The Back of Beyond
by William Starr Moake
The lush green hills behind the beach rose
steeply to a mountain ridge capped in clouds.
Jordan Beck stood on the rear porch of his
house, smoking a cigarette and looking for
birds in the rainforest trees. He had lived
in far north Queensland for a year and he
was amazed by the variety of tropical birds
that inhabited this part of Australia. It
was a wonder to him that the snakes hadn't
eaten all of them long ago since several
species were quite adept at climbing trees
to search for food.
His bird-watching was interrupted by a knock
at the front door. He crushed his cigarette
on the porch railing, went down the steps
and walked around the house. When he yelled
"Hey!," Wilson Critchlow jumped
like he had been shot.
wish you wouldn't do that, mate," Critchlow
Beck laughed. "Need a change of underwear?"
Critchlow was a ruddy-faced Aussie with
dirty blond hair below his ears. He was
Beck's drinking mate and worked as a tour
guide whenever he needed beer money. He
grinned at Beck, showing a missing front
change my undies once a month whether they're
dirty or not," he said.
ever call you skid marks?"
hot today," Critchlow said, ignoring
"You say that every day and you were
rotten climate is only fit for reptiles.
You have any beer?"
even a shortie," Beck lied.
drive to Port Douglas and hoist a few."
Beck walked past him and opened the front
door. "You might as well come inside."
They went to the kitchen table and Beck
got two beers from the refrigerator.
sodding hoarder," Critchlow grumbled.
up and drink your beer."
Critchlow downed half the bottle in a long
swallow and belched loudly. "I'm hired
for a job next week. Bloody tourists from
California. You wanna go?"
thanks," Beck snorted. "The last
time you were so pissed you couldn't find
Cooktown on a map."
had fun, didn't we?"
you remember what happened?"
got the jeep stuck crossing a stream in
a flash flood."
Critchlow curled his lips into a smile.
"No worries, mate. We didn't drown."
Occasionally Beck accompanied Critchlow
on the bush tours and took photographs of
the wildlife they encountered. He sold the
photos to the tourists and often made a
sale to travel magazines if he included
an article. The money was enough to support
him in the simple life he had chosen. The
major drain on his finances was buying shouts
or rounds of drinks at the local pubs where
Critchlow took him from time to time.
go to Port Douglas," his friend suggested
got plenty of beer," Beck replied.
stay home too much. The boys in town think
you're a bleeding hermit."
wish you hadn't told me. That's going to
keep me awake at night."
buy the beer."
advance I received for next week's tour."
joking. Someone paid you an advance?"
swear it's true."
sure don't know you very well, do they?"
good for it," Critchlow insisted.
Critchlow looked at his wristwatch. "Finish
your beer so we can get going."
got a hot date or something?"
wouldn't want to be a third wheel."
be stupid. If I had a date, I wouldn't take
He went to the refrigerator and removed
ahead and help yourself," Beck said,
but the sarcasm was lost on his friend.
the long drive," Critchlow beamed.
twelve miles with no traffic."
far without something to drink."
Critchlow's jeep was so rusted and encrusted
with dried mud it was difficult to tell
what color the original paint job had been.
They got in and Critchlow twisted the ignition
key. The engine groaned as it turned over
and finally started.
always a bit surprised when it starts right
off," the driver admitted.
know what you mean," Beck said. "It's
like the second coming of Christ to me."
humor. I love it."
Critchlow floored the gas pedal and started
fiddling with his bottle of beer.
Beck snatched it out of his hand.
drive. I'll open it."
A moment later Critchlow mentioned they
were going to a particular restaurant.
wrong with the pub?" Beck asked.
want something to eat. A Brisbane bug would
hit the spot."
must be flush if you can afford lobster."
only live once, mate."
stinks and it's not your undies this time,"
Critchlow shot a sideways glance at him.
"I don't know what you mean."
lie to me. You're hiding something."
His friend swerved the jeep to miss a large
rock on the road. "Paranoia is an ugly
trait, if you ask me."
at the restaurant, Wilson?"
one. Customers. How the hell should I know?"
get even with you if this is some sort of
no prank," Critchlow said without turning
his head. "On my honor."
don't have any honor."
