posted in: Fiction, Member Writing Features | 0

By Natalie Fraser.

This country unfolds like a huge dusty brown blanket. Under cover of dusk the mangy paddocks undulate to the deep mood indigo sky. Jim and Alison sit in the car mesmerised by the sameness of ghostly gums. They have been driving for hours, hours that roll into one another like scrolls. In the silence of the night and the ennui of the road Alison has seen her whole life pass before her, a journeying. Her mind is on auto pilot, her foot maintaining a routine pressure on the accelerator. Jim is sleepy, trying to stay awake but dozing all the same. Hanging in a dream world they move until Alison drifts slowly into sleep only to be abruptly woken as she narrowly misses a post.

‘Shit, what are you doing?’ Jim too is jerked awake.

Blinking, slightly shocked but dull, they drive on until they see neon lights, trucks and a Caltex sign pasted like a cheap sticker onto the darkening sky. They crawl out of the car like cockroaches crawling out of cracks.


Anna and Jeremy have become used to the light, in the light they are sitting, stunned by lack of sleep into gazing blankly at one another. Jeremy sees Jim and Alison drive up.

‘Hey Anna,’ he snaps her out of her reverie, ‘a car just drove in.’ They watch as Jim and Alison park the car and somewhere in the back of their drowsy minds, they note them for further possibilities.


Jim and Alison pick tentatively at their greasy food.

‘This hamburger is disgusting,’ Alison pushes her plate away.

‘Yeah, I know but I’m hungry,’ Jim chews his tasteless burger morosely. Alison straightens her spine, in her field of vision are Anna and Jeremy. She notices them because apart from the sullen girl behind the counter, they are the only others in the diner who are not truck drivers.

‘I wonder who those two are,’ she picks up a soggy chip from Jim’s plate. He wipes the grease from his chin with a paper napkin and looks over at them. He notices Jeremy with his scruffy clothes and skinny frame, he notices Anna’s blonde hair.  Looking too, Alison sees the tattoo on Anna’s bare shoulder, the hole in the knee of Jeremy’s jeans. She meditates on them for a while, quickly averting her eyes when they look at her.


Suddenly the floor of newly washed tiles is skidding and skating beneath Anna’s smooth soles. The roadhouse spins and then abruptly stops as she lands on the pad of her bum. It is from this position that she is helped up by Jim who is coming from the toilets, shaking water from his hands.

‘Are you, all right?’ He clears his throat politely as Alison looks on and Jeremy glances up from his watery coffee. They are a quadrant, situated at various points in the roadhouse, all gazing with the empty eyes of strangers at one another. They are a scene from an old road movie, imagine a bad print with lots of crackles and indistinct dialogue.



Anna and Jeremy are now slouching lazily in the back of Jim and Alison’s car. The world, being no more no less than a black ribbon of road, stretches before them. Only an hour ago they were faced with the prospect of sitting bolt upright in the roadhouse drinking endless cups of coffee and pumping money into the jukebox while waiting for the dawn to come before beginning another day of same.


Jim and Alison feel shy with two strangers lounging in the back of the car. Where once the suitcases were piled, unassuming, demanding nothing, they now have the human luggage of Anna and Jeremy. Alison can feel his bony kneecaps through the back of her seat, they are pushing into the small of her back. A constant pressure those kneecaps, they don’t allow her to forget that he is there.


Jim pretends to look out of the window. He is acutely aware of the two in the back. He can hear them laughing and whispering but it is all too low for him to hear properly. He clears his throat, and the laughter stops.

‘So, where are you two from?’ He hears more laughing and whispering; a bottle of whiskey is passed through the gap in the seats.

‘The hidden valley, Shangri-La,’ Jeremy elbows Anna gently in the ribs.

‘No, that’s not true,’ Anna laughs, ‘Jeremy’s from Alpha Centauri, I’m from the planet Mars.’

‘We are citizens of the universe,’ Jeremy jiggles up and down with amusement.

Jim feels his face reddening and stares, once again, out the window. Alison clicks the radio on.


An hour, two. It is getting light as they pull into the parking bay. Alison is sick of driving; she watches Anna and Jeremy as they stretch and yawn. Anna screams with laughter as Jeremy pretends to collapse in a heap. That laughter is more than a little false, thinks Alison. Because she is tired, she agrees to let Jeremy drive. She slides in beside him, it is, after all, her car and she wants to keep an eye on him. In the back Jim coughs softly, Anna giggles. Jeremy sits behind the wheel confidently and turns to Jim in the back, a smirk on his face.

