Dust

2021
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This is an excerpt from another book I'm working on. It's centred on my experiences growing up during a tumultuous time in rural Australia. This piece tries to capture the struggle and futility of living and working in the harsh conditions — the landscape itself a significant character in the book.

 

He scratches away at the film on his boots, watching as a grasshopper fidgets on the soil. He kicks at it, showering it in red dust. He paws at the oil-thick sweat on his brow, wincing; his hands stiffened from too much work. It is hot, oppressively so. Batting away at the flies, he gazes out over the crimson expanse of dirt and death, regarding the ailing trees, creaking under the sun’s relentlessness. Beyond the rolling waves of red, an engine coughs twice before dying. Nothing lives here it seems. Not in this heat. Not now.

He gets to his feet, his knees moaning in protest and reaches for a bottle of water half submerged in soil. Nearly empty, he tips what’s left into his mouth, the warm liquid washing away the drought in his mouth. He checks his watch. 11.30 am. Almost knock off time. A lone crow caws overhead, black and shining, scouring the savage land for a meal. He follows its effortless gliding, watching it dip and rise on the currents. He wishes he could fly, wishes he could take off and escape the arid sore he lives in. Away from the dust, from work, from everything. Everyone. He checks his watch again. 11.32 am. This will be a long half hour. 

He has spent many days out here, living, working, surviving. He is attuned to the mournful chorus of summer. It is a fierce and familiar refrain, flecked with the violent whisper of the northerly wind as it whips the landscape, the slow splutter of life being choked away by the menacing sun above and the turgid song of a million crows, feasting on the remains of the day. Here, in this place, summer isn’t the sound of calypso drums or fun-filled days on the beach. Nor is it rich with laughter or the fshhhkkk-like crispness of a Coca-Cola can being opened. No, here, in this place, summer’s song is far more sinister. 

He looks up at the sky, his aching hands shielding his eyes. The crow is gone, taking its familiar dirge with it. The only life here is his. He sighs. He is hungry, tired. Today is the hottest day yet. He can feel it burning him from the ground up, filtering through the rubber soles of his boots. He checks the watch a third time. 11.41 am. He wonders whether it is worth waiting. Will anyone even notice? What’s twenty minutes on a day like today? It’s not like he will do anymore work. Not today. He has other things to do. A promise he has to keep. 

A quick look around confirms his thoughts; the others have already left. He hangs his head, beaten by the morning’s fury, and begins the solemn kilometre-long trek to his car.

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