Sat, March 02, 3.15pm.
Clear sky, 41ºC.
Today the water restrictions went up to level six, and to mark the day I bought a rain gauge. I was in True Value and they had a stack of them sitting there. It seemed so stupid that I wanted to buy one. So I spent about half an hour in the front yard with the tube, banging the star post a few cm into the ground, over and over, until I found a spot with no rocks. It was a scorcher today. The banging left my head ringing, and Janette gave me a look as she left her car and walked up her driveway. Then when I got inside, I had to keep the shower under two minutes. But I like the idea of being the only person on the street (probably the whole town) with a rain gauge out the front. People will walk past and wonder what kind of mental patient lives here. And all you can really do is laugh.
Thurs, March 21, 9am.
Clear sky, 24ºC.
Lester’s a funny boy, he's sly like his Mum was. He gets upset if he can't come to see Elise off to school, but getting him out of bed is like moving a stump. I started telling him we were leaving at 8:00, so he'd be ready at 8:20, but I think he caught on, because saying 8:00 would get him moving at 8:15. Last Tuesday I started telling him school was starting earlier, and we needed to leave at 7:50, which worked for a few days. Today I told him 7:35. It's like an arms race. A boy his age probably shouldn't even be able to tell time.
Sun, April 07, 2pm.
Isolated cirrocumulus undulatus, 35ºC.
I went to the lookout with George last night. He said he was going out to take some photos, and I remembered that I hadn't been up there since the tour, the week before Elise was born. I couldn't tell if he minded that I was coming, it was awkwardly silent during the drive up the mountain. But maybe he was just concentrating on driving. Either way, it's amazing, as if the mountain was planned out for the view. There was a full moon, so I could see to the bottom of the pit, and miles of flat land in every direction. The spiral road down the pit makes it look like the imprint of a seashell, pushed into the dirt with God's thumb. You can imagine the mountain being picked up with a spatula and flipped into it, making perfectly flat land again. But the pit is probably nowhere near deep enough.
I realised that the piles of excavated dirt are arranged in a gigantic circle (you can't tell from up close), and they're sitting right between the pit and the outskirts of town, so the street lights make a kind of stop-light out of the three big circles. Or they would if they were red instead of dirty yellow.
As he was packing up the tripod, George said I should take a look from the opposite side. From there I could just see the original mines. Much smaller than the main pit, they were just visible in the moonlight. It's a bit of a shambles there. Oddly-shaped holes scattered around, with a few halfway-collapsed buildings in between. When George had put the gear away he came over, leaned on the railing, and started telling me some of the history of the place. His father had come out with the first wave of geologists and miners, in a convoy of trucks with a tanker full of water. He pointed out which building was the dining hall and which ones were the workers' rooms. I wasn't very interested, but it seemed like George really wanted to tell me the story, so I nodded and looked where he pointed. I think George really likes the idea of a rough life, just doing your job like one of God's soldiers. And I suppose I can see why, but mostly I just wonder why we’re all here at all. That is, why can't the ore be somewhere that's home to more than just lizards? It's the foundation of the modern world, but for some reason we need to be in the land that God hates, with soil like rust scrapings and no trees or rain or life. And it makes me wonder how specific God's plan is, when people need to be stuck out in the sun like this. But George seems to like it.
Fri, June 07, 11pm.
Clear sky, 14ºC.
Had a good couple of days, no real reason. I think most of the good days & bad days don't have a reason, it's just some switch deep in the brain that might be set to “good” when you wake up, and until you go to sleep it doesn't seem possible that life isn't essentially enjoyable and fair. On the good days, I don't mind it here. The heat is nobody's fault and I can say things like, “Hardly anybody sees this many stars at night.” On the bad days it just seems unfair that the car is constantly covered in dust, and most months I can't wear a blazer for more than ten minutes. On good days I can handle it, but the bad days seem to be more common, and I don't know whether the good-minded or bad-minded me is closer to how I actually am and feel. It doesn't seem impossible that I'm two people who share a brain and take turns at the controls.
I was talking to Susan on the phone this morning. She sounded pleased. She said that she finally has the house to herself (wouldn't say exactly why), and she went on about how she's still never seen Lester, how big Elise must be getting, and how we should come see her soon. For the past four years I've completely avoided going anywhere, because I'm afraid that I might just crack if I see more than a patch of green grass, but she still knows exactly how to twist my arm. I made some excuses, then fretted around the house for 40 minutes before I caved and sent her a text. We're going in two weeks.
