In February I posted if you don’t risk anything, you risk even more, mentioning the 1500 word short story I was writing for the Australian Country Style Magazine’s 2013 competition, “referencing directly or obliquely, the idea of ‘chance’”, and commented how the inspiration came to me via a dream.
“This dream… worked hard to convince me what it had to tell was inspiring rather than annoying. Three times I extricated myself from its grip. Three times it dragged me back. Over Sunday morning coffee, I told the G.O. “I had the worst dream last night. It felt awfuI. It wouldn’t let me go”. As I recounted the dream, I felt my gut wrenching over again. I asked “Why would I dream something like that? God forbid it ever happens. What chance would we have?”… as realisation dawned.”
As I was writing the story, I relived the feelings and thoughts of the dream whereby the G.O., me and our dog (who was my real dog until about 10 years ago) had to flee our home, stopping only to say goodbye to my aunt and uncle. I woke up at that point and had to make up the rest… What would you do, where would you go, and how, if you had to flee?
This is my version.
The room is warm but I slip my arms into a robe, tie it around me before walking to the front of the house. I unlatch the bolts on the door, tug it open onto a coolroom quiet empty street. Brittle air crackles and frost sheens the ground. The usual drone of city traffic is muted. I haven’t seen or heard a bird since last weekend.
I woke to unaccustomed twilight. Jerked upright with feet on the floor it’s too late panic until the knowledge it’s Saturday resolved the confusion. Alongside me, still, my husband and beside the bed on the floor, dog, both breathing evenly although I know they listen within their one-eye-open slumber.
In the kitchen the microwave LED panel flashes 12.02 pm. I check my watch, 6.30 pm. Power cut. We needed to sleep. We’re not late. There’s plenty of time. I turn the radio dial. Each station emits muzak. I open the laptop, click the Internet Explorer icon, No Connection Available.
I pick up my phone, press Last Number Dialled. It rings until a synthetic voice suggests I leave a message. Yet again I don’t bother. Nor do I go to the television. Broadcasts devolved to repeats of soaps, and hourly news bulletins saying not much but somehow saying enough.
I can’t think about this yet. I need coffee. I pour the last beans into the machine and add fresh water. Noisy grinding summons my husband and dog. They greet me briefly; my husband with a kiss, the dog runs her head under my hand, before moving on to attend to nature’s call. Vin unlocks the door to the yard for her on his way to the bathroom.
Coffees in hand I follow the dog. From the back step I see Zee; halted, head up, intent, listening. Movement causes her to turn around. She barks softly, skips across to bump her nose into my leg, hard. I follow her gaze to assess the sky, sunlight obscured by a film of cloud tinged with bruised colours.
Vin appears, reaching for his coffee. His other hand rubs his ear. “It’s getting worse”. I know he means the hum. For me it’s a low continual resonance. The effect on Vin whose tinnitus it amplifies, and super-ears Zee is torment. Zee repeats her nose bump on Vin’s leg. He acknowledges her, “We will”.
I listen for movement in neighbouring yards. The dogs are inside, or gone, possibly their owners also. Tuesday’s washing on the line signifies little. We walk to the fence, peer into the lane. The bins line up, lids upright, last emptied on a long-ago Monday. The blue car hasn’t moved. There was talk. Now there’s not even that.
Vin swigs the dregs of coffee, walks into the house, calling quietly “Let’s do it”. ‘It’ has been the subject of endless conversation, constantly turning over in my mind, but my gut is unprepared. I sink onto the step, Zee immediately at my knees. I thread my fingers through her thick undercoat and take a breath. “Ella. Come on. There’s no other way” echoes Vin. I know. I don’t want to concede reality.
The ample time passes far too quickly and much too slowly. I know what I need to do. Reluctance to launch into uncertain circumstances immobilises me. It’s only the thought staying put is just as dicey that propels my legs.
