A Story from the Field Book of a Reluctant Surveyor
Finally, the vegetation parted, and I stepped out into the open. I found myself standing on a slight embankment at the edge of a small clearing, etched out of the thick, Tasmanian west-coast, scrub. Just below me nestled a small timber house, capped with a rust streaked, corrugated iron roof. Overgrown lawn helped to fill the gaps between an assortment of old vehicle parts and piles of scrap timber and metal that littered the space between the house and the surrounding curtain of vegetation. A further small expanse served as a buffer between the house and the potholed, bitumen road. A picket fence, in search of a coat of paint, leant drunkenly along the edge of the lawn providing a scant barrier between the property and the street. From the fence led a concrete driveway up between the house and the foot of the embankment to a small concrete apron surrounding the rear entrance to the house. A car port leant, tentatively, against the faded, yellow weatherboards.
I began to turn back towards the theodolite when a faint, whirring sound caught my attention. I looked back towards the house to locate the source. A quick glance around the rear of the house revealed nothing, so I turned my attention down the drive towards the road.
It was then I noticed a small toy. A scaled down four-wheeled drive model, gleaming red with large, black, rubber tyres. Pointing skywards, from behind a tiny roll-bar, was a disproportionately long aerial with a small orange flag attached at the top which waved wildly in response to the erratic movements of the speeding toy.
I watched utterly enthralled by its hypnotic motions. The toy darted and weaved crazily up and down the concrete driveway, occasionally careering off onto the neglected lawn where it would bounce to a sudden stop, before gradually crawling its way back onto the concrete where it would race off again at breakneck speed. Whenever it raced out onto the road, it would leap into the air as it crossed the gutter.
Fascinated by this display of youthful entertainment, I glanced around the yard for the orchestrator. Failing to find anyone, I concentrated instead on the toy and the amusement that it provided. Occasionally the tiny machine would stop and sit like a giant insect awaiting a predator, poised and ready to scurry off. Then it would race off to accomplish another couple of laps.
One of its erratic orbits took it deeper under the car port, and it was then that I noticed a little boy standing motionless apart from his thumbs which frantically wriggled two levers on a control box. The boy was partially concealed by the roof of the car port, but the aggressive actions imposed on the control box indicated that the boy was concentrating hard to keep the speeding machine under control.
The toy seemed to be an extension of the boy’s body and mind, linked by the invisible radio waves. The rigorous movements of the control box’s aerial seemed to will the toy round the course.
Suddenly there was a roar, and the faint whirring coming from the small toy was drowned out by the presence of a large vehicle that filled the void in the driveway with its metallic bulk. It roared to a standstill just short of the car port. The toy skidded to an abrupt halt as the boy’s attention was diverted to the new arrival. He dropped the control box onto a bench and appeared from beneath the car port where he stood and watched as the machine sat vibrating violently until it took its last breath and shuddered to a sudden stop.
Time stood, briefly, still…
I continued watching with fascinated anticipation. The boy was motionless, and the four-wheel drive vehicle, a dull blue showing, intermittently, through layers of thick mud, remained quiet and still where it had come to rest. Only the portion of windscreen swept by the wiper blades remained sparkling clean. Suddenly a door swung open and a man stepped out. A faded blue singlet stretched over his large, fleshy frame and rounded stomach, and was partly tucked into ill-fitting blue jeans, torn above one knee. Dark curly hair reached down to his shoulders and he wore heavy boots. His attire was adorned by a liberal splattering of mud.
“Wow!” the little boy exclaimed, “What happened?”
The man walked up to the little boy and rested a plump, hairy arm around his shoulder. He looked back towards his muddied vehicle with admiration.
“Got ‘er bogged,” he announced proudly, between aggressive bites on an exhausted piece of gum. “Had ta winch ‘er out.”
“Wow!” the boy uttered again in amazed response.
They stood, for a few moments, as if mesmerised by some wondrous, biblical epic, before turning and walking under the carport and disappearing round the corner of the house.
The following morning I pulled up outside the small, yellow house. The driveway was empty. The only sign of habitation was a thin column of blue smoke rising into the cool, still air. I climbed the slight embankment, beside the house, with the theodolite over my shoulder.
I paused at the point where I had stood the day before and looked back at the house, quiet and calm in the early morning light. The dense bush, dark and forbidding, closed in like a protective curtain. Behind the house, a lone gum tree reached up to catch the sun’s faint rays and its thin leaves hung wet and glistening. Dew lay heavily on the neglected lawn.
I searched the deserted yard and finally found the little red four-wheel drive, poised as if ready to pounce at some unseen prey, on the concrete apron by the back porch. I smiled, momentarily, before turning away.
The toy was coated in mud.