Who’s helping me muster the cattle tomorrow? My Dad asked. I’m cleaning! Mum piped in. I went last time, my brother grunted as he flicked his ash blond boy-band bangs to the side. He was home from boarding school for summer holidays, and had thus far spent the majority of his time holed up in his room lusting over Les Paul guitars and reading Calvin and Hobbes comics. Dad’s gaze rested on me, his last resort. I was runty and grubby, too short and weak to actually be of any help. And my tiny pony would hands down have lost a walking race with a drunken sloth. But what I lacked in skill, I made up for tenfold in attitude. I was essentially the little boy any Dad would be proud of. This has been a constant struggle for him throughout my life. One time he was making some tea when the phone rang. Hey Al, would you grab that? Um yes, fine Dad, I can do that, I said. But only if you call me Simon from now on, ok? Thank you Simon, he said. Soon after I decided I wanted to start playing soccer with the boys, and cut my long blonde hair into this radical bowl cut (give it 15 years, call it a pixie cut and I was really just a girl before my time). One of the wiry little snot machines – a squinty-eyed boy called Lewis – purposefully tripped me on the field, so I kicked him hard in the nuts. I swear I saw my Dad smile a little. I thought I’d gone too far though when he accidentally walked in on me sitting on the toilet backwards, trying to kind of half stand and pee like a boy. Ah, what are you doing there sweetheart? I felt like jumping into the porcelain bowl and flushing myself to infinity. Um, I just needed to go so bad and I got mixed up and sat this way, I attempted meekly. He pretended to believe this lie to save my face – a true testament to the exceptional nature of my father.
The next morning I woke early to a flock of raucous birds squabbling over some sunflower seeds my mum put out the night before. A couple of cheeky russet rays peeped through my curtains and tickled my eyelids open. Slipping out from beneath my flannel sheets I glided down the freezing hallway in my bed socks to the source of a few miscellaneous chinks – my father immersed in his winter porridge ritual. He noticed me lurking sleepy-eyed in the doorway. Ready? He asked. Oh boy, was I ever. I pretended to complain about how early it was and that I would miss that morning’s Pokemon episode, but we both knew I was honored to be his trusty sidekick for the day. We kissed my mum goodbye. She passed over our lunches, which we shoved into threadbare leather satchels. Wading through the morning fog and up to the shed I tried to be helpful as we saddled our horses, before riding off into the dense bush. The bush was always so quiet you could hear everything; the huge creaking trees, the rushing creek, the pulsing timbre of your veins.
My only tactic to drown out this eerie barring silence was with my words – words, words, all the time - words. They would vomit forth from my brain, lost to the giant chasm that was my backyard. As we rode along, I had to trot my brown and white splotched pony to keep up with Dad’s tall brown mare. He’d called her Rhapsody, like the Queen song. The clip clipping of my ponies hooves on the harsh dry dirt perfectly harmonized with each tweep and buzz of the insects concealed in the long yellowed grass. We hadn’t found any cattle yet, but we stopped by the water anyway, for morning tea and to give our horses a drink. Dad pulled out a wholemeal date scone – mum’s specialty. He cut it open and deftly anointed it with a smear of butter and golden syrup, before handing me half. After stuffing it in my mouth I wandered over to play around the trough while dad caught up with mum over the walkie-talkies. I’d always been an avid collector as a child. Some of my most prized finds to date had included a completely intact snakeskin, the discarded shells of various cicadas and a golden shimmery rock I couldn’t wait to give my parents as a university deposit. But it was on that day I found the piece-de-résistance of my collection. Staring up at me from the caked dirt was the skull of a deceased cow. I crouched down and ran my hands over its horns, between its eye sockets and down to the tip of its nose. I’d always imagined bones to be smooth and shiny like marble countertops. But the cow skull was splintery under my fingers and a kind of dark beige, like it had been soaking in weak coffee. I wondered where the rest of its body was, and what had happened to its skin and eyeballs. How did flesh just melt away into oblivion? I opened and closed her jaw a few times, noticing that she still had all her teeth. How did she die? Was she scared? I knew dad would probably notice if I tried to lug a cow head the size of my torso around on my horse, so instead I sat down and started to dislodge a few teeth until he called out that we were going. I shoved the molars into my breast pocket were they spent the day jostling around like spare change.
Back on our horses we rode along for while in the hot sun. If you could have one superpower Dad, what would it be and why? Super vision, he said without hesitation. You have to be more specific, I probed. Like, is your vision just really good, or can you like, see through things? He held up a tan weathered hand – not unlike our saddlebags - to silence me. I followed his gaze to where a lone cow was standing under a tree, lowing in distress. Even as an 11 year old, I could tell this wasn’t normal behavior. My black and white border collie pranced over and started sniffing around at its feet. Burnie! My dad yelled. Get out of it! When we got closer I saw a newborn calf lying at his mother’s feet. He was about the size of a large puppy, his tiny little ribcage rose and fell like a piano accordion. Is he ok? I asked my Dad. But before he responded I saw it. The baby calf’s tail was missing. In its place was a pink festering mess. A swarm of greedy flies buzzed around what looked like a dissected brain. Further down and his tiny pin legs had been mauled to the bone by what must have been a fierce pack of dingoes. Dad gave me the reins of both our horses and told me to go and wait behind the water tank. I watched him pick up a huge rock and lug it back over to where the calf was lying. Turning back around, I stared hard at a bustling ants nest on the ground. I heard an almighty thud and starting bawling into the shoulder of my splotchy pony. Later that afternoon I stripped off my plaid shirt in the laundry and the teeth I’d collected earlier clattered to the cement floor. They lay there grinning mercilessly up at me. I could have sworn I’d heard them say, your time is coming too little boy.
- 1 cup self-raising flour
- 1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
- Pinch of salt
- 60g butter
- 3/4 cup milk
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup chopped dates
- Apricot jam
- Put sifted flours, salt and butter cubes into food processor. Whiz until mixture forms a bread crumb-like texture. Empty into a bowl, add dates and mix.
- Make a well in the centre and pour the milk and water in.
- Mix/cut the mixture with a butter knife until it forms a ball.
- Scrape out onto a floured board or bench. Knead very lightly and cut with scone cutter. Bake on high for about 16 mins.
- Top with apricot jam and Mascarpone.
Hint: dip scone cutter into flour before cutting the next scone