Country roads

Stephanie Gardiner
Nov 29 · 3 min read

Our house is built on old farmland where my family used to walk our black and white beagle-cross, Bill.

We would take what we called “the long walk”; beyond suburbia, along a road lined with pine trees, and back again.

The trees have been cleared for stamped-out brick houses like mine, gleaming solar panels catching the blazing and uninterrupted sun.

Across the highway is my childhood home. I would fly down the hill — which is much smaller than I remember — on my sparkly purple Dunlop mountain bike in the morning, and return at dusk.

Closer to town is the phone booth where my friends and I used to make nuisance calls. We’d always have Gobstoppers or Warheads tucked in our cheeks.

One of my school friends used to live around the corner in a beautiful house on a quarter-acre block. Her parents had painted their walls different colours, and art and antiques were scattered around. They had a grand old typewriter in the corner and once I saw a page poking out. “This fart gas is really hanging around,” the little note read.

Across the road from my old primary school is a corner house with painted windows, which used to be a little shop. Before school, I’d buy ten sour worms for 10 cents from the man with filthy fingernails.

In town is the shopping centre where I used to work. At the Big W check-out, I’d ring up toys and bulk sweets and gardening gear and fishing lures and dog food for people looking for ways to fill their Saturdays. Once a couple with two rowdy boys came through my check-out and bought a box of condoms and a garbage bin.

The old cinema is closed and is now occupied by an Evangelist Church, who failed to see the incredible potential in the “Coming Soon” light boxes.

Most days I drive through a roundabout, where a friend and I were pulled over by police for circling around and around and around and around, relishing the freedom of his new licence.

On the edge of town is an oval where I used to play soccer, as the only girl in a team of boys who would make it their mission to kick the ball at my “tits”. I was 10. It’s OK. One of them once took a cricket ball to the nuts at school and instantly vomited.

There’s still a dirt verge on the side of a road nearby, where my dad gave me a pep talk, his engine idling, about how to harness my nerves ahead of solo singing performance.

On the road up to my old high school, the faded and uneven footpath remains. I remember tripping on a crack while walking with a boyfriend. He laughed nastily, and I immediately hated him.

I notice the hall at the high school is now called “Mercy Hall”. I remember dashing out of those doors after my final HSC exam and speeding into town listening to The Strokes’ Is This It. That afternoon my mum poured me some sparkling wine and added celebratory slices of fresh peach.

The highway is as grim as it ever was. Fast food, petrol, cheap booze, crumbling public housing blocks, the defunct radio station, little signs pointing to the cemetery and the funeral homes. A Jaguar dealership slightly out of place.

My parents have moved out of town now, a drive through rolling, drought-stricken hills so bare you can almost see your reflection. At their place, mum says, peace seems to rise up out of the ground.

This is what I came back for.

Stephanie Gardiner

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