Helen Edwards Writer in Australia short story about the Nullarbor

Long. Straight. Endless. Black road with white lines. Red dirt spread out either side of us across the wide expanse. Ripples of grey green scrub dotted through its gut like tufts of icing. To the left, the shimmering haze that signalled the sea hung above a craggy edged cliff. The sun’s orange orb climbed right out of the earth here. No other light competed with her rising, dappling her fingers across my face. A brown hunting bird hovered, waiting for the right moment to strike.

Disconnected from the Machine, we moved across the never-ending Nullarbor highway; unchartered territory for our little family. Sounds of my musical history played in the background, blending with my children’s chatter and the steady voice of my husband. Out here there were no rules about time, other than the one about being off the road before dusk. This was evidenced by the many big tawny red kangaroos, lying on their sides, red streaks on the black. A family of emus ran past, faster than we could drive, dust flying out behind them like a red brown parachute. Their tail feathers looked like a shaggy bustle. My children laughed, fat happy laughs filled with the joy of freedom.

Long road trains buffeted our van with the lift up bed like it was a little sail boat, adrift at sea. I felt adrift, excitement and wild abandon in my gut. Anything was possible. A forest of pink and golden wildflowers lined the way, defying the arid reputation. The roadhouses, dropped right out of a 1970’s movie, beckoned. My arms were tired from battling the wind gusts created by passing road trains. My eyes were heavy. The one room with bathroom was like a palace to us, the orange Chenille bedspread reminding me of my grandmother. We squeezed past each other, making a play space on the floor for the little one, using one of the bedspreads to avoid the lost dirt. Strange brown beetles climbed across the wall, seeping out of the bricks, covering the carpet. I stood under the hot water, feeling the freedom coursing through my veins. In the diner, truckies dressed in blue and yellow gobbled down their steak and bread and butter pudding. I eavesdropped, as they shared stories of being out there out on the road, big loud voices matching their physique (the result of all those roadhouse pies).

“Life changing trip,” my middle son had said to me later – he was just 12 at the time. The sky was bigger here, the worries smaller. There were no problems other than the immediacy of where to sleep, what to eat. No responsibilities other than my children and getting us safely to the next destination. This disentanglement had taken only a day. Gradually, after another day, and another, my part in the rest of the world slowly faded from sight, like the polaroid pictures of my childhood. There were no noises from the factory, no hands pulling me, choking my neck. Only freedom and the rhythm of our lives, slowly wandering across the country.

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