A storm to blow it out

by Stephanie on March 11, 2009

It’s easy to get lost on country roads at night. After awhile, the red dots and white lines blur together. You talk to yourself, you drive too fast. The only thing between 100km/h and 130km/h is a hair in your mouth.

The last time I drove these roads was a month ago, on a warm Friday night when the sky was clear and the air was thick with insects. The high beams glanced off the ferns and the bark curled in ribbons down the trunks of ancient gums. Even in the night-time, the forest felt alive—whispering and laughing as the car sped through it. Tiny prickles of excitement ran up and down my arms. Bursting out of the heart of the concrete city and straight into the hills, the heady scent of earth and undergrowth was almost overpowering. Bush magic.

At some point the following day, I got caught on the edge of someone else’s story. Four days ago, when I drove through Toolangi, it got stuck in my throat again—a choked moment. It’s not my story; it’s not this story. It’s the corner of another story, an edge protruding from the mess that I scraped up against, that bent February out of shape.

Sometimes, when I’m driving alone down long stretches of empty road, when the moon is bright, the windows are open and the trees arch overhead, I switch off the headlights. It only takes a few seconds—just long enough for the dark to flood in, for my pupils to dilate, for the grey shadows to thicken and spread out into branches and hills as I speed by; just long enough to feel the leap in my chest, to take a sharp breath—for my senses to shift out of neutral. The adrenaline rush is like a reset button. Start again—now.

When I arrived at our property on Saturday night, there was a ring around the moon. Here, two years on, the black scales scarring the trees are wearing veils of green. I spent two days listening to my parents’ vinyl, wrestling with the dogs, studying the Malak Malak native title claim, watching the light dance across the kitchen table and sleeping for nine hours a night. I drove the tractor. I dug rocks out of the earth. I took the corner too sharply on the dirt bike and slid three metres face-first into the dust. A lizard scampered over my jeans. On Monday evening, Jethro-dog and I sat on a rock on the ridge behind the house and looked down into the forest, and I thought, if perpetually bruised shins are the highest price I pay for living this close to the edge of the world, then here they are and welcome! Perhaps that split-second glimpse into the red eye of the February dragon was enough to stop me stumbling sideways and pull the blindfold off. Perhaps I was never really wearing one. The fact is this: that for the first time since I can remember, I’m alone in the world and I feel alone, and I’ve never been so happy.

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