“No, you definitely can’t see the Big Dipper from Dunsandle, but you can see the Southern Cross alright!”
She didn’t acknowledge me, but I knew she’d heard and understood.
I looked down at her again.
“You really are a cutie,” I cooed.
Still no response; her fuscous eyes staring, fixating on the galaxies high above, pure amazement on her face.
I’d only just met her.
I’d just popped out of the Hall to smoke a durry and take a piss. I’d walked around the side of the old wooden building towards the domain behind, peering into the windows as I went by. I’d briefly watched Athol Simmons in the Hall Office, trying his hardest to familiarise himself with Glenys Hollis’s topography. While Athol struggled to unhinge Glenys’s bra, the Kirwee Cooees played their interpretation of Lonnie Donegan’s “Cumberland Gap”. It seemed way too appropriate.
I kept walking, nearly tripping over young Jimmy Karsten, who was on his knees praying to Bacchus. He was retching and heaving up copious quantities of beer and Mrs Stott’s coronation chicken. Too much beer with too much fancy food on top, I reckoned. Dance Hall suppers were an institution invented only for womenfolk, teetotallers, fat bastards, and the young who had far more beer on board than they should. I’d always taken the view that dance Hall suppers were a danger to one’s health. Sav’s bathing in tomato sauce and cheese on toothpicks embedded in oranges were way too fancy; best to bring your own.
“Better get home, boy,” I growled. “Get some water into you and some sleep. You don’t want your old man seeing you like this. Besides, I can’t see your old man doing the milking in the morning; he’s almost as drunk as you are.”
I walked on; behind me, Jimmy groaned loudly, retched, then heaved again.
After taking my leak and lighting up, I continued my short walk. My ears were ringing. The batting away of Jenny Anderson’s continual affections was becoming irritating and tiring. I’d had enough.
“Come dance with me, Archie . . . promise me at least one dance, Archie, please . . . Archie, would you like to sit with me at supper? I made your favourite curried eggs . . . oh, Archie, you do look so handsome tonight!”
For fuck’s sake, woman!
Leave me be.
Hadn’t I told her as much a hundred times before?
I know Jenny is lonely. Ever since Ted Cooper rolled his tractor, she’s been like a bitch on heat. I also know four hundred acres are way too much for one woman to manage on her own. Her farm backs onto mine, so I help her out when I can.
I know too, she cries herself to sleep. I hear her sometimes through the still lonely nights—her grief-stricken wails wafting through the macrocarpas and settling softly on my bedroom windowsill. I also know she keeps her backdoor unlocked, hoping a knight in shining armour will stroll through. And, very occasionally, I do just that.
But I’m no knight in shining armour. I’m not there to save or rescue her. I have no interest in absolving her pain or nightmares. I’m just knocking her off; it doesn’t mean I want her, and it certainly doesn’t mean I want to get hitched. She’s pretty enough, but it’s only for fun. I like being single. I like being my own man.
But tonight . . . tonight, she’d taken things way too far.
“Imagine,” she said, “two thousand acres and some sons to look after them, and then us when we get too old!”
Since when did an occasional romp in the sack evolve into a lifetime of toil and complaisance? There’s a big difference between taking her and taking her away. I don’t want a bar of it, and I don’t want a bar of all her fussing and constant need to be taken care of.
For fuck’s sake, woman! I’d had enough, and I told her.
“Jenny,” I said, “look, I’m happy enough ploughing your front paddock, but there’s no way on God’s earth I’ll be planting any swede’s or hitching my tractor to your harvester.”
I stopped twenty yards short of the wobbly bench seat overlooking the reedy duck pond. That’s when I saw a silhouette I didn’t recognise. Sitting by the bench was one of the most beautiful things I’d seen in a long time.
“Hello there,” I whispered, trying not to frighten her.
“Aren’t you lovely?” I muttered to myself through pursed lips, ensuring she couldn’t hear.
She sat aloof, petite and pretty. She held herself proudly; her head was tilted high toward the stars, gazing at the sparkling night sky. Her tight athletic form told me she was strong, independent, and not to be trifled with. I liked that.
I walked toward where she sat, calmly sitting beside her, slowly wrapping my arms around her shoulders. I felt her relax; felt her body weight shift against mine. She was warm and unworried by my attention. I gently stroked her face with the back of my hand. She exposed her graceful neck. I tickled under her chin.
“You really are a beautiful girl,” I sighed.
“You want something to eat? Got some dressed pies in the back of my truck,” I said proudly, “picked ’em up this afternoon. Dunsandle General Store makes the best-dressed pies in the universe.”
I slapped her rump. “Come on, follow me.”
I walked toward my old Nash. It was parked in a sea of gravel and potholes. Under the bright starlight, she stood aloof and proud. She looked like a beached metallic shark, ready to roar into action with a single swish of her rusty tail fins. Yanking open one of her stiff back doors, I reached in and pulled out two cold dressed pies. I held one out—my new friend looked and stole a sniff, then greedily took the pie from my hand, wolfing it down instantly.
“They’re good, aren’t they? Especially the beetroot, eh? Even cold!”
She was ravenous, so I gave her mine as well. Again, she inhaled it.
