Road from St Joseph's

The fat leaves of the Red Cedar were down by July that year. The bus from St Joseph’s had dropped us all off across the bridge, and it was only the first week back, couldn’t have been much more. We’d tear off down Middleton, sprinting for our waiting mums. Or our waiting dinner, more like. Anyway, she lived out across the fields; her old man was a jackaroo I reckon. It was always Tiff and me left by the time we reached the bush.

I sat behind her every day in primary. Good thing our names were dead close together. Now, I can’t tell you what she was wearing. Figure it must have been the school uniform. But I knew what she smelled like. Been smelling her long enough. It was a warm, chocolate-brown scent. Hazelnutty, but spicier. She smelled of the back of the pantry, like something had faded there, but didn’t want to be forgotten.

Then this one hot night in July, I couldn’t smell her. The leaves from the cedar had made tides of brown and green and amber and orange up each side of the narrow road. You could see forever either way you looked. The flat fields stretched toward us from the blocky blue mountains where Tiff’s dad must have worked. And on the other side, if you squinted, you could see the dazzle of the Macleay, its surface winking at us from all those miles away. The heat roasted those leaves on the roadside like it lava. It filled my breath with acrid tang and bitter dust. Tiff and I ran home.

The river flooded that year. I think it was something to do with all the leaves, all those tangy bitter leaves. Tiff’s house got taken by the muddy water, just plain disappeared. Mum reckoned she’d have gone to live with her grandparents down in Melbourne. But I remember Tiff saying her family was from Brisbane, or something.

 

Tom Fellowes