‘The Nocturnals’
The Review of Australian Fiction Volume 2 Number 3, 2012.

Edited by Matthew Lamb

An Excerpt

They would go star-gazing in any of the hundreds of high places they knew of, between the sheep fields, the vineyards, and the cut-flower farms that rose up out of the sibilant wheat to the east. In the late afternoon they would pack up and take off, driving Seddon’s rusted four by four. Just the pair of them, as it had been back when they’d first married. The windows wound down, the telescope folded like a child sleeping in the back—the truck’s only seatbelt tightened around its waist.

They drove the top road or the eastern highway, and squads of motorcyclists overtook them, but they would not follow the longer ring-road on the way out. The mood would be buoyant, their movements focused and meditative. Seddon would let his arm drag in the slatted sun as if he were pulling it through deep water. Naomi rested her bare feet on the dashboard. They would listen to Neil Young, or curdled jazz on a cassette that had bent in the heat, and when the music finished and the tape-deck clicked they said nothing to each other. Naomi sometimes dozed in the warmth.

Overhead the truck’s interior had torn, snagged on a board or just slit open from age. Fragments of yellowed foam speckled the light around them and it was so beautiful then, as if they had stolen that air from inside a wooden chapel, or saved it up since the 1970s. Naomi would snore faintly and mumble; shifting from her side, to her back, to her side, to her back. Then the shade turned silty in the gullies and a gloaming moon would stutter in the trees. Seddon whistled—a directionless tune, wriggling like a tadpole on his tongue—until Naomi yawned, pointed. Here. Begin here. Because this or that turnoff looked vaguely promising, and time was tangling up behind them. Unlatching and re-latching a gate, any gate with quiet apologies to the owner, they went uphill in the truck. By an ungraded road or a dry riverbed, they headed straight for the bristling ridge.

They would pack a plastic box of small onions, cheese and bread, red wine, an LED lantern, a compass and overcoats—although in those nights of late summer they only ever used the coats to lay out on. Parking the four by four, its engine still tinkling, they strode through the fields of oilseeds, carrying the box between them. Hip-deep, they trod in the furrows. Their gaze would be lifted to the higher ground, seeking a flat place, suitable, above the sweeps. As the day finally ebbed they would emerge from the crop feeling right. Strong in themselves. Seddon’s beard gleamed in the dusk, as if he’d pouched it with embers, and his wife would appear limned in canola. Or there might be the streaked ink of Paterson’s Curse on their clothes, and a confetti of carbonised fragments drifted in from a distant burn-off, settled over their heads in garlands, salting their eyebrows. Kangaroos ricocheted down off the slope, soft-footed. When the couple reached the spot they had sought from the road—a rocky outcrop or a copse of short trees—they would no longer be able to see the truck. They would set down the box with the scope in its sleeve. Seeming to anyone who might have happened upon them then, to be the lost Gods of Christmas, they brushed the sun and pollen off each other. It fell in circles on the ground, and faded there.

Purchase the full story from the Review of Australian Fiction‘s website.