While she was eating, I studied her form. Petite but muscular, alert and intelligent. Young. Pretty as a picture, obedient and calm. She was a perfect specimen.
“I’m going to have some fun with you,” I muttered a bit too loudly.
“Come,” I said—now walking back toward the Hall.
She followed without question or hesitation.
As I approached the Hall, the Kirwee Cooees were murdering Buddy Holly.
His silent screams overpowered by the crackly Gibson amp and pitchy vocals.
Do, do, do, do, well, that’ll be the day.
Please let that be true!
Yeah, yeah, yeah, make me cry.
You’re already breaking my heart and killing my ears. I’m nearly there.
Wop, wop, wop, you gonna leave me.
I will soon mate unless you shut the fuck up.
‘Cause, that’ll be the day-hey-hey when I die.
Now, that would be a blessing.
Many people don’t know this, but Buddy Holly and his Crickets—in fact, all the crickets within a mile of Dunsandle Memorial Hall—died a gruesome death on the evening of November the 4th, 1957. Artistry and craft crashing to earth in great balls of fire (yes, I know that was Jerry Lee Lewis), butchered, massacred; ashes scattered asunder by the musical inabilities of Kirwee’s best.
As I approached the front of the Hall, I saw Jenny Anderson sitting languidly on the concrete steps. Her legs splayed beneath her yellow circle dress like supper toothpicks protruding from a soft block of cheese. She was bawling her eyes out.
Fuck me, I thought.
A semi-circle of women surrounded her, her tears seemingly draining her strength and form but fortifying those of her companions. Jenny was being comforted and mollycoddled by the Coleman sisters-in-law. Mrs Stott, who would sooner fart in church than miss out on any gossip or drama was also in the thick of it. Even Glenys Hollis was there, making a fuss and rubbing Jenny’s back. I just hoped she had had the time to stuff herself back into her undergarments. God knows anything could pop out when you’re leaning over like that. The women were holding a sacred pow-wow, and I had no reason to think I wasn’t the subject of their distemper.
“You bastard,” Glenys spat as I caught her eye.
“You lousy bastard, I don’t know what Jenny sees in you.”
The Coleman women nodded their heads in agreement. Mrs Stott just stood there, swollen hands resting on ample hips. Five hostile women are five too many for me. I turned quickly and proceeded to go back from whence I came.
“Archie Cleary, stop right there!” Mrs Stott ordered.
I froze. The only thing bigger and scarier than Mrs Stott in these parts was her temper.
“Who’s that bitch belong to?” she demanded, her hand extended, index finger pointing and waving.
“Don’t know,” I answered honestly. “I found her; I’m gonna take her home. Gonna train her up—trial her. I reckon she’d make a mighty fine sheepdog.”
“You can’t go around picking up random strays and taking them home, Archie Cleary. She doesn’t belong to you.”
“She doesn’t belong to anyone,” I shot back, “she’s not from these parts, never seen the like of her before. She’s a beauty, though, smart too! For all I know, she might have come from outta space. She’s like-a angel from heaven.”
“Don’t be daft. You leave that dog be. How do you know she wants to go with you? Come here, sweetie,” Mrs Stott called, slapping her pudding-like hands on her jellied thighs.
Without hesitation or thought, my newfound fickle friend trotted off. She sniffed Mrs Stott’s hands, no doubt the scent of coronation chicken still lingering deep within their pores. Then she sat next to Jenny Anderson and started licking the tears and hair from her ruddy face. Jenny wrapped her arm around the dog.
“Jesus,” I exclaimed, walking toward the steps to grab the dog by its scruff. As I approached, the dog bared its teeth, snarled, and growled, her body language telling me, come any closer mate, and I’ll have your guts for garters.
I stepped back—six sets of eyes drilling into me. No one spoke. It was a Selwyn stand-off. There could only be one loser, who was likely to be me. Eventually, I retreated. There was nothing to be gained in staying.
As I pulled the Nash out of the car park, I looked back into the rear vision mirror. Jenny Anderson wasn’t crying anymore. She was rubbing the belly of her newfound companion, who was lolling around her feet, tongue hanging out. I smiled a half-smile. Jenny had at last found her knight in shining armour. I might have broken her heart but a four-legged stranger had started to mend it.
Half a mile down the road, I came across Jimmy Karsten stumbling home. He had seven miles to go, and his one step forward and two to the side were never gonna help the cows get milked in the morning. I pulled over. “Jump in,” I said, “I’ll take you home.”
After dropping him off, I turned on the radio. The NZBC news at midnight came on. The headline story was about the Russians launching another satellite. And even more incredible than that, they had put a dog inside the satellite! One of the first living creatures in space.
Well, fancy that! I thought—fancy that.
Roly Andrews lives in Nelson, NZ; in his spare time, he enjoys tramping. After many years of practising, he is still trying to learn to play the trombone! A champion for everyone, he has mentored rough sleepers and supported people affected by suicide. He advocates for the rights of people living with disabilities. Your Site ‹ Roly Andrews – Story Teller — WordPress.com
If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy “Passing Through Jenkins Thicket” by Edward N. McConnell.
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