Ghost of Rain

Oscar Douglas

A land of golden soil some say, but in truth there is no one colour or shade to summarise the rolling expanse of land that encompasses the oasis by the billabong. The skin of the land has seen too much sun and too little rain. Cracks split the surface like the lines on parched lips. Where once beasts cropped at tufts of grass, dust now blows unhindered in its mindless rolling journey, over hills and across plains. A lone gum slumps over the stagnant water, the weight of the seasons bearing down upon it. A girl reclines against the tree.

With the sun shuffling slowly towards the distant horizon the young girl sighed; with the reluctance of two lovers parting the girl folded her book shut. Sunrays cast her in a golden glow as she rose and headed for home.

With a nimble step the girl waltzed over the stained cattle grid, and glided across the dirt trail towards her veranda porch. The house had stood since the girl’s family had first farmed this great expanse of land. The tin roof, as much brown as grey, enveloped a wide brimmed veranda that together with the failing overhang acted to hide all but a trace of the house’s aging wooden walls.

Silhouetted against the darkened door frame, a man old for his age, shaded his eyes against the setting sun. ‘Bout time you got back,’ the man muttered, his sunken eyes peering out of a face framed by upkept air and a grizzly beard. His hands clutched around the neck of a bottle as if it were the only thing that kept him rooted in this world.

‘Did the bank call again?’ she called back. The man always seemed to find a sudden thirst after the bank called these days.
‘One of them city folk in the fancy shmancy suits drove out here whilst you was off reading at that bloody tree.’ The man spat the last words, never having finished school himself the point at staring at scribbles on paper for hours at end held little appeal for him.

‘What did you tell them?’ the girl asked.

‘I told them that their bloody payments would come as soon as I got some damn rain.’ The creases on the man’s brow had come together; the lines that crisscrossed his worn-out face pulling and pushing as a frown emerged. There had once been a time when the lines had sung a song of joy and happiness. Yet, after three years of no rain, and two with no wife, the laughter lines had sung there last and the solemn march of depression had taken up the tune.

Inside the house only a handful of orange bulbs remained to fight back the oppressing gloom, chasing shadows across the floor as the glow flickered and waned. Along the walls hung the memories of an age past; cracked frames hiding the faces of a happy family of three. The girl held one such frame in her hands as she rocked back and forth upon a wooden rocking chair, to the gentle sound of a nursery rhyme half forgotten.

The photo in her hand was of a time before the drought when the land nearby was still held by fellow farmers; taken from a hill it overlooked a land of prosperity. Now standing at the same point you would see little but barren landscapes and the weeping sore in the ground from which mining trucks poured like so many little ants marching from a hill.

‘What will you do?’ The silence broken, the man turned to face the girl.

‘Nothing to do, is there?’. The man’s face fell. The truth of the word, finally breaking through the walls he had spent years building. ‘There aint nothing a man can do that I aint already gone and done. They’ll take the house. The thieving bastards are going to take it all.’ The words having escaped his mouth, the man stumbled away slamming a door behind him.


The girl woke with a start to the sound of distant thunder; the soft caress of dreams slipping away as the light of consciousness beats the shadows of sleep away. Galling winds whistled through holes in the wall, bringing with them the echoes of a ghostly choir that rattled off the tin roof creating an eerie symphony. The girl stood, the last slivers of slumber sliding away. The night held its breath and not even the crickets chirped. With feet as light as clouds the girl crept from her room. The sound of the door, smashing in the wind drew her outside. A sense of foreboding wrapped its arm around the girl.

Stumbling onto the porch the girl looked out into the inky blackness that comes before the first light of dawn. A crumpled Carlton can lay flattened at the bottom of the porch steps. Stumbling over half-seen obstacles, the girl began to run; panicked in the face of the unknown, she was shepherded by the deep-­‐rooted rumbling of distant thunder. Rocks dug against her feet and dried bushes clawed out as she passed, fighting to hold her back against the gloom.

Even with no light to mark the trail, the girl knew that there was only one place her father could have gone to and the route there was one that her feet had taken many times. Traversing her course down the dry creek bed, the girl began to make out the dark black of the billabong.

The smooth surface shimmered underneath the night sky forming a shroud from which the old gum tree emerged. Its gnarled branches hung with the shame of what it held. For the first time in years the man looked at peace with the world as he swung from his rope back and forth in the night.

As the girl ran forth and wrapped her slender arms around the man, the sky broke open. Rain began to fall.