Everything was grey. Grey sky, grey hills, grey soil. Grey grass, grey roads, grey towns. It was as if the drought had sucked the colour from the land. There was no black and white. Just a mix in-between.
It had been three years since the drought had started; suddenly too, lush green grasses from a particularly wet year, dried off in a hot wind at the end of summer. This was the worst winter they had had yet. Cold winds, killing hundreds of sheep where they stood. Numbing fingers, blueing noses. But with the cold winds came no rain, only solid ice, worse than no rain, and made people see for the first time, cattle die from the cold.
Mattie's feet crunched on the grey gravel driveway.
"I'll go get the post Mum." Was what she had said when she left the house. She didn't really want to get the post, but it was a good excuse to get out of the house, with Dad's fists slamming on the dinner table so often and 'It's gotta rain soon'. As she walked past the post- box, she bit her lip, glanced back at the house, said a silent sorry to her mum, and kept walking. Her feet soon hit the grey bitumen, easier to walk on than the potholed gravel driveway.
Mattie didn't stop walking till she reached the top of the hill. With her back to a sturdy gum tree, she tried to see the beauty that she knew the land to possess. Her grandfather had taught her to find it before he died. The beauty of the golden summer, the blooming of the gum-tree blossoms, the rush of a flood crashing down the dry river bed. But now the only colour she could see was the faded rooves of the farmers' homes and the heavy clouds on the range, disillusioning, giving false hope. Clouds had come and gone, only bringing falling ice sheets and sleet, evaporating the next day in the bright sun.
So now she sat there, staring at the grey, fiddling with her lighter, burning the ends of her laces.
It gave her time to think up here. She could scream at the unfairness of life and no-one
would notice. She could scream at the drought, the bitter side of nature. Maybe, if screaming got too much, she would chuck rocks at the tree, channelling her anger into the whirling of the speeding rock. But she knew, that no matter how angry she was, no matter how loud she screamed, it would not make it rain.
By the time Mattie walked back down the hill, the clouds had become heavier. Their
dark masses stretching and filling the sky, horizon to horizon. The breeze was lazy, just going through and numbing her to the core. She began to run, keeping herself warm and getting home quicker; she didn't like the look of the clouds. Bags of bones which were meant to be cattle laid down under the trees, seeking shelter from the coming storm. By the time Mattie had reached the post-box, the clouds were nearly black. She grabbed the letters and ran, feet pounding on the uneven gravel driveway.
"Jump in." Mattie's dad called through the open window of the ute. It was battered and dust covered, more beige than white. The same could be said for her dad, battered knuckles, white edges of his bald head a dusty brown and wrinkles of worry tattooed onto his forehead.
"What does the weather forecast say, 'bout this one Dad?" she initiated the conversation, "Just another dry storm?"
"Hmm. That's what I was thinking too." He replied, "But the forecaster says there'll be rain with this one. Unlikely in my opinion, probably just some thunder and lightning."
"Thunder and lightning, very, very frightening." She sang, "We got post too."
"Any bank statements or donations? Jeez, they must be running short on groceries in Sydney, the amount we get each week."
By the time Mattie and her dad reached their home, lightning had already streaked
through the air, thunder had already shaken the windows. Her mum had had dinner on for a while. As soon as she realised Mattie was home, she lost her temper.
"And how exactly was I to know where you had gone? Did you even consider the worry you added to my mind? I have enough to worry about at the moment!"
"I had my phone..."
"You for one know how patchy the reception is out here. What if there was no service and you got into trouble?"
"Muuummm... You know where I normally end up."
"But what if you hadn't gone there..."
"MUM! I always go there! There has never been an exception!"
A particularly loud boom of thunder interrupted whatever her mum was going to say
"Both of you!" Her dad shouted at the end of the thunder, "Stop it! Mattie don't speak
to your mother like that." He paused to take a breath, "And Amanda, she has a fair point. She always goes to the same place. And she is fifteen. Mattie is responsible enough to look after herself at boarding school, so she is responsible enough to look after herself at home."
He paused again and this time he was cut off by the sound of a drop of rain on the tin roof. Mattie raced outside, looked up towards the ominous sky and felt another drop hit her skin. Then another, and another. It was as if the heavens had opened up. It was less than thirty seconds before Mattie was soaked through. Her dad joined her and soon they were all dancing through the rain, singing, cheering.
Now there was colour. Green grass, brown rivers, yellow wattle. Fresh paint, white sheep, black cattle. After the first downpour, the rain had steadied, soaking the hard-baked ground. Grass had sprung up, covering the bare ground. Grey was of the past; green was of the present and future.
Mattie sat now, her back to the sturdy gum-tree and looked at the beauty the land had repossessed. It was a patchwork of different coloured crops. Yellow canola, Red sorghum, golden wheat and barley and the occasional patch of grey stubble. Now she had no reason to scream, or even to move. She just sat and watched the pristine beauty of the coloured plains she knew as home.