One afternoon Jean was working on a mill near the road on the McDonald’s property, just south of the Adamson’s farm. Celia, on a stock check saw his silhouette at the top of the mill framed against the limitless azure sky. She decided to stop and say hello, “after all,” she told herself, “I haven’t even spoken to him for weeks.”
A light breeze tossed the golden tips of the mallee trees and two corellas chortled overhead. A strange elation crept into Celia’s body. The world around her embraced them into that secret sphere of isolation where only lovers go. Of course he had seen her coming out along the plain, so had climbed to the top of the windmill and was hanging out with his right foot on the last rung of the ladder and his right hand grasping the pivot of the tail of the mill and waved with his hat in his left hand, calling out at the top of his voice so it seemed to echo back off the curve of the sky.
Celia pulled up at the gate about fifty yards from the windmill and laughed at his silly antics: “What a curious feeling, that laughter,” she thought. It was a young girl’s laughter and with it felt a softening glow sweep over her till it tingled and the cool morning breeze lifted her hair and wrapped soft sunshine around her body.
“Silly bugger!” She called back and her voice careered across the distance and bounced off the open fields up to the sky like an echo.
“It’s such a beautiful day!”, he cried, like a call from some wild free bird; “Come with me to Paris and we’ll dine like royalty: a la carte!”, he laughed boyishly.
“Horse and cart?” She laughed and the two corellas careered overhead screeching in symmetry to their laughter and he called to her again in a deep, deep mannish call and it swirled around her and the early morning sun glowed softly in her hair and she called back in competition with her hands cupped to her mouth, her woman’s voice like a song on the air and they laughed at each other for nothing but the feeling of it and he swung his hat round and round calling and singing bits of songs and she sang back to him and laughed till she felt so full and giddy like being spun around blind-folded, round and around and the corellas cried out with the wind and she laughed within and without and the feel of it all swept her away and she cried out amongst a rollicking laughter that had her hands on her knees with her bent laughing and she cried out from the bottom of her lungs as she straightened up so very happy …
“O’ I love you! … ”
And the words hurled over the plains, crashing against the very perimeter of the sky, roaring in her ears in sustaining peals like the toll of some great bell and the corellas ducked and weaved overhead screaming in ecstasy silhouetted again the pristine blue sky. Celia gasped … why did she say that? She flung her hand to her cheek and froze in her stance. Jean’s hand stopped waving and hung out as if frozen also in the action and they gazed at each other silently over the acres of paddock framed in an eternal frieze of mallee-bush collage.
Celia turned and jumped into the utility, reversed back hastily and sped off down the dusty road, a trail of smoke-like dust rising behind the utility. Jean squatted on the top rung of the ladder with only the clonking steel against steel blade of the windmill to background his thoughts. He gazed sombrely after the fading ute.
“That I had the courage to say the same, Celia,” he said wistfully.
The afternoon had been so hot and sticky, and it carried over into the early evening. Celia had been restless all afternoon. Joy had risen in her heart only to be suffocated by the mundane repetition in her life. Gilbert called raspingly from the bedroom as she was washing the dishes.
“Celia … Celia, give us a light, will you?” Celia moved to get the matches. “The very things that kills him, he nurtures,” she thought. Then she reflected on her own years and the words she had just spoken sent a shiver over her. When she returned to the sink, the doleful clatter of dishes and pans seemed to drum inside her head. She could stand it no more; she threw the dishcloth into the tepid water.
“I’ve got a bit of a headache,” she told Gilbert. “I’m going outside for some fresh air.”
“Count the bags of ‘super’ while you’re about it,” called Gilbert.
A cool evening zephyr lifted a sigh to her lips. She blew a long expiring breath and strolled to the gate and walked out onto the deserted sandy road. Celia gazed to the right and then turned and looked down the road in the direction of Jean’s little farm about two kilometres away, and she started walking in that direction. The sunset drooled lilac over the vast expanse of the mallee, nestling birds syrupy chatter spilled into the evening air and every now and then some small creature would disturb the underbrush.
What was this affection she felt for Jean? Surely she couldn’t love another man while her own husband was so ill? What was this joy of affection that she felt so keenly for the first time in her life? Do others feel love at all but just dismiss it and go about their everyday jobs as though it didn’t exist? And if they can do it why can’t she dismiss her emotions, her hunger, like everyone else? She wasn’t a young girl anymore, why should she fall for that old trickster love at her age? “You’ve turned fifty, Celia, fifty.” She repeated to herself as if such words could reverse her feelings and all would go back to normal.
She thought of Jean, his manliness, his tender eyes when she had hurt her hands, his joy of song today on the windmill so bright against the blue sky. His face, his body, his strong gentleness … but it wasn’t exactly all those … she strolled along the dusty road thinking these thoughts as the sky slowly yielded its light over the somnolent bush and over the hills away across the plains night shadows crept slowly nearer. A cool breeze lifted and curled her cotton dress about her legs and her sandals squelched in the soft dry sand edging the road.
She stopped to gather her thoughts:
“What do I see in him?”, she reasoned with herself.
“I see his confidence in his work, his manliness, his strength (she smiled), his lovely eyes.”
“What do I hear with him? … His singing voice, so soft, so sure. His tenderness in his touch.”
“How do I feel with his presence?”
“My skin trembles at his touch. His strength of body at his age is healthy and virile. His chest is so strong I want to hold him against me,” (she blushed at the thought).
As Celia was ticking these boxes for her own assurance … she was making a decision this time on her own terms, her own decision … for she was not going to rush into a new life without consideration … why would any grown person? … a realisation came to her:
“He’s the only person I’ve never felt shy with. From the first day I’ve felt certain of myself in his presence, almost as though we have been apart all our lives and now, we belong together.” She strode on purposefully, certain of her actions now. She was certain also of Jean’s love for her, for as much as any woman can read a man’s heart, Celia felt certain of Jean’s.
What would she do? There was no going back home now, she had cast her lot into exile, for exile it must be, for both of them, her children would not understand and certainly the district of Callaran would not tolerate such rebellion to duty. But what was all that opposition in the face of love and for love even death must stand aside! Celia walked on in the plumed penumbra of night.
Jean turned the truck into his farm gate and swung the steering wheel left to drive to the shed. As the headlights swept past his front porch he noticed someone sitting on the step: Celia! He stopped the truck quickly and jumped down. He walked warily over to the house. Celia rose slowly as he approached, her hand moved to straighten her dress as she rose. They gazed at each other in the pressing quiet of the night.
“Jean.” Celia looked into his eyes: “Jean, I can’t stay with Gilbert any longer.” Jean stepped up to her, and they gently and deeply embraced …
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