Mirage – by John Kelly

Harry leaned against the post and squinted back along the fence. Heat distorted it’s straight line over the horizon. Shimmering in the haze stood tall palm trees, their fronds moving gently in the sea breeze.

He laughed to himself. The sea was a thousand kilometres east of where he stood and the nearest water was two hundred kilometres north – a creek running near his house. The only living plant close by was a Grey Gum, with few leaves on it’s spindly branches. It had not rained out here for four years.

Still, it kept him entertained. Beneath it’s roots lived a family of red belly black snakes. They would come out into the heat in search of small desert mice and after, would bask on a rock until the sun went down.

Some days a Kookaburra would sit patiently on a branch waiting for the right moment, then swoop silently down grabbing the snake behind the head and then proceed to smash it against the rock.

At night, Willy Wombat, as Harry liked to call him, came out of his burrow. Shortsighted he relied on his nose to tell him the news of the day. Ignoring Harry who kept very still he would go in search of grass that was sparse in that area.

Harry never felt alone.

He turned and looked along the unfenced land. Wonder what day it is’.

“It’s Christmas Eve.”

Harry jumped clear off the ground, dropping his fencing hammer onto his foot. “Where did you come from,”

The man grinned, at least Harry thought it was a grin, it was hard to say, his white beard was so long.

“I’m sorry,” said the man, “I didn’t mean to startle you, you didn’t hear me coming because you were wondering how long it would take to finish the job.”

Sweat rolled down Harry’s back. When the hammer fell on his foot, his hat had fallen off and the sun was beating down on his head. ‘How can the man stand the heat dressed like that,’ he wondered.

His head and face was mostly covered in long white hair. He wore a red jacket with a wide black belt somewhere where his waist used to be. Long red trousers tucked high black boots finished the ensemble. Yet he stood as if it was snowing! Harry couldn’t work out if he was young or old.

“G’day, Harry’s the name.” Harry stretched out his hand.

“Good-day to you Harry.” The red suited man gripped his hand vice like. “I’m in a bit of bother and I thought that perhaps you being – what are you called? – a bushie, you may be able to help me.”

“If I can, I will mate. What’s your problem?”

The old man smiled at Harry. Harry thought he had kind eyes.

“Well, a strap has broken on my sle… my cart and if it’s not fixed I won’t be able to finish my job on time.”

“Nothing a bit of baling wire won’t fix mate.” Harry slapped him on the back. “Where is it?”

The old man pointed. “Just over the hill.”

Harry laughed. “I was going to suggest we ride but I don’t think Ned would able to carry the both of us.” He nodded to where his horse stood.

The old man’s body shook in laughter.

Harry wiped the sweat off his brow as they set out across the dusty ground. From the corner of his eye he studied the other man. Not a bead of sweat could be seen.

“Tell me Harry. It’s Christmas Eve. Wouldn’t you like to be home with your family?”

Harry sighed a heavy sigh. “Well mate, when you’re out here you’re inclined to lose track of time – and to tell you the truth, we’ve got nothing to celebrate. No rain on the property means no money, means no presents for the kids.”

“Let me see. Lucy aged nine and Ben aged seven. They wrote to me for the first time this year. I never knew there was a place called Lonnigans Creek.”

Harry smiled as they climbed to the top of the hill. “Ah yes, they like to write to people from other places – What in the blue world is that!”

Standing stock still harnessed together were twelve deer.

“I’ve seen,” said Harry putting his hands on his hips, ” some strange things in my time but this beats all. Where are the wheels on the cart?”

The old man smiled. “Well it’s not a cart in the real sense of the word, it’s called a sleigh and it doesn’t need wheels. Can I show you where the strap is broken? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”

They walked to where the second deer stood.

“He won’t butt me with those horns will he.” Harry looked warily at the beast.

“Ho, ho, ho, of course not, they are very gentle creatures.”

Harry studied the leather strap for a moment. He pulled out a bit of wire from his pocket. “Fix this in a jiffy, just got to make sure it doesn’t scratch the animal.” He felt a rough wet tongue on the back of his neck.

He wriggled his shoulders. “Get off me you stupid. . ..” He suddenly felt cooler although the sun was glaring down. “There you are, as good as new.”

“Harry, you are a truly kind man – thank you, you will make a lot of people happy.”

Harry looked around searching for other faces.

“Tell me,” the red suited man put his hand on Harry’s shoulder, “would you like to be home with your family on Christmas day?”

Harry felt a lump in his throat. He coughed. “Yes I would. But it’s two hundred K’s and old Ned would never make it.”

“I will give you a lift.”

Harry thought that very funny. “In that? A cart without wheels pulled by twelve deer.”

“Close your eyes Harry and have a rest.”

The sun was rising when Harry woke up. Ned stood beside him grazing on some grass. Bewildered he stood wondering how he got there. Down in the valley was the homestead, smoke rising out of the chimney. He could hear some-one singing. Quickly he mounted the horse and set out for home. As he cantered into the yard a scream of delight nearly unseated him. Around the side of the house came a young girl on a pink bicycle peddling like mad.

“Dad, dad! Look what I got for Christmas. Just what I asked from Santa!”

“Dad, dad!” A small wiry boy raced out of the house nearly tripping on the bottom step. “Look what Santa brought me, a boomerang that always comes back!”

A tall slim woman stood at the door a look of bewilderment on her face. Harry got off his horse and staggered over to her. “What’s going on, where did all these presents come from?”

“I don’t know, I thought you arranged it all. Not only that. . ..”

Harry sniffed the air. “What is that beaut smell?”

His wife laughed. “You’ll never believe this but what you can smell wandered into our yard yesterday. A turkey! Harry, you’ve gone pale are you alright?”

Harry shook his head. ‘It couldn’t have been, I was suffering from heatstroke’.

“Come on children Christmas dinner is ready. Let’s eat before the day gets too hot.” She leaned closer to Harry. “And after we are going to have a talk.”

A general sigh went round the table.

“I could not eat another morsel.” Harry shoved his chair back from the table. The rest nodded in silence.

Pat! Plop! Patpatpatpat.

Harry looked at his wife his eyes growing larger. “Is that what I think it is?”

The children rushed to the door. “Dad, it’s raining, I’ve got to get my bike inside!”

Harry put his arm around his wife as they stood on the veranda watching the dark clouds roll across the sky. A rooster never having seen rain stood in a puddle and crowed at the sky.

“Well, tell me.” Harry’s wife nudged him in the ribs.

“You’re not going to believe this. . ..”

John W Kelly © 1998
61 Stirling Ave,
North Rocks 2151
Sydney Australia

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