Read While I Live Online

Authors: John Marsden

While I Live (9 page)

BOOK: While I Live
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I didn’t cry when I was talking to Fi’s mum either. I was too angry to cry. But the words poured out of me, like at least one dam inside had broken, even if the others kept firm.

Finally though I ran dry, and stood there in the kitchen, leaning against the wall, phone held to my ear, waiting for her to say something.

It was kind of reassuring to hear that she was as calm and together as ever.

‘Ellie, I don’t know if it’s a good idea to try to hang on to the farm. I can’t tell at this distance. But I can see how you have an emotional need to stay there, in the short term at least. Mind you, I’m not sure if it’s good for you. But those are the kinds of decisions a guardian can help you with.’

‘But I don’t know who they’re going to give me as a guardian,’ I wailed.

‘Well, it doesn’t work like that. Not at your age. If you were a six-year-old, that’d be one thing. But you’re old enough to have a lot of input. If you come up with someone you especially want, and it’s someone reputable, then the court will probably go along with you. They’re so busy nowadays. They’ll grab at any solution that saves them time. Do you have anyone in mind who you think would be good, who you’d like to ask?’

‘You?’ I said hopefully. Then Fi and I would be even more like sisters.

She paused. ‘It’s very flattering that you ask me, Ellie. Thank you. And you know I’ll help you in every way I can. But now that we live in the city, I don’t see how it would be in your best interests to have me do it. I think you would be better off getting someone local. Someone who can be of practical help. Take a few days to think about it if you like. And when you come up with a name, let me know, and I’ll make the application on your behalf, rather than going through Mr Sayle.’

I didn’t think there was that much time, given the big hurry that Mr Sayle seemed to be in. And in the end there was really only one choice. If Fi couldn’t become my sister, Homer had to become my brother.

Mr and Mrs Yannos were really nice about it. I sat in their huge kitchen – a kitchen bigger than most people’s houses – and told them the full story, and they signed up on the spot. The thing about Mr Yannos is that he’s really got attitude. He’s always hated ‘them’, the government, the authorities, whoever ‘they’ are, and once he got it into his head that ‘they’ were out to get me, he was well and truly on my side. I don’t know if Homer was serious when he said his father wanted to buy our place, but Mr Yannos never once mentioned it. He took me into his office and made me go through all the figures Mr Sayle had given me, and he sat there nodding and nodding and writing it all down. When I’d finished he looked at the figures for a long time then he suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Ellie, you definitely need a lot more money. Do you know what cash flow is?’

‘Yes. The amount of cash that flows through each week, to pay the bills and keep the place going.’

‘That’s right. Ellie, your cash flow is terrible! Terrible! What was your father thinking?’ He shook his head and sucked the end of his pen. ‘I don’t know if it can work or not. But there are a few things we can do. We can’t let these bastards win! I think you gotta meet these people you pay rent to, and tell them they have to wait a bit for their money. What they gonna do? Move back onto the farm? I don’t think so. They don’t want to farm. They on the piss, yes? I remember your father saying.’

I nodded and grinned. ‘One lot were.’

‘So. You got them over a barrel. They can drink less piss for a while. Anyway, they don’t need three hundred bucks a week for their piss. Now, next, you gotta go back to the bank, borrow more money.’

‘But don’t I have to give them a, what’s it called, mortgage? I’ve got nothing left to do that with.’

‘Hey. You got sixty cattle, yes? Very good security, sixty cattle. Bank love that. OK, next thing, you go to government, ask for this aid they give. They got millions! They tell everyone it’s for people starting farming again after the war. That’s you! Your father, he say to me, I never ask no government for help, I do it on my own, but things are different now. Okay, number four, you get more stock. Sixty head, not enough. Sure, you put your eggs in one basket, but you need money fast. This way you either win big or you lose big. Lastly, start planning next crop. Start planning now! I think lucerne is nice. But we talk to man from Elders.’

On the way out, something strange happened. Homer wandered over to me just as I was heading home.

He handed me a rolled-up copy of the newspaper. ‘Page three,’ he said and wandered away again.

