If I was where I would be
Then I’d be where I am now
Here I am where I must be
Where I’d be I can not
I had always considered myself to be trapped in Glennen Warrie but I’ve since come to understand that to say I was trapped is incorrect. If I was trapped, then there was some period where it was not my original environment and, prior to becoming stuck, I had lived in a state of comparative freedom. This is not true. I was born there and for that reason it could be said that I was part of it. It’s still there, in the centre of opal country. That’s all I’ve ever really learnt to say about the place, just part of opal country. It’s a dirty sprawl of brown and yellow with the exception of the golf course; a lush areola between thin unpaved roads and corrugated roofs. Any history that’s there is quite some way beneath the ground.
I had gotten through twelve years of schooling. A small feat in the eyes of most but considering the tendencies of others my age, it was rare to not become engulfed by a trade or apprenticeship by age sixteen. It was the vague idea of escape that motivated me. I seemed to be the only one who wasn’t proud of the endless wastes, the gimmicky caverns that dotted the town between tourist trap road signs and hunched houses. I worked nights and saved so I could move to Adelaide. The town existed purely because of the opals in the surrounding land and without it, there would be no redeeming the cruel vacancy of life and waste. It had grown since the beginning, we had an airport now and even a hospital, but it felt more like a sequence of malignancy than true progress. The day’s heat was the worst of it. The uninterrupted horizon provided relief in the form of cold plain nights but all the same, I’ve never since been able to tolerate anyone complaining about the weather.
There were two things in the town that lived beyond eleven thirty. First and least relevant to my story, one of the two pubs remained unofficially open until two or as best as I can tell. The town, after all, provided steady motivation for alcoholism. The other was the petrol stations. Trucks ripped through the place at all times and their frequency forced such necessity. I spent my weeknights behind the counter of one of the oldest stations in town. It was the closest to the highway with its sparse, solar powered lamps that penetrated the unfazed plains but its four solitary bowsers and low resting shelters often forced many rigs to bypass it entirely. We offered the nomadic behemoths one comfort the franchise-engulfed competitors did not: A small diner that provided simplistic but hot meals. These were hungry beasts and the bain-marie pie would not suffice. Most of them would drive across the town outskirts from the first turn off onto a road that ran adjacent to the highway and stop at one of the major stations for fuel, then they would drive on to our station, park their hulking engines in the great expanse of red dirt that we offered in the cove of green corrugated fencing and come in to eat. That’s how the money was made; not in the necessity of fuel, but the hunger of the remaining human element.
It was always quietest at two in the morning. I would be on until seven with nothing to do. I did not mind, I spent most time alone even when with others. It gave me time to rest my anxiety and to consider. There were always several trucks pulled up in the rudimentary parking lot for the night. You could usually see a stomach poking into view through the windshield, the occupant lying on their back across the seats like a flannel clad beached animal. The cook, a paunchy, middle aged crust of a man, sat alone in the kitchen of the adjoining feeder with a radio and a newspaper. He rarely spoke but given my minimal contact with him, it had never been a problem. As far as I understood, he was the son of the owner. The catalystic night had not been unusual to this extent. The station was completely vacant. My neon and white jurisdiction of snack-food aisles and dusty windows, the welcoming dining hall of red-and-white linoleum tables and brown vinyl chairs hung in my vision with temporal eeriness and the craning necks of the bowsers all stood still. The only thing that marked it as an extraordinary evening was the absence of slumbering truckies. Only one truck sat away from the light of the station and its driver was not visible. I had seen it pull up some hours before but had not seen the driver come in and lost track of the movements since. It was an unnecessary detail, but the monotony of the night morphed it into an event of some small note.
The stool had come loose in my booth and, weighing up the fact that from the station windows I would be able to see a vehicle approaching from any direction long before they saw me, I stepped out, took a newspaper from the rack and pulled up a seat in the diner. The owner’s son lay in some kind of exclusive preoccupation in the kitchen. He seemed almost in stasis the way he sat in an identical position every night, craned slightly towards the radio, the newspaper clutched in his fat hands, the pages unchanging, the face registering nothing. He could have been sleeping and in all likelihood was. I was half an hour into the paper when the door of the eatery swung open. I had not seen anyone approaching in my peripheral and swung around to look for a parked vehicle. There was none and, looking at the figure in the doorway, identified him immediately as the driver of the parked truck.
He nodded at me, unthreatening, unassuming. A big guy, but not particularly imposing. He wore the trademarks of a truck driver; dirty flannelette, faded department store t-shirt, bad hair, worse beard, but despite a total absence of any reason for the fact, he did not exude the same dutiful and inapproachable air of his kind. He looked at me with his curious eyes. They appeared two dimensional but the way he looked at me made me feel as though he had spoken to many mes across so many towns and now accepted us all as knowing him as if we were linked by a singular consciousness. The absurdity of such a thing aside, the familiarity put me at great ease.
