This man sleeping with her dogs — probably the same thing. Nice to be able to escape to somewhere else. The big news had started over the last few days. The surrounding region, and a lot of the land that Graziella and her husband Filippo had once owned, started to appear on the television too. After Filippo died, all she managed to hang onto were three acres for herself, the old house, one machinery shed and a chicken coop. Bills and debts gobbled up the money.
Now everything here was worth millions. Millions and millions and millions. Yet a stranger was sleeping with two old dogs in her shed. People in the area were excited. Some were scared, expecting to find fugitives in their homes. The police had set up a special number to call if you had any information: if a fugitive was running through your back paddock, for instance, or was on the kitchen floor making breakfast of your Affenpinscher.
In this area, when it came to pets, people leaned toward the exotic. Where would they turn up, people asked one another in the Kenmore Woolworths and the Bellbowrie Coles supermarket aisles, where were they hiding? Popular opinion said they were more than likely up with the rapidly diminishing number of wild deer left foraging the state forest, soon to be clubbing their fawns to death for food.
Vermin in deer, of course. And where do you see wild pigs, genius? Joe even joined a group of searchers for a day, but returned in a state of acute boredom. What do you think we did in the war when the Germans started getting slaughtered? We hated them, but we fed them, and let them go too. Germans died like hunted sheep in Sicily.
When they were gone and the television was off, she cursed her husband — bless his departed spirit — for sticking so much of his small mind into the brains of those boys. Sometimes it seemed that the force of his personality had been a barrier to the wisdom that should have come to a better educated new generation. If she had been, then she might as well have been concerned about desperate men all her life. Her father, the one truly good man she had known, had taught her to pass through the failings of all things masculine. Three uncles martyred themselves in the second world war, believing the fascist lie to the end.
A fourth, her favourite uncle, was a small town mayor, and even he had managed to cause the end of his own life. No evidence against them, but he hated all Americans as marauding devils. A trial? Forget it. Shoot them in the main square. A week later when the American army arrived in force, they filled him with bullet holes.
Venero Armanno: The Sleeping Stranger
Equally illegal, but there you go. Then the worst. Protection on her remaining tract of land was left to a pair of lethargic dogs and a nice double-barrel shotgun. The younger dog was twelve years of age, a Great Dane called Sylvia who hardly ever barked. Half-blind and half-dead, Prettyboy already looked like a corpse, only capable of scaring an intruder if the intruder believed in ghosts. Graziella knew she had her wits plus nerves of steel. If she could survive the pre-war disintegration of an entire social fabric, and the poverty and famine of war-time, not to mention a post-war economic collapse, she could handle anything.
If she could survive coming to a new country and making a home, and spending a lifetime managing and assuaging the personality of a man like Filippo, she could survive any intrusion a group of scared, skinny, exhausted refugees might make. But what a remarkable thing had happened: first the big pile-up on the Ipswich Motorway that saw endless heavy traffic re-routed through — of all places — the slow-going Moggill Ferry; then, as lost as lost can be, a transportation bus slid down an embankment while trying a u-turn up on Rafting Ground Road, not far from the Brookfield Produce Store.
The police rounded up eight of the refugees but some were still on the loose. Maybe only two or three. SES workers, volunteers, neighbourhood children and their pets tramped through the hills combing the area. Now she looked at the stranger sleeping in her shed and wondered, Are you alone? Where are your friends? This sleeping man — his skin was entirely, deeply black. It seemed rubbery, malnourished, loose and unhealthy. He was ugly. Even in perfect health he would be ugly — and he was so still he might as well have been dead. The dogs had accepted him during the night. As Graziella watched, a stone of apprehension settled, not in her heart but in her stomach.
He would be found. Graziella decided, without needing to decide it, that she would help him. The hay and straw softened her step as she back-stepped from the shed. The orange on the horizon was minimal. Mist hung amidst the trees and filled the valleys so that the length and breadth of her property seemed to exist in space, surrounded by nothing. At least for this hour, until the sun did its job and burned away the haze, this place was its own world — as it used to be.
She wished Filippo had never been forced to parcel up and sell the vast quantity of their land-holding, but debts had mounted and his health had gone. At one time they owned most of the region but land taxes, wages and fuel costs sky-rocketed at the same time as the price of pineapples and battery eggs fell like stones.
Her sons told her even these three acres were too much for one old lady; agents of course waited for her to sell up or die — go somewhere cheaper, smaller, more practical. Not quite so alone as she was most mornings, Graziella left the stranger where he slept like a sack of broken bones and went to feed her chickens.
II There were three new eggs in the coop. They went into the pocket of her apron for the walk along the pathway back toward the house. She pulled her knitted jumper more closely around her shoulders. The roofs of three nearby homes had disappeared. The tomatoes, ruined. Joe would help. The work had left her exhausted, yet mornings like these were moments to be happy. Even if her thin legs ached and she unexpectedly had to sit down on her way back to the house.
Graziella instinctively put her hands into the big pocket of her apron in order to feel the warmth of the just-laid eggs. She caught her breath. Her lassitude was physical but was also a sort of depression, she recognised it, and in recognising it her heart sank a little further. Maybe she should have nudged him awake and invited him into the house for something hot to drink and warm to eat. How much had he already endured? You seen them on the TV?
What about when they go stupid through those religious festivals? Smacking their own heads. Straight into the arms of everyone hunting him. There was no alternative. Trust me. Again, small towns are the best. But what those tiny villages lacked in city services they often made up for in convenience and hospitality.
Lots of person towns peppered across the Midwest not only allow free camping in the city park but also provide showers and other resources at the local pool or firehouse. Type keyword s to search.
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