They passed 10-mile Beach, a wide expanse
of packed white sand where drivers often
took their street vehicles. A few minutes
later Critchlow pulled into the parking
lot of the fanciest restaurant in town and
turned off the engine. He looked over at
you can watch me eat while you drink beer."
They entered the restaurant and a waiter
seated them at a table with a view of the
harbor. After the beer arrived, Beck turned
away from the window and began searching
the faces of the other customers. He was
surprised when he didn't recognize any of
While Critchlow gorged on lobster, Beck
sipped his second beer and tried to make
small talk, but he felt uncomfortable. He
was facing the door when a young woman entered
the restaurant and looked around. Her brown
hair was much shorter than he remembered.
son of a bitch," he muttered to Critchlow.
His friend wiped his chin with a napkin.
"She told me she's your wife, mate."
"How did you find me?"
They were sitting at another table at the
rear of the restaurant as Beck glared at
his friend across the room.
"You shouldn't have sent the letter
to your mother," Patricia said.
asked her not to tell you."
did you do it, Jordan? Was I such a terrible
I don't understand. You have to help me
understand. You owe me at least that much."
nothing to understand."
She smoothed her green skirt with one hand.
"Please don't say that."
shouldn't have come here, Patty."
was I supposed to do -- pretend you were
might have been a good idea."
Her lower lip began to tremble. "I
can't believe you're acting this way."
Her eyes filled with tears when Beck didn't
answer. "Don't what?" she shouted
in a hoarse voice.
down," Beck said. "I'll get you
a drink. What do you want?"
Beck summoned the waiter and ordered two
hate brandy," Patricia said.
did you start drinking brandy?"
he said, gulping his drink and signaling
for a refill.
can't face me without getting drunk?"
it or I'll leave."
flew six thousand miles to --"
did you think would happen? You must have
known I didn't want to see you."
What did I ever do to you?"
he said, looking away.
can't stand this, Jordan. You have to talk
Beck finished his drink quickly and stood
up, reaching for the check. "This is
a complete waste of time for both of us.
Go home, Patty."
He went to Critchlow's table and dropped
the check in his plate. "You can pick
up the tab."
going on, mate?"
of your goddamn business."
Beck left the restaurant and walked to the
harbor. He looked around until he spotted
a bald man who was sitting in a pickup truck.
you give me a lift to my place?"
you don't mind waiting a few minutes,"
the man said.
Roger. I owe you one."
Beck lit a cigarette and watched Roger talking
to a deck hand on one of the fishing boats.
A short while later all three of them were
headed north along the coast highway.
The next morning Beck was eating scrambled
eggs and drinking his second cuppa when
he looked out of the kitchen window and
saw a taxi pull up in front of his house.
He grimaced and went to the front porch
as Patricia paid the taxi driver.
shouldn't have brought her, Harold,"
fare is a fare, mate."
Beck glanced at his wife. "Take her
back to town."
don't want to go back until later."
Patricia took a step toward the porch.
heard the lady," the driver said. The
taxi crawled back onto the pavement and
did you find this place?" Beck asked.
was easy. Lots of people in Port Douglas
seem to know everything about you."
I come inside?"
Beck gave no answer. He returned to the
kitchen and resumed eating his eggs. Patricia
wandered in timidly and looked around the
of rustic," she said.
I rather like it."
hell you do. You want a cuppa?"
cup of what?"
I don't have any coffee."
Beck poured the tea and watched her take
What kind is it?"
from Communist China. You can tell our friends
I've gone left-wing in my eating habits."
not argue, Jordan."
did you come?"
wanted to see where you lived."
Patricia laughed for the first time since
she had arrived in Australia. "I'm
curious about your new life. Do you live
don't have a girlfriend if that's what you're
even in Port Douglas?" she teased.
anywhere in Australia."
but I believe you. That makes it more difficult
nothing to understand."
stop saying that. Will you give me a tour
of the property?"
you promise to stop asking questions."
be as quiet as a mouse."
They hiked to a bluff above the house, Patricia
trailing several steps behind her husband.
By the time they reached level ground she
was gasping for breath.
certainly in great shape," she observed.
don't work in an office anymore. What do
you think of the view?"
