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funny. There s Joel s name next to Robyn s, growing out
of the left-hand fork in one of the trees. And now here I
am, living on the same branch.
239
eighteen
uddenly, he bounds into the caravan.
S  Hey, guess what I ve just found? I wave the
family tree at him.
 Get up on the bed.
 What?
 Just hop up on the bed, Alice, quickly, and look at the
wall. Don t look down.
I step up onto the caravan bed and, despite his instruc-
tions, immediately look at the ground, following his eyeline.
And then I see it. A long, skinny black snake slithering
from the doorway towards the kitchen cupboards.
 Aaargh!
 Shhh. It s fine, Alice. The snake won t hurt you. I
just need you to stay up there on the bed, that s all. And
don t look.
I turn my head to face the wall. Please, please, Saint-
Martin-in-the-Fields and Saint Vincent de Paul, make the
black snake go away. I m not sure how long I can remain
standing on this wobbly mattress.
Joel pounds the floor in his boots, and I try not to
whimper. Has he just stamped on the snake s head? What
happens if you do that? Does the head explode?
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 There you go. I ve got him. No worries, Joel mutters,
reassuring himself as much as me.
I finally feel brave enough to turn my head, and see him
holding a hessian sack at arm s length from his body.
 Take it away! I yelp.
 One red-bellied black snake to go, Joel jokes, and takes
a huge jump off the caravan step, swinging the sack as he
goes.  Stay here, Alice. I ll be back.
My legs feel as if something is crawling all over them
 probably of a reptilian nature  and I am momentarily
paralysed. Should I run out of the van or stay where I am?
What if the snake has a wife? What if there s another one
in here, right now? Or a whole family of them, slithering
around under this bed looking for my legs?
Joel wouldn t have left me if it wasn t safe. I have to
trust him. But maybe I should close the caravan door to be
extra safe. Cringing, I step down from the bed, trying to
avoid the few feet of lino where the snake was only a few
minutes ago. I slam the door, whimper, and get back on
the bed. I try not to worry about the fact that Joel seems
to have disappeared. What if he s been bitten? Where s my
G day Australia handbook? I ve already forgotten what
you re meant to do about a snake bite. Do you pee on it,
or not pee on it?
Suddenly, the handle of the caravan door turns and
Joel bolts in, panting.
 Smoke! he yells.  That s why the snakes are all out.
We have to get out of here.
 What?
 There s a fire coming. He takes my hand and pulls me
out of the van.  I can see smoke down near Wiz s place.
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On the other side too, which means the fire s already
jumped the road.
A fire coming? I am about to correct him when I
remember where I am living now. It must be a bushfire.
 See that cloud? Joel squeezes my hand and makes me
look east.  It s bushfire smoke. It s a long way off, but I m
worried about the wind changing.
I suddenly remember the snake and ask him
about it.
 I let him go. He s a long way off. Don t worry. But we
need to get out of here.
 Will all the snakes be trying to escape now? I suddenly
feel terrified.
 They won t hurt you if you don t hurt them, Joel tries
to reassure me, but I ve heard that one before, and all I
can think about is a whole army of them slinking down
the hill.
Joel says Chang has detected the bushfire too, because
he s shivering and won t leave my side.
Then I blink  there s something in my eye.
 Ash. Joel looks worried as he holds out a finger to
catch more of it  tiny black specks blowing around in
the air.  It s coming from everywhere. Alice  pack a case.
We re going to have to bike it, so don t overload yourself.
I ll take Chang if you can get him in a rucksack. We ll
have to leave Henry and the chickens. I think they ll be
okay  but we have to get out.
 What about all my stuff from England?
 Leave it.
 Oh God, Joel. Helena s trunk. My sewing machine.
It s everything I have! I feel like crying.
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 We have to go, Alice. Leave the sewing machine  I ll
get you another one. Bring your passport, papers, photos,
some clothes. I m giving you three minutes.
 What? Suddenly I feel like killing him.
 Two minutes, now, he says.
We run to the vans, puffing in the heat, with Chang
following us. For the second time in a few months I find
myself grabbing as much as I can of everything that is
precious to me. I cram my passport into a plastic bag and
stuff in everything else I can see  all the while conscious
of Joel yelling at me from his caravan.
There. One minute left  and I ve done everything I
can. Maybe the bushfire won t get us. Maybe the Mary
Quant dress will be okay. Maybe Joel s over-reacting.
 Come on. He pulls me out of my van and bundles
Chang into the rucksack. He swings him on his back,
squashing his head down, but Chang s head pops straight [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]




 

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