Bill woke just before daylight. He luxuriated in the warmth of his sleeping bag for a few moments while several tui and a bellbird greeted the dawn with their first tentative calls. As the fog of sleep cleared, the old feeling of doom was soon on him. It was time to head back to civilisation, his job, the bills and the world without Alice. He got up reluctantly and started making a brew on an archaic old meths burner he kept in his bivy. It had belonged to his dad, that's why he still used it, but it took ages to boil anything. He sighed, the freedom he’d felt over the last couple of days was now a ghost he’d be leaving behind.
He often looked back on that morning and wondered how a sack of traps could change your life. Apparently, it was an apple to the head that inspired Issac Newton to come up with a radical scientific theory that changed his life and our perception of the universe. For Bill, it was some possum traps buried under a pile of leaves. He tripped over them when he went for a leak. He was barefooted at the time, and after rubbing his bruised toes, he picked up the sack of cold steel and went to hurl it into the scrub when he had the simplest of thoughts.
‘Don’t go back.’
This startled his brain into action.
‘Of course, you’ve got to go back, you’ve got a job, bills to pay, don’t be ridiculous.’
Bill knew a good argument when he heard one and the slight flicker of hope he’d felt quickly gave way to reason. But instead of chucking his old possum traps away he counted them while the billy boiled. He had 19 in total, and though they were a bit rusty, they were still in good order.
He decided to pretend he wasn’t going back to town while he sipped his cuppa and made some porridge. It was a good feeling, and as the sun rose and stretched its early morning rays into his bivvy, Bill imagined himself about to head off for the day to set a few traps and maybe shoot a deer for the pot. The stress and anxiety melted out of him just thinking about it, but of course, he had to go back, he’d told people he was heading into the hills and when he’d be back, and they’d soon have search and rescue looking for him if he failed to turn up.
After breakfast, he tidied up his camp, hid his sack of traps and made his way back to the road end where his ute was parked. He whistled all the way, doing his best to ignore his suspicious brain.
Someone had smashed the driver's side window of his ute and broken in. But the only thing they’d found to steal was his jack and a few tools. It should have wrecked his day, but it hardly bothered him and just confirmed things for him. Bill was just pleased it still started. He enjoyed the drive into town, the stink of car fumes, the ugly power poles, lifeless commercial buildings, and even the incessant drone of people driving to and fro as they made their livings and chased errands. He dropped into the supermarket and grabbed a few banana boxes and a marker pen before heading to the real estate agents to catch up with the rental manager. He left the agents feeling nervous and relieved, and by the time he got to his flat, he was whistling again.
While he wrote up the Garage Sale signs his terrified mind did its best to make him see sense, but Bill had decided he’d had a stomach full of being sensible and paid his nagging worry no attention. He was so keen to get to work in the morning he hardly slept that night, but by the time the sun finally started its morning rounds he was a bundle of nerves. He stopped at the cemetery to see Alice on his way to work. But she wasn't there, just a hunk of marble with her name on it. As he walked down the ugly rows back to the car park he knew he would never be back, Alice would have been proud of him.