She shaded her eyes with one hand and scanned
the coastline. Close to the beach the water
was aquamarine, turning dark blue a quarter
mile offshore. A row of coconut palms along
the highway swayed in the strong breeze.
beautiful," she said finally. "It
reminds me of Hawaii."
Beck knew she was referring to their honeymoon
on Maui, but he let it pass.
you rent this property?"
knew you couldn't stop asking questions."
shut up. I'm enjoying myself."
Now it was Beck's turn to laugh. "You
haven't changed a bit."
I have. I want you to know that."
doesn't matter, Patty. You are what you
are and I am what I am."
She giggled. "You sound like Popeye.
I yam what I yam."
Beck frowned and shook his head.
a grouch. I'll bet I can beat you down the
She bolted down the trail before he could
run!" he shouted. "You'll fall
and break your neck!"
She was several yards ahead of him when
he thought of something that would slow
out for the snakes!"
Patricia squealed and stopped in her tracks.
He caught up with her and noticed that she
was trembling. "I didn't see a snake,
but you have to watch where you step."
She doubled up her fist and punched him
on the arm.
you! You scared the hell out of me."
are poisonous snakes around here."
didn't you tell me on the way up?"
weren't racing then," Beck said, waving
as he took off.
He was waiting on the rear porch, sipping
a beer, when she straggled up the stairs.
cheated," she said.
you were always a sore loser."
She sat down on the top step and Beck noticed
that she was still trembling.
you all right?"
hate snakes. You shouldn't have scared me
He sat down beside her. "Okay, it was
a rotten trick. I'm sorry."
Beck saw tears forming in her eyes and resisted
an urge to put his arm around her. "Don't
take it so seriously. It was only a game."
not that," she said. "I feel so
exhausted I can't think."
have jet lag. Why don't you lay down and
take a long nap?"
go back to my hotel."
a perfectly good bed right here. I'll have
lunch ready by the time you wake up."
She looked surprised . "You know how
wouldn't believe how much I've learned in
the past year. I'm a professional photographer
for one thing. I have my own darkroom in
a shed behind the house."
I'd like to see your photographs."
now," he said, standing up. "You
go take a nap first."
I have to?"
have some work to do this morning. I'll
wake you in a couple hours."
He led her to the bedroom. "I change
the bedbugs once a week."
She looked around nervously.
joke," Beck said. "You used to
have a sense of humor."
sorry, I didn't think --"
get some sleep. You need it."
He closed the bedroom door behind him and
made his way to the darkroom shed. After
turning on the red light, he took a negative
from the drying line and centered it in
the glass holder that slid into the enlarger.
Then he opened a box of 8x10 print paper
and started exposing the enlargements.
At eleven-thirty Beck finished making soup
and grilled sandwiches for lunch and went
to the bedroom. Patricia lay on top of the
bedspread, still dressed in her skirt and
blouse. She was sleeping so soundly he decided
not to wake her for awhile. He lingered
in the bedroom doorway, recalling that she
had always looked like a little girl when
she slept. She was thirty-one, but even
now there was something in her repose that
reminded him of innocence. Beck caught himself
feeling sorry for her, an old habit that
had led to endless trouble when they lived
together. He suppressed the feeling and
closed the bedroom door quietly.
An hour or so later, after he had eaten
and opened another beer, he thought he heard
a sound from the bedroom. When he opened
the door, he saw Patricia undressing beside
the bed. She stepped out of her panties
and stared at him.
are you doing?"
She walked to him and wrapped her arms around
around him, burying her head in his shoulder.
isn't a good idea, Patty."
She repeated the word in a whisper and clung
tightly to him until he began stroking her
hair. She lifted her face and kissed him
gently on the mouth. Then she reached down
and unbuckled his belt. When she tried to
unbutton his shirt, he clasped her hand
and kissed her.
can get undressed."
She crawled under the sheet and watched
him take off his clothes. He felt strangely
awkward in front of the woman who had been
his wife and lover for four years. Patricia
noticed this and smiled inwardly. She believed
his shyness meant that he still had tender
feelings for her.
After they made love, they lay in bed wrapped
in each other's arms.
really thought you were the one for me,"
she said wistfully.
She gazed up at him. "You're suppose
to say you thought I was the one for you."
did at first."
