THE PASTURE IS dry. Dust on her boots, burrs in her socks, sweat under her breasts, neck, pits, crotch. She longs for a breeze, but that’s why she’s walking, running, to create her own wind.
Fast, faster. Don’t look back.
Rock to rock, put distance between them. Put space behind. Time.
The cattle are nowhere to be seen. Roos in the shade, laid out like roasts. Her heart beats into its cage, still young, too soft too weak to be so hard. So full of bone and gristle.
She thinks of her mother, the cool-air ocean, the world she left behind for this. For him. Open paddocks and scattered trees. The way things used to be, before the drought, the dust, the cracked-up soil.
The creek is dry. She jumps the rocks and the jolt and motion make space in her bones, loosening the meat of her. This body, her own. She hardly knows it.
She wants to know it.
AND THERE, LIKE she’s called it, the wind stirs cooler. The low grass trembles, shimmers in the grey light. She pauses.
The wind slips around the damp of her, pulls her dry, pulls her insides outward. Feathers slip between her ribs, between the careless buttons of his shirt. Tiny and frayed they meet the air, unbidden, unimagined.
Maybe her heart is a bird. Maybe she is more than his.
She closes her eyes and stretches her arms and leans to the sky, until the land is below, too far for detail. White-bleached and dusty, too, it looks better this way. Their home, his house, a beetle shell.
She glides toward the water, her growing-up home. Surf rush and fig trees, damp green and blue. Thick with the smell of mango flesh, blush skin and slippery pit. Her whole life ahead, just reach up and pluck it.
So eager to go, and too quickly she went. His arms tight around her, she went.
She loved his arms, then, how they wrapped tight around her. I’ll never let go, he said, and he meant it. The smell of his skin like the red dirt west, wide skies and sweat, sizzling like whispers or bacon or ozone.
The air rushes cooler. At the edge of the sky, the clouds are like washing, piled up dirty at the end of the bed. The bed she made. The thunder like fists, the thump of his fists on the table, the door. The pound of his fists. Heavy. Clenched. Closer. Inside her heart-cage.
Feathers crushed inside his hands. Inside her own body. Her arm-hairs bristle with fear and electricity and knowing too well, and she stumbles.
The pasture is empty.
THE DIRT TASTES like copper. She has soiled his shirt, torn up the sleeve. There is grit in her teeth and blood on her palms and fear in her blood. So much dust, not his dust. Ruddy. Her own.
And the first drops of water slap onto her calf, her crown, the soil. The pasture is empty, there’s nowhere to go, to hide, to be safe. If she dies, it’s her fault.
Don’t go, said her mother.
She aches for her mother. The arms of her mother.
And there, like she’s called it: a brushstroke of bones. Creamy, warm. Open and homely, the bones of a cow laid down in the pasture, her leather beside her, dried out in the sun. Ribcage unbroken, the grass feathers through it, and the spaces between are like windows, pale bonepanes with a view to the sky, to the storm.
So much beauty in death.
Of living despite it.
There’s nowhere to go, but here. Now.
So she slides her way in through the bones and the grass and lays on her back in the cow in the storm. She unbuttons her shirt, his shirt, to her skin, and she watches. She watches the sky where she flew like a bird, and the rain pelts her breast and her heart thrashes upward through two ribcages at once.