The horse strode forward, kicking up dust as it approached the corner of the paddock. An occasional snort and shake of his head peppered the journey. Sitting firmly atop, Kate flicked impatiently at the flies that stuck determinedly to her nose. She had just moved one mob of sheep and was now crossing the paddocks towards home. Lunch, followed by some fencing, would constitute the rest of her day. Today was much like the day before, and the day before that – a rigid commitment to routine that Kate had long since chosen.
As the sun and the cicadas created that familiar drone of summer, Kate approached an old weatherboard house abutting the back of a hill. Like a picture frame, snowgums feathered behind it, dropping great strips of bark onto the crisp grass underfoot. And like a halo, swallows dipped and curved high above.
The house sat in contrast to the movement of the day. With the passing of the years it had slowly closed in upon itself, and like air from a balloon slowly deflating, life had seeped out of its growing cracks. The tall windows had achingly shuttered their gaze, and dust lay thick on every surface.
Pulling her horse to a slow stop Kate paused in front of the house. Memories of a colourful childhood flitted to the surface of her mind. All those dreams she had dreamt! All that energy! But all that optimism had since been consumed and looking back now, Kate could hardly recognise herself.
Disappointment is an insidious thing, and whilst Kate had suffered no death or disaster, life had been just that. The limitations of reality had slowly ground her down – every step forward had been matched with a step back. Money, education and family contexts had driven her future and no matter how hard she had tried, no matter how much energy funnelled through her, she had been unable to resist what now seemed so unavoidable. It all seemed so childish to her now – what on earth had she expected?
This swelling of disappointment had at one point threatened to overwhelm her. It had crept up and up, and then almost over…but with the trademark family response of “just keep going”, Kate had flicked off the light to her imagination and had walked into a world filled with grey. This existence was easy. Kate no longer questioned anything – no longer fought for change. She had accepted this as being her lot, and had succumbed to the embrace of routine. Comforted by its rhythms, Kate found meaning in small achievements. Her days played a regular tune – she woke, she ate, she worked…she ate, she worked, she slept.
Of course, glimmers of the past flitted through her mind every now and then, just as they did now. But Kate new that all she had to do was pull up the wall that had – for a moment – collapsed, and just keep ‘keepin’ on’. It was at once brave and cowardly. Brave to have committed to this route, yet cowardly to have chosen it in the first place. But with a determination bolstered by an inherent stubbornness Kate passed through life on an unbending journey forward. ‘Forward’ being up to interpretation – and something that Kate refused to question.
But today Kate paused. Quietly the house reached out as memories danced before her. Her figure softened – it was if she was gently melting. The edge of her silhouette shimmered and blended with the light, and tentatively she explored the edges of her mind. But as with every other time she had done so, her mind hit a snag. Suddenly those questions and doubts that had built up inside her were released and Kate was hit with a pang to her chest. Her mind clouded in, and for a moment she was overwhelmed with desolation. But just as quickly, Kate snapped her mind shut.
Slapping at a fly that clung to her shoulder, she gritted her teeth and blinked her eyes. With the cluck of her tongue and the kick of her heels she urged the horse on purposefully. Her intellectual closure was matched by a firming of her body. Back straight, jaw set, Kate moved away. The house sagged and sighed, the horse shook his head.
Moving through the pungent gumtrees, Kate was encircled by the life that throbbed around her. As the gentle gums swayed and the sheep nibbled and plucked beside her, Kate grew smaller and smaller. And gently – surrounded by a wide expanse of dry yellow paddocks – Kate became a small dot….marching ever on to the broad horizon before her.
Image: Bruce Tuten