At night she would slip away quietly down to the river while everyone was sleeping; the sliding glass and the soft sound of the forest tussling with the night made her feel at home.
Here she could think.
It wasn’t exactly quiet but it was away; away from that festering uneasiness between her father and whoever the new woman was. She could tell when there was a catastrophe looming – her old man would again take that regular meander between the back sunroom and the dingy back shed.

“I’m ‘avin anutha go at that table love; the one I started when your mother… you know…”
“Got a flamin’ brilliant idea for the legs – not gonna let the old son of a bitch beat me this time.”
Apart from being the worst human being she had ever seen to interact with women, he also happened to have an uncanny knack of being able to destroy any kind of handy man project he touched.
Surely you can find a better way to ease that ache, Joan thought. Shit, at least stop battering whatever self confidence you’ve got left with those awful creations - they’re worse than the year 7 woodwork projects pimply faced adolescents waste their parents money on.

But she never said anything; couldn’t think of anything constructive and forbade herself to say anything that would stir the embers of that smouldering wreck.

Joan’s favourite spot at the river was under the big timber rail bridge, Old Sam. Sam was impressive with his old arching hardwood beams, all knotted and dark. The fist sized, steel rivets shining in unison with the worn rails that would glisten when they could dodge the dancing shadows of the trees that lined river. From Sam you could look up the sandstone cliff face to the gum lined ridge, rugged and lashed by years of icy winter winds. Down by the bridge Joan was protected from the wind but she could tell how cold it was up there and it reminded her of home and then and her.
She had seen a lot in her twenty-one years but she didn’t know of anything more beautiful than this place. Nowhere else that made her feel like this place did.

“Oi. Dyl. Get orf ya lazy arse and givza hand with the shopping. Let me work all day and night and can’t even spare a hand for y’rown mother, bleedin selfish sod. ‘Bout as useful as tits on bull in breedin season...”
She trailed off into an expletive laden monologue of self pity and Dylan grabbed the rest of the bags out of the boot and flicked it shut with his foot, still thinking about that new trout hole he’d discovered.
“God’s honest Mum, you could write a book with all those metaphors and adjectives you’ve got hidden away up there.”
“Yeah, and if I thought you were worth it I’d give ya a solid bruise with this apple but it’d be a waste of a good piece of fruit.”

Dylan slipped out the back door quickly just in case she had a sudden change of heart and the screen slapped shut behind him.

Trout’ll be running tonight for sure he thought as he checked his lures and geared up for the walk down to his new prospect. Moon’s just right.

Dylan’s yard backed onto the national park and the river was a solid twenty minute walk through the bush. His brothers had always been too lazy to walk anywhere; they were more interested in hotting up their new utes, or panel vans, or wagons, or whatever it was that they liked to waste their apprentice wage on next.

Friggin’ stupid pieces of junk. Dylan couldn’t think of anything worse.
I reckon it’d be quieter living in a Qantas hanger. Friggin’ noisy V8’s. One day I should pour some sand in their tanks – we’d all be better off. I spose ‘cept for me if they found out.
Dylan was happy with his bike and an old pair of canvas sand shoes. He spent a lot of his time reading old works about famous environmentalists, or his high school ecology books, and he’d always pondered the irony of being born into a petrol loving logging family. While his older brother was on the top bunk flicking through Hustler, Dyl was reading books like the Monkey Wrench Gang or Shallows.

He learnt not to bring them home, or at least leave them lying around after his father found a pile under his bed and burnt them in the front yard as an example, leaving Dyl with a front lawn to fix and a hefty library bill.
“Bloody greenies – the only wilderness we need to worry about are the ones between their ears. I see anything like those around here again and you’ll ‘ave more to worry about than some dead grass. You fuckin’ got that straight Dylan?”
Dylan didn’t bother responding with anything other than a nod. Besides, if he had started to speak he didn’t know what kind of trouble he’d get himself into and he wasn’t too keen on spending the arvo fixing turf with a throbbing lip. Dyl’s wit was quick but his dads left hook was quicker.
So he resorted to a daily ritual of wrapping his books in an old pack and stashing them under a rock over the back fence. The fact that his brothers were lazy and never ventured past the garage made this pretty easy. And after Dylan had regained the librarians trust he was in and out of the place so often they probably should have charged him rent.