We committed the plan to memory. Once I begin, it’s better not to think. I pull from the bottom of the wardrobe two timberwolf grey pigmented backpacks. In case we needed to move quickly they’ve been packed for months with winter hiking gear. Our outfits for this evening swing above.
I hear Vin’s movements outside in the lean-to. He is taking care of family business. Beneath the foundations he buries the remaining mementos of our lives. I offer up a prayer of hope that when, if we come back we will be able to retrieve them. If we don’t return, there’ll be no-one to mourn their loss.
I tidy the house then shower. Vin calls out reminding me “We need to eat”. The daypacks contain five days of bare rations for three. Food after that, if we need it, means taking out the precious contents sewn into the daypacks and clothes, or our chances.
I prepare a passable dinner of beef, vegetables and rice. The meal is difficult, for me at least. Zee inhales her biscuits and share of the stir fry. Vin practical, cleans his plate and won’t let me leave mine.
Afterwards Vin showers while I clear the kitchen, wash and dry dishes, turn in circles and wander through rooms. Zee shadows me. We’ve been spending our days like this since I lost my job. Vin emerges dressed; says we need to return a book to our old friend Jorge.
The fuel gauge indicator hovers below half on the dashboard of Vin’s ute. We have no choice but to use the remaining drum of biodiesel tonight. The route takes us along shadowy deserted streets. Vin parks alongside the few vehicles in front of the building. We scan the vicinity, lock Zee in the cab, step out across the footpath into a dimly illumined vestibule and press the buzzer.
Entering the community club through fingerprinted glass doors transports us into a stage set of dated normality, underwritten by a sound system playing Celine Dion’s Because You Loved Me, and a silent episode of Dallas on a giant wall mounted screen.
An octad of cardigan clad citizens sit at a long table; a grey-haired collective playing Rummy. The card players see questions in our eyes. “Speak of nothing. It’s not safe” murmurs Pearl, Jorge’s neighbour. Her husband motions us to sit and deals cards. We play two hands then get up to leave. As Jorge leans across to kiss us goodbye, he whispers at our faces “Go now. Be far away by morning.”
I hug Jorge as I hand him the book. Vin shakes his hand. He tells me much later, he slipped into Jorge’s pocket a slim package containing my mother’s marcasite watch. It had been stashed with her remaining jewellery, and mine amongst the secreted cash. Of negligible value, there was little point in taking it to sell or barter. When, if we return, if Jorge still is here, if he still has it, the watch will be all I have. So many ifs.
We walk out looking straight ahead. In the ute Zee has taken control of the driver’s seat. As Vin unlocks the door, she returns to her place in the rear cab space. It’s then I notice the daypacks, coats, boots and carry bag.
My question remains unasked while instead of taking the direction of home, Vin heads the ute across the main road. I figure out what eventuated. Vin was prepared for Jorge’s sentiments. While I was searching for the book, Vin moved the gear. My mind travels to home for a mental goodbye. The only kind I’ll make.
One hand on the steering wheel Vin places a worksite safety beacon on the roof. Chill air entering the cab gets my attention. We’re hiding in plain sight, appearing to have legitimate purpose but keeping to back streets and roads, avoiding highways which are monitored.
Vin drives north, not our ultimate destination but if we get to the river, our ticket to the next leg. There’s scant traffic and we’re not stopped. We follow the signs and impossibly quickly it seems, Vin is turning the ute toward a roadside park.
We avoid several scattered vehicles but their proximity and the icy temperature means our sojourn outside to change clothes, and Zee’s comfort stop is swift. I check my watch. We’re early. It feels too easy.
Half the night might’ve passed from where I was sitting but it’s barely an hour until Zee’s ears prick, and we see oncoming lights. A dual cab F250, its metallic charcoal paint dusty, slows then stops. Fifteen minutes later, a man wearing a wool hat and checked jacket approaches on foot. I’m clammy and flushed regardless of cold air blasting in as Vin gets out.
