The colour of kerosene
From Griffith REVIEW Edition 22: MoneySexPower
© Copyright Griffith University & the author.
Written by Cameron Raynes
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It had felt wrong from the moment he'd picked up the fare outside the hotel on Marine Terrace.
‘Turn here,' the man said.
They drove on, almost to the end of Rifle Range Road. ‘That's the one,' said the man, pointing to a weatherboard Housing Commission home with a dying wattle tree out the front.
‘Didn't know you could kill them,' said Luke.
The man didn't answer. He hadn't said much since talking Luke into the job ten minutes earlier: a three hundred kilometre trip to the east, to a station. The promise of a $600 fare and a tank of free diesel when he got there was too good to pass up. Luke could use the money.
The man wound down his window, leaned a meaty arm across Luke and depressed the horn two, three times.
‘Jess!' he shouted.
They waited. The front door opened and a woman appeared. Her dress was shapeless but for the slightest hint of hips as she came down the steps. A still-pretty face, dirty blonde hair, meagre breasts. She walked up to the car and Luke could see that she had the same unnaturally translucent blue eyes as the man.
‘Where's Annabel?' asked the man.
‘Inside. She's coming.' She stood beside his door, passing a Coke bag from hand to hand.
‘Pete, are you sure I should come?'
‘Get in,' Pete said, nodding towards the back seat.
She opened the back door and climbed in.
ANNABEL LOOKED A COUPLE OF YEARS older than Jess, in her late twenties perhaps. Smooth, brown skin and lots of it. They headed east, the nude hills of the Geraldton plains, stripped of their trees a century before, leaning into them on both sides as the car climbed into the marginal country. Behind him, Luke heard the gurgle of fluid sluicing out of a bladder and into a cup, smelt the sweet stink of cheap wine.
‘Jess, you get to meet the Greek,' said Pete.
Annabel laughed - a gurgling, resonant chuckle. For Luke, it was hard to hear that laugh and not think of her body and how it must look, feel and smell.
FIFTY MINUTES LATER, approaching Mullewa, Pete leaned over, his breath sour and hot on Luke's face.
‘How's ya' fuel?'
Luke looked at the gauge. ‘About a third,' he said. ‘Should I get some here?'
‘Na. We'll make it. Two hundred clicks to go. You can fill up there. Take all ya' want.'
The Railway Hotel on their left, worn-out rolling stock on their right, a church, dusty roads lined with ugly cottages, their yards defeated by drought, a petrol station. Not a soul in sight. By the time they'd reached the eighty kilometre sign on the outskirts of town, Luke was doing a hundred and ten.
Pete fiddled with the glovebox, opened it. Luke, turning to him as a road train blasted past on his right, tried to make a point of holding his gaze.
‘Hey! What's this?' said Pete, rummaging among Luke's rego papers and petrol receipts. ‘Didn't know you were packin' heat.' He laughed, holding the little blue gun that Luke's nephew had left there the week before.
‘Put it back,' said Luke.
‘Spray me,' said Annabel, gurgling. A sound like water going to waste.
‘I'll piss in it at the next stop,' said Pete. He rested his hand on the dash, pointing the water pistol at a Landcruiser rushing towards them. His arms were brown, scarred, his forearms as thick as pythons - not the defined, neat muscles of the gym; they were arms you got from working outside, straining fences, hoisting bales of hay, holding an animal still while someone else went to work on its horns, teeth or balls.
We're not stopping, thought Luke, eyes on the odometer, willing it to tick over, conscious of the needle on the fuel gauge falling backwards. An hour later, the car full of cigarette smoke, he pulled up at a truck-stop. Pete belched, opened his door and got out. He stood in front of the car, his back to them, pissing. Luke resisted the temptation to throw the car into reverse and roar away. They were now closer to the station than to Mullewa, and he wasn't sure he'd make it. Luke turned to look at the girls.
‘Anyone else?' he asked.
Annabel looked out the window. Flat land all around, the car hemmed in by scrubby bushland as if the world ended at fifty paces in each direction. Jess groaned.
‘You okay?' Luke asked.
She shook her head, fumbled with the handle, opened the door, leaned out and vomited loudly on to the ground. Luke got out. Pete was throwing rocks at the rest area sign, thirty metres away.
‘She's always been like that,' he said over his shoulder, ‘since she was a kid.' The sound of rock hitting metal and he shouted, triumphant. Luke poured water into Jess's cupped hands from a plastic milk carton and she spat, then brought her hands up to her face, rinsed, then spat again.