In the morning, they hurriedly finish packing for the trip and then set off, the sun already beating down its heat. As they drive, Alana is quiet, but seems alert. Peter, however, has not slept well, his mind recycling snatches of prayers and Bible verses and moments of obscure liturgy in an unsettling way. The calm that Alana seemed to take home with her confused him, as it does now.
He drives the first leg of the way, more out of stubbornness than anything else. Early as it is, the roads are still slow, and the cars exiting the city seem trapped in a morning haze. There is roadwork on the Ring Road, as there always seems to be, and they slow down to a point almost of stasis when the road shrinks to a single lane and they sit, blinkers flickering, waiting to merge.
They stop at Wallan for coffee and a muffin. The cafe is playing “Winter Wonderland”, a song more inappropriate than ever on this already hot day. The break wakes him up partially, but there is a muteness to their conversation which could perhaps be dismissed as a symptom of tiredness if they did not know each other better. Alana drives the next leg and he sleeps; at times, he wakes up to hear her singing to herself. He keeps his eyes closed and pretends to sleep.
As her song fades out, he can see himself walking, through a place that seems an amalgamation of memories – streets he has walked down, buildings he knows well – and the people who walk beside him and around him are also a collection of people from key moments in his life, people who never knew each other and who occupied his life at different times but now united by his fluid subconscious. And as he walks through this place, he is plagued by a familiar night-time sensation – a feeling of tightness as he tries to talk, and a sense of urgency, even of danger, that, strangely, cannot translate itself into action, as though there is within him an engine that consumes all its fuel solely in order to stay still. Here the signal of danger is found in a rustling of leaves in the trees that line the street, and above the trees he can see a whitish kind of light with no obvious source and of a very different quality to the light of the sun. And, as he stares at the light, for a length of time that you would never normally stare at the sun, he becomes aware of a voice, perhaps coming from the trees, perhaps from the light source. And the voice says to him, Peter, then, Peter – wake up.
When he wakes, they are in Seymour – too early for lunch. They get out to walk and stretch their legs, but then continue on their way. It looks like they’ll be in Albury by noon.
Back in the car, Alana keeps driving, Peter feeling more alert yet strangely willing to let himself sit while she drives. The sun, now high, blazes through the window. The temperature’s set to hit nearly 40. In Peter’s head he sings, “In the meadow we can build a snowman…” Alana turns up the air-conditioning while Peter stares out the window at the open, dry fields.
Go to Day Twenty-Two