The summer they moved it hit forty degrees. More even. The arrow on the sign outside the cop shop pointed to extreme for most the season. The man in the newsagent said his sister in the next town over had packed her house and her kids and had taken off. He said they must have been barking mad to move here in fire season.
The first few nights she got no sleep at all. He slept naked but the mozzies made a feast of her body if she did the same. They took to drinking til they passed out, and they woke in the morning light sticky with each others’ sweat, her with dried blood on her legs and under her nails from where she’d dug at the bites during the night.
The house was most empty for the first few weeks. He chopped limes directly onto the table, unconcerned by the cuts he made into the raw wood, and dropped them into glasses they couldn’t be bothered washing. They didn’t have much but everything was their own, and they enjoyed it for a while. He’d come up behind her while she banged ice trays on the sink and he’d put his arms round her middle. He’d dance round the kitchen table to make her laugh. The town was so quiet it was as if no one existed outside their weatherboards. At their old place, their old room out back of her parents’ place, the evenings were marked by tennis balls crashing into wheelie bins and the family over the fence yelling up the stairs in Chinese or Japanese. It was quiet out here and they thought that was what they wanted.
By January’s end, when everything new was old, the house was so hot she could barely breathe. At night she lay in bed and listened. She lay still while he was out cold and she listened for human life. Sometimes she’d hear glasses smashing on the floor from the pub down the road, and pool balls knocking each other and dropping into nets. But mainly she could hear the wind whipping about the trees and possums clawing at the ceiling above her head.
When they moved here, a new year had just started. They went sailing out of Box Hill in the old Magna with the broken air con. They pulled past the abandoned pizza joint and down Station St. He had one hand on the wheel and the other elbow out the window. He stuck his head out the window too, and sniffed, and said to no one in particular, Say goodbye to that rotting Chink stink. He turned up the cricket when they got past the city, and when they got through the estates in the west he pushed it up past one-fifty and stayed there. The wind rattled round the car and she felt it round her ears, and she thought they could have been runaways, felons, star-crossed lovers. They could have been anybody.