Updated: Nov 14, 2020
The low rumble of the panicked cow stirred the house into action. A sharp knock on my room shook me from my lethargic state. The all too familiar raspy voice came through the door; “Calf's missing, come on”. Grabbing my phone as a light source and without further instruction, I head out into the cool night. Without a single cloud in the sky, the stars held their own in illuminating the landscape, the moon nowhere to be seen. With no idea where or how the calf got out and separated from its mother, we all split up in an attempt to find the wayward cow. I set off towards the railway, thinking that if the calf had fallen down the side, he probably would be meeting a train head on pretty soon. Following the tracks in complete darkness, I soon lose focus and instead find the sky more alluring. The number of stars visible was breathtaking, with countless constellations clustered together, making me feel as small and insignificant as the calf was feeling at that time. Realising I had been aimlessly following the train tracks with no thought as to where the hell I was heading, I could no longer see the farm house, or in fact anything around me. How long had I even been walking? Deciding to enjoy the tranquility of the night, I figured I'd just watch the sky some more before heading back. I climbed back up the bank and onto the dirt path. I had never seen so many stars, I just couldn't look away. Walking to the nearby fence and leaning against it, I glance down and there he was. Barely visible against the ground, the whites of his eyes were wide and frightened, shivering from the cold and no doubt hunger. Now what? I couldn't exactly just pick him up and walk back. Quietly making a phone call to alert the rest of the search party, who were probably exerting a lot more energy than I was, I calmly climb the fence. As soon as I put one foot over, the calf leapt up and bolted through the long grass. Hero status would have to go back on standby. Giving chase, all I could think about was what I would come face to face with in the foliage. This farm stay was already playing through a myriad of horror films, and now a chase through long grass in the pitch black to continue the theme.
I finally corner the calf at a fence, being too big to fit under and too stupid to work out how to get through, he was trapped. The car's headlights come shining through the field and the battered Toyota Corolla comes to a stop as she steps out with some rope. Chucking it to me, I'm supposed to jump on the calf and restrain it. At three weeks old he's already got a good 15kg on me. I jump on its back and push it to the ground, if the legs are bent, he has no strength to kick me off. After clumsily securing the calf, we lead him back to his mother, who shows absolutely no gratitude to me after an attempted head butt.
The farmhouse is alive with another fight between her and one of the girls. A common occurrence. Tears are streaming down the face of the young English backpacker, the excitement of working on a cattle ranch in Australia soon wore off for her, she wanted to leave the very next day. This was day four for her. She is leaning against the table, arms crossed, a grimace plastered across her weathered face. The girl is screaming at this point, before turning round and storming past me to her room; “She's a psycho, she shouldn't be allowed to do this.” Lighting up another cigarette as a rant begins of how it's impossible to find good workers and how everyone is useless, at this point I know what's coming so I turn and leave her to it. Stopping by the other room, the English girl is packing her things. Wiping tears away she asks if I could give her a lift into town, I oblige. Stale smoke fills the kitchen as we both head out of the front door, bags in hand. She doesn't even look up from her sudoku and cigarettes, the AIDS-ridden cat sits on the porch, meekly attempting a meow. I load the bags into the car and head out once more. The English girl has six months left on her visa, I ask her what she's going to do, she simply replies that she is just going to enjoy herself, fuck the second year. Those very same words resurface in my mind at least ten times a day.
We pull into the main street of Coffs Harbour, I drop her off at the hostel and we say our goodbyes, she wishes me luck and I do the same, she already seems happier. Pulling away I head back into the eye of the storm, no music on this drive back, just the low drone of my thoughts asking questions I didn't have the answers for.
The next day, she leaves the farm on an errand. In the three months I spent on this farm, she had left the property only twice. Our conversations over breakfast were brief and cold. Only on a few occasions had she revealed anything about her past, always alluding to something bad happening. Even Ray the hay guy in his monthly deliveries is pretty reserved about her, never wanting to stick around long enough to engage in conversation. As soon as I hear the car leave, I have a look around. The lounge is a time capsule. A magazine dating from April 2006 sits atop the coffee table with a thick layer of dust, next to it a newspaper open to a half-filled crossword section, also dated from the same period. An old TV sits in the corner, the type that emits a high-pitched whine when turned on. The windows, much like my own room, are so thick with dust and debris, that barely any light makes it through. Old paintings and the odd photograph occupy the walls. A record player sits dusty and unused, the vinyl still sitting on top showcases some past Australian country singer. The sleeve is perched next to it, casually placed when listening only to never be touched again. Something clearly happened around this time, and could go a long way in explaining what the hell is going on here.
Her bedroom is unused and abandoned, I had never seen her use it, she only ever sleeps on the couch, wearing the same clothes day in, day out. The curtains remain shut, the air is heavy and the musty smell is strongest in here. Dust clings to every hard surface, a notepad is left open on the bedside table, the writing illegible. Something scurries along the floor, time for me to leave. I open the door to the spare room, which is always off limits, and I am greeted with several boxes full of used clothes stacked in the open wardrobe, clearly not hers, and a few old backpacks. It is at this point I am reminded of a comment made by Ray the hay guy; "You're the longest surviving one she's had!" accompanied by that hearty belly laugh he lets out when he says something that really doesn't warrant a laugh of that magnitude. It was at that moment I notice the newspaper clipping that tightens my stomach, and a familiar raspy voice behind me.
Continue to Chapter 4