Keeping the girl hidden in the shadows, Bobby-boy crept around the side of the faded weatherboard four-room cottage that his Momma called the farmhouse.

What colour paint the old timbers may have once been was a subject for conjecture.  Today, in the dazzling polished light of the summer sun, the boards were a dull, lifeless grey.  A grey so light it hinted at the winter mists, not the brightness of blue, bright summer.  A darker board here and there prompted an image of flame-charred winter firewood.  Hints of coppery radiance reflected from the cleaner patches of the begrimed windows and a torn lace curtain fluttered through one broken pane on the sultry breeze.

The ground beneath their feet was dry and dusty, and this dry, dusty earth stretched off into the heat-shimmering distance.  

Even the hills beyond the farmyard were bare, denuded of foliage, no more than baked lumps of the same desolate soil that rose higher than the plains that extended from the farmhouse to their heat-split gullies.  

Across the distant paddocks he could just make out the hazily indistinct form of cattle prodding lethargically at the sparse grey-green tussocks that were scattered like discarded bundles of spent steel-wool about the plain.

They halted at the sound of her voice, and he edged around the corner nearest the kitchen porch, making sure the girl stayed in the shadows, out of sight. He cradled the ancient rifle in the crook of his arm.

"Is that you, Bobby-boy?" the woman's voice echoed off the decrepit timbers of the old barn.

He came out from the shade at the side of the house and saw her standing on the back porch, her long, patterned dress soiled with farmyard grit, her work-bleached hair scraggily tied under a colourless headscarf. Under her arm she held a frayed wicker basket from which she cast pale grain and limp vegetable scraps. A listless flock of scrawny chickens fluttered and squawked for a brief moment and then reverted to their previous languid state to peck stoically at the strewn cereal and peelings.

She turned towards him, and he could see the dark lines etched deeply in the brown leather of her face; lines that were as deep against her skin as the shadowed ravines in the foothills where he and Sally-Ann had explored new frontiers, their naked bodies protected in the gulley shadows from the brilliance of the glaring sun.

He blushed at the unbidden memory and sweat trickled down from under his wide-brimmed hat to run in staggering rivulets into his eyes. He wondered what Sally Ann would have done if she had known about the buried corpses as they made love. Well, it served them right. People shouldn’t shout at him. It was their own fault. He took off his hat, slapped the dust from it against his thighs, and wiped a check-shirted sleeve across his brow.

"Yes, Momma, it's me," he called.

"Been out after rabbits, have you, Bobby-boy?"

"Yes, Momma," he said sauntering towards her, and tossed a tied bundle of dirty grey-brown rabbits into the dirt at her feet.

"Better than being out with that Jenkins girl.  I don't know what you see in her. She ain't nothing but a trollop.  She ain't good enough for you, you hear?  You be staying away from her now."

"Aw, Momma, Sally-Ann ain't that kinda girl, she's--"

"You hush your mouth, Bobby-boy, and don't be a-talking back to your Momma, you hear?"

"But, Momma--"

"Don't you be but, Mommering me.  You know them Jenkins folk ain't nothing but trash.  Why, when your Daddy was a-running this farm--"

"This ain't no farm.. it's just a patch of dirt, it ain't even--"

"Don't you be talking like that to me, Bobby-boy.  If your Daddy was still here he'd take a belt to you--"

"He ain't here, Momma.  He died from the drink! This goddamn patch of dirt drove him to it!"  

Startled and embarrassed by his outburst, he hung his head and scuffled his boots in the soil, stirring up little eddies of dust.

"I'm sorry, Momma," he mumbled, and then defiantly he lifted his eyes to hers, "But, it's true, Momma, you know it's true."

"I don't know no such thing!" her voice was strained and harsh in the emptiness of the farmyard.  "And you, Bobby-boy, are getting too big for your breeches. I tell you it comes from hanging around that no good Sally-Ann Jenkins!  Now, you be staying away from her, you hear?"

