(part one) Can't remember if I've posted this. Probably have. It's quite dated now.
Here is a field under a blazing sun.
Once this was good country with fertile soil. Regular rains made the pastures green and the sheep grow fat and healthy, but not anymore.
Ten years of drought have turned the land into what you see today; dry clumps of dirt dotted with yellow-brown stumps of dead grass, a dam empty but for a few millimeters of mud, and a few hundred head of sheep just barely hanging on. Hanging on only because of water and feed that has been purchased and carted to the property, then hand fed to the stock.
The Mears family has been through a lot, although the boy has never known anything else.
But everything is about to change.
Do you hear the rolling thunder?
Do you see the dark, tumbling clouds fall towards the homestead, and look, see how everything becomes vibrant, alive with colour.
Do you feel the stillness, the electricity, the expectation in the air?
The first fat drops hammer the dusty roof, sounding like gravel thrown on the corrugated iron. The Mears family waits. Ian stands on the front verandah, tapping his pipe out on the post and reloading it with tobacco, muttering ‘C’mon, ya ■■■■■■■.’
Their blue heeler Clarrie sits at attention by his side, feeling the tension both from the weather and from his owners. Clarrie rarely barks when he’s not supposed to, but he does now, short, full and deep.
‘Shut up, ya mongrel.’
Shirley stands in the kitchen, a dishcloth in her hands for no other reason than something to hold on to, watching him through the screen door, the muscles in her neck and shoulders bunched and tight.
Chooka sits in the study on the internet, anxious to check the bureau of meteorology website radar, but not yet. Not until his Dad gives the okay.
They’ve seen this before, only for the clouds to pass over, soaking farms to the north, the south, the east and west, leaving them with nothing but the sound of a handful of stones.
The clouds are almost motionless, but Ian concentrates and detects them drifting slowly towards them. That’s good, but there’s no tell-tale curtain of rain on the horizon. He knows if it’s going to come, the clouds have to burst right on top of them.
Another raft of drops scatter across the tin roof. Stuttering, holding out longer this time, before the oppressive silence returns.
The clouds are getting lighter in the east, Ian tells himself it’s just a little, but doesn’t believe his own verdict. ‘No, no, no.’
If Shirley were on the verandah, she’d say the clouds were so low she could almost touch them, but Ian doesn’t say things like that. And neither does their son.
Ian lights his pipe, takes a long draw and lets it go, lets it all go, then looks up to the sky.
‘You spiteful, malicious, deceitful little ■■■■■-■■■■■.’
A thundercrack shakes the house and makes the lights flicker. The skies open, emptying itself onto the house, the field, the dam, the sheep, the farm.
The rains are here.
It rains all night and most of the next day. By late afternoon the sky is spent, and Mr. and Mrs. Mears sit out on the verandah, her hand in his on the cast iron latticed table, sipping tea.
‘It was a close thing, Shirley.’
‘Don’t talk nonsense, Ian. We’d have pulled through.’
‘Not this time. The bank won’t lend us another cent. We couldn’t afford the water or the feed. If we didn’t get that rain…’
‘But we did. A little more would be nice, a bit later on.’
Ian didn’t comment. The skies would do what they would do, there was no use hoping. What they had would keep them going for now.
He looked out to the east.
‘The Coopers didn’t get a drop. Not one drop.’
‘God bless ‘em.’
‘They won’t see the year out. If we do okay this season, we should make them an offer. No-one else will.’
‘I don’t know darl’, it seems a bit… vampirish.’
‘You’d rather the bank sell them up? If it had been us instead of them, and I’m telling you Shirl, it could have been, I’d take a cheque from the Coopers in a second. We won’t be able to give them what it’s worth, but it’ll be something. They’ll probably be glad to get off the farm anyway.’
Shirley looked at him as if he’d slapped her.
‘You don’t mean that. That family’s been out here as long as ours have. Longer.’
She was right. He knew it would be heart-breaking for them. All that time on the land, and the last ten years hard work for nothing, nothing but debt.
‘They’ll still take the offer.’
They sit in silence, watching the sun paint the land in reds and oranges. Something catches Shirley’s eye, and she points out to the west. Two silhouettes against a red background, a couple of kangaroos, crouching over to feed.
‘Lucky bastards. They must have found the last bit of vegetation for twenty miles.’
The animals stand up, the striking image touching something inside both of them, perhaps it’s knowing that of all the people in the world, right now, they are the only ones seeing anything like this.
The kangaroos, still shadows but unmistakable even so, bound off toward the horizon.
Mrs. Mears smiles and finishes her tea.
The early season went well for the Mears. The following rains were light, but after the initial good soak, enough to keep them going. For those who missed out the first time, which was almost everyone, what fell later was ‘■■■■■■ useless’.
The family drove the forty minutes to town. They had errands to run. Shirley needed to restock on groceries and gossip, while Chooka had to register for the next term at the Catholic school. After years of home-schooling, his mother put her foot down, insisting he start his proper education before he turned ten.
Ian had a small issue he wanted to discuss with his local member.