Wed, June 12, 11.30pm.
Type 3 noctilucent (!) clouds, 10ºC.
I went to George's for dinner, after feeding the kids and reading to them a bit, then waiting long enough to be sure that they were asleep. I locked the doors and was worried & feeling a bit guilty about leaving them alone in the house, but I did it anyway. I bought two six-packs and drove to George's place, he was spooning out a stew as I came through the door. I think he felt a bit uncomfortable about how domestic we would have looked if an audience had been watching, and he went out the back, saying that he needed to unchain the dogs. He's only funny when he doesn't realise it.
We sat on the couch and ate dinner, not talking very much. I wanted to ask him a question, but he eats like it takes all the concentration in the world, and if he's interrupted, he stops mid-bite like there's a snake in his shirt, which was only funny the first dozen (or so) times. I wanted to ask him if he was happy living here, because I don't know that I am. Well, no, I'm sure that I'm not. Even though he doesn't seem like the kind of person who really cares where he is, because life to him is more like fulfilling a kind of duty, I asked him because I hoped that he would ask me in return. But he seemed to think it was a pretty trivial question, and in an offhand kind of way he said, “I've got things here that I couldn't afford anywhere else.” He waved his arm towards the sliding doors, saying, “I mean, I've got all this, dead cheap. In the city I couldn't afford enough space to put a postage stamp.” The floodlight was on in the back yard, casting a bright oval on the orange dust, with Jeffrey's arse and tail just visible on the left-hand edge of it, too dark to see his head, and I almost said, “All of what?” But he didn't ask me anything.
Mon, June 23, 10.20am.
Clear sky, 25ºC.
The weekend at Susan's was strange. I was as excited as I can remember ever being, driving there on Friday afternoon. Mr. K. let me off at 2pm so we could get there in the light. Elise and Lester went straight to sleep and I was bouncing in my seat, as happy as Larry to get away for the weekend. I had that weird lightness in the chest, the feeling of tiny rapid-fire punches to the inside of my sternum, like the first time holding hands with a girl, or hearing Mum & Dad fighting in the next room. I was pressing my chin to the steering wheel, looking up at the clouds, a patchy blanket of cumulus mediocris. It felt like God had woken up.
The clouds just got thicker as we went into the city and back out the other side, opening out into the suburbs. The kids woke up when we were halfway across the bridge, and they were stunned silent by all the water in the bay. They had their noses pressed up against the windows, and they just stared at the buildings and the water, until the inevitable squabbling started after about 20 minutes. So when we got to Susan's, she was giving me a look that said, “you poor thing”, but I hadn't felt better in weeks.
Susan is doing well, it seems. Rick's stuff is finally gone, and she looks less like she's carrying stones in her shoes now. But maybe she was just happy to have the kids around. On Saturday we went to the zoo, the showgrounds, all the old holiday stuff. The kids seemed to be in constant shock, as if maybe they'd arrived on Neptune. And it rained that night! For about 45 minutes I sat under the eaves out the back, listening to the papery sounds of the cars on the wet road and watching the leaves on the rose bushes getting hit by the huge droplets and nodding up and down. But my shoes got soaked, so I went inside, grinning.
The kids were curled up in the corner of the big couch, burrowed in there, like two little dogs in the winter. Elise had her arm around Lester's head, and they were staring wide-eyed out the windows at the rain. When they saw me come through the door, their heads snapped around to stare at me, and they looked confused and frightened, and Elise whined at me, “Dad, what is it? I don't like it!” She said it as if the world obviously hadn't realised how she felt, and she was setting things straight. She was nearly shouting, and for a second I was so angry I could have spat. There was just something in the way she looked at me, indignant but afraid, that I wanted to shout and break things and tell her how little she understood about anything. I felt like she and I had absolutely nothing in common, and we were from entirely different worlds. It's terrible to think that that just might be true. But I hid it behind a blank face, went over and pulled the blinds closed, sat between them, put my hands around their heads, and turned on the TV. Spongebob was the only thing on.
