Ray puts his mouth up to the gap between the window and the car door-frame. Still, everything smells of burning. Smoky air grazes his throat, punches his lungs. His head spins and he slumps back into the driver’s seat. No matter what he does, he can’t stop his hands from shaking. I could go out, he thinks, find her.

He looks at the gap again with disbelief. The windscreen, a Rorschach of leaves, of singed tin and copper and black land. The ash spread out like melting snow. No hope.

From the west, a lone clay road snakes through the flat valley, enters town, passes the red pub, and drops into the gully before cutting over the dry riverbed and almost disappearing north. Almost. There are cuts in the film where trees should be, like someone’s gone at flesh with a Stanley knife.

Ray closes his eyes, trying not to think of all that death. All he can see is her. Her pitched ears and underbite. Her pink tongue slipping out between her upside-down fangs. Her eyes, giant black pools in a cave where a half-moon’s reflection gleams off the water. Her wrinkled jowls, the pink tabs behind her whiskers, her pressed nose. Everyone called her ugly. Not him. She was the most beautiful girl in the world.

He rubs his eyes, swallows glass. Across the road, four men in dirty yellow jumpsuits are hosing down the pub. Oily rainbows sweat off the maroon facade and pool at the base of stained tree trunks used as verandah posts. Ray licks his lips, sniffs. He’d sink his face into one of those pools, drink until his stomach … Those fucking cunts.

Again, he reaches for the window crank, rattles it, trying to make it budge. No dice. The gap between the frame and window is barely ten centimetres. A gap so small … an exit that should never have been an exit.

On the passenger’s seat, Kendy raises his head and stretches his body. Ray eyes him. The dog looks anxious, dignified, in the way only a French bulldog can. Those big opals searching Ray’s face for answers. A real Winston Churchill look-alike. On a good day, that look might make Ray laugh. The anamorphic, prime-ministerial traits of a creature who eats his own shit.

‘Sorry, mate,’ Ray says, reaching over the centre console and patting Kendy’s head, ‘but I don’t like our chances. I reckon she’s gone … I reckon it’s all gone.’

Kendy’s nostrils flare and he gets up on his hind legs, his paws resting on the dashboard. He’s watching something. Out the front of the pub, Frank O’Grady, the publican, is talking to one of the firies, wide-brimmed hat pressed to his chest like an armour over his heart.

A rope of black drool unspools from Kendy’s mouth, coils on the dashboard. The firies turn off their hoses and start packing up their equipment. O’Grady turns, looking in Ray’s direction, raising his hat and waving in a wide arc. His face is ashen, his blue-checked flannelette shirt covered in grime. Sixty metres between them, maybe less.

‘How many points if I run that prick down?’ Ray drops the clutch, throats the key, starts the engine. Justice sometimes, he thinks, is a fast bastard.


Last night, a flutter of spotlights, smoke barely distinguishable from the orange and silver dark. The bush crunching, howling, crashing. O’Grady had stood in the door of the pub, clutching the frame. His face changing suddenly, lit up like Christmas as a fire engine wailed down the clay road, its siren the bleating of a thousand goats. Ray turned back towards his ute, Kendy and Poppy yapping. Her claws chattering on the glass.

‘I’m sorry, mate,’ O’Grady had said, barely making eye contact. ‘There’s families here. They might hurt one of the kids.’

‘They’re fucking French bulldogs. They’re harmless, Frank. You know that.’

‘We can’t risk it, Ray. We just can’t.’

Inside the pub, a couple of families unfurling their sleeping bags on the floor, two women stirring pots on camper stoves, a few men at the bar downing heady beer from frosted glasses. None of them had looked at Ray. Not that they ever did. Not since his wife. They’d loved her. Not him. Especially since Garry Bryan had found Ray, all those years back, the day after her funeral, unconscious in the driver’s seat, blood spilling from his head like a crimson veil, his car bonnet scythed around a ghost gum, black smoke pouring from the engine. They’d said there weren’t any skid marks. But Ray couldn’t remember. He’d made sure of that.

‘You’re a goddamn cunt, Frank.’

O’Grady had lowered his head. ‘Hate me, Ray. I get it. I do. But I’ve got to do what’s best for the community. I’m sorry, mate.’