Beck smiled sadly. "Life."
do you mean?"
came back from the dead. The last couple
years in California I was a walking corpse.
I went through the motions of living, but
I felt like a zombie."
you feel alive here in Australia?"
I'm not here to spoil it for you."
didn't say that."
didn't have to."
I'm only going to say this once. It wasn't
your fault or mine. Things like this just
happen sometimes. You can either accept
it and move on to something better or pretend
it didn't happen and have a miserable excuse
for a life."
Beck got a cigarette from the night table
and lit it.
want you to show me your favorite places,"
are you talking about?"
places you love in the outback."
will help me understand why you're staying
here. You can do that much for me, can't
no picnic roughing it in the bush, Patty."
promise I won't complain. When it's over,
I'll return to California and never bother
Beck looked in her eyes as if he were trying
to read her mind.
right," he said after a moment. "You
might get a kick out of it."
hope you don't mind if Critchlow comes with
She smiled. "Of course not. The more
a pretty good guide when he's sober."
he drink a lot?"
when he's conscious. He hasn't figured out
a way to drink while he's asleep, but I
know he's working on it."
certainly inspires a lot of confidence."
worry, I'll keep him in line."
On the third day of the trip they were camped
on a barren escarpment overlooking a muddy
stream lined with gum trees and bamboo.
The sun was like a torch in the clear afternoon
sky and Patricia squatted in the only shade
provided by a tent. Critchlow sat on a rock
drinking beer and watching Beck gather firewood.
God, it's hot," Patricia moaned.
should be here in February," Critchlow
told her. "The heat is enough to peel
the skin off of a goanna."
big lizard," Beck said. "And don't
listen to Crocodile Critchlow. He tells
more lies than a ten-dollar hooker."
Critchlow grinned. "I resemble that
we take a swim in the stream to cool off?"
Patricia pleaded. "Or does it have
giant man-eating crocodiles like the river
don't bite," Critchlow assured her.
She gave him an irritated look. "Can
you translate that into English?"
freshwater crocodiles in the stream,"
Beck explained. "They're not very big
and they won't bother you."
I'm going for a swim."
not helpless, Jordan."
where you step."
haven't seen any snakes in all this time,"
she said. "I think it's a tall tale
you invented to scare me."
Critchlow roared with laughter. "She
won't last long out here, will she, mate?"
going for a swim," Patricia said emphatically.
The two men watched her march down the trail
and disappear into the trees.
little thing, isn't she?" Critchlow
Beck chuckled. "I knew she would hate
this trip. That's why I brought her."
the story on you two?"
is no story. Our marriage was finished a
long time ago."
you just took off without telling her."
was simpler that way."
bloody cold-hearted to me."
don't remember asking for your opinion."
Beck got a beer from the cooler, opened
it and took a long drink.
a genuine looker, I have to give her that
much," Critchlow said. "I wonder
why she married an ugly bastard like you."
thought I had a lucrative future as an advertising
fooled her, didn't you?"
was mutual," Beck said.
cheat on you?"
that I know of." He thought about it
and then added: "No, I don't think
the thing about good-looking Sheilas,"
Critchlow said. "Other guys are always
trying to get into their undies. Makes more
sense to marry a plain Jane."
come you never got married?"
I wouldn't want any woman who would have
me for a husband. She'd have to be crazy."
They heard a scream echo from below the
escarpment and both men took off on a dead
run. Beck reached the stream first and saw
Patricia stretched out on the bank, covered
in mud and kicking at something in the water.
Critchlow crashed into him from behind and
started laughing when he spotted a two-foot
croc floating in front of Patricia.
him away from me!" she shouted.
Beck walked to the water's edge and lifted
Patricia to her feet. "Take it easy.
I told you they won't hurt you."
damn thing rubbed against me in the water,"
was only curious," Critchlow said.
"He wanted to see what you felt like,
the poor little baby."
made my flesh crawl," she said, shuddering
as she stared at the yellowish unblinking
eyes of the small croc.
out of the stream from now on," Beck
am I supposed to wash all this mud off my
me," Critchlow said. When Patricia
didn't move, he took her hand. "There's
a waterfall upstream."
with him," Beck told her. "I'll
get the camp fire started."
