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Authors: Alex Miller

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Journey to the Stone Country

BOOK: Journey to the Stone Country
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‘A brave and well-considered novel, redolent with a deeply felt and beautifully conveyed sense of place ... Miller has eschewed both sentimentality and easy answers: his characters and conflicts ring vibrantly true, his conclusions remain realistically, challengingly open.’—Katharine England,
Adelaide Advertiser

‘Miller proves himself again to be one of the most versatile and provoking of Australian novelists.’—Peter Pierce,

‘An unusually ambitious novel that sashays from an account of a marital betrayal into a national epic.’ —Michael Sharkey,

‘Superbly crafted and paced ... this is a novel not so much to buy [as] to invest in.’—Christopher Bantick,
Sunday Tasmanian

‘Miller exploits his admirable powers of description and evocation. Landscapes, vegetation, winter sunlight are memorably conveyed in writing that is both precise and delicate.’—Andrew Riemer,

Journey to the Stone Country
[Miller] has hit on something imperative. Not only is it a love story to defy the most cynical, in a world at a loss as to how it should live; it has the urgency of relevance, offering a plausible hint that in spite of the apparent chaos, an order is there to be deciphered.’—Meg Sorensen,
Courier Mail

‘The careful evocation of the country bears some resemblance to Charles Frazier’s
Cold Mountain
and is altogether realistic.’—Gillian Fulcher,
Canberra Times

Also by Alex Miller

Conditions of Faith

The Sitters

The Ancestor Game

The Tivington Nott

Watching the Climbers on the Mountain

Journey to the
Stone Country

Alex Miller

Lyrics on

are from ‘Sand Mountain Blues (You’re Gonna Be Sorry)’ by Rabon and Alton Delmore, © Fort Knox Music Co. (Warner/Chappell Music Australia Pty Ltd);

‘God Bless the Dead’ by 2PAC, © Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd;

‘So Many Tears’, by 2PAC/ Wonder/Jacobs/Baker © EMI Music Publishing Pty Ltd/Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd/Zomba Songs (BMG Music Publishing Australia Pty Ltd);

‘Today I Started Loving you Again’ by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens © Sony Music;

‘I’m Gonna Break Every Heart I Can’ by Merle Haggard © Owen Publications (EMI Music Publishing Pty Ltd);

‘Travellin’ Blues’ by Lefty Frizzell;

‘If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time’ by Lefty Frizzell and James A. Beck, © 1950, 1959 by Peer International Corporation, international copyright secured, used by permission. Every effort was made to contact the copyright holders of non-original material reproduced in this text. In the cases where these efforts were unsuccessful, the copyright holders are asked to contact the publisher directly.

The author wishes to express his gratitude to the Australia Council
for their generous support during the writing of
Journey to the Stone Country

This edition published in 2003
First published in Australia in 2002

Copyright © Alex Miller 2002

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone:    (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax:         (61 2) 9906 2218
Email:      [email protected]

Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

ISBN 978 1 74114 146 7.

Text design by Simon Paterson
Set in Requiem by Bookhouse, Sydney
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

To Stephanie,

and to the real Bo and Annabelle,

whose story this is


Melbourne: Winter 1995

Burranbah Coal

On the Road

Zamia Street


Ranna Station

A Plague of Dogs


Mount Coolon


Amazing Grace

The Last Stone Woman

Verbena Station

A ruling caste always remains slightly barbaric.

Robert Musil

Melbourne: Winter 1995

into the passage she knew he was gone. She stood in the silence, her heavy briefcase hanging from her hand, staring at her reflection in the bevelled mirrorglass on the hallstand. The passage smelled of fish from next door’s cooking. It was raining again and the tyres of the cars going past in the road outside were making a swishing sound. A week earlier they had celebrated her forty-second birthday together at her favourite Italian restaurant in Carlton. That evening with their meal they shared a bottle of wine then went home to bed and made love. After making love she slept soundly and woke next morning refreshed. That day, which was a Saturday, they began planning a trip to Europe, to be undertaken in the autumn. There were conferences they would each attend, hers at Kent on
Globalising History
and his at Leeds on
Biography as
. After her conference she was to look up family connections in Somerset and they would then meet in Frankfurt and spend a week there together with his brother’s family before flying home.