My fight or flight mechanism is conflicted. Zee attempts to follow Vin. “No”, we both say. I witness muffled conversation before Vin tosses the ute key to the man. He opens the door, “Let’s do it” which has the same effect as earlier but I grab the packs and coats. The dog sprints to Vin who shoulders the packs as I walk away from the ute without looking back and step up into the rear seat of the F250.
F250 man gestures at his chest “Bern. Relax. It’s about an hour from here”. It feels like ten and despite intentions of vigilance, weariness flickers my eyelids annoyingly. Finally, pre-dawn we see an old punt tied to an older wharf. Before we leave the F250 Vin passes an envelope to Bern “The ute and five G’s, the dog travels free”, and gets a slight smile in response.
As Zee and I board the punt Vin pauses, looks up, whispers to the sky “Old Ones, you brought our families here this way. For what? We have to go. I’m sorry”.
33 thoughts on “if you don’t risk anything – Reprise”
I hope you’re not into prophecy Ella. This sound far too much like I imagine the real thing. Either post apocalyptic or post invasion. Monday morning, bright and breezy, I must think nice thoughts and not let your descriptiveness niggle me. Very well written.
xxx Hugs xxx
Thank you 🙂 I have the odd prophetic dream, but that wasn’t one of them… it was a combination of lodging a request for a “chance” topic with the muses, and Australia’s obsession with the rights and wrongs of asylum seekers. The dream and the feelings were very real though, so the descriptiveness came from my gut. There but for the Grace of God we go.
But.. But but, what happens next?! Excellent stuff, I need to know more! 😀
Thank you… well, what I liked to think happened is we crossed the river, and hitched a ride to TA, where we lived happily ever after out in the hills… That’s the plan anyway 🙂
That sounds like my kind of happily ever after. 😀
I devoured this EllaDee. ‘Leaving’ is an issue we have grappled with over the years at different stages and levels so it really touched a cord with me personally, but the way in which you leave the reason for going so open – so many possibilities had my imagination spinning. I find your way with words lovely – even a harrowing topic such as this one.
Thank you 🙂 You have the reality of it… but in many countries we assume it, whatever it is, could never happen, that our lifestyle is unassailable.
Years ago I had to pack up in a hurry to prepare for a bushfire threat evacuation. All I packed was the 2 cats and the same dog… even that was awful.
I know it is already reality for many but I continue to hope it never is for some.
A friend recently shared how she had to deal with a fire in her home. She has three small boys. Once they were all safely out the fire abated a bit and her neighbour offered to hold the kids if she wanted to try get anything else, photo,s, documents, etc… she says that she looked down at her boys and could not think of anything else that she needed. She had it all with her. You might have had similar thoughts with the bushfire evac. Good writing gets one thinking in so many directions….
I have “stuff” I say I would never be able to part with but the truth of it is, I would regret its loss but I could live without it. Thank you so much for your kind words and giving me more to think about 🙂
Scary, scary, scary. I wonder if this is how my mother felt all those years ago when she and Dad decided to leave Hungary… I sincerely hope your dreams are not prophetic as well. I don’t think I could leave. Very thought provoking story. Thanks for sharing this with us.
I’ve been known to have an occasional prophetic dream but I don’t think this was one, but it was real and scary enough…
I don’t think it’s a scenario we in Australia will ever have to face, but many who have come here, like your parents have had to deal with similar, so it’s real enough.
At the same time in the back of my mind, I think what would I do, and I’d hope having our house at TA would be bolt hole enough, as currently neither of us have passports to enable us to leave Australia for another country legally, and I don’t fancy taking my chances illegally on an ocean going boat…
It’s weird you know, I’ve known the stories about our escape all my life, I even have one or two quite vivid memories of the trip to the Austrian border, but I didn’t /understand/ until your story. It’s as if you helped to finally connect up the dots.
And no, I don’t think I’d want to take any chances on a leaky boat, not if the fate of our ‘boat people’ is what we’d have to look forward to. 😦
… which is where my thoughts were, too many people are quick to judge circumstances they haven’t even considered.