When I got home I opened the paper. There was a lot of stuff on page three but apart from the stories about the girl streaker at Wimbledon and the launch of a new brand of beer, I could see only one that Homer might have wanted me to read. It was an article about the rescue of a guy who’d been kidnapped and taken over the border.

The controversial organisation known as Liberation has claimed responsibility for the rescue of 28-year-old Mason Dwyer.

Dwyer, reunited with his family two days ago, has confirmed that the group snatched him from terrorists who had held him for nearly four weeks.

Dwyer has alleged that he was to be executed ‘within days’ if the demands of the kidnappers were not met. ‘I’m very grateful to Liberation,’ he said yesterday from his parents’ home in Stratton.

The group has also claimed responsibility for several other rescue missions.

Rumours that the group has links to the military have been denied by Army commanders. The Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, Mrs O’Shane, said yesterday that while she was happy for Mr Dwyer’s family that he had been recovered alive and well, she was concerned about groups who crossed the border illegally.

‘There are people who for the best motives want to engage in cross-border activity,’ she said. ‘It is not helpful in the long run, and they should leave the recovery of prisoners or kidnap victims to the appropriate authorities. Amateur groups may not realise what they are getting themselves into. The government will not be held responsible for this kind of vigilante behaviour.’

I finished the article feeling quite confused. What was going on? Why was Homer so interested in this stuff? What kind of message was he trying to send me?


got sixty head of cattle, each one suddenly becomes very precious. The cows started calving three days after my visit to Mr and Mrs Yannos. From checking them once a day we went up to three times a day. It wasn’t just a simple matter of driving round the paddock and admiring the nice cows. You have to decide whether each one is better or worse than the day before, how close she is to calving, whether she’s showing signs of distress, if she’s gone off on her own, if her fanny’s all floppy and she looks uncomfortable. At the same time as you’re doing that, you’re also looking for weeds or insects in the pasture, you keep an eye on the fences and gates, you make sure the drinking troughs have got water, and you clean them out if they need it. And so it goes on.

At least the cows still weren’t too fat, which was a good thing. For some reason that I don’t understand, cows who are too fat often have trouble calving.

Most calves drop without problems, but there’s always a few that won’t behave. The trouble was that if my father hadn’t been killed, the new yards would have been finished. As it was they were a long way from being finished. That meant we were faced with having nowhere to hold a cow who needed help. So Gavin and Fi and I put in a frantic twenty-four hours to get the crush done at least, and a race into it, which meant we could look after one cow at a time. I just hoped there wouldn’t be half a dozen suddenly demanding admission to the Maternity Ward.

What you look for is a calf that presents with two front legs and its head coming out first. They seem to find every imaginable way of twisting and turning around though. Different signs show you that the mother’s in trouble. You usually see her acting strangely, and when you get a close look you see that the little hoofs are pointing upwards, for example. Or you see dry yellow hooves sticking out. Or you see nothing, even though the cow’s been in labour a long time.

There are times when you have to pull the calf to get it into a good position to be born, and there are times when the only way to pull it is to tie a rope to a hoof at one end and at the other end a car or a tractor. This is very bad news though. The death rate is high for calves who need that kind of drastic treatment. Can’t say I’d like it done to me.

The second calf looked like a shocker. He was bum first, which is a big problem. You don’t get any warning of that. I moved the four wheel drive in and told Gavin to get the winch ready while I pushed my arm in and started working the calf ’s leg around. Eventually I got the chain on, then the same with the hook, into the socket. I gave Gavin a wave and away we went with the winch, nice and slowly. It went well. Within a few minutes we had a new little wet and wobbly calf. And the cow eating the placenta, which is not the most attractive sight in the world. This sloppy big thing, about the size of a family pizza, rolling around in its mouth.

I’m glad it worked. If it had been a disaster I might have lost confidence, which would have been dangerous with the calving just started.

Fi, to be honest, was pretty hopeless with the cattle, because she was too scared of them. She thought they’d bite her. ‘Fi,’ I kept telling her, ‘they don’t even have upper teeth! They can’t do you much damage. They might gum you to death.’

