OK, it begins at three o’clock in the morning and I’m standing in the rain with the thunder and lightning very Lear-like and the wind in the Desert Oaks going whoo whoo like some crappy sound effect. I’m wearing my underpants and a tiny yellow plastic hat that makes me look like a camp whaler. My skin is covered in mud and I’m holding an axe in my left hand. I say: You’d better come out here honey. You’d better get out before you drown.
Kate sticks her head out of the tent and flashes the light on me. It’s all Fuck Fuck and Help me Help me but there’s nothing I can do. I don’t care any more.
Later on we’re in the car. The rain has stopped but we’re parked under a tree and massive raindrops are still banging on the roof. It’s starting to drive me crazy. The sun must have come up or something because when I look outside I can see a god-awful mess. The tent has collapsed like an old rubber and the garbage has been washed away. It looks like a battlefield, except I’m dead objective about it and cool too. I give a little giggle. So much for digging drainage trenches, I say.
I turn to look at Kate with a loony smile but she’s not interested. There’s mud everywhere inside the car, all red and slimy, coming off in lumps and streaks every time we touch something. You look fucking awful, she says.
I know what she means. I feel like somebody has emptied their guts over me. Let’s get out of here, I say.
So we start chucking stuff into the car, not looking at each other. We don’t muck around. We don’t want to be stuck in this turd hole a moment longer. It’s funny how things can twist around in the night. Yesterday we blew our tubes trying to get here, the bloody Garden of Eden, just the trees and stuff and a golden sunset. But that was yesterday. Sometimes that happens.
We get back in the car. I’m driving. I turn the motor over but it doesn’t catch. I feel the tension get a little thicker but when I try again it starts OK. The engine sounds very loud under the trees and it makes me jump. I get this weird feeling that I’ve disturbed something. It’s not a real feeling, like happiness or sadness, just a sense that something’s wrong. I can’t quite get a handle on it.
Anyhow, it’s enough to make me hit the gas and before I know it, the wheels are spinning and the engine’s starting to scream. Kate grabs my arm and gives me a few good thumps on my shoulder, shouting something that I can’t hear. I take my foot off the pedal. The car rests at a slight angle as if sucked into the ground. I kill the motor. What did you do that for, you stupid fucking moron? Now we’re really stuck, says Kate.
We get out and circle the car in a clockwise direction, keeping it between us, the doors open wide like a pair of wings. I like the look of that. It looks dramatic. The rear wheels have carved out a couple of grooves in the mud, wet and shiny as if freshly polished. We’re in up to the axle. Looks like we’re bogged, I say. Ever been bogged before?
I try to sound casual, as if being bogged is something that everybody should try now and again. Kate says nothing.
We decide to experiment with a few things. Kate drives and I push. We try reversing. We let the tyres down. It’s no good though and eventually the only thing we can do is start to dig. I’m using the axe again and Kate’s got one of the tin mugs. I notice that it’s my blue one. In no time at all we are covered in mud. I’m kneeling in it. I can feel it squeezing between my toes and fingers. I want to lie in it and push my face into the cool softness.
Digging is hot work and soon we have to stop for a break. Our eyes meet across the roof of the car. The mud on Kate’s face is already beginning to dry and crack like a living, crumbling statue, except on her forehead where it is moist with sweat. She wipes it very slowly with her arm, leaving a bright red smudge between her eyes. There’s something about that gesture, the crimson dirt...
I breathe out hard and feel my stomach tighten.
Hey, I say, why don’t we visit the Americans?
Brad and Mary-Jo arrived late yesterday afternoon, just when we thought we might have the place to ourselves. Not that it’s a real campground or anything. They spotted us here and decided it was a nice enough place to stop. After it got dark, we wandered over to say hello and they opened a warm bottle of Chardonnay. Later on, Brad got out his telescope to give us a demonstration.
Brad and Mary-Jo are over here working for the government. Spies, I reckon, although they look pretty straight. They’ve been married for nearly two years, don’t have any children yet and enjoy bushwalking and the theatre. They asked us what we did and when I said I hadn’t decided yet everybody was silent for a while. I don’t like to give too much away. You never can tell.
I can see them now through the trees, moving about in their sky-blue waterproofs. Mary-Jo is bending down to pick up sticks which she cradles in her arms. As we get nearer, I can see that they’re not bogged like we are but that the weight of their vehicle has caused it to sink slightly. Brad is using a small shovel to dig the wheels out and Mary-Jo is placing her sticks in a long row in front of the tyres. The sticks are all the same length.
Hi there, I say, and they look up from their work. Mary-Jo acts like she’s pleased to see us but Brad seems a little shy today. Maybe it’s all the mud we’ve got on. We talk about the thunderstorm and what we plan to do. Brad says they’re in no hurry to get going. He doesn’t predict any problems but it’s better to be prepared. He offers to lend me his shovel.
Walking back through the trees, we both start to pick up sticks. Brad’s shovel makes light work of the digging and soon we have two gently graded trenches running up from the rear wheels. The trenches are lined with lots of sticks and stuff. It’s a terrific sight. I walk around admiring our work, adjusting the odd twig or scraping a clod away. It’s funny to think that it will all get wrecked when we leave.
I get in position to push from behind but I’m not needed. The car slides out as sweet as shit. Kate yells at me to get in but I’m already off and running, crashing through the undergrowth towards the other camp.
When I get there, Mary-Jo is standing alone as if expecting me. She’s wearing a pair of pink washing-up gloves just like a pair we used to have. It’s funny seeing them again after all this time and, for a moment, I can’t help wondering what she’s doing with them.
Mary-Jo starts to tell me about something but I’m too busy looking at the gloves to pay much attention. She reaches inside her waterproof – the pink fingers disappear behind the sky-blue plastic – and pulls out a tiny piece of paper which she holds up, giving me a meaningful look like somebody secretly offering a sweetie to a child. Then she takes hold of my hand – I can feel the rubber cling to my skin – and places the piece of paper in my palm, folding my dirty fingers over it.
Suddenly Brad appears from behind the off-road vehicle and I have to stop staring at the gloves. We stand around for a while looking at each other and then I remember that I’ve still got Brad’s shovel in my other hand. I hold it out and say, thanks for the use of your shovel, mate. Good luck. I hope you make it.
Brad nods at me slowly and wishes me Bon Voyage. I look at Mary-Jo and she smiles at me. It’s the sort of smile you might give a young man, just nineteen, as he leaves to do his duty. It makes me feel wild and raw and confused.
Next moment, I’m back in the trees again and heading for the waiting car. As we drive off, I lean out of the window to wave but there’s no sign of Brad and Mary-Jo. They’ve already vanished into the bush and the only thing I can see are two pink gloves hanging from the branch of a tree. I keep on looking at the gloves, trying to keep them in view for as long as possible, but eventually we round a bend and they disappear from sight.
I forget to look at the spot where we were bogged.
This piece first appeared
in Nocturnal Submissions #6