Yes, I suspect we’re conditioned to react in stereotypical ways.
EllaDee, that was such a powerful story — I still feel it in the pit of my stomach. Thank you. I really appreciated how The Menace, the reason to flee was never spelt out. Imagined scenarios are often more scary. And my mind plays with questions such as why some people fled and others stayed. I am sure that your character Ella is very strong and resilient, but I was so pleased that she had good protectors in Vin and Zee.
I hope your sleep is filled with very pleasant dreams from now on!
Thank you 🙂 The chance dream feelings and message were strong. I still feel them even now when I read the story. Ella is resilient but she can be a wooss… when her “alter ego” had to move apartments, and a distance of a whole 2.6kms she cried for months because she missed home.
I hope my dreams come up with more good story lines.
I get that! I have lived in my house for 33 years. The thought of moving anywhere, even to somewhere I would like to live, freaks me out!
I hope your dreaming isn’t more like this one — for your own peace! Just to let the writer in you know…..I am someone who finds it annoying to read about characters’ dreams. I am just not interested. (And I know that this story is not that. I like how you have taken your dream and made it into the story.)
Hope your weekend will be fun. 🙂
Thanks… I’m intrigued, you’ve now got me casting my mind across any books I’ve read where the characters dreams are shared… I’m not sure how I’d feel about that. I’ll bear it in mind.
This is amazing – you’ve written it so well. I just want to know what happens next 😀
Thank you 🙂 It was you who got me thinking about inspiration coming from dreams. What happens next? I wanted to know that too but the dream was just too awful to stay asleep. I’m not brave at all… I’d like to think we escape and make it up into the hills and hide out until it’s safe to return 🙂
It’s an amazing start to a novel – I was hooked 😀
Haha, thanks, maybe one day 🙂
I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, EllaDee.You only gave enough background information as was necessary to move the story. The rest you left for our imaginations to supply, a very effective method of story telling. Well done.
Thank you so much 🙂 I never gave such things much thought until I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road… which haunted me so I couldn’t even think about seeing the movie. Then there is the debate about asylum seekers… all I know is I’d hate it to be me.
Exactly! Since leaving my comment, my mind cannot help but think of those for whom this is a page of their life, perhaps even current events. How utterly terrifying!
And yet, I have done volunteer work with asylum seekers, and they are so utterly ordinary but must have depths of courage and resilience I’m not sure I could muster.
A belated addition designed not to ruin your day I hope.
Wow, thank you. You are so Super Sweet to be including me amongst your 13 nominees. I haven’t done an awards post for a while, so your timing is perfect, and you have truly brightened my rather chilly winter solstice Friday 🙂
Wow. It’s amazing that this came to you in a dream. I’m glad you didn’t escape it’s grasp. Truly scary but so well written you immediately pulled me into the moment and didn’t let me go. 🙂
Thank you 🙂 Especially high praise coming from you.
This resonated on a number of grounds. Apart from having far too realistic dreams of course. I often dream about the dogs from my past. It can be terribly confusing because they get jumbled together, so I end up with a mix of adult dogs with childhood dogs, and in the dreams I am confused because I thought the older ones were dead. And Zee jumping into the front seat of course! Classic dog trick that, especially to look for your return. The tinnitus too. Odd how little details make it such a personal story.
Did you get any feedback about the story? Apart from on here of course. I’d like to enter a short story comp, but I invariably miss the sole one in Gib and most others seem limited nationally.
The dream was so real, it was easy to commute the details into a short story… in the quickest time I’ve ever written one.
No feedback, or anything. I just assumed as I hadn’t heard by notification date, that it wasn’t my story chosen… but had no illusions it would be. The next, August I believe, ACS magazine is where the winning story will be published and it will be interesting… I didn’t rate last years winning story at all but the author was labelled an “emerging writer”…