You readers must think that I’m stupid. In retrospect I probably would have thought so too. I mean... well... a thirty-something long-haired brunette (who’d married her high school sweetheart and graduated to be a punching bag for her husband and his redneck family) and relocated to Australia on the strength of a couple of months of Messenger with someone she’d met through a vanilla chat room.
I’d been terrified of my husband’s violent rages so I’d made sure that there was nothing on any computer at either home or work where he might stumble on my alternate reality and I’d kept everything that had transpired between Canada and Australia in my Yahoo briefcase.
It got so that I spent a lot of time in Internet Cafes and libraries getting my almost daily fixes from Down Under until Roger finally got tired of propping me up.
"Give us a ring when you’re here and unpacked," he’d typed once, "That’s if you’re bloody dinkum about coming to Aus," and then had given me his mobile.
It took several more beltings and a trip to an emergency room for me to finally accept the reality that there was more to life than being a punching bag for a lumberjack and to realize that I’d never be safe if I stayed in Canada even when my divorce was finalized. The decision to leave was inevitable and I was lucky that my occupation got me a preferred visa so I could work in Australia.
We lived in his mom’s house and had few possessions of our own, just my old auto and his expensive SUV. So I drew half the money out of our joint savings account, I figured that that was fair since I’d put most of it in anyway out of my wages and bought my tickets.
It was really stupid, burning my bridges like that. I mean I didn’t know anyone Down Under except Roger and I didn’t really know him.
When I got on the Skywest aircraft in Calgary on Monday afternoon, deplaning in at San Francisco with five hours to wait before boarding United 863 in the middle of a snowstorm.bound for Sydney Australia. I’d been in the air for seventeen plus hours by the time I saw the coat hanger and Sydney’s beautiful harbor in the dazzling early morning light. Jet lagged, stiff and smelly, I must have been losing it at Customs. "Are you here for business or pleasure?"
"Domination if I’m lucky."
"I’ll put that down as pleasure. OK?"
A couple of hours staring blankly up at the ‘Southern Cross’ while I waited for my Adelaide flight before I realized that I could ring Roger.
"It’s your bloody zac," he’d said.
I told him that I’d be in Adelaide around midday. He told me to get the shuttle into the city, book into the Hilton on Hindley and to get some sleep.
"We’ll meet up for lunch tomorrow and knock some of the sharp corners off."
I really was going to have to get a McQuarie if I was going to understand him. There was a very detailed message delivered to my room with my breakfast tray on Wednesday morning.
The instructions were on Hilton on Hindley stationary, when I handed in my key on the way to lunch the girl on the desk told me that she’d taken the call yesterday. I was surprised and pleased when she said that Roger asked her to ring him back to confirm his phone number and told her to make a note of the message in the desk’s day log. I felt safe. OK, maybe I didn’t really know him; but he’d gone to a lot of trouble to let me know that people knew where I was going to go, who I was going to meet and when I could be expected to return to the hotel.
When I awoke, I turned to look at Roger, who last night had made love to me with the enthusiasm of a young lover setting out to discover a marvelous, unexplored land. But he’d already left the king-size bed. Nude, I walked out through the sliding glass door onto the patio to where he sat fondling Asta and sipping his morning cuppa.
"You’re still on holidays, right?" he asked with a wiry grin, probably because of the ungodly hour in the pre-dawn. Well, I’d assumed it must have been morning even though the sky was pink and the birds were making a mind-numbing racket. "I’d planned to spend a couple of days in the Bungle Bungles this week but it turns out Old Norm Batten needs a hand on the blower from Sunday so... you wannu go noodle?"
"Yep," I got out, thinking Bungle Bungles, the blower, noodling?
"Give your mate back home a call and tell her that she can contact you via the Coober Pedy cop shop anytime after Sunday her time. Then chuck your swag in the back of the Statesman. I’d like to shove off before it gets too bloody light. K?"
Well, if swag meant luggage then I had my handbag containing essentials (and a pair of clean knickers) and the clothes from yesterday neatly folded on the dressing table.