She looked along the passage towards the stairs and called, ‘Dearest?’ Her voice, however, was small in the evening stillness of the house, her tone uncertain against the silence, pitched a little too high for conviction. Her throat was tight and dry. She swallowed and stood listening. The car tyres hissing on the wet road outside; the faint sound of voices through the party wall, her Greek neighbours who always seemed to find something in life to shout about. Then she saw the envelope on the hallstand. She noticed also that his green windstopper and umbrella were gone. Perhaps she had already registered the absence of these things, but subliminally, when she came through the front door. Perhaps it was
absence that had made her so certain of
absence. For he always worked at home on the biography on Thursdays. Indeed Annabelle’s husband, associate professor Steven Küen, was a man of regular, even strict, habits and could be relied upon to be where he was expected to be. Perhaps he was even a little old-fashioned and inflexible in this regard. She had always thought of him as a man of principle and been ready to defend him against the occasional charge of dullness. He was eight years older than she and would turn fifty this year. The Big One, he had called the upcoming birthday. And when he had confessed to her his fear of growing old she had playfully reminded him that Cervantes was sixty before he published his great novel,
Don Quixote
. ‘Cervantes would have been a faint footnote in history,’ she told him, ‘instead of being celebrated as one of the founders of the Modern Era of European culture, if he hadn’t persisted well beyond his fiftieth birthday.’ She had teased Steven about his fear of growing old, feeling herself to be secure behind her eight-year advantage over him.

She set her briefcase on the floor and reached for the envelope. On the front, inscribed in his careful hand, the word
. Their word for each other. Dearest; Most Dear; Beloved, the association of phrases slipping through her mind and arriving at,
Beloved, we are gathered here
. . . But was that for weddings or funerals? She could not remember. It was a long time since she had attended either of these ceremonies . . . She and Steven had never addressed each other by their names. Not even in the beginning. It would have sounded ridiculous if he had ever called her Annabelle or she him Steven. She turned the envelope over. He had sealed it . . . She thought, The seventh seal:
And when he opened the seventh seal there was
. . . She put on her glasses and opened the envelope. She unfolded the single sheet of closely handwritten paper and stood reading. When she had finished reading, she refolded the sheet and put it back in the envelope and replaced the envelope on the hallstand. As if this was where it was to belong. She took off her glasses and put them in the inside pocket of her jacket.

She could see herself in the mirror. She looked tired, a little worn. A middle-aged woman. Her make-up had faded during the day and she had not taken the trouble to reapply it before getting in the car and driving home. The skin of her cheeks was fiery. Her lips thin and pale, already the faint pencillings of convergent wrinkle lines. Her short hair was in need of fresh colouring, the grey showing near her scalp. She had believed herself to be cherished by him, safe from reproach within the privacy of their life; loved, cared for, at liberty with him to display her faults, her weaknesses, the shameful blemishes . . . He had discarded her.

She knew that the calm that possessed her was shock, and that she was not really present in her body. She felt soiled, as if by some indiscreet action of her own, as if she had not taken proper care of herself. She was shamed and humiliated. Steven had done this to her. He had cast her aside. She
discarded, as something that is unclean and impure and is no longer worthy of respect. It was not his disgrace but hers, she knew that. He would be admired, even envied, for his conquest. He would not need her again to defend him against the charge of dullness.

She turned from the mirrorglass and stepped along the hallway. Slowly she mounted the stairs, her hand to the banister, and entered his study, the
sanctum sanctorum
of his ambitions. The smell of his presence. The anxiety of his fraught endeavour. She switched on the light. Everything was in place. He had not taken his books or his PC. The growing pile of the manuscript of the biography rested on the tower of the PC, the chapters marked with pink iridescent post-it notes, the grey wedge of antique marble he had picked up in the Foro Romano weighting it—she could see him now bending to souvenir the piece of marble, slipping it illicitly into his sidepocket. She stood beside his chair looking back at the room from the desk. His Hasselblad was not in its usual spot on the filing cabinet. Apart from the unusual absence from his study on a Thursday evening of associate professor Steven Küen himself, the absence of the expensive camera she had given him for his fortieth birthday was the only other sign that anything was amiss. Was he taking photographs of the girl? Posing her naked in a cunning halflight to capture on his black and white prints the exquisite grain of her perfect skin? All the words they used in their striving to describe it to themselves, honeyed, golden, gilded, café au lait, skin like a young fawn. The endless phrases struggling to
the experience. The old man mounting the young woman while he thinks of his own death. Annabelle felt a movement of nausea in her stomach . . . She had never opened the drawers of her husband’s desk. They had not spied upon each other. There had never been a cause for mistrust between them. She leaned now and opened the small top drawer, where he leaned his right elbow, the fingers of his hand lightly controlling the mouse. There was a curled copy of a glossy magazine in the drawer and nothing else. The magazine was titled
. As if it were a quaintly archaic exclamation of disapproval. A picture of a girl on the cover wearing brief panties and bra. The girl was looking over her shoulder, thrusting her glossy buttocks—her honeyed, her golden, her café au lait buttocks— towards the camera, her red lips parted, her startlingly violet eyes wide, her blonde hair soft against her back. The girl could not have been more than eighteen or nineteen years of age. Despite her pose, she looked to Annabelle to be guileless and innocent. Her beautiful body unreal in its perfection. Did her mother know what her daughter’s job was?

BOOK: Journey to the Stone Country
13.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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