“You guys doin’ food still?”
“Yeah.” I replied. “All night.”
“Well, we do food all the time.”
He nodded, satisfied with my response, and took a seat at the same table as me.
“You got a menu?” he asked.
“Well, it’s all up on that board.”
He looked across at the menu above the kitchen entrance for a moment and asked for a toasted sandwich. It was not done with thanks, but his tone exuded dry graciousness. I got up to tell the cook but as I walked towards the kitchen, the truckie spoke again.
“Don’t bother. He’s asleep.”
I wheeled around. The bizarre comfort had given away rapidly to uneasiness. He had only been there for a minute.
“How did you know?” I asked.
“Well you can make a toasted sandwich, can’t ya?”
I nodded, too unsettled to retort, and walked behind the serving area. The toasted sandwich maker was already out and while I was nervous, I still did not feel particularly scared by the man and felt no need to wake the cook. There was also a partial concern that the truckie would somehow know if I attempted to rouse him and, still unclear of the stranger’s intent, did not wish to find out what it would cause him to do.
I stepped into the kitchen, retrieved cheese, a tomato and packaged ham from the fridge, careful not to disturb the cook in fear that the truck driver would misunderstand the situation for me having woken him intentionally. I don’t remember it being the case but thinking back upon my actions, I may have been more terrified than I am conveying to you.
I placed the sandwich in the toaster and decided to make conversation while we waited. The silence was fuelling my fear and I believed that if I found out more about him, my growing paranoia would be extinguished.
“Where are you going?” I asked him, my unsurity causing the words to become mumbled.
“I’m on a mercy mission.”
“How does that work?”
He grinned, looking ahead.
“I’m here to save you.”
I involuntarily took a step backwards.
“Oh, don’t go so red!” he exclaimed, still not looking at me. “You work in a Glennen Warrie petrol station and you’ve never had a truckie try to fuck with your head?” His expression remained unchanged until he muttered “You’re going to burn my sandwich.”
It wasn’t even close to done, but given the clarity of his instruction, I obeyed. I walked across to him, the sandwich shuffling uncomfortably on the shaking plate.
“Perfect.” He muttered. “Take a seat.”
I obeyed almost automatically. I felt total disbelief towards the passive power of the man. He had the air of a gentleman in an old advertisement, like there was some unspoken but diligent moral code operating behind his sunburnt face and red-streaked beard.
“So, I’ve got fourteen hours from now to get to Adelaide to make a pickup and then I’m heading West. Since It’s going to take me just under ten to make it there, I figured I’d stop for something to eat and get a couple hours rest before doing the last leg. Oh, and of course, I intended to meet your lovely self.” He winked and it took an additional second for his eye to reappear under his creased eyelids.
“So” he said “Now you know where I’m heading. Where are you going?”
“I’m here.” I replied.
“So you’re going to be in Glennen Warrie forever?”
“No, I didn’t realise you meant- I’m trying to save up so I can leave.”
“And that’s why you’re working here?” He asked. I nodded and he let out a happy chuckle.
“You’ll never get enough before you get trapped.” He said. “You stay here any longer, you might as well kill yourself and fly away as a locust.” As he said this, he raised one half of the sandwich to his mouth and fit most of it in. He bit down and the remaining corner tumbled down his shirt front and disappeared somewhere beneath the table. I laughed uncomfortably, unsure how to react to his comment or his behaviour.
“Well,” he resumed, his mouth still full and the single word almost incomprehensible through his meal “What do you want to do when you get away?”
“I’m not sure.” I told him. “I think maybe I’ll study. I’ll find somewhere to live in Adelaide and go study.”
“Why haven’t you done that already?”
“I couldn’t afford to go away when I finished school. I mean, I didn’t do well, but I did well enough for university to be an option. I just, I wasn’t sure what I wanted and I still don’t think I’ve thought about it enough but I know I can’t stay here. That’s why I’m working.”
“You know there’s an easier option.” He said, a food-speckled smile forming on his face.
He picked up the other half of the sandwich and forced it into his face in a manner similar to the first.
“New question.” He announced. “Got a boyfriend?”
“No. I had this one friend I liked but, well, it’s boring. I guess I was just in the friendzone.”
“Whenever I hear ‘friend zone’, I think about the Twilight Zone. And then I think about the fact that Rod Serling and I were always uncomfortably close.”