"I can’t possibly go," I cried. "I haven’t even got a change of clothes, let alone any of the other things that I’d need."
"Stuff that bullshit," he’d said. "We’re gunna be scratching in the dirt like a bloody wombat, it ain’t like you’ll be in a bloody fashion show. Once you see your first taste of color you’ll be like a bloody wombat too. Y’know what a wombat does right? They eat roots, shoots and leaves. That’s what I’m going to do p d q. None of the clothes that you could have bought from the States would stand up a coupleadays in the dugout so dig out some King Gees from that drawer and more your bloody arse," he’d roared.
I was glad he pointed out which drawer because I’d never have guessed that its tire-worn frayed and faded contents were something that still might be worn.
A quick shower, too big shorts held up with a short shank of rope, a too big shirt (sans sleeves or buttons) worn with its tails knotted under my breasts, bare footed and with my long hair pulled back into a ponytail and I was as ready as I’d ever be to slide into the Statesman’s comfortable leather. Definitely not chic.
Two hours later he pointed left and said, "That little chimney is the old BHAS stack at Port Pirie. We’ll turn right up the road a bit then we’ll kick the dog off the tucker box at Glendambo. It’s only two hours to Coober from there."
He’d vaguely pointed east once and said, "Adnyamathanha dreaming over there, oldest fossils in the world. They’re late Precambrian, and were named after the Ediacara Hills where they were found in the late forties."
"Y’know a bloke gouged out a complete opalised dinosaur skeleton at Coober a couple of years ago." Then he’d casually said, "Don’t like the name Annabel, from here on in you’re Annie. K?"
The headlights washed over red dirt and a sandstone escarpment, finally turning off the track into a scrap metal dump.
"Old Norm’s hit the swag early," he whispered. "Better wake the old bastard. When he’s pissed he usually lets go with the bloody twelve gauge if he thinks some one’s sticking their bloody nose in his dump."
With that he threw a length of galvanized water pipe full force at the corrugated verandah above the screen door and pulled me to the ground with him as he dropped behind the Statesman. A second later, before the shotgun’s blast had ceased echoing in my ears, flood lights lit up what could have been a set for Mad Max.
"That your bit you fucking bastard or did you the tart the one you fucking owe me?"
I was terrified. Out in the middle of nowhere with Roger and this wild man yelling angrily at each other while the wild man waved a double barreled shotgun around.
"Nah, come up to dig you outa the shit n pick sum tears you prick. Let’s get in the bloody hole and crack a couple," he told Norm as he draped his arm over my shoulders and ushered me into the very modern and spacious kitchen of the dugout.
Three days of toil and dust followed with either Norm or Roger underground and me fossicking around in mullock heaps madly licking bits of rock looking for colour. They both told me off if they thought I was heading too far into the mulga, wasn’t drinking enough water or let the disgusting hat Roger had made me wear hang on its string.
"Better hit the swag sweetheart," I was told as we sat under an unbelievably star-studded velvet sky, "Got to pull the traps early and you’re driving K?"
On the long drive back Roger told me that they’d picked out a couple of bits of black and that Norm was going to make some jewelry for me out of the stone I’d noodled. "I reckon we’ll cover the cost of the trip easy, might even make a bob," he opined sleepily as he directed me through Port Augusta.
"Oh, talked to Lewis last night. He said there’s an opening on the same rota as Angie that you can have on trial for a couple of weeks. If you like working there you’ll be able to negotiate conditions etc when you discuss things later."
I was flummoxed, she’d only ever seen me naked, bound and gagged and I was going to work with her. He just casually carried me off to the middle of nowhere, had me scratching around in the dust and dirt dressed in rags, and then off-handedly told me I was going to work in a pharmacy. What could I say but, "Thank you Roger."
"He said that your junk is at my place, thought you wouldn’t want to sling out for five star if you didn’t have to."
"That was considerate of Lewis wasn’t it? I’ll have to thank him when I’m introduced."
The bastard just yawned, slumped back in his seat and started, albeit quietly, to snore.
Angie was anxiously waiting at the gate when I parked outside of his house. But that’s another story.