I’ve mentioned before, that I’m trying to write a book. As a result I haven’t written a lot for my blog. But now and then there’s a little bit that seems to stand alone. It doesn’t need an introduction and you don’t need to know where it’s going. But I hope you like it.
When Jean got the cancer the old man was almost beside himself with grief. He was quite certain that he would be unable to cope with losing her. He had a name in the district for getting on with things without falling to pieces but the cancer really threw a rock in his pond. The last thing he wanted was for Jeanie to see how he was coming apart. He felt he was coming apart. After breakfast he’d ask her how she was feeling and she would invariably say she was feeling okay, considering. Then the old man would make himself a Thermos of tea and cut a sandwich and explain that some windmill out on the other side of the station was broken and needed fixing and it might take most of the day. They had a ‘walkie talkie’ set up and she would be able to call him if it became urgent. This was back before everybody carried a phone in their back pocket.
The old man would drive out to some mill or maybe a broken fence and fix it but he would take an inordinate amount of time because he couldn’t concentrate. There was this one time when he dropped the monkey wrench and it fell down the bore. Tears started flowing and his throat was sore and he forced himself not to cry. As it was, every tear that fell was another sign to him that he was breaking. How would he manage the station if he was weak? How would he be able to help Jeanie? As soon as her name came up he felt the tears welling again so he started referring to her in his mind as ‘she’ or ‘her’.
What the old man did not know was that he talked, and he mumbled, and he called her name and cried out loud in his sleep. All night Jean would lie awake and listening and she might wake him with some ruse and he would roll over and go back to sleep.
But there was that night! He knew he had dreamt badly and he came down to breakfast slowly and tired.
‘You had a bad night last night, JB! You kept me awake with all your tossing and turning. Why don’t you just tell me how you feel instead of hiding it? If you feel like crying go ahead and cry. It can make you feel better you know. Good heavens, I’ve done my share.’
‘It doesn’t mean I should. Anyway you know I’m not the emotional type.’
The old man laughed when he remembered that. When he remembered Jeanie telling him those home truths. She was a rock, Jeanie was.
‘Not the emotional type! I wonder who it was who cried all the way home after he’d shot his own horse.”
‘I never shot that horse. He died of snakebite. What ever put that nonsense in your head?’
‘Jimmy Wirraway told me. He told me Captain Starlight was in so much pain from the snake that you shot him yourself. Then you cried all the way back to the house. I suppose you forgot Jimmy was with you fixing that windmill.’
The old man had forgotten that his foreman was with him. Jimmy had walked home with him the whole way. He had his own horse, a little brumby mare, and they tied all the tools on the mare’s back, slapped her on the rump and she went back to the station by herself. Then Jimmy walked back with the old man all the way. He talked all the way; life, the universe, everything. An awful lot of good old, ancient Aboriginal common sense.
‘So how did you find out all this? Did Jimmy tell you?’
‘Jimmy’s horse came home by herself and I found her in the corral with all your tools strapped to her saddle. I didn’t find her until you were almost home. You came in and went straight in to the bathroom for a shower and Jimmy had a bit of a chat with me. Told me the whole story. Told me how upset you were. I didn’t say a thing because I was waiting for you.’
‘Did you think I was a bit weak, getting upset over a horse?”
The old man remembered Jeanie’s answer. He had never forgotten it. It was like how you don’t forget the liturgy in church no matter how long it’s been since you went.
‘Crying doesn’t make you weak.’ Jeanie had said, quietly. ‘Crying means you have a heart beating inside your soul. For goodness sake JB, I’ve cried enough for the baby we lost years ago. I still cry for that baby. I don’t cry for myself. JB, I’m going to die from this bastard cancer. Probably sooner rather than later. If you want to cry then go ahead. I won’t ever think you are weak because I know I married a wonderful man who has a heart beating inside his soul.’
That morning the old man didn’t go out to work. He tidied up the utility and Jean packed a lunch and they drove out to the waterhole on the creek and sat under a big old Ghost Gum. They didn’t talk much. They just watched the birds and held onto what they had. They’d had a good life together and, not for the first time, it was Jeanie who was strong and sensible. The sun started falling and sent a flock budgerigars; too many to count, in from the red plains to drink from the waterhole. It was time to go home.