Monday, December 26, 2011

The Watchful Gaze of a Sheltering Sky

 

He stares at leathered hands, coarse and calloused.  Once steady now trembling with advanced age and the rigours of a disease that won't be cured. What a piece of work those hands. He'd held his sweetheart close and stroked her hair, their tender touch had felt her body. They'd lifted children onto the stockyard fence where he'd broken horses with a settling whisper and a gentle palm. They'd made whips and ropes, stitched leather with a craftsman's skill. They'd stroked from wither to flank along stifle and fetlock. Gloved they'd been wound in rope to bring down calves. They'd grasped a tankard close and helped to quench his parched mouth along the dusty trail. They'd blistered with the burn of a billy, taken too late from a campfire and bled too often through the carelessness of nail and hammer.

He's a weathered man in the outback, living a life he wouldn't trade for quids. No regrets.  The lure of fast paced cities never tempted him away from the slower state of rural life. A horse breaker, a steer roper, a builder, a farmer, a father and a husband. A simple man with simple needs and a love of the great outdoors. He's the only one left now. No hospice or palliative bed provides him comfort and the news received is fatal. It took all his strength to ride out here to make a stockman's choice. He needs the night air to clear his head. Focus on his task.

He gazes up at a blackened sky set twinkling by the Southern Cross' companions. Clear, wide, endless. Hands still shake, painful and weak as he unpacks his swag. His back cringes with each bend as he gathers tinder from ever vigilant eucalypt. Trees which so easily surrender their fuelling bounty. Amid the red dust he strikes a match and watches the pyre begin to catch. A slow glow that grows into a warming flame. A beacon of light and dancing gold before he surrenders to the dark.

He strokes the stock horse's muzzle and unhitches the bridle with the flick of a throat latch. The horse doesn't move as the bit is slid from a peach furred mouth. "Good lad," he coos and pats his equine companion on the shoulder. "Move on now...don't need you any more." The horse turns tail and wanders slowly into the night. Head low as if he knows this is goodbye.

The fire now crackling its explosive fuel creates a chimney trail. Orange stars reaching for those of silver as they blend into the night sky. Thin lips force a wry smile as he nods towards the stars as sparks fly upwards. He loves this place. The dirt, the trees, the billabongs few and far between. The constant chirp of crickets, the smell of red dust and smoke. It's been his life, he knows no other. It's here he needs to die, among the wallabies and bandicoots.  He unrolls his swag close to the fire and unlaces boots that have as much character as his sun-lined face. His trembling hands hold tight the gun and massage its barrel with kindness rather than fear. Resolution rather than trepidation.
A shot unheard, a man unmissed, a horse let loose. A good life, lived well. A death of his own choosing, free and final beneath the watchful gaze of a sheltering sky.

Posted for The Tenth Daughter of Memory "Smiling as the Sparks Fly Upwards"

4 comments:

  1. Perfect ending of choice for a rugged man of this land.

    So many wonderful images sprang to mind but I think my favourite image & line is: ..."and unlaces boots that have as much character as his sun-lined face"

    Nice photo capture too Helen!

    fix ups:

    The horse turns tail and wonders
    The fire now crackling it's
    massage it's barrel

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  2. Aw, a sad Christmas these lines choked me up: The horse turns tail and wanders slowly into the night. Head low as if he knows this is goodbye.

    (sniff)

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  3. i guess he couldn't have wrestled a grizzly bear or something, eh? this is an interesting man, judging by his boots and you told him well. nice

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