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Out With Lanterns

Page 2

Jane Downing

Hiking in the high country had sounded like a healthy break. Ros had arrived the day before with good walking boots and a big sunhat so no-one could call her unprepared, not for the planned three hour walk to the caves and back. But for an overnight odyssey? Well, yes, Ros Watt conceded, she’d definitely been under-prepared for a night out in the wild. In the early hours of the morning – after three, according to her phone, which was useless as anything but a clock/torch combo for lack of mobile coverage – she’d finally given up on finding the path and lain down and tried to sleep. Tried. The early hours are when each hour lengthens into an eternity and there is nothing left to think about except your broken heart. Who am I now? she’d asked herself. Another quote from the ever-handy Emily Dickinson surfaced. I am out with lanterns, looking for myself. Only she didn’t have a lantern, just the torch in the iPhone.

Dawn had finally brought enough light to see her way ahead, and a slither and slide down the gully brought her to a road she recognised. She hadn’t been lost too far away as the crow, the kookaburra, the rosella and the black cockatoo fly, which they did noisily as the sun rose.

The motel mattress was not improving. No matter which way she rolled, Ros’ body remained imprinted with the heavy stillness of night. Tessa and Eliot, her lovely children, would be stirring in their father’s new house about now. Best not to dwell, she reminded herself. They were safe… The only real comfort was that they would be back after the school holidays, such were the rhythms of custody arrangements.

Hunger finally beat exhaustion and cold, and got her off the bed. She rested her right hand on the ghastly wallpaper to steady herself, grunting as she straightened her back. It was astounding to discover old people were right about grunting: it did help you move. She did it again as she pulled her boots back on.

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