Ray clenched his fist so hard he thought his knuckles would pop. ‘Hope the lotta you fucking burn to death!’ he’d growled, charging back to his ute, Poppy bouncing on the driver’s seat, pawing at the gap in the window.


Less than forty metres now. If it wasn’t for him … O’Grady’s footfalls clapping dust off the road. As if that fuckhead had forgotten every phrase in the English language except I’m sorry. Ray jams the gearstick into first. The wheel, soft as flesh, hot under his grip. His fingers forming wells. He revs the engine, lets out the clutch. The car lurches forward.

O’Grady stops. He’s in the middle of the road. He’s yelling something, but the sound of the engine is all-consuming. The ute barrelling towards him, gaining speed. Twenty metres and closing.

Kendy howls. Ray eyes him sideways. The dog’s staring—not at O’Grady but at him. Those wet eyes speaking a language only Ray can understand.

‘Fine. Fuck!

Ray floors the clutch, drops gears, yanks the handbrake, swings the wheel hard right. The engine bawls, chokes. The back tyres seize up. He slams the accelerator, lets down the handbrake. O’Grady drops, shields his face with his arms. Ray holds the turn, narrowly missing him. His back end wings. The tyres spitting dust, then rocks. An artillery of earth smashing O’Grady.

‘Gravel rash cunt,’ Ray grumbles. He drops the clutch, straightens the car out, hits the accelerator and fangs it up the road, straight out of town.


In the east, the sun hovers over the ranges, a red marble in a skein of milk. Ray runs his hand over the ridges of Kendy’s back, collecting fur on his fingers. He’s been here for twenty minutes, staring at his front gate, unable to believe it’s still there. Half the fence is gone, of course. Posts little more than black stalagmites, planted charcoal. The barbed wire, copper scar tissue against the shadowed earth. The tyres he’d wired up to the gate last summer, melted through, leaving strange alien puddles on the drive.

But still, the gate’s survived. If God weren’t a cunt, Ray might call this a miracle.

He climbs through the back seat, out the back window and into the tray, drops his legs over the side and hits the dust. He turns, seeing that dent the shape of his boot in the driver’s door. Fuck me.

He trudges over to the gate, unclasps the chain, yanks it open. It screams and scuttles, leaving a chalk quarter-circle over the drive. He looks back. Kendy is up on his hind paws, staring out the back window, his head going left to right. Jesus, the boy’s lost the love of his life.


How small they’d been when he’d bought them. Five years back, when they were supposed to be his way out of livestock. Breed a few litters at six thousand per pup and he’d be set for retirement. It was supposed to be easy.

But then, the dodgy asshole he’d bought them off had sold them over a month premature, and Ray had been forced to syringe feed. He had no idea what he was doing. They eeped incessantly, worming around in his hands as he tried to put the syringe between their bloated pink lips. Their eyes blue, half open, and their skin translucent, they looked like emaciated mice. One wrong move and they’d’ve choked, or worse even, drowned on formula. The milky substance left tiny white beards on their chins.

Worried, he’d set their box by the side of his bed, spent money he’d been saving for retirement on a proper heat mat and heat lamp. At night, unable to sleep, he stared at them curled into each other. A Yin–Yang.

It was supposed to be only for those first six weeks, while the pups still needed formula. But Ray had never had dogs before. He’d only left town a handful of times in his life, and once was for his wedding. He’d been out, alone, on that property for over a decade. Now, someone needed him. He watched them learn to walk, eat kibble, yelp at magpies, chase rats in the shed.

One night, he’d woken up. Poppy was perched on his chest, licking his chin. He couldn’t work out how she’d gotten up there. He flicked on his bedside light and stared at her. Her eyes were wide, like someone had just yelled. She was so tiny. He scratched her pitched ears and let her curl into a half moon. Ray peered over the edge of the bed. Kendy was still asleep. ‘The married couple,’ he muttered, holding Poppy to his chest. He’d sworn he’d never share a bed with dogs.

At thirteen months, Poppy was old enough to breed. Her second heat had come and gone. He’d kept them separated, worried Kendy might work out how to mount her. She wasn’t ready, he told himself. Most days, Kendy slept in the shed, while Poppy followed him from paddock to paddock as he watered the last of his goats. At night, they curled up together on top of him and watched whatever garbage was playing on free-to-air. He talked to them like he would his kids, if he’d ever had them, imparting life lessons about how to treat the land. When Kendy, twice her size, stole Poppy’s food, Ray would pick Kendy up and put him outside. ‘That’s not how you treat your wife!’

