|A whiskey hangover has its good
points, like peering through a steamed up window; it cuts through the
unnecessaries. Even the worst ones, where the world quivers behind
clouds of leaves and feathers, can slowly set certain trains of thought
in motion. ( from Robert Drewe My Sunshine)
Joe turned over on the thin mattress, the straw hardly an inch thick. The movement made his stomach lurch and threaten to empty its contents on the floor of the shack. Not that there was anything of substance in there anyway. Struggling to hold onto even keel, he squeezed his eyes back shut and lay still again. Through the sick blackness he attempted to recall the previous night, the arguments and shouts. Had he hit anyone? Or just wanted to? He swore under his breath- to check he could still speak as much as anything.
Across the room somewhere someone was moving about, starting a fire maybe. Whistling. Whoever it was bloody whistling. Tunelessly an’ all. His tongue drew dry across the roof of his mouth, scratchy and coarse. Christ.
Well at least he hadn’t any engagements today eh? No where he had to be except as far away from the noose as he could manage. Just waitin’ like every other day. Hidin’ and waitin’ and drinkin’ whiskey. Though right now his body screamed at him at the very thought of more. He needed water. But that meant getting up, walking, perhaps even talking to whoever the fuck was making that racket. One thing at a time Joe.
Several minutes more passed before he stretched his leg out and touched the ground with his toe. Still fully clothed his movements were constricted by cloth tied in knots over night, and that seemed like enough effort for a while
Will yer shut the fuck up?
Finally he pulled his body upright, seconds more before he could open one eye and look up.
“So you are with us then?”
What sort of question is that? Christ. Aren’t I on the wanted list, £2,000 on me life or death, be shot down easy as yer please? Think that proves me loyalty. Or do yer want me balls too?
“No. I am not. Should ha’ stayed away from you Kelly bastards, stayed in the Woolshed”
A deep chuckle came from the other side of the room. “Will yer be wantin’ a bit of bacon though, since you are here anyways?”
What did he want? Right now, he wanted the pain in his head to stop, his stomach to stop turnin’ somersaults, the Queen of England to stop bothering him and the sun to stop shining so bright through the window. Bit of bacon? No.
“I ain’t hungry.” Joe swayed a bit and considered whether to just lie down again. Wait for hours to pass, dark to fall and then it be another day. Those perhaps were getting short. Instead he closed his eyes and listened to the words that were enthusiastically filling the space between them with talk of mould boards and bush fires. Ned, well he was like an ox, no matter what he drank, no matter how rough the moonshine, no matter how hard he fell, he would get up at the crack of dawn like it was nothin’.
Fuck it. Joe lurched to his feet and steadied himself on the wall. Water.
His eyes cringed from the light outside. It wasn’t far to the creek but he seemed to make heavy work of it, and once there he was not quite sure about what it was he needed to do. In the end, just his boots came off and Joe slid down the bank and into the sun warmed water. For a few seconds as his head submerged he considered staying down there, whether his body would allow it, cold and slow like opium dreams his eyes seeing only darkly in the disturbed murk. It was quiet at least.
His lungs though screamed their opposition, and he burst back through the thin surface with a gasp, the first sign that he was truly still alive in hours. Finding a level to float on he lay balanced, staring up at blue cobalt sky, his ears full of water and deaf to all but alien other world in the creek, Joe considered the day in front of him. What would he do with one day if it was free, if he could leave this place and just go anywhere he pleased? It started slowly at first- thoughts of things that should be- that he felt the keenest lack of. A fast ride in the hills without lookin’ over his shoulder, an afternoon spent in Ingrams leafing through words, a walk through town with a lass on his arm or callin’ on his mother in the light of day, maybe even building a swing from the trees for the kiddies. Maybe then at the end a nice big roast of lamb and some porter to wash it down with. Didn’t seem like much. And yet it was a world away.
