Unblinking, Jill registered the raw emotion on Tom’s face, could see his lips move, imagine the words, but she couldn’t make herself move. Time was a vacuum. She didn’t want to turn the engine off, to get out of the car. To do that would mean facing what she knew in her heart and she couldn’t imagine that.

The holiday was a precursor to their big trip across the Nullarbor from Perth to Sydney. They would spend five days testing out the new camper trailer before they embarked on their journey. The trip was the first thing on Jill’s bucket list. Since Tom had had his skin cancer scare two years ago they had both written down their bucket lists. Life was too short.

Last year they had ticked off one of Tom’s items, which was swimming with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. They had left the kids with Jill’s parents and flown up to Exmouth, hiring a car to drive to Coral Bay. The experience had been breathtaking and humbling, swimming alongside these majestic creatures. They talked about buying a camper trailer then so that they could take the kids up there when they were older. To live in Australia and not experience this seemed wrong and Jill had started to silently critique their friends who hopped on a plane to Asia, or some other overseas destination instead of exploring Australia first.

Jill had wanted to travel across Australia ever since she had read about the Nullarbor Links in a travel magazine. Spanning the Nullarbor Plain, the eighteen-hole golf course was the world’s longest, covering just over thirteen thousand kilometres. Neither Jill nor Tom were golfers, but the idea of playing golf across Australia had struck a chord with Jill. She had borrowed some old clubs from her dad and bought the kids a plastic set. This would be something they would talk about for years to come, an adventure for her children to share with their children. As a family they had spent many hours looking at images on the internet, plotting out their trip and planning how long it would take to get over to Sydney.

With three children, Tom decided that buying a camper trailer would be a good investment for the future of family holidays. Both Tom and Jill had three-month long service leave from their jobs and Ethan was young enough to miss school, having just finished Kindergarten; Masie and Jack at three years old hadn’t started school. Jill planned to read to them daily and they would pick up a lot of incidental knowledge along the way.

Masie and Jack were the twins, they would be four in April, home in time for the big party. Masie had already begun planning it. It was to be a pet party, both of the twins loved animals and desperately wanted a dog. Tom and Jill were holding off until the kids were older and could take more responsibility for a pet. Until then, all three kids had made friends with every dog who frequented their park. Masie had already started inviting some of them and their owners to the pet party. Jill and Tom thought it was sweet, but they had decided that they would need to sit down and chat seriously with Jack and Masie when they got back from their holiday about who they would realistically be able to invite to the party. Jack was happy to let Masie take charge of their lives, she was like his little personal assistant. What Masie says goes.

Ethan was their little athlete. While Masie and Tom would be making friends with the dogs at the park, he would be throwing a ball, or climbing a tree. He loved all things physical and out of the three kids was most exciting about playing golf across Australia; most days he practiced with his little plastic golf club.

They had just spent five nights at a coastal caravan park an hour south of Perth. The weather had been perfect, hot, but not blisteringly so. Each afternoon a cool sea breeze had come in allowing Tom and Jill to get the kids down for a sleep after a morning spent busy at the beach. When the kids woke up, Jill would take them to the caravan park play area where they had a giant inflatable pillow, she and the other mums would chat over a glass of wine, mediating fights when necessary and applying Band-Aid kisses.

Tom had chatted to other campers, keen to find out where they had come from and where they were headed. He enjoyed standing around, kicking tyres and talking about the latest camping gear with the other guys at the caravan park and would come back to their camper trailer each afternoon with the name of something they just had to buy before they set off across the Nullarbor.

Jill was starting to realise the hidden costs of her bucket list. They had already had to upgrade their car. They had traded in Jill’s boring, old, people mover for a new, powerful four-wheel drive. The kids had a DVD player in the back, so for the first time there were no fights or tears as they drove. The front seats had seat warmers, there was a sunroof, reverse parking camera, park assist. Jill and Tom joked that the only thing it didn’t do was drive for them.

That last morning packing had been a little tense, the kids were whinging, and they didn’t want to leave. Jill and Tom had snapped at each other, frustrated because the camper trailer was harder to fold up than the salesman at the camping expo had led them to believe and they were annoyed at the kids underfoot. They knew it would get easier and that was why they had decided to do a test run close to home. Better that something go wrong an hour from home than eight hours from home on the edge of the desert.

Through gritted teeth they managed to get the trailer packed up. Neither of them liked fighting, so they made up wordlessly with a kiss and a hug. When they got home they would have two days until Christmas, Jill still had a few presents to buy, and wasn’t looking forward to going to the shops at this time of year. Each year it seemed to get crazier. They had agreed that they were going to get things for the kids that they would be able to use on the trip. Jill had bought the boys new boogie boards, but the shop had run out of pink ones so she wanted to try to find one for Masie and she wanted to buy them all a set of mask, snorkel and fins. The day after Christmas they would be on the road, first stop Norseman.

Tom suggested a quick swim at the beach before heading off which the kids all jumped up and down cheering in agreement to. It was still quite early, there were not many people on the beach, a couple walking their dog, a teenage boy and girl sitting near the dunes and looking longingly into each other’s eyes. They all dropped their towels by the water’s edge and ran into the cool surf, the kids threatening to dunk Tom, Tom pretending to be scared.

After splashing around for a few minutes they got out, dried off, and walked back to the caravan park. Tom and Jill discussed who would do what. Tom was going to check the ties on the camper trailer while Jill went up to the shop and returned the keys to the toilet block.

Jill got into the car, started the engine and looked at the screen showing her the view from the reverse parking camera, nothing. Her phone buzzed, a text from her sister reminding her to transfer money for the joint gift for their mum. “Shit”, Jill cursed herself, that was the third reminder, she was normally better at remembering things like this. She checked the camera again, still nothing, and put the car into reverse.

Jill didn’t know whether it was the look on Tom’s face or the small bump that first alerted her to the fact that something was wrong, that things would never be the same again. She could see Tom, Ethan and Jack, but not Masie.

Time was a vacuum. She didn’t want to turn the engine off, to get out of the car. To do that would mean facing what she knew in her heart and she couldn’t imagine that.

 

 

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