“I used to have a girl. You know, they say you can’t always get what you want, but she took a fair share!” he concealed a staccato ‘fffuck’ underneath a forced chuckle.
An hour passed and the truckie’s speech became more and more fractured. It was soon that I realised perhaps he was not a man at all but an idea I’d carried with me for years. I had simply been waiting for it to take form, walk in, and demand answers from me. With that, I begun speaking as freely and honestly as my idea did. No car or wandering thing had bothered us and so we stepped out and sat on the diner curb smoking his rolled cigarettes. “Right” the trucker piped up after licking and sealing a second one for himself. “So you know what you want to do, but what do you want?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, there are things, vague as they are, that you want to achieve. Study and fucking all that, but why do you want to do what you want to do?”
I paused for a moment.
“I know that we are totally insignificant and all that. I know that constantly trying to pursue an exciting life or some great purpose is just generating a hunger for fictional nourishment. But every now and again, I get this feeling that there is great potential for significance, some overwhelming reason for my living. Logic and basic rationality always kick back in but I think what I feel in that moment, that’s what I really want. Not the promise of eternity, but to feel the founded belief that it’s obtainable, that aspiration isn’t completely redundant and that, if I begin to believe everything I tell other people about myself, It’s not just a symptom of sinking desperately into denial.”
He nodded, very small movements. “One of the better answers.” Then he took a long drag which nearly consumed the remaining half of his cigarette, brought the second one up to his lips and lit it with the ashy remains of the first.
“You know” he said. “I was thinking about how pointless travel is. I mean, travel just for the sake of it. Even escapism isn’t a real reason. It’s all just…doing something, you know? You might as well jack off, it’s achieving the same thing. What, you experience a culture or fucking something? Fuck that. I travel for work. It’s in a truck and I’ve never left the country, but at least it’s got a fucking purpose. You, you’ve got purpose to your travel. You’re not just one of those weak cunts that wanna go somewhere so they can use ‘I’ve been there, I know’ in every fucking argument. Last time someone said that, I shot the cunt. Didn’t kill him, but he’ll never talk to me about Africa again.” and then he laughed and laughed until it bent upwards into a long, happy squeal.
At four, I mentioned that trucks would turn up for breakfast at around five. His reply was simply “Then you’ve still got time.”
“Time for what?”
“Do you remember when I told you there’s an easier way to get away than working here?”
He leapt up, the fat of his body looking as if it reluctantly followed the remainder of him, a dancing skeleton with an amoebic shell, and walked towards his truck. He paused only once to stub his cigarette out as he walked beneath the shelter of the bowsers. I couldn’t see him in the partial darkness outside of the cover of the station but when he returned, I noticed the difference right away. He walked upright, the lazy trucker gait gone and in his hands, he clutched a shotgun. I began scrambling to my feet but he swiftly swung the gun up, the stock sitting firmly in the pouch of his shoulder. “Stay the fuck down!” he shouted. I stopped mid motion. “Ground!” he yelled. “Get on the ground now!” I crawled, belly forward, onto the cold concrete. He walked past me. “Don’t say a fucking thing” he said, pointing the rifle back in my face. “Don’t move. Don’t speak.”
When he returned, the gun was dangling in his right arm. In his left, he clutched the cash drawer from the register. “C’mon” he motioned with the gun, half pointing it at me. “Thing isn’t even loaded. Make a show for the cameras.” I didn’t understand what he was talking about. Convinced now that he was insane, I decided it would be better to remain on the ground. “Fucking move!” he shouted and brought it up so the barrel was in line with my head. I obeyed, getting up and walking, guided by the empty gun (still intimidating with its gaping black mouth), towards the truck.
And just like that, I was in the cabin with him as we rolled slowly away from the lights and concrete and turned onto the highway. The gun was in my lap balanced on top of the money. “I’m a bad person.” He said. “But I use my bad for good. It doesn’t cancel it out, but I’m sure it means something. Hell, everything means something. Even if you try to make something mean nothing, it means you tried to make it mean nothing and that means something. Shit’s fucked.”
He wound down the window and begun rolling another cigarette in his lap, keeping the wheel steady with his knees, his eyes remaining fixed forward. “I guess I probably scared you with the song and dance. I forget myself sometimes.” I didn’t reply. Still shaken, still unsure. “They won’t find me, you know that. And now you won’t be stuck there any longer. There’s enough money in that till to get you started, I bet. Yeah, ten hours, maybe longer, and you’ll thank me for doing this.” And the lamps against the road grew more and more infrequent until we descended into the darkness of the plains with only the thin cone of light from the headlines flecked with the roaring bodies of insects and rushed details of gravel to indicate we were even moving. We were alone and he could do anything to me. Then again, so could I.