"But, Momma," he began, but stopped as he watched her eyes move from his, and look past him to the corner of the house.  He swivelled his head to follow her stare. More sweat coursed from his brow as he saw the girl emerging from the shadows.  He turned frantically back to face the woman, "Momma, listen to me, I can explain--"

"You get off my land, Sally-Ann Jenkins!" Veins stood out on the woman's skinny neck like the thick ropes on a hog-tied spindly calf. "You ain't got no right a-being here and a-pestering my Bobby-boy!"

"Sally-Ann." the boy stood between the two females, who glowered at each other through the glare of the bright sun. "Go on back.  I told you to wait."

"Wait?"  the girl cried. "Wait?  If I waited for you, Bobby, I'd be an old maid.  You ain't told her yet, have you?"

"Told me what?" the woman demanded.

"Well, Momma--"

"Go on, Bobby, tell her.  You ain't going to let her run your life all your life, are you?"

"She don't run my life, Sally-Ann," he asserted, suddenly feeling sure of himself. "She don't--"

"Aw, come on, Bobby, you knows she does.  Look at her!  She's knows you'd do anything she says.. fetch me some  water, Bobby-boy.. bring in them cows, Bobby-boy.. plough the bottom paddock, Bobby-boy.. stay tied to me apron-strings, Bobby-boy!  Come on, Bobby, tell her."

"Yeah, come on, tell your Momma, Bobby-boy," the woman sneered, casting the remains of the feed from the basket with a practised flick.

He looked from Sally-Ann to his Momma.  He looked from her young skin, flawless, unblemished as yet from a life working the dirt, to his Momma's.  He hooked the rifle to a more comfortable position under his arm, and took a deep breath.  He felt dizzy from the hot, dusty air and he wiped more gritty sweat from his forehead.  A shimmer of sweat sparkled on his upper lip. With his tongue, he licked it off, savouring the moisture in his dry mouth.  "Momma, me and Sally-Ann are getting married."

"You're gettin' what?" the woman shrieked.  "Oh, no you're not Bobby-boy.  Not to that one, you're not!"

"But Momma--"

"Tell her, Bobby!"

"Momma, she's pregnant! She's going to have my baby."

The woman threw the wicker basket to the ground, and stood with her calloused hands on her broad farm-work hips. "Your baby?  Don't be daft, Bobby-boy.  It could be anyone's baby. Anyone within hollering distance of the Jenkins' barn.  Get her off my land, Bobby-boy.  You just get her off my land.  And, I'll tell you, you ain't having nothing more to do with her.  You hear?  Now get rid of her!"

"Don't listen to her Bobby," the girl edged a little closer to him, easing out of the shadows and into the heat of the sun. She reached her soft, young hands towards him, trying to bridge to distance that was laying deeply between them, a distance she felt widening, like the cracking of the dried mud on the creek bed. "Don't listen to her.  It's her you should be getting rid off.  Yeah, Bobby, it's her you should get rid off!"

"Bobby-boy!  I said get rid of her!  Now!"

"No, Bobby, listen to me.  Leave her!  Get rid of her!"

He turned his head, from one to another, and back again, like a chicken eyeing a worm as it poked its head from the dust. Back and forth, as the words, the voices, raised in anger now swirled around him.  The bright daylight darkened as the sun was hidden behind a sudden dark cloud. His skin cooled abruptly, the sweat chilling his brow and the voices faded into a hazy distance.  He could hear the blood pounding in his ears, and suddenly the weight of the rifle lay heavily in his arms.  The sound came back on as if someone had clicked on the wireless - loud.

"Bobby-boy!  I said get rid of her!  Now!"

"No, Bobby, listen to me.  Leave her!  Get rid of her!"

He turned from one to another.  He turned back again.  Then he turned again, swinging the rifle up to his shoulder.

He steadied, aimed deliberately and pulled the trigger.


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