They slept right through the rain that night, as it got heavier and heavier. I tried my best to stay awake, but I fell asleep at about 2am, then when I woke up to clear sky I was pissed off at how much of it I had missed. Susan was fussing over the kids, making them every little thing they could think of for breakfast (piping pancakes into animal shapes and everything), then we drove out around noon. As we drove on, the grass got thinner and browner, and I kept holding out hope that it was only a dry patch, and it would come good again in a little while, but mostly it didn't. For a while I could see the green mountains in the mirror, slowly getting shorter above the horizon, and in front of me there was nothing but blue sky. Huge and empty and dwarfing everything, looking like... just a big open space with nothing in it, and a perfectly flat horizon so God can see us from every direction, and running feels just like standing still.
Tues, July 02, 1pm.
Clear sky, 27ºC.
I was Skyping with Les and I finally asked him about why inhospitable lands should exist, and he just gave a huge sigh. Talking to him often makes me feel like a little kid in the kitchen with Mum, constantly saying, “But why? Why? Why?”, and I'm sure he gets sick of it. It's not his job to spend half an hour giving me a massage. And really, I don't get any straight answers out of him. I want him to tell me what he thinks, but he's always switched on, representing the church, telling me what's been told to him. And when he's about to say something, I can see for a second he knows exactly what he wants to say, then he shakes that feeling and puts on the serene face, and he says what he's supposed to. I wouldn't want to count the hours I must have spent looking at his shiny forehead while he looks down at my face on the screen and says what he probably knows isn't what I want to hear from him. It pisses me off, and I want to shout into the camera and tell him how sick I am of hearing this, how I could get the same answers from a million other priests, how there's nothing special about those answers, how he could tell me what he really thinks and that would be a million times more helpful to me, because he knows me and the pope doesn't even know I exist, but I would just feel bad and apologise later, and he knows it.
It's just that I'm nothing like Job, and I think God wouldn't test me with something as boring as clear skies, and if I hear the phrase “mysterious ways” one more time, I might scream.
Wed, July 24, 1.25am.
Clear sky, 12ºC.
So today I decided that I've had enough, or I suppose I realised that having had enough doesn't mean anything if you don't do anything about it, so I’m leaving. I'll take the kids, pack up the house, leave a note on Mr. K's desk, say goodbye to George, and drive off. I know Lester will cry, and fitting everything into the trailer will be a nightmare, and it'll all be too much and I'll change my mind, but I can ignore that. I've already ignored how I feel about this place for long enough, just taking one long breath each night and holding it in through the day. Honestly, I can't think of a decent reason why we've stayed here for seven years. The first two were excusable, but beyond that, I guess I was just going along with things. And I guess it's pretty easy to take things one day at a time, if you just focus on the clockwork. Each day is tolerable, strictly speaking, no matter what happens. But when I look up from what I'm doing in the here-and-now, and see the months & years stretching out in front of me, with every day just like today, it's a horror show. Well, maybe horror is the wrong word – it's not frightening, or even depressing, it just gives me a cold feeling that I'm wasting away for no good reason. It’s a bit like the feeling of thinking about being dead, and maybe there's no God or maybe I won't be in heaven, and rather than imagining it as a nice sleep, it's more nothing than anything else could possibly be, and there's the cold feeling. Or like a dead animal's face, not sad or pained, just nothing at all. I don't know. Ignoring it is the usual strategy, and that's what got me here. I spent all this time dealing with the problem, and now it's pretty obvious that there doesn't need to be one at all.
Anyway, I think now is the time, if there ever was one. It's the school holidays, so Elise can start fresh in a few weeks, no problem. She'll hate me for that. I hated changing schools. But if I wait until she finishes primary school, then Lester will be in year three, and when he's finished, she'll be halfway through high school. Just thinking about it gives me that feeling again. Kids can adapt, Elise makes friends in a heartbeat. She won't forgive me, but kids forget, which is the next best thing. And I could say I'm worried that if they ever get sick, there's no paediatrician within four hundred kilometres, but that's not really what bothers me, I'm ashamed to admit.
I don't know if they'll miss the place, it almost seems ridiculous that anyone would. But I know I'm being essentially selfish here, and it doesn't even feel right to ask God to forgive me for that, because I can still turn back, but I won’t.
Lester probably won't even remember it here, when he's older. Truthfully, I hope he doesn't.
I wrote this for a university short story competition, but it didn't do very well and wasn't ranked.