But she made the cattle nervous so I gave her jobs she could do at a safe distance.

The neighbours were great. Mr Yannos came round every day, or else he sent Homer, or Homer’s big brother, George. Mr Sanderson, who’d got the other part of our farm, never missed a day. He didn’t know a lot about cattle but he was a fast learner. Other people called in regularly or occasionally.

I carried a couple of rifles in the ute these days. One was my father’s .222, the other had belonged to the dead soldiers who’d killed my parents. Homer had knocked off their rifles before the police came. I don’t know what he did with the other three; I didn’t ask. I knew I was breaking about a dozen laws, but I guess I had different attitudes to stuff like that since the war. Laws were for the stupid, the immature, the irresponsible. The inflexible and the narrow-minded. The prejudiced. The obsessive. The lazy and careless and selfish and spoilt. The violent. I knew that if the killers came back I wouldn’t be getting any help from the police or the Army: not help that would come in time. And I knew I was responsible with guns. I kept the ammo in a locked tin behind the seat of the ute and I kept the key around my neck, so Gavin couldn’t get it. But I had to have some protection, even though it probably wouldn’t be enough if the time came.

The calving finished. Out of forty cows I got thirty-six calves. For a while I thought I had thirty-five. One of them, who was only a few days old, died. I found his body in the cold wet grass one morning so I picked him up on the forks of the tractor and took him down to the tip and dumped him. Two days later I’m down there again with the usual rubbish from the kitchen and there’s the calf tottering around on weak little legs yelling for his mother. I felt like a complete idiot at the same time as I was ecstatic to see the impossible. How did it happen? I have no idea. I could have sworn he was dead. For a moment I wondered if it meant that maybe my parents would come walking across the hilltop, hand-in-hand, but although I tried I couldn’t link up the two things.

Some cows were good mothers, a lot weren’t. It figured. The first cows every farmer wants off his place are the poor mothers. By picking up this mob at low prices we were pretty much guaranteeing that there’d be a high ratio of second-rate mums. So, some accepted their bubbas with instant enthusiasm, others had to be talked or tricked into it. Some had to be put in the crush and tied, and then we’d lead the calf in to her, hoping that if he sucked hard enough she’d let her milk down and it’d be a happy ending.

We set about castrating the bull calves, and ear-tagging both boys and girls. Gavin seemed to find the idea of castrating the boys a bit off-putting. I think it made him feel insecure. We used an elastrator, which has four prongs, that expand a little green rubber ring when you squeeze the handles. You get the ring over the scrotum, making sure you’ve got both the balls, then release it. The ring snaps tight. Very tight.

The calf goes off with the ring around its bag, cutting off the blood supply, so the scrotum gradually perishes and drops off. It was a good method and it worked well, a tad better than biting, but it took a while.

Any time I had trouble with Gavin I just waved the elastrator at him and he backed off fast.

At least things were quiet on the financial front, and the legal front. I’d rung Fi’s mother and told her I wanted Mr and Mrs Yannos as my guardians, and I wrote a letter to Mr Sayle telling him the same thing.

By the time we were through with calving it was time to go back to school. Gavin and I had missed the last two weeks of the term, and now the holidays were over. Some holidays. The jolly old holidays. There should be a new word for holidays like these.

The last night Fi and I watched a video. Not a rented one, just
that I’d taped off TV ages ago. Fi sat on the floor. I was behind her, doing her hair, Gavin was sound asleep. Sandy, the Olivia Newton-John character in the movie, reminded me a bit of Fi. I’d never have said that to her though. She hated people saying she was ‘sweet’ or ‘innocent’. But knowing she was leaving the next morning was getting to me. When Sandy sang ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ I was struggling not to cry. Not that I was hopelessly devoted to Fi, but I felt hopelessly shattered by all the stuff that had happened, and hopelessly lonely at the thought of her going back to the city.

Fi heard one of my muffled little noises that could have been a sob. She twisted around and bent back her head and looked at me.

‘Don’t,’ I sniffled. ‘You’ll need a physio.’

‘You want me to do your eyebrows?’

BOOK: While I Live
10.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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