The belching engine and crunching gears of the old heap helped to drown out the monotonous drone of her mother’s nervous chatter.
Maurice knew all the childhood adventures by heart. Swinging in the treetops, running through raging waterfalls in the rainy season, pulling leeches off bleeding wounds, and sleeping under the stars. Such fun! The families had lived in Walcha, pronounced w-A-kka, not Wal-CH-a, for generations. Maurice was “bred from good, mountain stock”, apparently.
Maurice wondered by what miracle she missed out on that cow- poke gene. It obviously leapt a generation. She blamed the fiend Schroder for every unexplainable thing. She hated taking risks, she avoided nature, and was allergic to animals. As her mother droned on and on all the way up the winding road, Maurice looked down the ravines on her side of the road fantasised about throwing herself out over the edge to end it all quickly.
Likewise, in one of her quiet moments, Bexley sat wondering how a child born of her loins could lack any desire whatsoever to run barefoot through meadows, ride a horse, or climb a tall tree.
The dung and flies had never bothered her. But her daughter broke into a sweat at the mere thought of walking barefoot through clover which might be covered in animal pee, not to mention ticks, fleas, and tapeworms. Where did she get that? Sure, the kid took after her father, but she was far worse. Neither of them were so particular.
“Luck of the draw,” Bexley muttered.
Maurice watched her mother pump the accelerator, coaxing the mechanical junk heap up Thunderbolt slopes. The sun was going down. The remains of the mountain looked magical. They rounded a corner and the truck stalled. It had guzzled all the fuel, the tank was empty. Bexley slumped over the wheel to catch her breath and think for a moment.
“We need a strong backbone to haul ourselves out of this bog,” Bexley said.
“And whose backbone to you propose to use?!” Maurice dryly quipped. Bexley shot her a death stare as she jiggled the door handle, it broke off in her hand.
“It’s a sign,” Maurice sighed, in a resigned tone. Bexley refused to bite back. She wound down the window and climbed out. The ute’s headlights dimmed as the car battery faltered. “It’s a sign,” Maurice whined, annoyingly.
“When did you learn to read signs exactly?” Bexley retorted, putting some distance between her and the child she could barely stand at this moment.
“Luck be with us,” Bexley called back in a pirate’s accent, nervously. She walked away from the truck murmuring to herself softly, “I know you are … LUCK? Where are you? It’s me!” Bexley pleaded softly.
She heard the car door slam as Maurice got out, without a problem.
Bexley heard the gravel crunch beneath Maurice’s sneakers and tasted salt on her tongue, like the potato crisps they used to scoff as kids. Crackling potato chip wrappers in the cinemas of long-gone days, lost in a different world, a world of electricity at the flick if a switch, rockets to Mars and fossil fuels. She felt her daughter’s tiny hand grasp hers and squeeze tight. Her salty tear fell down her cheek. Bexley smiled sadly, thinking of things lost and things precious, as she looked down at her baby.
“Sorry Mum,” Maurice said quietly and contritely. Bexley squeezed her hand back.
“It’s ok, M.” She gathered big, little girl up in her arms.
Maurice buried her face in her mother’s long, beautiful neck. She wished she was more like her awesome mother. The Australian Alps towered proud over them. Deep valleys ran to a distant blue, east coast. Rocks slipped down the slope and skipped across the crumbling bitumen of Thunderbolts Way.
Bexley looked up to where the pebbles came from. Then, she realised that the silence around them was total. No life stirred, not a breeze, not a cricket. She put Maurice down and drifted towards their jalopy. A rumbling sounded like the start of a landslide. Bexley rejoiced.
“I knew you wouldn’t let me down.” It startled Maurice. “What’s that?”
“Indigestion,” Bexley crowed triumphantly, glancing at the setting sun.
“Indigestion?” Maurice mused.
“Let’s get some sleep in the truck. We’ll make it on foot in the morning.”
They slept in the back of the ute beneath the spine of the great Milky Way that glowed bright without the light pollution of now-dark cities. Bexley crept away, leaving her sleeping.