleep now, she says, and she closes the door again. We hear a clunk as
the caravan is unhooked from the towbar, I part the curtains and peer
outside but everything is dark. We let down the table and make up a bed
but neither of us can sleep.
I hear voices outside and go to the window at the far end of the van. I
can just make out a toilet block with a flickering fluorescent light
and people going in and coming out with towels slung over their
shoulders. We’re in a caravan park, I say. She joins me at
window and we watch the people coming and going from the toilet block
and the woman with the folder scurrying here and there. Will they let
us have a shower? she says. I doubt it, I say. We close the curtains
again and lie in bed. Take off your top, I say. She does. I cup one
breast in my hand and gaze at the nipple. It’s all going to
pieces, I say, then say it again. But her eyes are closed, she
doesn’t or doesn’t want to hear or hears but
want to answer and I pull the blanket up over her to the neck and sit
on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands listening to the
murmuring voices outside. This is our new life, she says,
all beginning again. I feel very close to her then but instead of
speaking or touching her I remain on the edge of the bed and say
nothing. A new life, I think, she’s probably right. Very
probably, very probably. She puts a hand on the small of my back.
Then there’s a clunk and the caravan
being hooked up again. She sits up in bed, I look out the window; cars
are starting up and headlights are coming on. The first van pulls away
and the others follow. I go to the front window. A different car is
towing us now, an early model sedan. The van jerks and moves, I hurry
back to the other window, steadying myself on the stove, the sink, and
cheek to cheek we look out at the convoy moving off into the night.
We watch the dark, our heads start to loll, our eyelids droop,
it’s been a big day, cheek to cheek the murmur of the road
us into sleep. I don’t dream, I don’t think she
either, when the morning light through the curtains wakes us we find
we’ve slept top to tail. I stare at her toes and stroke the
of her arch. We’re still on the road, occasionally we feel a
and shudder, at other times a gentle swaying from side to side.
It’s very beautiful inside the caravan, the glow at the
and the seeping warmth, the gentle swaying, the hum of the road. If
this is our new home then I’m happy with it, happy for her,
for me. From where I lie on my back I purse my lips, blow the curtain
back a little away from the window and catch glimpses of blue cloudless
sky. Yesterday is already a lifetime away, and the memory of it frayed:
a bulldozer came, we slept in a while; then we got up, and the journey
began. Brief shadows of branches overhanging the road flicker across my
face; a warm draft from somewhere, perhaps under the door, caresses my
I’m hungry, she says. She’s sitting up. I look at
framed by the window opposite, soft down around the rims of her ears.
She’s taken her hair and bunched it up into a mound on top of
head. I love her too much to say anything; she reads my eyes and
smiles. There might be more tuna, I say. She screws up her face.
Perhaps we should wait till we’ve stopped. We might never
she says, and she gets out of bed. The idea hadn’t occurred
and I lie there wondering about it for a while. She looks through the
cupboards, the small gas fridge, on the shelves and under the beds.
We’ll starve, she says. She crawls over me and looks out the
back. Look, she says. I look too; behind us into the distance a convoy
of caravans follows, between each caravan a cluster of cars, waiting
for the chance to pass. We close the curtains again. To the slaughter,
I think, not quite sure where the thought has come from; uncomplaining,
like lambs to the slaughter.
Suddenly we’re on a bumpy road, the curtains quiver, one
handle rattles, through the side window we see a couple of houses flash
past, one with a small boy standing at the gate. I pull on my pants,
she fixes her skirt, a great feeling of excitement has now overtaken
us. The caravan shakes, changes direction, then changes direction
again; the surface beneath us is now hard corrugated ground, then
gravel, a moment of asphalt, gravel again, we turn sharply, then
something soft, perhaps grass. The caravan stops, we hear the door of
the car in front slam, other cars pulling up behind. We each put a hand
on the wall, trying to adjust ourselves to the sudden stillness.
We’ve stopped, she says. Just then the door opens and the
pokes her head inside. You can come out now, she says. Have we been
hiding? I think. The woman’s face disappears again.
