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Authors: Rachael Treasure

Fifty Bales of Hay

BOOK: Fifty Bales of Hay
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Dedication

For ordinary everyday goddesses like you and me

Letter to Reader

Hello dear reader
,

Can I please take a moment to let you know in real life I am a nerd? I am more likely to be found in bed with a thesaurus than with an actual bloke, so I must stress … these stories are
fiction
. Because of this I haven’t bored the reader with all the safe sex practices needed to get you through life to a healthy age without your private bits falling off. Therefore, I stress, to young and old, in real life practise safe sex and while you are at it, practise love, respect and kindness with the one you’re with!

Remember, no balloon, no party
.

Rachael

Harvest Moon

I
t was the sort of summer’s day where the horizon took on liquid form and shimmered like clear moving jelly in the distance. It was the type of day that the red dirt of the road felt so hot that it might suddenly ignite into flames beneath the soles of one’s boots.

And there was Stella in that sweltering heat, standing before her oven. It was the day of her tenth wedding anniversary. A decade ago, her mother-in-law-to-be had warned her not to get married around harvest time, but since she was a little girl, Stella had always wanted a summer wedding, so the January date was set. Should she have listened?

She swiped a sticky, persistent fly away from her face and blew her breath upwards to her dark fringe, trying to cool away the strand of hair that stuck to her brow. Standing in front of the fan-forced oven wearing only her wonky underwire bra and rather saggy black undies, Stella wondered why on earth the men needed cake for afternoon smoko on a day like today? Wouldn’t a packet of shortbread biscuits do?

She sighed and felt a drip of sweat trickle down the small of her back. It wasn’t so much her husband, Tom, nor his father, Dennis, demanding the tucker. Rather, the pressure came from her mother-in-law, the sort of pressure made by the unseen slow-moving push of boulders. Nancy was a perfectionist in everything on the home front, and particularly when it came to providing meals, which she dished up with a somewhat bitter pride. Nancy was especially upright in her body language when she delivered her signature smokos during harvest time or shearing. But it was the way Nancy wielded her love for her family and her control that had them swimming circles around her. She used her command of the home and the food as power over the men, and power over Stella. Her smiles were thinly disguised grimaces of a woman jaded by life.

‘They work such long hours,’ Nancy would tut-tut as she eyed Stella’s sloppily folded washing piles, ‘so they need their bellies fuelled with good home-cooked meals. None of that bought stuff. That won’t feed a man. Packet cake and frozen shop-bought sausage rolls are cheating in my view. But that’s just my view. You do what you like.’

The men worked such long hours? Yeah, sure, Stella thought. Long hours spent in the air-conditioned cabs of fancy tractors. Cabs that had stereos that broadcast the cricket all day, or iPod playlists of favourite country music. Then there was the social element of tractor driving, where the radio handpiece was a link to their mates harvesting grain in the district, always nearby. And they had the built-in drink holders, and the plug-in space for Eskys containing
cold stubbies of beer when the long arm of the clock slipped past five o’clock. All this along with GPS controls so the men barely had to steer to get their grain rows straight. They only had to get out into the heat occasionally to adjust the chaser bin, open a gate, refuel or set up the grain auger. And then there were the trips to the railside grain weighbridge and silos. Sure it was routine, round the clock, hectic work … but it was mostly air-conditioned and social. Not like this kitchen. And there was no need for fancy smokos. No need at all.

The reason Stella knew all this and Nancy did not was because once, years ago, before the wedding, before the babies, Stella had been part of that tractor driving world. And she had loved it. It was before life crept up on her and took her to a place she never thought she would be. In a kitchen, while her beloved rural world moved on outside without her. Not for one moment did she begrudge her kids. But she missed being with Tom in
his
world. Instead, she was groomed by Nancy to become one of the ‘womenfolk’. It depressed her.

Stella glanced at her goddess, sticky-taped to the fridge.

‘Please help me today,’ Stella said, looking at the image of Nigella Lawson standing in her British kitchen, curving wildly and womanly in a red dress that clung to ginormous knockers. Her white, full breasts brushed by the ends of her flowing dark hair. ‘Please give me strength, Nigella,’ Stella said again.

Tom had given her a Nigella cookbook last Christmas. She was certain Tom wasn’t attracted to it for the recipes …
more for the fact that Nigella had pouting cherry lips and did things to strawberries and cream with her mouth that reminded him of fellatio. But Stella didn’t care. She admired the woman. A woman who had suffered the death of loved ones. A woman who made cooking about love and sensuality, and about self-soothing. A woman who was comfortable with her curves and in the dead of night liked to stroke the shelves of her pantry and feast on midnight snacks. Nigella, in Stella’s book, was a legend.

