Seduction and Sacrifice(2)

By: Miranda Lee

'Take him with me, of course.'

'He won't like the city, love.'

'He'll like wherever I am,' Gemma said stubbornly.

'Aye, that he probably will. Never seen a dog so 1 attached to a person. He still frightens the dickens out of me, though.'

'He's as gentle as a lamb.'

'Only with you, love. Only with you.'

Gemma laughed.

'That's better,' Ma said. 'It's good to hear you laugh again.'

Gemma fell silent. But I still haven't cried, she thought. It bothered her, very much. A daughter should cry when her father died.

She frowned and fell silent. They swept back into town and out along Three Mile Road.

Both Ma and Gemma lived a few miles out of Lightning Ridge, on the opposite side to the cemetery, near a spot called Frog Hollow. It wasn't much different from most places around the Ridge. The dry, rocky lunar landscape was pretty much the same wherever the ground had been decimated by mine shaft after mine shaft. Picturesque it was not. Nor green. The predominant colour was greyish-white.

Ma's caravan was parked under a fairly large old iron-bark tree, but the lack of rainfall meant a meagre leafage which didn't provide much shade from the searing summer sun. Gemma's dugout; by comparison, was cool.

'Come and sit in my place for a while,' Gemma offered as they approached Ma's caravan. 'We'll have a cool drink together."

'That's kind of you, love. Yes, I'd like that.'

Gemma drove on past the caravan, quickly covering the short distance between it and her father's claim. She began to frown when Blue didn't come charging down the dirt road towards her as he always did. Scrunching up her eyes against the glare of the sun, she peered ahead and thought she made out a dark shape lying in the dust in front of the dugout. It looked ominously still.

'Oh, no,' she cried, and, slamming on the brakes, she dived out of the utility practically before it was stopped. 'Blue!' she shouted, and ran, falling to her knees in the dirt before him and scooping his motionless form into her lap. His head lolled to one side, a dried froth around his lips.

'He's dead!' she gasped, and lifted horrified eyes to Ma, who w as looking down at the sorry sight with pity in her big red face.

'Yes, love. It seems so.'

'But how?' she moaned. 'Why?'

'Poisoned, by the look of it.'

'Poisoned! But who would poison my Blue?'

'He wasn't a well-loved dog around here,' Ma reminded gently. 'There, there. . .' She laid a kind hand on Gemma's shaking shoulder. 'Perhaps it's all for the best. You couldn't have taken him to Sydney with you. you know. With everyone but you he used to bite first and ask questions afterwards.'

'But he was my friend,' Gemma wailed, her eyes flooding with tears. 'I loved him!'

'Yes. . .yes, I know you did. I'm so sorry, love.'

The dam began to break, the one she'd been holding on to since the police came and told her that her father had fallen down an abandoned mine shaft and broken his stupid damned drunken neck.

"Oh, Blue,' she sobbed, and buried her head in the dog's dusty coat. 'Don't leave me. Please don't leave me. I'll be all alone. . .'

'We're all all alone. Gemma,' was Ma's weary advice.

Gemma's head shot up, brown eyes bright with tears, her tear-stained face showing a depth of emotion she hadn't inherited from her father. 'Don't say that, Ma. That's terrible. Not everyone is like my father was. Most people need other people. I know I do. And you do too. One day, I'm going to find some really nice man and marry him and have a whole lot of children. Not one or two, but half a dozen, and I'm going to teach them that the most joyous wonderful thing in this world is loving one another and caring for one another, openly, with hugs and kisses and lots of laughter. Because I'm tired of loneliness and misery and meanness. I've had a gutful of hateful people who would poison my dog and. . .and. . .'

She couldn't go on, everything inside her chest shaking and shaking. Once again, she buried her face in her pet's already dulling coat and cried and cried.

Ma plonked down in the dirt beside her and kept patting her on the shoulder. 'You're right, love. You're right. Have a good cry, there's a good girl. You deserve it.'

When Gemma was done crying, she stood up, found a shovel and dug Blue a grave. Wrapping him in an old sheet, she placed him in the bottom of the dusty trench and filled it in. patting the dirt down with an odd feeling of finality. A chapter had closed in her life. Another was about to begin. She would not look back. She would go forward. These two deaths had set her free of the past, a past that had not always been happy. The future was hers to create. And by God, she hoped to make a better job of it than her father had of the last eighteen years.

'Well, Ma,' she said when she returned to the cool of the dugout, 'that's done.'

'Yes, love.'

'Time to make plans,' she said, and pulled up a chair opposite Ma at the wooden slab that served as a table.