Outside the farm that I know well, the pony lost a shoe. I went through the gate, tethered the pony and walked into the shade of the farmhouse. Dank sticky fly paper hung clotted in the sunlight by the windows. Through the door, Tom was eating a roast dinner, eating it with his sheath knife. The blade was worn away, its handle yellowed, greasy; all that was left was a backbone, and Tom talked as he ate.
"Wassamadder? Lost a shoe, ave yer? Gotter be careful, these days, you have; more precious 'n a baby," he looked at the bottle. "Dick said ter me, Tommy boy, he said, we've gotter be careful. More precious 'n a baby, Tommy boy, Dick said." With him gesticulating, eating, I took in his red face, the half-empty carton of beer bottles on the floor; perhaps it would be better to be going.
"Tom," I said, "can I leave the pony here and go up the hill? I want to get a sample of fern for a friend."
"Fern? Wassa matter? Didn't forget that game of poker, did yer? Eh? More precious 'n a baby, Dick said ter me, he said -"
"Goodbye," I said; and went outside.
The heat was shimmering over the grass; the dogs were lying in the stream; the pony was making the most of a small patch of shade. The heat was hovering as I climbed the hill, wishing I had brought a hat, but the morning had not seemed so hot. The clay track crumbled, burnt orange and yellow and charred manuka ends; it rose and fell, rose and fell as I climbed: soon the summit, and no respite from the sun.
The light was streaking the ground with red and black, golden brown, peculiar shades; I wondered what soil formation could have caused them. Sunlight was glinting, black and white, fireworks in the dark; a Roman candle, a Catherine wheel, a white magnesium flare. I stumbled, sat, looked round: and saw her.
She was wearing a filthy sack, matted with stale food, earth, fish. Slung over her back with the traps were several dead opossums, almost finished bleeding and swinging knotted with her black hair. I said "hello." She seemed surprised. I asked her how long she had been living on the hills, trapping opossums; she said, forty years. And that had not been all her life, she said. Once she had been -page 28
I looked at her eyes. Looking at people's eyes one can sometimes experience feelings and knowledge about the person concerned; now, I looked at her eyes and saw -
I jumped up, black and yellow sunflowers dotting the stubble; now I ran, down, winding, away, away, faster and faster down the track; down, down, down to reality: down to the ground; I fell, I clutched at the ground, I grabbed myself - and knew that it was myself; not that projection, that future self on top of the hill.
And there Tom was, leaning on the gatepost. "'Bout time you got back," he said. "The pony's been kicking up such a shindy, wondered what had happened to yer. Bit hot to go picking liddle bits of fern, isn't it?"
"It's a hot day," I said, and went to the pony.