Fridays in the Desert
This is my latest short story that I wrote this year in which we had to subvert an Australian discourse. I chose to take a city slicker, put him in the country and see what happened, enjoy!! Feedback would be lovely. (Really bad title, but I was stumped for an idea and was running out of time.)…
The road had no end in sight, just a black strip in the dusty surrounds, heading to the horizon. Vast tracts of land that seemed to be desolate and a scorching sun hitting the dash of his car left Harry Angus wondering of all the places he could be right now, why was he here? Harry was a rookie reporter at Melbourne’s Herald Sun and this assignment was to head for a small town in the Mallee district of North-West Victoria and create a story on the country folk.
Harry felt this assignment, his ‘big break’ according to the boss, was merely a joke, or an initiation ritual. He thought that was most likely. “They must have an office rule or something; send the new kid to the outback, leave him there for the weekend and laugh at him when he gets back with nothing. That’d be right, lucky me,” he said to himself.
The car, which was pleasantly air-conditioned, was silent. No radio stations worked out this far, which made the journey unbearable. After an hour of seeing nothing but sand dunes, dust and the odd cluster of trees and scrub, the first wheat fields started to appear and Harry hoped that this was the outskirts of Biloomba, the small town he was headed for.
But these too seemed to never end, until a roof could be seen on the horizon past the fields, followed by walls and a car parked out front. That building, which Harry thought was a hallucination, was in fact the Biloomba pub, one of five buildings in the small town.
Harry pulled up, stepped out and hit a wall of heat he had never felt before. Five hours in air-conditioned comfort is great, but when it is 44oC outside, the change can knock a man off his feet. Harry hurried inside and found to his annoyance, that the pub wasn’t air-conditioned; a reality the city slicker would have to get used to in Biloomba.
His hurried entrance was met with glances of everyone inside; two farmers and a barman. After the uneasy meeting, with Harry standing still at the door, worrying whether he would be met with a shotgun as well, the farmers turned back to each other and continued talking. They sat at the end of the bar closest to the fan, just holding their drinks and discussing the possibility of rain for the next month. The barman was behind the bar, wiping a glass with a cloth and eyeing Harry off.
Feeling compelled to break the silence, Harry spoke; “My name is Harry Angus, I am a reporter for the Herald Sun, I believe you are expecting me.”
“Ah yeah, Mr. Angus from Melbourne, I made ya a bed upstairs,” the barman replied. “I’m Jack and this here’s Peter and Tony.”
“G’day,” was the response from the farmers and Harry nodded and smiled back.
Harry walked up the stairs and found his small room, which to his surprise was quite immaculate, compared to what he expected.
Heading back down stairs, Harry thought of possible story ideas; “Will it rain this month? Harry Angus investigates,” and sighed at the thought of that being his best option. Nothing happens out here, farmers’ farm and barmen clean glasses for the rare customer. But this was his mission, his breakthrough assignment and he wasn’t going to quit and be the laughing stock of the office, not this early on.
He joined the men at the bar, asked for a drink and added: “So what do you guys do for fun around here?”
“Friday nights we’ve got happy hour ‘ere at the pub, gets a bit rowdy around eight o’clock with the crowd, ‘bout thirty show up,” Jack said, who was still cleaning that glass.
It was quarter to eight now and sure enough, the pub was packed with around thirty local blokes. With all the customers, Jack was still behind the bar cleaning that glass, which now sparkled in the lights. Harry was occasionally approached by the locals, asking the same questions: “What the hell you doin’ out here mate?”
“I’m a reporter from Melbourne,” shouted Harry over the music, “I’m doing a story on the lives of country folk.”
To which they usually replied: “Well, you’ve come to the right place for that mate, find me later, I’ll give you a story.” This was strangely followed by a wink.
Harry felt easier knowing that they had stories to tell, but was still worried they might just be “me wheat grew a whole foot last month while Keith’s next door, only grew two inches;” not exactly front page material. He needed a murder or a three headed cow, anything at all.
The clock reached eight o’clock and things certainly got rowdier after that. Harry looked up and saw that one of the locals was standing on the bar. The bloke shouted: “Come on guys; let’s get the real party started!” After which, he tore his shirt off and swung it around his head, as shouts and yee-ahs rang out across the crowd. The jukebox changed from classic country rock to 80’s dance music and the all male bar began to dance with each other and sing along.
Harry was right earlier in thinking there were no women at this pub. He looked to the bar and saw Jack still cleaning that glass, without an expression on his face. Harry carefully moved over to him. “Ah Jack, what’s going on here?”
“Mate this is happy hour in Biloomba, told you we get rowdy.” As Jack said this he slowly looked up at Harry and gave a seductive smile.
“You know what mate; I think I’ve got my story,” Harry said to him as he slowly backed away from the bar and ran out the door.
The drive back to Melbourne was far better than that of the day’s long haul to Biloomba. The sun was long gone, leaving just thousands of stars in the night sky, something not seen in Melbourne by Harry. His first assignment was quite a memorable one and he couldn’t help but think it was all set up by his colleagues.
It was at times like these, that Harry wished the radio worked, because he couldn’t get “In The Navy” out of his head.