Chapter Four (Part I) - Consequence
Andrew decided early that morning he needed to run. He needed to pound out his fears a step at a time. Lately there'd been too much inaction, too much sifting through possible scenarios and permutations relating to his father's disappearance. Andrew needed to get out of his head and into his body; running clears a mind in turmoil. He was awake and out by first light as Arkefield valley began to fill with bird-song and the sounds of morning. The air was cool against his skin and scented with the sweet aroma of spring wattle and freshly cut lucerne. Pockets of mist hung in the hollows and the grass wet with dew tracked where the dairy cows had passed on their way to milking.
Running simplified him. It slowed down his mental noise and reduced the dis-ease of conflicted thought. He was bravely trying not to panic, however the reality was that for all his efforts he was no closer to answering the prevailing question, where to begin?
Andrew processed what he knew as he ran. He knew his father's starting point and the time he left Mt Ismuss. He knew the route his father was most likely to have taken and he knew the point of last contact. The search and rescue team had centred its efforts from the point of last contact, which was at least 400 kilometres from Arkefield. The ground cover in that area consisted of undulating grassland and stands of light timber. It would be relatively easy to spot a crash site or a plane on the ground and for that reason it was clear the plane's location had to be elsewhere.
Andrew left the town behind him; he passed by the dairy farm and ascended the hills that lay on two sides of the town. These hills were part of the Great Dividing Range that separated the coastal hinterland from the tablelands. A gravel track took him to the top of Weller's Hill where he could view the town. He paused to stretch and catch his breath; he considered his fitness level and what a stint in the bush would actually mean in physical terms. He could be gone for weeks and the terrain would most likely be challenging. If he went into densely forested areas this would reduce the distance he would be able to cover in any one day. He would also need to carry a certain amount of gear. He'd be limited to the recommended load of one third of his body weight. Which meant he could not realistically go over more than 30 kilos. There'd also be the question of locating water and rationing the food he'd be able to carry. In real terms he would only be able to carry water enough for a few days and would need to locate a natural water supply. He would also need to utilise the food the bush offered him. Gathering bush tucker and hunting for food would take time and energy. Conducting search and rescue for his father would no doubt become his own mission of survival.
One of the cardinal survival rules of going bush was that you always told someone where you were going and when you expected to be back. Andrew could clearly not inform his mother or any other family member of his plans. There'd be no way any one would consider agreeing to the prospect of a seventeen year old going on his own into the wilderness for an indeterminate length of time. However this was all academic until he could find a starting point.
Andrew turned down the road and resumed his run. Physical exertion was helping him reduce his anxiety and accept the reality of his predicament. He soon fell into the same rhythm he'd established earlier. After a short distance he veered off the track to run across country. He had to be careful where he placed his feet. Spraining an ankle would be both painful and dangerous even this close to town.
He wore a pair of Gore-Tex cross trainers. Malcolm had gone to great lengths to research the best shoe a father could buy for his son. He was completely thrilled that Andrew had been chosen for the State Orienteering Championships. Andrew knew the shoes were an expression of his father's love and support. He understood that his father's gestures of kindness encoded the deeper sentiments and matters of the heart that went unspoken between father and son.
The hill had lost its steepness, he now ran along the ridgeline that would take him to a Radiata Pine plantation. From there he would take the timber-hauler's track to the southern end of town and then to the suspension bridge that crossed the river. He focused on the surface of the ground. His attention tuned to the rhythm and synchrony of mind, breath and body. Each step calculated in fractional seconds, fluidly assessing the gradient and surface material of the terrain. Andrew was the orienteer, balanced and purposeful moving with explicit intent, his body distributing energy perfectly through the motion of flex and reflex, turn, tilt and lift. He continued his run for over an hour; his efforts earning him a reprieve from the conflation of extraneous and disturbing thoughts.
Andrew slowed to a walk; there was no need to hurry home. He crossed the suspension bridge which took him to the bottom of Nottingham Rd. Nottingham Rd ran through the centre of town. In many ways it was the centre of town. There was an eclectic mix of clothing and furniture retail stores, hair salons and machinery shops. Some businesses had been established in the middle of the 1900's and were still being run by the original founding family. Others were newer franchises and large chain stores that had recently opened in response to a healthy economy and a steadily increasing commuter market. Many townships located within two hours of the central business district of the city had become fair game for young families in search of affordable housing. There was no doubt the face of Arkefield was changing.
