The toes of her pointy toe red stilettos tapped impatiently at the counter. She rattled her car keys, yet again and cleared her throat loudly. She could feel the dust on her skin, the grime in her hair. She had not seen a human or a car in the last hour.
The plains seem to go forever, the dust swirling around as the sun rose behind her. The colours in the sky and land changed before her, though she hardly noticed.Her mind was ticking through work lists, clients, finances, staffing without a second glance at the kaleidoscope of hues outside.
A quick coffee, pick up the parcel and she was out of here.
“Oh sorry love, didn’t see you there” apologies the short rounded lady as she steps from the kitchen, wiping her wet her hands on the well worn apron. “What can I get ya?”
With a forced smile the city lady asks “Can I have a soy latte? And do you have any gluten free sweets”
“Soy latte?” Is that a coffee?
“Yes, made on soy milk?”
“Gee, we haven’t got anything like that here, don’t get much call for special flavours. We had a coffee machine a few years back but the folks didn’t like the coffee that came out of it, so we just went back to instant. We buy the good stuff, not the homebrand. Do you want one of them?”
What sort of place was this? she screamed inside her head. Her boss had asked her to duck out to pick up the papers from his client. She didn’t realise that his idea of ‘duck out’ was a five hour drive north west of the city. She had been driving all morning, stopping (suddenly) only for a herd of cattle wandering on the road as her car flew across the plains.
“OK, that will be fine. Can you make it a good strong one?”
“No just black thanks. Can I just sit over there?” she pointed to a small table and chairs hidden in the corner of the shop.
“Sure love I will bring it over to you”
Her heels echoed through the shop as she settled at the table and dragged out her laptop and phone. The emails would have been piling up all morning, she knew she needed to get on top of them. As she moved the phone around the table trying to pick up a signal of any sort a door opened near the back of the shop.
The hairs on her neck prickled.
A cool chill ran through her veins.
A wisp of air puffed past her ear.
She looked up towards the door and her eyes caught the photo
hanging precariously on a nail. Slightly crooked with several decades of dust and a few generations of spider web seemingly holding the frame in place.
One of the men in the picture looked exactly like her grandfather.
Her coffee, in a chipped lime green mug from the 1970s was plonked in front her. “There ya go love. I see you were looking at that photo.”
“Yes, one of the men bears a striking to resemblance to someone I know”
“My dad out the back was just saying the same about you”
An old man shuffles from the kitchen. A worn blue shearers singlet hung loosely from his shoulders, his trousers held in place with a bit of baling twine. His hands were calloused from years of grasping a shearing comb, his back stooped from cradling thousands of sheep to his heart.
“Whatsya name lovey”
“Alice. Alice Stratton”
“Well I’ll be damned” he gasps as he falls into the chair opposite her
“Should I know you?” she inquires hesitantly.
Scenes from movies blast through her mind. Should she grab her gear and get out of this place now? She has no phone service, would the detectives know where to start looking for her body? How long would she be missing before her boss reports her?
“You must be Joe’s great granddaughter”
“Joe? Joe Stratton? You knew him?”
“Joe is still a bit of legend in these parts, even though he died in ’68. I remember my folks talking of the kindness and generosity of Joe. The town’s own Robin Hood they said.”
“I’ve been trying to find something about for him for years. My grandmother never talked about my grandfather. I only knew he died young and his father’s name was Joe, that’s all”
“Well lovey, do you need to be anywhere today? I can fill you in on a few bits. Might not be able to give you everything but I can try…”
Alice discovered her family that autumn. How Joe, whose real name was Walter Josiah Stratton was a very kind hearted man. Where he worked, where he lived.What happened to her grandfather.He was never quite the same after his son William died at only 20 and Charlie was sure no-one knew that William had married or a child.
“Are you protestant?” Charlie asked out of the blue.
“Ah that solves it then” says Charlie, “no wonder Joe never mentioned it”
Charlie and Alice drove through the dusty streets of the town. The weathered rusty buildings scattered though the streetscape displaying the memories of more prosperous times.
As the sun was setting in the west they came upon the village cemetery, hid amongst the pine forest just outside of the town.
“Over there to the right love” Charlie pointed. “I’ll let you go yourself, I might duck over here and say g’day to the wife”
She scanned headstones. The chill from this morning coursed through her veins again as she came upon her history. The cockatoos screeched above her as if celebrating her final return to her roots. A few kangaroos bounded along the fence, startled by the visitor during their evening graze. Then the world fell silent.
She straightened the headstone, slightly crooked from the rabbit holes around the graves.
“Hello” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears as her hands ran along the words carved in the stone “Its Alice. Nice to finally meet you.”
In the clear, crisp Autumn weather,
In the Winters chilly greys,
In the sleepy warmth of Springtime,
And the scorching Summer days.
Round the village late and early,
Shopping for the aged and frail,
Doing errands for the many,
Buying meat, collecting mail.
Round the village late and early,
Any season, any day –
We can see you and salute you,
As you go upon your way
Yes, my friend, we would salute you,
With a tribute warm and true
For the vigour of your spirit,
And the kindly deeds you do
Some perhaps will fail to thank you,
Or will bring you ought but strife,
Some will never see the glory,
Of your simple serving life.
But the faithful friends who bless you,
Watching you shall see and know,
Something of the Master’s Spirit,
In the heart of good old Joe.
Taken from Curlewis School Centenary book 1985. Author of poem unknown.