Monday, December 20, 2004

Wednesday December 15 1971 

The bloke in the garage hoisted the car, located the leak, soldered it or plugged it or whatever he had to do to fix it, unhoisted the car and handed it over.

‘There you go,’ he said, laconically. ‘Good as new.’

No doubt he sees quite a few petrol tank leaks, with three hundred miles of road covered with pebbles leading to his front door. No doubt he's also glad that most of the leaks are usually small enough to not actually allow most of the fuel to run out on the spot, because then he would have to go out and tow them in. It’s always better if the problem drives in. Always. Ask any mechanic.


Last night, after running around after a non-existent semi-naked girl, Danny and I had come back to the caravan, hot and sandy, and listened to the news on the caravan radio.

As always, we paid attention to the weather forecast. And the forecast for today? Hot. Top temperature, 107 degrees. (We still lived life in Fahrenheit in 1971. Plus 107 sounds impressively hotter than 44.) I had to go and take a cold shower after hearing that. Uncle put back his intended departure time an hour to five o'clock. No problems, uncle. I'm an early riser. I do like a snooze later in the day, though.


It was a sultry, brooding ten past five in the morning when we slipped out of Eucla under the heavy cover of an oppressive darkness. The heat hung over the desert like wet tent canvas.

We swam through the torrid landscape. It fell behind us faster than it did yesterday because we were driving on a real road again. The car was happy and the tyres were once again busily humming their rubbery vibrato. No more nasty, choking, atonal, tuneless pebbles.

At six o’clock, my uncle switched off the car's headlamps as the first rays of the sun slowly throttled the long shadows. Black turned to gold before our eyes.

Seven o’clock, eight o’clock. If it was hot earlier, now it was like someone had switched on an oven. Click.

At twenty minutes past nine, the Valiant panted to a stop at Madura where I had the earliest lunch of my whole life.

We parked under the shade of nothing, because there was nothing to make any shade. We climbed out of the sticky car into a desert that was already a cauldron. Uncle opened up the van, and we climbed in. It wasn’t much cooler inside. Maybe a little. Maybe 95 degrees instead of 98.

We ate all anyone can eat when the sun wants to melt you and you know it and the sun knows it.

Cheese, cold meat and salad sandwiches. The usual. Well it’s not like you can pick up a hamburger. Water. Cups of tea. Fruitcake. Sitting up at the little fold-down table in the 'van. Trying not to melt. Sweating drips that turned to little streams flowing onto the orange and brown vinyl bench cushions.

After we'd eaten, uncle and aunt wanted to have a short rest before continuing. Cool. Guess what I did? Went out exploring. All that talk about the heat isn’t going to stop a fourteen year old from checking out the lie of the land. Danny disagreed and took a nap.

There was a kind of hill across the highway. I thought I might climb it and look over the surrounding terrain. I might be able to see the ocean again. Or Perth. Or some wild camels.

Halfway up, stumbling through some scraggly bushes, my face walked into something soft and velvety and sticky. Then all of me did. The soft and velvety and sticky thing was as big as a hammock. I kind of bounced off it, except it stuck to me.

In the middle of the hammock, one long, fat leg that seemed impossibly black and impossibly long stretched itself out. The other seven legs just kind of stayed where they were. I didn’t have to count eight. I knew. You always know. Especially when you’ve walked into its web.

The eight legs joined at a body that was only as big as an ordinary dinner plate. I reeled backwards. Part of the web was still stuck to me. The spider jerked around like a dog doing circles before going to sleep. Maybe it was annoyed. Maybe it had fangs. Maybe it was going to bite me. Maybe I would die before I could get back to the caravan.

Maybe ...

You get the picture - all the usual maybes associated with large black spiders. It moved again. It was impossibly nimble for its size. I threw the web off me and even though it was 98 degrees I shivered anyway.

Then it stopped moving and just rocked there in the breeze. If there was a breeze. I stared at it for a while and it stared at me for a while. It won the staring competition but only because it had more eyes than me.

I went back down the hill, totally forgetting to check the horizon for wild camels. Or Perth.

Uncle was just closing up the caravan. It was not yet eleven in the morning but it felt like the afternoon.

He fired up the Valiant and off we set again on our trip across Australia.


On my uncle’s car radio:

you are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here
and whether or not it is clear to you
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

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