Sometimes, he’d have entire conversations with them, impersonating them, doing their voices. In his mind Poppy was a ballerina working on a tell-all memoir about the excesses of modelling. Kendy, on the other hand, was true-blue, a bucky trade unionist without a clue. If anyone asked, they met in Bali.

Three years went by. Every heat he kept them separated. Whenever pups crossed his mind, he thought of the scalpel, of Poppy slit down the middle like a bowl of jelly. Her body winched open, vices holding her in place on the metal tray. Her bloated organs and exposed arteries. The weeks and weeks of recovery. The zipper-like scar. To think none of them could breed naturally. He’d watched C-sections and they were brutal. Year after year he kept telling himself, there is always next season.


Ray spits into the dust, kicks it. If only he hadn’t come back screaming blue murder. Both of them waiting in the driver’s seat, waiting for their dad. She was always skittish, he should have known better. She’d never have jumped … the gap was so tiny … Never. She wasn’t like Kendy. She was the clever one.

‘Fuck,’ he says, climbing in through the back window. ‘I’m sorry, mate.’

Kendy drops onto all fours, stares at him as if saying, It’s okay, Dad.


A kilometre down the driveway, he knows he’s lost everything. The neighbour’s place is gone. The scatter of eucalypts and native ferns are dead roots in a dry swamp.

A cargo plane drones overhead and Ray pulls up, watching it. Way out, on the southernmost distance, a knot of low mountains form smudged finger prints. Curlicues of smoke rise from a point between them. He watches the plane open its steel belly, a sheet of water glistening like a kaleidoscope smashed open. Steam spewing into the atmosphere.

‘Desperate idiots,’ he murmurs.

Up ahead, the climb before his property dips into a shallow gully, the supposed haven where his old fibro sits. Not a hundred metres off to his right, what’s left of his shed. A cross-stitch of sheet metal now the blackness of volcanic ash, a giant, archaic suture over the land.

Ray shudders, looks up at the climb. A few gums with leaves at their peaks, brilliant green against the grey of the land and sky. He hums to himself, sucks his teeth. Blinks three times before looking again. The leaves are still there.

Ray restarts the engine. He takes the climb at fifteen ks, worried that if he drives too quickly, he’ll somehow manifest destruction. Halfway up, halos of long grass, smoke-stained, swaying in the wind. Near the peak, a shimmer of blue flowers. At the top, it’s as if the fires never passed through, the land dry with drought but still alive. Kendy climbs onto the dashboard and presses his face to the glass. Ray leans forward, his eyes trailing upward. Overhead, a black cockatoo is circling.


Hope is a bastard. All that’s left of Ray’s fibro is the crapper and the chimney. Unpromising passages to the afterlife. He gulps down hot saliva, climbing out of the tray. It’s just nails and timber, render, cement and cladding. It doesn’t howl when it’s lonely.

Staring at the smoke-blasted porcelain of the toilet, he remembers the way Poppy would cry whenever he was taking a shit. How she’d whine that he’d locked her out, scratch at the door demanding entry. How he’d open the door a crack and she’d squeeze in, immediately trying to jump into his lap, his pants at his ankles and a wad of toilet paper in his hand. It seems only fitting that the last image he has of her is her jumping through the gap in the window, her ass flying past his face, her charging into Satan’s bowel movement. There, in the sea of smoke, blood-red darkness. His girl. Disappearing.

She never even looked back.

He wipes the wetness from his cheeks and pries open the passenger’s door. Kendy, jumping from the seat, whips circles at his feet. His pitched ears. His eyes alive. He stops abruptly, stiffens, looks towards the remains.

‘What is it, boy?’

In the dust, beneath the collapsed living room wall, Ray sees something move. A lumbering in the wreckage.

Kendy’s halfway to the house before Ray even knows what he’s seeing.


Tim Loveday

Tim Loveday is an award-winning writer. In 2022, he won the Dorothy Porter Poetry Award, and received a Writing Space Fellowship and Australia Council for the Arts grant. Tim is the verse editor for XR’s Creative Hub and the director of Curate||Poetry. He is represented by Jacinta di Mase Management.

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