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From her post-apocalyptic refuge on an Australian riverbank, a woman seeks her lover through fervent, futile letters
Out here, I think of you the most.
I’m on the old green kayak we took out on your first visit. The river was choppier that day, and you struggled to point the plastic nose out toward the island. I remember you laughing as the waves threatened to carry the boat away.
“Not today, river monster!” you yelled, a battle cry to the wind.
Now I glide easily, each oar stroke taking me further from our safe, scrubby shore. I can see fires burning on the other bank and I wonder if people are making breakfast or if there’s been trouble again overnight. I didn’t hear anything, but then again the wind can carry sounds away from our little inlet. There have been nights I was very grateful for that small quirk of nature.
I head toward the sandbank to drop the crab nets. I’ll fish for whiting while I wait for all manner of sea creatures to congregate inside my traps. It was lucky I found the dead kangaroo two days ago, otherwise I’m not sure what I would have used for bait.
You were fascinated when you first saw the crabs we catch here. “Nothing like you get in England!” you said and gingerly turned a dead one over with your toe, afraid somehow it would come back to life and menace you with its claw. The creature was a cloud of dark blue and purple, as big as both of your hands held out together, and I teased you that the meat inside was blue as well.
Every day I am here now, on the river. It’s safe as long as you don’t draw too much attention. There’s only one small government force in the town on the far bank and they don’t bother that much with us. They come maybe once, twice a season to check that we’re not harbouring fugitives or using the electricity. Old Jeff Juniper hid his generator under the water tank the time before last, but they still found it. They took his cow for that.
Today I’ll do the fishing, maybe try and trade some on the jetty but I don’t think it’s worth it. I can only see two small boats from here and the mail ship isn’t one. I only bother to go to town for the mail ship.
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve written to you, at every address that I could think of. Our old flat, your mum’s house, your dad’s. I even wrote to Jack but I think I got the street name wrong – I have no hope he was actually there but I had to try everything to stop myself from crumbling. It’s an expensive farce, this mail system. You hand over several meals worth of food for a single stamp and the hope it brings with it.
Realistically I know my precious letters – written over the course of several days and accompanied by little drawings, with side notes and in-jokes, will never make it anywhere near you.
They will be violated.
Torn open, cut up and searched for contraband. They’ll be read for hints of rebel plans, or dumped in the sea. Nothing but strictly controlled messages have left these shores in two years and everyone knows that, but I do it anyway for the same reason that the other townsfolk line up neatly for the red and white mail ship. Because I have to. I need to.
I assume you have guessed where I am. You saw our house on that first visit, hidden away by water on three sides and a gravel track leading in. It was so far away from civilization that stars looked milky in the sky. It was filled with all my childhood paraphernalia, old board games and soft toys, the half completed puzzle books of a thousand family holidays.
It was the likely place to go when we first heard they were cutting off the cities, and I can imagine you watching the BBC coverage and looking at the maps of where the worst fighting was. To lots of people those wouldn’t have made sense, they would have no frame of reference, but you were here once. It was real to you. You may even still have the little road map I cut from that tourist guide for you to keep. I like to think that you look at it sometimes, or keep it folded up in your wallet to carry around with you in your safe grey world.
Take that map out of it’s hiding place from time to time. Look at that little dot right on the very bottom, on the far left tip and know that I am there.
I am safe.
I am fishing.