When the Walking’s Done
by Mary Scott
The outback never ends. Frank’s seen nothing but orange and brown for hours now. Burned colours. Enough to drive a man mad. Walk, walk. Feet swelled up like melons in their rags. Stomach a gaping maw. This morning they ate damper made with flour and water, but now it’s giving him the shits.
Day before last they shot a koala, stuck it on a spit to cook. The meat was tough, blackened, sour. Captain George says it’s what the critters eat, something poisonous in them silvery leaves, but George says a lot of things. His chest’s fair puffed out since he fashioned himself leader. Only one of them who knows how to cock a pistol, so seemed natural. If he knew how to get a horse, though; that would be more use. What’s a bushranger on two legs? No match for a ‘roo, that’s what.
Frank’s mouth is too dry to spit, but he hacks anyway. They should reach Gundagai by nightfall. Little trading station in the middle of nothing, got a bank and stables and all. Waitin’ for us like a fattened lamb, George says. We’ll make a good life, boys, a real good ‘un. Frank thinks he’ll take any sort of life right now, so long as it gets him out of this heat. The nights bite bitter, but at least moonlight don’t scorch you. And least he and Gus, youngest in the gang, can huddle together like pups for warmth.
Gus is a mate. Barely fifteen, raised in the same Melbourne whorehouse he was sired in. Whines like a kicked dog when he dreams in the night. Then Frank gathers him close, creddles his head and rocks. I got you, he says, I got you. Never had nothing to have and hold before. It’s all right.
Can’t reach Gundagai too soon, stuff hot grub in their bellies. Let their feet heal up, sleep sound enough to dream. Dream of the islands Captain George boasts of, maybe, the ones in Java he sailed through as a boy. Sea clear as diamonds, he says.
Frank’s never seen a diamond, but he can picture it perfect; hard as flint and smooth as starlight. One day when the walking’s done, he and Gus’ll go there. Swim in the blue salt with them fishes. Gonna be better than here, boy, better than anywhere we’ve been. Close your eyes against the sun, so it’s just a circle on the black. See? There’s the island, just like he said. There’s the promised pearl.
Mary Scott is a British writer based in Cambridge. She is currently undertaking a Masters in Queer History, and spends her spare time reading, raising succulents and drinking coffee. Her work has been published in Synaesthesia Magazine and is forthcoming in Syntax & Salt.
Photograph of Bennett’s Gorge, Gundabooka National Park, New South Wales, Australia by Ben Cordia, via Wikimedia Commons.