You can’t imagine it. I’ll tell you how it was, but you won’t be able to imagine it.

It rained the night before. Just long enough to turn the earth to muck. It wasn’t even properly light when the lamb started and I pulled on my gumboots and went across the paddock. I was hung over. Had gone for work drinks the night before; six bottles of red between four of us and I wasn’t used to it, not then. But there it was, that bloody lamb, crying like a baby and I had to carry it back under my arm, mud stuck to my boots like ankle weights.

I was angry with Rem then. The lamb had been his idea. He’d brought it home then hadn’t fed the thing once. Acted like it was a kindness giving me this needy pet. Like he was a good bloke and I should be grateful. It was the thing that did me in that lamb, the thing that did us in.

When I think of Rem now I think of his spindly fingers pulling knotted clumps of clay from his beard. Combing his fleece. The smell of lanolin on my own fingers. And I think of bloated sheep across the paddocks in the district. That one I’d handfed, warm body jammed between my legs, firm and insistent dragging at the bottle. The sound of pulling the teat from its mouth, and the way it was just like the sound of heaving my gumboots from the muck.

The night it happened I fed the lamb and put it back in the paddock. It was only drizzling then. Later, I sat tucked up, snug in front of the fire as rain pelted on the corrugated iron roof, a blanket wound tight around me even though the room was toasty.

To begin with it was funny, all that water only days after I’d given up and bought it in. Filled both of the tanks with thousands of litres. I was probably smiling when I fell asleep to the beat of the rain, was sleeping when it started to come in, ran under the door like some bloody phantom and when I woke up, got up to pee, the lights had gone out and things were floating across the floor. Put my foot down and it was half way up my bloody calves. Shit. Fuck. It was bad. And I didn’t know what to do. Moved things onto benches when I should have been getting out. Waste of fucken time that was.

Couldn’t even tell you how I got onto the roof. Don’t remember and I never was much of a climber. Remember that, remember when we were in primary school and you’d be at the top of the tree and I could barely lift myself off the ground? But I did it, I got myself up there.  I could hardly stop laughing. Fucken laughing, I was so impressed. Dragging all that shit up with me too. Still don’t have a clue how I did it.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not impressed really. Bloody stupid. I should have been getting out. Should’ve been grabbing the lamb. Shouldn’t have been so cocky.

And I slept; don’t know how. Woke, tarp twisted about my face, body draped around the chimney. Blank, charcoal sky as if the rain hadn’t bloody happened and ropes flying in the wind, the rest of the tarp ballooning like a sail. For a moment I thought I was wounded, maybe paralysed. It took ages to squeeze the feeling back into my legs.

And when the sun came up, aching arms. Water as far as I could see, dirty brown water. And nothing looked like a beginning. Everything seemed middle, like someone had blended hues, dirty grey sky into dirty brown water and nothing looked like the divide. Nothing said end.

People would come, I thought. My neighbours. They would rescue me. I didn’t know then. Hadn’t thought properly.  Brain frozen like my limbs. And when they did come, I didn’t know them. First a boat and then later, when I couldn’t get down and no-one could get up, a helicopter. They’d wanted to strap me to a stretcher but I was too fucken chicken. In the end they winched me up, strapped to some guy and we hung in the air together.

Do you know what I thought of while I was hanging off that helicopter? I thought about monkey bars and that move we did. I think we called it the birds’ nest and yours was always the best, the deepest, had room for the most chicks and I never told you that. How fucken good your birds’ nest was. I felt sorry about that.

You probably want to know what it looked like from the helicopter. But I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t look. Just tucked my head in, like a coward. Cause by then I knew what I might see and I didn’t want to see it, ‘cause it’s not only stupid tree-changers get killed by this shit.

After they let me out of hospital I stayed at Mum’s and slept in my old room under that poster we bought at the Duran Duran concert. She brought me breakfast in bed and I ate bacon and eggs like I hadn’t been vegan for years, like it was some kind of break from everything I believed in.

It was two weeks before I went back, before I could drag myself out of Mum’s house. Took that long for the water to drop and the roads to clear. And you know what? I thought they might have sorted things. Made things a bit more like it hadn’t all happened. Made an effort. But it doesn’t work like that. They clear the roads; fix the bridges. The rest of it you have to do yourself.

I try not to think about it, but it’s wound into me like some tiny wire threaded through my veins, like it’s part of me. And there’s no middle anymore, just the beginning and the end. The things that are gone and the things that aren’t and it doesn’t matter anymore, how long you’ve been here. There’s only before and after the floods.

I’ve watched people try to move forward by going back, to rebuild what they had, but it’s not possible. There are no memories pressed into the walls, no scuff marks on the floors. Even the roads are different, freshly sealed, and smooth, and I find myself swerving where the potholes used to be. Funny how the little things that used to annoy me are the same things I think of when I try to wish it all back.

Funny too how no-one wanted to rebuild the church but everyone helped out with the roadside crosses. Small crosses got teddy bears tied to them, as if that could be some kind of comfort. And all of the crosses got flowers. Good sturdy flowers like geraniums and daisies. Bit ugly if you ask me but they last and they bring colour and I suppose that takes people’s minds off the silt. Off all of those bodies packed tightly with earth secreted in rain.

But it doesn’t take my mind off it. My brain still spins reels of metal coffins turned over and over in the torrent. And I can only imagine it. Cause I was too chicken to look, remember? But I might as well have cause I can see the toddler from next door, trapped in his expensive car seat. Coated inside and out in golden mud. I try not to think of that. But I can’t help it. I open my eyes and I see that bloody kid. Face as clear as the last time I saw him sucking at a lollypop outside the shop.

For a long time I was angry with Rem for leaving me with all that. I wanted Rem to see that kid’s face every time he opened his eyes, every time he closed them. But Rem was well gone before then. I’d told him to leave and he hadn’t come back, hadn’t even tried. ‘You’re a fucken cunt.’ I shouted across the paddocks. And still he hadn’t come. It confirmed what I’d known all along.

Last week I heard that his mother died. Rem had flown back to Cambodia. There were floods in Siem Reap. Can you imagine it? At the same time. They wouldn’t have been able to bury her. Her body would have bloated in the heat, like the livestock here, like my lamb. The funeral would have been delayed. I felt bad when I heard that. I even cried but I’m not sure if it was for his mother, or my lamb or maybe for the things that Rem and I might have been if only we’d known how to navigate the difference. I don’t know, maybe it was for the kid.

You know, if I could go back and save one thing it would be that lamb. Sounds terrible doesn’t it? It’s not that I wouldn’t save the kid but I’m being realistic. I could have saved the lamb, if I hadn’t left it in the paddock. What I wouldn’t give to feel the solid warmth of that lamb in my arms. If I could go back for one thing, that would be it.



Melissa Manning

Melissa Manning is the author of Smokehouse, an interlinked story collection set in southern Tasmania. Her writing has been recognised in awards and published widely, including in Best Small Fictions (US), To Carry Her Home (UK), Award Winning Australian Writing, and Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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