Joe considered for a moment whether to delve in to those other thoughts and plans, whether to indulge himself in the sorts of dreams that any man would have- of fame and fortune and life being extraordinary. Perhaps this could be the day he won thousands at the races or a ticket arrived for one of those big ocean going ships set sail for America, or even that the Pope declared that sexual relations were to be encouraged outside of marriage. He may even have managed a smile. Those things were no more distant than a knotted bit of rope tied to a trunk. Twisting he grappled his way back to the bank and sat sodden, heavy and sullen, his thoughts blurring into a dullness, shutting the door.
A distant watery whinny took a few moments to register. Music was calling him. Poor girl tethered the whole night in thin scrub. She needed some decent grass and a run that would stretch her legs. She needed to get out of here as much as he did. A thought, a pull just at the edge of his mind began to grow strength until denial seemed unthinkable. Why couldn’t he? He was scrambling up the bank before the decision had settled in his head, wet clothes hampering his movement, sure he’s have to get out of these, there was some others in his pack, not so much to his liking but they were dry. Yes. Just go eh?
I need ya Brenna
A few men were sitting around in the shack when he got back, head ache dimmer now in his determination. Under the low roof tobacco smoke gathered with the smell of breakfast and the low murmurs. Joe kept his eyes down and did his best to locate his pack, slightly shaky fingers undoing the buckles as he averted his glance from the one of them he knew was watching him.
“You off somewhere Joe?”
“Aye.” The reply didn’t invite further questioning, but he knew it would be coming anyhow. Best to head it off. “I’ll be back before yer know it, just somethin’ I need to do.”
“We’ve to ride down to Wangaratta, the boys there need some courage."
Joe kept his back turned to Ned as he struggled to get control of his irritation. I’ll go where I like
“You know we need to stick together, what with all the talk about Sherritt and...” If Ned had been planning on finishing his sentence it was cut short by the eyes that stared back at him when his mate turned around, a foot between them. Dark, defiant but full of something else too. Torn up, sick but with a light in his eyes too that had not been there these past weeks.
Perhaps Ned did know better how to cut it all out, focus on where they was headed, the things that needed doing. Joe, well he was the dreamer, that’s for sure. “I can’t come with yer”
“Not to worry, I know the way” Joe winked, back in charge now. “But in any case much as she likes you, don’t yer think that you’d be a bit of a spare part...” Joe flashed a grin to Ned’s ‘F uck you’.
“The hills are full of traps. Don’t get yerself shot.” It seemed a ridiculous thing to say, and he looked away as he did. This wasn’t about permission or loyalty; there was no question to answer. But Joe, he just set his mind to things, and that was that.
“Got to better than hanging eh? Though I’d be grateful if they waited to shoot me... til after I see her anyway”
Ned stifled a laugh “Christ...Joe will yer give it a rest with all that!” What had started as a straightforward morning, one in which he had woken, thought about breakfast and mused with a strange sort of contentment on the pattern of the day, was to be turned into something else by this man in front of him. Joe, well he was always just at the side of your vision, like a snake on the bare rock that had moved before your eyes caught up. Just unsettling things, asking a question. Now here he was pulling at that other side, of them as men, opening a page that hurt to read and Ned felt his heart twist with the memory of soft words and lavender cotton. With a breath he reminded himself of his purpose. “Anyway we have plans; you know they are coming together, all the supporters. This just might work mate- you know like all those dreams they had in the old country? But now here, in this bloody place.”
Joe rubbed his hand over his hair, the remaining drips disappearing into his curls. “Aye, maybe it will. And I am going to give it me best shot, you know that Ned” a small smile crossed his face and he rolled his eyes “when we get some good shot that is! But I just want one day, in the meantime, eh?”
Looking around for elusive assistance Ned shook his head “You’ll do it anyway”
Ned pulled the fob watch from his waistcoat and opened it unthinking.
“Am I ter be back by tea?”
“Do I look like yer mother?”
Joe grinned. “No if me mother was in charge we’d already have that bloody Republic! I will be back...” and with that he turned to begin a day he had only just begun to anticipate. Well at least he was washed, as best as he could be anyways, and as he grabbed the saddle bag his stomach fluttered, perhaps he was not so far from the boy running home from school. It was going to be a long old ride down out the Ranges and along the flat of the valley. Him and Music though, well it was time to fly.