They were gone much longer than Beck expected.
When they finally showed up at the camp
site, they were chatting away like old friends.
waterfall was exquisite," Patricia
beamed. "Clean, cold water for a change."
two kiss and make up?"
His wife glowered at him. "What is
that supposed to mean?"
Except I notice you seem to have lost your
left it to soak in the waterfall pool. What's
the matter with you?"
Did Wilson watch you take it off?"
wrong, mate," Critchlow said.
I? You two couldn't stand each other a couple
of hours ago when you went to the waterfall.
What the hell took you so long?"
is ridiculous," Patricia said and went
inside the tent.
"If you want some fish to eat with
the beans, you better go lay a fish line
in the stream," Beck suggested to the
know what to do. Let's settle this right
now. Nothing happened at the waterfall."
it. I guess the heat is getting to me."
have a beer and cool off."
Critchlow opened his backpack and took out
a tangled fishing line strung with hooks.
you bring any bait?" Beck asked.
take care of it. If you remember, I taught
you how to do this."
Critchlow peered inside the tent. "You
wanna watch me catch fish?"
Patricia ducked her head outside. "Love
She flashed an angry look at her husband
as she strolled past him.
Beck watched them follow the trail to the
stream, talking to each other and touching
shoulders as they went. When they vanished
behind some trees, he tossed a large can
of beans into the fire and waited. A few
minutes later the can burst open at the
seam with a loud pop. He dipped a spoon
into the hot beans and tasted them carefully.
After supper that night, Patricia retired
to the tent while the two men sat near the
camp fire drinking beer. They talked about
their destination the next day until Beck
was sure his wife was asleep.
can sleep in the tent if you like,"
Critchlow crushed his empty beer can with
his foot. "This is getting tiresome,
mate. Why don't you give it a rest?"
not my wife anymore. I'm going to tell her
to get a divorce when she returns to California."
a bloody fool."
Critchlow unfolded his sleeping bag and
made a pillow out of some spare clothing.
He stretched out on his back and stared
at the stars in the clear night sky.
think she likes you," Beck said. "And
she's great in bed."
"Go to sleep, mate. You're drunk."
Beck laughed. "The pot calling the
Critchlow rolled over on his side and closed
his eyes. Beck opened another beer and a
short while later he could hear the Aussie
The jeep lurched over a bump in the rough
dirt road and Critchlow shifted into a lower
gear. Beck had insisted on riding in the
back seat, claiming he wanted his wife to
have a better view of the landscape. So
far this morning they had seen a few large
red kangaroos darting across the dusty plain.
going on?" Patricia asked.
Critchlow glanced over at her. "The
road gets better farther on."
two haven't said three words to each other
since we started today."
got a bad hangover," Beck said. "I
don't feel like talking."
stayed up all night drinking beer?"
suppose you men were discussing me last
night. Tell me, who gets to sleep with me
talk rubbish," Critchlow said.
don't care who you sleep with," Beck
His wife looked exasperated. "What
the hell did I do?"
have no idea, Patty."
Critchlow hit the brakes and started turning
the jeep around.
"What are you doing?" Beck demanded.
trip is finished. We're going back to Port
"Stop screwing around," Beck said.
He reached across the seat and grabbed the
steering wheel. Critchlow swung his left
arm and slammed Beck across the bridge of
the nose with his elbow. Beck clutched his
face with both hands.
is my vehicle!" Critchlow shouted.
"Keep your bloody hands off!"
you, Wilson. I think you broke my nose."
Patricia tried unsuccessfully to stifle
a smile. "Are you all right?"
I'm not all right. The son of a bitch hit
Critchlow ignored him and steered the jeep
toward the the mountains they had crossed
two days earlier. Patricia handed her husband
a piece of tissue paper.
nose is bleeding."
Beck snatched the tissue from her and dabbed
his nostrils. They rode in silence for nearly
an hour until they came to a stand of gum
the jeep," Beck requested.
Critchlow kept going.
have to take a piss if you don't mind."
Critchlow skidded to a stop and killed the
engine. He took the ignition key and wandered
away without saying a word. Beck opened
the rear door, climbed outside and stretched
his arms in the air. Patricia followed him
into the trees.