Stella wondered if Nigella had the same trouble with men, or did they treat her like the goddess she was? Did the men in Nigella’s house do the dishes and bring her champagne, or cups of tea when reclining in the bath? Or when Nigella’s men knocked off work, did they kick boots off at the back door to be tripped over, and after a quick wash, was the couch located and feet put up on stools and the television flicked on and the newspaper unfolded, and did the news or the sport become the focus? Not the kids. Not the wife. Not the domestics. Was it the same the world over?

If only they had a bath in this dump of a cottage, Stella thought, she could soak in it and Tom could bring her a Bundy. If only they had a
pantry
so she could soothe herself with some shelf stroking and learn to love her kitchen and her cooking the way Nigella did. Still, she reasoned, Nigella would certainly do more hours than the men. There was no doubt there. She was a mother.

For Stella, her day usually started at 5.30 a.m. with Ned’s first bottle, and it wasn’t done until she fell into bed in an exhausted heap after a hectic routine of domestic
tasks and helping the men. There was the endless round of dirty dishes, bathing the kids, looking after the kids, planning the next day’s meals, getting the washing away, sweeping the spiders from the verandah and watering the garden. Then there was helping the men working on the farm … round and round it went, on and on. To add to the pressure, there was the straightening of the cushions and curtains in case Nancy popped by, or hiding the twelve bucks’ worth of ‘naughty grey book’ Tom had bought from the local truck stop in the hope it ‘might get Stella horny so she would give him a bit’. She sighed. Couldn’t Tom see she was just too tired to give him a bit? Her mind was too full of the daily grind of living. Bloody men.

But, Stella reasoned, with a steamy-breathed hot, hot sigh, Tom was a good bloke. Tom did his best. Considering the way Nancy had raised him, he really did try for her. He sometimes offered help with the barbecue or the dishes. And he often gave her cuddles at the sink when she was about to cry. But most of the time Tom was too busy for her. Preoccupied with the farm bookwork, or the internet — checking grain futures trading, scanning weather forecasts, dealing with emails, answering his mother’s calls on the two-way from the homestead only a hundred metres away. His stress about ‘providing for them as a family’ knotting him into silence and distance at night. The busyness of the day sending them to bed at different times, both overwhelmed by their life.

But after ten years, they were still a team, thought Stella. He was still her man. He stood by her, through thick and
thin. She wanted to be a good woman to him too, after all this time. Stella knew, as she looked around the tiny shoebox farm cottage that had no air-conditioning, only ceiling fans that whirred very fast as if they would take the house high up into the blue, they were both striving together for a better life. A home for themselves soon, on a second property. And who was she to complain? Tom’s mother had raised five children in this same tiny farm cottage, before Dennis’s parents had moved out of the big homestead to a retirement house in town. So, Stella thought, all she had to do was bide her time. For now, if the men wanted cake, they should have their cake. The only trouble was, after her tractor shifts ten years ago, she knew it was really only Nancy who wanted the cake. The men were happy with beer.

She grabbed up her oven mitts just as little Ned, unable to sleep in this afternoon heat and too tired to reason with, screamed from his cot. His face and chubby limbs blotchy and red, his bottle cast on the floor, the milk already curdling. The fan that whirred cooler air through Tom and Stella’s bedroom was angled at his cot, but it seemed to make no difference to him, poor little man. Stella pouted to herself. The heat was bad enough for big people, let alone cherubic little Ned, who was such a good doer. He would be cooking in the tiny room that stood to the west of the house where the sun hung outside in a fiery blaze.

‘Mummy’s coming, sweetie! I just have to get the cake out of the oven. Please be patient.’

Ned was, as of last week, two years old, but Stella had never talked down to her children as if they were ‘just
babies’. She’d approached motherhood with the same philosophies she had used to train her working dogs when she was outback with her first job as a young ringer. She had learned from the stockmen that kids were like dogs: they needed plenty of praise, plenty of respect, loads of confidence building, but if they crossed the line and put themselves in danger, or busted out of a boundary,
snap
. Stella, the alpha bitch, would swoop, suddenly, with the conviction of a good strong leader, but with no malice. Then all would be forgiven, the praise returning, the equilibrium found. As a result, her kids and her dogs were happy and confident, but also, when needed, they knew how to behave. She was proud of them. Her dogs and her kids. And she found times when she was proud of herself. Then Nancy would come calling and she would feel like the worst mother in the world.