It being Saturday he knew where he was headed, out down to Eldorado, where if he was in luck she would be standing behind the bar, serving pints to old men, laughing with the women, probably winking at some young buck and making him blush, weaving in and out between the tables, those hips moving as she did. No need to urge Music faster, but he was sure she felt his thoughts and take a longer stride all the same. He was going to have to be careful, even in his own back yard, there were still traps and those with no love of the Kelly Gang, and what he wanted was a day to forget all that. Bury himself in a different life and forget he was a wanted man.
Joe grinned. She of course had never made any bones about wanting him. That the answer would be yes to whatever he asked. Him and Brenna, well they just understood each, they already knew the question, never mind the answer. He wasn’t to be disappointed. Pushing open the door to the bar revealed a happy sight, if a smell his body was still protesting against. Patrons gathered, talk, laughter, warm wood and smoke. And there, with 2 pints in her hands and a smile as wide as the creek as soon as she saw him, Brenna.
“What the hell are you doing’ walking in here in broad daylight?” But he was surrounded by her already, her hands on his jacket and a kiss on his lips. “Christ I missed you Joe Byrne. Come sit down”
Joe took a moment to look at her, his hand stroking down her arm, a ‘yes this is what I came for’ smile back before he winked. “Ah but you are busy, perhaps I’ll take meself down to Beech worth afterall!”
Brenna opened her eyes in feigned anger “You’ll sit when you’re told, famous outlaw or no...”
“Yes Madam O’Leary.” Jesus she was good for him, made him smile, already the dread and the sick black mood fading in her company. “But will I get a pint then?”
With a kiss on his lips she nodded “I will be back now” before scooting off to the bar to fetch the next round to be served. Despite that he had only this day, Joe sat content for a hour or so, sipping at the beer she brought him, feeling the shape of her when she slid onto his lap, watching the movement in and out of the bar and listening to old fellas talking to him about how if they was only a few years younger then they’d be right there beside him and Ned. Feeling himself settle into a peaceful drone of ordinary plain old life in Eldorado. Except he supposed that not so many of them was going to be doing the same as him and Brenna, just as soon as she finished her work. The thought made him groan in his throat just quiet and renew his attentions to those hips swaying across the room and through the jumble of legs and tables. Come on Lass...
At last though the final table was being wiped down, only the other bar maid left stacking bottles round the back and Joe, having pulled the last chair straight, stepped behind her as she bent with her cloth. Folding over her back, he pressed against her, his mouth found her neck “Let’s go eh?”
Brenna considered whether they could just do it there, right now. Turning to face him as she straightened up, she took his face in her hands to kiss him hard, harsh gasping kisses as they pushed against each other. He was strong, she could feel the bone of his hips and his chest as she pressed back for more, already lost in dizzying desire.
“I am off....oh!” Mary from down the road grinned a bit at the somewhat startled looks; she evidently had been all but forgotten. “Good to see you again Joe!” Which got her a bit of an eye from Brenna.
“Aye see you later then! Are we alone now?” Joe mumbled, his face already back at her neck.
She wasn’t quite sure if she cared, but feeble attempts to recall indicated that Mr Ryan would be returning for the evening opening. A few hours then, and in any case where else were they to go? Her house always full, she certainly didn’t have money for a room...he might though, maybe a few coppers left. Her thought processes halted at the feel of his hands over her breasts. “Oh Joe...”
She was always surprised at the speed with which he could undo buttons, they seemed much like her self just to surrender themselves to his fingers and Brenna watched as he sunk his head to suck and kiss and gasp, pink soft skin in his mouth. He might as well have sent her to heaven.
Desperate for everything all right now they struggled to release themselves of clothes and entanglements without breaking an inch of contact, a crash behind her and it registered some place that a chair had fallen behind her.
“Brenna, it’s good to see yer”
Panting she opened her eyes to look at him, all dark and curls and flushed himself, she watched as he swayed at the feel of her hand slipping over his cock. “Sure yes it’s me...how many other women do you have’d be in the bar like this?”