There were a lot of things about his situation that confused him; like how his mother could overlook the fact that his brothers hid pornos in their stacks of car magazines and left stains on their boxers, yet he’d cop a ribbing when he mentioned anything vaguely deviating from the common thread of cars, football or the next strike at the mill.
Who gives a toss anyway. I’ll have more saved by the time I’m their age – geez, I’m surprised they’re still at home. Damn sure I won’t be living here.

He successfully negotiated the barbed wire fence as thoughts of escape slid away and hiked down toward that swirling, twisted knife that cut it’s way through the gorge. The new spot was another twenty minutes again once he got to the river so he hurried and broke a sweat that felt surreal against the bitter winter breeze.

The north wind brought the cold and with it memories of years before. It was worst when her father went to the shed at the change of seasons. That cold breeze seemed to carry so much misery and resentment. Over the years Joan had mapped her past in the splits and veins in the huge old hardwood beams that gave Sam his strength. He provided some kind of solace – stability in the continually changing life at home.

Somehow the swirling water passing the pylons below gave her comfort.

There had been talk a few years back of damming the river in the hope of sureing up water supply for the growing town, or so the pollies had spun it. Joan was sceptical, as usual, but the local parliamentary member Harry Broughams’, business interests in the timber mill gave some basis to her doubt. Harry was a seedy looking man with yellow smokers teeth and a penchant for leering at Joan (or anything resembling a female) as she walked passed. He promised prosperity for the town; unlimited growth potential and the opportunities that the city provided.
So far he’d refurbished that local public toilets; a feat that the school captains had also achieved in their final year at Joan’s school.
The plan for a dam had been fought by Jack Davis, a wealthy local who had been buying up tracts of land along and around the river for years in the hope of preserving some of the unique wilderness not yet ravaged by old growth logging. Jack Davis was Harry Brougham’s thorn – always the barricade between him and great commercial success, or so it was in his mind (and it probably wasn’t far from the truth). Realistically, the dam was a crazy idea; the experts had repeatedly cried fowl (in reports commissioned of course by Davis). The only benefit was the short term expansion of the mill which would quickly be eroded in the years following – the reports predicted that the water supply would evaporate more quickly than it could be replenished based on the projected forecasts for the growth of the timber mill, the main beneficiary of the dam. The result would be a destroyed ecosystem and an unviable timber industry.
Davis’ reports were countered by Brougham’s own and according to the local tabloid the battle was still raging in the courts, surely costing Davis a small fortune.

Joan had always been curious as to where Davis gleaned his wealth, but she didn’t think too much further than her pleasure that Old Sam had been saved for now. She felt as if losing Sam would be like losing a good friend; once strong, patient and silently listening, then gone.
“It’d sit well in my story I spose, kind of fitting...?”
Her mind drifted quickly as her eyes followed the eddies of the current and the flickering of the trout as they darted in and out of the shadows.

Every now and then Dylan’s shins would catch a stray piece of undergrowth as he raced along the track and it whipped like a knawed leather strap, leaving flecks of blood on his bare legs. His thoughts were filled with trout and the river and fish cooked on hot coals beside the glazed shimmer as it slipped by in the night. His feet quickened as his nostrils struggled to supply breath for his last flurry of pace before he met the smooth stones of the riverbank and he would be forced to slow down.
He reached the rocks, slowed to a stop and scanned the river, running his palm across the aching bump left by his last fall on the bank, his growing excitement countered by a sharp jolt of pain as his hand brushed the bruise on his leg.
“Sshheeettt,” he muttered under his breath, “Let’s take it slowly this time, eh.” And he was off along the rocks, faster than he knew he should have been going.

Dylan caught a view of the bridge through the trees, slung his pack around in front of him and made some final adjustments to his gear as he walked. The cliffs to the west glowed in the moonlight casting their ominous presence across the river so that they seemed to be constantly threatening to topple across and crush whatever was on the other side.

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