She thought of her poor darling Milly who would be on the school bus, melting along with her bedraggled, sagging classmates. Just the idea of getting in the ute and sitting on the cracked, roasting vinyl seats to make the drive to the highway to meet the bus made Stella sag herself. She’d have to take Ned today. She couldn’t just leave him. Sometimes she could risk it for half an hour, while he was down for his afternoon sleep, but not today. A renewed wave of screaming from Ned travelled through the narrow hallway and met her thoughts in the kitchen.

‘Seen and not heard,’ Nancy would mutter on the matter of children. ‘In my day, when I was raising Tom and the other children…’ Blah, blah, blah, thought Stella.

In Nancy’s day, love was withheld for the sake of discipline. Not now, Stella thought. Times had changed. What would Nancy know about shaping young minds? Nancy had never worked a dog, never trained a pup. She had never had to reach deep within to look at how her own inner self played out in the physical world of communicating with creatures as sensitive as sheep, as cunning as cattle and as clever as dogs. What would Nancy think if she knew the principles of working-dog handling were also applied by Stella to the management of her husband, Tom? Stella smiled.

At times, Tom was as sharp and energetic as a kelpie, other times as dopey and lovable as a Labrador. All he basically needed was a good feed, plenty of praise and the occasional hump to keep him happy. But that was the sticking point. The hump. Stella had felt a slow corrosion take hold in the area of their lovemaking. It was the one area where her marriage felt as if it was fully weighted down with the burdens of life. Where was there room for it amongst the dirty washing, the crops to sow, grow and harvest, sheets to change, floors to sweep and mop, head lice to combat, lunchboxes to empty of sodden crusts and half-sucked oranges, mouldy scraps to toss to the chooks, soiled nappies to shove in the already smelly wheelie bin…

Where was the spark in their marriage? Where was that girl who had craved her man? She had dissolved and, like a mirage on the horizon, the more Stella chased her in her mind, the more the girl evaporated when she neared.

She thought about the early years of their courtship. The first year of harvest when she had stayed on the farm in the big house. Nancy had handed her the smoko basket and showed her on the farm map which of the right-angled roads to turn down to find the paddock where Tom was harvesting. Gleefully Stella had lobbed into the clunky farm ute, started it up and raced down the driveway.

That was back when the old yellow New Holland harvester was still going. Tom and Stella were three months into their relationship. She could see Tom in the header, the combs gobbling up the golden wheat that pushed out in front of the roaring machine, the auger spurting full-yielding seed heads into the bin towed behind the combine. She couldn’t wait to get to him. He’d barely slowed the vehicle and she’d sprung up onto the step and climbed into the cab. Without a word, they’d greeted each other with a passionate kiss. Sitting on the hydraulic sprung seat, she’d dragged her shorts off, tugged down his, and impaled herself hungrily on the hardness of his waiting shaft while the idling harvester roared in her ears. Later, Nancy was curt with them. Tom hadn’t eaten his angel cake. Stella had giggled and Tom had suppressed a smile. He sure had eaten Stella’s angel cake, he’d said later to Stella wickedly. But that was years ago now. Those days, long gone.

Stella opened the oven door and a blast of heat escaped to further thicken the air of the room. She swiped a strand of her jet-black hair from her eyes and stooped, with oven mitts on, to look at the chocolate cake within. The cake sagged in the middle.

‘It’s all very well for you, Nigella,’ she said. ‘You poms don’t have to deal with the fucking flies, and heat like this, and I bet you don’t have a mother-in-law like mine!’

As Ned cried out again, and Stella bent to retrieve the cake that resembled a sunken cowpat, she burnt her wrist on the oven and swore.

‘Fuck meee!’ she said, flicking her arm in pain.

‘If you like,’ came a voice behind her. Tom was standing there in his shorts and a blue singlet. He came up behind her and grabbed her by the hips. ‘Even in those undies, I would.’

‘Oh, for god’s sake, Tom!’ she said, juggling the hot cake tin, her wrist stinging and already rising in a red welt. ‘Can’t you hear Ned chucking a spaz? I’ve just fucking burnt myself and I’ve got to get Milly off the bus!’

BOOK: Fifty Bales of Hay
13.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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