"Are you going to watch me piss?"
really shouldn't have grabbed the steering
wheel," she said.
I knew you would take his side."
be such a baby. It is his jeep, after all."
want you to file for divorce as soon as
you get home."
no sense in dragging it out. I can't give
you alimony for awhile. Hopefully, I can
afford something later on."
Patricia stared at the ground. "I don't
want any money, Jordan."
not? You deserve it. I walked out on you."
think I understand why you left."
Chrissakes, don't turn noble on me. I don't
think I could stand it."
not being noble. I only want to . . ."
I'd like to know exactly what you want from
want us to remain friends," she blurted
the best friend I ever had."
doesn't work like that when a couple breaks
up. They go their separate ways and forget
that what you want me to do? Forget you?"
be smart if you did."
They heard a shout from Critchlow. When
they returned to the jeep, they found him
in the driver's seat with the door open.
One of his pants legs was rolled up and
he was bent over examining his leg.
bad luck," he said, breathing heavily.
"It was a king brown."
Beck turned pale. "Are you sure?"
know a king brown when I see one. I practically
stepped on the bugger."
a king brown?" Patricia asked.
very poisonous snake," Beck said, leaning
over to take a look at the two fang marks.
The leg was already starting to swell and
the area around the bite was discolored.
Patricia looked dismayed. "He'll be
all right, won't he?"
we get him to a medical clinic in time.
He needs a shot of anti-venom as soon as
we're miles from any town."
me get him in the back seat," Beck
After Critchlow was in place, Beck said:
"You stay with him and keep him comfortable."
don't know what to do."
his head on your lap and buckle the seat
belts around both of you. The ride is going
to get rough."
is the nearest clinic," Critchlow said
in a strained voice.
take it easy, Wilson. I'll get you there
in a flash."
Beck climbed into the front seat and started
the engine, then looked over his shoulder
at Patricia. "Lock the doors and hang
She looked terrified and moved mechanically
to do what she was told. Beck revved the
engine and let the clutch out. A moment
later the jeep was hurtling along the dirt
road, leaving a large dust cloud behind
it. Now and then the vehicle became airborne
as it leaped hill tops. At one point Beck
ran off the road and over-steered to recover,
tilting the jeep up on two wheels for a
few seconds that seemed to last forever.
Patricia choked back a scream and dug her
fingernails into the seat cover.
roll the bloody vehicle!" Critchlow
Half an hour later Patricia said: "He's
With one hand Beck reached for a canteen
on the floor and tossed it to his wife.
"Put some water on a rag and mop his
face with it to keep him cool."
he last that long?"
keep him cool!" Beck shouted, glancing
into the rear-view mirror.
Patricia unbuttoned Critchlow's shirt and
rubbed his chest with the wet rag. Then
she poured more water on the rag and wiped
I soaked his clothes with water, the evaporation
would cool his whole body," she reasoned.
right, do it."
The jeep raced through lonely stretches
of the Outback where time seemed to stand
still. As Beck drove on, he recalled Timo,
the young Aboriginee friend who had taught
him the Dream Time mythology. To the native
people the past and the future culminated
in the present moment and eternity was another
name for now. It was a strange philosophy
that intrigued Beck and comforted him whenever
he felt lost. He wondered if Critchlow had
ever embraced such an alien idea.
Some time later, after the jeep sped over
a rise in the road, Patricia groaned.
God, I think he stopped breathing."
Through the rear-view mirror Beck saw his
wife clasp her hands over her mouth. "You
chest isn't moving."
him mouth to mouth."
don't know how to do it."
his nose closed and blow into his mouth.
Count to three slowly between breaths."
Patricia looked paralyzed.
lose your head now!" Beck shouted.
"I can see the town in the distance."
yelling at me."
She went to work on Critchlow, counting
aloud between breaths. After a minute or
so, she let out a clipped hysterical laugh.
think he's breathing again!"
going," Beck said. "You're doing
a great job."
Patricia continued mouth to mouth while
the jeep rushed onward. In the vast barren
plain the vague outline of the town seemed
to recede like a mirage. Beck pushed the
accelerator pedal harder to obliterate the
illusion of distance. His mouth was dry
and gritty with dust and he could hear his
heart pounding in his ears. With a sudden
flash of insight he realized that this is
what Timo had described as the eternal now.