‘Now you watch her Jim, she’s got that strange look in her eye.’ He starts the car, above the sound of the engine Alison can hear him laughing.


He took that bend too quickly; Alison is almost sure he did it on purpose. For a moment they are pressed together, she can feel his breath, the warmth of his body, the faint chuckle in his chest. She is nervous, wants to pull away but can’t. Now she is huddled against the door to keep a gap between them. Anna and Jim are in the back, their talk is low, and their heads are inclined together. In the make-up mirror on the car’s sun visor Alison can see. If they were watching, they too could see her brown eyes reflected in the small mirror. They are not watching.


Anna is in the back with this man, as they talk his eyes are fixed on her breasts, he thinks she hasn’t noticed. He is neat and clean shaven, unlike Jeremy, he looks like her brother in Sydney, ordinary but handsome too, in a neat salesman sort of way. She finds that quite attractive. She can smell him, he smells of aftershave and sweat, male smells, suddenly she wants to know him more. Jeremy drives wildly, much faster than Alison would ever dare, despite him she manages to doze. When she wakes the car is parked in front of a pub, Anna and Jim are already inside. Alison heaves herself out and wobbles to the door on legs that suddenly seem insubstantial.


In the bar of the hotel the men sit in a row like birds on a perch, bending and sipping, pecking at peanuts. Alison stands with eyes downcast making just a small gap in the line. Jim and Anna have disappeared, and she is here in this tiny bar, a thousand miles from home and with a man she has only known for a few hours. These are the facts, but the alcohol is making Alison feel warm and sleepy.


Anna is here in this room with this man who is Jim. She sits naked on the side of the saggy bed and watches as he carefully removes his shirt. Small hairs curl on his chest obscenely. She is slightly self-conscious about the small rolls of fat around her waist though she knows that her breasts are magnificent. He is watching her; his eyes are lascivious slits. He removes his jeans and underpants, standing there for a moment, proudly displaying his erect cock.


When Alison wakes in the night it is dark and silent. She dozes, she is still tired and her head throbs. She wakes again and reaches out, it is a habit with her, reaches out for Jim and finds Jeremy. She is aware of wetness between her legs, she is aware of a smell.  The smell is sex. For a moment it is possible that she could panic, she sits up and examines herself, she can’t remember anything after coming upstairs. She stiffens when she hears him sigh and realises that he is waking up. Quickly, she leaps out of bed and, grabbing her dressing gown, heads for the bathroom.


The others are up early, they are showered, dressed, eating breakfast in the hotel dining room when first Alison and then Jeremy finally emerge. Alison sits beside Jim who is stupidly sheepish. Anna gushes. Jeremy chuckles, enjoying himself, Alison eats silently, gives nothing away.


Nothing is clear anymore. Jim doesn’t know where to look, he wants to look at Alison but can’t. Nothing is safe anymore; he has no idea what she is thinking. Did he ever?  Things are hazy with Jim; he wants to go home though he doesn’t know where home is anymore. Anna and Jeremy are the same as before, donning their former personalities like coats they ignore Jim and Alison. They are playing around. They wander off to the bar and a round of morning drinks.


Jim and Alison pack the car, a gap of silence between them. They wait in the car to see if the others will come out. They beep the horn twice and when no-one comes, they pull out onto the highway. In the pub Anna and Jeremy drink and laugh, they sit at a table and form a conspiracy. Their minds float lightly from day to day, never quite touching the earth. The earth is something Jim and Alison used to know, they knew it, it was safe.  Now they drive in the car, the same as before but not. The air is thick. Jim turns on the radio then turns it off with a click. There is nothing to be said. They sit in their seats, apart and at the same time moving, always moving, together in a curious rhythm.



Natalie Fraser is a Geelong West based writer of short stories, fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. She has written a food blog, notimeforporridge.com, and performed at many spoken word events and festivals ranging from Melbourne Fringe to the St Kilda Festival. Over the years she has been published in various literary magazines including Going Down Swinging. She has been longlisted and shortlisted for a number of literary prizes around Geelong and Melbourne including the inaugural Djillong Short Story Prize and the Glen Eira ‘My Brother Jack’ award where she was also highly commended. She has won the Ada Cambridge Prize for Biographical Prose at the Williamstown Literary Festival twice – in 2014 and 2021. She is currently working on an anthology of short stories and a memoir. Natalie joined Geelong Writers in 2021 and has found it to be a valuable resource and a great way to meet other local writers.


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