Instead of turning left towards town, Jesse turned his car right, driving into the setting sun. After a few minutes he left the bitumen and headed down the narrow road — more a track, really — that would take him to the gravel pit.
Decades ago, before he was born, the place had been quarried for road-making material then abandoned, leaving a big hole in the ground guarded on three sides by steep banks. The fourth side opened to the track that wandered through the bush to peter out when it came to a dry creek bed. If there had ever been a bridge there, it was long gone, eaten by termites or simply carried away in some long-forgotten flood.
The area was part of a council reserve, and the native white- and red-gums, casuarinas and jam trees had been left to grow unchecked. Now their canopies reached over the hollow, making it a very private place. Among the scant grass the ground was littered with cigarette packets, stained filter-tips, empty bottles, cans and food containers, and a scattering of desiccated condoms.
Jesse parked the Monaro in his usual spot under an old whitegum and relaxed. She wouldn’t be long. He nudged the lid off the esky on the back seat and extracted a Coopers, frosted with condensation. He gave it a shake and screwed the cap off. God, it tasted good. His stomach gave a great rumble. He was starving. Lunch had been a couple of salad sangers, nowhere near enough to see him through till dinner at Mum’s, later. He drank more beer, then reached over to the back seat again to extract a plastic-wrapped package from the esky. She wouldn’t mind if he had one of her bickies to keep him going. They were the only food in the car and he was a million miles from any shop.
A clamour of crows was jostling among the branches of the big whitegum, black shapes ragged against the tracery of foliage. In the stillness small scurryings among the undergrowth signalled the presence of creatures busy about their mysterious lives. A rosella’s call rang around the clearing like a crystal bell. Ants were hurrying home to their nest under a shallow dome of gravel. Little birds flitted, settling for the night. Although the sky still held a hint of daylight, the hollow was a deep pool of shadow.
He sighed, stretched, took a long draught of the Cooper’s and bit into the biscuit. She wouldn’t be long.
Something pale flitted silently by. An owl, maybe. In the tree overhead the crows scrambled and fought, making a hell of a noise. Hateful birds. When he was a little kid his Dad had shown him a newborn lamb, still alive, with its eyes pecked out by one of the black bastards. Its small, tremulous cry had broken his heart. Dad had knocked it on the head, and he’d watched it twitch and die.
Sometimes she was held up, and she’d be full of apologies for keeping him waiting. Not that it mattered. He wasn’t in any hurry.
He thought about the way it had all started, with him still a kid in school. The first time he’d seen her he’d been struck by her face, luminous with knowledge. Luminous. He liked that word. She’d made things come alive for him in a way that way no-one else ever had, and he’d fallen for her, hard. It had been amazing. An amazing journey. Didn’t they say that? A journey, from boy to man. And it was still going. She’d taught him such a lot. What women liked. What they didn’t like.
Jesse stretched, pushing his feet against the floor and flexing his triceps. Footy tomorrow, game against the Raiders, the bastards. A few beers after, chicks crowding round, specially if they won. Bound to win. The Raiders’ full forward might be an animal, but he was slow on his feet. In his head Jesse rehearsed his moves, dodging the length of the pitch, snapping a goal that soared past their defence. He smiled.
Trouble with living out here on the job all week, he missed training. Didn’t seem to matter, though. Still managed to keep up. He yawned, sipped more beer, finished the biscuit. It was an Anzac, like the ones his Mum made, full of the goodness of oats, golden syrup and butter. This one wasn’t the same as Mum’s, though — he chewed the last of it thoughtfully — some other taste there, couldn’t put his finger on it. Still, it tasted pretty good. He leaned over and took another from the package. She wouldn’t mind. He’d get more for her next week. He liked to do things for her. Little things, like taking the trouble to get the drink she liked. Two bottles of the horrible Russki Red were in the cooler with his Coopers, waiting for her.
Funny, his mouth felt a bit dry. He opened another beer and swilled it over his tongue. The crows had quietened down, hardly a peep out of them.
He heard the sound of her Peugeot creeping along the gravel track, slowing to make the turn. As she pulled into the hollow he got out of the Monaro and stood waiting for her. It was starting to rain, a fine misty moistness, cold on his skin. As she parked he went over, and when she got out of the Peugeot he drew her into his arms to give her a welcoming hug.
‘Hello, you,’ he murmured into her hair.