Sport 39: 2011
In the shiny supermarket Fia and Lisa collected a small basket of avocados, packet macaroni cheese and chippies. Country and western songs wafted down the aisles. The lino was cool on the soles of their bare feet.
The checkout girl had a tight ponytail and didn’t alter her bored facial expression when she told Lisa, ‘Your money card’s declined.’
‘Try mine,’ Fia said handing it over with little faith.
‘Declined too,’ the girl said smiling.
Fia blushed and glanced, shamefaced, at the woman behind them in the queue. Once this had had the effect of a stranger offering to pay for their groceries but the woman looked away clutching a dog roll to her chest. So Fia and Lisa left empty handed.
Charlene the station wagon’s tank only had enough gas for an hour’s driving so they chose to camp at a national park closer than the supposedly spectacular one they’d been heading towards.
‘I hope it’s nice, Lisa said, watching the town streets of brick one storey houses and obsessively neat hedges turn into fields of bright green sugar cane.
‘We’re stranded there until pay day whatever it’s like,’ Fia told her. ‘The pamphlet says it’s got a good swimming hole.’
The white lines on the road wavered in the heat.
It was midmorning when they arrived and the place was completely empty even though it was pretty and the ground felt soft and perfect for slotting tent pegs into. Each site’s boundary was marked by a border of spiky tussock. The site they chose had a picnic table. They put their tents up in the shade of dusty trees careful to avoid being beneath any large branches that could spontaneously crack and fall during the night.
They slowly followed the short track to the river, their jandals making a satisfying flicking sound with each step. From the surfacepage 218 the water was impenetrably dark but once they dove in they could see the whole way down to the murky floor littered with tree branches tangled and piled like pick-up sticks.
On the second day birds didn’t sing and only a few insects flew until the sun set and thankfully the day cooled. For dinner Lisa ripped open a box of dried falafel mix and cooked the yellowish patties as sweat dribbled down her back. She sliced a capsicum into neat thin strips and broke the last corn thins into pieces. They ate while reading the names, dates and messages etched into the table. ‘Smoke till you croak’ said one. Absentmindedly they waved the flies away from the corners of their eyes and mouth.
On the third day they collected a large bucket of river water. It slopped over the edge as they took turns to carry it back. Stripping down to their tog bottoms they washed with honeysuckle scented soap until their skin shone. Lisa’s hair had been in two plaits for weeks. Reminding herself that hair grew back she cut them off. Free from her head they were ugly with leaves and grains of sand pressed in. Using her hands she dug a hole in the soft ground and dropped the plaits in with no ceremony.
‘If someone finds them they might think there’s been a murder or something,’ Fia said.
‘I should’ve written a note explaining and put it in a bottle to bury with them,’ Lisa replied, smoothing over the ground. Afterwards she took care to get rid of all the dirt under her fingernails.
On the fourth day Fia swam to the opposite river bank and clambered up the smooth rocks grasping the neat toe and finger holds tightly. Once she’d clambered as high as she could she lay down and looked up at the sky through a web of supplejack. The cicadas sang and sang until their sound became all she could hear. Jolting upright she quickly slid into the water. As she swam away she didn’t look back.
At the camp Lisa was painting outlines of birds and horses on stones, in black shiny paint, in fine strokes. Once the paint had dried she hid them in difficult-to-find places. Stumbling across them would be more of a delightful discovery.
To remember how many nights they’d been by the river they had to count back through the days. Day four is today, day three we washed,page 219 day two was hot as hell, day one we arrived. Knowing they were leaving the next morning Fia cooked the last of their food: five packets of two minutes noodles which they ate from the pot with chopsticks. The flavouring made their tongues fluffy and their lips prickle. That night they had unsettling dreams and both were relieved when dawn came.
They crawled out of their sleeping bags early and dismantled their tents. Lisa lit the cooker and ripped open two sachets of instant cappuccino. The drink powder fizzed when hit by the boiling water.
‘I’m ready to leave,’ Fia said.
They clicked their tin mugs together and stirred their drinks vigorously till the foam rose to the top.
A slate grey lizard with white stripes wriggling around its body stalked out of the bracken undergrowth. Fia and Lisa leapt on top of the table as it prowled closer. Licking the air it blindly went up the path they’d worn to where their tents had been and stood with one clawed foot poised above the ground flattened by their sleeping bodies.
‘It’s an evolutionary thing that we’re afraid,’ Lisa said, embarrassed at her fear. ‘There’s no reason we can’t be prey.’
Fia looked at its heavy tail and tiny eyes. ‘It’s so prehistoric.’ She shuddered and nervously sipped her drink. ‘Go away,’ she shouted.
Minutes passed and they sat cross-legged. Using the teaspoon Fia added their names to the others in the soft wood.
The sun rose higher and birds hid and insects scurried away from the fierce glare. But the lizard stayed flicking its tongue and soaking up every ounce.