“Where were you? It’s 38 degrees!” This is how I greet her.
“Where was I?? Where were YOU?” she counters.
“I’ve been waiting here for half an hour… in a freakin’ suit, after travelling 25 hours from London,” I continue to complain.
She interrupts, “I was here 45 minutes ago, but they wouldn’t let me wait for you, so I had to drive back round. THEN I hit the gridlock! Every man and his heeler is flying in! It’s effing Sydney on Christmas Eve, y’know!”
She hurls my suitcase into the back of the truck with the finesse of an airline baggage handler, and I growl, “Be careful! You’re gonna break your Christmas gift!” She glares before jumping back in the driver’s seat.
Two slammed doors later, we begin the long journey to our home just south of Wagga Wagga (pronounced “wogga”). When I first heard that name Wagga Wagga, I thought it was an Australianism for any place in the middle of nowhere, but it turns out that really is the name of the town. That or Wagga, or Wags for short. Yep, us two cranky ladies live on a small river just south of Wagga Wagga, in an even smaller town. So small is this town that it was never really named, but locals know it as Swags; short for South of Wagga Wagga.
“What’s with this heat, anyway?” is my attempt to break the ice… so to speak.
“If you can’t hack it, maybe you should have stayed with your family in London for Christmas!” she snaps. I stop stoking the furnace.
The truck is hot. It’s not set up with any of the mod cons… like… aircon. We finally make it out of the city onto the highway where we can get some decent airflow through the cabin, and our blood is brought off the boil.
In a trying not to be cranky tone, she presses, “I thought we weren’t doing Chrissie pressies this year.” I leak a guilty smile and she sighs and shakes her head.
Hours pass and this dreary unwinding road brings on delirium. The road’s heat haze is a river we never seem to cross, the red-dusted fields are like lapping flames, and the passing ghost gums are spooky, wise, and shaman-like. When ancient distant mountains liquify, I can no longer fight a cascading jet-lagged and heatstruck slumber.
When I come to, I am somewhat refreshed. The road is the same straight road, and the land is the same red dust, but the lone gum’s shadows are longer and the hills are nearer.
“How long was I out?” I ask while yawning.
“You missed a lot,” she jokes. I chuckle and I find my seat has been reclined and my head resting on a cushion previously not there.
I feel for the roo standing in the shadow of a signpost. He has to angle himself to get some shade in this impossible heat.
“Poor animal,” she says.
“I know!” I’m a little merry she saw it too as proof I’m not still delirious.
“All alone at Christmas,” she finishes her thought. There is a moment’s confusion before I laugh, both in surprise and in adoration for this woman, who is so capable yet so tender. She briefly catches my hand and squeezes, and I realise just how much it means to her that I made it home for Christmas.
“You know, I was thinking more ‘poor animal’ for not having enough shade in this heat… since… you lot cut down most the trees.” I like to tease her and her folk, but right now I’m not completely sure if she is ready for teasing.
There is an awkward pause before she exclaims, “It was bloody YOU lot, that cut down the friggin’ trees!”
“Touché,” I concede and we relax, and laugh, and laugh some more … until we again remember the poor roo. And the poor trees.
We head down the main drag of Wagga. I already feel I’m home. I once found the sight of the town’s Christmas decorations ridiculous. The adorned plastic pine trees, Santa Clauses dressed in thick red coats and the fake snow-spray on the windows. In the summer of this outback town, these faux northern customs felt like a joke. Now I embrace them like a local, and it reminds me just enough of childhood Christmases to feel a wash of festivity come over me.
Our house is a wooden colonial that rests on the 10-foot stilts that saves it when the river floods. I made it. She leaves my suitcase and helps me to the lounge room which is large and open, and becomes the main bedroom in summer to take advantage of evening breezes. Although she’s done all the driving, she appreciates my poor state and runs a cool bath.
“Let’s wash the road off ya.” Her tone is loving as she helps me out of my sweat-dampened pant suit. I have no choice but to let her take care of me.
When I emerge to find her lazing on the couch with cold drinks and fresh fruit, I know what she’s waiting for. I take her hand and say, “I’m sorry, Darling. I’m so sorry I lost my cool with you at the airport.” I tear up a little. I love this woman, and it’s been a hard year, what with all the travelling. She knows the apology is more encompassing. She sits up, surveys me with watering eyes, and asks, “Are you sure you’re up for this?” She’s never keen to punish me if I’m not well, but I persuade her of my fitness. Besides, we both need this.
“Fetch the paddle, please.” She’s soft but sobering.
“Yes, ma’am.” I reluctantly let go of her hand and the contact I crave. When I return she reaches under my satin robe and removes my knickers completely. The brief feel of her thumbs on my thighs has me subtly thrust for her. She arches her brow, making plain the inappropriateness of my need.
She takes the paddle and summons me across her knee. She smooths my satin robe over my otherwise naked bottom, and I clench hold of a moan. I feel three quick and hard swats land on my sit spot. I yelp in surprise and audibly inhale before I feel three more. I realise despite my jetlag and mild heatstroke, she isn’t going to hold back. I hastily draw in another breath and brace for the next round, but instead I feel my robe is lifted. Time stills with the sudden exposure, and my senses are heightened.
Dusk must be here as I can hear the kookaburras carolling to the background beat of frogs and cicadas. And the mozzies are eager, but unsuccessful in their attempts to push through the soft fog of incense. It becomes dark enough to notice the Christmas tree lights are on, and there is a splay of colour across us.
At that moment, she lands another whack on my right cheek, and then my left. She alternates, back and forth. She is talking, quite firmly, but now I can’t focus on much but the intense burn that’s building. I’m starting to struggle, the coloured lights are swirling, and just as I’m losing it, she intuitively stops.
She pats my bottom as I recover from my delirium, and I can hear her tender voice now. I look for her and find her in the distorted reflection of each bauble on the tree. They’re like little tellies each showing the same show, of a woman over another’s knee.
She sends me to sleep in a way only she can, and I can do nothing but let her. To get me home, she is a Christmas miracle, and I’m just glad, in the morning, I have a gift I can give her.
Merry Christmas, Villagers 🙂