Critchlow remained in a coma for two days
at the medical clinic. On the third day
he regained consciousness and the doctor
gave an optimistic prognosis that he would
recover without any permanent damage.
When Beck visited his room, Critchlow forced
a smile and said: "Now I know I'm not
don't want to go to heaven," Beck said.
"None of your mates would be there."
thought I was a goner for sure."
snake that bit you died of blood poisoning."
the bugger right if he did. Where's your
the room we took over the pub."
don't remember much after you tried to roll
the jeep. How in blazes did you get me here
took a shortcut."
Critchlow grimaced when he tried to laugh.
"There isn't any shortcut."
guess we were just lucky. All the beer you
drank must have diluted the snake poison."
about punching you, mate."
had it coming."
Critchlow grinned. "If you say so."
better get some sleep. The doctor says you
need as much rest as possible."
about smuggling a shortie to me the next
time you come? My mouth is dry as a wallaby's
see what I can do," Beck laughed on
his way out of the room.
He stopped in the pub for a quick beer and
then went upstairs to their room. Patricia
was curled up asleep on the bed. She woke
and yawned when he sat down beside her.
they let you see him?" she asked.
doing fine. He wants me to bring him a beer."
friend is a real character. I'm glad he's
has nine lives like a cat. Anyone else would
have died from that bite."
I think I'll believe your warnings from
driving you to the airport in Cairns tomorrow
morning. You can catch a flight into Brisbane."
you mad at me for getting flustered in the
Beck said. "You just don't belong in
the Outback, Patty."
could easily have been you that was bitten.
I shouldn't have brought you out here in
the first place."
He pulled away when she tried to kiss him.
the snake didn't bite me," she said.
was stupid luck. I only agreed to this trip
because I was convinced you would hate it
and go back to California right away."
Patricia sat upright in bed and placed her
bare feet on the floor. "Oh, I see.
And here I thought you were on the verge
of forgiving me."
it! You haven't done anything that needs
let me stay another week."
Jordan. What harm will it do?"
He stood up, walked to the window and looked
at the barren landscape that stretched to
the horizon. With his back to her, he said:
"You won't understand this, but I'll
say it once anyway. The Jordan you remember
is dead. When I arrived in Australia, I
had to became a completely different person
to survive. I had to burn all my bridges
because if I didn't, I'd never make a go
of it. If I tried to live two lives in two
places at once, I'd fail at both. And I
don't want to be a failure anymore."
He turned around to face his wife.
was quite a speech. I don't know what to
didn't think you would understand,"
he said. "I don't blame you. We live
in different worlds now."
There was an awkward silence while Patricia
stared at the floor. "All right, I'll
leave tomorrow if that's what you want.
But I think you're making a mistake."
expected you would," Beck remarked.
"I'll get another room for myself tonight."
don't have to do that."
The next morning, after they visited Critchlow
at the medical clinic, Beck and his wife
set out for Cairns in the jeep. The long
drive took most of the day and neither of
them spoke much along the way. Beck kept
his eyes on the road and tried not to think.
He was grateful that Patricia had resigned
herself to leaving.
The Cairns airport was jammed with travelers
and Patricia had to wait in line for half
an hour to buy her ticket to Brisbane. They
went to the airport bar to have a few drinks
while waiting for departure time. Beck refrained
from looking directly at his wife and indulged
in small talk to make the time pass. He
felt nervous and tipped over his beer when
the boarding call came at last.
At the boarding gate he couldn't avoid his
wife's eyes any longer.
suppose this is goodbye," she said,
clutching her ticket in one hand. She leaned
forward and kissed him on the cheek. "I'll
think of you, Jordan. I hope you find what
you're looking for."
He only nodded and smiled. His hands suddenly
felt like claws and he stuffed them into
his pants pockets to keep from reaching
for her. Patricia handed the ticket to the
flight attendant and disappeared inside
the airliner cabin. When the cabin door
closed, Beck turned and walked to the terminal
exit. He was in the parking lot before he
realized he had forgotten to say goodbye.
Back of Beyond
© 2006 by William Starr Moake