The farmer

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  • Published 20101025
  • ISBN: 9781921656187
  • Extent: 264 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

IT WAS THE farmer who built the shack, when he was a young man, long before I was born. By the time I knew him, he was an old man, his hair so white that it was impossible to tell its original colour. His eyes had faded, too, by then. The blind one had the colour of bruised milk, but even the good one was pale in a way that only comes with age. In order to imagine him as a young man, I have to keep him at a distance. Or else shade his face with the wide brim of a hat. In my imaginings, he is a figure that forks out of the horizon on the far side of a thirsting paddock; young and strong, but as lean as everything else on this brittle, rain-shadowed peninsula.

He’d not long been the farmer when he built the shack. When his father died, he inherited the whole property, but only by eighteen minutes, which was the exact margin by which his twin brother missed out. The only two pictures I ever saw of the twins were taken when they were children; I used to look at them, on the sideboard in the farmhouse, whenever we visited. The family portraits, the wedding groups, the babies in their christening caps, all seemed to me to have come from some unaccountably ancient time, when people were more serious, with fates that were more precarious and interesting than ordinary modern people. Perhaps it was just because I knew most of the people in the pictures were already dead that I imagined in their faces some presentiment of doom. In one picture, the twins were babies, curled like white lacy worms inside their matching wicker cribs. In the other, they were grubby boys in overalls – only as tall as the rifles they held with butt-ends to the ground – standing either side of a pile of dead rabbits.

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