day 22

22

The afternoon sun was losing the edge of its sting. Though there were several hours of daylight left, Dale could see that Moss was tiring. The old man had alternated between walking and perching awkwardly among the bags and and panniers strapped to the back of the donkey. They had come across a long stretch of inhospitable ground to the eastern side of the hills, where saltbush gave way to stands of scrubby, twisted leptos and small-leafed acacias.
“We can stop here tonight and make the last stretch fresh in the morning.”
“Got water?”
“Enough.”
“It’s so wide. I forgot how far the salt goes.”
“Yeah, it’s wide all right. But in the last couple of years, the scout reports are showing that it’s shrinking. These acacias here – they’re new growth. It’s being colonised, slowly. Different species. There will be a whole new landscape in a decade or so. Here, you sit down, there’s a bit of shade under there. I’ll get a camp set up.”
“I’m not a hundred, brother. But thanks be to you. So much earth is a hard wonder to walk.”

Dale tended to the donkey, rubbing her down with a handful of green lepto twigs, pouring water into a bowl and setting the last of the hay in the fork of a low acacia bush. He put dry food in a dish for Lucille and told her she could share the donkey’s water. He collected dry twigs to start a fire, but dead wood was scarce and it took a while to find enough to keep a blaze going.

“ Enough there to boil a brew?” Moss asked.
“Yep. You hungry?”
“Not yet. What have we got?”
“Bit of seed bread left, some bean stew, dried tomatoes, nougat.”
“Truly a feast, brother, truly a feast.”
“I’ll make us tea now, then I want to climb that bit of a rise over there, see if I can flash a signal to the Scoutpost from there.”
“What for?”
“Let them know I’m heading in to Metro. They’ll start sending out search parties if I don’t check in sometime soon, and this is a good spot to check in from. They’ll think I’ve been on leave in the hills, gone for one of my little wanders.”
“You don’t speak the truth to them?”
“Not yet.”
“Why?”
“ I don’t have enough information. If I tell them what I suspect, they’ll turn it official, and I have a feeling that official may not be a good idea just yet.”

They made tea by throwing a handful of lepto leaves into a billy of boiling water, then adding generous measures of honey. It was tart and aromatic, soothing after a day of heat and dust. Dale put his mug down and looked at the sky.

“Better get going while the sun’s still bright.”
“ You are going to send this message – how? “
“Flash. It can be a bit hit and miss, but at the Scoutpost there’s always someone on watch, so chances are they’ll see and message me back. There’s not much to get in the way of a signal between here and there, if I’m up high enough.” He untied his pack and took out a small shaving mirror. “See.”

“Sending sun! I know sending sun – I sent sun every day to tell –“
“You did? Like this?”
“Mirror, mirror, yes! Like that.” Moss mimed the action, “little brothers at the glass shop, flash at the girls when they come up the path –“

“Tell me more. When you were a boy.”
“Maybe. Maybe tomorrow, when I have more pieces.”
“Sure. Tell me what you find. I’m going to head off. Will you be ok? Want me to leave Lucille?”
“ No need. Wide world not so worry. I’m going to unroll, sleep, dream some more sun sending.”
“Good-oh.” Dale whistled and Lucille pricked up her ears and trotted over to him. “Come on girl, let’s send these bits of sun before the big sun sets.”

Dale walked steadily along a stretch of hardpan, then up, gradually, to the top of a low ridge about 3k’s from the camp. He was tired, too. These days, as Scout Co-ordinator, there were few opportunities to do fieldwork. He missed the outdoor life, the open air in all its subtle variations, the nights under stars, the beauty of the land and its intricately interdependent life forms. He thought about a valley far away, a fantasy of a valley, where fig trees grew and boys played with pieces of mirror in the sunlight. Where life was sweet and days moved to the tempo of song.

“I’ll go there,” he said to the sky and the empty land, “my last big journey over the salt.”

day 22

Evelyn Bach

Booragoon, Australia

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Artist's Description

not much happening today, a bit more plot stitching.

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