Breaking News Just South of Alice Springs by Alicia Bakewell

Before we get where we’re going, you’ll find out about Kurt Cobain. I’ll try to hide it from you, blocking your view of the magazine stand, but you’ll know: the gun pressed against the roof of his mouth, the scrawled note, the mascara-stained widow in her ripped negligee. You’ll clench your jaw as you pay for our fuel and a copy of the music mag with his photo on it. Once we’re back on the road, I’ll see the howling grief start to rise in you, like a dingo clawing at your chest to get out.

Before we get where we’re going, I’ll curse this country. My words will be silenced, sucked into the red earth that swirls and whispers like an inland sea of blood, every drop a ghost. I’ll turn to you, thinking you spoke, but your dry lips will be pursed. You’ll even start to look like this place – mulga skeleton, rabbit holes for eyes, heartbeat a herd of camels pounding dust. On a rusted sign, we will see the number of kilometres to our destination. I will start to cry.

Before we get where we’re going, you will stop to piss at the perimeter of a cattle station that is five times the size of my home country. Back turned, you could be anyone. A stranger. I’ll put music on, something from home, sing with my eyes closed. I’ll jump when you open the car door and you’ll ask what the fuck is wrong with me.

Before we get where we’re going, I’ll try to remember the exact date we met. Time scrambles and turns back on itself out here, nothing but a tally of days scratched onto the dashboard. I’ll reach for my passport, run my fingers over its dog-eared cover. I’ll flick through my journal. I’ll stare at the blur of white-hot lines on tarmac and change my mind about you maybe a hundred times.

Before we get where we’re going, we’ll have a fight, a proper one. We’ll be two kangaroos, boxing, butting heads. There will be no winner. We’ll end up side by side on the ground, sobbing, mouths full of dust. You’ll say you’re sorry, that it’s because of the heat, because of Kurt, because I know how to push your buttons. You’ll admit that we should have listened to the bloke at the bar in Alice Springs, who’d laughed and suggested we jump on the two-hour flight instead. You’ll be driving tired, but not so tired you’d trust me at the wheel. I’ll try the broken aircon button again. And again. You’ll grab my hand roughly and put it back by my side, then hold it a while.

Before we get where we’re going, you’ll lighten up a bit, swap the Nirvana tape for a Stone Roses one. We’ll talk about that week we spent in Sydney, tanned and beautiful and drunk. Your laughter will echo into the gas-flame sky. You’ll say maybe it’s alright out here after all, that you might stay. I’ll worry you mean right here in the desert. I’ll say maybe we could compromise – Melbourne, Adelaide – even though I’m so homesick it feels terminal. You’ll shrug and say let’s not talk about it now. I’ll hear you tapping along to the endless last track on the tape as I feign sleep.

Before we get where we’re going, we’ll stop for the night near … no, not near anywhere at all, just at the side of the highway. No campsite, no pub, no phone box, not even a sign to tell us we’re going in the right direction. I’ll ask if you meant it, about not going home. The air between us will be thick and sour, but at one point during the night you’ll lean in to kiss my forehead. I’ll pull away from skittish dreams and see your silhouette through one half-open eye.

Before we get where we’re going, you’ll be gone. This place will keep you. I’ll wait one sunset and one sunrise, to be sure. The keys will be in the ignition. I’ll drive until I hit the next roadhouse. I’ll rehearse an answer: Last time I saw him was in Alice Springs. I’ll fill the car and buy myself a cold drink with the coins you left in the ashtray. I’ll check the magazine stand looking for your face, but news travels so slowly out here it’ll probably still be Kurt’s.

Alicia Bakewell is a short fiction writer based in Western Australia. Her work has been published by Reflex Fiction and Flash Frontier, and she was the winner of Reflex Fiction’s Spring 2017 competition. She is trying to give up writing poetry. She tweets nonsense @lissybakewell.