Up until Travis arrived on his doorstep, Charlie had lived a very solitary life. He had surrounded himself with isolation; a couple million acres of red dirt, scorching sun and loneliness.
Six months on, winter has settled over the desert, and Charlie has the life he never dreamed possible. But living and working together, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, for six months straight starts to take its toll.
Charlie is a stubborn, stubborn man, who tends to have more conversations in his head than what comes out his mouth, whereas Travis has no problem saying what’s on his mind. And even as they both struggle to communicate, struggle to make sense of need versus want, Charlie can see that he’s pushing Travis away – yet seems helpless to stop it.
When it all boils down to whether Travis should stay or go, maybe the decision won’t be theirs to make.
You can watch a pretty cool cattle mustering by chopper video here (link takes you to National Geographic site)
Four days. Four bloody long it-wasn’t-like-this-before-him days.
Leaning against the kitchen counter, I looked at my watch for the twentieth time and sipped my tea.
“He won’t be much longer,” Ma said.
I pretended not to know what she was talking about, and she pretended not to smile. Ma was trying to get dinner ready, and I was under her feet and in her way. I put my still-full cup in the sink and sighed. “It makes no sense,” I said. “I spent twenty-six perfectly capable years without him, how can four days be so fu—” I stopped short of swearing and tried again. “How can four days be so bloody long?”
Ma smiled her eye-crinkling, that’s-so-cute smile. “You miss him. It’s only natural,” she said. “Can you lift this tray for me?”
I carried the old heavy cooking tray of roast beef to the centre table where Ma usually cut it for serving. “But still. Four days. It’s pathetic,” I mumbled. “And they’re late! How long does it take for them to come in from the southern fence line? It shouldn’t take them this long.”
Ma ignored my whining and asked me to get the platters down from the shelf. Then she asked me to get the plates and set the table. I knew she was just keeping me busy and getting me out from under her feet. I’d annoyed her enough for the most of the afternoon. And possibly some of yesterday as well. Day three hadn’t been much fun either.
Travis had been gone for four days. Four freakin’ days. Four days when time stretched thin, draggin’ its sorry self forward. Four days of keepin’ myself busy, four days of being a miserable disgrace.
He was fixin’ fences on the southern line with Ernie, Bacon and Trudy. I wasn’t surprised the fencing needing doing; it was too many years of sun and rust in the making. There was a stretch of fencing a few kilometres long that needed restumping and rewiring. It was a big job and about a hundred kilometres from the homestead. It wasn’t worth coming in each night for. We kept in constant radio contact, and George flew fresh supplies down to them on the second day, similar to what we do when droving cattle.
When Travis said he’d join the others for the job, I’d said I could go too. We were in bed, and Travis rolled us over so he was on top of me and laughed at me. “Can’t you live without me for four days?” he’d asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” I’d shot back at him. “Of course I can.”
He’d grinned in the darkness, kissing me with smiling lips. “You totally can’t.”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” I’d replied.
“You’ll be useless without me,” he’d goaded, pinning my hands above my head and nudging his nose to mine. “You’ll see.”
And the smug bastard was right.
“You know,” I told Ma as I pulled out the tray of condiments from the dry store pantry. “You know what I hate the most? I hate that he has to be right all the time. It really pisses me off.”
“Hm mm,” Ma hummed in that sure-it-does-honey tone.
“And I hate that he thinks he’ll be the one to decide whether or not he goes fencing for four days, when I said the others were more than capable. I mean, I’m not his keeper, but I am his boss.”
Ma said nothing, just looked at me as she stirred the pot of gravy. She had one eyebrow raised in a ’course-you-are-honey kind of way.
“And he didn’t seem to think leaving me for four days was a problem. He volunteered to camp out for four days rather than be with me, for shit’s sake. So what does that say about me?”
“Charlie,” Ma chided.
“And you know what else I hate? He leaves his towels on the bed. I really hate that. How hard is it to hang it back up again? It’s not hard. At all. And he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. I really hate it when he does that. And what the bloody hell is that letter from my old uni addressed to him for—”
Then we heard the sound of motorbikes and the old ute pulling up at the gates near the shed.
And my chest got all tight and my stomach knotted with butterflies.
Ma burst out laughing. “Hm mm. I can tell by your smile just how much you hate all those things.”