Andrew stopped at the drinking fountain at Hensby Park. Over the years he'd spent many days kicking a football and knocking around with his mates.
Due to heavy use by the youth of the town, the grass was worn away over most of the park. Beside the drinking fountain lay a plaque commemorating those who had given their lives in service to their country. Andrew and his mates had never given the plaque or what it represented much thought. Like most young men of their age they had no true concept of loss or suffering, or even sacrifice, unlike their generational counterparts who found out first hand. To the young men of Arkefield the memorial in the park represented nothing more than an obstacle to a good game of cricket.
Andrew continued up Nottingham Rd to the crossways when he saw a familiar smile through the shop front of Mister Henry's Army Disposal and Camping store. The smile belonged to Jenni, Mister Henry's niece. She beckoned to him to come inside.
Jenni and Andrew had been on again off again friends since he could remember. Jenni had gone to boarding school for her high school years and had only returned recently to help her uncle run the store. Jenni's parents had both died in a car accident on a notorious bend on the main road into Arkefield. Since then she had lived with her uncle.
Mister Henry and his dad were old mates. Andrew and the two men would often sit out the back of the store in Mister Henry's kitchen after closing time having a chat and a cup of tea. Mister Henry and his dad loved to swap yarns on a whole range of subjects. Their favourite was the wilderness and everything that went with being there. Andrew loved being there. He loved the touch and feel of the place, the smells of the canvas webbing, leather boots, canvas bags, dubbin and oilskin. Entering Mister Henry's was like stepping into a time meld. It was a blend of old and new world; alongside traditional army surplus gear you could find the latest triple-sole walking shoe or a completely waterproof tent that could be folded into the size of a cigarette packet.
Andrew entered the store and the two friends exchanged greetings.
You want a cuppa tea? Jenni asked. You know where everything is. I'll have two sugars.
Before Andrew could say another word he was in Mister Henry's kitchen making them both a cup of tea. She'd always been good at getting what she wanted out of Andrew and the truth was he enjoyed doing things for her. There were no customers in the store so Jenni joined him at the table.
You been running. How are you coping with everything? She asked.
He avoided the question. Where's your uncle?
He's gone to the city for a few days. She replied.
Andrew and Jenni continued their chat until she had to serve the first customer of the day. Andrew waited for her while he sipped his tea. He was in no hurry to leave the place that held so many good memories. Jenni returned with a more serious demeanour.
Ok Andy, I want to know how you are?
Jenni's tone indicated her intention to get Andrew to share more than light banter. He thought for a moment and decided to trust her. He would have to tell someone, and although unplanned, unburdening himself with Jenni somehow made sense.
Andrew shared everything. Jenni listened and nodded. When he finished speaking she was quiet for a moment. He waited; he could see she was processing something significant. She reminded him of her uncle. At times Jenni could be wise beyond her years.
Tell me something, she said. What's unusual about the lack of information, the lack of any clue, the lack of anything that anyone could reasonably go on?
I understand that but what's unusual?
Andrew was not sure where Jenni was going with this.
From where I see it and from everything you've told me about your father what's unusual is the lack of information. The fact that there's nothing to go on means something.
When you think about it that way I guess it does, Andrew agreed. So what are you saying?
I'm not sure yet, but let me ask you something else. How was he before he left? Was there anything different?
Andrew took a moment.
He was the way he always was before a trip. As I think about it now, if he was anything he was… Andrew paused.
He was what? Asked Jenni.
Well he was…smiling, but he seemed sad.
Sad? What kind of sad? She asked.
Andrew collected himself. He worked to find more words to best describe his father's emotional state. He went further into the image looking deeply into the eyes of the father he loved and revered. Andrew drilled into his father's gaze; his senses probing for a clue to the mystery that might reveal itself.
Jenni waited. She sensed Andrew was on the verge of something. A moment passed, when Andrew quietly offered; I think he knew he was saying goodbye. I think he knew he wasn't coming back.
Andrew was dumbfounded. It was hard to grasp the full implication of the concept he'd just brought into being. Sometimes when we spontaneously speak a truth out loud it's only then that we realise it is a truth. We utter then we comprehend what we have uttered. With comprehension comes consequence and for Andrew and Jenni this would be irremediable.