We step down out of the caravan and look around. We’re on a
football oval, surrounded by paddocks; in the far distance I can see a
farmhouse, in the foreground the footballers’ brick changing
shed. The caravans have formed a circle, like wagons arrayed against an
attack. The drivers are all getting out of their vehicles and gathering
over at the changing shed; some slip inside to use the toilets, the
others form a close-knit group and start handing around their
cigarettes. The woman strides around the circle, the clipboard under
her arm, knocking on each caravan door and poking her head inside. The
people start stepping out, dazed and confused like us; some old, some
young, some with children who immediately start running around together
madly on the grass.
Gather round, the woman says; gather round, don’t be shy. She
standing in the centre of the oval on the concrete cricket pitch; she
throws out an arm then brings it towards her, as if gathering air to
her bosom. Gather round, she says, gather round. We all take a few
steps forward. I can see a couple of the drivers chuckling, leaning on
the boundary fence. Gather round, she says, as step by step the circle
closes in. In an arc, she says, and we somehow manage to arrange
ourselves in an arc. A little closer, she says, don’t be
shy—and as a group we shuffle forward.
We all stand shoulder to shoulder: behind the woman, beyond the fence,
I can see the old timber scoreboard;
above and ‘Visitors’ below, painted in large white
H——, I whisper, but someone behind me says Shh! The
is talking, her name is Polly, she appreciates our patience, we will be
eating shortly, there are showers in the changing shed, men to the
left, women to the right, this will be our home for a while. Are there
any questions? she asks. Someone asks are dogs allowed. The woman
smiles and answers yes. A young child breaks away from the group and
runs back to her caravan; the dog is let out, it starts yapping and
turning in circles. A small ripple of laughter passes through the
group. Is there a phone we can use? someone asks. The woman says
there’s a public phone in town, a driver can take us there
we’ve eaten. The woman pauses, raises her eyebrows, passes
eye across every face. We look at the ground, or at the sky; no-one has
any more questions.
We all move back to our caravans, to freshen up before lunch. The
drivers have lit a fire in a cut-down diesel drum, they are standing
around it, drinking cans of beer; from behind the shed two of them
carry out a big steel grate and drop it on top of the drum. I think I
might have a shower, she says. There’s a queue already, I
But she doesn’t care, she’ll wait, she says: if she
doesn’t have a shower soon she’ll die. She takes a
from the cupboard (Towels
and all, I think)
and walks back towards the door. What do you think? I ask, as she puts
her foot on the step. She turns around and shrugs her shoulders.
We’ll just have to wait and see, she says.
I pull the curtains open and watch the goings-on outside. The day is
already hot and shade here hard to come by. People are moving to and
from the changing shed with towels slung over their shoulders. I see
her stop and talk to someone—a young woman about the same
age—and they enter the right-hand end of the shed together.
while I keep looking at the shed, and the dark doorway they have
disappeared into. But then for some reason I can’t look any
longer and I pull the curtains closed again.
I haven’t eaten since the tuna—that seems like days
now—and as I lie on my back on the bed again my stomach
rumble. I lay one hand across it and the other hand across my chest.
I’m trying to calm myself down, though I don’t feel
at all. All day I’ve felt this calm, this
kind of calm. I can’t get excited about anything, or get
about anything either. As if to test myself I move the hand that was on
my stomach down towards my crotch but then my stomach rumbles again.
She comes back freshly showered, a strand of wet hair stuck to her
cheek. She sits on the bottom bunk at the far end of the caravan, lays
the towel over her head, twists it into a turban and throws her head
back. Only then does she look at me, seeing what I think. I let it go,
I don’t think anything, I’m looking out the window
they are carrying a large wooden trestle table out into the centre of
the oval. Polly follows, a cask of wine in each hand. People start
appearing at the doors of their caravans. Polly flutters around,
encouraging them to take a plate and form a queue at the barbecue.
Formlessly at first, they do. Are you hungry? I ask. She’s
her hair now, like out of a painting or a movie, her legs spread wide,
her head between them, her hair falling down, rubbing her scalp with