Updated: Nov 14, 2020
“They thought I did it.” I bolt upright, the newspaper clipping still in my hand. She takes it from me and looks at it. “Police took me in for questioning.” She walks over to the chest of drawers and places the clipping back on top. She proceeds to tell me how when back in the early 2000s she had a worker who ran away from the farm and disappeared. His mother repeatedly called the farm demanding to know where he is, to which she denied any knowledge. Police were called and searched the property, finding boxes of backpackers clothing which obviously raised suspicion, not to mention the ongoing investigations into missing backpackers with Ivan Milat still fresh in the public conscience. “But they had to let me go because they didn't have any evidence.” She turns and heads out, not another word spoken about it.
“Why have you left a bag of fucking rats in the barn?” Those are the words I had to process over a bowl of muesli, how anyone can be that rattled and aggressive at 5am is a mystery, but then most things about her elude explanation. As with most of her accusations, she delivers them with such cold venom that I didn't even know how to respond. “There is a fucking bag, filled with dead rats, in the fucking barn.” All I could do was respond as to why would I leave a bag of dead rats in the barn anyway. She was not having any of it. Incoherent mumbling followed by a swift hang up. Paying no further attention I carried on with my cereal. Turns out it was her who had in fact left the bag of rats in the barn herself, as a sort of warning for the still living rodents.
Nothing else mattered now anyway, the day had arrived, it was all over, this is the end. Three months, 92 days on the farm, I was finished. The alarm at 5am had never sounded sweeter. She had even allowed me to finish early, 2pm and I would be on the road, heading north to start my life over again, never to look back. All that stood in the way of me and freedom, were the final feeding of the bulls. I practically skipped into their paddock to round them up. M7 came bounding over in his usual fashion, at this point I like to think he was happy to see me, but it was probably just the copious amounts of food I always gave him. He was totally cool with me handling him, just a puppy that happens to be weighing in at almost a solid tonne, there was a mutual trust between us. M12 however, still ever angry, merely puts up with me, but he doesn't charge me anymore, so that's something.
She had largely left me to deal with the bulls since day one, ordering me if they needed moving to a different paddock, or to bring them in for a vet check, so it was no surprise that she had no idea how to deal with them now. I simply wasn't able to hide my smugness, in fact I reveled in it when I had to run her through how to handle them. M12 did not like anyone, I had seen that firsthand, the vet had to deal with him, so now it was her turn. The moment she stepped through the gate, M12 lost his cool and started stamping the ground and angrily pacing before charging her. Bringing M12 under control, I told her to calm down and to stop annoying him. I was enjoying this last day.
Loading the car up, I was all set. Much to my surprise. she even said thanks, holding out a skeletal paw out to shake, much better than around my neck. Asking if I wanted to stay and work some more, I just laughed. I look around one more time at my room, the kitchen, the trapped in time lounge. Chucking the last of my possessions in the car, I don't waste another moment and jump in. Adjusting the mirror, dark clouds start to roll in from the west, a rogue gust of wind howls through the valley and rattles the hanging scraps of metal suspended around the veranda. I simply smile and turn the key. Nothing. A nervous laughter escapes as I try again, it's just not turning over. I start to panic, I check everything, everything's fine. I keep trying; turn and nothing, turn and nothing, turn and nothing. I punch the steering wheel in frustration and anger.
Stepping out I open the hood, I know nothing about cars, I don't even know what to check for. I thought I had uttered my last words to her, but there I was, calling her once again. She begrudgingly drives back to the farmhouse so I can use her car to jump start the battery. Hooking up the leads, my heart pounding against my chest, she starts her car. I wait, I'm feeling sick at this point, the only thing going through my head at this point is that I would not be leaving this farm today. I turn the key and still nothing. “Well, I'm not wasting any more time, you can sort it out, I have things to do.” Stepping out the car she trundles off down the farm.
I curse myself for not replacing the battery even after it failed on me because I left the radio on for just five minutes without the engine running. All of that was futile at this point, I had to leave, I could not stand another day here. Rifling through the various business cards pinned to the fridge, I find a mechanic, the only one in a 20 mile radius of the farm; of course the number is dead. I sit down at the kitchen table. The same table I have sat at for the past three months, where I ate breakfast through second-hand smoke at 5am every day, where I had to endure an unavoidable barrage of criticism, where I witnessed every single worker break down in tears at least once. The same table where I sat with naive optimism at this opportunity and what was waiting for me in Byron Bay after I had finished, the same place where I had counted down each day, when the counting went from how many days I had completed, to how many were left. I was sitting there once again, what should have been the happiest day of this experience. I had to leave.
Looking up all possible reasons for a car not to start, I make a call to a mechanic out of state. Exhausting all possible issues, he ended it with one small, glimmer of hope; just keep the engine running, rev it a bunch of times, and give it one go after ten minutes. I hang up, I hook up the cables once more. My phone rings, its her; “What are you doing?! You're going to fuck my car up too, just give up.” She continues to rant, I rev her car more, I hang up. I look at my watch, ten minutes to go. I call the Italian girl, she comes to help. The beaten up Toyota has been revving for some time now, I'm sat in my car, gripping the steering wheel and staring at the time, not knowing anything about the mechanics of what I'm doing, I figure I have one shot before I'm left with no choice but to give up.
The timer hits ten, I take a deep breath and turn the key, she bursts into life. Never has a sound of an engine sounded so beautiful. I didn't dare turn it off, so I hopped out, disconnected the jumper cables, embraced the Italian girl with almost tears of joy, said my goodbyes and hightailed it out of there. Rolling down the long winding driveway, the farm house disappearing into the distance, underneath the railway bridge one last time, the bulls in the paddock both look round as I drive past, an acknowledgement of respect briefly shared as they turned back to their grass. I pull up to the gate. Unlocking the heavy metal barrier one last time, I take a final look around. The wind blows through the trees, leaves swirl around my feet then up the driveway, the cows graze in the distance. I see her walking through the paddock, the hunched figure striding with purpose, the ragged cap perched on her wiry hair. I turn and step back into my car. Pulling away, I turn on the radio, adjust the mirror, and head to Byron Bay, and never look back.