Bill knew he’d become a man because he went to bed worried and woke up stressed, he’d watched his dad do it all his life.
He was now caught up in the world of adults, which is a bit odd because as a 10-year-old he’d declared to his mates that he would never be like grown-ups as they worried, were boring, and had no idea how to have fun.
Yet here he was, an adult (at 16!) filled with responsibility, and it felt awful, which from the discussions he overheard in the smoko shed must be normal.
The first year of his working life crept by like a slug chasing a sloth. Bill progressed from stacking timber in the yard to the planer shed and then to the tanalising plant. It made him feel a bit more important, it was just a shame they didn’t increase his wages, but he was climbing the ladder and hoped his dad would be proud of him.
On the weekends Bill went pig hunting with his friend Tom. Together they traipsed the hills, ever hopeful of finally catching a pig. Tom loved his dogs almost as much as they loved him, and if they’d known he was after pigs, they’d have gladly caught their master hundreds. After escaping death row at the local pound, their Saturday jaunts into the bush to sniff, pee and bark at shadows was paradise. Bill & Tom had a great old time too, and like the dogs spent all week dreaming of the freedom Saturday would bring.
And that was life, endure the working week, hit the hills on the weekends and then do it all over again, and again, and again, and again,………..
By the time Bill was 48 he’d worked his way into a better paying job, owed the bank a heap of money for the house he and Alice lived in, and they were as happy as most reasonably successful people can be. He and Alice never managed to have any children, which was a real shame as they would have been great parents. But life deals its cards, and you need to play the hand you’re given.
Tom and his dogs were a distant memory, but the draw of the bush was as powerful as ever, and he and Alice spent most of their weekends tramping, hunting, or just plain relaxing up in the hills.
One Friday night while they were painting the living room they decided to have fish and chips. Bill stayed behind to clean up and told her he’d have 2 pieces of fish, a hot dog and a scoop of chips. A drunk driver saw to it that Alice never came back.
The house they had worked so hard to make their own became a prison of memories and Bill sold it not long after the funeral. He rented a small flat not far from where he worked and got on with life as best he could. He stayed away from the bush for several months, terrified he would hate it as much as the house now Alice was gone.
Life without Alice and the freedom of the bush was unbearable and not long later his 49thbirthday, Bill took a risk and grabbed his pack, 308 and a bit of tucker and headed up to his bivy.
It was the one place he and Alice had never shared, so was pretty rough and ready, which was just the way Bill liked it. That night as he lay in his sleeping bag, listening to the comings and goings of the night creatures, he had his first decent sleep in months.
He saw three deer the next morning but didn’t fire a shot. He just watched them graze and sniff the breeze. Alice had taught him how to just look, she called it smelling the roses. He smiled when he thought of her, and the sadness he felt was almost like a friend.
He’d only planned to stay the one night, but the weather was good, and he was in no hurry to go back to the madness of the city. That evening he shot a spiker and cooked its liver with a few onions. As he sat by the fire, lightly searing his dinner, he whistled.
Bill did that when he was happy.