“At times the ruts are deep – its gets messy, muddy and mucky. At other times it’s smooth bitumen.” I’m on the phone with dad who’s keen to try out his new smart-phone. He’s driven many dirt roads and sheep-tracks in his lifetime. He crossed the Nullarbor Plain, Explored the Simpson Desert and Tackled the Gun Barrel Highway. They’re all roads which – back in his day – you wouldn’t want to tackle without an army-spec four-wheel-drive. He’s telling me about his latest challenge.
“I remember when the Nullarbor was just a one-lane track.” Says dad in his ageing voice. He’s not the towering superhero he once was, but he’s still a formidable survivalist. “The road I’m on now though, mate. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to reach the end of this one.”
“Oh, come on dad.” I try to spur him on. “You could’ve driven up Uluru back in your day. What’s stopping you now?” “You know me mate. Point me down a track and I’ll make it to the end. The problem with this one is that there IS no end.” Replies dad. He chokes up a little.
“What do you mean dad?”
“I mean, I’ve never been on a road that was so twisty, so muddy and so unrelenting. You think you’re doing fine – no rain for a week – but then you round the bend and someone’s put a mud puddle in your way.”
I make concerned noises to assure him I’m listening.
“And last night,” dad continues, “I nearly slipped into a ravine.”
I’m beginning to be alarmed. “All right dad, drop the metaphors. What do you mean?”
Dad’s voice drops half an octave. He speaks in a hushed tone. “I mean the nurses have started drugging me. It was bad enough when they strapped me to my bed, but now they’re pumping me full of something wicked awful. I can’t even remember if I had dinner last night.” His voice becomes highly animated “…and that’s why I decided to drive to Cooktown. The crocodiles were always watching you in Cooktown. And that’s why I decided to leave.”
That was another of dad’s metaphors. A “croc” was watching him. The conversation had to change direction or the “crocs” – I mean, the nurses – would tie him down or drug him. That’s it. There’ll be no more. “Don’t worry dad. I’ll send a tow truck. Your saviour is coming!”
I hop straight in dad’s old Land Rover. He’ll love it if I pick h in this old beast. It doesn’t matter if I drive overnight. This man raised me and it’s my turn to return the favour. After a whole night on the road and a thousand kilometres later I arrive at dad’s nursing home. I barge through the front doors, Ignoring the vile creatures that attend the reception desk. The waters are brimming with crocodiles today.
I reach dad’s room: number 45. The bed’s empty. A croc comes up behind me. “Sir, please take a seat.” “Where’s my father!” I shout. “Please sir, take a seat.” The nurse’s voice is stern. “My father!” I shout louder. I’m about to wrangle a wild animal.
She delivers the news with vicious intent. “He’s dead! Last night. Cardiac arrest.”