She can see the river now, a blue-green snake beneath the road.
Always there was the river. Rushing in after school, hauling on togs and running, leaping off the rocks, churning through the water. They’d be down there hours in the summer. The smell of thyme, like eucalyptus except fainter, sweeter. The grey-blue colour of it, the feel of it scratching her bare legs. The way the soles of their feet toughened up, turned into leather in the summer months. Sometimes Mum came down to find them, baby Serena under one arm, a packet of fish and chips under the other. Thursday was Benefit Day. Fish and chips, maybe ice cream. Mum’s box of wine.
If it hadn’t been for the men, it could’ve been all right.
It could’ve been all right but it wasn’t.
Did you ever wonder why? Ever wonder why I left the way I did? Ever wonder how I was getting on in Dunedin with no one to help me, no one that I knew? Did you ever wonder if I was scared?
She’s tired but she’ll keep on driving. Not long to go. Roxburgh, now. The wide main street with the churches, the pubs. Not long. It’s getting towards the end of the day and the sun’s lowering, bright and glaring on the windscreen. Past the dam, and she’s climbing now, taking the corners gently. She’s winding downwards. On the last stretch.
When she lived here Alex was the world. Everyone knew who was important, who owned the businesses on the main street, who lived in the big houses. Alex was the world and if you were important you could do what you liked. If you were important you could take someone little and stamp them out flat.
Nearly there and she’s still scared. Scared of going back. When she left she wasn’t going back. No matter what happened, she wasn’t ever going back. Now she has to. No choice.
Still, there’s nowhere else like this; the burnt, golden land, the rocks like great looming ruins glinting silver in the evening sun. Fruitlands, with the crumbling stone buildings beside the road, the pine trees jutting out of sand and rock, the houses dotted up on the rise of hill and there, at last, the bridge.
That bridge was her last memory of the place. Getting up in the early morning, pulling on her jeans and T-shirt, grabbing her jacket. Taking her bag and moving slowly and silently through the house, turning the door-handle, slipping through and easing the door shut behind her. She pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head, wove her way through town, keeping away from the main streets. Along the river, then up onto the bridge. She walked across it, her head down, too afraid to look up.
She was over the bridge, walking to the top of the rise when she heard the whine of a truck easing into a lower gear. She put out her thumb.
Paddy Richardson is the author of two collections of short stories, Choices and If We Were Lebanese and seven novels, The Company of a Daughter, A Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind, Traces of Red, Cross Fingers, Swimming in the Dark and Through the Lonesome Dark. Traces of Red and Cross Fingers were long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Crime Fiction Award and Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark were short listed. Four of her novels have been published overseas, A Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind and Traces of Reds have been translated and published by Droemer Publishing, Germany, and Swimming in the Dark by Macmillan, Australia. Through the Lonesome Dark was shortlisted for the New Zealand Historical Novel Award and longlisted for The Dublin International Literature Award.
Paddy has been awarded Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship, the Beatson Fellowship and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award. She has been a guest at many writing festivals and was one of the New Zealand writer representatives at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs in 2012 when New Zealand was the guest of honour. In 2019, she was awarded the Randell Cottage residency in Wellington where she spent six months writing and researching her latest novel to be published in 2021.
Paddy lives in a beautiful part of our world, on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand, where she swims, walks, reads and works as a full-time writer.
Paddy is a UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence at the 2020 Festival.
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