He didn’t know why he’d agreed to go on the bloody walk. He was bored by the routine, the domestication, the girl; however prettily packaged. He watched her pick up the house keys which shared a ring with a miniature red penknife (nail file, corkscrew, scissors, blade) and an antique silver whistle, made in England, with some stranger’s spit lurking inside; useless things, worthless sentimental nonsense. He had never understood her attachment to memories.
When he first met her he was attracted by her slender body and chestnut hair, the way her green eyes lit up when she smiled. He fell in love, but then he always did, at first. This relationship was well past its use-by date. He realised now he’d been manipulated, trapped into signing a contract for a house and an endlessly boring future.
“Ready?” she asked, head tilted, lips curving in that tempting smile.
He smiled back at her, cold as a dawn snake, but going through the motions. “Sure, let’s go”.
They walked in silence, single file along the wallaby track, building up a sweat in the heat of the afternoon. When they reached the dam, she took his hand and led him to the water. He didn’t mind this part of the routine.
He watched her peeling off boots and socks, undoing shirt buttons, shedding layers, becoming Eve in the Garden; radiant, playful, sexy. He played the game; he could do that easily, drawn by the string of sexual attraction. He was only human after all.
They swam like paired frogs, through hot and cold pockets of leaf-specked water, brown and cloudy like a chocolate milkshake.
Lying naked, sun-stunned and sated on the baked soil of the dam bank, he heard her cry, shrill and panicked, echoed by clouds of white cockatoos exploding from the trees. He ran towards the sound. She was sitting in the shade of an Iron bark, cradling her leg, face distorted, wild with fright. Two puncture marks marred her smooth thigh; Eve betrayed, squatting to relieve herself in the undergrowth. He retrieved his T-Shirt and ripped it up to bind her leg.
Did you see the snake?” he asked. She nodded, mouth open, panting. “A Brown, a big one.”
“Don’t move, try and relax. I’ll go and get help. I love you.” At that moment he almost meant it.
He pulled on his jocks and boots and pounded down the track, blood pumping, caught up in the drama; a hero on a mission, his finest hour.
He sat outside on the step with a stubby, catching his breath, slaking his thirst. He felt distant now, removed from the play. It was a chance event, a lucky accident really. He was named as the sole beneficiary in her will, so he wouldn’t lose the property. He would be free again. He played his favourite CD and opened another beer. He would wait a while, a couple of hours, perhaps, when she was beyond help.
He thought about the timeline and what he had left at the scene. When he had removed the evidence, he would jog back to the house and phone for an ambulance. He would say that he was worried when she hadn’t returned home and had gone to look for her. Perfect.
He walked back to the dam and stood for a moment, stunned, uncomprehending. She wasn’t there. She wasn’t lying under the tree, dying or dead. She hadn’t waited for him to save her. Had she tried to reach the house? She couldn’t have made it very far in the heat, so why hadn’t he found her on the track? He tried to quell his rising panic. He went over to the tree and studied the ground. There was nothing to indicate what had happened. His shorts were on the bank, just as he had left them. He pulled them on and started searching further down the track, past the dam, behind the bush rocks. He circled the area, paying particular attention to pockets of dense scrub. Where the bloody hell was she?
They were waiting for him at the house.
“Mr Sullivan? I see you found your shorts, but lost your lady”, the tall cop quipped. “A bloke on the reserve heard a whistle and tracked it down; lucky girl. Strange you didn’t hear it when you were so much nearer. He was looking for snakes; ironic in the circumstances, wouldn’t you say?”
He said nothing. He was thinking about the bloody Pommie whistle with its high, carrying note, drowned out by loud music.
“Dangerous job, snake milking”, the other cop added to his colleague’s one-sided conversation. “So this bloke, the snake catcher, always carries anti-venom in his Jeep, keeping nice and cool in an Esky”.
The tall cop eyed the stubby bottles on the step. “I hope you enjoyed your drinks, mate. You might be in for a dry spell.”