Joe grinned and wiped his face with his hand before holding hers hand still. "Ah there's not so many, but Christ I have been waiting too long”
“And there was me thinkin’ you weren’t bothered!” Wet fingers moved just a little, she loved to watch him come...second perhaps to being there herself that was. “I’ve been lonely without yer, had to use my imagination.” Mischievous eyes twinkled at him “so if I go blind it’ll be your fault then”
Licking his lips just a touch Joe chuckled and eased her to the floor. “Well I am here now.”
The wood was cold on her back and Brenna shivered a little at the contrast but even more at push as his hands opened her legs. Lying on her hard and heavy she squirmed to let his c ock slide between her thighs “Fuck...Brenna is it alright? Just bearing in mind that I might just have to go shoot meself if you say No”
She grinned wide. Ah so some people wanted to be rich, move to the city, travel to who knows where, not many though knew what it was like to have Joe Byrne desperate for them, and that surely was something. “Are yer in a hurry then Joseph? Got some place to be?” Brenna crossed her legs behind his back all the same, just in case, moving her ass to rub against him, making him close his eyes ”Got some revolution yer can’t miss is it, and you thought, ahwell just a quick one then beforehand”
Joe laughed a little, maybe she was a bit too close to the truth ““Do I want to be inside yer and make you cry out like you do, right now? Then aye” And underlining his words with a rasp of teeth over her ear he felt her hips rise up.
Her turn to groan. Her answer was a hard kiss, a teeth crashing don’t-you –dare-leave kiss as he pressed strong and steady into her body, smooth and true and stealing her breath.
She knew he was going to come fast, felt him grow harder and his breath quicken as he moved, heard him mumble her name and thank the lord and all those other saints he was so fond of blaspheming. Squeezing her eyes shut she matched him, pushing so hard she almost felt her bones give. He was gone. Taken over by seconds following seconds of pure mind blank bliss.
When he did roll off from her, sticky and wet and breathing heavy Joe stared up at the ceiling while he slowed, conscious of her hand seeking his. Above him the rafters of the roof stretched in straight lines, reforming the order of things. Whether he wanted to be back in the world or not, there was no doubt about it. “Sorry, over in the shake of a lambs tail eh?”
Brenna didn’t say either way, just let him lie still next to her and feel his skin chill again. Whatever he wanted, it was always his. There was always more with Joe.
Above them the rain started to fall, hitting the tin slowly at first, the pounding steadily increasing over the minutes that passed, the darkening sky offering a poor thin autumn light to come through the window panes now spattered with drips. “Shall we just stay here, lock the doors?”
“Aye there’s enough beer for a while, we’d be alright” curling around him Brenna moved to hold him close “and Mary’d slip food through the window for the price of a kiss.”
“We could tell stories and fuck all day. Though maybe some cloth at the window might be called for, just so as all those fellas didn’t get jealous out there.” Reaching to grab his jacket Joe tucked it around her body and enclosed them together. Cold and dark, the night was closing in now. “Me time’s running out Brenna...”
Ssssh. “Don’t talk about it.”
“Then it won’t be true?”
“Yes.. I will tell you what will happen next. Spin our own story. The Queen will give up and take her coppers back across the sea, Ned will become the premier of Victoria and you will turn down his offer of a high falutin’ job to settle down here and marry me. We will have a big house with scores of gorgeous babbies because we just can’t stop, and a paddock as far as the eye can see. You will live ‘til you are hundred, and despite the fact that you will be all wrinkled and weak, I will still love yer and think you are the most handsome man I ever saw and look after yer. Women of course bein’ the strongest like that.”
Joe laughed a little despite the lump in his throat “Alright then, I better do as you say.”
Brenna grinned against his chest and let her tongue slip over his skin “Good, then you can start off that particular tale now by kissing me some more. With any luck Old Ryan will have a look out his window, decide it's too wet and stay put for the night.”
“You make me smile Lass”
And perhaps there was no better place to be than that.