‘The Art of Losing Everything’
This story about the 2011 Queensland floods is a but a family who loses everything and discovers that perhaps they don’t need that much to survive after all (September 2012 in Subtle Fiction.)
He heard it first, a curious rushing noise. Stopped to listen. Then he saw it—but still couldn’t quite make out what it was, or believe what it was.
Then it hit.
He ran for his Ute, fumbled with the keys, but before he could open the door, a wall of water two metres high smashed into it. He scrambled onto the bonnet, clung to the roof rack. The surge of muddy water rocked, splashed, and then—incredibly–lifted the car and slammed it into the wall of his house. He clung on, but then spied the drainpipe and leaped for it, climbed up onto the roof of his house. The wall of red-brown water battered the side of the house, smashed through the screened veranda below him, and stormed inside. The Ute slammed against the wall again and again, and then was sucked around the house towards what used to be a gully, but was now a foamy brown torrent.
He watched the brown viscous substance suck everything along with it. He watched it fill the cattle dip and—unbelievably– buckle and drag it to the lower river. A tree, roots up, raced past, and then he recognised—he thought he recognised–his grove of olive tree saplings dancing down the current.
The level was rising. He straddled the apex of the roof, pulled out his mobile phone, held it as steady as he could, and dialled 000.
No reception, of course. Reception was patchy, inexplicable out here. Sometimes he could call, sometimes he couldn’t. He slid it back into his back pocket and watched.
He picked out the debris of a neighbour’s house—timber, cracked siding, a lounge suite, a metal gate, tangled barbed wire. And following slowly, laboriously behind, clunking on the shallow ground, a Winnebago caravan. It pushed dangerously close to the house, snagged on a submerged clothesline (he guessed from its position), whumped past him, hit the side of the house and then stuck fast in the top branches of his Moreton Fig tree.
He turned to the east, but all he saw of his paddocks was a brown undulating stew whirling around the contours of his farm, punctuated with bleeding tree branches. A passing parade of death. Another Ute, his neighbour’s, floated by, thudding on what had been high ground, what was once his tennis court, the light poles still steadfastly erect, cutting through the current. His fences. His trees. His farm.
But it looked as if it would rise no higher. Just below the eaves, brown sludge bubbled and slushed. Beneath him, it had smashed the French door and poured through into the living room. His house was offering no more resistance, had given up trying. First his Ute and now his house. Then….him.
How many hours did he wait up there? He didn’t know. He was shivering violently, his boots sticky and heavy with mud. His back was wedged against the chimney. His legs straddled the apex of the roof.
And then the mobile phone in his pocket began to ring.