Swallow the Air

Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch Read Free Book Online

Book: Swallow the Air by Tara June Winch Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tara June Winch
Tags: Fiction/General
    â€˜What then? Ya got something. My missus, she’s Maltese. Skin like yours too.’
    â€˜My Mum was Aboriginal.’
    â€˜No shit? You don’t look like an Abo.’
    â€˜My old man isn’t though; his family are from the First Fleet and everything. Rich folk they were, fancy folk from England.’
    â€˜I hate Pommies,’ Pete said, and back in the music and the silence, I wondered if they really were from England after all.
    I couldn’t wait to find Dad and ask.

    Pete points at the little green shields on the side of the highway, they have a number and a letter or two above the number. He says that sign will tell me how far away we are from where we’re going. The next one that I spot has the letter D and a 98 written underneath. ‘How long does that take?’
    â€˜Depends if there’s any towns to go through matey, but probably around an hour and a bit I reckon. But we’re going to take a detour, a pit stop, kid. Local attraction – only Fridays, won’t see it again. You’ll love it...’
    And soon the highway forks and we drop gears onto a skinnier road that leaves the white paint outline behind. We drive a fair while down where the trees have begun to overgrow the crumblybitumen edges. I almost start to panic until the side of the road opens up to a field of parked four-wheel-drive utes and troop carriers. A hand-painted sign dangles from the back of a tin shed. Palm Creek Rodeo.
    The truck’s gears take their final dropdown, hissing and shuddering the cab, as Pete drives over to the end of the field and stops. We climb out onto the steps and fling ourselves down.
    We begin to walk across the jumbled rows of cars, when the sun falls just below the tree line and a cool wind catches my nape. I loosen my jumper from where it’s tied around my waist.
    Pete’s pink skin is camouflaged among the sea of red dirt cars as we near the side of the shed. A big wind pushes its way beneath the four-wheel-drives and beckons at my legs. The boundary of eucalypt trees cry out above clawing desert oaks, as they perch themselves on the land. A big gust flings the trees backward and then forward like the concave of lungs. The air whooshes about the trucks and whistles deep in my ears, I throw my head up to the sky’s bellowing.
    Grey gums inhale. Pausing breath. A slow thudding noise replaces the sky; it drives over therodeo fence as I pull the jumper over my head, the hood crowning my face.
    What I saw was not meant for my eyes.
    A jawbone crunches under a slice of bare knuckles. Bloodied eyeballs throw blank expressions. Mouths fling spittle streamers about the dirt red ring. Frantic, finger-bitten punches claw tangled in the shiny skin.
    I hear Pete’s voice in my head, the fights before the races. I can’t take my eyes from the horror, the osmosis of blood and blood beneath the dust-flung dusk. Bones crack under the fighter’s grated ribs, his oars of the dinghy swinging – slipping to the ground. The fighter thrusts a knee in between the other fighter’s lung cage. It caves him skyward like a skinny stray cat. All the men roar back. Fierce men. Black men and white men, separated by only skin, only by skin until it rips open and the red blood and red dirt become the same, same red brute. The smell chokes me, fighting, of Aunty’s Tooheys Old, unwashed sheets, marinated, raw beef. The fighter who’s down, half naked and pissing his pants and pleading, is taken under the armpits and dragged from the ring, leaving the short ditch of urine and blood across the ground.And as another fighter clears the fence, I notice the money-shuffling hands. The stink of bourbon leaks across the fifty-odd men and the few bleached heads of tattooed women. Leaking from belly laughter and sing-along heaving breath.
    I wrench my eyes from the blood, and up to the faces, the spectators, not like I’d imagined

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