The Tainted Potatoes
[Way Out West of The Mission, Central Australia, Earth, July 2016]
Amie sulked. Perched in a cave, and hungry, she struggled to see through the tears of want. At lunchtime, she wanted a biscuit, but “Father”, she called Dad that when he made these unreasonable rules, had said “no”. “Father” had banished bush biscuits to rations as if the Fleisher Central Australian safari were suffering a food crisis. Amie picked up a couple of stray white flakes. She flicked the flakes over the cliff and watched them waft into the canyon. This little mountain she’d climbed had this depressed land in the middle. Much like a cake that’s flopped, she thought.
One flake stuck to her finger. Amie pointed her tongue at it and lifted it into her mouth. She savoured the taste—a hint of sweetness—like the paper around a desert nougat. Bush tucker!
Her Dad and Walter’s wish had been granted. Pity! The community, desperate to find the lost young man, Joseph, accepted Dad’s offer to help in the search. So, in the company of several indigenous trackers, the Fleischer family plus Walter Wenke, set out for the wilderness way out west of The Mission.
The night before when they had arrived at The Spring, her Dad discovered petrol had leaked from the jerry can and the fumes had seeped into the potato sack. It had been a rough ride on an invisible track that only the Indigenous (or “Indig” as the locals called them) guides could trace. No spud was spared, and worse was that during the commotion in The Mission, the dogs had raided the supply of roast beef from the tucker box. Amie was sure she knew which dog; the mangy one that followed her and Adam around.
Dad persisted in baking the potatoes for their dinner that night, and then being Sunday, he preached a sermon on being grateful and he expected his flock to eat the food put before them. One by one the potatoes disappeared from the plates. However, they did not enter into his lambs’ mouths. Adam, her brother, dumped his behind a spinifex bush. Amie hid hers under the kangaroo skin blanket. She suspected Dad’s friend, Walter passed his to Nathan, one of the guides. Nathan, Adam’s new friend, tossed the potato to Adam. Then, while Dad had his back turned, Adam acted his age of fifteen, and threw his second unwanted potato at Amie. It hit her square in the mouth. Ouch!
Amie complained, ‘Ugh! This potato is foul!’
Dad dug into his food. ‘Eat up, Amie. Be grateful!’ He wore mashed potato and gravy on his black beard.
Walter shoveled the potato into his mouth. ‘Compliments to Master Chef Fleischer.’
A missile of potato flew past the said Master Chef Fleischer. ‘Hey! What are you doing?’ He glared at Adam.
‘Dad, these potatoes are disgusting!’ Amie defended her younger brother. ‘We could be all poisoned eating these.’ She stood up, marched to the rubbish bag and tipped her dinner into it.
‘So be it, then. But you’ll be sorry.’
Amie remembered her Father’s words, and thumped the cave wall. ‘How dare Dad starve his children! How dare he try and poison us! It’s not fair!’
Her challenge this trip was being the one female amongst men. Mum had stayed home in Adelaide to look after the cats. From her cave and respite from the heat, Amie gazed over the valley.
The rest of the party were so preoccupied searching for Joseph, no one noticed her slip out of camp and out of sight up the gorge, over The Spring and into the hidden valley. She had to get away. She wanted to explore this weird and fascinating place where few people ventured.
‘Anyway, I’m looking for Joseph Smith, too,’ she told a passing rock wallaby that rested on its haunches, glanced at Amie, and then bounded down towards the dry creek bed.
The mountain looked like it had sunk from the top so that like in a Western it had the veneer of being high and mighty as much as a stumpy Central Australian mountain could be high, but behind the façade, the one-time plateau had worn away over millions of years into a pound. She crouched in her hollow, focused on the narrow end of the gully from where she had come. Sobbing, she wished she had eaten those potatoes.
She buried her face and dark locks in her arms and sniffled some more. Why him? Why did he have to get lost? She wiped the red dust from her arm with her tears and grumbled to the ground, ‘I bet the Wends never went without. Stupid Walter Wenke and his Wends. Get a life, Walter!’
A gust of wind whirred past her. ‘Yohelaihedo!’ It carried in its breath.
Startled Amie looked up. The last remnants of a “wirly wirly”, a mini tornado escaped into the expanse of the valley. A soft breeze followed. As Amie stretched, wind flowed from behind her, from the cave. It surged through her, and she marveled at her glowing skin. She held out her hand which pulsated with a soft red light exposing her veins. What the—? Am I hallucinating?
Amie turned and peered into the cave. The light faded and all went dark.
Amie shrugged. She assumed she’d been resting too long and had fallen asleep. She sighed and decided to rest a few more minutes before heading back to camp at the base of this small mountain.
She swooned and drifted into daydream. There was something about this virgin timeless land that invited dreams. This land was untouched and anything seemed possible.
The scene before her blurred. A village appeared; a cluster of mud-brick houses surrounding a church with a high steeple stuck in the middle. The worn desert hills had gone, replaced by snow-capped mountains. The tune of the old hymn “Rock of Ages” sang in distant enclaves.
Amie blinked several times and waggled her head from side to side.
The spinifex stalks swayed and the golden landscape radiated with heat.
A head topped with honey-coloured hair matted like a birds nest bobbed in the mirage of bushes down in the middle of the valley. I’m not alone, Amie thought.
A flock of white cockatoos flew up screeching.
Amie shielded her eyes from the glare. Probably just one of the Indig guides hunting.
The guy with the matted hair sank into the valley and disappeared. Clumps of spinifex and the occasional native pine were once again the only inhabitants in this pound.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Hidden Valley © C.D. Trudinger 1981